I was recently asked to be a speaker at the Chappaqua NY Central School District. My talk was given to leadership and steering committee members representing K-12 students. I was asked to present how today's businesses need STEAM nurtured employees (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math). Simple enough; but not as simple as reading off a checklist of qualifications.
Let me step back a bit to talk about what is gong on in Chappaqua. It's exciting! This school system has recognized the need to move to a more 21st Century way of educating their students. It is slowly becoming a trend in America, in fact; many countries around the world already have been looking beyond the cells and bells learning model that has been around since early last century. Information pushed in, then testing for knowledge, glancing over whether a child actually understands what they have learned and if they have the ability to use those skills to think and solve problems. Are they prepared to think, be creators and be leaders of the future?
The Chappaqua School District is fortunate to have passed funding to not only redevelop the way they look at their approach to the curriculum but to redesign their schools to help facilitate new ways in which to learn. I was introduced to Chappaqua through Fielding Nair International, a world class architectural firm specializing in designing spaces for new education. They are in the process of re-imagining the districts learning spaces. FNI is tearing down walls and making collaborative spaces, cross functional learning areas and giving tools for hands-on learning with a maker's mentality. They have just begun the process, but what I saw was amazing. Kids were collaborating and setting their own challenges with teachers helping facilitate. Spaces that are open, flexible and comfortable. Places for peer to peer conversations and cozy collaboration rooms. I didn't feel as if I were in a high school, but rather a contemporary start-up business space. I wanted to learn there!
Of course, there were still a lot of questions from teachers who have done things the same way for years when it came to teaching. They all recognize the need to change, but worry how the new methods are measurable. After all, testing was the measure of knowledge. Cross peer sharing, collaborative projects, self discovery from their own questions; it was different. I saw them struggling with change, but know in the end it will be worth it.
As my talk focused on all aspects of STEAM and the need for collaboration, critical thinking, creatively and communication, I related these things to the development of new preschool learning products that actually start children on exploring these element through play. As I began to hear feedback from the audience, they were struck how they had forgotten how important play is to learning. They made the connection to the natural way we play to the way we learn throughout our lives and use the model of hands-on exploring as one of the best ways to experience and advance our knowledge in a natural intuitive way.
I'm excited to see schools adopting new ways for children to learn and focusing on the places they learn in. I'm also happy to see that play is an important part of that learning whether it's a preschooler or high schooler who explores an idea by making something and experimenting. There is good reason to be optimistic about the future of our schools and the children of the future. It is still a huge financial challenge but one worth pushing for in order to remain leaders in today's world.