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  • Writer's pictureDerek Stoppels

Linear Education vs. Non-

I just watched an inspiring TED talk by Margaret Heffernan about the skills we are going to need in an unpredictable world. I couldn't help but think about how her talk applies to education and my philosophy thereof. She speaks about how important it is for us to be flexible, collaborative and resilient (she uses different words, but my synonyms work with my philosophy). I find it difficult to think about how our current and traditional education system sets our students up to be flexible, collaborative and resilient.

Giving our students labs where the outcomes are known, either to the student, the teacher, or both, does not set up our students for flexibility or resilience. And doing one or two labs per unit does not give our students enough opportunities to be collaborative. If a project ends when the teacher, or the text book ends, does not allow for much choice in the classroom. If the project or lab ends when a certain result has been reached, this does not promote resilience, or flexibility.

So then I ask myself, why are teachers so hell-bent on the traditional teaching methods while at the same time they say we are getting them ready for what comes next, or getting them ready for the real world. Since we don't know what really comes next, how do we get them ready for it, and our students are already in the real world. I find I am constantly trying to put myself in their shoes, in an attempt to avoid confirmation bias as best as I can.

Our education system is linear. So as a grade nine teacher, grade ten comes next, as a grade ten teacher, grade eleven comes next, as a grade twelve teacher, university comes next. So it makes sense that some senior level teachers want to teach their classes to get them ready for university or college. The linear method worked for every teacher...that's how they got to where they are, and so I understand why some might think that the system ain't broke, so why fix it? I think there is a lack of forward thinking, but I get it.

In her TED talk, Margaret Heffernan talks about how important it is going to be to have messy, human skills to be successful in the future. In my opinion, for what it's worth, I want to use my grade nine and ten science class as place to help my students develop those messy, human skills she talks about. I work in a linear system, but I want my students to be successful outside of that linear system, because "what comes next", and "the real world", are not linear systems. I read the free preview of Simon Sinek's book, The Infinite Game that is about to come out (on October 15th, 2019...I'm a fan!) about finite games and infinite games in life. I'll let you read it, because I really think everyone should, but the point of the story is that I think the traditional education system doesn't set our students up for success in an infinite game. Leaving high school these days, I don't think our students really are prepared for "what comes next." Even college and university is somewhat less linear than K-12 education.

When my students come to my class in grade nine, they have just spent the last eight(ish) years of their lives in a linear system, getting ready for next year...always getting ready for next year. Then come to The Stoppels Show and my emphasis is not on "what comes next." I understand how that might cause some anxiety for some students. Now they have to unlearn everything they thought they knew about school...but only for science class, because most of their other teachers are more traditional and linear. I get why this is tough for my students, but in the long run, I hope they see that I've done them a real favour! Actually...I know they will, but in a world of instant gratification, as I teacher, my "new" philosophy doesn't lend itself to instant gratification (with emphasis on grades and scores), as it's hard to grade the "messy, human skills", and for my students, without the emphasis on grades and scores, they might find the transition to finding a different motivation difficult. But I'm going to keep going with it, because whether they can see it at the time or not, I KNOW they are going to leave my class with all the science knowledge they'll need AND skills that are going to help them in the "here and now" as well as in "the real world"...but I still hate that term.

...perhaps our current system of doing business (read education) isn't "right," or even "best." It is just the system that we are used to, one preferred and advanced by a minority, not the majority. If this is, indeed, the case, then we have an opportunity to advance a different reality.
...Great leaders are the ones who think beyond "short term" versus "long term." They are the ones who know that it is not about the next quarter (next semester/course) or election (college or university), it is about the next generation. Great leaders set up their organizations (students) to succeed beyond their own lifetimes and when they do, the benefits - for us, for business, and even for shareholders - are extraordinary.

Love these quotes from Simon Sinek's free preview (linked above) of The Infinite Game.

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