Scholarly Book Review – ‘Future Wise: Educating our Children for a Changing World’ by David Perkins

futurewise

Perkins, D. (2014). Future wise: Educating our children for a changing world. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

 It is an interesting time in the world of teaching and learning. The digital age has catapulted us into an era we were not quite ready for and many educators are holding on by the ‘skin of their teeth’, struggling to achieve pedagogical practices and curriculum worthy of twenty-first century learning (Burgess, 2012, loc. 103; Marzano, 2007, loc. 33; Price, 2013, p. 20). The relevance and currency of our traditional teaching and learning methods have been debated in numerous spheres and countless movements in education are recognising the need for transformation in the ways we teach and learn to cope with the ubiquitous connectivity and information overload of our students (Costa & Kallick, 2009; Crockett, Jukes & Churches, 2011; Gardner, 2006; Hattie & Yates, 2014). What constitutes our learning ecology has become incredibly difficult to articulate and, with information available at the click of a button, anywhere and everywhere, we are beginning to see our learning frameworks and pedagogies transform into those that boast twenty-first century skills, future-proof learning and technological integration (Seely Brown, 2010, p.12). It seems however, that while there is much literature to support the betterment of teaching and learning in the world of continuous transformation, we often overlook what is perhaps the most important consideration, that is, the question raised by David Perkins in Future Wise: Educating our Children for a Changing World (2014), what is actually worth knowing, learning and understanding for a student of the digital age? Consideration of this question, while incredibly broad in scope, provides an important starting point in our quest as educators to reimagine education in contemporary society. While we can transform the way we teach and reconsider how we learn in the twenty-first century, if we do not stop to determine the relevancy of what is worth learning, we could be missing the point of learning completely. It is this factor that makes Perkins’ discussion in Future Wise: Educating our Children for a Changing World pertinent for all educators of the digital age. This review will provide an overview of the key themes of Perkin’s dialogue around what is worth learning and analyse and compare this discussion to relevant scholarly literature in the field. Limited in that Future Wise: Educating our Children for a Changing World does not answer its overarching question of ‘what is worth learning’, what it does provide is an essential toolkit of ideas for all educators to contemplate as we work to revolutionise perhaps one of the most fundamental yet often marginalised considerations of education in the twenty-first century; is what students are learning in school likely to matter in the lives they are likely to live?

Future Wise: Educating our Children for a Changing World is founded in the research and work of David Perkins, Research Professor of Teaching and Learning at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A founding member of Harvard’s Project Zero, a research and development institute at Harvard, Perkins boasts an extensive body of work focused on teaching and learning over his lifetime, including collaborations with notable contemporaries such as Howard Gardner and Veronica Boix Mansilla. Traditionally, David Perkins adopts a social constructivist epistemology in his work, and this also underpins many of the themes in Future Wise: Educating our Children for a Changing World. Qualitative in nature, the content of Perkins’ book is based around experiential narratives and analysis from his years as a teacher, lecturer and researcher, and compiles a body of ideas and discussion to support well-grounded prior research by Perkins and other experts in the field. While intended to inspire educators to take the first step towards reimaging the curriculum offered in our complex and ever-changing world, the style of this book makes it accessible not only to educators, but also other parties such as parents, students and policy-makers invested in thinking about the currency of what is learnt in schooling systems. As admitted by Perkins in his introduction, the scope of ‘what’s worth learning’ is incredibly broad and almost impossible to answer, thus, instead of attempting to answer the question, Perkins offers what he articulates are better ways of thinking about what’s worth learning for most people in school (2014, p.4). This is one of the strengths of the book, as readers are given the opportunity to embrace and reflect on the wisdom offered through the ‘try this’ activities scattered throughout and the comprehensive ‘reimagining education’ analysis located at the end of each chapter. Through his ‘reimaging education’ sections, Perkins assists learners to keep track of the ideas developed in each chapter as he provides analysis under four main quests: “identifying learning in contrast with not-so-lifeworthy learning”; “choosing what lifeworthy learning to teach from the many possibilities”; “teaching for lifeworthy learning in ways that make the most of it”; and “constructing a lifeworthy curriculum” (2014, p.25). Cleverly, these sections allow the readers to transfer their newfound knowledge into understandings through examination of practical and relevant examples, a concept discussed by Perkins as essential for learning that is future-proof.

