PROCESS POST: Ludwick Marishane and #PBL – “What’s stopping you?”

… one question I have for the audience today is, on the gravel roads of Limpopo, with an allowance of 50 rand a week, I came up with a way for the world not to bathe. What’s stopping you? (Applause)

What is stopping us? Ludwick Marishane did so much more than just come up with a way for the world not to bathe. He figured out a way to battle trachoma and fight disease-based blindness in under-resourced areas.

I believe strongly that school should be more community-issue-problem-solving based. As Daniel Pink explained in Drive, we are motivated most strongly when we feel higher degrees of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Purpose has long been a question driver in schools. “When will I ever use this?” “Why are we learning this?” School could live more deliberately at this nexus of desired relevance and purpose and problems craving solutions. Learners want to maintain choice at pursuing things that matter to and interest them. By pursuing such passions, while the hard work can often feel playful, we develop deep mastery.

If you watched the five-minute TED talk from Ludwick Marishane, do you think he got the following:

  • growing understanding of science, perhaps in the integrated fields of chemistry and biology
  • increased cultural thoughtfulness and empathy
  • strengthening communication skills in writing business plans, patents, grant proposals, etc., as well as enhancing oral communications with presentations, sales pitches, etc.
  • heightening proficiency in mathematics, quantitative and qualitative statistics, and application of mathematical reasoning
  • developing sense that he is a creative and critical-thinking problem solver, with agency to make a difference in the world now
  • expanding appreciation for socio-economic and psychological dimensions of getting a solution to market
  • understanding the necessity of genuine collaboration to combat big, audacious goals

I think he got all of the above and so much more. And what he is giving may far outweigh what he is getting. I think he might help more than 8 million people affected by trachoma. And he developed DryBath because he wanted to figure out a way that he would not have to take a bath himself.

I can imagine elementary, middle, and high schoolers engaging in such starts-as-a-selfish-and-seemingly-ridiculous project. I can see them spending time in more time-concentrated laboratories of integrated learning, rather than interrupting their flow because of bells set to 50 minutes and disciplines sub-divided by cinderblock walls. I can see them solving big problems and growing as engaged, empathetic, empowered citizens. I can see them practicing the skills and learning the content that will serve them, and the world, most dearly in the coming decades.

Some schools might want to make wholesale change to such a model. Others might want to revamp their curriculum and instruction so that “lab” problem solving represents 50% of the day and more traditional classes represent the other 50%. Still others may want to discern how to incorporate such community-issues-problem-solving courses into just 20-25% of the school day or week. Whatever the ration, I believe the students and the world would benefit from the increased and enhanced concentration on dealing with real community issues – issues within one’s school, wider neighborhood, city, state, nation, or world.

As I’ve written this post, in less than 15 minutes, I’ve imagined a sort of “kit” that could help a school get started…

  1. Alan November’s book, Who Owns the Learning?
  2. Suzie Boss’s book, Bringing Innovation to Schools
  3. Will Richardson’s e-book, Why School?
  4. frog design’s Collective Action Toolkit

In fact, if you are already convinced that schools are, or should be, doing such community-issues-problem-solving based learning, then you could use just #4 to help you get started.

As Marishane challenged us all, “What’s stopping you?”

Good, not fast

It happened again this week. If I had to guess, I would say it was the 9,234th time. A teacher was talking about quizzes and tests with time limits. The exchange goes something like this:

Frustrated teacher: “Bo, there must be time limits. He could not finish the test in the 55 minutes. He is just going to miss those points of the questions he did not get to. He’ll learn to work faster.” [And here it comes…the dreaded statement for the 9,234th time…] “Do you want a doctor operating on you that could not complete the tests in a specified time?”

Me: “How will you know what the student really knows and understands? Will that grade really measure learning, or will it be confounded by too many other variables? Are your standards time standards or mastery standards? And, by the way, I want a good doctor, not a fast one.”

I challenge anyone to find the time-ranges data for typical operations and surgery. I bet there is a significant range of times for different docs performing appendectomies, bone sets, etc. May all my doctors have found mastery of their skills and concepts rather than beat-the-competition speed.