If school is supposed to prepare students for real life, then why doesn’t it look more like real life?

If school is supposed to prepare students for real life,
then why doesn’t school look more like real life?

For more than a decade, this question has lived at the heart of my research and practice as a professional educator. While I worked at Unboundary, we created a Brain Food devoted to exploring this question.

A number of educators and school transformation agents connect to this question through an entire branch of educational practice known as “authentic learning.” At the end of January, #EdChat Radio featured the topic of authentic learning on an episode. And Dr. Brett Jacobsen, of Mount Vernon Presbyterian School and the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation (where I work), recently interviewed Dr. Yong Zhao for his podcast “Design Movement,” and much of their conversation connects with this topic of authentic learning.

Given the habits formed by decades of industrial-age, delivery-based pedagogy, though, educators must explore and experiment with different structures in order to make room for more authentic learning – learning that is meant to serve a greater purpose than only a grade in a grade book and a future locker-clean-out session in late May or early June.

Exploring such new structures can be challenging for schools. In fact, some structures point to entirely different paradigms for schools – like “giving an education” rather than getting an education, taking a course, or whadya-get-on-that-test assessment.

Some school people imagine such paradigm shifts would lack structure – that it would be too free form, loosey-goosey, or soft-skills heavy. This is really a false set up for thinking about the structural-shift needs of schools in transformation. How “loosey-goosey, really, is your project work and real-world problem solving in your career and life?

As Tony Wagner says in Creating Innovators, it’s not a choice between structure and no structure to allow for more authentic learning. It’s a choice to build a different structure for School 3.0 – one that allows for student-learners to explore their passions and real-world purposes while engaged in challenges that exist in the world and yearn to be defined and solved. Structures that empower learners to engage in more authentic learning flows.

Creating Innovators - Structure

But how do educators make such shifts and create different structures? I believe one way we do this is to explore avenues and portals to empower students to engage in real-world problem solving. Instead of only organizing the curriculum – the track of learning – around subject-siloed disciplines, at least part of the curriculum could be organized around exploring and venturing into authentic, real-world problem solving as organizers of product-and-process-oriented work.

In my own life and work, I’ve explored opening such portals through #fsbl and #Synergy. Much of this work involves immersing oneself and other learners into the Innovator’s DNA traits – observe, question, experiment, network, and associate – through the methodology of observation journaling and curiosity-curated curriculum.

Of course, other ways exist to open those portals and explore into those worlds of authentic learning and real-life problem solving. Here are but a few inspirations and possible ways in…

#GoExplore

Resources for engaging in real-life solution seeking:

Open IDEO
http://www.openideo.com/

Open IDEO is an open innovation platform for social good. We’re a global community that draws upon the optimism, inspiration, ideas and opinions of everyone to solve problems together.

http://www.openideo.com/content/how-it-works

NPR – All Tech Considered: Innovation
http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/195149875/innovation

An exploration of interesting ideas that solve problems, introduce new experiences or even change our world.

Do Something
http://www.dosomething.org/

DoSomething.org is the country’s largest not-for-profit for young people and social change. We have 2,439,780 members (and counting!) who kick ass on causes they care about. Bullying. Animal cruelty. Homelessness. Cancer. The list goes on. DoSomething.org spearheads national campaigns so 13- to 25-year-olds can make an impact – without ever needing money, an adult, or a car. Over 2.4 million people took action through DoSomething.org in 2012.

http://www.dosomething.org/about

Choose2Matter
http://choose2matter.org/

Choose2Matter is a call to leadership and an accelerator to connect individuals and communities with a conscience. It combines technology, innovation and mentorship to solve problems that matter. It’s an important opportunity for business, brands, and communities to join forces in the causes and issues most important to those they lead and serve.

What has been inspired by students, has led to the official launch and creation ofCHOOSE2MATTER – a crowd sourced, social good community.

http://choose2matter.org/about/our-history

50 Problems in 50 Days
http://50problems50days.com/

I’m on an adventure – to explore the limits of design’s ability to solve social problems, big and small. To do this I attempted to solve 50 problems in 50 daysusing design. I also spent time with 12 of Europe’s top design firms.

Peter Smart

Innocentive
http://www.innocentive.com/

InnoCentive is the global leader in crowdsourcing innovation problems to the world’s smartest people who compete to provide ideas and solutions to important business, social, policy, scientific, and technical challenges.

http://www.innocentive.com/about-innocentive

TED Prize
http://www.ted.com/prize

The TED Prize is awarded to an extraordinary individual with a creative and bold vision to spark global change. By leveraging the TED community’s resources and investing $1 million dollars into a powerful idea, the TED Prize supports one wish to inspire the world.

Ideas for Ideas
http://www.ideasforideas.com/

Introskabelon-for-web

TED Talks Education: 8 Talks, One-Hour PBS Special

TED Talks Education [<— click]

As a country, how can we better inspire our students — and support our educators? To explore ideas, TED, WNET, PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have teamed up for a brand-new one-hour special, funded by CPB’s “American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen.” TED Talks Education is an exhilarating night of talks hosted by John Legend.

Brain Food: Education @Unboundary #BrainFood

Like others, UNBOUNDARY sees education as one of the linchpin design challenges of our time. And like others, too, we’re drawn as if by a tractor beam to play a role.

That attraction, no doubt, is fueled by the parallels we see to our quarter century of helping some of the biggest and best-known enterprises in the world rethink and transform themselves.

We enter into this challenge with a declared bias: our belief that the transformation of education is interconnected to the transformations happening now in both corporations and the social innovation space…

This bias has shaped the structure and practices of Unboundary, which now has interdependent practice areas in corporate, social innovation, and education transformation.

We also enter this challenge offering Brain Food: a proven approach for shifting the din of idea-sharing into a useful design-thinking discussion.

Brain Food is curated provocation. It is both question and answer. It is both perspective and focus.

We welcome you to Volume One, Number One of Unboundary’s Education Brain Food. And we look forward to the discussion it opens among us.

Brain Food: Education, vol. 1, no. 1