This is the first in a summer series of guest posts by members of my personal/professional learning network. Mary Beth Hertz is the technology teacher and technology integrator at Alliance for Progress Charter School in North Philadelphia. She can be found on Twitter at @mbteach and blogs at Philly Teacher.[hr]
What I want to express in this blog post is not anything new or innovative. It is nothing that hasn’t been said before. However, it is something that’s been mulling about in my brain while I was drinking my morning coffee and watching the Twitter stream from the Discovery Educators Network Leadership Council Symposium.
A video kept getting re-tweeted in the stream so I figured I’d better check it out.
You can watch the 2 minute video, Microsoft Office Labs Vision 2019:
As soon as it started I felt like I was watching a car commercial. It was flashy, well-produced and fast-paced. I honestly was not that impressed. I guess what people felt was that it was a window into what the future holds for technology and digital devices.
That I won’t deny.
The name on the video is “Microsoft Office Labs 2019 Vision Montage.” This is the vision that Microsoft has for our future.
What’s wrong with this picture?
For one, why are we letting Microsoft dictate what the future of digital life will look like? We could make the same statement about Apple or Sony or any other companies who manufacture digital products. Many of these companies do use customer input and feedback to improve their products, but in reality we are all consumers of what these companies feed us.
What does this mean for education? It means that we need to be putting our students to the task of deciding what THEY want their future to look like. We live in a time unlike any other in history. Our natural resources are disappearing, we have devices that are more powerful than ever before and we have tools that allow us to connect with people thousands of miles away in a matter of seconds.
Companies like Microsoft are not in the business of planning for the future of our children as members of society or for the future of our global community. We must empower our students with that charge. It is they who will inhabit the future. We must also ensure that we empower ALL students to take part in the building of future society, not just the ones who are privileged and can afford it.
There are many obstacles to overcome when we begin to ask our students to solve real world problems. Solutions to real world problems don’t fit on a standardized test. Solutions to real world problems take time to understand and even more time to solve. Solutions to real world problems require a restructuring of school as we know it.
I have been having various conversations (and sometimes debates) about what it means to be a teacher and a learner in the 21st Century. Some of the conversation has been focused around guiding students to understanding rather than delivering content, creating learning environments where learning is a connected and social experience, and infusing technology into learning when it can transform the learning experience. The world our students will inhabit will require them to collaborate with peers, understand social media tools and be problem solvers within their own communities and the larger world. We need to prepare them for that world.
Schools need to allow for tinkering. Tinkering with ideas, tinkering with materials, tinkering with students’ perceived limitations. Tinkering teaches children how to learn from failure. Tinkering teaches children how to think about a problem or a project from many perspectives. Tinkering allows children to build self esteem and feel pride in what they do. Students who tinker are the students who build our future.
Some examples of what I’m talking about:
- The Tinkering School teaches children how to build and guide their own learning. While it is not a true ‘school’ it is a model that could be replicated on a smaller scale within the school curriculum. (Listen to the founder’s TED talk here.)
- Philadelphia High School Students Design the Car of the Future
- Project Based Learning motivates students to solve real world problems–Edutopia article
- Sylvia Martinez writes extensively about tinkering on her blog, GenYES
There are those who will look at these words as a ‘pipe dream,’ ‘utopia’ or ‘fairytale.’ To them I would argue that we must have a Vision. If Microsoft can construct a vision of what it thinks the world will look like in 2019 then we as educators, parents, community members, lawmakers and general stakeholders in the world need to have a vision, too. Even more importantly, we need to let our children begin to build their own vision for their own future and give them skills to make it real.