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Education Opinion

Getting Students Ready for the Future in a Fast-Changing World

By Gary Marx — January 15, 2015 4 min read
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Looking for a way to capture and hold students’ attention? Try the future. That’s where they will all be living.

Even those of us who try to live in the moment simply can’t avoid anticipating what might come next. We’re immersed in a world of complexity and constant change, and it’s not going away soon. What can we do about it? We can embrace it.

In Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century...Out of the Trenches and into the Future we can learn about an array of political, economic, social, technological, demographic, and environmental forces that will have a profound impact on each of our lives. As educators, we can use that exciting information and a host of futures tools to enliven our schools and classrooms, think ever more deeply about what we teach and how we teach it, contribute to student achievement, and help us shape the future of education.

At your fingertips, you’ll find tons of data that would take most of us years to collect. You’ll discover ideas generated by legions of experts. That includes the thinking and experience of a distinguished international Futures Council 21. Members of the Council were part of a Delphi study devoted just to providing information, ideas, and experiences for Twenty-One Trends.

In this blog, you’ll discover tips on how to use those futures tools, such as trend analysis, issue analysis, flexibility/innovation analysis, historical/defining moments analysis, and gap analysis. Talented educators can adapt those processes, regularly used by insightful planners, to fire the imaginations of students as they investigate the facts, develop ideas, and team up to discover why what they are learning is so important to their future. Using the compelling information and invigorating processes, they will develop deeper knowledge, form an expanded array of interests, and enjoy the thrill of intellectual curiosity and persistence. All will pay off for them during the rest of their lives, as engaged citizens who are employable and capable of living even more interesting lives.

Most of us want to personalize education at the same time we’re promoting teamwork and turning out socially responsible, well-adjusted, contributing members of society. In many of our schools and colleges, active learning, project-based education, real-world education, and learning through inquiry are already alive and well. We’re focused on developing thinking, reasoning, and problem solving skills. On top of that, we’re provoking imagination and creativity. We’re on a constant search for ingenuity and looking for clues to help us build on it and make our schools even more exciting learning environments.

Here are some of the trends addressed in Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century. A chapter is devoted to each, and they are clustered into spheres. Here’s the idea:

Demographic Sphere: Generations, Diversity, Aging.

Technology Sphere: Technology, Identity and Privacy.

Economic Sphere: The Economy, Jobs and Careers.

Energy and Environmental Sphere: Energy, Environmental and Planetary Security, Sustainability.

International/Global Sphere: Trends addressing International/Global Concerns and Opportunities.

Education and Learning Sphere: Personalization, Ingenuity, and the Depth, Breadth, and Purposes of Education.

Public and Personal Leadership Sphere: Polarization, Authority, Ethics, Continuous Improvement.

Well-Being Sphere: Poverty, Scarcity vs. Abundance, Personal Well-Being and Work-Life Balance.

As educators, we’re faced with teaching an ever-expanding body of knowledge, skills, and behaviors in basically the same amount of time we’ve always had. Twenty-One Trends, which has been years in the making, offers some helpful tips. This future-focused book is not designed to provide the final answers but to stimulate thinking about how we can connect what we teach and how we teach it to what our students may need to know and be able to do...today and tomorrow.

Whether we are educators or involved in any other aspect of human endeavor, we can put this book to use for us. Twenty-One Trends is often used as a text for education, leadership, planning, strategy, and futures courses. Many of us depend on it as a base for community conversations, as a compelling environmental scan, and as a foundation as we plan for the future.

Look Ahead to Upcoming Articles on our Author’s Corner Blog. During the next several weeks and months, we’ll be devoting blog posts devoted to each of those trends. You’ll be able to follow our observations as you draw from your own creative genius to use these trends and processes in breathing even greater life into an array of disciplines, courses, and subjects. A few include: STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math); the social sciences; language arts; civic and character education; international/global understanding; the arts; and career education. Chapters devoted to personalization, ingenuity, and the depth, breadth, and purposes of education apply to every discipline. Order your copy or copies of Twenty-One Trends at www.edweek.org/go/21Trends.

The opinions expressed in Author’s Corner by Education Week Press are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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