Friday, May 3, 2013

Creating Innovators in your Kids!

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this book!!! In Creating Innovators, education expert Tony Wagner, explores what parents, mentors, and teachers must do to create innovators. It has open my eyes to new paradigms in parenting and certainly have reminded me of why I began on my EdTech startups' journeys! Wagner interview Rick Miller from Olin who identified 3 stages in the evolution of learning:

1. Memorization-based, multiple choice approach
2. Project-based learning
 3. Design-based learning where students define the problem.

 In order for students to be successful in a collaborative and creative setting, they first need to have a solid understanding of the fundamentals. I believe that we cannot forgo the importance of traditional academics and simply venture out into the creative, playful side of things. There needs to be moderation and a balance of academic rigor and creative learning. The Asian countries are extremely successful at academic rigors but may lack in the creative side of things and here in the U.S., we are at the opposite side of the education spectrum. I was lucky enough to be a product of both worlds, thereby absorbing the best of both sides of the spectrum. Because of my experiences, I understand what it takes to reach that middle of moderation and the importance of it. If we, in the U.S. want to stay competitive globally and be #1 again, we need to raise our academic standards. Because of our sheer population, it is true that we still produce one of the highest numbers of innovative companies and high-performing individual students in the world. That being said, with most of Asia refocusing their efforts to boost their level of creativity and innovation, we will most definitely fall behind if we do not boost our academics now!

So how do we accomplish this part? I believe that the Common Core Standards is a start (not perfect but a good start). The Common Core Standards will be my next posting as I have a ton to say about it! :) We also need to increase our resources for excellent early childhood learning. (Personal Vent: I see a lot of start-ups hoping to venture into the EdTech space with very cool looking apps for "learning" for young children. I have downloaded pretty much 90% of what is out there and personally tried them myself. There is a lack of good content. Simply having a great team of coders and beautiful graphics is not enough. As I research the teams behind these apps, I see many young, bright, and enthusiastic edupreneurs in those teams. Many have never taught young children before. An even bigger percentage do not even have kids on their own. We need more parents and actual teachers in this space. I notice that as I develop and redevelop my curriculum and games, the needs of my children and students are always in my design process. As a parent, I want what's the best of my kids. I know other parents think the same way. My design thoughts always include ho I can translate what the best teaching techniques are into fun for these young kids. It is a tough process in it itself and I cannot imagine how others with no teaching experience or kids of their own can translate that. My attitude and knowledge of teaching certainly more than quadrupled after my kids came along! Ok...enough venting!) We also need to stop being afraid of giving our kids more in depth knowledge of the subjects they are learning - they have the ability to absorb hard things.

 Once our kids are getting the correct fundamentals at a higher standard, how do they apply that knowledge to the real world. This is where the disconnect happens. I've heard arguments across the board for and against Common Core. I have heard complaints of "dumbing down our kids" and those who say that the new curriculum is too difficult for their children. Obviously, as Americans, we have greatly different views of the level of difficulty. If we can introduce more project-based learning into the classroom, I believe we can solve much of that argument. Children who easily coast through the new standards will be able to be matched with new challenges through projects. They will now be able to apply what they learn in theory into actual practice. Those who are struggling will be able to understand the concepts better as they see those concepts come to life in projects. Through collaboration, not only are the students getting mentored by their teachers and parents, but they are teaching each other as well. Everyone knows that the best way to learn is to teach. We NEED more project-based learning in the classroom and at home!

When we have more projects aka problems introduce to the students, this is where true innovation happens. Please remember that a high level of innovation cannot happen if criteria #1 and #2 are not met first. Given problems, the students must now create solutions. If the students can create good to excellent solutions, this is where they would shown that they have truly mastered that part of academics.

 With these three guidelines, we can now innovate how testing should evolve. We still need the stringent, academic testing that is standardized across the board so as to understand which states are pulling ahead and which states we need to concentrate our efforts in. However, that sort of testing should not be the end grade of our students. To be able to change this system, we need to first have colleges change their criteria for college admissions. I believe every student Grades 5-12 need a digital portfolio. The portfolio should include projects done in their classrooms and should have scores and reviews from their teachers and mentors. (With mentors, we need corporate America to start sending volunteers to work directly in the classrooms!) In addition to ACT, SAT, GPA or whatever scores are required, this digital portfolio should make up a percentage as well. When our students truly understand the concepts both in theory and in practice, testing will be easy.

 America, let's pull together and fight TOGETHER to create an education utopia for our kids! We can only do it by not arguing against the cons. Let's see what the pros are in every situation and build on those instead!

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