Learning to predict the future by inventing it – TeenTech Awards

The surest way to predict the future is to invent it, a maxim attributed to Alan Kay while at Xerox PARC, who did as much as any to invent the future of computing.

So how does one go about inventing the future?

Somewhat paradoxically, the answer is rooted in the past.

Jacques Ellul said that history is the consequence of ideas, which means that the future, which will become the past, is also the consequence of ideas.

Now, not all ideas are good ideas, and even good ideas are not equally so, so we need to begin as we mean to go on, and the TeenTech Awards has proven to be a good vehicle for developing good ideas, and then making them better.

It starts with a question: Do you have an idea for making the world a better place? Because TeenTech aims to help young people understand their true potential and the real opportunities available in the contemporary STEM workplace, the idea must involve some combination of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. How this STEM requirement is dealt with is, for me, the first strength of the Awards – as the cyberpunk authors so forcefully heralded in the 80s, we live in a science fictional world, although it is not yet evenly distributed, so some combination of STEM in its broadest sense touches everything, and so anything is potentially an entry-point to the Awards.

The need to test if the idea is good, and then to develop good ideas to make them better is the second strength of the Awards, and  the point at which librarians have a real contribution to make to both the process of inquiry and the resources to support inquiry.  At Oakham School, where I run the Awards as an activity, this is also a rare opportunity for students from Year 7 to Year 13 to experience an open inquiry, in which neither the direction of the inquiry nor its outcome are predetermined.

The third strength of the Awards is that students are only required to develop their idea as far as they can, which for some will be into a fully functioning prototype, while for others it might simply be more or less sketched out on paper. This presents a very low barrier to entry with a high ceiling, and minimal running costs beyond my time.

The fourth strength of the Awards is the need to submit the entry in the form of  formal report, which is similar to an Extended Essay or EPQ, and provides students with a substantial opportunity to develop their academic writing.

I entered the Awards for the first time in 2016, for two main reasons: firstly, as an opportunity for students to stretch themselves through open inquiry; secondly, as an opportunity to test the robustness of our approach to learning through inquiry (FOSIL), specifically in the Research and Information Literacy Award for Years 7-11. Not only have we achieved remarkable success in the Research and Information Literacy Award (winning in 2016 and 2017, and being a finalist in 2018), and recently also the Best Research Project Award for Years 12-13 (wining in 2018), but we have achieved remarkable successes within other Awards as well. Further to this, I have been nominated for the Teacher of the Year Award for three years in a row, which is a significant opportunity, both at the Final and the Awards Ceremony, to highlight the integral role of information literacy and the librarian within an inquiry-based approach to learning, and, as a direct consequence of extraordinary success in the Awards, to challenge unhelpful stereotypes of the librarian.

As HRH The Duke of York is the Patron of the Awards, category winners receive their Awards during a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

This year I travelled down with Holly, who won the Best Research Project award in 2018 for her inquiry into the causes of the underrepresentation of women in computer science.

This is a very special and memorable occasion for all involved, but unfortunately the link to the official photographs from the Ceremony has not yet been released.

However, the short video clip (5m09s) of the 2018 Awards Final at the Royal Society in London gives a flavour of what the TeenTech Awards is all about.If you would like to know more about the TeenTech Awards, or how I run the Awards at Oakham, please do contact me (dt@oakham.rutland.sch.uk).

Darryl Toerien. Librarian , Oakham School

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