Let School Kids Tackle Real-World Problems

Check out Will Richardson’s TEDxNY talk. He points out how our school system is broken. It is built for a time long past.

Will quotes Eric Hoffer:

In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

Our kids go to schools that train them for a world that has expired. The following ideas may help this situation:

Let children tackle real-world problems

On the first week of every school year the class agrees on what problem to tackle. The remainder of the year is spent on solving the chosen problem, documenting possible solutions as well as identifying dead ends. Along the way the students track and document their progress and outcome. Ideally the whole process is shard publicly for the world to benefit from the solution as well as the process.

Problems can exist anywhere on the spectrum of micro to macro (i.e. school-related, city-wide, county, state, nation, the world, even).  Bonus points are given to students who are capable of engaging people beyond the classroom in solving their group’s chosen problem.

At the end of the year each class shares their team’s solution to the problem they tackled. These results are communicated in front of all students, parents, faculty and if possible the receiver of the solution during a presentation day.

The students are graded on how well their solution solves the problem they selected to tackle at the beginning of the school year.

Focus is put on how well they documented and shared their solution so that others who would like to solve a similar problem can easily learn from their progress.

The ‘spectacular failure’ is celebrated. These are the projects where the students who reached for the stars, put enormous effort into pursuing their goal but missed it in the end.

The role of the teacher would change, standing in the front of a class ‘teaching’ would be the exception. Coaching and guiding students would be the teacher’s main task:  Help selecting the right size problem to solve, helping them develop the skills needed to solve it, offer alternative opportunities when they are stuck. Wouldn’t this be more fulfilling for the teachers too?

How early can we start using such a system? We can do this kind of teaching even with students who are not yet old enough to read or write. I believe it would motivate kids to read, to be able to feel through their own solutions guided by the help of the teacher/coach when necessary.

By using this education process, we could quickly hone the following skills in high demand in the world we are living: working in groups, getting quickly up-to-speed on a new subject, project management and presentation skills, how to negotiate, creativity, brainstorming, and hitting a deadline for instance.

I didn’t hate school, I struggled a lot as my dyslexia made me suffer during language classes, but looking back I would say that I was a mostly passive consumer in the classroom.

The type of school I describe above would have made a world of difference to me. I am envious of that Mark Finnern living in a parallel Universe, the one that took full advantage of the opportunities a real-world problem solving school would have presented to me.

We have the physical buildings for such a school, the schools our children go to. They may not be perfectly equipped for this new way of learning yet, but that could be one of the problems the kids tackle first.

We have the bright kids that would love to solve real world problems and we definitely have enough real-world problems to solve.

If we really want it, we could start this next school year.

P.S. Thanks Gali Kling-Schneider for encouraging me to blog more on finnern.com when we met in Madrid this month.

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