PROCESS POST: Contemplating innovation, homework, practice…and their intersections. An Example. Iteration Three.

A Peek Into Contrasting Homework Assignments

Homework, Option 1

  • In your algebra book, in chapter 7, section 4, do the odd problems. Be sure to show your work. If the assignment takes you longer than 45 minutes of singularly concentrated effort, stop where you are at three-quarters of an hour of working.
  • For social studies, read chapter 12, section 3, and respond to the three “Thought Questions” on page 192.
  • [more like this from your subject-organized classes]

Homework, option 2

[Underlying assumption: the below example is more scaffolded due to the type of academic and school environment that the student learners are used to, and because of the timing of where we are (in the hypothetical scenario) in the traditional school year – early in the cycle. As capacity builds, learners would be less directed and more self-sufficient.]

  • EQ: What is beauty?
  • Observe: As you go through the next 10 days, record in your observation journal instances of your thinking related to our current priority essential question. If appropriate and responsible, take pictures of things you find beautiful and make some notes about why. Ask others what they think, too. Because we are near the beginning of this experience together, I can suggest that the VTR (visible thinking routine) “See, Think, Wonder” might be one way to frame your ethnography notes. Of course, you can devise your own strategy (and you’ll be asked to do this more and more as you practice your Innovators DNA skills); if I, or some other mentor/peer, can help with your observation-strategy plan, let me/them know. Ask questions. We’ll share and review our “Game Plans” and “Gantt Charts” in two days, so we can see various strategies and plans.
  • Question:
    • Record the questions that arise for you as you detail your observations. I don’t want to overly constrain your thinking by suggesting specifics now, but let someone know if you feel yourself in some unresolved struggle about “What kinds of questions should be arising for me?”
    • In relation to your subject-organized classes, tag at least some of your questions by the department name(s) for which those questions seem particularly connected. For example, “What percentage of the population finds this painting beautiful?” might suggest a “Math” tag for a statistics portion of your emerging project.
  • Experiment:
    • Of course, you’ll be experimenting with your observation-strategy plan.
    • Also, use your observation notes to scan for trends and patterns. What hypotheses on beauty seem to emerge for you? Begin to outline – in big-picture terms – the experimental methods you might use to test your hypotheses. If it helps, pretend you are on staff with Myth Busters, like we’ve talked about during our f2f time together.
  • Network & Associate:
    • Suggestion 1 (if needed) – read and comment on the observation-journal entries posted by some of the others in this learning cohort.
    • Suggestion 2 (if needed) – find connections in your independent reading and link to nodes in your learning web on this EQ.
    • Suggestion 3 (if needed) – explore the playlist “6 TED Talks on beauty” and/or listen to the TED Radio Hour episode “What is beauty?
    • What are your suggestions regarding networking and associating with this EQ?

What are your thoughts, reader?


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45 thoughts on “PROCESS POST: Contemplating innovation, homework, practice…and their intersections. An Example. Iteration Three.

  1. Bo,

    Others apologized for commenting a few days after your post. I am a full two + months late. Haha. I came to your blog, because I wanted to revisit some of the learning I did at the Martin Institute a couple years back. This year I have ventured away from the classroom a bit and am starting an educational non-profit, Corpus Callosum, that is using STEAM (arts-infused STEM) projects wrapped in principles of entrepreneurship to inspire people to reengage in their learning. I was out running this morning, when I wondered what Synergy would look like if it were an after school program for kids who might not normally be exposed to that type/quality of learning experience. And, here I am. I would love to get back in touch with you (and Jill, Shelley, and others I’ve met and worked with in the past few years). But since I’m here, I’d like to join in the conversation, if I may.

    It’s pretty clear that Option 2 is preferable. It engages kids in a much richer, intrinsic, and collaborative way than Option 1 does. The question I had immediately after reading your post was, “Why isn’t every teacher offering this type of homework?” I think there are so many reasons – some responsibility falls on the teacher, some on the system they are teaching in, and maybe some on the importance society places on “Option 1” type of teaching/learning. Admittedly, there were many times as a teacher when something much closer to “Option 1″ than
    Option 2” appeared on my board, even though I have a desire to be more engaging and to collaborate across subject areas. I wonder what you and your community thinks about the discrepancy between what teachers know is a better way and what ends up coming across to the students.

    Thanks! I hope to get back (and remain) in touch.


    • Dave,

      No worries about “being late” to this post. There are no tardies here. I just so appreciate you tuning into this discussion. I believe the HW inquiry is a really important and fundamental discussion in this transformational period that schools are living. In fact, I have some hypotheses that HW could be a critical path to accelerated and amplified transformation. HW could quite literally be a positive bridge between “school” and “real life” if HW became more essential-question and Innovator’s-DNA driven. And, as such, it could help push curriculum toward a more curiosity-curated track.

      I do think habit and the “coverage monster” might be the biggest obstacles.

      While I don’t know your context and particulars, yet, I think the Synergy after-school program sounds like a worthwhile experiment and pilot. Often times, such pilots become the embedded curriculum and instruction of the future – within the “core” of the school. Recently, I began to flesh out the Synergy tab on this blog, so I hope that resource can prove helpful to you. And, of course, I’d love to pick up the conversation again. Please get in touch!

      All the best to you on Corpus Callosum!


  2. Pingback: Let Students Assign Their Own Homework | What I Learned Today

  3. Bo et al,
    Happy New Year to all, and I hope you will excuse my delay in responding as well. With my boys home for two weeks, and my husband home for one, I totally disconnected here so that I could totally connect there! I very much enjoyed and will continue to reflect on each response from all of you as everyone had essential thoughts to add to the conversation. Though I won’t comment directly on the content of the homework (which I loved!), I would like to reiterate the barriers that are in place from so many viewpoints: TIME, CULTURE, UNDERSTANDING, TRUST, RISK, and FEAR. These barriers are not only in place for teachers and administrators, but also with students and parents if we are honest with ourselves. The one group I feel would be the most open and the most willing to abandon the barriers are our students– perhaps we should reflect on the openness of youth!
    Where I will beg to differ (or perhaps just shift the lens) is that each of these aspects will ALWAYS be considered barriers, no matter what we are trying to do. Even if we insisted that everyone just keep doing exactly what they were doing, those barriers would come up. So, the optimistic and hopeful approach is to just keep swimming as Dorie reminded Marlin. If these aspects always exist, then we are called to carry on and fail up.
    I am reminded of a folk hymn that was sung at the final chapel and graduation of my last school. It is called Pass It On and says:

    It only takes a spark to get a fire going,
    And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing;
    That’s how it is with God’s Love,
    Once you’ve experienced it,
    Your spread the love to everyone
    You want to pass it on.

