The FANTASTIC

Wonder

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.

I Never Needed to Know That

I’ve never needed to know how to balance a chemical equation. I am glad that I was exposed to the process & it’s meaning.

I ran across an interesting Edudemic blog post yesterday, 10 Things Students Won’t Need to Know When They Graduate.  I’ve listed the 10 below, but do go and read the article’s explanations.  The author, Bob Dillon, hits on something that is central to the motivation that drives much of my work.  How much of our children’s precious childhoods are we wasting teaching them things that they’ll never need to know.

Perhaps the most fun that I have in my public speaking is telling stories.  The purpose of most of these stories is to trick the audience into a particular line of thinking and then surprise them with the recognition that they’ve been here before – but that they’ve come in through a unfamiliar door and it all looks different from this direction.  My follow-up line is, “Now what do our children need to be learning today to be ready for this?”

10. How to use a mouse
9. The difference between bullying and cyberbullying
8. Memorizing MLA and APA styles requirements (I’d like to think that I had a hand in that.)
7. How to find basic reference materials in the library
6. Developing film, taking the perfect picture
5. The vocabulary terms land line and dial
4. The propaganda techniques used in thirty second television commercials
3. How to read a paper map.
2. How to place data onto a CD or DVD
1. How to read the movie listings in the newspaper
(Dillon, 2012)

I had initially planned to invite you to add to Dillon’s list of things that students won’t need to know.  But the fact is that one reason we, as educators, do not readily recognize this compelling truth and try to make sense of its profound implications is that we can not predict what our children will need to know and not need to know.  It would be nothing more than speculation.

So again, “What do our children need to be learning today?

Several ideas spring to my mind as I try to unfold this.

  1. Our children need to learn something.
  2. What they need to learn is no longer as important as it use to be.
  3. Increasing the stakes on what they learn does little more than punish our children for our own arrogance.
  4. If what they learn today may not be useful to them tomorrow, then how will they continue to learn what is?
  5. How they learn has become much more important.
  6. Perhaps the most important thing we can help our children learn, is how to teach themselves.

For the fun of it, lets try an experiment.  Rather than speculating on what our children will not need to know, I’d like you to comment on this post with an answer to this question,

What were you taught when you were in school that you have never needed to know?

I’ll post a couple of comments to start things off.

Thanks!

 

Dillon, B. (2012, August 27). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://edudemic.com/?p=25495

Retooling Principal Ed Programs

Almost a month ago edtech administration guru Scott McLeod posted a request (How would you revise principal preparation?) for ideas about rethinking university graduate programs for school administrators. The comments continue to come in.

At the point that I was directed to his post, there were already a number of thoughtful and comprehensive ideas, so I decided to add a few less conventional or down right outlandish ones. I later dumped my comment into 2¢ Worth as a draft, thinking it might, at some point, be of interest to you.

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I arrived home yesterday, from the School Librarians’ Association of WNY conference, to my copy of What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Meda — by Scott McLeod & Chris Lehmann (editors).  What a treasure trove, with articles by Kristin Hokanson, Christian Long, Stephanie Sandifer, Vicki Davis, Steve Dembo, Wesley Fryer, Will Richardson, Karl Fisch, Mathew Needleman, Michael Barbour, Richard Ferdig, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Chris Lehmann, Pamela Livingston, Tom Hoffman, John Rice, Dean Shareski, Mary Beth Hertz, Carl Anderson, Richard Byrne, Scott Floyd, Miguel Guhlin, Joyce Valenza, Doug Johnson, Diana Laufenberg, Mark Wagner, Alec Couros, Kevin Jarret, Kimberly Cofino, David Jakes, Liz Kolb, Sharon Tonner, Ewan McIntosh, Jeff Utecht, and Afterward by Christopher Sessums.

With that out, I thought I’d go ahead and post the suggestions that I added to McLeod’s conversation.

  • Make them read and talk about some selected science fiction books. School leaders need to think and make decisions with the next 10, 20 and 50 years in mind. Some of the writings of Cory Doctorow and William Gibson come to mind. “The Singularity is Near” by Ray Kurtzweil might be a good one. I’m sure there are others.
  • I would suggest that community-building and culture-crafting are two essential skills for school principals. You might figure out a way to include some sort of field trip, possibly virtual, to schools that are exemplary in terms of community and culture and engage future principals in conversations about those schools, including in those conversations the schools’ practicing principals and vice-principals, teachers, and students. Future principal might be sent out with microphones and cameras (or iPads) to those schools to create multimedia tours that would be used by future classes.
  • Require them to research and then design a new school library, retrofit an old building for digital learning, design a brand new school.
  • They should be able to describe their ideal school, the characteristics of its staff and then create a list of questions to ask prospective employees during interviews that would identify new staff.
  • Future principals involved in internships would be required to maintain a blog where they describe their experiences, learnings, and insights — understanding that their blogs may become part of the departments growing curriculum. Various blog entries would be selected and featured for current and future students’ considerations and conversations.
  • Much of this would be supported by a learning network of practicing educators that is cultivated by the department’s faculty. Educators who are in the program would also, as part of the program, cultivate their own learning networks that could be described and evaluated, and that would support them in their university work and be carried with them into their careers as administrators.