Our goal is to provide a roadmap for school transformation to meet the demands of the 21st Century. Our title “Education to Save the World” is not trying to be cheeky. We know what’s at stake and we think schools can make a big difference.
From The Necessary Revolution by Peter Senge, et al:

  • More than a third of the world’s forests have disappeared in the past fifty years.
  • Over 70% of the world’s fisheries are chronically overfished.
  • Many diseases (including many cancers) have become far more prevalent due to toxins in everyday products like food and children’s toys.
  • From 1980 to 2000 the bottom quartile of the world’s people saw their share of global income fall from 2.5% to 1.2%.
  • Approximately 500 million chronically underemployed people currently live in squatter camps and slums and it increases by 50 million each year.

Pair those with these from Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner:

  • U.S. employers rate creativity/innovation among the top five skills that will increase in importance over the next five years.
  • 69% of senior business executives in 12 countries agreed ‘today innovation is more driven by people’s creativity than by high-level scientific research’.
  • 77% agreed, ‘the greatest innovations of the 21st century will be those that helped to address human needs more than those that created the most profit’.

From the same book:

  • Many young people are deeply worried about the future of the planet, seek healthier lifestyles and want to make a difference more than they want to make money.
  • Most have no desire to climb the corporate ladder and wait twenty years to do something interesting or worthwhile. They have dreams and ambitions that demand time and space – and active nurturing.

Now, put those facts next to these:

  • 30% of U.S. students drop out of high school.
  • 54% of students who start college do not complete it.

Hmmm…Is it just us who think this simply doesn’t add up?  Let’s see…
The world is falling apart.
economy crisis newspaper
Businesses want creativity and ideas that address human needs.
swirls out of head
Today’s young people want to do something meaningful. Now.
girl jumping blue sky
Meanwhile kids are opting out of school in droves.
Schoolchildren bored in a classroom, during lesson.
So…what does this mean our schools should look like?
Close your eyes and picture this. Just kidding, you can’t read with your eyes closed! 🙂
Picture a school organized around real-world problems that require the flexible application of each subjects’ concepts and skills with an eye toward identifying and developing kids’ passions. There is a combination of structure and “free play”. Students engage in a variety of experiences that ask them to contribute to building a healthy, sustainable and just world. Wow. Read it again and really picture it. Please.
They’re probably not in desks in rows in 50-minute blocks of time, are they?
What would schools look like if we were developing students as collaborative innovators ready to tackle the world’s most complex challenges?  
Picture this:


photocredit: huffingtonpost.com

You are  a senior at Save the World High in Washington, DC.  Your Monday morning starts off with a Skype conference call with a Bangladeshi NGO, a group of 12th grade students from Dhaka, and another from a rural town in Michigan.  On the call, your team brainstorms with your collaborators about how to improve working conditions in Bangladeshi factories.  Three months ago you, your team, and your partners developed a four-part plan that included:
1)   Raising awareness in the United States about companies whose factories in Bangladesh have unsafe conditions for workers
2)   Raising awareness among Bangladeshi workers about their labor rights and tactics for improving working conditions
3)   Developing a simple and effective way for government inspectors to evaluate the safety of factories (this includes creating a model that takes into account the architecture of the building, the ground conditions, and the vibrations created by machines)
4)   Lobbying the US government to pressure Bangladesh’s government to require inspectors to use this tool routinely to evaluate factories 
After you finish the call, you and your team note down action steps and divide the tasks  based on each member’s interests and expertise. You have two weeks until the next call and in between then you have one scheduled team meeting and a full day lab session to work on this project with an expert and the teacher who is mentoring your group.  This project is called your Grand Challenge. 
At the end of year you will present your work to a group of experts who will evaluate your technical skills, application of disciplinary thinking, your ability to think critically, and your collaboration.  If your work measures up to the standards for a particular area, you’ll receive a badge denoting your skills in that area.  More and more these badges are what employers look for when they are hiring new employees.  You’ll have a chance to earn more next year in college, but this year you hope to earn several that will help you to continue working on this project professionally while you take higher education courses.

image credit: dustycrabtree.wordpress.com

The badge you are most excited about earning is: Advanced Uses of Social Media.  At the beginning of the Grand Challenge, in consultation with your advisor, you decided to focus on the part of the team’s plan that deals with raising awareness in the US.  To develop your expertise in this area you are taking a special MOOC on leveraging social media to raise awareness on global issues and working with a mentor weekly.
In addition to your Grand Challenge project and individualized course, you also participate in five courses that all seniors take: Thinking like a MathematicianThinking like a Historian, Thinking like an EngineerThinking like a Rhetorician, and Collaboration & Problem Solving (your weekly meeting with your Grand Challenge team is part of this course).  For each of these courses, teachers design learning experiences that (sometimes in-person and sometimes online) help you hone your disciplinary thinking, deepen your understanding of the big ideas of the discipline, and learn key information.  Each week you apply what you are learning in one of these courses to real world problems that teams in your school are working on.   During these disciplinary thinking labs, a team will present a problem they are facing as part of their Grand Challenge to the students in the class.  The students are charged with using the thinking of the discipline to help the team better understand the issues, test a possible idea, or develop a solution.  A group of teachers act as coaches who help structure the learning and provide feedback during these labs.
The last element of your weekly schedule is coaching a disciplinary thinking lab for 6th graders.  This helps you strengthen your thinking in one area of your choosing, creates community in the school, and gives the adult teachers more time to plan rich learning experiences for students and provide effective feedback.
As you think about what lies ahead for the week after your Monday morning call, you are excited.  You know the work you are doing is tapping into your passions and purpose.  It is also intellectually challenging – you are always uncovering and applying big ideas, evaluating your own thinking using intellectual standards, and applying that thinking to the real world.  You believe that your efforts in school will truly change the world and the great thing is they will.