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The future of: “Sit down, Shut up, and Memorize This…”

Guest blog post by Don Wettrick

In 2010 I received an email that just said, “Watch this:” and included a link to a TED talk. During my prep period, I pressed play, but in reality, opened my mind on what motivates our students- mastery, autonomy, and purpose. I could write an entire blog on the importance of this talk, and what Daniel Pink has done for education, but instead, if you haven’t watched this TED talk, I highly encourage you to watch it… now.

The very next period I had my Freshmen Language Arts class watch it. When they finished I asked what they would do if I gave them “Google Time,” like Mr. Pink described. Some liked brainstorming about all the things they could do, while others nervously asked if this was going to be on a test later.

After about twenty minutes of talking about the possibilities, I asked them if they would want to give this “Google Time” a shot. We agreed that we would set aside at least thirty minutes on Friday’s, and that the only requirement was they had to pick a topic they were either passionate about already, or wanted to learn more.

Excitement filled the air. “Finally, a time where I can do all the things I want to learn,” and “about time I get to do things that are relevant to me,” or “this is going to be awesome,” were heard in the classroom. We agreed that we would start the very next Friday, and we were pumped. We set aside rules, asked for ideas, requested time in the computer lab, and planned out our calendar. You could FEEL the passion and enthusiasm in the room. Then Friday finally came…

Thud.

I quickly found out that the “fun” part was talking about how great “Google Time” was going to be was just that… talking. They liked brainstorming about what they were going to do, and how amazing things were going to be. But the reality was that brainstorming is fun, but hard work is kind of a bummer. But the bigger issue was that the students still expected me to tell them what to do.

They wanted step-by-step instructions on how to carry out THEIR learning.

I was shocked- after all, this time was set aside for the students to learn on their terms- considering their learning styles and topics. That is when I realized (slowly, over the next few years) that we reap what we sow. We’ve been asking our students to sit down, memorize, and re-phrase what was just presented.

There has been generally a lack of opportunities for our students to think about original problems and situations to innovate.

The goal has been to produce well behaved kids to solve problems with pre-determined results. The “bad kids” would be made to feel inferior, pushing them to either subservience, or cast them aside. So, when I asked my students to not worry about grades, and focus on problems they could identify, I was literally given a blank stare. This did not compute. The goals has ALWAYS been on the grade- never the journey and joy of learning.

Over the past six years I’ve seen what happens when we train our students how to think, over what to think. I wrote a book on our first two years when we transitioned from “20% Time” to our “Innovation Class,” which became an entire high school elective. I marvel at what happens when we allow our students to struggle with real problems, and NOT knowing what the “answer” is. I’m blown away when our students reach out and collaborate with real world experts, and harness the power of social media to get past the gatekeepers. (I could write a book on the techniques my students have mastered to get the collaborators they want). Our class has produced multiple patents, non-profits formed, events held, and (most importantly) lives impacted.

*If you would like to hear about some of the success stories, please check out this interview with Tom Bilyeu on “Inside Quest.”

So, educators need to ask themselves- what is the purpose of school?

If the answer is “to learn,” I challenge you to think about WHAT we learn. On whose terms? In what areas? When was the curriculum we are using formed? Educators need to start acknowledging that students need a time, place, and resources to learn what is relevant to them as well. We can start opening up our opportunities for students to work on problems that will impact others, and often times where the teachers don’t know “the answer.”
The cruelest joke education can play is pretending to prepare our students for a future that doesn’t exist. Waiting for instructions and looking for predetermined answers is out. Finding solutions through innovation and entrepreneurship IS the way. Let’s teach our students how to think, not what to think.
*We’ve recently formed StartEdUp, and organization of educators and young entrepreneurs that provides content resources and start up capital without taking any I.P.  If you would like to know more about our mission, please contact us at: don@startedupinnovation.com

don wettrick pure genius

Don’s book, Pure Genius, is available on Amazon.

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