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Becoming Future-Ready

“Future-Ready Students for the 21st Century”

It’s the title of the goals document for the North Carolina State Board of Education and it begins with, “..every public school student will graduate from high school, globally competitive for work and postsecondary education and prepared for life in the 21st Century.”  I’d love to ask that appointed body, “What does this mean and how does it translate to the “what” and “how” the children of this state are being educated?”

A few mornings ago, I was working in my office on a fairly redundant task, which usually affords me the opportunity to pay attention to a podcast or partial attention to a movie or TV episode, usually playing over the air to my iPhone.  The 3 1/2 inch display provides less distraction than my iPad or computer screen.

On that morning, I was playing 2010, the sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ve enjoyed re-watching 2010 over the years because it has more dialog and slightly more action than the original.

Composite of the scene’s camera pan.

What struck me that morning was a scene, where the hero scientist, Dr. Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider), is sitting on the beach preparing for his upcoming journey to Jupiter, studying reports, an issue of OMNI (which stopped publishing in 1995), and a portable computer (see right & below).

Notice the computer the former chairman of the American space Agency is using and consider that the scene depicts “mobile computing” in the year 2010 – from the perspective of a film produced in 1984.  More than anything else, the computer resembles Apple’s forgettable Mac Portable, launched only five years later.  Scheider’s 21st century machine perhaps even more closely resembles its more contemporary Apple Iic, with a flat four-inch display and parallel ribbon cable connecting the two.

Predicted Mobile Computing for 2010 Apple IIc – 1984-1988 Mac Portable – 1989-1991

It is also worth noting that the 1968 film predicted human spaceflight to Jupiter in a 460 foot spaceship by 2001.  

These are two fairly unimportant and dramatized examples, but if living through half of the 20th century and a tenth of the 21st has taught me anything, it’s that most attempts to accurately describe what we will do, how we live, what’s important to know, and what we care about 30, 20, or even 10 years from now, is at best a challenging intellectual exercise, and a worse a gross display of arrogance.  

Yet, isn’t this what our institution of education is attempting to authoritatively do, predict what our children need to be taught today to be ready for a future we can not possibly accurately describe.

Tom Whitby addressed this a few days ago in How We Teach Trumps What We Teach.  He questions our concern for content, assessment and data, saying,

Maybe “Content is King” merged with “Data is King” does not add up to a learned individual. Maybe the focus on content, so that education can be easily assessed by Data is really the wrong thing that we should be analyzing. Maybe, how we teach, is a much more important element in learning than what we teach. Maybe the data is totally correct about what it is assessing, but what it is assessing is not what we should be looking at. 

We need to be much more willing and humble enough to say, “Maybe,” a lot more than we do in education.  But even Tom, I believe, does not go quite far enough.  He refers to becoming a “learned individual,” when Eric Hoffer’s famous quote comes much closer to my view, that..

In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. 

How our children learn is critical today, not so much as a point of pedagogy, but for the development of a distinct and most important skill – learning.

The job of education should be to wean children from the teaching, helping them to become, at graduation, independent, skilled, inspired, and responsible learners eager to adopt and adapt to changing conditions, turning uncertainty into opportunity.

Being future ready will not happen because of the rigor of ramped up standards.  It will happen by scaling back the standards as the education years pass, focusing on passion, and providing students with the support, opportunity and facility to learn and to make themselves experts in their shifting fields of interest, fields that educators skillfully usher them through.


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  • http://www.thethinkingstick.com Jeff Utecht

    My first comment on a blog outside of my grad students in way to long and wouldn’t you know it would end up on your site.

    If “How we teach” is the important aspect. Then so should be “How we learn” can we assess students on how they learn? Or better yet on their own knowledge of what kind of learner they are?

    Of course this becomes an issue because we all learn differently. Which means that to assess this we would have to assess the student based on their prior knowledge of how they learn. That would lead to an individualized learning plan.

    As an example one of the things we (Librarian and I) are trying to put in place here at my school is for students to understand systems of research, curation, and learning. We want students to create their own system using the tools available to them to do their research. We show them a bunch of different tools, show them how they work together, but in the end the student will design their own research system. The assessment would come in the student being able to show us what their research system looks like and then prove to us it works for them…..not sure how to assess that part yet.

    Our hope would be we would start this in 9th grade and then would be able to see how their system of research evolves overtime. What tools change, how does the information flow, etc. Of course this doesn’t show up in standards anywhere so it’s a hard sell.

    • http://idave.us David Warlick

      @Jeff Utecht, I am honored to have your rare comment appear in my blog and I couldn’t agree with you more, Jeff. I often add to my demands that we not hold our students so accountable for what they’ve learned, but how they learned it — and, what they can do with what they’ve learned. 

      You suggest that your project will be a hard sell, but since when was logic not enough?  When I taught, more than three decades ago, I taught the curriculum (the textbook), but a lot of what I taught were lessons that I, as an adult and responsible citizen, thought were important. I was what I sometimes call, a teacher-philosopher. The teachers I taught with and the teachers who taught me were teachers-philosophers. I think that we have become teacher-technicians, checking off standards, and sometimes even teaching from prescribed scripts — all at the bequest of amateurs, elected officials.  

      All of this worry over assessment really seems to be getting in the way. It’s important, I know, but why not go back to what I wrote earlier, assess them on what they can do with what they’ve learned. Not easy and difficult to generate “data,” but it would be a whole lot more authentic, personal, and rewarding to both learner and teacher. 

      It sometimes has more to do with conversations in the classroom than formal assessments. “How did you learn that, Sally?” “How do you know that’s true, John?”

      That conversation is critical, not just between teacher and learner, but between learners.  You said it all in your last paragraph, that the tools change. That’s why what you are doing is so important, because the tools and techniques change.

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  • http://www.knowpronto.com knowpronto

    This blog tell the information about future of 21 century learn student. However children learn is critical today, not so much as a point of pedagogy, but for the development of a distinct and most important skill – learning.

    online teachers

  • Mary

    Hi, really interesting blog! I believe not only students but also teachers must be ready to keep up with technological advances. I mean, students are nearly always up-to-date, it’s us who usually are a bit left-behind :)
    For the record, I’ve decided to implement new technologies in class through the use of ipads. It’s working very well! the app I’m using is called Nearpod. You can create quizzes, drawing activities and have classroom management/assessment issues, all in one.
    I wish everyone could discover useful technological apps to improve education :)

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