Shaping the Future of Education

Andrea Wilford
Big History Teacher, 9th Grade
Muscatine, Iowa

What does the future hold for education? This summer I saw the dreamers, the thinkers, and the innovators come together with a shared purpose in hopes of shaping that future in a fundamental way, and it was good.

Imagine a systematic educational approach that puts all stakeholders first and asked for little in return but a commitment to learning. Am I dreaming?  Perhaps, but if so, don’t wake me up, for I am inspired and primed for a change that has the potential to expand my humble efforts to create a strong foundation for intellectual growth in my students. I am speaking of the Big History Project, and yes, it’s BIG!

So what is Big History? Big History is a curriculum that embraces the development of critical thinking skills in a multidisciplinary approach that lays a foundation for learning, so that learning, like breathing, becomes an inherent process in the learner. This is truly what learning should be, and our ability for collective learning (one pillar of Big History) is a fundamental component of our humanity and is what identifies us as the most complex species at the top of our evolutionary ladder. It is just such collective learning and understanding that is needed for humanity to thrive in the challenging decades ahead.

As an educator, I see the Big History Project as a tool and a format to enable me to enhance and expand my students’ abilities and passion for learning. Why? Because it is interesting, relevant, challenging, and FUN!  It’s called Big History because it embraces the history of everything, condensed into over-arching themes designed to introduce the student to many disciplines that are all connected in a web-like fashion. It lays a great foundation because it operates similarly to the developing brain—laying out many connecting pathways to increase understanding. The more complex the inter-pathways, the more conducive to information flow and generation.

I embrace and support anything that embraces and supports the guidance of our youth to better things, done with passion, caring, and a moral center. This I have found in the Big History project. In addition, I feel it provides me support to teach how I have always taught (somewhat interdisciplinary), while giving me a framework that is more cohesive, more formalized, much more interdisciplinary, in a format that can be shared and utilized throughout my profession.

Let me sum it up this way: In the early 1990s, I found myself challenged with the task of learning all I could about technology. My philosophy was that I wanted to lead my students into the future, not follow. Big History is based upon the premise that together we lead each other into the future. This new generation of learners is different because they have to be able to deal with the future ahead. So what is the role of the teacher now? As simple as it’s ever been: At first, grasp that young hand to lead the student; as learning progresses, walk hand-in-hand; and at some point, hopefully, they will grasp your hand and charge ahead!

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