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Is Your School or Classroom Developing the Future Innovators?

As we begin the school year, three major news events last week provided relevant educational applications.

First, many of us on the East Coast experienced an earthquake for the first time, and if that wasn't enough, nature provided another lesson through Hurricane Irene. These two events will give plenty of science related lessons for teachers to discuss with their students.

But I think the most thought provoking education related news event is the resignation of Steve Jobs, now former CEO of Apple.

Why? Whether you like Apple products or not, Apple is one of the most successful and valuable companies in the world. Steve Jobs has been referred to this week as the "CEO of the Decade" and "Silicon Valley's Biggest Rock Star".

Inevitably, many have and will study Mr. Jobs' leadership style and lots will be written about his philosophy of organizational structure and management so that future leaders may have similar skill sets.

But for those in education, it's insightful to look at the types of learning and knowledge that Steve Jobs attributes to his success.

Is our public education system giving our students today the same types of opportunities that will create the next Steve Jobs?

During his 2005 Commencement address at Stanford, Steve Jobs describes the class that made the difference (ironically dropping out of college to take the class.)

(Speech Excerpt)

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed....I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them.
Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something -- your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Steve Jobs later comments...

You've got to find what you love. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.

And in this speech we have an answer to create the next visionary- studying calligraphy was the source for inspiration that led to an appreciation of simplicity of design. This simplicity of design should influence how the user interacts with technology. This experience drives how technology is used to create that experience. (Often, technology folks have this backwards- insisting that technology drives use.) The product becomes popular and the end result is one of the world's most successful companies. And, just love what you do, and success will follow.

If replicating success were only that simple.

But, from an educator's point of view, our beginning questions are simple. It all begins with stepping back and asking what opportunities we provide our students.

We may not teach classes like Calligraphy in K12 education, but we do have opportunities to expand our students' perspective and understanding to inculcate an appreciation of art and music.

In our high stakes testing and accountability era where we focus heavily on tested subjects, the non-tested subjects cannot be ignored.

If our education system is to really create the next generation of visionaries, then we should listen to what our present-day leaders identified as the factors for their success in their lives.

And while the next Steve Jobs may or may not be sitting in your classroom, educators can do more to provide a balanced education for all students, because one never knows if that art project will someday lead to how a student will use math and science to design the next innovation.

Educators need to help students explore their interests to find what they will "love to do" so they can do "the great work."

So when you plan for what your students will learn this year, ask:

1. What opportunities will my students have to be exposed to the arts and music?

2. What opportunities will my students have to explore areas of interests that may someday inspire and give them purpose?

3. What opportunities will my students have to apply their skills and interests to create something that demonstrates "what they love to do?"

If your students will have these opportunities this year, your students are on the track to finding what may someday be their "great work."

If your students do not have these opportunities, it's time to start analyzing when these opportunities can be made available, if not during class, then perhaps through other venues such as clubs or after school programs.

Parents will need to demand that schools provide these opportunities.

Because when your students "connect the dots" in the future to find the source of that one influence that made a difference in their life, they will be thankful you made this effort to give them these opportunities today.

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