Monday, October 8, 2018

The Technological Singularity as a Lesson in World Studies Class by Dr Punita Rice

When I taught 7th grade World Studies, I looked forward to teaching a lesson about the technological singularity at the end of each school year. If you're not familiar, the technological singularity is the term for the idea that technological advances will start coming so fast that we'll reach this moment where everything will start changing so fast we can't even keep up. That moment is usually identified as the moment when “the invention of artificial superintelligence will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization” (More via Wikipedia here. Btw, some folks think this moment -- the singularity -- is really, really near).

Anyway, I used the concept of the singularity -- whether it is near, or only theoretical -- as a frame for having students apply the concepts we had been studying all year: political systems, culture, geography, economics. Throughout the year, we had used those concepts as lenses through which to study specific key events and time periods in history. (If you've ever taught a social studies or language arts class, all of what I'm describing sounds very familiar). And then, at the end of every year, I’d do this lesson based around the theoretical concept of the technological singularity (if you'd like, you can see the lesson here).

And through that lesson, I always found that my students had really, really, learned a lot about the things they were supposed to have learned all year. They were able to take the ideas we had examined all year long (how political systems work, for example), and then apply that knowledge. They were able, even, to come up with ideas for how the singularity might impact, for example, political systems: 

  • They understood that in some political systems, leaders are chosen through voting, and so, some students suggested that the singularity might mean people could vote from home, or vote instantaneously.
  • They knew that a political system's leadership should, ideally, reflect the needs of its people; so, some students imagined that technological advances could enable governments to have greater insights into what people want, which might influence how policy is made. 
  • ...and they came up with many more ideas for how the singularity might impact political systems, and cultures, and geography/settlement patterns, and economics. (By the way, you can read more of the crazy ideas my students came up with for how the singularity might impact the world here. And I’ve thought about some ways the “singularity” might change the role of a teacher -- you can read some of those musings here.)

The point is, by building a lesson around the singularity -- this seemingly unrelated to our course content, and admittedly weird topic -- I was able to give my students a cool learning opportunity. They not only got to demonstrate their creative thinking skills, but they also got to apply knowledge they'd been absorbing all year.

As Doug, the original Weird Teacher writes in this post, "you just gotta find your weird and run with it as hard as you can." Teaching this lesson was one of the ways in which I ran with my weird.

This was a guest post by Dr. Punita Rice. If you liked this post and you’d like to read more content from Punita, you can find some of her recent writing at, or recent blog posts at She's also writing a book, about South Asian American students’ experiences in K-12 settings - you can learn more about it here. She's on Twitter @PunitaRice.

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