Debate over what constitutes learning has been historically concerned with how knowledge is constructed and transferred to understandings in the mind of the learner (Dewey, 1910, p.44; Forman & Kuschner, 1977, p.84; von Glaserfeld, 1989, p.128). In Future Wise: Educating our Children for a Changing World, Perkins emphasises the importance of knowledge construction and transference through his assertion that the learning we offer students must not only be ‘lifeworthy’- “likely to matter in the lives learners are likely to live” (2014, p. 8), but also ‘lifeready’ – “ready to pop up on appropriate occasions and help make sense of the world” (2014, p. 24). This assertion echoes the work of academics such as Seely Brown, who suggests that knowledge is made up of a combination of explicit and tactic dimensions which, when applied together, constitute learning (2000, p. 15), and Bruner, who suggests that learning involves interconnection between both explicit and practical knowledge, leading to enculturation (1960, p.14). With this in mind, Perkins raises an issue worthy of consideration for educators when he asserts that the learning that has traditionally occurred in our school systems risks redundancy, as the knowledge students are attaining becomes increasingly irrelevant, and consequently, inapplicable to the lives they are likely to lead in the digital age (2014, p.7). Interestingly this notion furthers the work of early educational theorist John Dewey, who warned that, “only in education, never in the life of farmer, sailor, merchant, physician, or laboratory experimenter, does knowledge mean primarily a store of information aloof from doing” (1916, p.185). Nearly a century later, this notion forms the foundation of Future Wise: Educating our Children for a Changing World, as Perkins acknowledges the growing trend in teachers wanting to push the boundaries of what is taught in their classroom to make learning more relevant to the lives their students are likely to lead (2014, p.2). In response to this Perkins identifies ‘six beyonds’ that he proposes collectively represent the growing concerns among educators when considering how to prepare learners for our contemporary world. The beyonds cover going beyond: basic skills – twenty-first century skills and dispositions; the traditional disciplines – renewed, hybrid, and less familiar disciplines; discrete disciplines – interdisciplinary topics and problems; regional perspectives – global perspectives, problems, and studies; mastering content – learning to think about the world with the content; and prescribed content – much more choice of what to learn (2014, p.2). It is contemplation and adoption of these beyonds that Perkins alleges will force educators and their systems to revise the knowledge necessary for lifeworthy and lifeready learning and successfully prepare learners for their unknown future (2014, p.8).

In the shift from the industrial age, through the knowledge age and into the constantly evolving digital age, the world that students are exposed to has become considerably larger. Where learning has conventionally involved knowledge attainment, Perkins asserts that this no longer aligns with the connected and networked environment of today’s world (2014, p.40). The traditional educational goals of knowledge and content attainment have become ineffective in preparing students for life outside of school as our globalised, networked world has quickly devalued much remembered information (2014, p.43). This has created what Perkins deems the ‘small world paradox’, that is, as our ability to connect and interact with worlds beyond the classroom becomes a norm in learning, our collective worlds become smaller, making the worlds we engage with individually more numerous and complex (2014, p.46). This is reiterated by scholars such as Trilling and Fadel who fear that, “the potential for information overload, distraction, and analysis paralysis when facing demands for attention from too many sources – ranging from well-informed and reliable to woefully uninformed and even deliberately misleading – is high” (2009, p.17). Hence, Perkins’ recommendation that instead of foregrounding specialised disciplinary knowledge, education should value building expert amateurism in its learners, that is, learners who are able to understand and apply basics from individual disciplines across and outwards to other areas (2014, p.38). This is not to diminish the more quantified knowledge needed for further study in specialised areas, however, Perkins suggests that, particularly at a middle school level, “the expertise agenda in basic education skews learning toward advanced technical content not helpful to most learners in the lives they are likely to live” (2014, p.47). Perkins is not lessening the importance of discipline specific knowledge, however in building on the ideas of educational evangelists such as Sir Ken Robinson, he is challenging educators to reevaluate whether this knowledge is relevant to the lives all learners in school are likely to live (Robinson, 2001). Perkins suggests that through ‘smart sampling’ of curriculum we needed to provide learning and knowledge that promotes big questions and big understandings, allowing students to use their expert amateur knowledge to connect with the ever-changing world around them as needed. His following discussion on the relevance of hybrid curriculum, cross topics and analysis of twenty-first century frameworks (or ‘big know-how’), makes Perkins’ book particularly pertinent, as it becomes apparent that focusing on what is worth learning needs to come before faddish innovations in technology, pedagogy and processes of learning (2014, p.220).

