Posted by: crudbasher | September 28, 2012

What We Need To Be Learning In School

I’d like to wrap up the theme of the week. So far I have blogged about Watson, the IBM super computer that can answer questions about a variety of topics. I then blogged about a project from MIT where you wear a camera and it constructs a 3d model of where you are walking, as you walk. This shows how computers are able to create more and more content, thus putting more stuff on the Internet. Finding it in the mass of content is going to be harder and harder but systems like Watson can help.

I blogged about Massive Open Online Courses where I discussed how they allow people to try out different subjects to learn. Finally I posted a video of a research project where researchers are working on robots who can interact with kids and adults in a natural way. I speculated on “smart toys” being a fantastic learning tool.

So let’s move to the task at hand. I remember when I was in high school I used a graphing calculator to create graphs in math class (good old TI-85). Even so, I still had to do them by hand too. I wondered why I had to do them by hand if the calculator could do it. It seemed like a waste of time.

Many teachers will say that you still have to teach basic skills before you get to more advanced concepts. I’m not so sure. I have read a study (I can’t find it right now) where it indicated you can learn thing in any order. I do know that today if I am going to do a home improvement project, I don’t learn basic skills first. I start the project and then pick up the rest I need from YouTube.

It’s amazing how we have changed the way we learn today. I bet if you asked people where you learn things they would say school but that’s not actually the case. Most adults learn from the Internet now. Why? Because college costs too much, takes way to long, and is offered at inconvenient times. Basically it doesn’t fit with a casual learning model. I would actually consider taking a small MOOC class for free or low cost if I wanted to do home improvement stuff if things like that were offered.

The changing labor market will also drive changes in what we learn in school. If you are currently doing a job where somebody else tells you what to do and how to do it, you are in danger of being replaced by a machine. Why? Because you are a tool of somebody else. What I mean is you are performing a piece of somebody else’s task. For example, consider a lawn maintenance business. The owner decides who’s lawn gets cut and when. His task is to do the work but once he takes on a certain amount of lawns, he needs to hire some people to do the extra work. Even so, it’s still him making the decisions. It’s his job. These other people are being directed by him. They are multiplying his productivity. It’s his risk if things go badly, which is why he gets more reward. This goes back to my observation that the Internet is going to be the best for people who are very creative because it allows them to enlists others to implement their ideas.

There are two types of people in the economy; the creators and the implementors. The problem is, machines are getting better at being the implementors. They are still poor at being creators. So it seems obvious to me that we need to teach children to be creators, not implementors. So how do you actually do this?

What students should be learning.

(cc) gemsling

First thing you do is get rid of common core standards. Or standards of any kind. The types of people we are looking for here won’t be standard in any way. This will also allow schools to specialize more and let parents choose a school that focuses more on what their kid needs. We want to develop each child to their maximum potential. This also means a variable amount of time so get rid of grades and degrees. Replace them with certification and competency based learning. Start off with advanced concepts at a younger age and get the kids thinking about solutions. They might not have the mental tools they need to solve the problem yet, but it will identify a direction of study. Just thinking about problems will be very useful to their mental development. Next, teachers need to stop being the source of answers. Help the students find their own answers. I know most teachers who read this blog would agree and I’m sure most try to do that but when you have standardized testing and a limited amount of time to get kids ready, it’s hard to be patient. Let students work on things as long as they want and until they get the most out of a subject.

The person who will be constantly in demand in the future is the person who can walk into a new situation and creatively solve problems. They can then effectively marshal resources to implement the solution. This is exactly not the type of person our schools are designed to create. That will change.

Any thoughts or comments?


  1. Great post! If I remember correctly, Papert made the argument in Mindstorms that children can / should be exposed to more complex math at younger ages (I think he mentioned differential calculus in terms of logo programming). I think he wrote the book in 1980!
    Have a great day, Kent

  2. Loved your post. We do need to turn things upside down, or a least realize the status quo is not working.

    I am all in favor of challenging young people. Standardized school curriculum does just the opposite, partly because of age segregation and partly due to ignorance of how they learn.

    Children love discovery and can figure most things out on their own, if we would just get out of their way. Look how preschoolers learn to talk or walk. We may help them from time to time, but mostly they master these skills by trial and error in their own way.

    Keep up the great posts. You’re on to something here.

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