    What a wonderous time is spring,
    When all the tress are budding
    The birds begin to sing, the flowers start their blooming;
    That’s how it is with God’s love,
    Once you’ve experienced it.
    You want to sing, it’s fresh like spring,
    You want to pass it on.

    I wish for you my friend
    This happiness that I’ve found;
    You can depend on God
    It matters not where you’re bound,
    I’ll shout it from the mountain top – PRAISE GOD!
    I want the world to know
    The Lord of love has come to me
    I want to pass it on.

    Though this has a clear religious message, I hope you will receive my offer of this as a metaphor for our work in teaching and learning. It does indeed only take a spark to get a fire going, and we should light the spark. Once learners experience the power and purpose of what we are all discussing about as we re-envision schools, they will want to pass it on. The spring of our work is schools and learning transformed. The happiness we all will find (and we all hungrily seek) is serving and inspiring our students to be the learners/people they are meant to be, and rewriting the script of schools will get us there.

    We are blessed to be in a situation where we can share with each other no matter our location or place of employment. We are so much more able to fan the flames from the spark, so let’s pass it on!

    • Sounds like you had a great vacation with family, Angél. That’s so good to hear! Thanks for taking the time to comment and contribute here to this fun discussion and collective thinking about the ways that homework might serve as an accelerant and bridge to the patterns and postures of learning we are discussing in school transformation. Your summations and insights are so helpful to me as I continue to process the voices and points of view here.

  4. Hi Bo and Happy New Year! What a wonderful conversation you have catalyzed here!
    Your 2 examples of “homework” represent for me 2 different stances towards learning.
    In the first example, learning is viewed as reducible into small bits, which can be divided up and consumed in small convenient pieces, like food pellets might be distributed. These bits are very convenient to distribute; everyone gets the same serving and it makes monitoring of consumption a breeze. This type of “homework” is easy in the practical sense but ironically, in the long run it is counterproductive as the consumer (the student) grows to dislike this type of “learning” and eventually shuts down and disengages. This type of homework represents the mono-culture (to borrow one of your metaphors) mindset where we are trying to grow students that are all exactly the same.
    The second example for me, invites the learner into a space that they are allowed to create original space for themselves and as a continuum of themselves. They are asked to see and feel directly and immediately how the learning relates to them as a full and complete human who has both thoughts and emotions. This type of learning ecosystem is not convenient or practical and is harder to establish. Ironically though this type of ecosystem once established is both self-sustaining (as you alluded to) and produces a bounty plentiful and diverse.

    As always, I value and savor the richness of your thinking.

    • Carolyn,

      Thanks so much for your comment and participation in the discussion – I am so grateful for the rich exchange here. It was fascinating and invaluable for me to see what you reflected back and how you characterized the two places on the spectrum with food/nourishment metaphors. As I continue my exploration and investigation on this front, your insights will prove really helpful, as they always do.

      I’m looking for some trends and patterns more closely in the various responses, and I am beginning to build a map of some of the insights. To say that this is helping me develop my own thinking and action plans relative to meaningful, deeper learning would be a great understatement!

      Take care,


  5. Bo and All,

    I think there’s an additional point that I intended to raise, but that I didn’t raise well enough, so here’s a second attempt. Having the school culture to offer this assignment is vital, but there’s an important assumption that I don’t want to gloss over. It’s this: Are we assuming that the majority of teachers at the majority of schools have the instructional techniques, the pedagogical toolbox, to develop this Homework assignment and others like it?

    In the schools and classrooms that I know well, it is vital for teachers to be explicit about the intended learning in every lesson all the time. The magic of a great and unintended discussion is still beautiful to behold. But when students have clear misunderstandings, gaps in their knowledge, or are just years behind where they ought to be, purposeful learning is vital. Now, I think Bo’s assignment is purposeful and explicit learning. But I want to think about how Bo’s teacher learned to develop this assignment. How did she go from the likely traditional Master’s in Teaching Program that she completed however many years ago to understanding the rapidly changing needs of students in her classroom today? And what happened at school or at home to first help her make the philosophical shift to this type of learning, and what specifically did she learn to make the pedagogical shift? While she’s giving this wonderful assignment, what’s happening in the classrooms around her? Are her colleagues giving the Option 1 assignment or did the team collaboratively develop this Option 2 assignment for all students to complete? Did this teacher come to this school with this instructional toolbox firmly established or did the Principal or Lead Teacher at this school help her progress?

    We are the subset of educators who are already reading Bo and Grant’s Blogs. We check out Jill’s tweets, and Holly’s transparent thinking about her English classes. We are immersed in dialogue and PLN thinking. But we don’t represent educators as the whole. We are most definitively, a subset. An ever growing group, with loud voices and great ideas, but we don’t speak for the whole of teachers, principals, and everyone in between. When I read Bo’s Option 2, I thought it was wonderful. My main question to me and all of you is not about culture. It’s about instructional practices. Do you think everyone knows how to develop Option 2? My teachers do not. But I’m quite sure they aren’t in the minority. Being explicit about the intended learning is hard to do. And harder to do creatively. And even harder to do when the intended learning is skill based and the content is simply the vehicle to learn the intended skill.

    I don’t know about all of you, but I’m not comfortable if Bo’s teacher is the only one in the school offering up Option 2 and everyone else is doing Option 1. In the types of schools I’m in, that means teaching teachers how to develop and use new instructional practices they’ve never used before. What does it mean in your schools?

    Thanks again for the great discussion.


    • Eric,

      When people are allowed and encouraged to flourish, but haven’t in a long time, it can be difficult to do so again. The jump from the Masters in Teaching Program to an assignment like Bo’s may lie in the luxury of pausing and thinking, reflection & mindfulness. In that space, educators are free to roam and explore. When also encouraged to collaborate, learn, and teach each other, you can distribute the responsibility for changing the school culture to the various educators. It increases ownership of the school, and decreases hostility. I imagine PD changing to a potluck party, but only one teacher brings their “dish” to the PD party at a time. Kinda like what Bo is doing here: He thought of something; he shared it; we are discussing it, and we are all learning too. In this way, Bo has gifted us all with the very example of what you seek.


