Sunday, March 20, 2011

Educated Citizen

It’s encouraging to see an increase in discussion and blogging (eg, Steve Wheeler’s writing on 2020 curriculum, classrooms, and learners) about what learning might look like in 2020, 2030, 2040, etc.  Also, people Fortune cookieare talking more about what students need to know, not just what they need to be able to do.  Education reform is alive and well on many people’s minds.  Here in British Columbia we call it “21st Century Learning” or “Personalized Learning” or both.  With the speed of change we seem to be experiencing in society, perhaps education reform should just be a continuous evaluative piece for school systems rather than some big (scary) change event.

Our Student Leadership Council recently organized an evening event called World Café UshapED.  I was invited by their executive to participate, it was a pleasant surprise and an honor to be counted among the invited guests to observe and document these 100+ excited students giving up an evening to brainstorm the (their) future.  Here’s the invite they sent to me:

“The café’s primary goal is to assemble a large group of students from within our school district in the hopes of getting them to share their views and their opinions regarding various education-related topics. By getting students with varied interests and involvement throughout our middle and high schools, we are hoping to get a broad, more realistic view of what students in our district want to see in terms of the education process and the path it’s currently taking.

As a member of Mr. Grant's team, we would be greatly honoured if you would consider attending our UshapED café. The conference is meant to give students the opportunity as well as the outlet to express their opinions and their views; nevertheless, having adults that occupy such important positions in the education field such as yourself present at UshapED would make it an even more impactful event.”

These students were asked by their executive to respond to questions such as what does quality teaching look like, what will learning in 2040 be like, iStock_000007192634XSmallhow should technology support learning, and a fourth I can’t seem to recall…  The engagement of these kids, grades 6-12, was amazing and the ideas ranged from “of course” to “wow” – I was impressed. These student took their task seriously to help the District make some important choices for the future.  I think school systems really need to encourage student voice in their deliberations of education reform.  Students don’t necessarily get the future any better than adults but they certainly have more of it to live so should be an important part of crafting it with us.

I read an article in the latest online ASCD Express “Preparing Kids for 2040, competing with Robot Labor”.  Any of you that have been reading my blog for some time will know these futuristic topics are of great interest to me. The author of this article, David Orphal, talks about a future where robots with human-like abilities will exist within 30 years and what impact this will have on humans and their jobs.  I wrote about the IBM Watson Jeopardy event recently and asked the question “what is worth knowing” for students.  And similarly, I wrote “Education for an automated future” and talked about the likely end of work as we know it.  In other words, what is an educated citizen when machines are rapidly overtaking our ability to “be smart” – ie, our definition of a learned or smart person needs to change, soon.

Grant Wiggins writes “A Diploma Worth Having” in the March 2011 edition of Educational Leadership that is focused on “What Students Need to Learn”.  He starts with a provocative

“It’s time we abolished the high school diploma as we know it” and “In a modern, unpredictable, and pluralistic world, it makes no sense to demand that every 18-year-old pass the same collection of traditional courses to graduate.”

He argues for a broader curriculum, choice for students to suit their “talents, passions, and aspirations” and gives some great examples for various subject areas of better approaches to content and instruction.  For example, why should a math curriculum require students to learn trigonometry and calculus but not teach them about abuses of data, quantitative aspects, analyzing financial data, and other practical applications.  I wonder how many of us use trig and calculus regularly or ever?  But we all have to do our taxes, make sophisticated purchasing and investment decisions, and judge data analyses reported by the media.

So as we look to the future, hopefully those involved in education reform will really think outside the box and consider what skills, iStock_000011825660XSmallattitudes, and knowledge is worth having in our modern and futuristic society.  Then we need to set out to help those in the system make appropriate changes to move in the needed direction.  Our District is forming a Design Team consisting of teachers, principals, support workers, parents, and executives to figure this out for our students.  We will encourage experimentation in schools – it will be an idea-fest of sorts – should be an exciting few years ahead.

I’m curious what others are doing with respect to reinventing learning and teaching.  In your classroom, your school, your District.  How are you engaging students in the process?  What do you think the future of learning and school looks like?  I’ll leave you with these two stories of future learning: Stephanie’s First Day of School in 2010 and Tyler’s Loving School in 2016.