Mastering Learning for the Present and Future

Preparing students for the known and unknown

by Dr. Rod Berger

This is part 2 in a two-part series with Sonny Magana

I recently sat down for an in-depth discussion with Dr. Sonny Magana to talk about his T3 Framework for Innovation in Education (Part 1) and his participation in the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC 2019) from January 27th through the 30th in Orlando, Florida. He will be a participating analyst on two different panels: “Delivering PD that Supports Effective Tech Use and Instruction” and “Using EdTech to Support Innovation: Unleashing Students’ Entrepreneurial Mindsets.” He will also present a session on disrupting low-impact technology and you can find his full FETC schedule here.

For Sonny, any meaningful discussion, narrative or perspective on modern education has to start with a common understanding of the purpose of education. He says we must have a commonly accepted definition, as well as knowing why we're here and why we do what we do. The necessary first step to getting everything and everyone moving together towards the common goal of educating our students is to answer the question, “What is the purpose of education?”

Ens. Laurin Smith demonstrates and observes pipe-patching techniques during damage control training Aug. 17, 2015, aboard Coast Guard Cutter Healy, while underway in the Arctic Ocean in support of Geotraces. Geotraces is Healy's second science expedition of the summer, and is an international effort to study the health of the world's oceans. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall)“I think an arguable purpose is to help students gain ample academic mastery,” Sonny says. To master current learning, we need to present students with problems and puzzles that teach them how to reason logically, how to evaluate effectively, how to use creativity and innovation to tackle and solve the problem… essentially, teach them how to think. “Design the problem or question that they're facing so that they develop the skills, the habits, the aptitudes, the mindsets, and the agency to master current learning,” Sonny says.

But Sonny warns that's only half of it. He says the other half of the purpose of education is to prepare students to deal with a rapidly changing and developing future. We can guess what the world will look like in 20 years, but as the last 50 years have shown, even our best guesses are usually wildly wrong. Could any of us have imagined the worldwide impact of smart phones just 15 years ago? Things change too quickly, with new tools and technologies introduced almost daily. As a result, subsequent consequences and problems emerge that were unimagined just a few short years earlier.

“The purpose of education should be to help students deeply consolidate the requisite knowledge and skills and mindsets and strategies that help them address future learning problems so that they can master future learning,” Sonny says. “That's what makes teaching such a noble and difficult profession. We are training students to master learning now and in the future, trying to prepare them for the known and unknown.”

But to ignite a student’s passion and have them truly take ownership of their learning, they need to recognize that their learning has a greater long-term outcome than just passing the next test or jumping through the next hoop. “I suggest that we stop asking kids ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ because I think that question has little value,” he says. “A better question to ask is ‘What wicked problem matters to you and what are you going to do to solve it?’”

In those situations, Sonny says that students are really taking ownership of their learning. “They're not dependent on somebody else to tell them what learning is, what they need to do, and what success looks like,” he says. “Mindlessly feeding them information and not letting them figure stuff out for themselves sets kids up for failure in the future when they encounter really complex learning problems without anyone standing there telling them how to solve them.”

About Dr. Sonny Magana EdD

Dr. Sonny Magana is an award-winning teacher, best-selling author, and pioneering educational technology researcher. Sonny is a highly sought-after leadership consultant, speaker, and instructional coach with more than thirty years’ experience helping educational systems around the world realize the power of transcendent learning. The author of numerous research studies and articles, Sonny’s newest book, Disruptive Classroom Technologies: A Framework for Innovation in Education, was recently published through Corwin Press to wide international acclaim.

A tireless advocate for transcending the status quo, Sonny founded and served as Principal of Washington State’s first CyberSchool in 1996, a groundbreaking blended learning program that continues to meet the needs of at-risk students in Washington. He is a recipient of the prestigious Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award and the Governor’s Commendation for Educational Excellence. An avid musician, yoga practitioner, and beekeeper, Sonny holds a bachelor of science degree from Stockton University, a master of education degree from City University (where he was honored with the Presidential Award for meritorious scholarship), an educational administration endorsement, and a doctorate in educational leadership from Seattle University. 

Follow Sonny on Twitter.

Dr. Sonny Magana will be a presenter at FETC 2019, January 27-30 in Orlando, Florida. The conference will bring together thousands of educators and technology leaders for an intensive, highly collaborative exploration of new technologies, best practices and pressing issues. Registration is now open.

Author Further Reading

This post includes mentions of a partner of MindRocket Media Group the parent company of edCircuit

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