“I want to see a show of hands. How many of you have had a class on history?” I surveyed the room, and every single hand was up as expected. “Now, raise your hand if you have had a class on the future?” Surveying the room again, not a single hand as raised.
It was with these two questions that we began our workshop with Youth Leading Change, a “student-led, teacher powered” group of middle and high school students from some of Pittsburgh’s most marginalized neighborhoods who act as reformers and change agents in areas such as education, environmental justice, incarceration, and drug offenses. The workshop was part of Remake Learning Days, a weeklong celebration of events and activities that showcased how the Pittsburgh region and the Remake Learning Network have been shaping the future of learning.
The purpose for our workshop was to introduce foresight to students and to have them imagine the future of learning. To do so, we partnered with our colleagues at Teach the Future to develop a set of activities that would introduce the students to a few methods for thinking about the future and support them in creating images of what the future of learning might be like.
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Shaping our current reality…
The first step of the workshop was to develop a sense of causality. To do this, we asked the students to think about the past by identifying past events and trends that they viewed as having been important in shaping our current reality. The students brainstormed events across three levels:
- The global level: Includes events at the national and international levels
- The local level: Includes events at the state, city, and neighborhood levels
- The personal level: Includes events that have happened to the student, their family, or their friends.
Next, we did a bit of mental time travel, asking the students to pick a cluster of events and trends that they were interested in and to write a short story describing what life might have been like during that time. Below are some of the narratives describing what the past might have been like.
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Moving towards the future!
With the past behind us, we began the hard work of thinking about the future. As reflected in answers to my opening questions, for many in the room (adults included) this was to be their first introduction to the world of futures thinking.
To get the students into the mode of thinking ahead, we asked them to think about what events might happen that could shape the future. Using the same levels (global, local, personal) as before, we asked them to brainstorm and record future events as if they were headlines that had happened, as well as to consider the future trajectory of the trends they had previously identified.
Next, we again asked the students to do some mental time travel, this time into the future. In writing short narratives about what the future might be like, they imagined a future where:
- A student becomes a rock star.
- School is no longer a requirement.
- A personal learning robot helps learners get exactly the lessons they need.
- Meat is no longer eaten due the overharvesting of animals.
- The human population decreases because air is no longer free.
- Half the prison population has been released.
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Remaking learning for the future
Lastly, we asked students to remake learning based on the images of the future they had imagined. To help them think through what learning might be like as part of the futures they envisioned, we gave them some guiding questions to consider:
- What type of building, if any, does your school use?
- Who might go there?
- What is your school or system of learning preparing students for?
- Who might work there?
- How might you tell if a student has learned something?
The students came up with some great ideas for how they would remake learning in the future! Some of them included a community-based classroom, a school that taught life skills as the main curriculum, and a headset that assisted students with learning.
“Don’t waste our time.”
Across their ideas, one major themed emerged: don’t waste our time! Each and every image of the future that the students shared remade learning into something they felt to be more relevant to their interests than school is today and reflected the realities of the changing world. Many emphasized the importance of being able to pursue customized experiences or pathways in preparation for life after high school.
There is a prevailing and unfortunate myth that many poor and marginalized learners need to be taught how to learn and that they are either unable, or do not want, to take ownership of their learning. The images of the future that the students from Youth Leading Change created pose a direct challenge that myth. They don’t need to be taught to learn, nor are they unable to learn, nor do they lack the desire to do so. Rather, they need learning to be remade to meet their needs, interests, and goals. To put it more concisely, they need learning experiences that they feel don’t waste their time.
Exploring the future of learning with students:
Are you interested in exploring the future of learning in your community? Contact the Strategic Foresight Team at KnowledgeWorks to learn more.