The Skills to Pay the Bills

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Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. -Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

I believe that the future our students will inhabit is going to look much different than it does today.

Consider This:

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College is becoming an unsustainable business model. Students are taking out bigger and bigger loans to pay for inflated college tuitions in a world where it is getting harder and harder to pay them back. Recently, many like Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News, and even Mark Cuban have been warning that the college bubble is set to burst like the housing market. When the college bubble bursts, the post-high school landscape will look much different. I think we’ll see fewer colleges (think about all the houses in foreclosure on your block) and fewer students attending them, as many colleges fail to prove they’re worth the price tag. Instead, we’ll see the rise of micro-credentials (badges), certifications, and endorsements.

I think the job market will look different as well. Consider this:

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The  above graph comes to us from a study done by Oxford University on the Future of Employment which says almost half of all jobs are in great danger of becoming computerized or automated in the next decade or so. For fun, check this out to see what may be coming to a job near you.

Of the jobs that are left, I think many of them will look much different than they do today because businesses are changing, too. Businesses are starting to realize that to attract the best and brightest, those who will be working the jobs that can’t be automated, they need to offer a work/life balance, perks, and other benefits. This is becoming a business’ culture and using this culture is how business will train employees to do things their way.

Take Google. Google has concluded what many in education refuse to acknowledge: GPAs and test scores are not an indicator of how successful a person is going to be. Instead Google finds driven, skilled people and teaches them to be “Googley” and embrace the Google culture. Many companies on Fortune’s list of best places to work offer their own version of culture to engage, train, and retain employees.

So if the future of college and jobs is uncertain at best and companies will put less and less stock in test scores and GPAs, instead looking for talented people they can train to do things their way, how can we better meet the needs of our students today so they’re ready for the world of tomorrow?

Skills.

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Skills, like those above, never go out of style and are only going to become more important as the job market becomes more competitive and businesses, rather than colleges, choose to train employees to do things their way.

So how do we help children improve their skill-set in the classroom?

The first step is for we teachers to accept the fact that we are no longer the only vessels of knowledge out there. People used to have to go to the schoolhouse or college to learn because that’s where all the information was stored. In our brave, new world the entire body of human knowledge is accessible to anyone with a cellphone and an internet connection. Teaching facts is of little importance today when students can just look things up (teaching how to separate good sources from bad is an important skill to teach, though).

What more, in this connected world, anyone can be a teacher. If anything breaks in my house, I go to YouTube and internet forums and teach myself how to fix it. I’ve fixed everything from my sink, to my car, to my hot water heater, every time being taught by classroom-less teachers I’ve never met. These teachers have helped me save thousands of dollars all because they felt compelled to share their expertise, for free, out of the kindness of their heart. Beyond fixing things, with the help of these classroom-less teachers, I’ve taught myself things like coding, website building, and video editing which I’ve used to improve my classroom and my skill-set.

So, accepting the fact that we, the teachers are no longer the smartest person in the room and that a classroom is no longer defined by four solid walls will hopefully motivate us to rethink our fact-based curriculums and replaced it, or at least infuse it, with a skill-driven curriculum.

How can we create a skill-driven curriculum?

The future of education (and most things) is experiential. A skill-driven curriculum is one that provides genuine learning experiences, full of agency and reflection, for students. The best ways I’ve been able to create experiences to help my students to improve their skills is to ask them these two questions:

What problem do you want to solve? Problem-Based learning is the best type of teaching that we can do in our classroom. Tackling problems in the community or in the world is in itself engaging and taps into so many skills and tangential learning opportunities. Some of the most rewarding learning experiences I’ve helped create for my kids were times when I supported them as they tried to change a school or town policy, improve school lunches, or help solve global warming or animal abuse. In every instance, my students failed, but with Problem-Based Learning failure is reframed as iteration. If it doesn’t work the first time, you don’t fail. You do things like reflect, rethink, adapt, analyze, all skills that are important to their future success, and re-attack the problem until it’s solved.

To really take Problem-Based Learning to the next level we need to get better at helping students not to be problem solvers, but problem finders. This will involve helping students curate and understand big data. We must also embrace games and gaming as a serious way to provide engaging learning experiences that can help tackle big problems like, say, a Global Pandemic.

What do you want to do? For years, I ran a year long, self-directed Passion-Based Learning project called the Be About It project. During this project students could choose to work on whatever they wanted, with whoever they wanted. All I asked was that they get up on stage at the end of the year and tell people what they did, why they did it, and what they learned. My kids did all kinds of cool things, as you can see in the link. If you listen to the videos, especially when they explained what they learned, many of their takeaways are about the importance of skills, overcoming adversity, planning, failure, and realizing that most things in life are not a sprint, but a marathon.

I can’t shake this feeling that we are doing a disservice to our students by focusing more on facts than skills. I challenge you kind reader, to consider shaking up your curriculum. Find ways to infuse genuine learning experiences by incorporating Problem-Based and Passion-Based learning into your curriculum. Rethink the importance of facts and grades and instead focus on helping students grow the skills and attitude it will take to be successful in the world of tomorrow since a skill-driven curriculum is the best way that we can prepare our students for an uncertain future.

Until Next Time,

GLHF