When was the last time you were in a school that you’d call a joyful place to learn?

Please note: We have a guest blogger today! Penny Lundquist is the Director of Professional Development and Inquiry Science Institute.

When was the last time you were in a school that you’d call a joyful place to learn?

I hope your answer is, “The last time I visited a school.”  Or, “the school where I teach.”  Or “my child’s school.”   Or “the schools I attended .” But if you’re like the vast majority of us, I bet it isn’t.

Furthermore, I bet most of the schools you know probably conform to this description given by former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley in a speech to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future in 2005, but sadly still true.

“Today’s teachers and children have one foot in the future and the other in the past.  The Internet, cell phones, text messaging, MP3 players, are ubiquitous in the lives of our children.  They often spend hours working with their friends to conquer the intricacies of complex games.  Their daily activities foreshadow their future work.  But too often when our children walk into their schools, they step into the past, as they enter isolated classrooms to sit behind desks that their parents and grandparents would recognize.”

A portion of Riley’s speech “Creating America’s First Learning Generation” appears in The Third Teacher: 79 Ways You Can Use Design to Transform Teaching & Learning, an ingeniousesigned book, recommended by Stephanie Pace Marshall, Founding President and President Emerita of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, arguably one of the most future-oriented schools in the nation. (Stephanie was a panelist at our last symposium, “Beyond These Times: Reimagining School“; more details below.) In a series of brief but pointed essays by some of the most innovative minds working on schools for the future, The Third Teacher raises some powerful questions we would all do well to consider before we simply tinker with schools as they currently are … attempting to tweak this and modify that in an effort to reform what’s obviously broken about the schools we inherited from an earlier age rather than transform education with the future in mind. Here is additional information on The Third Teacher.

Questions like:

  • What is a great learning environment in the Wikipedia age?
  • If parents were allowed to design schools for their children, what would those schools be like?
  • How do we keep the third of all American students who drop out of school from doing so?

At the last Beyond These Times forum on March 21, interlocutors James Paul Gee and Stephanie Pace Marshall added nuance to these questions.

  • How do we prepare people to face the modern world with deep thought and problem-solving skills, to participate in a true democracy where their votes are based on considered arguments backed by evidence and to feel like – and actually be – important participants in society? (Gee)
  • How do we avoid creating “learning deprived children in a learning abundant universe?  How do we inspire innovators?” (Marshall)

In sum, “What must learning be like in the future? That’s the fundamental question currently being explored in “Beyond These Times: Reimagining School ~ Conversations with the Future in Mind,” the ongoing forum series sponsored by Golden Apple, Chicago Shakespeare Theater and National Louis University. The next program in the series features Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World and Constance Yowell, Director of Education at the MacArthur Foundation who oversees their Digital Media and Learning initiative.  The program will be held at Chicago Shakespeare Theater the evening of May 21, and you can learn more and reserve your seat here.

Toward the end of The Third Teacher, and among the 79 ways to transform teaching and learning, is a critical one.  In the chapter called “Create a Movement!,” the authors advise us to  “engage in meaningful conversations about changing the education landscape.  Parents, teachers, students, community members, and politicians are all important and powerful stakeholders in this movement.”  We invite you to participate with us and join the conversation on May 21. Attending, either in person or via live streaming, is one way to demonstrate your commitment and our collective will to transform our schools into joyful places to learn where teachers and students are enabled to have both feet squarely in the future.


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