Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Educate for the Unknown

“The agenda of education should not just be passing along the contents of already open boxes but fostering curiosity for those still unopened or barely cracked open. We need a bolder agenda. Let's call it educating for the unknown. (Perkins, D. 2014)


I should have been out fishing the local ponds, but spring break in suburban Chicago was chilly and damp. Instead, I tended to my list of household chores and watched sixty-something episodes of "Breaking Bad". I became hooked (pun weakly intended) into the series for the same reason I enjoy fishing; as much as I would like to think I know what happens next, the outcome is always unpredictable and leaves me wanting more. In between Walter White's escapades, I spent some quality time with David Perkins' interesting book, "Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World". Perkins challenges educators to reimagine school by offering learning that matters to the lives of learners. The book is full of terrific suggestions for making learning "lifeworthy". One concept that has grabbed my attention Perkins calls "educating for the unknown."


How can we teach something we don't know? Perkins says big understandings sustain lifeworthy learning, and this knowledge stems from big questions. These are questions that a Google search won't answer, questions you won't find on a multiple choice test. How did we get here? Climate change; what's the real problem? Warm air is lighter than cold air; but what if not? 

Big understandings do not require absolute answers, yet they propel purposeful learning. Watch children at play, "I wonder what makes that top keep spinning?" Inquiry-based learning, discovery learning, project-based learning, problem-based learning are edu-jargon ways of helping learners ask big questions and igniting wonder.


A recent Gallup survey of nearly one million students shows engagement and enjoyment in the classroom decline steadily from kindergarten to 12th grade. Perkins states the key to transforming schools is to shift focus from achievement to relevance. Do you want to increase student engagement and empowerment in the classroom? Add mystery and wonder by teaching students to ask, and then pursue answers to, their big questions.


"Learners' pursuit of a question often makes for better learning. The given answer is not understood; the answer pursued and mastered is." - David Perkins (2-minute video)


What is something you understand very well? How did you acquire this great understanding? Chances are you incorporated one or more of the often mentioned, but frequently ignored, 21st-century skills including; communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creative problem-solving. Educating for the Unknown shifts learning away from pre-packaged content to these timeless, "lifeworthy" skills. Lifelong learning becomes a lifestyle pattern when the learner can transfer big understandings from one situation to another. There are successful practical examples of educating for the unknown in schools.


  • Makerspaces - Spaces designed for creative exploration, ideation, and prototyping. Makerspaces provide opportunities for students to put their questions into playful practice.
  • Genius Hour (20% Time) - Time devoted to learners following their interests and passions, asking big questions, and sharing "big understandings."
  • Project-based Learning - PBL begins with a challenging problem or confounding question. Inquiry drives the creation of a product that is critiqued, revised and reflected upon. Skills are developed through creative, collaborative processes. A final product is presented and shared with authentic audiences.


Technology is accelerating innovation and change, making the future difficult to predict. How are educators to prepare students for careers that don't yet exist? How can teachers help students become "future-ready"? Teachers can identify and discuss trends; they can adopt a learner's mindset, and they can provide present-day opportunities for students to ask big questions and develop big understandings. Teachers can increase student engagement, close the relevancy gap, and better prepare students for the future by educating for the unknown.


Related Reading


Reimagining School Writing - Edutopia, Joshua Block


10 Things That Happen When Kids Become Makers - The Creative Classroom, John Spencer

The Sweet Spot for Achievement - Psychology Today, Dan Goleman Ph. D.

The Future of Work: Trends & Toolsets - Doug Belshaw



photo credit: Inception via photopin (license)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Learning that Matters

Originally posted on Fractus Learning - 5.3.16

“Today we speak casually of lifelong learning, but in a few decades, it will likely be so much the norm as hardly to require its own label.” - David Perkins


You’re an educator with your finger on the pulse of what’s relevant to teaching and school. Being well read, you know that educational thought leaders are focusing recent dialogue on learning. Schools have always been places of learning, but few can deny the impact the Internet has on a person’s ability to learn whatever they want, whenever they want. Let’s have some fun by responding with the first word that pops into your mind.


Fill in the blank to complete the following phrase; ______________________ learning


The possible answers are numerous, aren’t they? Is your response included in the table below?


Authentic
Problem-based
Project-based
Individualized
Personalized
Cooperative
Flipped
Mastery
Community-based
Differentiated
Lifelong
Blended
Active
Social
Self-directed
Self-determined


As you reflect upon your K-12 education, what learning has provided a return on investment? What learning matters to you presently? David Perkins, in his book, Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World, defines lifeworthy learning as learning that matters to the learner; presently and for years to come. “Why do we need to know this?”, could be taken as a disrespectful challenge, or it could be an honest assessment of relevancy.

Perkins suggests lifeworthy learning is grounded in significant understandings; big questions that follow us and keep us awake at night. Big understandings are overarching themes that have a lasting impact. They are substantiated by an opportunity for application, gaining personal insight, informing our actions, and shaping ethical perspective. Perkins believes educating for the unknown is the key to transforming what constitutes meaningful learning in school.


