The 4 Cs: From Buzzword to Reality

By: Amy Pavelich, Zulama Copy Editor

There’s an exciting change taking place in today’s classrooms. More and more teachers are incorporating the 4 Cs (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity) into their lesson plans and it’s making a huge difference in the way students learn and how teachers instruct.

For this post, we talked with a dynamic teacher who’s committed to the 4 Cs. She’ll share a bit about how she applies them to students and herself. And at the end, we’ve got some great resources and inspiration for using the 4 Cs in your classroom and life.

4 Cs Refresher

But first, a quick review of each of the 4 Cs:

Critical Thinking: viewing problems from different angles

Communication: sharing ideas, questions, and possible solutions

Collaboration: achieving goals by working together

Creativity: courageously trying out new ideas

How does encouraging the 4Cs impact your students? Well, the possibilities are endless. Students will learn empathy through collaboration and communication. They’ll make important connections through relationships centered on valuing different perspectives. They’ll become critical, and in many cases divergent, thinkers, by exploring different ways to come up with super creative solutions to problems. And with the world they’re inheriting, all of these life skills will come in handy as kids set out on their paths to good citizenship and continuous learning.

With the 4 Cs a student can become a:

4 Cs Graphic

Advice from a 4 Cs Teacher

So, as a teacher, how can you successfully implement the 4 Cs in your classroom? And, just as importantly, for yourself? We asked Courtney Sears, a second-grade teacher who’s a champion of maker spaces and a genuine thought leader in education. (Check out “Taking the Time for Making,” where she discusses how she designed a maker space in her classroom that incorporates STEAM challenges!) She gave us some really useful ideas that will hopefully inspire you in your own quest for cultivating the 4 Cs.

Using Projects to Cultivate the 4 Cs for Your Students

Courtney uses projects to help her students cultivate the 4 Cs. She’s found that the most engaging assignments and student work come from projects that blend all four elements together. Here are a couple of examples:

  1. “Each second grade class in our school has a classroom maker space. Each week the kids have time to work on self-directed projects. We use the time to teach communications skills and habits of mind such as optimism, flexibility, and persistence. Kids build forts, light-up tiaras, doll houses with working elevatorsyou name it! They couldn’t complete these projects without using all of the 4 Cs.”
  2. “For a unit on weather, my students worked in small groups to design a weather manual that explained how different weather instruments worked. My students had to use Google Docs to write and publish the book. They used the comments feature to give each other feedback on their work and they had to help each other solve problems.”

“Explaining to them that all of their names went on the cover and that no one would know what particular work each kid did really helped them see the importance of working together to create a product they could all be proud of.”

Cultivating the 4 Cs for Yourself

The 4 Cs are valuable for teachers, too. Courtney has found that one great way to practice using the 4Cs herself is by connecting with other educational professionals, establishing a support network where she can seek out fresh perspectives and collaborate.

“I do all of my planning with my second-grade teamwe accomplish so much more by working together. Pushing myself to try new things and seeking out opportunities to grow professionally help a lot. My teacher fellowship helped me develop relationships with policymakers, advocate for teachers and students through writing, and dig more deeply into the world of teacher-led professional development.”

The 4 Cs of Professional Learning Networks

Courtney has also developed a robust online community, aka a Professional Learning Network (PLN). She’s a big fan of PLNs as an avenue to the 4 Cs. There’s an abundance of creative ideas you can learn from others to try out with your students and opportunities to connect and collaborate with other educators who are rethinking learning space, refocusing curriculum to be project driven, and connecting more than ever with their students.  

Courtney has had a lot of success using Twitter to build her PLN:

“Twitter connects me with blog posts and online articles from orgs like Teaching Tolerance and EdWeek. I also participate in Twitter chats. I connect with teachers and authors I would never have the chance to work with in my school or district.”

Since it can be tough to get started developing your own PLN, here’s her advice to teachers who are new to it:

“To get connected on Twitter, follow the curricular leaders in your district, the authors of professional books and blogs that have most influenced you, and take part in Twitter chats. Be generous with your follows, comments, and retweets so that others can get to know you and see what you are about. Make sure that you follow a diverse group of educators. Beyond Twitter, seek out enriching professional development and networking opportunities that will push you to do better and help you make connections beyond your school and district. Finally, share your story with others. There are many education publications eager to share the voices of classroom teachers.”

Personalized Professional Development Source: EdSurge.

A Parting NoteThe 5th C?

We think it’s worth acknowledging that among the 4 Cs, a 5th C exists: connection. It is inherent in everything you do to achieve the 4 Cs, and some of the best experiences that come from them. As famed researcher, Dr. Brené Brown says, “People are hardwired for connection.” But to make that connection truly meaningful, valuable, impactful, purposefulwe must continuously engage our students in practicing the 4 Cs both in and outside our classrooms.

