Ender’s Game: What can a military training program for 6-year olds teach us?

ender's game book cover

Despite the inherent differences between teaching a university course and training kids to command space fleets in the next alien war, I couldn’t help but find a few transferrable gems of instructional wisdom as I read this eerily-prognostic classic by Orson Scott Card.

  1. Students lose sight of the end goal while playing their learning games.  Help them remember that they’re in your class to prepare for future lives and careers, not to meet a program requirement or to get a grade.  Give them the chance to go farther than their minimum-requirement goals.
  2. Doing stupid stuff, just to see what happens, is a great way to learn.  The learning environment needs to provide some consequence-free (ungraded) opportunities for students to take chances and do something so crazy that it just might work (aka: innovation).  If it fails,  learn why, and how to fix it.
  3. The lack of a safety net forces students to overcome obstacles through their own power.  This one is tricky.  Students need to occasionally feel isolated from helpful individuals who will jump in and save them when they hit a mental block.   The intent isn’t to  motivate through the fear of failure, but to develop students’ understanding that in some cases, their personal ability to choose the right course of action is the only thing that they can rely upon. 
  4. Scaffold.  Removing the safety net is only possible after you have made sure that students have worked their way up to this level of “impossible” challenge.  Remind them that they thought that each of the previous challenges were impossible, but they survived.

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