      Dr. Lee-Anne Gray

    • Eric, Bo and all,
      Thanks for raising all the points you did in your recent response, Eric. From a teacher’s perspective, I think you hit the nail on the head when you write: “I don’t know about all of you, but I’m not comfortable if Bo’s teacher is the only one in the school offering up Option 2 and everyone else is doing Option 1.” YES! I think we’re all in agreement there. You go on to say that means “teaching teachers” these kind of instructional strategies, and again, I agree.

      You do leave out one key component: Who is doing that teaching?

      I think it needs to be the teachers that are able to facilitate this type of deliberate learning. One assumption I think you make is that there aren’t enough of these types of teachers who can lead that change. And I will politely disagree. Just because there aren’t more teachers reading Bo and Grant’s blogs or following Jill and Holly’s intentional, thoughtful and purposeful planning and execution, doesn’t mean these Teacher Leaders don’t exist. I know many, like myself, who are not connected to the blogosphere or have tweeted less than 200 times (yes, that’s me!), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more teachers who happen to be “virtually unconnected” and are busting their butts to transform school and carry out the vision that matches what Bo and Grant and many others are advocating for on a large scale. I can name several teachers who fall in that category, and would be thrilled to be part of this conversation. I think there is one key barrier that is “silencing” more of these teachers, and preventing change from happening more rapidly and that is TIME.

      It is not a coincidence that this conversation Bo spurred on his blog happened over Christmas break. We had time—teachers and administrators alike—to have this conversation and to really think about and formulate our thoughts. I know I rarely have the time I would want to work with others in my own school, never mind collaborate with educators from other schools. What would happen if teachers had more time to do this type of thinking, collaborating, and research within the school day? What would happen if teachers could visit other schools, and attend and present at conferences without the pressure of finding a sub and making lesson plans? What if administrative efforts were streamlined by having Teacher Leaders actually lead the faculty deliberately on this massive pedagogical shift in thinking? What if schools placed more value and leaned more heavily on the teachers who could carry on this work?

      As teachers, we haven’t been given the opportunity to make changes beyond our own classrooms…so when that happens, then maybe, we can talk more about which teachers have the desire and initiative to carry this plan out and which ones don’t. I think (focusing on the bright spots, maybe?) there are more of us out there than we believe.

  6. Hi Mr. Adams,

    When you posted the first iteration of this process post on Homework, I remarked to myself that if students couldn’t find something to observe on their own each week, there could be a big question/theme pulled from their class work in various subjects that they could work on “for HW” if they didn’t have anything to observe/question/associate/experiment that way they would still get the cognitive workout/practice (which is a good skill to cultivate). I really like that the essential question in your example is broad but not all encompassing. I think given that most students are not used to this kind of analytical thinking or this open-ended type of homework assignment, it helps to give them a little structure.

    I remember in Synergy, when we had our ongoing observation journals, that at times the observations were solid and deep but often, the observations were simple and on the surface, done quickly in order to have completed the assignment. With that in mind, I think this is a rather lengthy and in depth assignment to be given on the same EQ more than once. I think giving a few days for students to purposefully consider all the components and then dedicating class time for however long it takes for their experiments and interests to play out might avoid both the boredom that comes from an assignment that goes on too long and the annoyance that can arise when students feel rushed on a project.

    I really like the whole idea of a critical thinking exercise for homework, especially the piece at the end that that asks them to form exterior connections. When I saw Network in the first iteration, I thought it was a little bit of a stretch maybe for people my age and younger. I like the idea of associations more because I think it’s more accessible and easier to visualize than networking with ideas. I remember reading somewhere that the more connections you make regarding a certain piece of information, the more it sticks. So I think having the associate piece as a sort of wrap up is a powerful ending to a really thought-provoking homework assignment.


    • Tara,

      Thank you for your comment! There is so much that I will take time to digest and learn from your contributions here. And I am so grateful that a Synergist got into the discussion. Merci beaucoup! M’etudiant est mon professeur!

      I am chewing a lot on:

      “they would still get the cognitive workout/practice (which is a good skill to cultivate). I really like that the essential question in your example is broad but not all encompassing. I think given that most students are not used to this kind of analytical thinking or this open-ended type of homework assignment, it helps to give them a little structure.”

      For my initial purposes, you hit the proverbial nail on the head. If we consider just how much HW a student learner encounters in his/her user experience, then we must do a better job of counteracting that folks, in your opinion – and I agree, don’t have much practice yet with this type of “assignment.” And, yet, this is exactly the kind of “assignment” that we give ourselves from age 2 to 102 when we become curious about something and want to learn more. Oh, how to invite people to engage with more of this kind of “homework!”

      What, in your opinion, makes an assignment not boring? And please go beyond the surface by even reimagining what the connotations of “assignment” are when we think beyond the mental confines of the school definition. If you can make time.

      Bon voyage et felicitations sur votre explorations! A teut a l’heure.

      Mr. A

  7. Hi Bo,

    I’m really late to this party, and it may have cleared out by now. I’ve been on email hiatus for the past week, attempting to recharge the batteries. Fortunately, your post lit a little spark.

    I love this EQ: what is beauty? I imagine students sharing very divergent expressions of beauty, some of which they may not be able to defend through language. For this reason, I think this question gets to the heart of diversity because it helps students recognize the personal nature of what is aesthetically pleasing, but as the topic is so benignly positive, I suspect that it will allow them entry into conversation and hopefully insight without the usual entrenchment into known positions, as EQs like “is war an inevitable part of man’s history and future?” tend to do.

    My only worry/suggestion/caveat is that today’s (as in every kid who has endured our form of education) needs practice before jumping into this type of “exploration.”

    In graduate school at UConn, we were required to take a course titled “Creativity,” the most unusual course I’ve ever taken. We had a textbook, Davis’ “Creativity is Forever,” but we used it sparingly although the professor encouraged its reading. The primary focus of the class was to help us develop our own self-actualized creativity, which for many of us lies dormant, and to move away from an understanding of creativity exclusively as a special talent. The goal was to live and think creatively, and to see this way of processing the world around us as a prerequisite for problem finding and solving. It’s kind of like thinking about physical fitness as a requisite for optimum performance in an athletic competition.

