Thursday, June 25, 2015

Adapt, Migrate or Perish

I had a biology teacher in high school named Ms. Zak. She was tall, strict and austere. I remember being a little afraid of her. If she disapproved of what you said, she would say, "Oh, really?" in a way the conveyed disbelief not only in the answer, but in the thinking behind it.

She knew how to keep a class in line, but she also knew her stuff. I learned a lot from Ms. Zak, most of which I still remember (although, I never was able to locate the heart in the crayfish dissection. "Maybe it didn't have one," I said to Ms. Zak. "Oh, really?," she replied.)

Ms. Zak had a large sign on her wall above the chalkboard that said ADP. And she would often remind us that ADP applied not only in nature, but in her classroom. Adapt. Migrate. Perish. She would point it out in nature all the time. If a student was unprepared for class, she would point to the sign and say, "You must adapt to our guidelines, migrate out of this class or you shall perish."

In the end, most of us in the class chose adaptation over migration (she was the only biology teacher after all) and the very idea of perishing was beyond the comprehension of most of us (what would our parents say?).

Adaptation, it turns out, was pretty fun. Once we adapted to the norms of Ms. Zak's class, we learned a great deal and had a lot of fun. In fact, I looked up Ms. Zak on and she gets some pretty stellar reviews (although there are clearly some reviews by students who chose not to adapt).

I have been thinking a great deal about adaptation lately. Education is at a critical juncture and must adapt to our changing world. This is not a terribly bold statement, it is more of a fact. A recent Edutopia blog post by Matt Levinson provides a concise and clear explanation of why.

Some schools are boldly embracing the idea of adaption and actively seeking ways to address the changes in our culture, the pace of information and the evolving learner. This is a hard thing to do. It requires critical self-evaluation and a willingness to be vulnerable. There are risks involved in adaptation. What if the new approach fails?

But I believe that the risks are greater for those who do not adapt. Ms. Zak knew it 25 years ago. If we are unwilling to adapt, the alternatives are grim. Students could migrate to other schools and our institutions as we know them could perish.

The lesson from Ms. Zak (and many others) is that adaptation can be fun. There is excitement and possibility embedded in adaptation. When learning evolves in new and innovative ways, the outcome is amazing. After all, "it is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change." - Charles Darwin via Ms. Zak.

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