Friday, October 23, 2015

Thoughts on 'Most Likely to Succeed'

This post first appeared on my Classroom Games and Tech blog.

I first heard about Most Likely to Succeed about six months ago when organizing some staff professional development for project-based learning. I watched the trailer and all the sound bites gave me chills. The things the teachers and the experts were saying in the film were all the best things I was discovering in the job as I was implementing project-based learning.

A few weeks ago, while my mind has been swirling with ideas for my upcoming conference sessions, I was thrilled to learn they were screening the movie at a nearby college. My wife and I were able to watch it tonight.

I won't give a detailed review of the movie. I would want to watch it again and dig into a few claims before I would do that. I want to get a few thoughts out, though.

To provide some background, the film contrasts the traditional education system with innovative teaching methods and organization of High Tech High. What's wrong with the current system and the promises of the new approaches to teaching come out through interviews with familiar faces like Sal Khan and Ken Robinson as well as staff of High Tech High and experts in business.

I enjoyed it thoroughly from start to finish. I want to watch it again as soon as I can. Every educator should watch it the first chance they get. It raises excellent questions and even if you think some of the visions were too idealistic or that High Tech High is too unrealistic, it offers at least a glimmer of hope for what education can be. Seeing the students perform or show their work in the exhibitions was powerful.

As someone who has been working in ed-tech now for almost eight years, a lot of the points were nothing new. Yes, the current system was originally designed over 100 years ago with a purpose of turning out good factory workers. Yes, computers are making many jobs obsolete and we don't know exactly what careers will even be available for today's K - 12 students.

Some of these insights will be new to many, though, and what I appreciate most is the film made them loud and clear. Viewers will be forced to think about the questions that are raised. Teachers will have to form convictions.

One of my favorite statements came from Dr. Eric Mazur. He raised the question of why we test students the way we do when we know the posture and restrictions of a student taking a test is never what we see anyone doing in the world of work. I have a lot of respect for Mazur's work and it's something I've pointed out myself. He put it brilliantly.

I enjoyed how it let parents and students provide the counterargument to the ideal world of High Tech High. Parents of the students who attended the school asked great questions of the teachers about the lack of course content. In one school, the students banded together against their innovative math teacher and said they just want to be prepared for college, not necessarily life. In some cases the teachers didn't have much to say in return.

The film ultimately portrayed a decision between these extremes as a gamble for the parents. The facts are simply not in yet as to which is better. As a parent, I waver on this myself. The traditional and the innovative approaches have some benefits. Is a good balance possible? If not, which is best? What about the majority of us who don't have a very innovative option for our children anyway?

But the biggest question in my mind during the film was this: Who decides what matters?

Is development of "soft skills" like empathy and leadership more important than the broad exposure to traditional content? Do we let the government decide the standards by which schools are measured? Or do we listen to Sal Khan and the rep from Google, as they talk about what the most forward-thinking companies should be looking for in their employees? Do SAT scores matter just because they matter to colleges?

I look forward to exploring these questions with administrators in my district and with my colleagues. I hope the film will be widely available soon. At least parts of it will be excellent for use in class. I want to hear what students have to say.

Let's keep the conversation going with a focus on being the best educators we can be.

I'm doing a challenge this month to post on one of my blogs every day. It's in preparation for my conference session, The Way of the Google Drive. Be sure to follow me on Twitter or on either blog to keep up with the "thoughts and tools to inspire". 

Click here to see all the posts from Teaching Like an Artist with the tag The Way of the Google Drive.

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