Montello Teaches Computer Science K-6

by Dr. Lynn Brown, Dave Lockstein, and Aggie Salter

Montello is not waiting for the future. Our students are creating their future opportunities by learning Computer Science K – 6, including digital citizenship and coding. With a tremendous shift in our teaching practices in the past couple of years, our staff is intentionally connecting the school experience with life beyond the classroom. More importantly, our Board, community, and staff share a fundamental belief about the importance of the ever changing landscape of technology and its partnership with curriculum for our students future. Today is never tomorrow. Nothing stays the same. Alec Ross, former Director of Technology at the State Department, said, “If big data, genomics, cyber, and robotics are among the high-growth industries of the future, then the people who will make their livings in those industries need to be fluent in the coding languages behind them.” In Montello, coding begins in kindergarten. Yes, our kindergarteners are coding.

Montello boasts a 17 year Montello School District (MSD) veteran music teacher and Certified Google Educator and Trainer. She was passionate about using technology in her elementary music classroom to create greater engagement, achieve music standards, and ultimately have students take more ownership of their own learning. Piloting Quincy Jones’ Playground Sessions and creating her own online curriculum, it was then that this teacher realized her students’ quick acquisition of grade level standards using technology and their thirst for continued learning. Four years ago she offered the Hour of Code as an optional activity during lunch for fifth graders. “The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching over 100 million students in more than 180 countries.” (https://code.org/learn). This teacher and the fifth-grade teachers had no idea who would show up, and much to their surprise, every single 5th grade student came during their lunch! The following year, volunteer middle and high school students were trained to assist fellow students. From 2013-14 through 2015-16, Hour of Code was offered to grades four and five in their classrooms and grades seven and eight during their lunchtime. Not surprised, there was 100% participation.

In August 2014, MSD hired a new Director of Technology (DOT) who articulated a vision to change the way our teachers taught, our students learned, and the way technology was viewed. He believed technology would help shape curriculum from the foundation up; eventually becoming invisible when standardized in all aspects of education. We realized that the technology skills of both the DOT and our music teacher/technology coach were two sides of the same coin. With his strengths in vision and infrastructure implementation and her skills in classroom technology integration and coaching, our action plan was formed into three distinct but connected components of today’s innovative Montello classrooms:

  1. Get devices in the hands of staff and students
  2. Change the role of the teacher to facilitator/partner in learning
  3. Provide real world applications and experiences so students are prepared to leave our school
  1.  Get devices in the hands of staff and students

The DOT pushed his device neutral philosophy for every staff member and student. He didn’t care that Montello was a poor rural district in the the eyes of outsiders. Our new DOT brought a vision of evolution from digital obscurity to one-to-world. This meant access anytime, anywhere, on any device. With his eye on both efficiency and effectiveness, the District moved to GAFE (Google Apps for Education). Leases were replaced with economic options, the number of servers were reduced, hardware rotations were established, and equipment was standardized. The long-term technology budget was actually reduced! Within one year, Chromebooks were purchased for every middle and high school student. Redistributed equipment was given to elementary students who now had 2:1 access. In the fall of 2015, our district was 1:1 in grades K-12 with a planned dedicated rotation schedule for new hardware. With equipment in place, access throughout the day, and instructional tools available anywhere, anytime, it required us to change our classroom practice. By doing so, we found alternative resources and began to revolutionize how we delivered instruction.

  1.  Change the role of the teacher to facilitator/partner in learning

Technology is a tool, not an end unto itself. The teacher’s role has certainly changed. He or she is a facilitator, a partner in learning, and no longer a sage on the stage. When our music teacher became half-time music teacher and half-time technology coach, she realized that in order to ignite long-lasting change, she needed to change teacher beliefs. Modeling new classroom tools, providing extended training opportunities and support alongside MSD classroom teachers, mindsets and practices began to shift. The result – increased engagement from both teachers and students, more timely feedback to individualize instruction, and greater student ownership for their learning. This year, she transitioned to our full-time Integration Technology Specialist (ITS). She supports the PK-12 staff in technology integration in their classrooms as well as provides Computer Science instruction to students in grades K – 6 making MSD’s footprint bigger as we prepare our students to compete in a global market economy.

