How do we prepare students for the future?

I ask this question to educators with regard to today’s students. Do we know what we’re preparing them for? I’m going to guess that probably all of us would say no unless Doc Brown and Marty McFly are your next door neighbors.  How do we as educators even begin to grasp a glimpse of the future we are preparing students to enter after they leave high school and possibly college?

David Warlick has said, “For the first time we are preparing students for a future we cannot clearly describe.”

He’s right. We can’t describe it. We don’t know what will be going on in 5, 10, or 15 years from now. We don’t know what it will even look like for students to go to school. Or what kinds of skills they will have to have in order to survive in the workplace. We can only imagine. So the question is how do we prepare our students for a future we cannot clearly describe?

I just came back from Tweetdeck, looking to my PLN for inspiration as I regularly do, and came across this excellent tweet from Tom Whitby: “Educators remember the world we learned in is not the world we live in. The world we teach in is not the world we teach for.”

Needless to say I immediately retweeted his profound words and just as quickly sent Tom a DM asking if I could quote him (and he kindly obliged). This portion in particular stuck out for me: “The world we teach is not the world we teach for.” We don’t know the world we’re teaching for. We as educators should continually strive to better ourselves professionally. Twitter and my PLN definitely help me do that. We’ll talk briefly about other ways to learn new tools and resources in just a bit.

With regards to technology, does this mean it’s our job to teach our students every type and variation of technology tool in addition to all the required curriculum? Absolutely not. Teachers often are confused by the term “technology integration”. Teachers often think it means that on this particular day we’re going to use one particular program or on this particular day each week is going to be our “use the wireless lab day”. I’m starting to think the term “technology integration” is not correct. Technology should be infused with our teaching to the point where it becomes as common place as the pencil. Is this hard to do? It can be very hard to do without proper support, equipment, PD, etc.

Students need to be exposed to tools that foster creativity and promote collaboration. Those are HUGE skills to have in your “toolbox” of skills. Technology lends itself well to both. Here is a great article I came across this week from CNN. I it think gives us a pretty accurate glimpse at the type of work environment and collaboration level facing today’s students. And it’s probably not that far off. This would be excellent to share with students:

Virtual businesses: Going to the office in Second Life

We need to expose our students to lots of tools that will bring technology use into our classrooms on various levels. Technology is a great way to differentiate our instruction.  Take a look at this video for example. I came across this on Twitter this week and thought, “Where was this guy when I was struggling in math?”.


I bet those students will never forget that math lesson again. How strong would your retention be? I also wonder how many of those students at that point said, “Wow that was some really cool video work. I’d like to learn how to do that.”

I would assume this teacher considers himself a lifelong learner. Maybe he just attended a PD event or conference session about using technology and he really wanted to learn more about the power of video with some dabbling in video editing.  We don’t know for sure but look at the direction he went by putting a creative spin on an otherwise boring math lesson.  He decided to use his new knowledge to enhance something he’s probably been teaching the same way for years. I would love to talk to this teacher and find out how much of an impact this had on his instruction and how it has given his students a new way to grasp a mathematical concept.

So how do we educate ourselves about new technology tools? There’s many ways to learn about new tools and resources to infuse technology in your classroom. Building a PLN (and following awesome educators such as @shellterrell @web20classroom @tomwhitby @nmhs_principal and countless others), utilizing your instructional technology specialist/coach, and attending PD events and conferences in person or virtually. I also learn by subscribing to blogs, podcasts, Delicious, and RSS feeds to learn about new resources and tools.

Try to expose yourself to many technology tools so you at least have a working knowledge of the kind of results they can produce so you can make an informed decision if it will be an acceptable tool for your students to use. You don’t have to become a master of everything.

Preparing our students for the future starts with us. We have to want to prepare ourselves first.  The future arrives in our classrooms every day.  Strive to infuse technology with your teaching. The more you do, the more seamless it will become.

If I can help you in anyway with resources of how to infuse technology into your classroom, please do not hesitate to contact me or DM me on Twitter.

13 thoughts on “How do we prepare students for the future?”

  1. Excellent post! From the initial reading of your title, you certainly keep your readers thinking. My first reaction to yout title would be to teach our students to be adaptable, open, and curious. If we can create learners and leaders that are that prepared for an ever-changing future. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Ready…

    Nobody should “plan” to use technology in their classroom.

    We spend a lot of time “teaching” teachers how to integrate technology. As soon as we do that the focus is on the technology and not the unit’s content. If we plan to do authentic problem solving activities with the students, we are doing real world activities and technology will be necessary to complete them. Right now it seems that we are trying to figure out how to add technology to our old units. Showing someone a tool doesn’t make it necessary. Showing someone a unit that is built with the tool, with the focus on the unit, makes people see the value of the tool.

    Adding technology to units for the purpose of adding technology still doesn’t give the kids a sense of its importance and power. It might make the lesson more fun, it might keep kids attention, but if it is the technology that is doing that then there is a problem with the lesson. In a great unit technology is seamlessly infused, it is not even noticed. It just kind of happens. It has to happen. It is necessary, but does not draw attention away from the content, the student’s conclusions, or the evidence provided to support their conclusion.

    Howabout this…changing your last line a bit:
    “If I can help you in anyway with making your lessons more authentic, please do not hesitate to contact me or DM me on Twitter.”

