My journey into futures thinking began in early 2021 when I came across the FutureVersary project from Stanford d.School ‘s K12 Lab. This led me to discover an enlightening Medium article by Ariel Raz, Head of Learning Collaborations at the K12 Lab Network. All this resulted in the realization of the importance of teaching futures thinking in K-12 classrooms.
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend an event at the d.School, where they unveiled their Five Approaches to Futures. Engaging with professionals from diverse fields, including education, business, and healthcare, I gained a deeper understanding of the transformative potential of this framework.
I am inspired to share how these approaches can serve as a guiding framework for delivering impactful learning experiences, empowering students to navigate a future characterized by complexity and ambiguity. In the coming months, I will explore each approach and demonstrate how educators can use them to nurture student agency, fostering confidence and purpose in facing the future.
NAVIGATING THE ANXIETIES OF THE FUTURE
The future often evokes anxiety in young people, given our complex world with its technological advancements, social transformations, and environmental concerns. I have witnessed this at the launch of our yearly capstone projects that ask students to identify a community problem and build a sustainable solution to address it. When presented with this task, students react with fear around how to accomplish this formidable challenge.
However, these five approaches to futures thinking offer valuable tools to provide students with a sense of control and purpose. By cultivating skills such as resilience, adaptability, and active participation, we transform anxiety into a catalyst for creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
It is essential that we equip students with the ability to analyze complex problems, break them down into manageable components, and explore multiple pathways toward meaningful solutions. This reimagines our schools as nurturing environments where agency is fostered, enabling young people to thrive in a world full of possibilities. Students learn to anticipate and respond to emerging trends, leveraging them as catalysts for innovation rather than sources of fear.
EMBRACING THE POWER OF FUTURES THINKING
The five approaches developed by Stanford d.School is Seeing in Multiples, Tracing Change Across Time, Seeking Visions of Coexistence, Cultivating Empathy for the Future, and Worldbuilding.
Seeing in Multiples fosters diverse perspectives and innovative problem-solving while Tracing Change Across Time develops the ability to monitor trends and respond to unexpected shifts. Seeking Visions of Coexistence empowers students to envision a sustainable and community-centered future, and Worldbuilding stimulates their imaginations to construct vibrant narratives. Cultivating Empathy for the Future goes beyond projecting the future and invites us to feel the future by imagining the needs and experiences of real people in different futures.
Designing learning that uses these approaches shows students that their voices matter, their ideas are valuable, and they have the capacity to effect positive change. Through the cultivation of their agency, students foster skills to navigate complexity, embrace uncertainty, and cultivate empathy. This nurtures a generation empowered to actively shape an inclusive, compassionate, and thriving future.
CITIZENSHIP AND THE POWER OF FUTURES THINKING
As our future continues to be characterized by rapid change and uncertainty, young people will need to increase their capacity to empathize, embrace complexity, monitor change, collaborate, and imagine alternative futures. This will equip them to become responsible global citizens who can tackle the challenges of an ever-evolving world.
Eric Liu discusses this in detail in his interview with Tim Fish and Lisa Kay Solomon on the New View EDU podcast, “The purpose of schooling is not just to create good workers or good employees or people who can compete in the global economy as has become the dominant refrain of justification for schooling and especially public schooling. But fundamentally it is to create citizens, people capable of self-government. And that was certainly the case for universal compulsory public education.”
Education systems must create opportunities to apply futures thinking, integrating it into the curriculum and providing opportunities for real-world problem-solving. We must also build advisory and citizenship programs that allow students to apply them as opportunities for student leadership. By incorporating these approaches through collaborative projects and interdisciplinary activities, students learn to ask generative questions, challenge assumptions, and explore diverse perspectives.
The power to shape the future resides within each and every one of us. The d.School’s commitment to integrating futures mindsets and practices into K-12 education reflects this understanding. This blog series is meant to initiate a conversation about empowering educators and students to adopt a proactive and transformative stance toward the future.
I firmly believe that everyone, regardless of age, can develop the skills needed to actively shape their individual and collective futures. As educators, we have the immense responsibility and privilege of nurturing future-ready minds. By integrating the five approaches to futures thinking—Seeing in Multiples, Tracing Change Across Time, Seeking Visions of Coexistence, Cultivating Empathy for the Future, and Worldbuilding—into our classrooms, we cultivate essential skills and mindsets for our students.
The Futures Thinking Approaches were developed at the Stanford d.School and can be explored in more depth at this link.