Friday, November 29, 2013

Parents Save Your Children: Support Innovation Education

I'm becoming impatient... Truth be told, patience is not my biggest strength! There are so many educators out there who truly care about changing education for the better. Why can't we make it happen NOW? I know, I know, there are all kinds of reasons: high-stakes testing, APPR, SAT's, ACT's and AP's. I hear it all the time. Teachers can't take time to go in depth in an area, because students and parents expect that they will "cover" everything that might be on a test. Thus, they teach year after year in the same way: the way they were taught.

I asked a science teacher recently: why don't you use project based learning to teach the material? Why not ask an open-ended question and let the students figure it out? The answer was, 'I haven't taught that way. I don't even begin to know how.' And, actually, if the way they are teaching helps kids perform on the tests and, thus, get into great colleges, then why change? With so much pressure coming from parents (and students) to gain admittance to top-level schools, and needing almost perfect scores to do it, no wonder teachers do what they feel they have to...

So in every problem there is a pivotal moment when enough people have seen the solution and they can start to sway the majority. This "tipping point" is upon us. Parents at the elementary level understand that tests are taking away the joy of school and learning for their kids. They see the purpose of play, of tinkering, and trying to figure out answers to open-ended questions. Parents of young children know that creative confidence is important. These parents, as their children move up through the grades, need to hold onto those ideals and not get sucked into the college process-where their children become only the sum of their test scores and college resumes. They need to continue to encourage their children's passions and enable them to have time and space to pursue them.

Parents, find your voices. Take up the call. Your children's lives are at stake. Don't allow testing and content heavy education to take away their joy and excitement in learning. Talk to your school's teachers and administrators. Vote for Board of Education members who are like-minded. Write letters and make phone calls to state legislators. Support your children's pursuit of passion. Give them space, time and materials. Help them find mentors. And help your schools. There are many, many teachers and administrators out there who get it. But we can't do this alone. We need parents.

All Kinds of Thinkers Needed

As I talked with students about creating a Hacker club at my school, I asked them what hacking meant to them and what they would do in that club. Techie kids wanted to solve problems through technology, create apps and explore programming problems. I asked, how will you use technology to solve problems and what problems will you solve? They know how to use technology, but in the words of one techie kid: "I just don't know how to identify problems that need to be solved. Once I have a problem, I can solve it and that's the part I like." The part that interests most of these kids is the solving-not the identification of the problem. Here's the good news: there are many kids out there who know how to find the problems and identify them, but don't know the technology with which to solve them! These sets of kids have different interests and skill sets. The techie kids are great at figuring out how to solve the problems. The big thinker kids are great at figuring out what problems to solve. Solution: put the two sets of kids together and let them work on projects.

There are all kinds of thinkers in the world: big picture people, detail people, techie people, and many many other types. If they work in isolation, they only get so far. If they get put together in one place, they can help one another. Problem identified, brainstorming done, solutions found and presented! Now, how can schools get all these types of kids together? Well, look at your average classroom. We don't take all the aural learners or visual learners and put them in one section of science. Every class is mixed in terms of learning styles. If we asked students to solve real world problems that exist in their own communities, then we could take this mixed population of different thinkers and help them solve these problems. The big thinker kids would help identify the problems. The empathetic kids would help the others understand the problem. The creative thinking kids could brainstorm solutions. The crafty kids, or makers, could make prototypes out of real materials. And the techie kids could create technological solutions. And in the process, they would all learn by observing the other types of thinkers in the group, while maintaining their own individual strengths. Seems like a great solution to preparing our students for the real world and solving real world problems.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

College Board Forum: STEM to STEAM

STEM to STEAM panel at the College Board Forum in NYC-my part of it:

I have been asked to speak about the role that the arts play in STEM education.
Very simply, art teaches the skills and competencies that students need to in order to be successful in the STEM disciplines. Work in these fields is not really possible without the skills that the arts teach. This is not a new concept, but one that is simply coming to light at a time when our country searches for ways to create innovative thinkers.  In The Art and Craft of Science, an article that appeared in Educational Leadership, in February 2013, Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein argue that,

