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Martin: Transforming School

09/24/12 5:55PM By Mike Martin
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(Host) Writer and educator Mike Martin has been thinking about the future of schools and is looking forward to the Rowland Foundation's School Transformation Conference at UVM this week, where educators will consider the importance of innovation.

(Martin) Estonia is one of the European Union's smallest countries, but it's where Skype comes from. It's considered one of the most wired, progressive, and democratic countries in the world, and soon its national curriculum will include web and mobile application development - starting in first grade. This is in part a reaction to recent cyber-attacks from Russia , but the move is also an investment in the country's vibrant tech economy, and in its future. Here in the U.S. we haven't decided to make all first-graders into programmers yet, but major changes are taking place in our schools: they are gradually moving away from the industrial model that has been dominant for well over a century now.

Tony Wagner, a writer and speaker from Harvard's Technology & Entrepreneurship Center, has been at the forefront of this new thinking. This week he'll be at UVM to speak to more than 500 educators for the Rowland Foundation's Second Annual Conference on School Transformation. The Rowland Foundation is a new Vermont-based non-profit that works to improve public schools by investing directly in teachers with innovative ideas.

Mr. Wagner argues that innovation is exactly what schools need now. His new book Creating Innovators calls for more collaboration, interdisciplinary problem-solving, and intrinsic motivation for our students. When it comes to the Internet, we know that our kids are content-creators and not just content-consumers, so our schools need to connect learning that takes place both inside and outside the classroom. And with so many students publishing their personal work directly online, schools definitely need to engage them in a new way.

Mr. Wagner's new book argues for more play, passion, and purpose in our schools. Some might argue that school isn't supposed to be fun, but we do know that we often learn best when we are free to experiment, and when we're less afraid of making mistakes. (By the way, this trial-and-error approach perfectly describes how our children master level after level of their favorite video games.) Passion is important too. Consider that we only ever get really good at things that we enjoy, that we're interested in, and that we care about. And certainly purpose has become more important for a generation that texted donations to Haiti relief efforts and then rose up en masse against Joseph Kony. Through social media and the Internet our students are already used to engaging in public issues, from green activism to social justice, and they want to know their efforts have an effect in the real world.

"More testing, alone, will not improve teaching," Mr. Wagner has written - suggesting that for our schools to turn out graduates who are creative, collaborative, and connected, we must foster innovation over standardization.

Vermont educators are already hard at work to create the change our schools will need in the coming years for this transformation. And that's good news, because now that the 21st Century is 12 years old, you might say that the future, in fact, is already here.
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