I have never visited an educational institution more steeped in tradition than the US Military Academy at West Point. The Academy is a keeper of traditions of which all of us would be proud, and that many of us would do well to emulate. But, over the several years that I have worked and visited with the outstanding faculty and student cadets, both groups acknowledge the downside of some of those traditions, the seemingly insurmountable obstacles of traditional inertia to changing how we teach and how we expect our students to learn. My very small sampling suggests that some instruction at West Point is changing, but that many courses are still locked into a highly rigid, teacher-centric modality.
And yet yesterday, in just a few minutes, we saw how quickly a group of talented educators can imagine real change. I met with about 25 faculty, many in the math department, and gave them a very short summary of my observations about K-12 education today and in the future. Superstar teacher-of-teachers Jill Gough skyped in from Atlanta to talk and answer questions about how even math classes can be turned into more dynamic, student-owned learning environments.
Then I offered the West Point faculty three prompts.
“How might we…”
- Increase student connectivity with external knowledge sources?
- Increase student ownership of questioning and problem finding?
- Increase and measure student engagement in the classroom?
The group self-selected into teams with nothing but white boards and a few markers. With our time waning, I allowed a ridiculously short period of time to:
- Ask “What if…?” questions relative to the respective prompts (3 minutes)
- Draw from the “what if” questions and create an idea for a pilot program (3 minutes)
- Pitch the idea (30 seconds for each team)
Blew me away! All three ideas were potential home runs. Two were deemed “tough” or “unlikely” to be adopted because of potentially powerful inertial forces; the third was deemed “pretty darn easy to implement”. Not bad for less than 10 minutes. I absolutely guarantee that, given a more thorough session like this, with a variety of stakeholders in the room, the faculty could have generated a nice handful of very workable plans that would SIGNIFICANTLY transform their learning environments.
Will it happen at West Point? I don’t know. Can it happen at your school? Is it worth ten minutes to see the possibilities? Is it worth one day to create a roadmap for preparing our students for their futures, not for our past? Let me know!