Our Schools Can Be Creation Engines!

Peter H. Thiel, a 44 year old billionaire has been bankrolling young people the past two years with the goal for each to create the next big thing: (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/16/business/the-thiel-fellows-forgoing-college-to-pursue-dreams.html?pagewanted=allee).  He provides each Fellow $100K over two years to pursue his/her project.  Each awardee must not attend (or drop out) of college and answer a few questions relative to their dream discovery. It is difficult to win the Thiel Fellowship and candidates must be under the age of 20.  There are 44 such Thiel Fellows in present day; they are white or Asian and men-with the exception of four women.

The notion of ‘creating’ the next great idea turned into product is of great importance to our country.  Billionaires who spend their fortunes to the benefit of the USA are to be applauded.  What if we take Thiel’s (and those of Bill Gates) notions of transforming education and applied them to a structure (at least) that already exists – that is in schools.

Granted, the transformation has to be systemic and really transformative (not simply tinkering around the edges or spending some money on new stuff).  It has to totally focus on the learner and his/her productivity, creation and growth.  Most importantly, it has to make relevant all the skills and knowledge (deemed Common Core Curriculum) to real life problems and creations. That’s what Thiel’s Fellows are doing.

There are numerous US education sites providing this kind of opportunity.  Armada (Michigan) Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Science Leadership Academy (Pennsylvania), and High Tech High (CA) to cite a few.  The point is that we have within our reach the ability to recreate everyday lessons, schooling along experiential sets of activities for learners to self-direct ‘products ’ they’d like to make and ‘problems’ they’d like to solve. There is less a need to invent these strategies as there is to do a little research and adapt what’s learned to the school’s unique culture and situations.

The Common Core Curriculum promises students’ development of deeper thought processes and learning in general.  It promises the redevelopment of an economic workforce ready to fill the job gaps we hear about every day.  With the expected professional learning and re-engineering coming with the Common Core we need to ensure its incorporation with the greatest levels of relevancy to real life and production we can muster. And this will be for ALL learners-as diverse as they are-in all classrooms.

The ‘common core’, if you will, for Thiel’s Fellows’ projects, is the personalization of the learning and development process for each young person involved-aimed at the creation of something ‘new’ and undiscovered.  Each is pursuing a keen interest and problem.  Therefore, the application of math, sciences, English Language Arts, social studies and all other content are deeply entrenched in everyday efforts.  But in addition, they interface with the real world and must develop skills to work with others, understand specific cultures and environments, experience failures and retooling, be flexible and adaptable to unexpected and unique situations.  It’s hard work!  The latter skills developments aren’t readily replicable in the ‘safe’, four walls of traditional classrooms. These kinds of efforts have to be authentically engaged with the external world. Check out another great example from Stockbridge High School in Michigan  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8giVmmwtAQ).

Note that in the narrative above, not once is ‘technology’ called out as a standalone feature or goal. It truly is ubiquitous when we consider heading down the path for these kinds of transformations to occur.  That IS our future!! And it is here.

Leslie Wilson

CEO-One-to-One Institute

Co-author:  Project RED and A Guidebook for Change


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