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October 9, 2017

Often, students act in ways that remind us that students and adult LewinQuoteeducators look at the world differently. The gap between adults and student thinking is evident with when we ask students, “What career do you want to choose?” or, “What college do you wish to attend?” As adults, we think those are important questions and should set students on a course to take their schooling seriously to prepare for that chosen career or college. But, too often students have only vague answers to those questions. And those that do seem to elect answers that please adults rather than a response that comes from their heart.

Often, students act in ways that remind us that students and adult educators look at the world differently. The gap between adults and student thinking is evident with when we ask students, “What career do you want to choose?” or, “What college do you wish to attend?” As adults, we think those are important questions and should set students on a course to take their schooling seriously to prepare for that chosen career or college. But, too often students have only vague answers to those questions. And those that do seem to elect answers that please adults rather than a response that comes from their heart.

The “college and career” rhetoric has been the focus of the past decade of work on the revision of learning standards. But those are the weak questions to impress students with the importance of learning, students see career and college as a long way off in their future and see little connection between achieving those and “digging in” to a science class or a business class. If you want to inspire students with the value of learning, ask, “What problem do you want to solve?” 

I was reminded of the importance of this question listening to Jamie Casap, Chief Education Evangelist at Google during the recent Best Practices and Innovations Conference in Albuquerque, NM. Further, I was recently reading the EdWeek Special Report, Schools and the Future of Work.  Among those articles, it is easy to observe how passionate some students become about learning.  The passion comes not from a distant goal of a successful career or attending college.  Passion appears when students see a short-term need to solve a real problem. As much as we adult educators would like to impress students with the long-term benefits of obtaining an education, it is a short-term problem solving that ignites student’s passion and accelerates learning in ways we never imagined.

Information for learning is universally available today because of the Internet.  Youtube videos demonstrate technical skills; databases provide detailed answers to questions and applications assist in design, writing, and calculations. That is the beauty of the information age.  Students no longer need to wait for a teacher to share knowledge.  Knowledge is available with the touch of a finger. Students can learn anything from the Internet which enables them to solve their problem.


Asking the question “What problem do you want to solve?” makes learning real and ignites students’ passions.  He or she might want to design a technology solution to help a friend overcome a disability, provide care for an elderly relative or animals. A student may want to earn spending money from a part-time business, fix up a broken motorcycle, or makeover a dilapidated bathroom in the home. When students get an opportunity to express personal problems that they care about, it tunes into that passion.


Schools are not dispensers of knowledge.  Schools should not be museums of learning where students sit in classes exposed to knowledge the might use someday.  Schools should be places that where adults trigger student passions and facilitate student learning. School can become essential in student’s mind to acquire the skills and knowledge to solve their problem. The teacher need only guide the student, and they can remarkably accelerate the learning because of their passion.

 
Ask your students, “What problem do you want to solve?”  Let them lead you to the learning about which they are passionate. There will be no end to their learning. By igniting a passion for solving problems, students can acquire knowledge and skills along the way; students will discover careers that they find challenging and satisfying and a need for further degrees credentials we adults think are so important.