  1. Provide real world applications and experiences so students are prepared to leave our school

The synergy of the abilities of our ITS and DOT, combined with the support from the Board and Administration and a staff eager to learn, has positioned Montello to more fully implement Academic and Career Planning.  One of those vehicles is teaching Computer Science K – 6. The essential skills in those classes include innovation (collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking), digital citizenship, and coding (Java and beginning implementation of C++, and C Sharp). Our ITS continually searches out-of-the-box possibilities, while learning alongside her students and staff, in order to enhance the education repertoire of all she serves. Also, those initial Hour of Code student volunteers later formed our Technology Expedition Team (TekEx), a group of students working under our school-to-work program who provide tech support on all levels – from customer service to hardware and software support. These opportunities are allowing them to gain certifications and experience needed to start a career in technology right out of high school.

We are only in year three of a multi-year initiative that increases our students experiences, exposures, and skill sets to the world beyond Montello.  Yet, in the midst of these adaptive shifts, MSD staff never forget that relationships and connections with students and each other are the single most important aspect to deepen our learning. “We have to make a connection to the heart before we can make connections to the brain,” says our ITS. In Montello, we believe each child regardless of age should go as fast as the student needs/wants to learn, with standards to help guide that process, and technology should help foster that growth. It should create engagement and a connection to the outside world – ensuring that they are prepared to leave our learning community. Montello stakeholders are increasing their global footprint in the hopes of our students’ and community’s greater contribution to mankind. Let’s find our collective voice to prepare our children for an ever changing world. MSD bears testimony that even small rural districts can teach computer science and begin in kindergarten, yes in kindergarten!

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School Reform: A Family Affair

“I went to school here myself. So did my nieces, my brothers, my sisters, and now my daughter. I don’t see why it has to change,” said Seleta Carter, a mother in the Newark, New Jersey Public Schools. Her daughter’s school was scheduled for closing. A mere 20 percent of students read at grade level. The building required urgent repairs to meet minimum safety standards. Officials promised Seleta and fellow parents a better education for their children at another school. Why not embrace the opportunity? Who would choose to stay in a failing school?

I just finished reading Dale Russakoff’s new book, The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools, a spellbinding account of a well-intentioned reform of the dysfunctional Newark Public Schools. Mark Zuckerberg and partners pledged 200 million dollars to help Newark children receive the educational opportunities they deserved. Mayor Cory Booker and Governor Chris Christie committed their political capital to the quest. An epic tale of turmoil ensued. Power grabs, money grabs, lies and rumors formed subplots. Reform failed. Newark struggles today with the aftermath, the money spent, the old ways renewed. Zuckerberg moved on much the wiser. Today Mark and his wife are investing 124 million dollars into San Francisco Bay urban schools. The top-down model is reversed to a bottom-up. The money is only released school by school as neighborhood consensus is reached. I applaud their commitment after the disaster in Newark.

Don’t be quick to judge Seleta Carter for resisting change. She cares about her daughter. Indeed, Ms. Carter knows every teacher. She actively participates in the parents association. As John Stoehr, Yale University professor, rightly points out, “When you don’t have much in life, your margin of error is thin.” Seleta Carter preferred to maneuver with a dysfunction she knew than a dysfunction she didn’t. Indeed, she could not imagine a system that collectively worked. Seleta knew who the gangbangers were in her neighborhood. She knew which teachers to avoid and which teachers to pursue. Seleta can protect her daughter. How does she protect her child at a school she doesn’t know? Seleta Carter no longer seems irrational, uncaring, or naive does she?