    1. Well said, Paul. A quote that I keep handy related to this topic is, “Technology is not automatically good pedagogy. Instead, good pedagogy is just made easier by technology.”

      I’m not sure who the author is, but if I did, I would be happy to give credit to him/her!

      This quote reminds me to focus on quality teaching rather than the tools used to complement (or not) the instruction.

      1. Paul and Matt you both have an excellent point. The technology is not going to make anyone a better teacher. But for a great teacher, the technology does make their life easier!

        I have heard Jason Ohler say, “What happens when you give a bad guitar player a bigger amplifier?” The same applies to technology. If the teaching is not up to par, the technology use is going to be an epic fail every time.

  3. An interesting post, which I see as two separate points.

    1) Teaching for an unknown future
    2) (inf)Use technology

    While I think point 1 is somewhat overstated, it certainly has merit. I feel it’s overstated as the majority of roles in society today are the same or very similar as those 10 years ago, even 20. Yes, there are certainly new roles and new opportunities, but there are still a lot of plumbers, builders and burger flippers, as well as scientists, musicians, surgeons and teachers.

    I therefore see the 5/10 or even 15 years as too short a timescale to really expect the world to be _drastically_ different. However, the point is still valid when aiming for life long learners as they’ll still be learning 40, 50 or even 100 years hence.

    Point 2 – the video example is fun and innovative, but a poor example ultimately as it’s purely entertainment with no educational content being conveyed (the 1=2 ‘proof’ being an amusing trick but little use and he doesn’t pick up on the lessons it could give). If technology is only being used to entertain, then leave it to proffesionals and plonk a TV in front of the classroom.

    Bad teachers will use any tech, even a pencil, badly. Tech will not save a bad lesson plan. But good teachers will adopt and adapt anything available to inspire and educate – from a walk through leaves in a wood to online 3D virtual reality, and since the tech of today will always look dated tomorrow, I think it’s probably harder to create really lasting impressions using tech than with ‘old fashioned real world’ things. In 100 years, I expect people will still enjoy a walk through leaves in a wood and be reminded of a great lesson taught that way where as no one will remember 2nd life, blogs, wikis, facebook, interactive whiteboards etc.

    I do think tech needs to be used, I just think you over sell it’s importance and benefits again too.

    1. Nick,
      Thank you for taking the time to read my post and offer honest feedback. You’re right, many of the standard blue and white collar professions still exist today. I hope you don’t think I was envisioning the future as a creepy apocalyptic one in which machines are taking over the world. 🙂 I truly believe that there will be professions in 5-10 years however that don’t exist today. I believe that for many of those jobs technology and collaboration are going to be major components.

      When thinking of 21st century students though, they don’t learn the same as you and I did. Teachers need to be willing to adapt and be willing to change instructional practices if necessary. I have seen many instances where technology has a positive impact on student achievement.

  4. I strongly feel that technology is a vital component to preparing students equipped with 21st century skills. First of all, technology engages our students! Whether you are following the 5E learning model or not, content presented through technological means can capture students’ attention and prepare them for learning. Second, technology is relevant to today’s students. Especially if science teachers are using inquiry-based learning, the content must be relevant in order for it to be effective. Let’s face it. Often students use more technology then teachers do! Therefore, bringing relevant technology into the classroom can help teachers ‘tap’ into their world. Third, teachers should be mindful that we are preparing students to succeed outside of school, not just in our content area. We talk a lot about integrating math and literacy skills into good science teaching. Well, we know that technology is another crucial skill that students will be expected to use, no matter what path they take.

    With that said, I also feel that technology should never be used just for technology’s sake. First and foremost, teachers should focus on student-learning. If using technology does not add to the student’s understanding and appreciation of the content, then it will probably be distracting. In my opinion, most lessons can benefit from the use of technology. However, teachers must take the time to choose the appropriate technology and learn how to use if effectively. I know that keeping up with technology can be a daunting task for most teachers. Personally, I have a hard enough time learning the intricacies of my cell phone! I have however taken the time to learn the instructional resources that are available to me. Many times I have had to make the first step, whether it was reserving laptops in the school media center or applying for technology grants. In the long run, my efforts have always paid off. Not only does my job become easier, but my students benefit from an engaging and relevant curriculum that prepares them for life outside of school. Not to mention, you earn lots of ‘street cred’ with the students when you’re the cool technology teacher at school!

  5. Technology adds the extra zing to a lesson and helps to keep students engaged. in the previous post where the statement of “street cred” was mentioned, I believe its true. Students generally have a greater respect for teachers who are at least attempting to reach the studnts in medium that is relevant to them.

  6. How do we? Right now, we don’t. How can we? By following this blog and doing our homework, I think. How should we? By applying all we learn and will continue to learn to our daily practice. The technology piece is so fluid; we must keep up, even ahead. I agree with Aaron about the ineffectuality of technology for its own sake, and also the connection (“street cred”) with students that it offers.

  7. I am still somewhat “Techno-illiterate.” I am excited and inspired to get out of the box and try something new like…..well…split teaching…..Loved it!!

  8. I think it is important to remember that a good amount of the jobs our students will be getting in their future are jobs that haven’t even been created yet! We don’t want to teach in a way that only teaches the now, but rather the ability to go with the flow and adapt to whatever situation or new problem that may arise. Technology is something that is forever changing and I think it is important that we teach our students to be forever thinkers and problem-solvers.

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