The Martians in Your Classroom TED Talk in Print

It was such an honor to be apart of the TEDxGCU event on February 23. This blog post is a bit longer than most that you will find here as it covers the 18-minute talk and the 60 slides, including three quick video clips! Please share your thoughts and ideas surrounding this talk using the hashtag #MartianClassroom and lets' keep the conversation going!

The Martians In Your Classroom

When you hear the word Martian, you may envision something along the lines of this:

Or possibly this:

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Or maybe even this... 

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But what about... 

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This? The first person to step foot on the red planet has already been born and could be a student in a classroom, or a kid in your neighborhood, or even someone in your own home. The youth of today will not only witness colonies on the moon and Mars, they will also be the ones to conquer these great frontiers.

 Credit: Janet Lansbury- Age 4 Seems Like Aliens Podcast

Credit: Janet Lansbury- Age 4 Seems Like Aliens Podcast

The youth of today may sometimes seem like alien life forms, and in reality, they are experiencing the world and education in a way that is so vastly different than the world and classrooms that we grew up in, so much so that they might as well be growing up on a different planet. 

You may have seen this commercial recently- 

Riding bikes, climbing trees, signing a friend's cast, reading comic books... Young people are the same as that of prior generations in many ways, but how this information is accessed and how interactions occur happens in a way that is foreign to that of the past and will continue to evolve. 

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Recently, the lyrics to the song, "Fire and Rain" by James Taylor came up in a conversation with my mother and I asked if she had realized the meaning of the line, "Sweet dreams and flying machines" when we used this as a good night wish growing up. I thought for certain she had always known the meaning, however, she reminded me that in her youth, she couldn't look up the meaning of lyrics; real-time information wasn't on demand, and even libraries wouldn't have it available. 

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The way that we access information now doesn't even resemble that of just a couple of decades ago. 

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The changes have happened so fast and so seamlessly, that I too had forgotten what it was like to do research in a library or write a term paper... The hours in my dorm room hovering over a word processor that I had borrowed from a friend, and the frustration of learning that I had made a mistake on a previous page and would have to delete multiple paragraphs in order to correct my work. And now, I can't even recall the last time I opened a physical dictionary. 

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Imagine having never known anything else! I am sure we will look back in ten years and reminisce on how advanced we thought our technology was today and how quickly it was replaced with the more savvy tech of the future. 

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We often hear that we are preparing the next generation for jobs that do not exist but seldom do we think about the possibility that the work may not be in our communities, or in our country, but we are preparing them for jobs that are out of this world, quite literally!

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66 years separated the Wright Brothers from the Apollo 11 Moon landing. 29 years later, the International Space Station was created. The next great frontier of Mars and beyond is not too far away. 

 Credit: 100Kin10

Credit: 100Kin10

In 2016, I was invited to the 100Kin10 Summit in Houston at the Johnson Space Center to work with a group of STEM professionals from across the country to address the need for 100,000 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math teachers, which is the projected shortage over the course of a decade. In return, has created a shortage of students going into STEM. In addition to recognizing the magnitude of this problem, we were able to see first hand the impact that STEM has had on the world around us. 

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We were invited to tour Mission Control Center where human space flights were managed. 

Milt Heflin, retired Director of Flight Control, shared the lessons learned from the space missions and gave us a tour of the center.

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I was blown away by the technology that sent humans to the moon. Most of the Martians in our classrooms would recognize this as something we use at the bank on the odd occasion that banking isn't done online or on an app. But many of them have only seen a rotary dial on a phone in old movies or an unused phone at a grandparents house. Yet this is the technology that sent man to the moon! 

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The computers themselves were less powerful than the smartwatch that I have on my wrist today. 

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In the book, The Gravity Well, Stephen Sandford says that by 2030, we can have a small colony of humans on the moon. By that same date, we can be mining asteroids for precious metals. 

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By 2040, we will have a colony on Mars. That is just 22 years from now. The youth of today could be one of the first Martian colonists!

32 years from now, in 2050, we can have probes in other habitable planets. The sky is no longer the limit!

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We have come along way in technological advances and space travel, but in order to lead the way in future missions, we have to think bigger in education as well. 

The Martian Classroom isn't just about space, it's a metaphor for the future of education and where we need to drive the learning space of the future by equipping students to thrive both on and off of planet Earth. 

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Just as viewing our planet from the perspective of space changes our perception, viewing education from the lens of the future workplace changes our perspective as well. 

According to the Institute for The Future (IFTF), 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 have not yet been invented. 

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Dell Technologies forecasts that the pace of change will be so rapid that we will use augmented reality and virtual reality to learn "in the moment" and the ability to gain new information will be more valuable than the knowledge itself. 

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This means we need to change the mindset of education and then work and create a mindset of learning as a way of life. 

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The Bureau of Labor suggests that students who graduated last year will have 17 jobs by the time they turn 38. That's not different positions within a company, it's 17 completely different jobs!

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Instead of asking students what they want to do with their lives, ask them what they want to do next. It's unfair to ask kids to figure out what they want to do as a career for their entire life, and it leads to decision fatigue.

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It's kind of like looking at the menu at the Cheesecake Factory... There are so many amazing and delicious choices, it's overwhelming! Rather than making the "wrong" choice, I sometimes end up leaving without that sweet piece of pie in my tummy. 

And this is why we see so many so many young people stalling... There are too many options and it's overwhelming to think about a career for an entire lifetime, especially in an age when that's most likely not going to occur. Instead of risking making the wrong choice, they make no choice at all. 

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Asking students what they want to do after they graduate also implies that learning has ended and work begins. Or that what they are doing right now doesn't count. Plan, yes, but don't get too attached to those plans. 

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Encourage students to dream big and to set outrageous, audacious Mars-shot goals, knowing that the education, the credentials, and the jobs they take on next will lead to new opportunities that have never crossed their minds. 

This is what jobs will look like in 2040 according to LinkedIn-

The types of jobs we are preparing kids for both on and off-world will address the same needs that we have today but will look drastically different. 

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Doctors will not become obsolete, but technology will dramatically improve the medical field and will require more tech skills healthcare professionals. 

I grew up in West Virginia in a mining town and as a coal miner's daughter. Mining is the biggest industry and the biggest source of income. When I think of mining, I think about something like this: 

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Mining could look completely different for the Mars Generation. This is an image from NASA depicting what mining may look like in the future.

 Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Off-world mining is a concept currently being explored by both NASA and private space companies. The potential value of one asteroid the size of a living room is three trillion dollars- not only providing needed resources but also saving our planet and giving it time to heal. 

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Now, this may sound like science fiction, but imagine how folks who were alive a century ago would have reacted to what exists today. As a child, the concept of off-world mining was inconceivable. 

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Imagine what a Martian in your classroom may someday experience that is inconceivable now! 

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For instance, did any of you predict that we would someday have a red Tesla with a space dummy named Starman hurling through space blasting David Bowie's, "Space Oddity?" I know that wasn't on my radar even a month ago! In case you missed it, here's a short clip about what makes this event even more fascinating: 

I can only imagine how the next in line for that 250,000 Tesla reacted to one being shot into space!

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A globalized workforce and gig economy are becoming the norm as industries are no longer limited to the local talent in their communities. 

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Kids get this, they have friends they have never met, that they interact with on a daily basis. That's already here. We do not only need to keep up with the forecasted changes from the perspective of the workplace, we need to keep up with the Martians in our classrooms as well by bridging the gaps between education and geography in our learning spaces. 

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Moving in this direction is a really good thing. The more globalized we become, the more cooperative we will be. Just as the International Space Station and the first step on the lunar surface were victories for all of mankind, global efforts will promote peaceful interactions between nations. 

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Education has always been about the future. As the very nature of work changes, education has to change as well. In this age of disruption and iteration, education leaders cannot rely on the way things have always been done. We have to keep up and reimagine what is possible for the Martians in our classrooms. 

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Just as we have made great strides in industry and technology, we have made great strides in our advances in education as well, despite what some may say. But we are robbing our students of the preparation they need for their future when we hold onto legacy thinking and legacy systems that no serve the youth of today. 

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According to the White House, only 16% of students are interested in a STEM career and are proficient in Math. 

Lockheed Martin says that if tech companies do not motivate the next generation now, we will not have enough people to fill jobs and build aircraft and spaceships in twenty years. 

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Stronger partnerships between educators and employers is a must. We can no longer guess what skills are needed. 

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Outside of building aircraft and spaceships, when we look at the world's biggest problems, most require solutions related to STEM. Based on this data, only a slight population are able to solve these issues. Whether it's discovering a cure for cancer, creating algorithms and systems for transportation, detecting the next terrorist attack, or developing technology to send humans to Mars, the answers lie in equipping those in our classrooms with the knowledge, the skills, the space to create, and the inspiration to do so. 

 Image Credit: STEM Jobs 

Image Credit: STEM Jobs 

If we want the Mars Generation to actively seek jobs in STEM they need to be shown interesting, real-world applications, and this starts with Career and Technical Education. Educators must steer students towards the jobs of the future. 

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Innovation is a crucial component of the Martian Classroom. Teachers serve as facilitators and students are empowered to take concepts and think bigger. 

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With this, learning for mastery needs to be emphasized. 

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I was talking to the owner of an underwater welding company a couple of weeks ago and asked how we as educators can better equip students for the workplace and he responded that "C" level work in underwater welding means someone is dead. He needs future employees to come in with a mastery mindset. If you think about it, the same is true for space exploration. Both the folks on the ground and in the sky need mastery learning in order to bring folks back alive. 

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That being said, just as important as Mastery Learning is Frustrated Learning- really allowing students to wrestle with problems that cause them to continue to think and search for the solution long after the class has ended. "Frustrating" is where some of the best learning happens. For example, give students problems that can lead to multiple failed attempts, but without being penalized.

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We need to spend more time on lessons that do not have answer keys. When we only teach things we know the answer to, we are not preparing students to solve the unknowns that the future holds. 

Give students the ability to discover new answers rather than just knowing old solutions. 

Mission Control is now named after Christopher Kraft who played a pivotal role in developing the concept of a flight control center. I was struck by this quote as it's fascinating to think that at the time, the folks who put man on the moon and developed technology that changed the very fabric of our society didn't fully realize the impact that they would have on the world. 

When I think about the leadership that it takes to think bigger in education and to draw more students into STEM and CTE, we too do not fully realize the task before us and the impact that we will have on the world. 

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Educators influence the future. The Martians in our classrooms are that future and will pave the way for humanity. What an awesome responsibility we have and they have!

We are just getting started. Let's propel the change rather than waiting for the change to propel us.