The future of education

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to observe firsthand what I believe to be the future of education.

I had accompanied my daughter and her class of fifth graders on a day long field trip to the Chabot Space & Science center. The kids had a fairly packed agenda, but the centerpiece of attention was a 2 1/2 hour session titled “Mars Mission”. The “Mars Mission” turned out to be a simulated exercise set in the year 2076 where the kids had to land a spacecraft on Mars and do a crew exchange (get a fresh crew to man the Mars control center and get the current crew back to Earth).

A few days before going on the trip, the kids had all applied for various jobs on the mission (Navigator, Data Specialist, Communications Specialist, Medical Specialist, Isolation Specialist, etc) and had all received some preliminary training related to their assigned jobs.  They had also been split into two teams (one team going into Mars and the other leaving Mars).

When they got to the center, they were all taken to a briefing room and given instructions about the mission. Then each team got into a separate room – the kids going into Mars were put in the Spacecraft room and the kids leaving Mars were in the Mars Control room. Each room was fully equipped with specialized stations for each of the teams. They had keyboards/monitors, headsets, robots, control panels, etc – very realistic (BTW, the whole thing ran on a network of Macs which explains why nothing crashed …). For the first hour, they worked through the drill of landing a spacecraft on Mars and for the second hour, the kids switched rooms/roles and worked on getting the spacecraft off Mars. Throughout, kids sitting in the control room gave instructions while the kids in the spacecraft carried them out. They worked as a team while focusing on individual assignments. There were lots of emergency drills (to be expected of course) which the kids had to work through.  All in all, it the kids were put into a lifelike setting and asked to go through a set of practical exercises which taught them lots of valuable lessons.

In a global economy that is going to increasingly value creativity and need team skills for execution, I believe that this exercise was invaluable for the kids. If only they could do much more of this type of activity instead of continuing to plod on with antiquated methods of education …

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