Information Age Education
   Issue Number 14
Marc h, 2009   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by David Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. For more information, see the end of this newsletter.

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"Do not fear going forward slowly; fear only to stand still." (Chinese proverb)

Your brain is always learning, even when you are asleep. Lifelong learning is a natural process of being alive. However, what you learn and how well you learn it is strongly influenced by your own particular interests, drives, and learning environment.

Looking Back

HistoryYou have undoubtedly heard the story of a person claiming, “I have thirty years of experience on this job.” The cynical observer comments, “Yes, one year repeated thirty times.”

Teaching is a very challenging job because there is so much to learn and because the amount to be learned is growing so rapidly. A teacher learns a great deal every day in learning on the job. However, there is a great deal of potential learning that is not readily available through one’s routine day-to-day activities.

You know a lot about how one gets to be a teacher. High school graduation, an undergraduate college degree, probably some graduate work, supervised classroom experiences, practice teaching, licensing tests—it is a long and arduous task.

That has not always been the case. A high school education used to suffice to become an elementary school teacher. Later, a two-year Normal School degree was sufficient to become a teacher with a lifelong certification. The requirements for teacher certification have increased markedly over the years. Moreover, teacher certification is no longer a lifetime certification. There are requirements for continued education.

Looking at More Current Times

CurrentTwo major things have changed over the years. First, standards have gone up for teachers because of the desire to set higher standards for students. Second, the totality of accumulated knowledge, and the complexity of life in a rapidly changing world, has necessitated much better prepared teachers.

In the latter area, think of the full range of information and communication technology, including robotics, artificial intelligence, and the continuing automation of many different intellectual tasks. Think of molecular biology at the genetic engineering level. And, think of the complexities faced by ordinary adults as they try to cope with day to day finances, medical challenges, childrearing, communication, employment, taxes, and so on.

Our educational system has a strong tendency to use “more of the same” as its approach to dealing with change. Require more years of schooling for students and their teachers. Set higher standards. Fail students (and, entire schools and school systems) that do not meet the standards. It is always easy to find someone or some organizational structure to blame!

After all, the goals are simple enough. Score higher on tests and on measures of the percentage of students graduating at various levels, such as middle school or junior high school, high school, two-year college, 4-year college, and so on.

Numbers…if we can just get the numbers up. What a sorry state of affairs when dealing with people, cultures, societies, and global problems of sustainability.

 Looking into the Future

The FutureI know of no simple solutions to types of challenges mentioned above. However, I do have a suggestion. I suggest that each of use put is a little time each day being futurists. Learn a little more about changes going on throughout the world due to progress in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. How are changes in population, the economy, global climate, global food and medicine supplies and their distribution, and so on affecting sustainability?

There are many excellent resources. As an example, think about spending 18 minutes listening to Juan Enriquez talk about “Beyond the crisis, mindboggling science and the arrival of Homo evolutis.” See http://www.ted.com/talks/juan_enriquez_shares_mindboggling_new_science.html. Or, watch Ken Robinson’s 19 minute talk about “Do schools kill creativity?” See http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html.

I spend quite a bit of time reading and writing about the future. I summarize some of my findings in brief paragraphs about “What the future is bringing us” available at http://iae-pedia.org/What_the_Future_is_Bringing_Us. You might want to spend some time reading and thinking about these forecasts drawn from current publications. As you think, consider what your students are learning about such ideas, and how your teaching is helping to prepare your students for life in the futures that are being forecast.

Here is an example. Quoting from a December 2008 article “Virginia Tech Is Building an Artificial America in a Supercomputer” available at http://spectrum.ieee.org/dec08/7051.

The group has designed what it claims is the largest, most detailed, and realistic computer model of the lives of about 100 million Americans, using enormous amounts of publicly available demographic data. The model’s makers hope the simulation will shed light on the effects of human comings and goings, such as how a contagion spreads, a fad grows, or traffic flows. In the next six months, the researchers expect to be able to simulate the movement of all 300 million residents of the United States.

Now ask yourself questions such as the following:

  • “What does it mean to have a computer simulation of a very large group of people?” (What is your personal mental model of this project’s activity?)
  • Is this something relevant to your life or the lives of your students?
  • What do you want your students to know about modeling and simulation—and how does this relate to the specific subject areas that you teach?

In conclusion, remember the Chinese proverb: "Do not fear going forward slowly; fear only to stand still." At the end of a school day, ask yourself: “Today, what have my students learned that will help them to be successful in the rapidly changing futures they face?”

About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. IAE is a project of the Science Factory, a 501(c)(3) science and technology museum located in Eugene, Oregon. Current IAE activities include a Wiki with address http://IAE-pedia.org, a Website containing free books and articles at http://I-A-E.org,  and the free newsletter you are now reading.

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