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Getting Ready to 'Reboot' High School Learning

Sunday, September 29, 2013

By Tim Lougheed, Learning 2030 In-Camera Blogger

Brandon Busteed of Gallup Education delivers keynote 

Image © WGSI/Carrie Warner

The stage is set. Summit theme music booms from a 200-seat theatre out into the atrium in thundering surround-sound.

All this is enhanced by the fact that guests at the opening reception will be mixing with a robot that thinks it’s an actor, occasionally breaking into Shakespearean soliloquies – just one of the hands on exhibits that are part of Perimeter Institute's concurrent BrainSTEM festival.

There is nothing less than a carnival atmosphere here to mark the latest edition of the Equinox Summit (a collaboration between Perimeter Institute and the University of Waterloo), dubbed Learning 2030.

Among the young innovators gathered here for it all, some weren’t even in school 17 years ago. Nevertheless, they will all be trying to frame recommendations on what the next generation of high school students will find in their classrooms 17 years from this year.

The stage is set

A day before this group of up-&-comers and world-authorities begin their deliberations, the biggest challenge here is ensuring this process gets started, so the group can work together in a coherent way.
If all goes according to plan (stay-tuned) that work will give birth to a final ‘roadmap’ as valuable and influential as the founders of the event are hoping.
The sheer diversity of the participants here is immediately apparent, but so too is the shared passion for the role that learning plays in making the world a better place.

Image © WGSI/Sam Saechao

High hopes…

Summit organizers have tendered invitations based on such passion, but also with an eye toward fostering an interdisciplinary atmosphere.
People who would champion the role of technology in education therefore found themselves rubbing elbows with more skeptical observers, for example, and hard-nosed economic advocates were asked to interact with those who might regard learning as a social good that should remain beyond the reach of bureaucrats and bean-counters.



A series of innovative exercises, reminiscent of “get-to-know you” team-building strategies, quickly sampled the participants’ spectrum of opinion on four crucial points:

  • why they want to contribute to changes in secondary education
  • what one thing they would change in their country’s education system
  • what kind of Summit declaration would make them proud
  • how to get along well enough to product that declaration

The comments generated by these exercises ranged from familiar to fresh to downright inspirational.

It begins…

The first honest minutes of real collaboration here started with a few candid expressions of personal frustration with current learning strategies that had let participants down.
It’s a discussion that is prompting a search for a new approach that would prevent others from encountering the same difficulties.
“Are we trying to re-engineer something we know, or engineer something new?” asked one participant.
That was among the defining questions facing the group as they look to engineer the destiny of today’s newborns, out to 2030.
Others dealt with the need for more experiential learning (code for work in the real world, as opposed to keeping your nose in a textbook) and a complete rejection of standardized assessments and rote learning. A smattering of political radicalism entered into the room with a call to outlaw private education. should be banned.

And now, for the really tough discussions…

By the time the smoke cleared, it’s clear the group here has run through the full gamut of perspectives on the topics that brought them there as well as the goals that will keep them here for the next few days.
Perhaps most interesting, as we get ready to head into the behind-closed-door sessions tomorrow there were so many nagging, hard-to-express feelings when it comes to education in the 21st century.
Something is broken and needs fixing. Beyond that, it’s just so hard to universally articulate what that is.
If anything moves this group forward in the coming days, it will be the need to get past that feeling.

Tim Lougheed – Ottawa, Canada-based science journalist – will be blogging from WGSI throughout the summit.