Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Tomorrow is Today!

Last night, I saw Michio Kaku at the St. Louis Speakers Series, which is a lecture series open to subscribers in St. Louis. Kaku is a theoretical physicist and futurist. He has an amazing way of taking complex ideas and communicating them in ways that regular people like myself can understand.

During the talk, Kaku talked about cancer treatments that are so advanced, they consist of molecules that individually attack cancer cells, leaving healthy cells intact. He talked about smart transportation, smart paper, digitized education, prosthetic technology, and "smart wallpaper" that has Star Trek-like capabilities. The point he was making was that these technologies exist today. Some are advanced and some are still in their infancy.

The lecture made me wonder how our schools are preparing kids to work in fields that develop this technology with a forward-thinking mindset. How do we prepare a student to work on a team developing "smart wallpaper" that, when touched, can launch a "Robo-Doc" and find the most accurate medical information for someone having chest pains in their living room? How do kids learn, in schools, the skills they will need to develop "digital paper" that unfolds, is used as a keyboard and CPU, records ideas and folds back neatly to be pocketed? How is what we are doing with kids in schools relevant to this new frontier of advancements? No longer are these ideas futuristic. Tomorrow is today!

We must bring these ideas into the schools. I don't mean we should be working on developing digital paper (though I'm not against it), but we should at least be exposing kids to as many of these ideas as possible. If we are constantly showing kids ideas that are in development, then they may begin to see past limitations that they (or we) have put on themselves.  Maybe by seeing the "smart wallpaper" idea, the kids will apply that idea to something else they can create. Maybe kids can take a futuristic medical idea and apply it to a field outside medicine. Isn't that innovation? How can kids dream big if we keep their world small? 

Amazing things will happen when we combine exposure of futuristic ideas with the space and time for kids to work on their own learning. Kids can see all of these great ideas but we have to follow up with personalized learning opportunities so that kids can explore the ideas that resonate with them. Maybe a student really does want to look into "smart prosthetics" and pursue a project in that kind of technology. Maybe a student sees the "digital paper" idea and imagines all kinds of possibilities that no one else does. How will we harness the genius in each of our kids if we don't give them opportunities in school to imagine and work? We must provide the right learning environment so that kids can follow their dreams in school.

A few years ago, I used to take half of a class period every Friday and show examples of innovations. I called it "Creative Genius" because the things I showed them were genius, in my opinion. I remember showing kids a video about the first iPhone. They were amazed. The examples ranged from technology to creative solutions to environmental problems. Anything that was creative, innovative, interesting and cool made the cut. The kids loved it and I think it opened a lot of their minds to so many possibilities. Isn't that why we're here in the first place?

I stopped doing "Creative Genius" a little while ago and now I regret the decision. I think it is more important than ever to expose these kids to the futuristic ideas and ingenious solutions to problems that they may have never seen before. I want the kiddos to THINK. So, I will be restarting "Creative Genius" this week. Michio Kaku's website looks like a good place to start.

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