Seleta Carter instructs all of us. Change is rarely easy. Reformers may have clear eyes and pure hearts but that is not enough. All parties need to be heard. We must earn trust and then we must deliver a better service. Howard Fuller, former Milwaukee Superintendent of Schools, said of the Newark reforms, “I think a lot of us education reformers – and I include myself – have been too arrogant. It’s not even what you do sometimes, it’s the way you treat people in the process of doing it. If your approach is to get a lot of smart people in the room and figure out what ‘these people’ need and then we implement it, the first issue is who decided that you were smart? And why do you think you can just get in a room and make decisions for a community of people? You don’t think they’ll respond the way they responded? I’m not saying you can ever create this level of change without resistance, but I don’t see how this is politically sustainable over time.” I say, amen.

So where did the 200 million dollar go in Newark? At least 90 million went to the Teachers Union to get them onboard. Joe Del Grasso, head of the union said, “We had an opportunity to get Zuckerberg’s money. Otherwise it would go to the charter schools. I decided I shouldn’t feed and clothe the enemy.” Charter schools received almost 58 million dollars. This investment created a 60 million dollar drop in public school revenues. Another 21 million dollars landed  in the pockets of consultants. The remainder managed to find their way to specific projects. Far too little of the money found its way to the classrooms.

Schools never stand in isolation. We serve the intertwined needs of children and communities. Montello is not Newark but we share most of the structural dynamics of community. Princess Fils Aime, a reform-minded educator in Newark, said, “Finding a way to connect these worlds is my focus now so that we can ask every school: What does this particular school need in order to meet the challenges of the neighborhood it’s situated in? We have to be able to show children: Why is this education meaningful?” Everyone has a right to answers to these questions. Every change should move the ball forward. How do we get better? How do we galvanize a team effort to best serve our children? My experience tells me this: be patient, be respectful, be faithful, fight for essential principles, and compromise on the non essentials. Take the time to understand the Seleta Carters who may resist change. Never shut the door. They are family.

A Teacher’s Legacy

I plopped down in an overstuffed chair. Two older ladies carried on about St. Raphael’s Friday fish fry. We all had time to burn before the nurse called our names. I picked up the February 7 issue of Time Magazine. I thumbed through the pages searching for the news makers and obituaries. A bit morbid, I know. A bald man with an ear to ear toothy smile caught my attention. Marvin Minsky, MIT professor and co-founder of the AILab, died January 24, 2016 at the age of 88. Who is this guy? I thought. I read the obituary, an eloquent personal homage from a former student, Ray Kurzweil.

Kurzweil wrote, “When I was fourteen I wrote Marvin Minsky a letter asking to meet with him. He invited me to visit him at MIT and he spent hours with me as if he had nothing else to do.” The year, 1962:  John Kennedy confronts the Cuban Missile Crisis, Algeria gains its independence from France, Rod Laver wins Wimbledon. Melvin Minsky dominates the brave new world of artificial intelligence from the laboratories of AILab at MIT. A pioneer in the fledgling science of computers, “Marvin was one of the very few people in computing whose vision and perspectives liberated the computer from being a glorified adding machine to start to realize its destiny as one of the most powerful amplifiers for human endeavors in history.” Age 35, a busy man in constant demand, Marvin Minsky had every reason to blow off a fourteen year old boy from New York city. But what did he do? Marvin took the time, sat down, and wrote a thoughtful personal letter to a young man he never met. That act of kindness, that afternoon of generosity in the laboratory at MIT changed the lives of a professor and a prodigy forever.

Kurzweil and Minsky continued to correspond over the next three years.  The young Ray Kurzweil oozed brilliance, he always did. In 1965 Kurzweil won first prize at the International Science Fair. He wrote a computer program that recognized patterns in the works of his favorite classical composers. The program synthesized these patterns into unique but similar musical pieces. Ray Kurzweil entered MIT in 1967 to study under Marvin Minsky. Within 18 months he exhausted the entire computer programming catalog. Ray sold the rights to his first software venture for $100,000 plus royalties during his sophomore year. His legend grew exponentially. PBS listed Ray Kurzweil among the 16 most influential men of the past century. The relationship between Marvin and Ray never wavered – it only deepened. Kurzweil said, “He was one of humanity’s greatest thinkers. He was also my only mentor.”

