Move Over Memorization

We have to ask ourselves, now that answers to myriads of questions are a google search away, why would we measure student knowledge by an ability to regurgitate facts through multiple choice tests?
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Hispanic daughter hugging mother as she leaves for work
Hispanic daughter hugging mother as she leaves for work

It's All About Curiosity and Tomorrow's Job Skills

(Part 1 of a 2-part series on the 'Workforce of the Future')

Good grades all too often reflect good memorization and test-taking skills. We have to ask ourselves, now that answers to myriads of questions are a google search away, why would we measure student knowledge by an ability to regurgitate facts through multiple choice tests? In our work lives, we are often judged by our ability to demonstrate and apply an understanding of readily accessible data or facts. This places "learning to learn" as a critical guiding principle for learning. A challenge we face as educators is how do we create a meaningful, relevant education experience that prepare students for jobs that don't yet exist?

One place to start is with curiosity ─ creating a mind brought alive by inquiry. It's replacing -- getting the correct answer in the fastest time with the least effort possible -- with an appetite for curiosity, the desire to know and learn. This will help students develop new skills; and this adaptive behavior capacity will be essential to be employable in an ever-changing workplace.

According to the American Management Association (AMA), executives believe that to grow their businesses they need a workforce fully equipped with skills beyond the basics of reading, writing and math.

Ask most business leaders and the answer is the same -- for students to succeed in today's marketplace, their skillset has to include critical thinking skills. To secure a good job and experience career growth, students need to be able to think critically and creatively, problem-solve and innovate, communicate well and collaborate.

Teachers at New Tech Network (NTN) schools learn to assess students on content knowledge and critical thinking, along with communication, student agency and other learning outcomes. At NTN, we focus on "Deeper Learning," a way to convey both the acquisition of knowledge and the transference/application of knowledge along with developing the skills employers find valuable.

We have seen support for this from high places. In his January 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama said, "We're working to redesign high schools and partner them with colleges and employers that offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career."

President Obama launched his Educate to Innovate campaign and invited school leaders to a "White House STEM School Leaders Summit/Think Tank" that included leaders from three NTN high schools. The White House stance on STEM is clear: "The Obama Administration stands committed to providing students at every level with the skills they need to excel in the high-paid, highly-rewarding fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)."

The President isn't the only one to focus on these skillsets. The National Institute for Professional Practice report on the "21st Century Workplace" says there are four 'skill clusters' essential to success in tomorrow's workplace.

  • Digital-age literacy, which includes the various competencies expected in the future workplace.
  • Inventive thinking, which includes the ability to think outside the box.
  • Effective communication, which is the ability to clearly communicate with a wide range of audiences.
  • High productivity, which will be a requirement of success in the workplace of tomorrow.

And there are others promoting the job skills needed for tomorrow's workforce.

According to the Institute for the Future ─ "Future Work Skills 2020 Report" , the following are the top 10 skills for the jobs of the future:

  • Sense making
  • Social intelligence
  • Novel and Adaptive Thinking
  • Cross Cultural Competency
  • Computational Thinking
  • New Media Literacy
  • Transdisciplinarity
  • Design Mindset
  • Cognitive Load Management
  • Virtual Collaboration

Securing these skills can help prepare students for jobs like these, which, according to The Digital Marketing Institute, did not exist 10 years ago:

  • Digital Marketing Specialist
  • Social Media Manager
  • Chief Listening Officer
  • Blogger
  • SEO Specialist
  • App Designer
  • App Developer
  • Cloud Services Specialist
  • Big Data Analyst
  • Market Research Data Miner

We may not know the new jobs that will exist 10 years from now, but we believe we do know the foundational skills a student will need no matter what.

In Part 2 of this "Workforce of the Future" blog series, we'll discuss Professional Development and the ways we can provide teachers with the skills needed to be effective educators now and in the future. We'll also talk with students who graduated with these future work skills and learn about their experiences.

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