“The agenda of education should not just be passing along the contents of already open boxes but fostering curiosity for those still unopened or barely cracked open. (Perkins, D. 2014)


Will Richardson says, “Curriculum is our best guess about what things should be learned in school.” How do we determine what learning matters? An important step is to have dialogue identifying learning undeserving of the lifeworthy label. Raise your hand if you remember the quadratic formula from your K-12 school experience. Notice that I didn’t ask if you learned the quadratic formula because that would suggest a bigger understanding than just remembering.


Keep your hand up if you’ve used the quadratic formula personally or professionally within the past week, past month, or past decade. Since there is no return on the initial investment, the quadratic formula, for most individuals, falls into what Perkins calls, the relevance gap. For most of us, the quadratic formula doesn’t matter in our daily lives. What would happen to the traditional curriculum if we were more attentive to the relevance gap than the often-discussed achievement gap?


Personal and professional relevance is driving modern learning in the workplace. Jane Hart is an expert in the area of workplace learning. She recently posted a checklist of twenty personal learning activities that support modern professional learning approaches. Her recommendations include; adopting a learner’s mindset, building a robust network that supports connected learning, identifying learning goals and evidence of growth, and contributing to learning teams. (Jane Hart, 2016)
Although most K-12 schools still follow a traditional curriculum, Perkins has identified six trends that are beginning to influence education policy. He calls these patterns “beyonds.”


  • Beyond content to current skills and competencies
  • Beyond local to global perspective, problems, and studies
  • Beyond topics to content supporting thought and action
  • Beyond traditional disciplines to extended themes
  • Beyond discrete disciplines to interdisciplinary issues and problems
  • Beyond academic engagement to personal choice, significance, commitment, and passion


Reimagining education means making lifeworthy learning a curricular priority. Perkins recommends keeping the dialogue positive and productive by identifying themes that generate great understandings. Start by asking what is important now and likely to be important in the future. No one can accurately predict the future but identifying trends and educating for the unknown moves learning towards greater relevance. In addition to igniting lifelong learning, we are at least better prepared for the unsolicited, “why do we have to learn this?”.

Works Cited

Perkins, David N. Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World.
"20 Ways to Prepare Yourself for Modern Workplace Learning." Learning in the Modern Social Workplace. April 20, 2016. Accessed April 27, 2016. http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/blog/2016/04/20/20-ways-to-prepare-yourself-for-modern-workplace-learning/.

"The Future of Work: Trends and Toolsets." Doug Belshaw's Blog, May 19, 2016

photo credit: The school.. via photopin (license)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Schools: What's the Real Problem?

"The achievement gap asks, "Are students achieving X?" whereas the relevance gap asks, "Is X going to matter to the lives learners are likely to live?" - David Perkins

During a recent leadership meeting, a respected, but frequently vocal colleague began venting his frustration about a few of the problems he perceived in our school; apathetic students, lack of consistency, lack of respect, and poor achievement. I looked around at the faces in the conference room wondering if others agreed with this assessment, or were they holding their tongues to avoid confrontation. While most would agree that it's our professional obligation to strive for improvement, I found myself asking, "What is the real problem?"

My question comes in the context of reading David Perkins timely and interesting book, Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World. Perkins general question is "what is worth learning in school?" Lifeworthy learning, a term coined by Perkins, describes knowledge and skills students think with, not merely about. Perkins wants educators to make lifeworthy learning a priority. What are the "big understandings" that will matter to learners now, and in their future? When students find the learning to be relevant, what Perkins calls "lifeready" learning, there is a far greater likelihood of engagement and satisfaction with school. 

In his recent post, Scott McLeod uses Gallup survey results to support his argument the biggest indictment of schools is not the failure to raise test scores; it's the steady decline in the percentage of students engaged in school from kindergarten to twelfth grade. McLeod says the real problem in schools is, "our children are bored, disengaged, and disempowered." (Engagement Today - Ready for Tomorrow, Gallup 2015)

In one of my favorite posts, author Will Richardson suggests the real problem with schools is the long established pattern of reinforcing a culture of teaching (efficiency) instead of cultivating a culture of learning (effectiveness).

"Given our devotion to an overstuffed curriculum, standardized tests, “college and career readiness” and more, about the only way we can see our students navigating the school experience is to “teach” it, to organize it, pace it, and assess it in some way that allows us to confer the adjective “educated” to each student." - Will Richardson 

The real problem is traditional schools, for the most part, are not offering a relevant education to students. We teach too much, and most of the content will be forgotten within weeks of summative assessment. A majority of students have expressed their disinterest in the forced curriculum. Perkins asks educators, "What did you learn during your first twelve years of education that matters in your life today?

The key to providing learning that matters lies in "big questions" and "big understandings"; content and skills that provide learners with meaningful insight, motivate their actions, shape their ethical thought, and offer opportunities for real-world application. Perkins suggests too much emphasis on achievement, information, and expertise can interfere with the development of a lifeworthy, relevant education. While researchers continue to study issues like the relationship between race, income, and the achievement gap, a documented, real problem in schools is the relevancy gap.

What needs to be done to close the relevancy gap in schools?

References and Related Reading


Future Wise Review - Learning and the Brain, Rebecca Gotlieb

The Biggest Indictment of Schools... - Dangerously Irrelevant, Scott McLeod

We're Trying to do the Wrong Thing Right in Schools - Will Richardson