While providing a toolkit of important considerations for learning in the twenty-first century, refreshingly, Future wise: Educating our Children for a Changing World does not make the assertion that there is one right answer in transforming the education offered to students. Rather, Perkins’ motivations in this book are best articulated through his request that we as educators think about what application the learning in our first twelve years of education has had on our lives today. More often than not, Perkins avows, it was the knowledge and skills we acquired that allowed us to create big understandings across topics and disciplines and provided relevance along the way to greater wisdom in the lives we have and will continue to lead. David Perkins has authored a book grounded in relevant research that collates, analyses and discusses current educational debates about what is worth learning in the digital age, delivering better ways for us to think about how to answer this question. While readers may find Perkins’ content and ideas unsettling, this is what makes his work so efficacious; if we as educators are not thinking about the relevance of content, knowledge and curricula offered in our teaching and learning, we are not providing the best possible learning for our students.

Reference List

Bruner, J. S. (1960). The process of education. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Burgess, D. (2012). Teach like a pirate: Increase student engagement, boost your creativity and transform your life as an educator [Kindle edition]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Teach-Like-PIRATE-Engagement-Creativity-ebook/dp/B009V9RQNU/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

Costa, A. L., & Kallick, B. (2009). Habits of mind across the curriculum: Practical and creative strategies for teachers. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Crockett, L., Jukes, I., & Churches, A. (2011). Literacy is not enough: 21st century fluencies for the digital age. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Dewey, J. (1910). How we think. Boston: DC Heath.

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: MacMillan.

Forman, G., & Kuschner, D. (1977). The child’s construction of knowledge. Belmont, Calif: Wadworth Co.

Gardner, H. (2006). Five minds for the future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Hattie, J., & Yates, G. C. (2014). Visible learning and the science of how we learn. Routledge.

Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction [Kindle edition]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Art-Science-Teaching-Comprehensive-Professional-ebook/dp/B00ARIH166/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1429145584&sr=1-1&keywords=the+art+and+science+of+teaching

Perkins, D. (2014). Future wise: Educating our children for a changing world. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Price, D. (2013). OPEN: How we’ll work, live and learn in the future. Crux Publishing Ltd.

Robinson, K. (2011). Out of our minds: Learning to be creative. Oxford: Capstone.

Seeley Brown, J. (2000). Growing up: Digital: How the web changes work, education, and the ways people learn. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 32(2), 11-20. doi: 10.1080/00091380009601719

Trilling, B. & Fadel, C. (2009). 21st century skills: learning for life in our times. John Wiley & Sons.

von Glaserfeld, E. (1989). Cognition, construction of knowledge, and teaching. Synthese80 (1), 121-140. doi: 10.1007/BF00869951.

What’s Worth Learning?

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Embracing the new age of search literacy!

What’s worth learning? A big question I realise, and one that continues to perplex me in an age where we can find all of the information we need at the click of a button.  It is easy to see why students are becoming disengaged in the classroom, with teaching practices that stem from our first real educational revolution of the eighteenth century still rife in the twenty-first century. We know the notion of education should change in our modern society, but we are yet to articulate successfully exactly what it takes to produce learners who are ‘future-proof’ and adequately prepared for a life of constant learning and change.