“Arts and crafts develop such skills as observation, visual thinking, the ability to recognize and form patterns, and manipulative ability. They develop habits of thought and action that include practicing, persevering, and trial-and-error problem solving. They pose new challenges,.... And they provide novel structures, methods, and analogies that can stimulate scientific innovation.
For all these reasons, finding ways to foster arts education alongside science education—and, even better, finding ways to integrate the two—must become a high priority for any school that wants to produce students capable of creative participation in a science-dominated society like ours.”

First, exposure to the arts teaches observation or deep noticing. There is a difference, as you know, between looking and looking closely. Increasingly, students live in a world where everything is instantaneous and their attention spans are shorter and shorter-perhaps this is true for all of us. When students are asked to draw something, they must look closely in order to accurately observe the lines and shapes of the object they are trying to portray. Students learn to see tiny differences and to record them. Doesn’t this sound like what a scientist does? In architecture, I begin the class by asking students to draw the front elevation of their houses. Although most of them have lived in their house their entire lives, they always struggle with this. How many windows? Where are they? What does the roof look like? How many of you could do this if I asked you to do it now? For homework, students draw the same elevation from observation and then compare the two drawings. Drawing from observation allows them to slow down and really look at their house. The process is repeated when students spend several weeks creating interior perspective drawings of the high school. Years later, students visit and tell me they still know that part of the building better than any other space they have spent time in, because of drawing it.

At Scarsdale High School, I teach a lighter load and have release time to work with other teachers across the disciplines writing curriculum and teaching with them in their classrooms. Because of this, I work with Biology teacher Beth Schoenbrun, who asks her students to adopt a tree for the year and to create a log, recording observations. This journal must include drawings, but not all her students have had art classes or are comfortable drawing. Using the children’s book: Drawing a Tree by Bruno Munari, and simple diagrams of bifurcation, I work with students first in the classroom and then outside as they begin to draw.  If they can make the letter Y, they can learn to draw a tree. Their journals begin simply but gain complexity as the year continues, as they come to know their tree and observe its changes. Students then go on to making observational drawings during dissections looking at and labelling specific organs. The drawing requires close observation and deep noticing. I had an AP art history student who emailed me when she was in medical school to boast that she was the best in her class at reading sonograms and MRIs. She knew it was because she had learned observation from looking closely and analyzing paintings in my class.

Second, the arts teach students to envision, to create an image from an idea in their head. Einstein, who went to a secondary school in Switzerland that was based on Johann Pestalozzi’s philosophy of education and encouraged visualization and modelling, was able to visualize complex concepts in his mind. When students learn spatial thinking, they gain the ability to see three-dimensional space in their heads from looking at a two-dimensional drawing. This is a skill that engineers, architects and scientists need, but it also allows students to envision and understand difficult ideas. If students understand how things fit together, and how they pull apart, then they are able to understand how things work. In architecture, students study the high school building and make a map of their movements throughout one full day. They must record two-dimensionally their path through three-dimensional spaces. They argue with me when I correct their drawings, telling me that a hallway turns left instead of right or that the stairs are oriented in a certain way. I send them out with their drawings to correct them in the actual space. From creating perspective drawings and these maps, students practice spatial thinking. They learn, as architects, engineers and scientists must, to see three-dimensional spaces in their minds when looking at a two-dimensional drawing. This ability to “see” or envision, is critically important to the STEM disciplines. In Chemistry, students must understand the order in which electrons fill the different orbitals around an atom. Schoenbrun and I ask students to embody the process, walking their way through the orbits, which helps them understand the potential energy of each orbital and the order in which they would be filled by electrons. In math classrooms, envisioning allows Fibonacci’s sequence to become more than a series of numbers. Students can use it to create the golden rectangle and then see how nature uses it to create growth patterns, linking math to biology. Scientific thinking is almost synonymous with recognizing and forming patterns. Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein conclude that, “ Every hypothesis and theory is the discovery of a pattern within some set of observations. For this reason, artists, choreographers, and musicians, whose works invariably invent and play with patterns, have a great deal to teach scientists (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 1999).”