Marvin Minsky, a WWII veteran, entered Harvard after the war. He completed his doctoral studies in mathematics at Princeton University. But Marvin longed for more than the pure science could offer. His boundless curiosity flirted with genetics and physics. Neither satisfied and then it happened. He engaged the question of intelligence. Minsky recalled, “The problem of intelligence seemed hopelessly profound. I can’t remember considering anything else worth doing.” His newfound passion led to a life long pursuit at MIT. Marvin Minsky invited thousands of students to join his journey at the artificial intelligence laboratories of MIT.

Above all else, Marvin Minsky was a passionate teacher. Learning and students never lost their luster. He forever challenged his students, “You don’t really understand something if you understand it one way.” Mastery of content establishes a prequel. Organization, association, and elaboration write the introduction. Defining and resolving a problem constitutes a chapter. Following chapters must construct new questions and novel solutions. Always think big, then think small. Only then dare to write the conclusion of understanding. Minsky’s demands fueled the brightest young minds in the world. They fought to get chairs at his night lectures. Danny Hillis, a former student and transformative figure in his own right, said, “Marvin taught me how to think. He had a style and playful curiosity that was a huge influence on me. He always challenged you to question the status quo. He loved it when you argued with him.”

Minsky lived in the midst of a sea of 140 plus IQs. But this story has little to do with the brilliance of intellectuals. Do we base a love story on the distinction of brown eyes to blue eyes? Of course not. No, this story has everything to do with the conduct and character of education. An adult extends his hand to the extended hand of a child. Engagement bonds a relationship. Its effects last for a lifetime. Teachers, this is your story.

Educating With a Whole Heart

A father propped against a windswept beach sand dune labors to breathe under fogged moonlight. His young son presses hard against him to stay warm. The man is dying. A world obliterated by nuclear holocaust, they have each other, alone on the shore of a lifeless ocean. The father fears for his boy. Prospects of survival vacillate between slim and none. Can goodness yet exist in this ghoulish hell? Will goodness find his little boy? The father whispers, “You have my whole heart. You always did.” Cormac McCarthy calls his apocalyptic novel The Road, a love letter to his son. The scene above instructs our love. Love presses demands upon our thoughts and actions.

The job of a school administrator is not easy when done right. The love of an administrator pains his own heart when lived right. What is right and what is wrong? A wise man sets his compass before the journey. I serve a rural community. Small family businesses pepper our lake pocked wooded county. Commuters sacrifice an hour’s drive to Madison, Wisconsin. The public school system of Montello is the second largest employer in the area. Honorable men and women covet these positions. Their work ensures food on the table and puts flesh to hopes and dreams. By definition we serve two constituencies, adults and children. The perceived needs of these parties conflict more than one might think. How can we best honor adults without compromising our mission to children?

America spends 550 billion dollars per year on public elementary and secondary education. We invest on average $10,658 per pupil each year. And guess what? We need more. Thomas Sowell said, “The first lesson of economics is scarcity:  there is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.” When local schools become a target of economic convenience, school leadership must police itself. We must prepare to say no to adult stakeholders when the school mission is compromised. Every public dollar marinates with the sweat of someone’s brow. We cannot view revenues, grants, and windfalls as easy money, or worse, our money. Our fiduciary mandate compels us to choose our staff, our vendors, and our partners wisely without consideration for political expedience. America’s 550 billion dollar investment screams one paramount truth, our children are America’s greatest asset.

School leaders, never forget your mission, Remember the words of the father to his son? “You have my whole heart. You always did.” It’s all about the kids. Period. Some mission statements say it better than others but our kids deserve our whole heart. Every item of every action plan must answer this question, how does this advance the cause of our children? Every fiduciary decision must embrace our children’s best interests. School funding changed markedly under the state’s Walker administration. We feel the keen edge of local obligation to our schools. An upcoming referendum will define our public school investment and how we nurture it.