18th Century and Modern Classrooms

Is there a difference between eighteenth century and modern day classrooms?

Crockett, Jukes and Churches articulate the disconnect between school and real life in their book Literacy is Not Enough: 21st Century Fluencies for the Digital Age’ when they mention their experience with a school principal at an international educational conference describing his students who were top performers academically in the TIMS (Third International Mathematics and Science Study) as unable to, “think their way out of a wet paper bag if their life depended upon it.  They’re nothing but highly educated useless people” (2011, loc 155).  This example hits the nail on the head when it comes to describing the students we are creating in our current educational system full of standardised testing and ‘one-size-fits-all’ assessment.  If we are to continue teaching our students to become dependent on knowing only what they need to pass a test, they will continue to struggle when they make the transition from school life to the real world of the twenty-first century where, “their success in work, life, and play will greatly depend on their ability to interpret and apply old information and new alike to new situations, problems and environments” (Crockett, et al., 2011, loc 205).

bookinferior

What concerns me is that the technological age has played a large role in driving the need for change in education, yet we have become complacent in thinking that simply handing students technology will make them twenty-first century learners.  When we give students a device with Internet connection, we give them the possibility of becoming connected, participatory and personalised in their learning.

As is depicted in the picture to the left, the power of learning does not come from the device we are using. It comes when we guide our students in building the skills, understandings, competencies and knowledge they need to use these devices to enhance their learning.

So with this in mind, ‘what is worth learning?’ becomes an important question for us to answer as educators.  What can we teach our students that will prepare them for successful life in the unknown, ever-changing world of infowhelm, where the technology we use and the contexts we work within today will be obsolete tomorrow?  This is one question that started me on my journey in ‘Concepts and Practices for a Digital Age‘ and one that I hope to begin to answer through my learning in the course, so that I can best prepare my students for realistic, ‘future-proof’ learning.

In the video below John Seely Brown introduces the notion of the ‘entrepreneurial learner’ – one that constantly adopts and adapts their practices to learn in a world of change and unlimited possibilities.

Our role as educators is no longer to simply transfer our knowledge to our students, it involves guiding them through learning and knowledge building when they are constantly bombarded with new contexts, ideas, literacies, information, technology and skills. My goal as both a teacher-librarian and classroom teacher is to continue to adopt and adapt what I do for my own professional growth and the guidance of other teachers, and to provide the best learning experiences for students by embracing entrepreneurial learning.

In this course I hope to ‘go beyond’ in my own learning to understand what exactly is worth learning, and consequently worth teaching in the world of infowhelm.  This will enable me to reimagine and reinvent the teaching and learning that happens in my classroom and provide realistic and future-proof experiences for each and every student I teach.

Reference List

Class Room. [Photographer]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest.
http://quest.eb.com/search/115_2675695/1/115_2675695/

Crockett, L., Jukes, I., & Churches, A. (2011). Literacy is not enough [Kindle edition]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Literacy-NOT-Enough-Century-Fluencies-ebook/dp/B00NA1VQ1S/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1426395494

Elementary School Classroom. [Photography]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest.
http://quest.eb.com/search/139_1940125/1/139_1940125/

Elsom, J. [JasonElsom].  (2015, January 31).  Finally.. books have had their time [Tweet].  Retrieved from https://twitter.com/KatSchrav/status/561269413685387265

Galuga, L. [lisegaluga]. (2014, August 12). Embracing the new age of search literacy! [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/KatSchrav/status/499330149884522497

Seely Brown, J. (2012, September 18). The global one room schoolhouse: John Seely Brown (highlights from JSB’s keynote at DML2012 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiGabUBQEnM#action=share

Utilising ICTs to Enhance Inquiry

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I’ve recently read an article by Elizabeth Buckner and Paul Kim documenting their research on the implications of Integrating technology and pedagogy for inquiry-based learning using the Stanford Mobile Inquiry-based Learning Environment (SMILE).  While this particular study examined the influence of SMILE on inquiry-based learning in developing countries, it raised several factors for consideration by any school wanting to integrate ICTs in an inquiry-based learning environment.  

