Photo by Roy Sinai

I’ve played this card before and do so often in my talks. It’s a way of establishing some credibility from a not so surprise corner — my age. I’ve long believed that part of my appeal as a speaker is that I’m this sixty-year old guy saying these radical things, instead of a thirty-something, representing a new and strange generation. It goes something like this.

“When I entered the classroom, as a history teacher, the personal computer had not been invented. Calculators cost $200 and they were advertised as ‘A Gift for a Lifetime.'”

But if it had been suggested to me back then, that within a few short years I would be working with desktop computers, and within as many short decades I’d be typing this on a black slab of metal and glass, on a keyboard that magically appears and responds to my touch — well, it would have seemed FANTASTIC!

Oh readers of mine, there seems little reason to believe that this rate of rapid change will end any time soon. Technological advancement will continue — and more importantly will be the increased opportunities for new ways to work, play, live and love — and perhaps even new reasons to recognize the humanity in all of us.

A few days ago I wrote a blog article about what I was taught in school that I’ve never needed to know. My intent was to suggest that there is much that we require our children to learn today that they will never need to know.  This challenges us as we try to authoritatively answer their perennial question, “Why do I need to learn this?”

Among the answers I received were, “So you can read a newspaper or instructions at work, write letters to the editor, to friends and family, and make change.” I learned so that I could work and participate in a mid-twentieth century democratic community.

What if my teacher had said, “Because one day, you will be writing books.” “One day you will be programming computers!” “One day, for just about everything you do, you will need to learn something new.” It would have seemed FANTASTIC!

..and this is the critical element that our institutions of education have missed or ignored –– that we are preparing our children for the FANTASTIC!

It’s another theme that runs through much of my writing and speaking, that, “We are, for the first time in history, preparing our children for a future that we cannot clearly describe.” The conclusion that I usually draw is that, “The best thing we can be teaching our children, is how to teach themselves.”

What do we teach them to be prepared for the FANTASTIC?

“We need teach them WONDER!”

It’s why so many of my generation have so much difficulty with all this change. We don’t have WONDER. ..and without WONDER, we fall back on fear and betrayal.

Yet, our schools are required to teach, under the pressures of short-sighted, government-mandated, high stakes tests, that our children’s world is a known place, with few surprises, and fewer unamswered questions. Their school is a place where we provide answers and our children’s questions and curiosity are mostly ignored — at best.

You can’t test WONDER.

My solution?

Flip the classroom.

But I’m not talking about just flipping when you teach and when you re-enforce. Its more fundamental than that. Ive often questioned the sense of making students learn the math and then giving them the word problems. We should, in almost all disciplines, start with the word problems, and then help our learners develop the skills and habits required to fulfill their wonder. Help them invent the math that solves the problem, invent the grammar that conveys the emotion, explore the geography and history that explains why, discover the science that fulfills the WONDER.

You can’t test that.

But I think you’ll have graduates who are ready to own their future.

10 thoughts on “The FANTASTIC”

  1. A wonderful article, thanks! I agree with you , I always try to teach WONDER because the youth people need this, I ‘m a teachedr of English in Pisa

  2. David, I couldn’t agree with your blog more. I teach Media Arts, and I used to spend a lot of time teaching before I would let them discover. Now I let them discover, often fail, and then squeeze in a little teaching so they can overcome their roadblocks. Our students create semester projects and they always beg me to tell them what they should do for their project. Even in times when I have great ideas, I hold them back and watch to see what they will discover on the journey. I can’t tell you how many times my students have come up with much better ideas than I could have even imagined. I’ve also changed from teaching one specific program for long periods of time to having much more of an overview. I tell my students that the specifics of the program you use will have changed by the time they graduate college anyway, so why not just learn the foundational skills and move on. What happens is that my students find a program they want to explore more, and then they take on the task of learning it themselves(with me helping with resources of course). My students will tell other students in the school that I don’t teach, but rather they have to go out and learn everything on their own. That’s not true, but I ok with that assessment. I want them to have the wonder, and the work ethic to always be learning.

  3. Catching up on all the blogs I read, I read this one today and found it especially important with what is going on with education right now. With Chicago teachers walking out of the classroom and declaring the rules unjust. With education in the US looking for teachers to be held accountable. Would love to know your thoughts on these issues.

  4. Love this. So important to get kids excited and engaged in the classroom. Bring them to the real world and give them opportunities to be amazed.

    Also-Brenda totally agree with you about the accountability. Where is the balance?

  5. I am captivated once again by the notion of FANTASTIC. What a motivating and thought provoking post for teachers. I am a second grade teacher and am constantly anticipating the next technology, and striving to integrate these technologies and tools that will truly educate my 21st century students. It has been said that when my students graduate they will not be applying for traditional jobs but rather creating their own jobs. My students will need to be innovative problem solvers, willing to take a risk and learn from failure. They will need to be leaders in their own discipline and willing to follow their wonder to new and exciting adventures.
    As an educator I feel that I have the responsibility to be a teacher leader and create authentic learning experiences that will enable students to, like you said, “start with the word problems, and then help our learners develop the skills and habits required to fulfill their wonder. Help them invent the math that solves the problem, invent the grammar that conveys the emotion, explore the geography and history that explains why, discover the science that fulfills the WONDER.”
    Thank you for such a mindful reminder.

  6. I agree so much! I am a high school math teacher and allowing students to figure out the math instead of teaching at them is much more exciting for the student. I cannot imagine where we will be technologically when my kindergartner is a senior in high school.

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