Dr. Feuerstein, the eminent cognitive psychologist, said of students, “You don’t impose on them because you want them to be like you. You impose on them because you love them.” What parent doesn’t dream about their child’s future? Who among us doesn’t wish a better life for our kids? Of course we do. The classroom affords a vehicle for those dreams and aspirations like none other. Gender, race, creed, and status bow to equity of opportunity, the embrace of full humanity. Yes, we teach about the physical world, the world of ideas, the world of possibilities. Our children master skills to seize the power of choice as adults. That knowledge, that ability to think, that drive to create is vital. Its importance cannot be overemphasized. But love generates committed interconnections in the learning community. Feuerstein put it this way, “I want people to be dependent on the others, to be related to the others, to help the others, and to be helped by others.” Citizens, parents, students, and staff:  we are a community. We are related to each other and we share a common purpose, to love our children with a whole heart.

Thinking Skills Matter

I obsess about the learning dynamic. My journey covers the seven seas of learning theory, testimonials, conventions, seminars, and exhaustive training under recognized gurus. I separate meat from bones in my field. Believe me, there are too many bones. But why do I continue the pursuit? How can I cast off broken promises and false hope? I know the power of a teacher to affect someone’s life. I know the power of an administrator to compound that potential exponentially.

Dr. Adam Falk, president of Williams College, addressed potential incoming freshmen in the spring of 2015. He highlighted a central theme. “We are not here to create vessels of information. We are here to develop your minds. Exercise and reinforce the habits of mind. Think, feel, analyze – let your mind express itself. Strengthen the higher capacities.” Williams College is no joke. These eighteen year-olds are the academic cream of high schools around the world. Dr. Falk implies a reality these kids may not fully comprehend. Your critical thinking skills, highly developed for a high school senior, must be honed and elevated, indeed these skills can and will be elevated during your four years at Williams College. Teachers will encourage, push, and prod to make it happen.

Dr. Nate Kornell, a cognitive psychologist and professor at Williams College, amplifies this reality in his blog piece, Stop Worrying About Starting Grad School.

“The bottom line: your knowledge and skills on the first day are almost irrelevant four years later. What matters more is how much your skills are going to improve. That depends on your talent, attitude, and work ethic.

Graduate school is exactly the same. You aren’t prepared. No one is. You’re a flailing newborn spitting up all over and crying a lot (or at least I was).

What actually matters is whether you’re smart, ready to work hard, ready to get deeply interested and invested in whatever’s coming, and ready to do what you have to do to learn and improve.

You are running a marathon. The real question is how much better are you prepared to get?”

The learning dynamic demands more and more of our critical thinking skills. Those skills develop our inherent talent. Kornell said it best, “How much better are you prepared to get?”

If development of “the higher capacities” is critical at the college and graduate level, how important are they at the K-12 level? A cursory study of demographics and economics screams, “Life will not end well for those who cannot think for themselves and determine their futures.” Of those who don’t graduate from high school, only a smattering of outliers rise to productive careers. For better, for worse, we affect the lives of children. That is a fact and a choice.

We know for a fact, thinking skills taught and reinforced increases student achievement. Further, we know we have capacity to push IQ up as much as five points over the ages of six to ten. Trust me, five points of talent can make a significant difference in choices for an emerging adult. Men, would you rather have a 12 volt cordless drill or an 18 volt? Why the 18 volt? The 18 volt cordless drill has more power and greater endurance. That drill solves a greater range of problems. The mind is no different. Greater capacity, greater efficiency enhances skills which apply themselves to a greater range of problems. In sum, we possess the power to adapt and learn.

