A Unique Skillset & Mindset

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

Over the past few years, we have been talking a lot about all these “21st century jobs that haven’t been invented yet.” The Labor Department as well as many employers now predict as many as 85% of the jobs today’s preschool and elementary students will eventually hold have not yet been invented. Any school worth their salt can recite (or probably has somewhere on their website) the 4 Cs, which have been identified as the most critical skills for our children’s future success: Collaboration, Communication, Creativity and Critical Thinking. If you are a parent (or teacher) in our school, no doubt you can rattle off the list of skills, but have you stopped to think about these yet-uninvented jobs? What will they look like? How are they so different from the jobs we already have?  It turns out there are some clues about this in the news and current events. Some of these jobs are starting to be…well…invented.

Two of the most significant emerging fields that are already looking for the next thinkers, inventors and entrepreneurs are Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Genetics. These are precisely the kind of jobs that require the aforementioned 21st century skills. Look at these stories from the past month’s news.
  • Cars making life or death decisions! This is no longer about Alexa playing your favorite game or Amazon predicting what you will buy before you even click on it (which is admittedly pretty cool). Self-driving cars are coming! They have the potential to save many lives, but they also conjure life-or-death questions: Hit the pedestrian or veer off the road and potentially harm the occupants? Do you want your car making that decision for you and your children? Engineers think of this as a real-life example of The Trolley Problem, which ultimately challenges us to examine all the ramifications of each option and think outside the box when making an important decision. In these cases, there is no textbook to consult. Furthermore, different philosophical beliefs might lead you to a different conclusion. Might self-driving cars in a different country be designed to act differently than in California?    
  • Are there really going to be designer babies? Researchers in China claim to have used CRISPR/Cas9 to produce genetically altered twins, and it’s causing quite a stir in the scientific community. In this case, the intentions are good: Give these children greater resistance to HIV. Even so, many ethics questions are being raised. As one researcher explained: “Some families need the technology to have healthy children…enhancing intelligence or changing hair or eye color are not things loving parents do and should be banned.”  

At the most basic level, sure, experts need to understand their field. The AI expert needs her knowledge of Coding, Programming and Robotics. The scientist or doctor needs a strong foundation in Genetics. Core knowledge matters, and in our program we believe knowledge of genetics, robotics and coding is non-negotiable. This is one of the reasons we have expanded to Robotics-for-all, instead of Robotics as an after-school option. Similarly, we strive to leverage the Animal & Nature Studies program to give our kids a basis in Genetics that we believe might someday inspire them to become a doctor, researcher or vet. But, what kind of people do we really want to entrust with these weighty societal decisions?

There are a lot of smart people in the world, but smart ≠ ethical. If decisions about AI or gene editing are going to be made, the people I would entrust with these decisions are ones who can think critically and creatively (outside the box). They don’t just shrug their shoulders and accept that life is full of binary choices. In our school, we focus a lot on the 7 Habits of Happy Kids; we call this Habit 4: Think Win-Win. We try to teach children to look at problems through multiple lenses for a third solution. I know this might sound quite simple in school when it’s about sharing toys or solving conflict between kids. But in fact, it leads to much more sophisticated thinking as children get older. In the two examples above, you can also see how the 21st century skills of Communication and Collaboration are vital. Imagine if we had a 1-person team programming our AI or tampering with our genes. This is, again, why we are avid believers in group work and Accountable Talk, which are critical components of our school.

WHPS is certainly not the only school to use Responsive Classroom, Columbia's Balanced Literacy Model, Inquiry-Based Learning, Emergent Curriculum, The Leader in Me, or to have a strong STEAM program that emphasizes Robotics and Genetics (though we are one of very few schools with our own barnyard). But, when you merge these carefully selected programs into one school, they work in concert to offer children something I would argue very few other schools can: A unique skillset and mindset to carry through life.

Other schools are starting to take notice of our unique combination of social-emotional and academic curriculum, and several schools have inquired if WHPS can offer professional development for their staff. This January, we are hosting our first international delegation of teachers and administrators from Kang Chiao Schools in Taiwan and China. Kang Chiao is a well-established school that serves over 12,000 children in preschool-12th grade. Even though we are nowhere near the size of Kang Chiao, they are coming to Los Angeles to observe our program and learn from our teachers. Their visit will be focused on:

  • Columbia's Balanced Literacy Model
  • Technology Integration
  • Character Education/SEL
  • Project-Based & Inquiry-Based Learning
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