Twenty-First Century Skills, Common Core, and Sports: The Connections

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Twenty-First Century Skills, Common Core, and Sports: The Connections

For thirty-four years I taught prerequisite fundamental skills (Twenty-First Century skills) for learning and learning how to learn—creative and critical thinking, brainstorming, reflection, visualization, concentration, contemplation, and emotional intelligence—to mostly Hispanic and African-American kids using my original curricula. As a basketball coach, tennis instructor, physical education teacher, and also having played organized sports, I taught fundamental skills needed to play/learn a sport successfully. Academic and sports learning, in my opinion, are not so far apart and educators can take lessons from athletics.

In basketball, players learn how to pass, dribble, and shoot by practicing repetitive fundamental drills; however, the skills are taught separately from playing games. Practices usually end with scrimmages where players apply what they learned in the various skills-drills. The fundamentals for becoming a complete player (or student) are practiced prior to, and then realized, in a game situation (or core subject). Eventually, skills are integrated naturally in a game (call it learning).

I connected this approach to teaching the common core: By presenting prerequisite fundamental skills before they learn language arts, social studies, or science, students will enjoy them more. Learning fundamentals eases teachers’ expanding work load because kids are better prepared to study independently and determine their fates while increasing their responsibility for learning.

As a classroom teacher, I taught fundamental skills in my “Creative-Thinking-Picture/Slide-Series,” which included photographs/pictures from newspapers/magazines and original color slides. Example: A picture shows two cups of tomato soup with squares of melting butter in each. Kids brainstormed answers to: What are the two squares of butter thinking? The question triggers humorous responses via creative-thinking, brainstorming, and inner concentration. Press the button to the absurd and students like thinking in the self-amusement park of the imagination.

I developed visualization skills in reading through “Reading-and-Imagining,” where children changed words into images. This progressed into changing two-word sentences (real/surreal), longer sentences, and paragraphs into mind-pictures. Even Aesop’s Fables were broken down into mental images so kids could see the story.

But I did not want my students wandering too far in their imaginations, so I created activities called “Concentration Exercises” to keep them focused on things outside and inside. How long can they pay attention to one thing without getting distracted? In an age of fleeting attention spans, students need to stay-with-the-teacher while she teaches, to be there in present time to maximize learning in any lesson taught. Sample concentration exercise: “The Staring Contest,” an old kid game, where two students stare at each other, eyeball-to-eyeball, for two minutes, with the main instructions to hold their concentration, no goofy faces, and if they get distracted, to re-focus on their friend and continue staring. As a result, students learned how to concentrate and not space out despite opposing forces through bi-monthly exercises.

Creative-thinking, visualization, and concentration are a few of the fundamentals for learning and reading used as triggers for intrinsic motivation. My approach for helping reluctant, struggling, and good readers who don’t like to read is to work on these skills in mini-lessons and see their effects on reading stories, novels, poetry, and history/science/math textbooks. When I think about reading history, for instance, I am combining different processing tools to make a subject more meaningful, understandable, and pleasurable—and come-to-life—to create a desire for learning it.

The beauty of skills teaching may lie in the computer. Educators will truly become coaches by assisting students to learn fundamentals from innovative software programs. When I think about the video games kids play—those amazing images shooting across the screen—it makes me think about the infinite possibilities for teaching the tools for learning and learning how to learn through technology. If computer programmers, graphic artists, and educators collaborate to create software programs/games for teaching skills, it will lead us into a new world of learning.

To wrap it all up, here are questions for you to reflect upon:

• Can the common core co-exist with the prerequisite fundamental skills for learning?
• Can common core appreciate the connections between sports and academic learning?
• Can educators see how the fundamentals hold teams together in sports or core subjects?
• Will educators accept their new roles as literacy coaches for teaching fundamental skills?

Connecting skills, common core, and sports is not rocket science: What do you think?

Check out these web sites and articles for more information about:

Creative-thinking, lateral thinking and thinking skills:

Fundamental skills for learning and learning how to learn:

Common core subjects and the approach to learning:

Sports fundamentals for kids: “Kids and Sports: Fundamentals First” by Rae Pica

Coaching kids in sports: “How to Coach Young Children in Sports” by Jack Perconte

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