Teaching the Future: Travis High School

What do you get when you combined the fashion industry, soldiers, and an aging population? A compelling future scenario, believe it or not.

We recently had the pleasure of hosting an after-school workshop with 52 students at Travis High School in Richmond, TX, and played IMAGINE, our scenario building game, for the first time with students. Most of the students are part of a Global Studies Academy and this was the first session of several where they will explore global issues such as climate change, an aging population, and education and health care access. Our pitch is that thinking about the future of an issue first can help surface new insights that will lead to better and more forward-thinking solutions. You can see me explaining this to the students here:

IMAGINE is meant to get the wheels turning for scenarios. At the end of each round, each player has a short (four lines) scenario that may or may not make much sense on its own but is ripe for further development and might already raise a few interesting questions about the future. A pre-scenario, we might call it.

Below are a few from the students who participated, lightly edited for clarity. Each of these raised a compelling question about the future for me, which I’ve included.

It’s 2031, and we are collapsing. Our ocean is draining and our water situation is hopeless. Back in 2016, our society was aging. Because of that, older people worked longer and young people had a hard time finding jobs and were paid less. Since then, younger people became enraged and rebelled and attempted to drain the oceans.

What new conflicts might arise between young people and older people as the 65+ population grows?

It’s 2031, and we are making it work. Our schools are improving, but paper is challenging to find. Back in 2016, global climate change was increasing. Because of that, we experienced drought. Since then, droughts have spread all over the world, which has caused many trees to die and almost no paper has been produced. Most schools can’t give homework because there is no paper, but they are trying to find alternatives.

What effects might environmental change have on our most constant systems and traditions?

It’s 2031, and we are collapsing. The country is hopeless and soldiers are limited in their options. Back in 2016, our society was aging. Because of that, the fashion industry struggled. Since then, soldiers couldn’t express themselves through their appearances, so most of them fell into a deep depression and fewer soldiers were willing to enlist and now we have no one to defend our older people.

How might an aging population affect national security and military issues?

It's 2031, and we are renewing. Our places of worship are alive and bacteria are fresh. Back in 2016, there was more economic growth in developing nations. Because of that, new technologies were created. Since then, the priests created a machine that would allow anything to adopt religion. The bacteria are now part of the church and are on the quest for enlightenment. Blueprints are being written for the first ever bacteria church in 2032. We’re calling it the Temple of Bactabuddhism.

This one gave me a huge laugh, but it also blew my mind when I thought about how we might begin to manipulate and “recruit” bacteria and microorganisms as we learn more about them, how they work, and how we might try to use them to our advantage. I see endless implications to explore there.

We’re still tweaking the game. It’s still a bit too complex, and the cards and the template need to match up better than they do. Nonetheless, the group had fun and came up with some really provocative ideas about possible futures. I’ll leave you with a final reflection from one of the students:

We should think about possible futures because we are the next leaders of the future. We need to know the possibilities of what could happen.