The newborn baby flails helplessly, its cry the only tool to express its needs and desires. Mom and Dad mediate a new relationship. We call it bonding but we are our baby’s first teachers. That developing mind will be nurtured by many others. Cognitive development builds biologically and environmentally, an inevitable exponential march toward independence. In the world, we call it life. In the classroom, we call it mediation. The teacher plays a dominant role at the K-12 level, a dominant but lesser role at the collegiate level, and a peer coach role at the graduate level. Greater and greater self-teaching occurs as the student progresses. His/her habits of mind, his/her powers of critical thinking, enable the individual to shape their environment. He/she emerges a fully functioning adult.

My three sons flew from the nest a decade ago. My first grandchild greets us in June. It matters little to me or you what they do for a living. Here is the critical point of their journey, the hard earned fruits of collaborative labors in their lives. Each works at a profession they chose for themselves. Each of them loves and is loved with dignity, and each invests in the welfare of others outside of family. Isn’t this what we are really about? Aren’t we a part of the universal question posited in each individual, “Who am I?” Don’t we have a responsibility to elevate the life of each child we intersect? I obsess about learning, about teaching, about caring for children because it matters more than any one person can ever comprehend.

 

 

Are We Relevant?

With every pedagogical and strategic decision we make at Butler University, we must ask ourselves a crucial question:  “What will the future of learning look like?”

James M. Danko, President Butler University

Yesterday I pulled the quarterly Butler Magazine from my mailbox.  I dumped the bills and junk mail on my desk and sauntered toward a comfy canvas patio chair on the deck, the Butler Magazine in tow.  Let me be completely honest, the Butler Magazine doesn’t often stir me with excitement, but this spring edition was completely different.  The full cover depicted Butler’s new brand, The Future of Learning, Choosing the Right Path.  I turned the cover to read the president’s letter.  James Danko began his message with the quote above.  Let me ask you the same question:  “What will the future of learning look like?”

The Butler College of Education’s vision statement begins with these words, “We must prepare students for schools as they should be, not simply perpetuating schools as they currently exist.”  Schools as they should be?  Please don’t focus on a specific model but rather imagine this as a relentless pursuit of truth, relevance, and application – each day a new justification for its existence, a new opportunity for growth.  The fundamental context of this complex confluence called learning is always the student, our learner.  Who are these individuals?  What does the world demand of them in 2015?  Who do our students aspire to be?  The art of my job as an administrator presents exciting challenges.  Educators get to raise the curtain to a phenomenal world.  We want them to experience this world with all of their senses.  This world must be relevant; each student has a birthright to interact, each according to his curiosity, each according to their discovered passions.  Teachers are not primarily dispensers of knowledge.  Rather, we are mediators in series of connections and attendant meaning for our students.  By instilling and assisting our student’s critical thinking we empower our students to self-instruct, to synthesize ideas and beget new ones, the highest level of critical thinking.

What will the future of learning look like?  Whatever it looks like, strong critical thinking must permeate the learning dynamic.  Our children from the first day they cross a school threshold must learn how to organize new information, assess uncertainties, ask good questions, determine problems to be solved, develop multiple strategies to solve problems, appreciate different points of view, work in teams, and always be open to new information that may lead to new solutions.  This is a journey that never has a final destination.  The Irish band U2 said it well, “But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”  We don’t ever want a child’s curiosity to be sated.  Feed the monster.

Lisa Randall is an amazing woman.  A child prodigy, Lisa went on to become one of the world’s best theoretical modelers in the field of particle physics.  Dr. Randall has written two fabulous books, Warped Passages and Knocking on Heaven’s Door.  These two magical discussions make the Standard Model of particle physics assessable to mere mortals like me.  Most of us look at experts like Dr. Randall as apex critical thinkers.  We stand in awe as they grapple with the seemingly incomprehensible universe.  But do you know what struck me most about Lisa and her colleagues?  It is their humility.  The more they know, the more they realize what they don’t know.  If new knowledge shatters their understanding of the universe, they do not perceive a failure.  They see an opportunity.  Lisa says, “I cannot wait for secrets of the cosmos to begin to unravel.”  What do I want the future of learning to look like in the classroom?  No matter what it physically looks like, I want my students to say, “I can’t wait to learn what comes next in my personal journey.”

