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 get 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)

2 comments:

Melanie Booth said...

I just read a review of Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing (by Jamie Holmes) and added it to my must-read list; I'm now adding Perkins' book next to it. It's so critical for all learners (kids and adult learners!) to be able to learn by/with/through ambiguity. To be able to pose the questions (and the *right* questions!) can be as challenging if not more so as finding answers. The connections to creativity and problem-finding and problem-solving and learning-by-doing are key.
Thanks for this post!

Robert Schuetz said...

Hello Melanie,
I hope all is well with you. Thank you for reading and commenting. I will have to check out the Holmes book you mention - it sounds like something I will enjoy. The one thing we all face is an uncertain future. Wasn't it Einstein who said, "The measure of intelligence is the ability to change." I don't see how change is possible without asking the "right" questions you speak of.
Best,
Bob