When I was in the classroom, the best days were when a unit both sparked my students’ interest and helped them see the world or themselves in a new way. The first time I taught a future-focused unit, I found a perfect mix of both.
They read future oriented-novels, compared them with articles about change happening today, and envisioned their own future worlds. My students were intrigued by the promise of new technologies but were also attuned to possible unintended consequences. Their concern about some of the dystopian futures they imagined was matched only by their insistence that we all must be involved in influencing the future. In the end, they developed mostly hopeful and optimistic future images, but their weeks of discussion, reading, and thinking made them understand that we all have a role in shaping what’s to come and that our preferred futures are unlikely to occur without focused action.
Many students do not get a chance to explore the future in a rigorous and creative way. To help bring futures thinking to more students and surface their views of the future of learning, Teach the Future and KnowledgeWorks are hosting a student design competition, Imagine FutureEd. That competition invites students to submit scenarios (stories about the future) and artifacts (images of the future).
I hope that all educators and young people who participate in the Imagine FutureEd competition have a fun and mind-opening experience like my students did. To provide guidance for young people as they create their submissions, Teach the Future and KnowledgeWorks are creating activities to spark both creative and critical thinking. These activities are based on the work of experienced foresight educators and on workshops that we have done with students in the San Francisco Bay Area, Houston, and Pittsburgh. The four core activities that we are developing focus on the following topics:
- Exploring Your Future Outlook: How do you think about the future? How do others think about it?
- Exploring Possibilities for the Future: What changes are happening in education already? What might happen next?
- Telling Stories from the Future: What might the future of learning look like given different trends and possibilities?
- Reflecting on the Future: Why is thinking about the future valuable? What should leaders be doing today to prepare for it?
An extension activity also guides young people through illustrating their stories by creating and submitting artifacts from the future.
There are so many reasons to participate in the Imagine FutureEd competition. In general, teaching young people to think about the future empowers them to ask challenging questions and imagine a range of possibilities. I have always found that to be an enlightening experience for everyone involved, educators included. In particular, the Imagine FutureEd competition gives adult facilitators the chance to develop their toolbox for engaging students around the future and offers the option of receiving some extra help from our team. We are also lining up some exciting prizes! But the most important reason to participate in Imagine FutureEd is that, by giving young people the time and support to think about what, why, and how people could learn in the future, you are telling them that their ideas, voices, and leadership on this important topic matter and deserve to be heard.