Recently, I’ve been reading a couple of different books about school design. You see, our district is working towards an expansion and renovation of our school. It’s been exciting to think about what a remodeled version of Fishers Elementary School might look like. When I learned of this process, I started a document on my desktop called “The Wishlist.” Currently, it’s broken up into 3 categories: Spaces, Environment, and Office. Much of my thought process has been about the design of the school. But this week, I finished reading a book called What’s in Your Space? 5 Steps for Better School and Classroom Design by Dwight Carter, Gary Sebach, and Mark White. One of my key takeaways was that no matter what kind of innovative thought processes are used when we design a school, if we don’t also spend some time thinking about what it means to teach Generation Z children, the school will ultimately continue to operate in traditional ways.
But why do we need to think in innovative ways at school? Today, schools are almost the only places left where students write by hand; when they are away from school, they text, type, and FaceTime. And when they are writing by hand away from school, you can probably bet that their writing is something to take back to school. We all know this, but as a reminder, our students of almost all ages constantly want to interact with technology. And related to that, their future will be filled with technology that is unimaginable today. Now, I’m guessing that writing by hand will never go completely away, but if I pause to think about it, almost the only time I write by hand outside of the school setting is when I’m leaving a note for my family or sending a greeting card to someone. That’s about it. I don’t even handwrite my grocery list anymore – I tell my Google Assistant at home what to add to my shopping list, then I pull the list up on my phone while I’m out shopping.
Why do we need to think about this? In the book What’s in Your Space the authors shared the results of an IBM Big Data study from 2012. That study shared that as society moved from an analog to a digital age, the time it took the knowledge to double dropped significantly. The graphic below represents the Knowledge Doubling Curve, first introduced by Buckminster Fuller, and later expanded on by research from IBM.
What this curve shows us is that the expansion of knowledge is an exponential curve. Around 2020, this meant that for each one of us, the knowledge that is available in our world more than doubles in the time that we are awake each day. That thought blows my mind! But at the same time, in our digital world, I don’t think any of us could keep up with all the posts on social media, YouTube, and other websites that matter to us, let alone the things that are not even in our sphere of interest.
So, the question that really hit me as I neared the end of What’s in Your Space was this:
One of the things that we need to think about as we serve Generation Z is that they will not be successful based on what they know. Instead, they will be successful with what they can do with what they know.
There are some sacred cows in education – things that we feel like we must teach every year. In fact, some of our standards, especially in content areas like science and social studies, force us into teaching and learning that is based on rote memorization. One of my long-term pet peeves has been States and Capitals, maybe that’s because I struggled with rote memorization as a child and did poorly on those tests and quizzes, but I have never had a high-stakes situation where my success relied on my ability to identify the capital of Idaho, although I can tell you it’s Boise. Here’s the thing, if our assessments and our questions are asking kids things that Siri can answer for them, then maybe we aren’t pushing them to where they need to be as a member of Generation Z. And our students know that.
Everyone has access to Google these days, in fact, the number of times I pull out my phone to hop on the Google app or ask my Google assistant a question might be shocking to some of you. But I also have skills that allow me to do my job in a way that Google would never be able to do. We need to help our students be prepared to do the jobs that will exist 20 or 30 years from now, not the jobs that exist today. And the reality is that many of those jobs are things we can’t even imagine.
So here’s the challenge for us as educators – the rest of the world does not exist in these 9-month-long bubbles of a school year. In the non-education world, everything is evolving constantly, but in education, we often just look at what’s happening for this school year. We all have to be ready for continuous evolution in technology for the rest of our careers. We have to be aware of the needs of our students and their future. Every day we are surrounded by the experts of the future, our students. A willingness to ask our students “Is there a better way for you to show me what you know about this topic?” might open our eyes to ideas that never would have occurred to us.
To meet the needs of Generation Z, our pedagogy must shift. The design of a school is just one part of the process of being able to meet the needs of future generations. We must lose the fear that exists in turning our students loose on technology that we might not fully understand. Our standards, objectives, and expectations don’t have to change, but often the best learning opportunities come out of the unscripted moments in learning. Our new role is to be the guide, not the leader, and as the guide sometimes that means getting out of the way.
What are your thoughts? How has pedagogy shifted in your time as an educator? What shifts do you think still need to happen? Share your thoughts in the comments below.