Why students learn appears in many schools’ visions and mission statements that use words such as ‘inspire,’ ‘empower,’ ‘innovate,’ and ‘make a difference.’ But how many students experience those concepts in their day-to-day experiences at school? Young people naturally want to know, “why are we learning this?” and, “why is this relevant to my life?”
In short, students seek purpose in their learning.
As someone dedicated to using education to leverage meaningful change in the world, I think the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals provide a fantastic opportunity for young people to find that purpose in their learning. They can investigate concepts such as diversity, equality, justice, and sustainability from different perspectives, and students can see how various fields of knowledge both contribute to and mitigate some of the most pressing issues in the world today.
Follow this link for a closer look at this idea in a recent post I wrote for New Nordic School in Finland, where I’m the Director of Education. It should only take a few minutes to read, and it is my hope that you’ll find my ideas about the direction of contemporary education refreshing.
For some educators, the term ‘21st-century learning’ indicates a heavy reliance on teachers’ use of technology to deliver lessons or students’ demonstration of learning via podcasts, videos, animations, and other products that didn’t exist when we old-timers were in school. Others claim that ‘21st-century learning’ refers to skills that apply not only to school, but to life in general. Collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving are generally at or near the top of this skills list.
I would argue that modern education requires a focus on competencies rather than skills, and that technology should simply facilitate the learning process instead of being its focus.
This article from the New York Times is important for a couple of reasons. First, it describes the latest discovery in the long history of evidence supporting the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection, which is possibly the most thoroughly researched idea in science.
The second – and maybe more significant – reason this article is important is because it outlines the process by which new discoveries interplay with existing scientific ideas. No hypothesis or theory is sacred. As soon as objective evidence is unearthed, which undermines or challenges previously-held ideas, what we consider the ‘truth’ changes in response.
Non-scientists mistakenly think of this shift as somehow moving the goalposts or not actually believing in anything. I would argue that this model actually strengthens science’s claim to the ‘truth’ of human understanding because it demonstrates a faith in the process, rather than a specific set of ideas or dogma. Scientific ideas can – and should! – change as we learn more and more about the world around us. But the process of discovery, questioning, and realignment, which we call the Scientific Method, is unchanging and continues to lead to a deeper and more complete understanding of the forces which shape our world. Richard Feynman discusses this very idea in the video embedded below.