Andrew Sachs is the founder and CEO of Nobel Coaching & Tutoring, and Nobel Explorers. Through online educational coaching and tutoring, as well as an online, international STEM teamwork camp, Andrew’s vision for Nobel is to activate student motivation that results in improved learning outcomes. As the next industrial revolution draws ever so near, he talks about the importance of entrepreneurial, computational, and psychological thinking for the next generations of students. Andrew also shares some specific suggestions that will help children and young adults develop these skills in order to attain job security in the era of robotics and AI.
Q: Why are these three skills so important for future generations of children?
A: I think that it’s easy to understand why all parents want their kids to be good at reading, writing, and math. It’s an idea that made sense in the past because it was believed that these particular skills would be the foundation for securing a good career in many different professions. In fact, the educational system has been testing these skills extensively on a national, state, and individual student level of performance.
The world has shifted a lot in the last 30 years or so. We can see new patterns and disciplines emerging and dominating today’s business world, such as globalization or informational technology. We’re witnessing their influence in things like the advancement of applications and social media. We are also seeing that technological progress carries with it certain challenges, especially for the psychological aspects of our being. There are viruses running through your head, not just your computer!
Taking this massive change into account, there is a clear need for making a shift in the way we educate people and the skills we teach them. We need to go one step beyond reading, writing, and math, and move closer to entrepreneurial, computational, and psychological thinking.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit more about these skills? What are they and how are they manifested?
A: Entrepreneurial thinking is, at its core, systems thinking. Today, in a globalized world, the pace of business change continues to accelerate. You don’t have to be an entrepreneur in order to benefit from being able to think like one. Even if you’re simply looking to get a job and build a career at a specific company, you need to understand how that company works, the way in which it is evolving and adapting, how your job might fit into that particular system, and how your contribution to the company can change over time. Figuring out answers to these questions will help you pick a profession you’ll be happy with, while at the same time ensuring your economic success.
Computational thinking is connected to three major areas of modern industry: traditional IT, AI, and robotics. IT is already impacting every business. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a doctor or running your own lawn-maintenance company, using information technology in order to provide your customers with the best possible service is a necessity in today’s business environment.
A lot of people don’t realize that we’re already subject to machine learning and AI today. All the bots, everything that determines what YouTube video you’re going to watch next, what ads will show up on your Facebook side panel… all that is being done by Artificial Intelligence. It’s not a person doing it, but a complex algorithm. Understanding how these algorithms work and being able to apply them to any big data set for the betterment of the business that you’re in is really important.
And then lastly, through the advancement of AI, we’re seeing a whole new domain of robotics being unleashed. The most interesting thing is that the mechanical aspects of robots have not changed much. What’s really changed is that now, for very little money, you can have a robot that’s extremely intelligent and able to automate many common tasks. By combining AI image recognition with traditional robotics capabilities, we’re looking at a world where you can easily train robots to do tasks that we might consider only doable by humans today.
So why is computational thinking so important? Firstly, it can help you prepare for a career in a profession which is not easily replaceable by a robot, and secondly, it can allow you to look for and design a place for those robots and improve the efficiency of your work or your company.
Last but certainly not least – psychological thinking. As humans, we’re still carrying this gray matter between our ears that was honed over millions of years of evolution as a nomadic pack animal. And, for lots of good reasons, it’s got features that are very well suited for that world, but not for the one that we’re living in today. Nowadays, we’re living in a complex society that is functioning under a different set of rules, and yet, these outdated mechanisms are still impacting the world that we see today and giving rise to many serious issues. These biases are being utilized in order to manipulate behavior – for example, through the use of fear. The impulsive reactions that we make when we’re in a state of fear are usually not the best ways to deal with a situation. Psychological awareness is an important tool that can help us identify these biases and manipulations so that we can consciously work them out, protect ourselves from them, and make better, more rational decisions.
Developing these skills does not mean you’ll be limiting your career choices. If you’re developing entrepreneurial skills, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up running your own company. Neither does learning to code mean that you’ll become an engineer. These skills can be very useful in many different ways for many different professions. As parents, we should make sure our kids learn them as soon as possible so that they’ll get a much better understanding of the world and be more successful.
Q: What are the top three tips for developing these essential skills and what can parents do to help?
A: I think educational science has progressed significantly in the last 20 years and one of the things that we’ve learned is that if you want to understand something – do it. Try it, make mistakes, learn from do-overs. For developing entrepreneurial thinking, if you’re eight years old – go set up a lemonade stand. If you’re in high school, figure out a shirt or a cup you can design and try to sell it. And more importantly, get together with some other people to do this. It’s very important to share the learning and work together on a project at that age
For computational thinking, you can get into coding and there are several ways to ease yourself into the field. Number one is block-level coding, where the whole process is more graphic and much easier to comprehend. There’s also a fantastic tool called Scratch from MIT which is also very approachable. Furthermore, you can use this knowledge to try and build something tangible, such as creating a small video game or an app. You can then explore supervised machine learning and creating genetic algorithms. These items can be very simple but actually coding them and learning how to take a complex, undefinable process and break it down into things that can actually be done is a really great skill that applies everywhere else in life.
One of our Nobel Explorers projects currently offered to students is:
LEARN HOW TO CODE AND DESIGN A WEBSITE!
Registration is OPEN!
Psychological thinking can be learned and improved in many different ways. For starters, take a psychology course. Study biases. Work inside a team. All of these activities will provide you with a great setting for learning how to think in terms of human psychology and its challenges. One of the easiest exercises you can do? Find people who actually disagree with you on things but are constructive in their dialogue. Have discussions with them, all the while trying to better understand their point of view.
