Thursday, October 14, 2010

Preparing Students through Educational Futuristics

Noun 1. futuristics - the study or prediction of future developments on the basis of existing conditions – or see futurology (wikipedia) for an in-depth description…

President Barack Obama’s Sep. 8, 2009 speech had some profound insights for K12 (note, I’m not supporting any particular political view by using this quote):
“And this isn't just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you're learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.”
I think that Obama is right in saying this.  Public education over the past 100 years or so has served its original purpose well – preparing students to follow rules, be on time, read, write, and calculate (I know, learning today is much broader).  But, does current curriculum which is more about today and yesterday effectively support students in leading us into our future?  Alvin Toffler is quoted as saying (Edutopia):
“Late in the 1800s, during the Industrial Revolution, business leaders began complaining about all these rural kids who were pouring into the cities and going to work in our factories. Business leaders said that these kids were no good, and that what they needed was an educational system that would produce "industrial discipline.”  (paraphrase: show up, be on time, follow rules)
He goes on to say:
How does that system fit into a world where assembly lines have gone away?
It doesn't. The public school system is designed to produce a workforce for an economy that will not be there. And therefore, with all the best intentions in the world, we're stealing the kids' future.”
Society responded and a public education system was designed and created to address the needs.  A lot of what students learn in school is related to history, current events, and base skills and knowledge.  A question we should all ask is “what is the purpose of an education today?”  How effectively are we responding to today and tomorrows needs?

Here’s an interesting “story” (abbreviated) about Jessica Everyperson from http://www.amazon.com/Creating-School-You-Want-Educational/dp/1607096447/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1286940921&sr=1-1 starting at page 141:
“Jessica approached her new world with all her senses operating together – networking – at peak performance as she tried to ‘make sense’ of it all. … For Jessica’s first four or five years, her all-sensory, interactive cognitive skills blossomed with amazing rapidity. … she was developing the ability to both perceive and understand the ‘many sides’ of a situation – the cognitive skills that form the basis of critical thinking… Jessica also became proficient in using the variety of information technologies (IT) that continued to be introduced into her environment. … Before she could even read a word, Jessica had become a multimodal multitasker,…  Jessica was feeling very good about her ability to swim in the vast sea of information using the assortment of emerging ITs.  Not surprisingly, she was also feeling very good about herself.
Then, Jessica started school.”
The story goes on to talk about Jessica’s experiences in Kindergarten and progressive grades where the focus was on 3 R’s – you know them – and how the focus was on text reading and writing, and math skills often with relentless repetition, more linear, less dynamic...  Okay, this is a bit of an exaggeration but I suspect we all can relate.

I was talking to one of our past assistant superintendents at an event last night about his grand kids (<5 years old) and how fearless and interested they are about learning.  He talked about how easily and quickly they learn, all very naturally, especially how to use new tools like technology.  They just assume things will work, don’t see a “box” or “rules” or limitations, just possibilities.  They teach him.  He agreed that as kids progress through school, some of the wonder disappears, fear grows, and disinterest appears.  Something happens between K and 12 to many kids that shouldn’t...

Doesn’t school for the most part still resemble what we as adults experienced as students?  Doesn’t it still have an imbalance of the amount of time spent on rote learning?  How does the typical K12 educational experience prepare students for the future and prepare them for the complex problems they will need to be part of solving?
"Take hold of the future or the future will take hold of you." (Patrick Dixon)
I was just in a class today where the teacher (James Gill) had the kids (grade 8) working on Google Sketchup projects – criteria was design a school that is substantially different from ours – their school is being replaced by 2014 so it’s an authentic question.  Some of the designs are quite impressive.  Interestingly, the architect for one of our new middle schools used Google Sketchup to take the District design team (I’m a member) on a 3D walk-about and walk-through.  Prior to this activity, the kids participated in an online discussion on features, requirements, wish list items for the new school.  Most topics were student initiated and there was upwards of 20 threaded messages in some of the topics.  Even the school librarian jumped in and participated on the library topics.  I think this is brilliant use of technology to support educational futuristics – wow, kids first brainstorming then actually designing (conceptually) the new middle school for a future generation of middle school kids!

What if there was a futuristics component woven through the curriculum?  How will kids be prepared to tackle the enormously complex problems we seem to be leaving to them?  Destruction of nature / pollution, disappearing natural resources, nanotechnology, biotechnology, poverty, hunger, the list goes on.  Who will solve these problems and create a better future?  We better prepare those that will!