The Integration of ICTs and Pedagogy

Schools around the world are increasingly adopting technology into their classroom environments and boasting one-to-one or mobile device programs.  While these initiatives are essential in twenty-first century learning environments, what we are yet to hear about is exactly how effective ICTs are in enhancing the learning in a classroom.   Learning using ICTs incorporates more than putting these devices in a classroom or the hands of our students, it must involve an integration between pedagogy and technology by supporting the incorporation of meaningful educational content and contextualized pedagogy (Buckner & Kim, 2014, p.100).  This may include for example, considering what effect placing a mobile device in the hands of every student in a classroom will have on their ability to collaborate and problem-solve.  There is argument here that, without appropriate pedagogy, this would actually decrease the way dimensions mentioned in the Australian Curriculum General Capabilities, particularly the ICT Capability, are met by students in their learning.  

While effectively, mobile devices broaden the learning environments and opportunities students are exposed to, as educators, we are focusing too much on the type of technology we provide, instead of the pedagogical techniques designed to utilise this technology appropriately.  

Student and Teacher Training in ICTs

It may seem obvious that educators must have a strong knowledge of the technology and devices they are using with their students. However, Buckner & Kim suggest that often, this is the biggest factor in decreasing the ability of students to learn using ICTs. Educators who feel uncomfortable with the use of ICTs or are scared of losing authority and control when students use ICTs in the classroom, greatly decrease the opportunities of students to question, problem-solve and learn (2014, p.102). This factors supports the notion that schools must begin to provide greater support for staff in their use of ICTs and place greater focus on the skills they need to use their in their teaching and learning – not the programs.  

ICTs and Mobile Devices role in enhancing Inquiry Learning

As educators, we are well aware of the potential of ICTs and mobile devices to increase engagement in the learning of our students, however, we must pay attention to the effect our pedagogical practices has on this.  Simply providing a student with a Mobile Device to type their work instead of write does not automatically increase engagement in learning.  Instead, we must consider how we can change our teaching and learning in relation to ICTs and Mobile Devices to promote, “a pedagogical shift from didactic teacher-centred to participatory student-centred learning” (Looi, Seow, Zhang, So, Chen, & Wong, 2010, p. 156). In their article, Buckner and Kim examine the use of the SMILE model to promote the questioning involved in an inquiry-based learning environment through several different case studies across many countries.  The video below provides an accompanying overview of the SMILE method used in the research of Buckner & Kim.  

Whether or not the SMILE method is adopted in your school, Buckner & Kim lead us to acknowledge the importance as educators, particularly those who adopt inquiry-based learning practices, to consider exactly how we are using and integrating pedagogy AND ICTs to improve teaching and learning in our classrooms.  

Reference List

Buckner, E., & Kim, P. (2014). Integrating technology and pedagogy for inquiry-based learning: The stanford mobile inquiry-based learning environment (SMILE). PROSPECTS, 44(1), 99-118. doi:10.1007/s11125-013-9269-7

Looi, C. K., Seow, P., Zhang, B. H., So, H. J., Chen, W., & Wong, L. H. (2010). Leveraging mobile technology for sustainable seamless learning: A research agenda. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(2), 154–169.

Observing the Transition of Year 7 into Secondary in Queensland schools

Geography class. [Photography]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest.  http://quest.eb.com/#/search/139_1931997/1/139_1931997/cite

Geography class. [Photography]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest.
http://quest.eb.com/#/search/139_1931997/1/139_1931997/cite

Over the last few months I have been fortunate enough to make two visits to a primary school as part of program to  shadow and observe a year 7 teacher and their class in preparation for the transition of year seven into secondary at my current school. This program has been an invaluable experience as it has allowed me to consider how I would alter my practice to cater for the entrance of younger students into the secondary environment.  Even though, I only visited one particular school, I thought I would share my three biggest observations from this experience to assist those educators who are also preparing for the addition of Year 7 into their secondary school.

