Exploring the 4 Cs of 21st Century Learning - Ellipsis Education

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Exploring the 4 Cs of 21st Century Learning

June 25, 2020
Katie Baird Sr. Content Marketing Specialist

“Being on the cusp of a technology revolution provides a unique opportunity to rethink not only what we teach but how we teach it,” says Cindy Hoisington, nationally recognized early childhood education expert, professional developer, and curriculum designer. 

Cindy Hoisington shares this point of view with many educators across the nation. In the modern classroom, teachers are not only imparting content; they are developing 21st century skills. The overall goal is to create future-ready learners – students who are ready to apply their knowledge in any new situation. 

In fact, there is a well-known skillset that prepares students for our changing world: the four C’s of 21st century learners

“Teaching through the lens of “the 4 Cs“—critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity—will help us and our students stay essential in an evolving world of work,” says Cindy. With these skills, students can prepare for future success by learning how to take initiative, work together, and formulate solutions. 

All of the 4Cs are extremely interconnected, especially in computer science curriculum. But why are the 4 Cs important? In this post, we explore the 4Cs of 21st century learning, why they are important for student development, and how 21st century skills in education can be implemented.

4 Cs in Education

What are the 4Cs and why are they important? The 4cs of 21st century skills refers to communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. In this section, we explain each of these and the importance of 4cs in education.


Educators help students connect with each other and the world around them. In the digital age, communication has an extra layer. Students are not only connecting face-to-face, but also through messaging apps, social media, and other device-led forums. Learning how to navigate these spaces with responsibility and kindness is essential to 21st century learning. That is why educators must continue to foster strong research, writing, and presentation skills among their students. This free digital citizenship lesson helps students practice communication skills through class discussions. Additionally, check out this My STEM Career episode, where we chat with a Manager of Entertainment and Technology at Walt Disney World. In this interview, Alina Cranmer explains the importance of communication and creating connections within different departments of your company.


A common frame of reference for computer science resources include isolated events – one and done activities where students sit alone in front of a computer to play games or solve puzzles. Computer science curriculum, however, has the unique opportunity to create an energized classroom environment. Using project-based learning, students work together to reach a common goal. This helps students open up to different ideas, and brainstorm with their peers, and present solutions. In this free STEM career lesson, students work together to build an understanding of cybersecurity and being safe online. It is important for students to gain collaboration skills as many career paths involve working with teams. For example, we spoke with a Director of Engineering at Stanford Medicine, who collaborates with medical researchers to give them access to data and software. Listen to the full My STEM Career interview to find out more about the importance of collaborating in this career.



Since we have constant access to information, students can fall into the trap of searching for “the” answer. Often, there are many solutions to a problem – and many paths to reach those solutions. This is where critical thinking plays a key role in student development. Educators can encourage idea generation, brainstorming, and problem solving. As a result, students become engaged learners, investing in their own skills development. Critical thinking is practiced throughout computer science education, including in this free coding lesson in which students have to move Scratchy across the coordinate plane. Additionally, we spoke with a software engineer who helped create the video game Halo in a My STEM Career episode. In this interview, she expresses how her critical thinking skills helped her in landing a competitive role within the gaming industry.


Creativity isn’t only about art or theater; it’s about using the tools at your disposal to solve problems. Educators can empower students to find new ways to accomplish tasks or create connections between concepts and ideas. Using their imagination and resourcefulness, students can think outside the box and see the world around them in different ways. To teach creativity in your classroom, try out this free unplugged lesson. In this lesson, students will practice generating ideas with a visualization activity. They will use their senses to draw ideas on paper. Creativity skills can also help students land STEM career jobs, such as the 3D printer in this My STEM Career interview.

How to Implement the 4 Cs

Teaching the 4 Cs with technology is crucial for our students as they prepare to enter the working world. Regardless of their future career, students will need to use technology to collaborate, communicate, think critically, and be creative. That is why the 4Cs of 21st century skills are at the heart of Ellipsis Education computer science curriculum. Woven into Ellipsis Education lessons, activities, and projects are multiple ways to teach 21st century learners the skills they need to succeed. We value the 4Cs in education, so we create lessons that incorporate all 4 skills. 

For example, Gamification is a digital citizenship lesson from Ellipsis Education Computer Science Applications. Watch the video below or keep reading to learn how this lesson incorporates all 4 Cs of 21st century learning.

In this lesson, students are introduced to the practice of gamification. Students will explore what gamification is, why businesses use it, and concrete examples of techniques used in the process. Then, students will have an opportunity to apply gamification strategies to attempt to solve hypothetical business problems. Students have the opportunity to collaborate and communicate during the activity where they work on business ideas and elaborate ideas with each other. At the same time, students are practicing critical thinking when they work through problems that these business ideas might have, and they are using their creativity to find solutions to those problems. For 4 Cs lesson plans pdf activities, visit our free Computer Science Lesson Plans page, where you can find lessons that incorporate all 4 Cs.

21st Century Skills in Education

Download our free session, Connecting the 4 C’s and Computer Science. Walk away with a better understanding of the importance of 4cs in 21st century and the 4 Cs in education, new strategies on how you can use computer science to reinforce each skill, and a sample teaching the 4cs with technology pdf computer science lesson to use immediately in your classroom.

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