Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Flat World

This blog idea has been percolating in my draft bin since 2011. I have been patiently waiting for that moment of inspiration to arrive, and it finally has! The title is a nod to the New York Times columnist and best selling author, Thomas Friedman. I became a fan of Friedman's after reading his book, 'The World is Flat', and have subsequently read most of his work including his columns in the NYT. While the purpose of this post is not to review or provide crib notes, to briefly summarize, the book is about the power of connectivity in today's society and how that has led to, in Friedman's words a 'flattening of the world'. Modern day technology has given us the capability to connect with anyone, anywhere, and at any time. The power to collaborate globally is now on a scale that was unimaginable twenty years ago. My apologies to Mr. Friedman for boiling down his book to a few meager sentence, I certainly don't do it justice and would recommend you read it!

Nonetheless, my interest in his work is to understand how these dynamics impact our P-12 educational system and our goal of preparing young people for this ever changing and globalized work environment. Certainly, our work with connected learning in our schools has given us the tools to engage in the modern, globalized world. As one example, a colleague of mine believes the advent Google is the most transformational component of our modern educational system. He points to the way Google, for example, has made collaboration locally and globally seamless. Taken further, the use of connected devices allow teachers to transform the educational experience and take our students to places that we never would have dreamed of even a few years back. I was at a presentation with George Couros last week where he commented that while we have great teachers in our schools with deep content knowledge on a whole host of topics, there is no substitute for an expert in the field. Consider a classroom unit on space. While our teachers are knowledgeable and qualified to deliver this content, the most capable teacher would be an astronaut because of the experiences they bring to bear. Connectivity allows us to bring those experiences and 'expert teachers' to our classrooms, and teachers do just that!

Education is meant to prepare our students for the day they will be members of a global community, not students in a classroom. And indeed, we often tell our students that in many cases we are preparing them for jobs that haven't yet been invented. One of my favorite stories comes from a business internship I participated in during my preparation to become a superintendent. At that time, (about a decade ago), I sat with young college graduates who had majored in 'Global Supply Chain Management'. While commonplace now, at that time it was an unheard of field of work. These young professionals were working to ensure the supply of a raw material from China made it to the manufacturing plant in the southern United States. There was great concern of a disruption (I can't remember exactly what the problem was anymore) that would have cost thousands of dollars for every hour the line was down. I think that major or occupation probably isn't all that fascinating or unique anymore. But how about this?

What about those careers that are considered 'traditional' occupations, that are just done differently now? Or high skilled jobs that may not require a BA, but the training and knowledge one must have to be successful in these careers is just, well....fascinating!

My wife Ann and I have a son Nathan who farms South of Cascade. After graduating, he attended NICC in Peosta and completed a welding program. By the way, Nathan's welding skills were discovered and honed by his agriculture teacher at Cascade High School. In addition to welding, Nate enjoys working outdoors, in particular agriculture and farming, so he also completed a beef production program at Kirkwood. These days, Nate operates a custom feeding operation on his farm, has some row crops and has carved out a nice career for himself. I am often amazed when he explains to me the complexity of the work he does in the cattle business, the calculations that go into the feed mixtures that are used, how much corn to feed, grass, etc. With his calculations, he can tell me how much weight a particular steer is going gain each day. His cattle barns are very pretty high tech, giving him the ability to change the air flow to maintain the temperature and comfort of his stock.

But what is really interesting is how Nate has built his welding business. Now, for starters let's understand that he is very good at what he does. I'm not bragging here or anything, but the evidence can be seen in the amount of business that comes his way. Recently he has begun to see an increase in custom fabrication, and one project he completed not too long ago included installing a cab on a piece of farm machinery that wasn't originally designed to have one. The engineering that went into this was complex for sure. But what happened in the last two weeks is what really blew my mind and brings us back to this idea of a 'Flat World'.

Nate was contacted by a guy who lives in Dubuque and works for a company in San Francisco. Interestingly enough, he got Nate's number from a competitor! Anyway, the guy wanted to know if Nate would be able to design and fabricate some parts that were going to be installed on skyscrapers in Pittsburgh. Well, during the planning process he needed a little more information in order to determine what material would be best suited for the parts. He found out that the company was piloting an autonomous car project in Pittsburg and needed these parts to affix GPS locators that would be used by the cars. I'd show you a picture of the part he designed, but I think it's proprietary so better not. I'm sure you've even heard of the company: it's called Uber.

Make no mistake. It's 2017 and the jobs that we are preparing our students for are changing. Whether it is a job in the high tech field of agriculture, designing for Uber, or working as a chemist on a cure for cancer; the ability to collaborate across the country, or globally is a pre-requisite for success.

Thankfully we are making those type of learning experiences commonplace in our school district. From the connected learning environment to the inquiry space: our students have the tools and the teachers to prepare them for this future and these type of careers!

Oh, and the revitalization of our business program and the 'Entrepreneurialship' class has come at just the right time,don't you think?

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