Art also teaches habits of mind such as persevering and trial-and-error problem solving. Through grappling with creative problems, students learn that there is not just one answer and become more comfortable with open-ended questions. Stanford University’s Design Thinking codifies the process of creative thinking: discovery and empathy, synthesizing information and defining the problem, ideation or brainstorming, experimenting and testing, and evolution and redesign.  I have been using this “roadmap for thinking” with classes this year, both in art and in collaborating with others on curriculum, and have found that it forces students to slow down.  Students now are so product and grade driven that they are not interested in being involved in a process, but rather hurry through any project in order to get it done and get the grade. As a result, they become focused on the right answer and cannot seem to persevere when it is not easily obtained.  They become frustrated with open-ended questions, because there is no one right answer. Scientists, mathematicians, engineers and artists need to be comfortable with these types of problems and to be resilient, so that when an experiment or design does not yield the expected result, they do not give up, but rather adapt their thinking and try again. Students who make things, whether it is art or tinkering with tools and different types of material, learn to trust the design process. They learn to adapt their own thinking when something unexpected happens, ask new questions and rethink.  They learn from failure: it becomes part of the process.  This is embodied in the Maker movement, sparked by Dale Dougherty’s Make Magazine,  which is transforming innovation in industry, hands-on learning in education and the personal lives of makers of all ages and is at the intersection of technology and the arts. Makerspaces are where people of all ages can collaborate and create. Observing, visualizing and manipulating materials builds creative confidence and helps STEM students and professionals imagine new possibilities.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Helping Teachers Ask Open-ended Questions

All teachers feel anxious about this time of year: a new start; a fresh beginning. The school year looms close. I am excited about this coming school year. My innovation education exploration has led me to this place. This summer, I, along with several colleagues, had the chance to be part of a "ride-along" professional development at Project Breaker, Juliette LaMontagne's TED senior fellowship project. We watched 18-23 year olds engage in a two week design thinking challenge. As part of the professional development we were asked to interact at times and other times observe silently. This proved to be a challenge for some teachers who are used to helping students. I found this fascinating. It was difficult for teachers to watch students struggle in defining the problem. It was difficult for them to not control the outcome. I learned that this is the sticky moment for teachers: it is hard for teachers to not know what the outcome of an assignment will be. They are uncomfortable with the open-ended-ness of this.

After speaking to others involved in Design Thinking, it seems that this is the tough spot. How do you teach teachers to be comfortable with this lack of control? It is not just about being a facilitator rather than an expert. It is really about the not-knowing. As an artist, I am pretty comfortable with not knowing what the outcome of something will be. When I sit down to make a piece of art, I have no idea what it will ultimately look like. I simply begin with something I am interested in, or with manipulating materials in a way that seems intriguing. This summer, I started a big piece. It makes me uncomfortable to work large, so I made myself do it. I knew I wanted to begin by sewing the paper with a sewing machine. I had done that before and I wanted to explore it further. I knew I wanted to use language as I am fascinated with language. But then, I saw another artist's work and liked the way they used watercolor and wanted to incorporate that. And so it goes. When I get stuck, I talk to my husband and listen to what he says and my reaction to it. Or I start another piece. At one point, I wanted to try something different, but it didn't feel right as part of this piece, so I began another. The outcome is not predictable and really not controllable.

But how do you teach this to others? It really comes down to process. If there is a process embedded in a class that a teacher trusts, then they will feel more comfortable with open-ended questions and outcomes. As I begin a new piece of art, I know my process of making and I trust it. Speaking with a colleague who is a poet this summer, I compared this to his writing a poem. He doesn't know what the final poem will look like, but he knows his process and trusts it. He completely understood.

Design thinking is Stanford Design School's codification of the artistic process and it can be embedded in any curriculum. Teachers need to use this process themselves in order to trust it, whether in their own practice as artists, writers, gardeners, or makers of things. It can be used in whatever creative process students are engaged in: writing a paper, solving a problem, creating a piece of artwork....

Design Thinking in Action-Teaching Creative Process

When I first began teaching at Scarsdale High School six years ago, I was amazed at how grade oriented the students were. I would demonstrate a technique and describe their assignment and all too quickly I would hear, "I'm done. What grade do I get?" I had been teaching previously at a similar school: high stakes and high socio-economic level. So what was different? The previous school had been all girls for one and private as well. I have no idea if either of those things were significant, all I knew was the techniques I had previously used weren't enough to get kids to engage at Scarsdale.

In architecture classes, in curriculum I designed, I embedded a process. I did this by instinct or feel. As an artist myself, I know the importance of process. Often unsure of the end result, I lean on my own process. In Architecture, my students always had to brainstorm, come up with at least three solutions before they explored only one and were allowed to fail, start over or redesign anywhere along the way. After the first few projects in a class, students got used to my insistence that they follow the "rules". 

My other classes, where I was following a jointly designed curriculum, did not go so well. I struggled to get kids to slow down, brainstorm many ideas and then finally develop one. Kids' attention spans are getting shorter and shorter-actually that's probably true for all of us. Multi-tasking, their days programmed to the second, students can only give a few minutes to any task. Tutors are hired so that students will block out time to work on a subject, not because they need help with the work or material. And we are all used to "sound-bites" of information. We no longer read long articles in the newspaper, but expect the information to be summarized in a short paragraph or video clip. 

This year, I began the year using a road map for design thinking with all my classes and the difference is palpable. I love it! By slowing them down at the beginning of the year, I think I've set the ground work for a full year of focus on process. And this is a great thing! If students learn to follow a process and trust it, it is easier for them to take risks or pursue an idea without knowing its outcome. They will take more chances and be more creative as they will not be limited by knowing how the idea will turn out in the end. 

I asked one of my classes if anyone had ever gotten three-quarters of the way through a project and decided they didn't like the topic or wanted to change it, but didn't because they and already spent so much time on it. Almost every student raised their hand. I asked if they had any ideas about how to rectify that and one young man said, "I think it would be really helpful to follow this road map with anything we do particularly the brainstorming part, before we pick the direction we want to go in and invest so much time." Exactly. 

I am excited to see what happens for my students as this process becomes integral in their practice. Having a road map, a process, will, I think, free them up to try ideas and fail, try again, learn to be resilient and ultimately more creative, thoughtful, adaptable, imaginative and just plain better thinkers and makers. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Value of Making Something One is Proud of....

I had one of those moments this week, the kind of moments every teacher lives for... I have taught a young lady for the past few years who has many obstacles both physical and psychological. She is in special classes, but in art classes, she is mainstreamed. At the beginning of the semester, when I saw that she had signed up for my Architecture II class, typically full of very serious, high-level students, I was worried that she would find the work and concepts too difficult and then be anxious. I met with the team of special education teachers and eventually with her mother and we agreed to let her try the class. If any of us felt that it was making her anxious, we would immediately find another class for her. At first, she did okay, keeping up with the others through some redirection and further explanation. As the semester progressed, I saw that she was leaning less and less on her aid for help with cutting and gluing pieces of her models. The accommodations I made to the project, which asked students to create a townhouse on a 20 x 50' footprint with a specific program, helped every student in the class figure out the problem. By cutting the program into puzzle pieces and then playing with them on the footprint, students were able to clearly see how to fit the townhouse together. Everyone had a different solution and everyone, including my special student could do it! As the semester progressed, she created plans, sections and elevations for the townhouse and built a model in quarter scale. More importantly, she gained confidence daily. She began asking me for clarification, instead of asking her aid. And she began to interact with the others in the class. We all realized how funny she was when she began delivering one-liners.

The best moment came last Friday. Their final was a very open ended visual reaction to their experience of the High Line. Before they visited, I asked them to watch some video interviews of the architects and then asked them to consider some specific questions while they were there. Friday was D Day and students poured into my room to unveil their creations. Her mother had to bring in her project-it was too big for one person to carry-and it was amazing. It was obvious how much time and thought she had put into it. The other students in the class were full of genuine praise as it was clear that hers was the best project by far. The best was to see how proud she was to be the center of attention-good attention-from her classmates.

What I came away with was how creating something that you are proud of can be such an important moment for a student. I asked some of my other students about it and they all agreed that making something that you are proud of is valuable. This young lady's mother wrote me an email afterwards thanking me for giving her a new perspective on her daughter and for being able to see through her "facade" to the truly wonderful young lady that lies beneath. That's what teaching is really about: helping students push their limits and discovering their potential. Making things helps students engage and is a valuable process. We need to do more of it in schools.

Friday, May 31, 2013

One size does not fit all... when it comes to change

One size does not fit all. We hear this all the time these days when it comes to innovation education, and I agree with the idea. The saying seems to fit my own school especially right now. Listening last night to Juliette LaMontagne from Project Breaker speak about Breaker projects and using Design Thinking, I realized that project based learning is a piece of the puzzle, but not the entire solution, or perhaps not yet anyway. Students still need to learn some content in order to have a frame of reference. If you don't know that an area of study exists, it is impossible to use that information or to become impassioned by it. Students also need to understand and know some basic things-not just skills. Historical periods, changes over time, branches of biology: students need to be exposed to knowledge. And stuffing content into their heads only to have them spit it back out on a test is not the way to go about doing this, but they still need exposure to different types of knowledge. I think of my own passion for interdisciplinary teaching and learning and how excited I was when I first began to realize the world was this interconnected place. I would not have been able to come to that realization if I had not been exposed to different types of disciplinary knowledge. Not that I had to memorize it-as an art historian I am still embarrassed that I have no recollection of most dates-I google them-but I had to know and understand the existence of this information in order to be able to make those connections.

Students also need to be exposed to different fields or disciplines, so that they can figure out what interests them. If you don't know anything about chemistry, how do you know if it interests you. Thus, I think there is still plenty of room for disciplinary teaching and learning in schools. Once students have a basic understanding of a field, then they can be asked to use knowledge and ask bigger questions allowing them to delve deeper.

And the way it stands right now in public schools anyway, teachers must still deliver content so that students can jump through the standardized testing hoops that allow teachers to be "rated" and students to be evaluated. If there is a paradigm shift to be had right now, it would be to bring down the testing companies. Ask yourself, as a parent, teacher or student, who benefits from these standardized tests? Certainly not students, although right now they are the benchmarks for college acceptance. Certainly not teachers, because if you've ever taught anyone anything, you know that the teaching and learning experience can't be evaluated by a fill in the bubble test. And as a parent, ask yourself about how much time your child has or will spend studying for SAT's, ACT's, AP's, PSAT's, etc.

So how do we create meaningful experiences for our students while still ensuring their success on these benchmark tests? I think we have to tweak curriculum and make changes where we can. We can't undo the need for students to take these tests and succeed, but we can change our classroom practice so that students have experience with open ended questions, learning to frame questions, exploring their own interests within parameters, and learning about process, empathy and collaboration. It is frustrating because it is slow change, but it is still meaningful and it makes a difference. I know it from the excitement I see in my own students when they are given these types of learning challenges.