    We learned that creative inspiration often comes from analogical thinking. (James Watt’s steam engine was inspired by the jangling lid of his mother’s tea kettle. Eli Whitney developed the cotton gin after watching a cat try to catch a chicken through a fence. The chicken escaped and left the cat only a bunch of feathers tangled in the wire.)We were constantly asked to exercise our mind through divergent and analogical thinking tasks. For instance, in one exercise we received two cards with completely disparate topics and in a limited period of time, we had to come up with a cartoon intermingling the two. I pulled “George W. Bush and the Iraq War” on one card and “circus (clowns, elephants, lions, trapeze artists, jugglers)” on the other. I drew GW Bush as a circus ringleader followed by a herd of elephants in line at a Pottery Barn store, trying to return a broken vase in the shape of Iraq, with the store manager explaining, “Your know our rules.”

    Anyway, you get the drift of the course. It was all about trying to get us to see connections and new insights and to break down our old habits of thinking.

    That’s what I love about your question, “what is beauty?” The assignment itself challenges our habits of teaching and hopefully the students’ answers will provide new insights into why this question matters and what each of our answers tell us about ourselves.
    It made me think about how students might answer, “what is ugliness?” I’m going to play around with this assignment for my seniors’ reading of Catcher in the Rye, a book the class chose to read over break. I wonder how they’d answer, “what causes apathy?”

    These types of questions lend themselves easily to the study of literature and history, but I “wonder if it is/ wish it were” possible to make these assignments more intriguing to math and science teachers. You offered the suggestion of tagging questions associated with discrete subjects: “What percentage of the population finds this painting beautiful?” But I suspect math teachers preparing students for Calculus are looking for a bit more. I don’t mean to suggest the champagne is flat. It isn’t. I just worry on two fronts: I’m personally finding that my math and science colleagues are not as enamored with assignments such as these (thank you, John and Jill, for proving the exception) and my students and their parents are still very anxious about ensuring that we are preparing students for college and for the assessments valued by colleges. As an AP teacher and a SAT/ACT tutor, I want to ensure that my students are well prepared to succeed on these exams. Would I abolish these exams? Heck yeah. But until that time, I’m working hard to serve two masters.

    I know many people intent on invigorating education might argue that we’ve got to stop teaching to these tests, that we’re wasting the students’ time and energy. I disagree. I remember when I was growing up in Delaware during the movement to desegregate the public schools. Many students – both black and white – were forced to travel substantial distances away from their local schools and communities in order to redress the problem of racial segregation. While my liberal family sympathized with this position, my parents also did not support forced busing; they wanted to be able to attend our sporting events without traveling an hour, and they wanted us to go to school with neighborhood friends whom we could play with in the afternoon. Nevertheless, I can remember many supporters of mandatory busing stating that a generation of students would have to suffer in order to right this wrong.

    I use this analogy because I wonder if there is a way to bridge the shift from traditional education to student-centered education without sacrificing students’ preparedness to succeed on these aptitude exams until the day when these exams don’t matter any more.

    As always, thank you for challenging all of us to think how we can make a difference in our students’ lives. I am grateful this new year that I am a teacher at such an exciting time!


    • Hi Holly! Welcome back:) It seems the party is still going, so don’t you worry. Can’t wait to catch up in person on Monday. I just wanted to write about your comment as it pertains to Catcher (as you know, I had my kids read it over break as well). This post also inspired me to do some work to incorporate this type of Exploration as well; although, I wasn’t thinking of using apathy as the entry point…I’d love to hear about what you are planning/thinking. I’ll send along what I come up with when I get it out of my head and onto a doc (Bo, I can share it with you, since you were the ultimate inspiration).

      oh, and according to my daughter, all that makes a party is a “party napkin,” which we could easily make happen.


      • Hey Meg,

        Focusing on apathy sounds pretty bleak, but re-reading Catcher made me think about why Holden is so down, why he can’t play the game along with everyone else. Having attended a Jay-Z concert and watched Wolf on Wall Street over break, I know what it’s like not to get it. The emphasis on unbridled materialism in both left me empty. Fortunately, my inner circle has different values; I’m not alone.

        But Holden is, and I wondered if that made a difference. If you look at Life magazines from 1952, year of publication, (available for free btw on Google books) you’ll witness how disjointed his experience must be. The articles and accompanying photos chronicle war and its aftermath, the threat of nuclear holocaust, and political dissension, but the advertisements reflect a fantasy world of beautiful homemakers in pearls and heels thrilled at the time-saving convenience of a dishwasher. The juxtaposition is disconcerting. Is that what he’s feeling?

        Anyway, many of my students in the past have struggled to “get” Holden. His problems aren’t their problems. They want him to get his act together. They want him to play school and life like the rest of his classmates. I wonder if they can’t empathize with him, which led me to the question of apathy. They get apathy; we talk about that a lot. I wonder if they just don’t get the cause of Holden’s. A number of my students in their “other” project chose apathetic students to interview, unable to imagine why someone wouldn’t share their goals or follow the “rules” that lead to success.

        To me, the novel offers an interesting opportunity to examine why some kids care and some don’t; some buy into what education offers and some don’t; some recognize hypocrisy and want to channel it, laugh at it, or expose it and some just want to escape. There’s nothing that makes a teacher crazier than apathy, and yet some of the brightest kids I’ve taught were unbearably apathetic. What causes that? Nature, nurture, school, friends?

        My AP kids are reading this book. They’re seniors – bright but burnt out. They want to be prepared for the test, urge me to focus on the test, but are bored by school. It’s a challenge that I’d love some help with. What’s your plan?

        Honestly, my kids are just grateful I didn’t make them read Emma, one of the books on their syllabus. Reading it this summer helped me understand how it must feel to read an assigned book you have no interest in.

        Can’t wait to catch up!


      • THANK YOU, Meg and Holly, for carrying on a wonderful conversation here in these comments. Whereas a convo like this would normally happen via email or common-planning time, you’ve shared this thinking and collaborating in public, as if I am not even here. And I truly LOVE that! Thank you!!!

