Educating a generation for a future we cannot possibly predict.
GUEST COLUMN | by Christine Zaremba
In his seminal 2006 TED Talk, Sir Ken Robinson discussed the importance of creativity in education, and in doing so, made a point that has resonated with me ever since: Our jobs are now to educate children for a future and a career that we cannot possibly predict. His view is supported by a U.S. Department of Labor report stating that 65 percent of today’s schoolchildren will eventually be employed in jobs that have yet to be created. Children born this year will be thinking of retirement in the year 2082, a date so impossibly far off that it’s nearly incomprehensible.
In 2017, we stand at the cusp of a new world: a future that holds the prototypes, betas, and final releases of new modes of transportation, communication, cloud, wearable, biometric and biological computing, robotic components, virtual reality, and any variety of technology both predicted and unimagined by the best minds in science fiction.
In 2017, we stand at the cusp of a new world: a future that holds the prototypes, betas, and final releases of new modes of transportation, communication, cloud, wearable, biometric and biological computing, robotic components, virtual reality, and any variety of technology both predicted and unimagined by the best minds in science fiction. The jobs and skills that come along with these advancements are only part of the puzzle. Meaningful new pieces of technology can have a transformational effect on the way that we work and educate, in the same way Google Drive changed how we collaborate and robotics has helped to promote STEM.
So how do we educate children when we can barely picture how the office of the future will look, let alone the manufacturing process? Educators of today need to not only teach discrete skills, we have to give children the toolkits they’ll require to learn skills we possibly haven’t even imagined.
An Effective Avenue
STEM and STEAM initiatives can help to prepare students and allow them to build this toolkit: They provide an effective avenue where children learn to problem solve instead of learning the answers to problems. STEM also allows us to teach that failure can be positive. In a successful STEM classroom, engaged children don’t become discouraged when their design doesn’t meet their goals: They understand that the “failure” is an opportunity to improve.
Using educational technology tools such as LEGO MINDSTORMS Education EV3, educators are able to teach an iterative design process where the goal, outcomes and methods can change from student to student, but the process remains the same. Instead of teaching a formula to follow, design thinking allows students to innovate at the same time they create solutions that are applicable to their real world experience. These tools provide a safe and effective way to encourage positive failure, allowing students to iterate in an easy, low-risk environment. They can be customized to take dexterity, skill level and time into consideration, and can be used to teach subjects from communication to coding. Other hands on tools such as Makey Makeys and LittleBits afford a similar applied approach to learning, teaching and reinforcing resilience.
In terms of classroom engagement, STEM lessons tend to be extremely hands on and student-driven. When the work is authentic, student learning increases exponentially. When the work is student driven, engagement is nearly always guaranteed. Student ownership of lessons and a responsive classroom lend themselves to inspiring individual learning in all areas, whether they are topics covered in class or a student’s own interests.
An Iterative Mindset
In one particular technology project, I taught my students the iterative design thinking process through a bridge building study. Their goal was to create a structure that would support the weight of 100 metal nuts, using any of the techniques we introduced or ones they invented. We studied famous examples of bridges, read a related story, and then discussed local bridges as part of the project.
Now in nearly every class, one or more students approach me and share information about engineering they’ve been inspired to seek on their own. I encourage each student to continue exploring the topic that has intrigued them, and always make time to recognize the interest, share it with the class, and try to relate it to another area of study. In this way, I become a facilitator of their own affinity-driven learning as opposed to the classroom lead, and I’m proud that they consider me a resource.
Additionally, project based, multi-discipline learning like this ensures that students are creators, rather than simple consumers of knowledge, a tool they will certainly need to build for that unknown future. As students learn the design thinking process and to view failure as just another step, they begin to take more risks with their planning and designs in ways that are appropriate for all skill levels: Some students are more comfortable following a guided project and stay at that level for some time while successfully meeting their goals, others are eager to go “off script” and utilize unorthodox building techniques.
Setting Up Success
In setting children up for success in this way, it’s easy to create confident learners who are able to gain mastery of difficult subjects and pursue their own interests. Well-planned STEM projects have the ability to remove some boundaries, particularly when they allow students to create artifacts that more closely represent their own personal learning styles.
An engaged, confident learner who is wholly supported and unafraid to take risks is a learner who will be successful in making something of Ken Robinson’s unknown future, the one that many of us as educators can’t see, but that our students will live.
Christine Zaremba is an educational technologist at The Nightingale-Bamford School and is a LEGO Education Ambassador. Christine teaches lower school and has also worked extensively with middle schoolers. She specializes in professional development and training centered on pedagogy, skills, usability, workflow, curriculum, and cross-curricular integrative projects. She is responsible for distance/blended learning curriculum, initiatives and platforms, as well as generating support, excitement and interest. Write to: [email protected]