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James will work to identify specific pedagogical methods that foster elementary students’ 21st century skill development in the study funded by a $40,000 grant from the Spencer Foundation.

Teaching students skills for 21st century civic participation

UGA College of Education researcher Jennifer H. James is beginning a two-year study to determine what children need to learn in order to fully participate and succeed in the 21st century world.

Lauren Mayo | November 5th, 2012  |  Published in Features


How do we prepare our children for full civic participation in a 21st century world? What cognitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills will they need?

These are some of the questions University of Georgia College of Education researcher Jennifer H. James is hoping to answer as she begins a two-year study in a local third grade classroom.

“The need to name 21st century skills, thoughtfully engage teaching toward their development and measure the impact of our work is real,” said James, an associate professor in the department of elementary and social studies education. “Our efforts to address this need will likely benefit not only the students in our focus classroom, but other students and teachers throughout the school and district, offering research-based recommendations for policy and practice.”

The study is funded by a $40,000 grant from the Spencer Foundation. There are two aims of the research project:

  • to develop a theoretical framework and corresponding measures for capturing and understanding elementary students’ 21st century skills;
  • to identify specific pedagogical methods that foster elementary students’ 21st century skill development.

The research team’s framework for 21st century skill building focuses on three dimensions of students’ civic learning: cognitive (creative thinking, meta-cognition, reasoning and critical thinking), interpersonal (perspective taking, symbiotic relationship building, and collaboration) and intrapersonal (self-esteem, self -knowledge, and efficacy).

“We call our framework ‘Head, Heart and Hands’ – a name we adopted so that we can talk with children about our work,” said James. “The Head is cognitive. What do I know? How do I know it? What do/can I not know? What does it mean to know? The Heart is intrapersonal. Who am I? What do I care about? What are my strengths? What role do/can I play in my community? How can I express myself? The Hands are interpersonal. Who are the people in my community? How do I know them? What does it mean to be in community with others?”

In the process of conceptual refinement, the researchers plan to develop a variety of qualitative and quantitative measures for capturing students’ understanding across time and space, and to identify effective strategies for fostering children’s civic growth within the context of the school day.

James, the on-site instructor and principal researcher, will collaborate with Barrow Elementary teacher researchers Glennda Shealey and Rita Foretich. Shealey teaches 3rd grade and Foretich teaches art education. Jessica Kobe and Chang Liu, UGA graduate students in the college’s department of elementary and social studies education, will serve as research assistants.

The project will involve a classroom of about 21 students at David C. Barrow Elementary School, one of several schools participating in the Clarke County Professional Development School District.

Lauren Mayo is a student communications assistant in the COE's Office of College Advancement.

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