Written by Marty Perlmutter
How do you introduce middle school students to something as vast and multifarious as blockchain technology? Where do you begin? And where do you aim to take these bold sojourners on this seething sea of possibilities? Do you start with NFTs (which every adolescent on the planet knows are associated with sports and games)? How about DiFi – digital finance? Who hasn’t heard of Bitcoin, or Ethereum? The experts say the most essential thing of all is the DAO. What is that and why does it matter?
So, again, where do you start? And what is the goal?
If you peruse the literature of academic probes into blockchain technology, what you encounter is wide praise for immutable records as a way to do reliable certification. This is paired with widespread interest in learning how to code. But are these the right goals for Banyan Global Learning? Our curriculum leaders have been probing more than coding skills.
For our fifth through eight grade students, we aim to create a spiraling sequence of lessons that will provide an overview of a vast and rapidly developing landscape. We will present a glimpse of the mechanics at the core of this tech, then engage learners in considering how they can engage in the activities we’ve heard about – creating Non-Fungible Tokens, Initial Coin Offerings, smart contracts, issuance of certificates – with some understanding of the landscape in which this unfolds.
BGL aims to convey a visceral sense of how these innovative expressions of value and mechanisms for replacing centralized authority offer new mechanisms for reliable transaction and recollection. The paradox at the heart of blockchain technology is that it dispenses with trust.
To understand this, it might help to be a middle schooler coming into a world where the biggest players in finance, governance and public safety have failed dramatically in the past decade or so. Spectacularly failed.
Out of the ashes of the recent global fiscal meltdown, a mythic coder conceived a new way to keep records – completely transparently, with powerful encryption, distributed in profusion on machines all over the planet, in a collective record that can never be altered.
To anyone thinking about future creation of value, this must have seemed at the very least intriguing. To game players, NFTs are catnip. To deep thinkers who wonder how stability could ever return to financial systems, this glimmers intriguingly. And to thinkers who wonder how we can escape from the many traps in our world of central banks, central governments, central data records, and private capital blockchain technology and its spawn – NFTs, ICOs, smart contracts, certificates, DAOs — point to a possible New Jerusalem. Here there will at last be the “permanent record” some of us recall as a cudgel poised by high school teachers in our past. This might be the real thing.
Immutable records. Stored transparently with unbreakable encryption. Replicated on machines everywhere. It does sound millennial, doesn’t it?
Whatever this brings in the way of new kinds of experiences, new tools for transactions, new ways of remembering what we’ve done, blockchain technology is bigger than Bitcoin. It’s bigger than all of digital finance (DiFi to the hip). It’s way bigger than NFTs. And what lies beyond all the nifty buzz may be a set of tools and a way of thinking that could become the bedrock of a future society in which governance of every kind shifts.
We will teach the encryption part with interactive games. We will invite students to form autonomous organizations with rules for every kind of transaction. We’ll provide classes with Monopoly money, and invite them to “invest” in existing or entirely new digital coins.
We’ll create certificates for each level of accomplishment in the class, and demonstrate how these certificates would live on the blockchain. We’ll design NFTs, and we might put one or more up on Ethereum. Any NFT will be paired with a smart contract so the creators get enduring recognition, and possibly payment.
In short, we aim to enter these rich and roiling waters, immersing ourselves in the many dimensions of blockchain technology. The least of this will be coding – though we will show what key steps look like in the bit world. That is not our curriculum’s focus. There will be many places to learn how to code for this tech.
BGL aims to create digital citizens with global vision. We cannot know the jobs of the future that will be shaped by the ‘chain. But we can begin to help students experience the style of thinking, and the design sensibility, that will shape that future. And that shared vision of a future these students are bound to build will last longer than any technical hack.