    • Holly,

      Happy New Year! I, too, am grateful that you and I are educators in such an exciting time. #Amen!

      THANK YOU for coming to “the party” – for even seeing it as a party! Your comments and stories and suggestions are invaluable to my continued thinking and influence/action development in this critical area of learner engagement and “ownership.” You’ve given me much to reflect on and ponder, and I will do so! For now, a teaser of where my head (and hands) are going to go…

      You wrote:
      “I use this analogy because I wonder if there is a way to bridge the shift from traditional education to student-centered education without sacrificing students’ preparedness to succeed on these aptitude exams until the day when these exams don’t matter any more.”

      And Eric provided profound questioning and guidance about the preparatory efforts that must go into a culture shift like the one that many of you interpreted here.

      So, here’s the teaser to my iterative thinking — homework might very well be that fundamental bridge…the HOW (at least a piece of the HOW) that gets us closer and closer to the WHAT many of us are envisioning and advocating for. That’s what this investigation and provocation has really been about for me – utilizing the construct of HW to actually nudge the transformation that many of us are working towards. Well, more on that thinking and action later.

      THANK YOU!


    • Holly,
      I’ve just read all the posts on Bo’s blog and they are all thought-provoking and worthy of further discussion. For now I just want to comment on what you discussed. The class, “Creativity,” you took at UConn sounds like what we need and what many of us long for at Mount Vernon. I always wonder how we can possibly give something we don’t have ourselves. I strive for growth as a teacher and learner so I grow. However, I want my growth accelerated. I am not very patient with myself.

      What I am very happy about is that I am witnessing and experiencing the cultural shift in education at Mount Vernon. Because of our school leaders and many of our teachers, I feel so blessed to be a part of a school that not only supports the change but encourages it. “Failure” is not seen as a negative; it is accepted as part of the learning process for our students and teachers.

      It’s commendable that so many upper school teachers are taking chances and teaching outside the box since the stakes (scores on AP exams and the SAT) are high. I know the tension between more innovative teaching and learning and preparing students for exams is always there. When you mentioned the forced busing issue and how supporters said “a generation of students would have to suffer to right this things,” were you suggesting that this generation of students are going to have to suffer in order for the current shift in education to take place? Just curious. I guess a good essential question for this one could be, “What is suffering?”

      I appreciate your insight (and Bo’s post, of course)

  8. Hi Bo,

    First, I’m in total agreement with you regarding the direction we want learning to go. Nothing frustrates me more than, asking students to complete problems 1-50 odd. I love the concept you are developing here. I’m a big sports fan, and I love the beauty of the finished product; the long pass in a football game, the precision of a defense working together in basketball, the beauty of a goal developing in soccer. Those opportunities developed because of the time effort and energy the coaches and players put in before the game itself. As I read your post, I wondered about the hours, weeks, and months leading up to the teacher delivering this assignment to students. What conditions have to be in place for the students to view this assignment as worthwhile and meaningful learning? What conditions have to be in place for the teacher to feel comfortable giving this assignment instead of the more traditional Option 1 assignment? What role has the principal/head of school played to develop this learning culture? How do parents feel about this learning task? Do they value it? Do they question it? What’s been put in place for parents to understand the why of an assignment like this?

    I’m also wondering about the schools and students experiencing this assignment. Can this assignment be universally assigned? There are a myriad types of schools between my inner city high school and your independent school. How many could assign this task next week? And more importantly, for those of us that can’t yet, what needs to be in place for the principal and teachers to move towards option 2? As I read your piece, I tried to imagine the students I have interacted with and currently interact with. Could we give this assignment to an English Language Learner who is a new arrival to our country? This student is at grade level but doesn’t speak English. Could this type of assignment be successful in his classroom? Or what about the English Language Learner with an interrupted education. What if she is a new arrival to the country and hasn’t attended any school for four years? How about a student reading three to five years below grade level? Or students who believe compliance, school and learning are all synonyms? What about in standardized test-focused schools and districts? How about with hungry and angry kids who have never learned the benefits of school? Can we give them this assignment?

    I love the assignment itself. And while students in my school are perfectly capable of doing this assignment and learning from it, the majority of my students would tell this teacher that she is “doing school wrong.” They have learned that teachers want to be retold the explicit content that has been delivered to the students. This retelling ought to occur in as compliant a way as possible, usually via worksheet, but sometimes through a multiple choice test. They don’t know what thinking and problem solving really looks like and they certainly don’t know how an assignment like this links to learning in school as they have experienced it. I have one math teacher who values process over product. He cares about the students’ mathematical thinking and process and almost never cares about getting the right answer. Every week, at least one student and one parent, and most of the time both a student and a parent, come to me to tell me my teacher is doing school wrong. How do we help students, teachers and parents to understand that this assignment is what learning ought to look like?

    If my school represents one end of the spectrum and your wonderful school represents the other, there’s a whole lot of schools between us. I’m sold on the task you’ve created, but I want to hear about the scaffolding, the work, the culture building, and the practice that occurred before this teacher walked into her classroom and delivered this task to her students. That pre-work is where the action is for me. There’s no question this outcome is where we want to go, but do we have to ignore standardized tests, common core standards, and academic content to get there? I don’t think so. I think, as the other commenters have already pointed out, we can look at this task through the lens of science and math or english and social studies. We can have any outcome we want based upon the needs of our students. But do most teachers know how to develop this task? Do most principals know how to support teachers who want to develop this task?

    I think you and I think similarly about what school ought to look and feel like. My challenge continues to be how to grow a school that doesn’t look like this at all into one that looks just like this. So, what do you think? What happened before the teacher walked into the classroom?

    Thanks for getting me thinking. Vacation is ending-time to wake up my brain.

    All my best,


    • Eric,

      Your comment is extraordinary. Thank you. I’ll be thinking. For now, know that I agree with you about all of the time, ground work and culture setting that has to happen. I’ve lived that culture resetting in some places, albeit different than your exact setting. Your questions are exactly why I longed for your voice here, and I do want to think-and-work this with you.


