Navigating airports requires a strong skill set of Global Competencies–Communication, Collaboration, and Critical Thinking. Some airports can be intimidating. The expansiveness of an airport is less of an issue than the methods for getting to gates in different terminals. Consider these examples:questionpath1

Atlanta (ATL)
There are six terminals, connected by a train system that makes frequent stops at each location. Each stop is on a straight line. If you know the terminal and gate destination, find your way to the underground train system, ride to the stop, and then take an up escalator. Read the signs to go left or right for the gate choice. It’s pretty fast. I should know as my connections are frequently 30-40 minutes between different terminals.

Dallas (DFW)
Dallas has a train system that is above the terminals, and circles the airport to the various stops. The waits are probably only 3-5 minutes at most, but the travel speed is plodding. Fortunately, if you’re flying on one airline, you’ll stay in one terminal. Most of the time.

Detroit (DTW)
I love this airport for it’s straight forward layout. There are two major structures–one for Delta and one for the other airlines. The shops and restaurants meet needs. It’s not like the mall-like experience of Minneapolis (MSP), ATL, and DFW. The only problem comes if your connections includes Delta and another airline. You have to know the system for getting a shuttle that takes you between McNamara (Delta) and North Terminal (all other airlines). It’s not walkable. If you’re in a hurry, take a cab.

Millions of travelers navigate airports every day. Most of us have a home base airport that we develop familiarity, and develop our travel skills that we apply when arriving at “other” airports. Even experienced travelers can find themselves in an airport for the first time, and must draw upon their skills honed from previous stops.

Education is similar. Students learn content and thinking skills that they should be able to transfer when they are living their lives outside of the safe confines of their school. Academia for  the sake of it creates a disconnect for students. This is why purposeful learning helps students connect the value of curriculum to navigating the “airports” that they find themselves in. It is not just answering the question, how do I use these Math skills or persuasive skills outside of school. It is also about how do I…questionpath2

  • problem solve a situation where the initial answers do not apply or is not what the client (audience) wants or needs
  • collaborate with a team to ensure that the best thinking and solutions are proposed and crafted for the best outcome possible
  • communicate my thinking so as to give and receive relevant feedback, or to help others understand the solutions or teachings that I can provide

Students need to “work” with content and skills to fit their needs, and not just repeat the knowledge and steps that one follows just because. Very few things in life remain consistently predictable that someone can “follow the script” and not have to think outside of the box. The exception might be Orlando Airport, but I think that only applies for those going on a Disney vacation. The only thinking during travel to and from their properties is, well,… I can’t think of a problem that Disney has not addressed.

I recently flew to Newark (EWR) for the first time. The signage confused me so that I ended up going to the baggage area in a futile search for the rental car area. Most airports direct you to the baggage area for finding the rental car counters (RIC), trains (SFO), buses (LAX), or garage (BNA). In Newark, this was not the case. I had to “work” the situation, and not just go on autopilot. After navigating more signs, some guesswork, and asking assistance from airport staff and other travelers, I found the train system that took me to the rental car location.

In classrooms, students need similar experiences with the “work”. Give them a “twist” in their application of content such as a client who does not like the initial product or proposal, or new guidelines are added later in the course that will require changes in the work. Such situations to students may feel frustrating and create anxiety, which is exactly what we want them to experience in a setting where a teacher can coach them through the process. Better to happen at school than for students to be stuck in some unfamiliar location where no coaching is available.

This summer, my kids traveled by themselves to visit friends in another state. At the airport, they had to navigate their way through security and find the correct terminal and gate for their flight without any directions from me. Their terminal was not in a straightforward location. They navigated each challenge using the skills and coaching provided in the past, and found their gate. I’m looking forward to taking them to an unfamiliar airport where they will find more success and confidence to find their way. Their school experiences have impacted their ability to navigate real world situation. Most of their studies has been mostly project based learning and/or inquiry based.

For all students, Communication, Collaboration, and Critical Thinking are integral parts of the experiences they need through the airports in their lives. We need to do as much of these experiences during the long impactful hours at school, in addition to what happens at home. Someday, the current students will pilot our future.