Wednesday, December 5, 2012

PBL to Close the Opportunity Gap

Just read a nice post from my KnowledgeWorks colleague Michelle Timmons about the Opportunity Gap.  As a general rule, I am a fan of moves that help us change the conversation in education.  I like this idea of the opportunity gap in particular because it implies a focus on both access to resources and also to the mindset we have for students and that students have for themselves.  

On the resource side, I agree that thinking about an Opportunity Gap is a great way to think about creating powerful schools and learning environments for students.  Additionally, I think the degree to which our schools embrace personalized learning opportunities emerging through more distributed channels is a way of directly addressing the notion of a digital divide.

While I think access to technology gets a lot of public attention - maybe because it involves easily quantifable factors like student/computer rations, budgets, and 1:1 initiatives - I think the idea of expectations may actually be much more powerful to address.  Part of the purpose of education should be to expose students to a variety of "future selves" and give them opportunities to interact with the different ways adults live and work in the world. This is especially true for traditionally undeserved communities where we have an even stronger obligation to provide a wide view of future pathways which may not be as available outside of school.

I am always struck by the limited sense of future pathways students often have.  Educators often make the "Rip Van Winkle" joke  , but I think an equally jarring comparison could be made between the list of future careers that a student might have come up with in 1912 vs the list they would come up with today.  While video game maker and graphic designer might make it onto a few lists these days, my own experience with students tended to hear a great deal of "doctor, lawyer, teacher" type responses.   There is nothing wrong with these, but as the face of work is increasingly dynamic, it feels like our work to help students imagine their own futures has also failed to keep pace with the times.

At a very practical level.  I love the idea of an opportunity gap as a way to stay continually motivated around creating highly rigorous projects and PBL experiences for students.  One of the core attributes of a quality project has to do with authentic role and adult connections.  We tend to think of these as being motivating factors, ways of getting to greater rigor through increased engagement.  I would encourage us all to think about the extent to which creating projects that allow students to try on emerging work roles and to interact with adults outside the school are powerful ways to help young people have a greater sense of themselves and and their own potential and opportunity.  

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