    • Hi Eric, and Bo too! 😉

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts; diverse and grounded in a reality I know well. At the risk of oversimplifying, changing the culture of a school requires 2 things: Firstly, at least one person must hold a clear vision in his/her heart, no matter what! It will likely take a lot of time for others to apprehend the vision. See 21 Toys for an illustration of the challenges associated with connecting others to one’s vision. Secondly, any changes in system or process that reflect the vision, must be celebrated as a micro success. The road to change can be long, even tedious at times; celebrating the small stuff creates endurance. From the little I can see you are emblematic of this method; literally holding the space for your school to become the one you know it can and should be. Hoping you are also celebrating micro-successes everyday!

      Kind regards,

      Dr. Lee-Anne Gray

  9. Pingback: Do You Have Discussions Like This At Your School? | The Learning Pond

  10. Hi Bo,

    Thanks for sharing your thinking about HW and welcoming feedback. Your assignment caught my attention for several reasons; the analysis of beauty is very intriguing, and the methods for analyzing it welcome depth and independent skill building. I am using the assignment as part in school and part HW. We began with a discussion about Beauty. A journal was dedicated to the project and we watched one of the TEDx talks together. Ss came up with the science experiment part all on their own: photograph the changing sky every 2 hours to learn about the variations of beauty in the sky over time. From here, Ss were inspired to create a multi-media project reflecting beauty in nature. The latter 2 were entirely student driven. My sense is the project will last longer than 10 days and be more collaborative than independent as HW typically is. My setting is very non-traditional so we do school differently. 😉

    Happy New Year!
    Dr. Lee-Anne Gray

    • Love this news and update on how you’re using this with student learners, Lee-Anne. Thank you.

      Assignments like this were our standard in Synergy, although this is a bit more scaffolded (I learned from experience, as you could tell in Jill’s comment). The outcomes and products and real-world impact were profound and exciting. I hope you’ll keep me updated as things progress.

      Happy New Year!

  11. Bo- thanks first off for sharing this post with me. I not only enjoy the opportunity to explore your thinking with you but also relish the Medici nature of hearing from the variety of perspectives that Chris, Jill, Meg, Steve, John, Dave, and countless others have provided thus far (and that countless others will surely provide in the future).

    So on to my own personal response:

    I love the idea of this ‘homework’ assignment. In fact, I may well end up engaging in the task today on this morning before the new year begins- it provides a chance for me to reflect on the world that surrounds me and prepare for the excitement and challenges that lie ahead in 2014. I think it’s safe to say that if left to my own devices, my interest in engaging in Option #1 is limited (though I’d surely complete the task if it were assigned to me, and would likely learn something, but only because I hate doing things that I’m not learning from and tend to change the assignment to serve that purpose).

    Moving on from my personal interest in engaging in the task, I also admire the “EQ-Observe-Question-Experiment-Network & Associate” design that you have developed based on the Innovator’s DNA. The model promotes the concept of developing design thinking while mirroring some of the lesson design aspects that I most value in inquiry instruction. When I read it, it seems to be aligned to the 5E’s model often promoted in science instruction (albeit not in a 1:1 correspondence):
    * EQ / Observe = Engage
    * Observe / Question / Experiment = Explore
    * Question / Experiment = Explain
    * Network & Associate = Elaborate
    * Network & Associate = Evaluate

    I love how the framework allows students to evaluate their own thinking throughout the process, specifically over the course of the Network & Associate section. Often, the “Evaluate” stage of the 5Es is misinterpreted as a teacher activity (“Now, I must evaluate your thinking”) as opposed to a student activity (“Now, I must evaluate MY thinking”). I like how Network & Associate encourages students to continue to challenge their own thinking from a variety of perspectives.

    Within the framework, I would wonder how to incorporate something in the EQ (Engage) section that would ensure that students can see the purpose of this exploration. People like me would LOVE it, but largely because I identify my own purpose in everything I do. What if students were asked to do a little personal response up front? Example: “This question is important to me because…” Nothing too leading, just enough for those who think more concretely to see themselves in the process they are being asked to engage in.

    From a “post composition” standpoint, I love having the competing examples, though I’m not sure that juxtaposing Option #1 & Option #2 is an “apples to apples” comparison (at least with the algebra one). The social studies Option #1 of “read & answer the questions” may well target the same learning objective if the “Thought Questions” ask the reader to consider the author’s view of ‘beauty’ (or even their own in reference to the reading), and seems more akin to the target of Option #2. The algebra example instead seemed more like it would be intended to develop a student’s computation & estimation skills from a number/number sense perspective, or (more likely) their problem-solving skills while following the ‘rules’ of that govern math in order to ‘solve for x.’

    This tension between the ‘problem-solving’ target of Option #1 & the ‘aesthetic’ target of Option #2 made me want to change one of them so as to help them be more aligned in my head. It made me wonder, “What if Option #2 targeted problem-solving instead? What might it look like?” Here’s a quick brainstorm on the idea – I’ve done limited analysis for its quality so far, so certainly take it for what it’s worth:

    EQ: How do we solve challenging problems?
    Observe: As you go through the next 10 days, record in your observation journal instances of your thinking related to our current priority essential question. If appropriate and responsible, take notes / pictures of problems / challenges you encounter and make some notes about what was done in order to solve them…

    Question, Experiment, and Network & Associate seem like they would be similar in nature, although the sample resources like TED Talks might be more focused on interesting solutions to challenging problems. Just an idea in order to bring alignment to the examples, given that some folks are more ‘concrete’ in their thinking and look less at the overall structure, and might thereby give less credence to Option #2 solely based on how it is represented.

    Also, like Chris’ post before me, I wonder about the “learning target” of the Beauty assignment and its alignment to the goals of the course within which it is assigned. I certainly think it’s an important concept to explore, though I would hope that teachers would consider the context of their course / subject prior to assigning it. The goal I would hope teachers would strive for is an AND moment: How do I help students develop design thinking by using a lesson design like this AND help students develop their knowledge & skills in the context of this class? Exploring that intersection could lead to some incredible experiences for students.

    Just noticing that this comment has taken on a post of its own, so I’ll tie it off for now. 🙂 Thanks again for sharing your thinking, and for encouraging all of us to think about it with you.

    • Tony,

      Thank you! What great perspective consciousness you have offered to me and the readers/commenters here in this discussion. You point out a number of different possible interpretations, and all are important in crafting the learning progressions for a community of learners. Thank you.