Courtney Sears is a second-grade public school teacher in 1:1 classroom in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She is National Board Certified and a 2015–2017 North Carolina Hope Street Group Fellow. She has been teaching and learning with young children for 18 years. She is passionate about cultivating classrooms with growth mindsets so that children can confidently take the lead in their learning.

Resources:

Check out these useful resources for more information on the 4 Cs and ways to incorporate them in your classroom!

  • Critical Thinking: Self-awareness and metacognition are discussed for helping improve learning.
  • Communication: In STEM fields, empathetic communication is a fundamental ingredient for success . . . If students learn to express ideas in a persuasive way and respond gracefully to reactions to their opinions, they’ll be able to promote innovation and social change through fields like bioengineering or video game design.”
  • Collaboration: This P21/Pearson Paper explores what good collaboration looks like and how to design collaborative activities in your classroom.
  • Creativity: “The process of having original ideas that have value” (The Element, 2009). This is a must-see Ted Talk by Sir Ken Robinson on “Changing Education Paradigms.” Even if you’ve already seen it, it’s worth watching again! And there’s a featured RSA video animation as a bonus.  
  • Common Sense.org’s video provides example ways to incorporate the 4 Cs into classrooms using technology.
  • Teaching Thought gives 10 reasons for why developing a PLN is important for teachers.

Want to spice up your curriculum this fall? Bring game design and computer science into any class, at any time with our Short Courses.

Six Questions to Help You Find the Perfect PD

Teachers: Are you getting ready for your own summer of learning? Start by asking yourself a few questions that will help you figure out exactly what kind of program you need.

We know many of you are committed to your own learning, as well as your students’. For example, “three in five teachers are willing to spend their own time to learn more about computer science” (Google, 2017). Professional development (PD) should be a great experience–helping you meet your goals and engage your students–but that isn’t always the case. Starting with a little prep work can help you find that exceptional experience and leave you more prepared and excited about bringing new skills to your students.

Computer Science Teacher

Zulama is currently focused on supporting teachers who are looking for computer science PD, but the following essential questions can be applied to professional learning experiences of all kinds. These questions will help you figure out what PD will be the most fun and fruitful for you, and lead to the most engaging experiences for your students.

1. How much time do I have available to commit to PD?

Start with the basics. PD can range from three days of in-person workshops to 30 hours of self-paced online learning, so find the one that matches up best with your schedule. Teachers say that longer-term PD serves them better in their teaching practice (Gates Foundation, 2014), so consider options that let you pace yourself over time. For example, PD with an online component gives teachers the ability to continue returning to the course over the span of a semester or year. You’ll be less worried about running out of time, which means you’ll be able to tinker, play, and discover throughout your PD experience.

2. What is my end goal for participating in a PD opportunity?

Do your goals match up with the goals of the PD you are interested in? Is a given course preparing you to teach a specific course in the short-term or helping you build an adaptive set of skills? If you are looking to develop yourself as a professional in the long-run, make sure that the PD offering is aiming to involve you in an interactive project-based learning experience. The general consensus among teachers is the best PD programs “…involve hands-on strategies for the teacher to actually participate in” (Gates Foundation, 2014).

3. Which do I prefer, an independent or mentorship-based learning experience?

An online PD experience inevitably means more independence. This leads to perks including more flexibility and the ability to work at your own pace. In-person PD, on the other hand, allows for face-to-face connections, leading to a more disciplined use of your time. We often recommend combining online and in-person PD experiences as we find that the two together lead to the deepest learning.

4. Do I want to learn from fellow educators?

Find out who is driving the PD program you are considering. Have the PD leaders spent much time in the classroom? Was the program crafted by teachers like you who have experience bringing new skills and learning practices to students? Most teachers have had the best PD experiences when they know that the creators of the program have been in their shoes.

5. How much money is available to me for PD?

We ask this question next to last because it’s important to not let cost get in the way of finding the most effective, engaging PD for you. While price is a significant factor to consider, teachers and schools have found various creative ways to get outside funding for PD programs, and you can too.

6. Now… what’s out there?

Each PD program will have pros and cons, but there plenty of options are out there, so you can find one that suits your needs! For example, here is a chart that makes sense of some current computer science PD offerings:

Computer Science Professional Development

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This post was adapted from a Zulama article in the CSTA Voice about selecting teacher PD that is tailored to your needs.

This post is part of a blog series in support of our new professional development opportunity, the Computer Science and Game Design Certificate, co-developed with the Computer Science Teachers Association. For more on the intersection of computer science and professional development, read the previous posts in the series: