“What you study is not that important. Knowing how to find those things you are interested in is way, way more important. . . . I’ve got this momentum, and the idea is to figure out what interesting opportunities there are around you and use them to get to the next point.” A quote by Kirk Phelps, Product Manager for Apple’s first iPhone, from Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, written by Tony Wagner .
As educators we have to wonder, are we so focused on what we are teaching, that we miss the boat on the things that make a human being resilient and successful in a world that calls forth different skills than it demanded in the factory-driven, company loyalty mindset of the past? Shouldn’t every person going through our education systems need to develop the capacities to solve problems creatively…in other words to innovate.
The quote above goes on to describe that kind of inquiry as similar to navigating a satellite though space…being interested in one area and going there for a while and then moving on to the next….all in a process of personal integration. This has been my way to learn, so I can say that this type of inquiry cannot be forced by super specific curricular objectives. I see attempts to take the old style of curriculum planning that starts with the standard objectives, and then almost as an after-thought, tries to force in creative problem solving. Can’t happen. What can happen, and what frequently does is my classroom and classrooms all over…is that the structure of the planning is focused on the thinking…the thinking…not the objectives. Then the objectives are put into that structure. The Common Core State Standards are getting some well deserved criticism, but they lend themselves much better to this kind of learning than our previous attempts.
To learn to be innovative, and all the things that go along with that: inquisitive, creative, logical, critical thinking, persistent, resilient… requires some specific conditions. First, it requires freedom to explore and play with the topic. In a school setting, this naturally reflects curriculum, but there are so many possibilities for doing this. I use Project-based Learning to wed these innovator skills with curriculum. Second, it requires a balance of collaboration and solitude.
Co-founder and teacher of the Phoenix School in Salem, Mass, Betsye Sargent asked me this question about teaching for today’s world, “How does this fit with the current direction education seems to be going? How do we get it to change tracks? If 65% of grade school kids today may be doing work not yet invented (MacArthur Foundation), then the future really isn’t a multiple choice standardized test.”
As the push and pull between testing, curriculum standards, and an ever evolving planet continues…we as educators must become the student the world needs…the innovator. It is in becoming that ourselves that allows us to lead our educational systems, classrooms and students in that direction.