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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Future is Calling: Are We Listening?

I confess that I think about the future probably more than most people. It may have been predestined. 

I was born the same year the future-themed, Seattle World's Fair opened and I was a member of the Race to Space generation.

Growing up in Renton, Washington, also had its benefits. I can vividly remember looking up at the Space Needle and wondering if the top part could fly into space. (Afterall, it was called the "Space" Needle). I stepped into an elevator that beamed me and my family up to the top of the Space Needle at unimaginable speed. Standing on the outer balcony, the floor below me rotated too slowly for me to feel, and yet the Seattle skyline changed every few minutes. 

I entered kindergarten in 1967 at the height of the Race to Space years. The school I attended was an experimental school funded by Science. Unlike traditional schools that had desks in rows and subjects segregated by topic, my school was round and had walls between “classes” that open in the day to allow my class to move to different stations to be taught by different teachers. 

Reading, math and writing revolved around science. Since Renton, Washington was the hub of aerospace engineering, we frequently had visits from astrophysicist and engineers from the nearby Boeing Plant.

I remember learning by experience rather than text books. I learned how heat molecules were light in weight and density by pouring hot water dyed with red food coloring into a tank filled with ice-cold water and watching the red dye rise to the top. I remember watching cold water with blue ink drop to the bottom of the tank. Instead of reading and writing about Dick and Jane, I read and wrote about famous scientist like Ben Franklin. 

Learning was meaningful and relevant to our school mission: Land a man on the moon before the Russians.  

Sadly, the funding for my school went away after the moon landing and I experienced a different type of learning where the end goal was to find the correct answer. 

Correctness was privileged over wonderment. 

The mysteries of space were replaced with over-priced text books, end of chapter questions that required me to define ambiguous vocabulary terms detached from meaningful experience.

I demonstrated my understanding by using a number two pencil to correctly “bubble” an option of a, b, c, or d, or all of the above. 

I spent hours upon hours tracing letters of the alphabet on ditto pages (now called worksheets). In middle school, English Language Arts required me to progress through "SRA" reading passages.

I learned how to be good at school. I lost my joy of learning.

Today, I fear that our students are being groomed as early as Kindergarten to privilege assessment over learning. Reading and writing are associated with levels, lexiles, preciseness, and scores. 

Our learners are immersed in acronyms that have flooded our education system and have become a language of its own: IEP, RtI, STAAR, CBS, CAS, ELPS, and so on.

I believe it is our moral obligation to move beyond prescriptive methods of teaching that have held our learners (and teachers) hostage. Classrooms should no longer resemble the classroom of the twentieth century. It's time to move beyond the known, and free our learners to explore the unknown!

The future is calling, but are we listening?

Confession Reflection:
  • What are some ways we can equip students with future-ready skills in order to be successful in the workforce of tomorrow? 
  • Does your curriculum make room for 22nd-century skills to be taught and practiced? i.e. entrepreneurship, experience with digital tools, second language acquisition.
  • How can instructional coaches and administrators support resistant teachers to embrace a growth mindset without shaming or blaming?