The Future is Now

Penquins

“It’s almost on! Come in here Grandma!”

“I’ll be right there Sylvia!”

“It’s starting now!!”

Grandma came into the living room and sat next to Sylvia on the couch.
…..Reporting live from Chicago, Illinois…

I’m your host Juan Carlos Ibarra on The Future is Now!

(Cheering in the background)

Juan Carlos: I’m here with the brilliant woman who has changed the way everyone learns in Chicago–
Teresa Freitas! Welcome to The Future is Now, we couldn’t be happier to have you with us this morning.

Teresa Freitas: I’m happy to be with you.

Juan Carlos: Let’s jump right in; everyone is talking about your Learning_Network. It’s all over the news.

Education leaders in New York, LA and San Francisco want to adopt what you have built. How does that make you feel?

Teresa Freitas: I couldn’t be happier that the Learning_Network has been so successful in Chicago and I  am flattered that other cities are interested in adopting it!

Juan Carlos: It is very exciting! First, let’s discuss how it works for our viewers in other cities. What is the Learning_Network?

Teresa Freitas: The Learning_Network is an online platform that tracks how individuals learn as they
participate in challenges based in Chicago’s public institutions (museums, libraries and community
centers).

Juan Carlos: Let’s start at the beginning, how does a learner get started with the Learning_Network?

Teresa Freitas: Each learner gets an introduction to the Learning_Network that helps them understand the platform and how to access the city’s resources. The introduction also provides learners the opportunity to practice what they learn online, out in the real world. They practice using critical thinking skills to explore authentic objects at various institutions: historical artifacts at the Field Museum, inventions at the Museum of Science and Industry, and works of art at the Art Institute of Chicago, among many others. They work in small groups with other learners to practice these skills and begin to identify topics that interest them. Some learners become interested in volcanoes, some are interested in architecture, and others are interested in art. Each learner gets to explore the city’s resources to uncover their own interests.

Juan Carlos: That sounds like a fun class! But how does the Learning_Network help learners find their next step?

Teresa Freitas: Each learner wears a Learning_Wristband while participating in challenges. The
Learning_Wristband gathers Learning_Stats on their ability to think critically and work collaboratively to solve real world challenges. The stats are then presented on each learner’s Personal_Learning_Pathway which is basically an online profile.

Juan Carlos: So learners basically participate in challenges that interest them across the city; and as they participate, their Learning_Wristband tracks how well they think and work together as a group to solve problems?

Teresa Freitas: Exactly!

Juan Carlos: And then what happens??

Teresa Freitas: Well, the Learning_Stats immediately populate their Personal_Learning_Pathway. The Learning_Network then suggests a variety of next step challenges based on the learners interests. Then, a Personal_Learning_Mentor begins to work with each learner as they select their next challenge. The learner is then matched with a group of other learners from all over the city who have chosen the same challenge. The group of learners work collaboratively, with the support of the Personal_Learning_Mentor, as they address the real world problems presented in the challenge. This process is ongoing, allowing learners to continually develop their ability to think critically, work collaboratively and identify their interests.

The Personal_Learning_Pathway adapts to each learners skills, and interests, allowing for a high degree of self-directed learning. Juan Carlos: So how do learners choose their careers in the Learning_Network?

Teresa Freitas: It’s not like in the past, how you had to wait to get your high school diploma or college
degree before you could begin your career. As learners progress, they move into the professional side of the Learning_Network which essentially means that different organizations, thinkers and innovators contact them based on shared interests and abilities on their profile. Learners propose or accept real-world challenges developed by professionals in the city. As learners participate in these projects they gain connections based on their performance. Professionals and learners meet in museums, libraries and community centers to work on contemporary issues and to solve professional challenges.

Juan Carlos: So everyone’s career starts out as a series of different collaborations and projects based on their interests?

Teresa Freitas: Exactly! But there are also opportunities for life-long learning—anyone can participate. We have parents join after seeing how much their children enjoyed and grew from their participation in the Learning_Network!

Juan Carlos: So how in the world did you come up with this idea?

Teresa Freitas: I was working in Education and frankly; I realized that we weren’t doing a very good job of preparing students to be life-long learners or to cultivate their interests. Dropout rates were at an all time high in 2020 and as I reflected on the situation, I knew it wasn’t the students fault. We had created an education system that didn’t prepare kids to be successful in the real world. Kids needed a flexible system that was personalized to their needs and interests. They needed to learn how to learn, how to develop their own interests, find creative solutions to problems, experiment, fail and start over with new ideas. The Learning_Network has tried to address some of these issues.

Juan Carlos: But why museums, libraries and community centers?

