Saturday, October 10, 2015

Teaching to solve problems that don't exist

We know the wold is smaller than it was two decades ago because of work done by economists and journalists, such as Thomas Friedman who wrote "The World is Flat" and "Hot, Flat, and Crowded." I don't mean smaller in size, but smaller in proximity. And you really don't need to read Friedman's books to realize that world is getting smaller. Think about our main modes of communication: WhatsApps, Snapchats, Facebook, and Face Time. We don't need to travel great distances to communicate any longer. All we have to do is send a text, jump on a Skype call, or send an email. In short,we've all become neighbors whether we like it or not, and being close neighbors isn't exactly a good thing sometimes. It can have unintended consequences. For example, the war in Syria has created a massive migration of refuges and impacted the economy in Europe. Events in Africa such as the Ebola outbreak have changed the health policies in countries like the U.S. and China. And, the strengthening of the American dollar has influenced growth in South and Central America. While in our daily lives, we aren't always aware of the impact of events that may seem far away from us, but they do impact us. The industrial and information ages have brought us together, and now here we are hours away by plane and milliseconds away through the Internet.

In the video below, Hans Rollings discusses the movement of poor and sick countries during the eighteen hundreds through the Industrial and Information ages to now, the Knowledge age. On average, countries are become more wealthy and our lives are becoming longer, but we must also deal with problems of communication, war, intolerance, over population, hunger, extreme-poverty, pollution, species extinction, epidemics, and unemployment. And these are the problems that we know about. What about the problems that we don't know about?

Hans Rollings shows how humanity has progressed from sick and poor to more healthy and wealthy.

As teachers, we are on the front lines of the battleground to solve these world's problems because it is our job to prepare the physicists, engineers, doctors, nurses, ecologists, economists, entrepreneur, designers, artists, writers who must confront these issues. Just think that one of our students will one day have to work side by side with someone from the Middle East, or Asia, or Europe. They will have to understand the cultural and business customs of coworkers (and they are radically different), find common ground, and solve problems together. Also, just think that this student will not be an outlier with some unusual job that requires a lot of traveling. This student will be an average, every day employee somewhere, doing web training and working on conference calls with team members or customers from all over the world. Today, almost every sector of business must communicate and work with foreign companies and personnel. And our personal, community, and national success will depend on how well we master new skills and solve unexpected problems. The Fukushima tsunami and nuclear melt down is perfect example of how international assistance and expertise is vitally important to not only one country but to all counties. Without the help of international experience in nuclear disasters, search and rescue, and eventual environmental clean up, Japan would have been severely pressed to reign in the Fukushima melt down ( and prevent wider environmental and economic damage. Another example is the Ebola epidemic in West Africa where it took a large concerted effort my multiple nations to contain the deadly Ebola outbreak (

Consider the following local/global issues:
  • Mining for rare minerals for computer manufacturing
  • Supplying clean and cost-effective energy
  • Growing/producing enough food for growing populations
  • Assisting aging populations and providing affordable health care
  • Creating new and sustaining jobs to lower unemployment
What skills, knowledge, and qualities will we have to instill into students to take on and solve these problems in the future? What smaller problems do each of these larger problems include?

Recently Olivia Hallisey, a 17-year-old student from Connecticut ( developed a portable, inexpensive, and more importantly easy to use Ebola diagnostic test that can be adapted to use for other medical tests. Watch as she explains how she identified a problem and then found an elegant solution.

Olivia Hallisey explains how she developed a portable, inexpensive, and easy to use diagnostic test for Ebola.

What skills and knowledge did Hallisey need in order to create the diagnostics test? How did she seek out a solution? What obstacles did she have to overcome? How did she test and prove the validity of the test? How did she communicate her findings? By using Hallisey as an example, can we re-create or re-produce the drive, ingenuity, and determination that Hallisey demonstrated? Not all students are going to be as successful as Hallisey, but we should/must prepare them to contribute to the problems of the future both large and small.

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