      I love your extensions with the 5Es and the riff on the assignment in the spirit of comparing apples to apples. All of this feedback and improvisational, collaborative playing is truly invaluable to my developing thinking and acting as an educator.

      The tension for me in the two options – and why I set up such an intentional juxtaposition (and I personally believe it is an apples-to-apples comparison relative to what millions of students get assigned for homework on a daily basis) – is that I desperately want student learners to have more opportunity to be explorers of big ideas. In ways that honor what we know from the last 20 years of research in human learning and brain-based education. In ways that honor the bedrock of curiosity and self-initiated engagement for the persistent grit of learning something that has more real-life tentacles for capturing the natural integration of things. I want us to get serious about innovation and practice more of what we know to be at the heart of innovative practice – observing, questioning, experimenting, networking, and associating. If we can do that – and inspire awe – with millions of assignments of Option #1, then so be it.

      I questions strongly if we can do so. Even if the Thought Questions on page 192 are deep and provocative.

      For me, the essence of this whole investigation lies more in your most recent reply to Meg.

      If we want student learners to develop deeper map-making skills, metaphorically speaking, then we have to make more room for them to explore and make maps. Not just read other people’s maps.

      We have to make room.

      Thank you so much for your contributions and wisdoms here. I am deeply grateful.

      I cherish how our circle of investigating here in the last 36 hours stands as a meta-example in this whole thing of how “school” could be structured – at least re-balanced in some ways. We’ve been modeling the five innovation skills, and I believe strongly that student learners can do likewise. Maybe better.

      If we just made more room for them to explore.

      • Thanks for the reply, Bo- happy to help, as I also appreciate how much learning has come in such a short time for each of us, from each of us, because of all of us. Powerful stuff, and an uplifting way to end 2013!

        I’ll probably end up replying again in more detail at some point soon, though in the immediate this quote struck me with something I wanted to share:

        “If we want student learners to develop deeper map-making skills, metaphorically speaking, then we have to make more room for them to explore and make maps. Not just read other people’s maps. We need to make room.”

        At the risk of sounding self-promotional, that quote reminded me of this post: Wanted to put it here in the Pensieve as part of our continued learning conversation before I forgot.

        Can’t wait to continue learning with you- though I’ll have to for a little bit, as New Year’s Eve festivities will soon be calling! 🙂

  12. Bo,
    I believe that your Homework Option 2 is a springboard for any class (EC-Grade 12) through the lens of the learner and teacher/mentor. The essential question , What is beauty?, can be incorporated in a literature class through the pictures an author paints with her words … figurative language, a character’s words, resolution of a conflict, theme, even vocabulary words in the context of the book. The list could be endless. While students have done the “legwork” (reading and peeling away the layers) during class time , homework could be taking pictures of the essence of those key ideas in literature. Many Harvard Visible Thinking Routines come to mind as a tool; Claim Support Question, Peel the Fruit, Headlines,3,2,1 Bridge, Question Starts to name a view. Each presentation could have the Ladder of Feedback review. Integrating what the students already know and having them make their learning visible is huge. The design thinking process can be woven into this homework assignment as well. YAY and YAY!
    Thank you for your weekly post, it always stirs my thinking and sparks my imagination.
    Happy New Year! alice

    • Alice, your contributed calibration about the relative “universality” of appropriateness of an assignment like this is so helpful. I certainly see it as something – in general – that could be used with any age group and any subject-area (in traditional school organization), and it’s helpful to learn that you see it similarly. That perspective is so appreciated.

      Your suggestions about specific ways into more visible thinking and assessment are highly valued.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and remark! I’m so grateful to learn alongside you. Happy New Year!

  13. Howdy, Bo – Happy Holidays! Your post has encouraged me to think and reflect today…I appreciate you for sharing!!

    If I’m following the assignment correctly, then in two days I’ll share reflections from my observation journal that may include pictures, ‘notes about why’, engagement w/ see-think-wonder protocol, questions that arise, tags to core subject areas, plus other possibilities that I devise. Over days 2-10, I’d take feedback from mentors and peers to improve my observation-strategy plan, note emerging trends/patterns (from outside reading, from my learning network) that might frame hypotheses, and begin to outline experimental method(s) I’d devise to test a selected hypothesis… Does that sound about right?

    What a novel way to encourage students to engage, develop skills connected to creative confidence, and direct their own learning… I love it, Bo – I wish I were in the classroom with you! (and yes, this is too far outside current norms in our profession… I enjoy reading about ways that you encourage students AND teachers to stretch their thinking about what’s possible in our classrooms.

    I like your efforts to develop balance between: 1) scaffolding expectations for students who are anchored in mindset of ‘traditional school’ and 2) encouraging more confident, emergent self-directed learners to engage their creative sense of ‘how might we.’ I like the ways that your design will resonate with students who are at different stages of process of re-capturing (?) ownership over their own learning. I see this effort at healthy balance as a theme that runs through observe, question, experiment, and network & collaborate segments of the assignment… well done, sir!

    I wonder if it’s possible to bring students’ voices into the instructional design process even earlier – could students participate in or even strive for ownership of question formation process? Perhaps this is the intent down the line (after you’ve modeled the process in the early-semester iteration described here). Is it plausible even at this stage, perhaps, for small learning teams to engage in QuestionStorming (Gregersen and Christensen) and maybe a bit of reading with intent to create their own driving question? Maybe extending balanced scaffold theme might open the possibility of selecting “What is Beauty?” or designing equivalent EQ with a team?

    Several colleagues in my PLN have been talking lately whether it’s possible to push constructivist perspective too far… especially for younger students, they see need for teachers to create models of instruction that build connections to others’ ways of thinking, too – even as we encourage students to create, design, innovate themselves. (I hope this is more nuanced than content vs. skills.) In this assignment, for example, I wonder if teacher might also serve as curator – how might we encourage students to experience Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant, et al. on definitions of beauty as well as create their own?

    I wonder if you’ll plan to “model the way” and follow these steps along with your students? It seems you’ve created a wonderful opportunity to shift the role of the teacher –> I see teacher as designer and facilitator here – with possibilities to ‘walk-the-walk’ as co-learner, too.

    Thanks again, Bo – it’s so meaningful to connect, engage, and share with you!

