This prompt and stem is a tremendous tool for reflecting and expanding thinking. Occasionally, I have used such a prompt when facilitating workshops, meetings, or early explorations. It serves as something of a mental-emotional bridge.
Over the past few weeks, I have gathered three examples of this prompt in action – employed by three inspiring thinkers and doers in educational innovation. I encourage you to click on a link below and read. If you read one, I imagine that you’ll want to read all three. (I’ve tried to make my intro short – it would be better for you to spend your time reading the links below.)
… 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…
[Disclaimer: This post may not make any sense to anyone but me. I am researching 21st C education trends, project-based learning, social and civic responsibility, school transformation, and Common Core State Standards. All through the lens of strategic re-design of school of the future. What follows below is some of the thought-board I am developing, and I felt compelled to share at least some of what I am discovering and thinking about…]
Today, during a Skype conversation with a trusted and highly respected educational colleague, I heard a couple of interesting threads of commentary that have led me on a fascinating research exploration for much of the day.
One of the folks here says PBL is dead. I don’t agree, but there is some strong movement against it.
We call him Pele because he knows where the ball is going, and the ball is currently going to the Common Core State Standards.
You breathe rarified air, and there are tremendous hurdles to implementing PBL in an environment overrun with standardized testing and the Common Core.
While I think that significant, meaningful PBL (capital P) has been largely non-existent in the heavily industrial-age influenced school system of the 20th century, I think PBL has thrived as a human learning paradigm for millennia, and I think PBL is alive and well as a learning methodology. In fact, I think PBL dominates learning before formal schooling, and I believe that PBL dominates the workplace of almost all jobs (if not, ALL jobs). I believe that school transformation and enhancement will necessarily include and integrate PBL. Furthermore, I think the Common Core State Standards not only support PBL, but I believe they demand it! [And I continue to mean capital-P PBL!]
Intriguing videos from Hunt Institute YouTube channel regarding the CCSS:
The English Language Arts Standards: Key Changes and their Evidence
At the end of the video, David Coleman speaks of “reading like a detective and writing like an investigative journalist.” From my own studying and implementation of capital-P project-based learning, I can think of few other methodologies that create the space and opportunity for student learners to be detectives and investigative journalists who are wrestling with real-life issues that need addressing and innovating.
Literary Non-Fiction in the Classroom: Opening New Worlds for Students
Watching this piece was fascinating! I was both inspired and frightened stiff. On the frightening end, I pictured teachers who take David Coleman’s analysis literally as the recommended pedagogy for deconstructing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birmingham letter and removing many possibilities for self-motivated discovery and heart-touching. At the inspiring end, I was moved by MLK’s language and by thinking about a group of students searching for this letter after engaging with a community issue about fairness, justice, equality, and rights. I imagined this letter as a digestible resource for students who created a need-to-know about the letter because of the context with which they approached the letter. [Interestingly, I never experienced this letter as part of my formal, school-based education. In fact, I am embarrassed to admit that this video viewing may have been the first time I read the entire letter. The content reminded me of many of the reasons that I am working for school reform and transformational enhancement.]
Quotes from the CCSS website that point to PBL:
Research—both short, focused projects (such as those commonly required in the workplace) and longer term in depth research —is emphasized throughout the standards but most prominently in the writing strand since a written analysis and presentation of findings is so often critical.
– Writing: http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/key-points-in-english-language-arts
An important focus of the speaking and listening standards is academic discussion in one-on-one, small-group, and whole-class settings. Formal presentations are one important way such talk occurs, but so is the more informal discussion that takes place as students collaborate to answer questions, build understanding, and solve problems.
– Speaking and Listening: http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/key-points-in-english-language-arts
The standards help prepare students for real life experience at college and in 21st century careers.
– Language: http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/key-points-in-english-language-arts
The standards stress not only procedural skill but also conceptual understanding, to make sure students are learning and absorbing the critical information they need to succeed at higher levels – rather than the current practices by which many students learn enough to get by on the next test, but forget it shortly thereafter, only to review again the following year.
– Math: http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/key-points-in-mathematics
The high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real world issues and challenges; they prepare students to think and reason mathematically.
The high school standards set a rigorous definition of college and career readiness, by helping students develop a depth of understanding and ability to apply mathematics to novel situations, as college students and employees regularly do.
The high school standards emphasize mathematical modeling, the use of mathematics and statistics to analyze empirical situations, understand them better, and improve decisions. For example, the draft standards state: “Modeling links classroom mathematics and statistics to everyday life, work, and decision-making. It is the process of choosing and using appropriate mathematics and statistics to analyze empirical situations, to understand them better, and to improve decisions. Quantities and their relationships in physical, economic, public policy, social and everyday situations can be modeled using mathematical and statistical methods. When making mathematical models, technology is valuable for varying assumptions, exploring consequences, and comparing predictions with data.”
– Math: http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/key-points-in-mathematics
Literacy equals mastery across academic disciplines.
– Callout in Hunt Institute video about CCSS
At the intersection and confluence of 21st century education and project-based learning, we would have: