Things are getting pretty exciting around here as we put all the pieces in place for Summit. This year’s event — Summit at the Bay — marks the second annual youth inquiry-based summit, the only one of its kind in Canada. It’s whole bunch of things all wrapped together: a huge party, a learning fest, a celebration of human beings’ innate curiosity, and a place for youth to gather with other people who ‘speak their language’. This is an event for the deeply inquisitive.
Which is exactly why we’re clear on the nature of Summit: it’s an inquiry-based exploration event. Sure, your kids will be listening to world-class speakers and kicking out the jams at the Saturday night dance party, but the real driver behind Summit is to create a space where inquisitive youth can dive deep into the things that interest them. They don’t often get a chance to do this when they’re at school; schedules keep them moving from class to class; teaching happens in discrete blocks; everyone in their cohort tends to be the same age; the content is largely the same for everyone; and there’s no guarantee that each child will have a chance to explore what matters most to them.
Summit shakes the jar, freeing kids to ask the questions they want to ask, and to take an inquiry approach as they travel the path toward the knowledge they’re seeking. At Summit, youth form diverse groups based on their interests and, using problem-based inquiry principles, work toward a common goal. They get clear on what they want to do with their project. They get clear on why it’s important to them. And then they work with each other and with adult mentors to create an action plan to take them there. Ideas flow. Age becomes irrelevant. Thinking moves outside the box. Time stretches, allowing for deeper exploration. And every young person in the space is deeply engaged, because they’re exploring what matters to them.
This is why of Summit: Because it’s the way we’re built to learn. When we follow our own interests and drive our own inquiries, we can’t help but expand our understanding. And learning becomes fun. Watch a baby learn to walk. That baby isn’t going to sit still and watch a grownup demonstrate the right motions, then participate in a drill activity to practice the skill. That baby figures it out by taking a chance and trying it out. She leans on people who have gone before, and seeks their support. She problem solves. When an action doesn’t work, she tries something else. She perseveres. And she loves every second of it, because it’s engaging, it’s fun, and most importantly, it’s self-directed. That baby is choosing for herself when it’s right to start trying to walk, and how to go about it. There is no stronger motivation than an intrinsic desire to do something. It’s the sole driver of deep learning.
Although we’ll admit, the Saturday night dance party is kind of fun, too.
“The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed — it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.” — Sir Ken Robinson, in The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything
Last year 250 youth participated in Summit at the Pier. But the lineup was around the corner, and a lot of kids who wanted tickets couldn’t get them. So this year we doubled our numbers, to 500. Because we see that kids get it. They understand what education experts like John Abbott and Sir Ken Robinson and Jeff Hopkins
have long known: that there are other, better ways to learn. That there are ideas that demand to be explored. That there are people out there who can help you get to where you want to go.
We’re seeing a serious hunger for change in our world. Parents, many of whom struggle with their own difficulty adapting to a fast-moving society, want to send their kids into adulthood with the tools and skills to cope well with the ever-increasing demands of life. Change is coming faster than ever before, and none of us can stay on top of it all. Experts widely acknowledge our kids will be doing jobs that nobody’s ever imagined before. In his book The Singularity is Near, computer scientist and futurist Ray Kurzweil wrote that the future will be “far more surprising than most people realize, because few observers have truly internalized the implications of the fact that the rate of change itself is accelerating.”
At Rethink Thinking, we’re internalizing the implications. Here’s what we know: To prepare kids well, we need to expand beyond what they’re getting in school, where — for all the system’s best efforts to reform itself — conformity, standardization, and achievement within a very narrow skill-set are still the gold standard. Instead, young people need to be able to think for themselves, follow what fascinates them, identify problems and try out solutions, work well with other people, and take care of their minds so that they move through their day in a place of optimism and resilience.
Sounds like a good bunch of skills to equip our kids with, right?
Summit is where it starts.
“Both positive and negative ways of thinking are important in the right situation, but all too often schools emphasize critical thinking and following orders rather than creative thinking and learning new stuff. The result is that children rank the appeal of going to school just slightly above going to the dentist. In the modern world, I believe we have finally arrived at an era in which more creative thinking, less rote following of orders—and yes, even more enjoyment—will succeed better.” — Martin Seligman, PhD, in Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being