Q: How will these predictions affect the future of education? What can we do to prepare children for the future of work?
A: The question of job security and relevance is really important for all parents out there. Especially now when robotics, AI, and Informational technology are coming at our economy like a freight train. If you thought the industrial revolution changed a lot or if you thought IT changed a lot, you haven’t seen anything yet.
What can parents do about that? Well, if your child is interested in software, robotics, or AI, then help them go for it. But, more importantly, if those career choices are off the table, there are two things you can do to ensure your child can find work in tomorrow’s economy. Primarily, you can encourage them to choose and engage in industries that are less susceptible to disruption. Secondly, you can help them develop their soft skills.
Robotics and AI are not going to lead to a “Terminator” scenario. What’s really going to happen is whatever individual hard skill you might have, that task is going to be better done by a computer and AI in 5, 10, maybe 15 years. So you need to pick a profession that won’t be totally obviated and made redundant by technological advancements. If you’re thinking about going into radiology and reading X-Rays, you need to think again. Or if you’re thinking of becoming a translator? Don’t! I’ve already listened to a Google Translate version which is currently being used exclusively throughout the company, and it works better than humans.
Don’t bet your career on a hard skill. But, match that hard skill with 21st-century soft skills. Critical decision-making, teamwork, collaboration… And whatever it is, make sure you develop the skill to adapt. Because one thing that will be constant is change.
Q: How can Nobel Coaching & Tutoring and Nobel Explorers help students develop these three skills?
A: Our coaches are well trained and focused on teaching the principles of positive psychology and encouraging people to become the best versions of themselves. So if you’re dealing with academic, real-life, or even business issues, our coaches can help you in all those areas with specific focus on psychological thinking. This involves learning about our biases, how to communicate better with other people, and even understanding how to create habits in order to help ourselves improve. But maybe the most interesting aspect is that our coaches nurture what is known in psychology as the growth mindset, the notion that you can actually change yourself. And that is essentially the main goal of Nobel Coaching & Tutoring. To help people change themselves for the better and get to a version of themselves that they want.
While Nobel Coaching is focused on improving psychological thinking, Nobel Explorers really goes after the computational and entrepreneurial mindset, and all of the projects are designed to help students acquire these types of skills. It is an online international STEM camp and every one of the projects is designed to incite age-appropriate learning.
For the development of entrepreneurial thinking, we offer some silicon-valley styled courses where students get to learn how to start up their own company. For computational thinking, we have many Nobel Explorers classes where we’ll be covering the topics of coding and web design, artificial intelligence, and robotics. We introduce these subjects to our students through practical assignments and at the end of each course, they will definitely have something to show for it – along with gaining valuable, life-long experience.
It’s important to make note of the fact that all of our classes are organized through project-based learning, as well as team-based learning. Each and every class has an entire soft skills curriculum embedded into it. On top of learning computational and entrepreneurial thinking, the students are also acquiring soft skills such as communication, teamwork, how to have constructive conflict, and how to make group decisions. All these soft skills we’ve talked about can be taught to children as young as eight, if the setting is right and adapted to their needs and interests. And that is exactly what Nobel Explorers does.
Nobel Explorers offers a range of STEM projects which are age-appropriate and provide students with an opportunity to develop entrepreneurial, computational, and psychological thinking by solving complex problems in a team setting.
Q: Some parents might be afraid that their children are too young and not ready to get into coding or other activities you’ve mentioned. What are your experiences in regards to actually working with children and teaching them these skills through Nobel Explorers projects?
A: I think the fear of children not being ready to learn comes exclusively from the parents and not the kids. We make sure children are capable of following, participating, and of course, learning from the projects by making them age-appropriate. At the entrepreneurial level, if we’re discussing 8 to 10 year-olds, it’s the equivalent of a lemonade stand – understanding things like what happens when we raise or lower the price, or move the stand to a high traffic area.
The same goes for computational thinking. It might be a ‘Scratch’ robotics assignment where you’re helping a dog find a bone in the maze. Or, if the children are a little older, they might learn some of the fundamentals of coding in Python.
Even the psychological and teamwork items are age-appropriate. We start out with respecting other people, allowing other people to talk… Then we go on to encourage focusing on ideas and not the people and teaching kids how to do active communication and so on.
The earlier they acquire these skills, the faster and more advanced is the learning. If a student learns how to communicate as part of a team at age eight, then maybe they can learn how to have a constructive conflict by age 10, and at 14 they could be showing signs of leadership. The point is, in today’s educational system, we’re not focusing on teaching these skills to our children at all. But if we expose them to those skills and give them the experiences to actually try and master them, it turns out you can start as young as eight years old.
Q: What does the future hold for Nobel Coaching & Tutoring and Nobel Explorers?
A: For Nobel Coaching & Tutoring, we’re currently working on expanding our coaching team but also on expanding the domains in which we coach. So we currently offer academic coaching for students young as six, but with a high focus on academics. We also have life coaching, where we help people with their choices in life and adjusting to change. One thing we’re also looking into is bringing in business coaching to help people create and work in better environments, learn how to handle challenging coworkers or bosses – all with the goal of making work a more pleasant place.
For Nobel Explorers, we’re highly focused on the 8-18 age range and a lot of our classes are very much beginner classes. But for example, we’re also preparing things like a ROS, Gazebo robotics class, where we’re combining machine learning and AI with robots, and we’ll be teaching students to design robots using genetic algorithms. The main idea is that we’ll be helping middle school and high school kids learn things that lots of college students don’t even get to master.
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