What will the future of learning look like? Butler President Danko’s words were not merely a challenge, they were a warning.  Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen predicts that half of all American universities may be bankrupt by 2028.  Culture changes, American education must adapt or become irrelevant.  Will we heed the current warnings?  Can public entities subject to state and local political forces adapt quickly enough?  Do we have the requisite humility of our apex critical thinkers?  Will we commit to the challenge?  The clock is ticking.

The Marketplace Speaks

“Where innovation comes in is figuring out the right problem to be solved, the right question to ask, and then figuring out a better way to solve the problem.  You can’t just come up with a solution for today’s problem.”

Rick Hassman, Director or Corporate Applications, Pella Corporation

What does the marketplace want from our college graduates?  Are they getting what they need from this fresh crop of entry level workers?  Grab your electronic device and search the web.  The news isn’t good.  Bosses sing a similar tune.  These kids are ill prepared to carry their weight on the team.  In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education American Public Media’s Marketplace survey of over 700 businesses, better than half of the employers polled had real difficulty finding qualified candidates for job openings.  All of this is happening in a period of high unemployment!  So what do these companies want that we aren’t delivering in education?

A survey published in January of 2015 by the Association of American Colleges and Universities interviewed employers and prospective graduates separately.  Each party evaluated graduates separately.  Both were asked to evaluate graduates on a wide range of skills.  The percentages in Table 1 below reflect those who believe graduates are adequately prepared in that particular skill.

Table 1

Proportions saying they/recent college graduates are well prepared in each area

Skill Employers Students
Working with others 37% 64%
Ethical judgment and decision making 30% 62%
Working with numbers/statistics 28% 55%
Oral communication 28% 62%
Written communication 27% 65%
Critical/analytical thinking 26% 66%
Being innovative/creative 25% 57%
Analyzing/solving complex problems 24% 59%
Applying knowledge/skills to real world 23% 59%

The obvious disconnect between employers’ needs and the readiness of college seniors shouts at us.  The bosses aren’t happy with the best we have to offer.  That fact cannot be overlooked.  These are our strongest academic achievers.  We can’t hide behind the crutch of low expectations.  Something is wrong with our teaching. And our college graduates are oblivious to their short-comings!  Nearly two-thirds believe they possess the goods.  “I’m ready for management,” they cry.  We haven’t even given them a clear picture of expectations in the real world.  We hang them out to dry.

David Boyes, president of a small tech company in Virginia said, “We find that a lot of people, and not just new college grads, people that are coming from a career aren’t getting that skills set.  How do you put an idea forward, and how do you support it, how do you build it, how do you put the facts behind it?  All of those things are critical.”  Our students lack experience.  This is an important implication I draw from the surveys and comments.  Lack of experience explains, in part, the ignorance of these prospective workers.  They don’t miss what they never had because those skills have not been demanded of them, not in the classroom, not at home, not in the workplace.  Every skill demanded by these employers can be taught, strengthened, and reinforced in our youth from the moment we get them as little cherubs.  These skills are universal.  Every child has the right to become a reasoned critical thinker.  Do we as educators, parents, and mentors have the tools to teach these skills to our children?  Can we offer real work at real jobs with exceptional demands to our young people?  These skills must be tested early, or  inevitably learned late, or tragically not at all.

We have a choice; do we leave the teaching of thinking to chance?  Is thinking simply caught or can we intentionally, sequentially, and systematically teach it?  Will we assume the responsibility to teach critical thinking skills or do we assume that these young people will learn these skills by association, a consequence of our current instruction?  Our critics have answered the question for us.  We dare not assume anything.  We must change.  Our instruction must address how our students think.  As Tony Wagner in the Global Achievement Gap puts it, “It is not what you know that’s important.  Rather, it is what you do with what you know that is important.”