I was recently reminded about the type of real world competition that we should be preparing our students for.
I was listening to Dr. Jeff Goldstein, Institute Director, Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education, discuss a project that will see a grade 5-7 student experiment selected from West Vancouver and be carried out in microgravity by astronauts at the International Space Station. Our students, working in teams, will each create an experiment – the number of entries will be short-listed to eventually three that will be sent to the Smithsonian where a team of experts will select the experiment that will be carried out in space. Dr. Goldstein was making the case that the process of being selected (or not) was an important part of the learning. Students need to understand that part of being a scientist is competing for research dollars. One does not just show up and announce she is a scientist and start doing experiments. This is the competition of the real world -working in teams on a project and competing for selection.
This project reminds me of a similar type of experience we are offering students – YELL(Young Entrepreneurship Leadership Launchpad). Through this program, students connect to accomplished entrepreneurs in both profit and non-profit sectors, learning about communication, presentation skills, branding, marketing and other core skills. They then turn their attention to solving a real world problem and work with a mentor in the community that leads to a venture challenge and participation in a Provincial Business Plan Competition. Again, the process reflects the real world of business.
Of course, these types of opportunities are not new. Particularly in elective areas, we have a rich history of real world competition. For example, our visual arts students have long been competing for placement in art shows and galleries.
We do still romanticize the “Jeopardy” like competitions of schools of the past. The Scripps National Spelling Bee, for example, is covered on live US National television. While yes, spelling is important, and factual knowledge is important, the competitions are holdovers from a time when the content one knew was king. Spelling, for spelling sake, is a very isolated skill. More and more it is the application of what one knows that matters. The thirst for real world relevancy is why students creating experiments that will be tested in space or starting businesses that will face feedback from the community are so enticing.
I wrote several years ago about how my teaching had changed – increasingly it has been about trying to create real world opportunities for students. It is these type of opportunities that seem to be generating so much excitement with students in our schools.
I hear competition is disappearing from school. Not true. It just may not look the same as a generation ago.
We may not rank and sort students as much as we used to – but competition is not disappearing, in some ways it is hopefully becoming more real.