Slow and steady wins the race... when it comes to changing schools. Or at least I hope so.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Time for passions

A student said something yesterday that really struck me and may seem off topic at first, but stick with me for a bit. Rachel, a junior in high school who is making a documentary as an extension to a research paper, and purely for her own enjoyment, said that it was really hard to find time to work on it, because she had so many other things she HAD to do. Her parents want to make sure she keeps up with the parts of her school work that are graded and therefore "count." She has to start thinking about college visits. She has exams and final projects to prepare. The documentary, although it is the thing she cares about most and is incredibly meaningful and pleasurable to work on, comes last and therefore often doesn't get worked on for days at a time. As I was listening, I thought, well, that's me. I know that making art makes me happy, but why does it always come last in my life, so often that I haven't made any for months? Rachel met with her teacher to talk about it and her teacher suggested that she schedule blocks of time into her days that would be documentary work time. And I thought, why don't I do that?

When I first graduated from college, where I was a studio art major, I remember feeling like I'd fallen into a void. There was no one telling me I had to make art, and no one giving me assignments. I felt lost. I knew and still know that creating things makes me happy, helps me work through stuff in my life and is just plain good for my state of mind, but it always got pushed to the last thing and then there wasn't time. Eventually you lose the habit of making. Well, I think Rachel had provided me with an answer. I have to schedule time-real blocks of time-in my google calendar with a reminder programed into my phone.

And, I thought, what a great life-lesson this is. Rachel has found something that she is passionate about, but by grappling with this issue now, she will know what to do when she leaves school and suddenly doesn't have anyone telling her what to do and when to do it. She will simply schedule it into her day. It seems so simple. Why then, has it taken me 53 years to get this?

I know that I'm not the only one who has felt that loss after graduation. My own daughter has talked about it. If innovation education is about teaching habits of mind, then this is one habit that needs to be taught. Find out what you are passionate about. Then, find a way to do it. And if it doesn't fit into your work day-if you are not lucky enough to make money making art, or documentaries, for example-then schedule that time in there. Our students are so used to being programmed every second of every day from early childhood on, that when they graduate it can be daunting. Faced with that void looming ahead, many are anxious about what they will do. If they have discovered something that makes them happy and they know how to create time for it, then this structure will stay with them through their life and sustain them through the rough times.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Play: First of all, very few kids nowadays really get time to play. I don't mean playing sports or playing a game or anything organized that involves adults, but rather the play that's just messing around kind of play. When I was young, most of my after-school time wasn't structured. My Mom would gladly give me any art supply I wanted and anytime I was bored, I would pull out paints, pencils or the like. Every summer, I spent three months on a lake in Vermont with few organized activities. We swam, boated, hiked, and hung out with friends. Perhaps it seems, by our present standards, that some of that was 'wasted time,' but I would argue that this time was invaluable. I learned to figure out what I liked to do and ways to do it. And I played with other kids in unstructured ways. We built lean-tos in the woods, we built rafts and had competitions to see whose would float longest, we caught minnows and we just plain played. The point of all this is that kids need to play.

I am an art teacher. More and more I see students who don't understand how to play. They want to hurry through an art assignment and get a grade. They have no understanding of the joy of process: how wonderful it is to get completely caught up in making something; the feeling that time has stood still because you are so absorbed in the process of creating; the wonderful sense of making without really knowing what the ultimate product will look like. This state of mind is very good for you it turns out. It has been identified as the state of "flow" and has great benefits psychologically. There are other ways of describing this state, but if you've ever been totally caught up in something so that time passes without notice, or something has felt totally effortless, then you've experienced this state of mind. And if you've experienced it, I'll bet it felt good.

I think our students need to experience this. But in the world of 52 minute periods, bells, tests and other restrictions, they have learned that school is not the place to do it. I admit that a 52 minute period makes it hard for a child to get truly involved in a project. In my architecture classes, I see it everyday. My students are disappointed when I tell them they have to clean up. They are so involved with building their models, that they don't want to stop. They work through lunch; they come back after school; they don't want to go to other classes. Students often pursue their passions outside of school on their own time.

