If you Google, “Kids who changed the world,” you will find many websites and stories about, well, kids who have changed the world. From activists to researches, to entrepreneurs, the one thing each of these young movers and shakers has is common is the ability to apply their intellect to the task of creating something new. You have, for example, Teagan Steadman, who at 8 years old successfully combined his love of music with his desire to help children battling cancer and founded “Shred Cancer,” an organization that raises money for pediatric cancer research. At just 17 years old, now, his organization has already raised over $300,000 for research, and he is also working with the Kumbar Lab at the University of Connecticut Health to develop a new way to treat tumors and avoid harming healthy cells. You have high profile kids like Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. Then there is Benjamin Kapelushnik, the 16-year-old entrepreneur who created “Sneakerdon.com,” an online marketplace where sneaker enthusiasts buy and sell high end or collectible sneakers. It is estimated that he will break over a million dollars in revenue this year alone. And the list goes on and on. Young people all around the globe are applying their intellect and creativity to do amazing things.
We have to change the notion that we need to first educate young people and then send them out into the world to actually do something with that education. While not every young person will win a Nobel Prize, or create a million dollar business, every young person can and should actively engage in the world around them in the process of their education. Whether it is raising awareness about a cause on their school campus, creating a small, local business, or attacking a global issue, students have tremendous power to make a difference, and as they do so, their learning becomes real and sticky.
Movements like the Global Issues Network (GIN) are growing around the globe and putting student brain power to work on solving the most pressing global issues of the 21st century. This program guides students through an examination of 21 problems facing the 21st century and then has them develop projects to attack one of these issues. Students work collaboratively on their project and then attend a GIN Network Conference where they have the chance to present their work, attend other student presentations, and begin to network with peers around doing meaningful work on the things they are passionate about. These presentations go way beyond parroting back information and are a far better assessment of mastery than any traditional pen and paper test.
Rick Wormelli writes, “Students have mastered content when they demonstrate a thorough understanding as evidenced by doing something substantive with the content beyond merely echoing it. Anyone can repeat information; it’s the masterful student who can break content into its component pieces, explain it and alternative perspectives regarding it cogently to others, and use it purposefully in new situations.”
Let’s break the traditional mold, and seek out ways for our students to go deep and apply their learning. They will be way more engaged, education will move from “learning” to “understanding,” and, in the process, our kids just might change the world.