Teresa Freitas: Those were our underutilized public spaces and resources. Those institutions spent millions every year on education, but weren’t reaching their potential impact. Research had proven that learning happens everywhere, including in formal and informal spaces, and that these institutions could help flip our approach to learning. Museums, libraries and community centers not only offered spaces for real world challenges, but opportunities for collaboration between diverse groups of learners and primary sources to facilitate the development of these critical thinking skills.
Juan Carlos: Thank you for bringing us up to speed Teresa!

Teresa Freitas: Thank you for having me on the show.

Juan Carlos: Now we will hear from some of the learners who have used the Learning_Network over the past few years. Please welcome Vinny Norton and Nyla Ruiz to the show!

Sylvia “Grandma, Grandma, there he is!! Vinny is actually on TV!!”

Nyla: I am happy to be here!

Vinny: Thank you for having me! I’d like to say hi to my Grandma and my sister Sylvia who are watching from home!

Vinny waved at the camera. Sylvia and Grandma waved at the TV.

Juan Carlos: So Vinny, we will start with you. How old are you?

Vinny: I just turned 11.

Juan Carlos: Now please tell us what you like most about the Learning_Network.

Vinny: That’s easy! I love choosing my next challenge. As soon as I’m done working on a challenge, I get to see my stats showing me how I improved and what I still need to work on. And then I see a list of next week’s challenges. Last week, the Learning_Network suggested that I work at the Shedd Aquarium to study penguins and their eating habits, or in the Field Museum’s storage collection with a conservationist, or at the Lincoln Park Zoo on designing a polar bears habitat. I decided to work at the Shedd Aquarium as I’ve been very interested in biology and the South Pole lately. The Learning_Network is so much better than sitting in a classroom with a teacher lecture at me. I love the challenges and actually get to work on the real projects with professionals. If my ideas or projects are strong, the institution actually uses them! I used to struggle in school, but my stats are off the map now!

Juan Carlos: Thank you for sharing, Vinny.

Vinny: Thanks for having me!

Juan Carlos: Now, let’s hear from our other learner. Nyla Ruiz. Welcome again to the show!

Nyla: Thank you for having me.

Juan Carlos: And how old are you Nyla?

Nyla: I’m 16.

Juan Carlos: I understand that you have been using the Learning_Network for over 6 years now, is that correct?

Nyla: Yes

Juan Carlos: What would you say has been the most important moment for you in the Learning_Network?

Nyla: My Personal_Learning_Pathway changed forever when I visited the Art Institute of Chicago during my introduction to the Learning_Network. I remember feeling very nervous that first day, I really wanted to make a good impression because I had a feeling my pathway might be art related or maybe even design based. I met many learners from all over the city that day. As soon as I entered the museum, my Learning_Wristband directed me to my first challenge in the Architecture and Design Special Exhibition.

The show was on a Chicago based architecture firm called Studio Gang. As I explored the exhibition with my small group we were challenged to use Studio Gang’s design process to design a new structure that solved a contemporary issue. My group was competing against 4 other teams, so we got right to work. We used Studio Gang blue prints on view in the Art Institute’s library, videos in the exhibition made by Studio Gang architects, and interviews compiled on the Learning_Network. After many hours of work we created a housing structure that addressed issues of overpopulation and climate change. At the end of the day we presented our design to a panel of architects from across Chicago. It was amazing to actually present to experts in the field! The panel assessed the quality of our work, collaboration and the presentation of our design solution. Even though my group didn’t receive first place, we learned a ton. The Learning_Stats we received that day shaped and refined our Personal_Learning_Pathways. It was a pivotal turning point in my development, my stats showed tremendous growth in critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, problem solving and communication—all areas that led me towards the architecture/design pathway.

Juan Carlos: So what happened next?

Nyla: Over the years, I worked with my Personal_Learning_Mentor to prepare my portfolio and pursue more connections within the sector of architecture and design. I logged countless hours in city-wide challenges on architecture and sustainable design at museums, design studios and libraries. That one day at the Art Institute ultimately shaped my pathway toward becoming a Next_Generation_Architect.

Juan Carlos: See folks, this Learning_Network is changing everything we thought we knew about
education! Kids are excited about learning again because it is based on their interests and because they can see how their learning can be applied to the real world. We here in Chicago, highly recommend that other cities take on the Learning_Network approach! That’s all for tonight folks, see you next week!

…. Sylvia grabs the remote and turns the TV off.

Sylvia: I wish we got to hear more from Vinny… but I was really excited by that last girl’s story. I can’t wait to see what I will get to do in the Learning_Network.

Grandma: what do you want to be when you grow up?

Sylvia: I want to be something that’s never existed before!

Grandma laughed, but knew that she probably would do just that.