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Why Every High School Student (and Educator) Should Know About Blockchain

Blockchain is a virtual ledger that stores transactions | Jeremy Williams

In a 2015 TEDx event in Tampa Bay, David Morris said the following:
“Blockchain will do for our money system what the Internet did for information and what the internal combustion engine did for transportation.”

That’s a big statement.
I have been seeing one of friends from my hometown tweeting about #cryptocurrency and #blockchain for a while now. Finally, late one night when I couldn’t sleep I clicked on the hashtag to see what I could learn about his hashtags on twitter.

Not much.
Then, I asked my friend if he could explain it to me. He said something about it being a virtual ledger. I didn’t get what the big fuss was about. It was as clear as mud.

Finally, I found a podcast from the Harvard Business Review’s Ideacast entitled “Blockchain- What You Need to Know”`. In the podcast, I listened to Harvard Business School professor Dr. Karim Lakhani explain and discuss Blockchain and it’s impact on the future.

While I am a principal, I also plan and teach an Entrepreneurship course each day during first period with my business teacher , Mr. Danny and tech teacher, Ms. Andrea. The purpose of the course is to get students familiar with the concept of entrepreneurship, lean startup methodology, and keep them current on what is happening with technology and business, so that they can create their own startups while in high school (or middle school for a few of them).

What is Blockchain?
From what we gathered in class, Blockchain is a virtual ledger that stores transactions. It provides three distinct advantages to current technology: security, efficiency, and speed. Instead of explaining Blockchain myself, I will use the thoughts and words of my brilliant and articulate students.

Security
Phillip, an 11th grade student, described the security of blockchain by saying it’s impossible to hack. He’s nearly correct with this statement. With massive data breaches like Equifax or what happened to Target with their credit cards, once the central hub is comprised, all of the data (and all of us) are comprised as well.

Ismael, an eighth grader, clarifies this further by saying that each record of the transaction lives with each independent user on the blockchain rather than in a central location. This means that for any transaction (a block) to be hacked, each individual user (the chain) must be individually hacked, added Fatima, one of my grade 11 entrepreneurial fellows. Let’s say three million people are on one specific blockchain. For one transaction to be hacked, each of the three million users must be individually hacked. That’s not practical, which is a good thing for cybersecurity.

Efficiency and Speed
Another student, Gowri, described what she learned from Dr. Lakhani in terms of efficiency by stating that blockchain eliminates “the middleman”. In the HBR Ideacast podcast linked above, Dr. Lakhani describes supply chains as an area that could be significantly impacted by blockchain. A blockchain would allow for someone shipping goods to use an automated contract where as soon as a truck arrived at a specific location, funds could be released. It can take a long time to get paid for shipped goods. Blockchain can help with this.

This immediacy of funds and increased efficiency of the settlement process calls into question how many accountants and lawyers we will actually need in the future. Accountants process purchase orders and chase down bills.

Lawyers, as Dr. Lakhani describes them, serve as arbiters of contracts. Blockchains allow these contracts to be automated, so once one contract is established, others can be copied easily.

David Morris, in his TEDx talk, also described how wills could also be significantly impacted by blockchain. With blockchain, when someone is deceased, all property could be transferred through the legal automated contract. As someone who recently watched his father spend nearly 6 months sorting the legal issues that come with a will, I can definitely see the opportunities here for an increased efficiency that many would find useful.

Is Blockchain the future?
I don’t know. With billions of dollars flowing from venture capitalists into blockchain, it sure appears that something big is on the horizon. My students (and many others) seem to think this could be game changing.

Here’s the bigger idea for educators to ponder. I’ve realized that there is so much great technology out there in education today with amazing advancements like Augmented and Virtual Reality. These things are incredible and are changing the way students learn. There’s also great focus (and rightly so) placed on getting kids to be tech savvy as well as skill development like learning to code, programming, and designing apps.

What we cannot forget is how discussing important technological advancements like Blockchain need to be a part of our curriculum. Whether it’s through a technology course, an entrepreneurship fellowship, or economics, our kids need to be aware of what is happening in the world around them. Considering I didn’t know about blockchain until a week ago, and you might not have known about it until now, maybe we all need to be a little more aware of what is happening around us.

If you’re still searching for a reason on why these types of topics are important for kids to learn, let me leave you with the wise words of Phillip, a grade 11 student. He says that Blockchain is a “genius idea which can actually revolutionize the world one day” and that he would “love to be a part of it”. That spark was created by one well structured task and an exposure to something that inspired student curiosity.

As educators, that’s something we’re all capable of doing.

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