Mind the GapLately, I’ve found myself in thought-provoking discussions with energetic and interesting Milwaukeeans dedicated to great ideas such as bolstering and retaining Milwaukee’s creative talent through exciting new initiatives like Innovation in Milwaukee (MiKE). Amidst these conversations, exploring the need for progressive education methods (especially in our middle and high schools) is a frequent topic.
One of these must-meet learning advocates is Anne Nordholm, Executive Director of the Great Lakes Constructivist Consortium (GLCC). (Seriously, check out their website.) Anne pointed me toward an interesting National Geographic article titled Beautiful Brains that examines how the sometimes exasperating teenage mind is actually an evolutionary necessity, smoothly bridging the narrowing gap between childhood and adulthood.
From the article:
”The resulting account of the adolescent brain - call it the adaptive-adolescent story - casts the teen less as a rough draft than as an exquisitely sensitive, highly adaptable creature wired almost perfectly for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside.”
These studies and commentaries couldn’t come at a more relevant time. For better or for worse, adolescence is fading. After all, these are the kids of the information age. They seek out and find the information they want or need – and it’s all at their fingertips. Sure, there are obvious downsides to this new world of (often mis)information.
Clearly, however, this trend is also a grand stage for great opportunity.
A Call for Constructivism These kids crave a new approach to learning – and schools should be responding with encouragement, preparing middle and high school students to be active participants in more broadly defined economic, political and social worlds, both now and even more intently immediately after they graduate.
How? By encouraging students to act on their experiences, while teaching ideas like making informed decisions, real researching skills, identifying problems and creative solutions, engaging in civil discourse and then acting on those solutions in a helpful and meaningful way.
Encouraging Social Enterprise Encouraging social entrepreneurship in middle and high schools is the next step in the evolution of our education system. Starting in middle school, encourage students to not only see problems or opportunities in their communities, but also to act on them. By high school, these same students (now studying more advanced topics and encountering more responsibility – like getting a driver’s license) will come up with creative ways to monetize their solutions, which has great potential to benefit not only the students, but the school and the community as well.
A ton of idea incubation happens in today’s high schools. Our schools should encourage it. Encouraging social entrepreneurship gives students real world work experience and teaches them truly valuable real world skills.
Students: Reap What You Know There are definite economic opportunities when schools choose to employ these ‘progressive’ learning techniques and encourage the acceleration of social entrepreneurship. Think about it: when a public school in an economically struggling community encourages entrepreneurship, you open a wider world that encourages those students to see ways they can free themselves from that economic situation, and in the safe learning environment of their school.
If the school is helpful, and they encourage these ideas to blossom into working business models, then the students AND the school have potential to benefit greatly.
- The school must be dedicated to continuously forging connections in the community that benefit students, connecting the school with the “outside world”
- A student pitches a great product or service idea to the school’s administration
- The school accepts the pitch and allows the student access to all available resources, such as the library, the teachers, the facilities, and community residents (individuals, businesses – even politicians)
- If the idea takes off, beyond the community, or is still viable after they graduate, then the student buys the idea from the school, providing money for the school, and giving the student ownership in what is now his or her startup business
This model is already working in our local colleges, such as the Medical College of Wisconsin. The only difference is that the college works in conjunction with a business/corporation, and will likely provide more start up capital for product development than required for a high schooler’s idea. If the product gets launched, the student gets a percentage of the profit. … Schools should be bigger proponents of social entrepreneurship, and at an early age. These kids can handle it. Incentivizing these innovative programs will only make these kids want to get even more involved. Encouraging social entrepreneurship strengthens relationships between students and schools, and reduces the likelihood that the student will go down an unhealthy behavioral path due to increased opportunities to apply their creativity, take ownership, be trusted with a project and potentially make some decent money – thereby bettering the community.
Let’s make this part of our school curriculums, not just a one-off project. Our communities deserve this.