Integration of Learning Opportunities

Firstly, in a secondary environment, we are used to dividing learning into subjects with few connections or interactions between the teaching of these.  What was refreshing about the Year 7 classroom I visited, was that learning reflected the real world- it was integrated across all disciplines and teachers demonstrated to the students the importance of these connections through their ability to cater for teaching and learning beyond their own specialist areas.  Interestingly, this is quite a daunting concept for many secondary teachers who are uncomfortable when forced to consider subjects beyond their realm of study.  What we must be aware of in catering for the addition of Year 7, is that we can’t automatically expect students to change from such integrated, realistic learning into separate, distinct subjects overnight.  We first must assist them in developing the skills that will prepare them for learning – no matter the topic or area being studied. This will produce learners who are prepared  for life-long learning and specialisation in areas of their interest as they move towards their senior years of schooling and university entrance.

Flexibility in Teaching and Learning Spaces and Physical Environment

Students in the Year 7 class that I visited were prepared for learning to be flexible and could easily to change their focus from teacher-guided work to student-driven work, depending on the context and task at hand.  Similarly, the physical spaces in the room changed constantly to reflect the learning that was taking place.  Students moved their desks into groups when collaboration was needed, rows around the teacher when listening to instructions and moved to sit on their own if the wanted to work independently.  This flexibility in teaching and learning styles and classroom spaces allowed students to feel comfortable and accepted in their environment. They  were able to easily identify how learning would happen best and change their environment to cater for this. Providing for flexibility in our teaching and learning spaces is something we often claim not to have time for in the secondary environment, however, is something that could easily be considered through the furniture and environments we supply for our students (of course, allowing for this often needs to come from the school administration in their purchasing of resources).

Personal Organisation and Management

One major factor we must consider in assisting the transition of Year 7 into secondary, is the level of organisation and personal management that students will need to build to be successful in secondary school.  Much attention will need to be paid to how we can best assist students in moving from a very structured and organised primary environment to a fast-paced, self-managed secondary environment.  Factors such as recording homework and assessment dates are monitored closely in primary school and often, each class has a clear role and part to play in the running of the school.  The class that I observed, were constantly prompted by their teacher to record homework, work on specific parts of their assessment to ensure they meet deadline, ask parents for money for lunch and prepare for extra-curricular or whole-school activities.  This is something to be mindful of as we welcome Year 7 into the secondary environment, as they will need to develop management skills that assist them in being successful learners and members of the community.  While we like to insist that secondary students should be able to manage their own personal commitments, this is a practice that needs careful modelling and monitoring in the transition to a more independent environment.

Using Technology and Digital Citizenship

While  the use of technology students have been exposed to is reliant upon the primary school they come from, as a whole, they are not used to using technology at the level of secondary students.  Year 7 students at my school will be coming in to a ‘Bring Your Own Multiple Device’ environment in which, a primary device of a particular standard is mandatory, and students are able to use any other device (such as a tablet or mobile phone) if they wish.  The Year 7 class that I observed share a school laptop trolley between the rest of their Year 7 cohort and manage the files they use via their USB.  They were mostly reliant on their notebooks and physical resources provided for their general school work, using the laptops only for word processing.  Obviously, this will provide a big gap in their knowledge of technology use, management and digital citizenship when they enter secondary school where students are able to use their personal devices for internet, software and application access and management of notes and resources. While students in primary school are made aware of digital citizenship, they often aren’t provided with environments in which they can put their knowledge to practice.  This emphasises the need for secondary schools who do provide a wide range of access to technology, to put programs and opportunities in place for students to develop the skills needed to operate with technology and in online environments effectively.

While there are many other factors for us to consider in transitioning Year 7 from a primary school environment to a secondary environment, these are the biggest differences I noticed during my primary school shadowing experience.