So here's the real question: how do we work within the parameters we have in place and still encourage our students' curiosity? How do we fully engage students in projects, so that what they are learning is interesting and useful? How do we encourage them to "play" with ideas, information, questions? How do we get them involved in the PROCESS?

I'd love to hear your thoughts. More of mine later...

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

So I've been thinking a great deal about education lately and I decided to do what all my students are doing.... blog about it. I was one of those people, about 15 years ago, who was daunted by the idea of just turning on the computer. The I began using it bit by bit in my teaching practice. First, I started a Moodle for my AP Art History class. I found images online and made PowerPoints-no more slides for me. I  posted homework and asked questions of my students, to which they responded online. They were not nearly as impressed as I was-being on the computer was second nature to them. A few years later, I went to work at a laptop school and my knowledge grew exponentially! We were encouraged to be paperless. We corresponded with parents, teachers and students via email. All my students took notes on their laptops-that took a little getting used to, but I found that I liked it. They could look something up during a discussion and it only made the class richer. It forced me to move around the room and they got used to me being behind, in front and in the middle of the room checking that they were on task. Being at this school changed how I worked, taught and thought.

I was talking to my students last week about how thinking has changed because of the internet. I know that my brain works differently. I don't remember little details or dates-I look them up. I write differently. I wrote my masters' thesis by hand. Notecards divided up into piles. An outline written from the piles. Sections hand written and then physically cut up and moved around and pasted back together--with glue! The final product was typed. On a type writer. Now, by contrast, I sit down to write and it feels like a brain dump. Then I go back and reread and cut and paste to move things around--no glue needed, just a click of the mouse. The way my brain approaches writing is just different. I see the same approach in my students when they do an in class essay on the computer. There are few outlines in the room, but students are busy writing from the moment you let them begin. They go back afterwards and organize, rewrite and rearrange.

So what does all this mean? Our students' brains are different, the structure of the world is different and we need a new paradigm for education.  Why teach content and rote memorization if they can pull their phones out and look up the information? Some students are good at playing the "school" game. They can get good grades and pass the tests, but to what end? When you talk to students now about their education, it is often seen, at least where I teach, as a means to an end: getting into a good college. But what happens if you 'do school' well, you jump through all the hoops... then what? Do you graduate from college prepared for what's out there? Judging by my own children and thousands others coming out of college now, the answer is no. So, how do we prepare students for a future world--or even for the present one? What skills and abilities do they need to go out and make a difference, find meaning in their pursuits and survive and be successful in today's world?

Innovation education experts have been looking and identifying these skills and there are many good books out there on this topic. As a teacher, I think we need to help students discover what they are interested in and why what they are learning matters. This doesn't mean we get rid of content. Students need to be exposed to all kinds of disciplinary knowledge, because how do you discover what you are passionate about if you don't know about it? We need to tweak how we teach. We need to help students pursue what they are interested in with more open ended assignments that allow students to shape them to fit their own areas of interest within a larger topic. This doesn't mean a free for all, just a rethinking of how assignments are framed.

One of the things I notice about students today, is that they are uncomfortable with a question that does not have a right answer. They want to know if they are right and if they are getting the "A." Give them an open-ended question, and some of them are frightened. How can they figure it out if they don't know what you, the teacher, wants them to produce? Assignments that give parameters but don't have only one answer force students to think for themselves. And these assignments leave room for students to be individuals.

Students also don't know why they are learning what they are asked to learn. Often, they cannot see any connection to their own lives or the import of acquiring this knowledge. If the material is not relevant, they won't remember it. If they don't use it to do something significant, they won't remember it two weeks after the test. Since so much content is available online, why not teach students to ask questions and do research about a topic that they can use in a meaningful way? Why not let students try to make a difference in the world now? As one of my students said the other day, 'I'm alive now!'

So, that's just my first stab at this. Coming soon, my thoughts on how important it is to make things, to take things apart and to play. Please let me know what you think.