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Taking the Guesswork Out of 21st-Century Skill Development

While educators have long promoted the need to help students develop 21st-century skills, a collection of competencies essential to thriving in today’s increasingly complex world, there exists less certainty when it comes to deciding which skills to promote over others.

Of course, there is no objectively correct answer. Depending on the situation, an individual might be better served by using “creativity” as opposed to “teamwork.” For educators who often have limited time and resources, deciding which skills to highlight from a long list of admittedly important traits can be overwhelming.


The Innovation Mindset

In order to eliminate some of the guesswork that educators continue to confront when choosing which 21st-century skills to prioritize for their students, the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) has developed the Innovation Mindset: nine essential skills and traits that help unlock a child’s creative potential.

These nine attributes have been identified by our team of education experts and are actively used by some of the world’s most influential innovators, including our NIHF Inductees.  

Read below to learn more about the science behind a few of the skills in the Innovation Mindset and find tips on how to help your students develop them today.


1. Building Confidence

Many students struggle with low self-esteem. Exacerbated by the pressure to always do well, often it can take just one bad grade or perceived failure for a child to begin doubting their abilities. In psychology, this is known as contingent self-esteem — where one’s self-perception is tied to a result or outcome.

To build a student’s confidence more effectively, it can be helpful to adopt a growth mindset — the belief that ability can improve over time. For this reason, activities that challenge and encourage students to innovate and problem solve are preferable to lessons that lead students to uncover one correct answer. In this way, the fear of failure is replaced by the excitement that comes with continuous improvement.


2. Practicing Persistence

Persistence is a crucial skill to help students develop at a young age. However, it might seem like some students demonstrate persistence naturally while others do not. Is it possible to develop a trait like this one? In fact, research tells us it is!

In her groundbreaking book “Grit,” psychologist Angela Duckworth explains that grit (a combination of passion and perseverance) is a characteristic of top performers in many different fields, and that a person’s grit can grow. One of the keys to helping a student build perseverance is to help them identify something they find deeply fascinating. Project-based learning is a great technique for this, as the more agency a student has over what they are creating, the more invested they will become in their work.


3. Applying Creative Problem Solving

When students enter the working world, they will be faced with challenges that do not have easy solutions. In these scenarios, they will need to use their creativity and come up with a novel answer. Helping children develop their creative problem-solving skills at an early age will prepare them for the many times in life when they will be responsible for discovering a solution on their own. 

Research has shown that one of the first steps to formulating a creative solution is to think about how your idea can help others. According to a paper published in the Academy of Management Journal, considering how a potential solution could impact many different types of people can help us identify an even better idea.


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