Transforming the traditional Technology class into a Future Ready Passion Project curriculum
According to the Open School of Management, “…value migration can be described as the way value for customers moves from old businesses and models to new ones that better fit the customer’s needs and desires. Value migration shows how the marketplace is changing and how demand for a product or service evolves.” (OSM, 2020). The traditional Technology Class is the typical example of value migration, when we talk about a world immersed in the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Most of the schools, at least in the Latin American region, are still teaching technology from a consumption perspective and not from a creator’s one. Technology Labs are used to teach students specific programs or software, something that is useless in a volatile world.
In 2017 I introduced the AP Computer Science Principles class at my school. I work in an all-girls school in Mexico, and at that time, the traditional school system rejected the idea to prepare our girls for studying STEM careers. I convinced a group of 7 students to take this course just as a way to discover and/or enhance their creative skills. I planned a “Creative Thinkers Wanted” campaign so students could understand that studying this course was not only for those who would pursue a career in STEM, but for all of them who would live in the new creative economy and in a world immersed in new technologies. With time this course became one of the most popular in our High School, and now, is the one that has the most number of students enrolled. In 2018, the students who finished this class, asked for the “second part”, a new course that would give them the opportunity to keep exploring STEM disciplines and also a safe space for discovering themselves as creative thinkers. Thus, I decided to create a brand new course that I named “The Maker STEAM Workshop”. I had recently won a 50,000 USD fund to design and build a maker space at my school, so the possibility of running a class in this alternative learning environment was totally pertinent.
Offering this new course required me to design a totally new learning methodology with a fully student-centered approach, which I would like to share with you, since I think this is one of the answers we are looking for when we are asking ourselves about what we need to do if we would like to prepare our students so they would be ready for the future challenges and the future of work.
This experimental course has different components that I shall illustrate in the following diagram:
The core of this learning methodology proposal is the necessity of exploring the emergent technologies and also the urgent need to understand the problems that humanity is facing right now. I have always thought that Education should respond to these challenges, school is not the preparation for life, it is life itself, thus our students should have the opportunity to start trying to solve real-world problems right now. This is the essence of rethinking education. During the first part of the school year, we teach our girls about those technologies that are shaping the way we work, we learn, we consume or we communicate with each other, they learn about Data Science, 3D modeling and printing, electronic wearables, AI, IoT, among other emergent technologies. We also give them the opportunity to learn about the problems we as human beings are facing right now. We learn about this through the 2030 UN Agenda on Sustainable Development Goals. All the activities for exploring both emergent technologies and real-world BIG problems, are designed so they can practice their creativity and maker skills by using different technical tools such as 3D printers, microcontrollers, sewing machines, woodwork tools, laser cutters, and etcetera. Also we involve social emotional activities that allow our students to develop the so-called soft skills that are very important in this new work and social revolution. They grow in empathy, resilience, collaboration, critical thinking, because we strongly believe that Science and Technology development should be done from a humanistic approach, and those soft skills are innate to human beings.
Some of the projects for this exploration phase are part of our social entrepreneurship program which is embedded in our course. Through key partnerships with social impact organizations, students’ projects aim to solve real problems provided by these partners with the intention that girls understand the importance of all they do should impact others’ lives in a positive way. This component helps our students to find all these learning experiences highly meaningful for their lives.
During all the description above, I have said WE instead of I, since this is a multidisciplinary course in which different teachers from very different backgrounds participate, even outsiders from industry and social organizations take part in this teaching experience.
For the last part of the year each student works in a passion project that aims to solve a big problem in our local or global community through the application of technology. Passion projects run through a Design Thinking methodology which we think gives our students a lot of skills that are required in a real work environment.
The results from implementing this new learning methodology have been quite good. Girls’ interest in exploring STEM careers increased from 2% to more than 50% in our student population. This enrollment in this particular course increased from 5 girls in 2018 to 17 in 2020, even in the virtual environment.
We strongly believe that if we really want to prepare our students for the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world we must start to rethink the way we are teaching them and also how they are learning. Schools lockdown has been a great opportunity to come up with so important questions such as: What are the main topics we should teach our students? What are the skills that will be more demanded in the future? How we might assess those skills far beyond standardization? What will the world look like in the next 10 or 20 years? If this experience we are living right now does not help us to awake and see education with a different lens, nothing else will.