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Gen Z Students Need Schools That Match Their Dream Big Approach

The buzz around education today includes personalized learning, digital citizenship and Makerspaces.

But schools, for the most part, are continuing to offer the traditional 19th-century model of education, where days are split into 45-minute segments and students are told to sit in desks and follow the teachers’ directions.

Can education really change and manage the dichotomy between tech savvy kids and rules-based systems?

Our schools are filled with Gen Z kids—the generation born after 1995. These students have had their existence in a world saturated with technology and social media. Smartphones top TVs, desktop computers and laptops for “most used” devices. However, the teachers born in generations preceding them come from a universe where phones are forbidden and not useful for learning.

I visited two schools recently where “No phones allowed during the school day” signs abounded, and classrooms had pouches where kids needed to put their phones before entering. It surprised me to see this as computers were allowed and students know how to text from them just as easily as they text from their phones. Gen Z students have the discipline to manage their devices as well as create and make beyond our adult imaginations.

According to Upfront Analytics, Gen Z-ers are “Go Getters, Activists, and Dream Big.” Their research shows that of these kids in high school today, 75% want to convert their hobbies to full-time jobs, 61% would rather be an entrepreneur than an employee when they graduate college and 72% want to start a business someday.

New Life Academy (NLA) in Woodbury, Minnesota, has created a way to have the best of both worlds. Their STEAM teachers visited 3M’s Innovation Center in May 2016. What they observed is that many businesses, like 3M, have adopted this idea to give their employees the freedom to make and create AND complete their required daily job duties. Employees spend 15% of their time creating.

Accordingly, the NLA teachers created an idea based on what they learned called 15% IP (Innovation Portfolio). Students in 6-12th grades spend 15% of their science track in creative time outside structured classroom lessons to pursue an idea or passion in one of three STEAM areas: science, engineering or coding.

Students store innovative projects in their Innovation Portfolio (thus, the name 15% IP). For more, check out this recent NLA blog about the initiative.

Students and teachers at NLA recognize that their ideas may not turn into solutions to the problems they are researching, but they are “Dream Big” people. Some examples of current projects include:

  • A group of sophomores is researching how to improve access and delivery of essential medicines in Africa.

  • Another group is researching how to help solve the problem of invasive species, including the Asian Carp.

Providing opportunities–such as 15% IP–so that all students can create taps into the “Dream Big” approach of Gen Z students.

For more, see:

  • The Generational Gap in EdTech Perception With Gen Z

  • The Future is Here: Artificial Intelligence & What it Means For Our Kids

  • Introducing the ‘Selfie’ Generation to the Real World

Becky Wallerick serves as Academic Dean at New Life Academy in Woodbury, Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter: @BeckyWallerick

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