    • Thanks, Dave. With your curiosities and pursuits in helping shift schooling to more learner-owned experiences, I knew you were a good one to ping for targeted reflection on this thinking. Above all else, I appreciate your nod to “different stages of process of re-capturing (?) ownership over their own learning.” Therein lies the heart of my current investigations.

      Your sounding-board points and mirrored reflections are so incredibly helpful! Your capture of the interpretation you have of the expected “To Do’s” is definitely one way that I think this could play out for certain participants in this kind of “assignment.” Of course, it could end up playing differently for different characters in the story – that would be best revealed from windows into the interstitial spaces (called “classes,” I guess) that would happen between the explorations spurred by this “Homework.” Based on my experience with Synergy, I could say that the products and outcomes could look slightly to considerably different for various learners as this work took its emerging routes and courses with diverse folks.

      Your comments and suggestions about student voice in instructional design and constructivism are also very provocative and appreciated. I wish we could quickly and easily organize a “flash-mob” class of the people here in this blog-post discussion to explore avenues like these you suggest with all kinds of in-person collaboration and co-thinking.

      You’ve given me so much to fuel my continued travels on my investigative path, Dave. Thank you!

  14. Bo,
    Like Jill and Steve, I found this fascinating. I think this would be particularly interesting to try in a math class (something most kids never associate with beauty). It reminds me of another assignment I found interesting, My Favorite Math. Of course, the goal should be bigger, and to get students to see connections between beauty in math, art, literature and more.

    I decided to see what some students might think of this assignment, so I shared it with my classes and a few students in particular. I’ll let you know if any of them decide to follow up on it, and I’ll keep churning it around in my head for how I might adapt an assignment like this for my own classes.

    • John, thanks for the feedback, especially when I know you were in the car all afternoon traveling with family!

      I appreciate your reflections and feedback – as always, they will help me think further.

      I am very interested to hear what your students might say. Thanks for sharing it in that way. I did similarly with some students that I think very highly of – Jack Andraka and Brittany Wenger.

  15. Hi Bo (and Chris and Jill and Meg),

    First of all, Bo, this is great! I of course like #2 much better than #1, for lots of reasons. I agree with Jill that the pendulum should swing towards #2.

    I happened to read your blog on an airplane — and on a basic level it’s “beautiful” to be in the “A” boarding group on Southwest airlines. I realize of course that this assignment aims at deeper issues and definitions of beauty, but one thought that occurs to me is that it might help to articulate the goals of the assignment a bit more.

    I think students want to know up front “why are we doing this?” Maybe it’s self-evident, but maybe not.

    In this case, why are we exploring the EQ “what is beauty?”

    I recognize that articulating some of your goals might be constraining — students might focus in on those goals — but it could also lead to a student asking a clarifying question (“aren’t we also learning xyz?”) that expands the scope of the assignment. If you set the right tone — and I’m sure you will — there could be a robust meta-discussion about why you’re doing this. Worth thinking about…

    As Chris eloquently points out above, I’d like a bit more context about where the assignment fits. And I also wonder what end product, if any, the students would create at the end of the 10 days.

    And I also wonder how this assignment would be graded… and what age students it’s aimed at.

    I second Chris here, and I want to know “How [does] the contemplation and exploration of current conceptions of ‘Beauty,’ without a historical comparison and/or contemporary objective correlative, foster a concrete exercise in design thinking?”

    Let me try to address this assignment myself for a few moments —

    When I think of beauty I often think of elegance and grace. There’s superficial beauty, of course — the supermarket magazines are full of that sort of thing. And there’s the quick-lived “beauty” of being in the “A” boarding group or of making a shot in basketball and hearing that “thwick” of the net.

    But there’s also aesthetic beauty in architecture — I’m thinking of a design museum I visited long ago in Denmark, which I sadly can’t find online. I also visited an art studio in Big Sur, California, that I know has a spiffy website — — the studio overlooks the Pacific Ocean. It’s breathtaking.

    In sports/entertainment, some of Michael Jordan’s moves or Larry Bird’s passes combine grace and beauty — it’s inspiring to see them do their thing. Great dance as well is beautiful, and seeing a great performance often inspires me to stand up straighter and walk a bit lighter (in fact, I’m sitting straighter as I write these sentences).

    As I think about this assignment, I’d say that something beautiful inspires me to be a better version of myself — whether that means being kinder to others, walking straighter, or thinking more clearly and elegantly.

    To the extent I can, I will try keeping an observational journal the next 10 days and see what happens. A great deal of the value in your assignment comes from the discussions students will have with each other — and I’ll miss out on that (unless you comment back a bunch) — but I think it’s an interesting question to ponder.

    I love that there’s a 10-day window — so that students can take time to let their thoughts marinade a bit — there’s precious little marinading happening when we ask students to “do the odd problems” 🙂

    Thanks for getting me thinking — and for showing an example of what thoughtful work at home (and in class) might look like. I agree with Meg, by the way — don’t call it “homework” — call it something like “preparation so we can have a thoughtful discussion when we meet f2f” 🙂

    • Steve,

      Thanks for the feedback and co-reflection. Invaluable!!! You point to issues of philosophy and strategy, while also eliciting inquiries of tactics and logistics. So helpful!

      I agree about the curiosity of context! However, I wanted to use the vagueness (and brevity of a PROCESS POST) to tease out some things. For example,…

      1. Would people assume that Option 2 was happening for a particular class or grade level?

      2. Would people assume that Option 2 was happening in a particular subject area, like math, English, social studies, etc.? Would they apply their own lens if they consider themselves a teacher of a certain departmental subject, as traditionally defined?

      3. Would people see Option 2 as a potential grade-wide, division-wide, school-wide approach to “Homework” as a framework for factoring in a more negotiated curriculum among adult learners and children learners?

      4. What traditional-school constructs will seep into people’s thinking when they respond to this prompt? In what ways will people reveal certain innovation paths to consider just by way of what they comment to?

      When I wrote the Process Post, the specifics of “Beauty” were irrelevant to me. Beauty was simply a concrete example to use in the hypothetical to make it more story-like and real. But the word “Beauty” could be substituted with just about anything. What I really wanted to explore, selfishly, was the meta-condition of how we use homework (or whatever we end up calling it) to recast the way we position and posture learners as explorers and discoverers – to rebalance our, maybe unintentional, posturing of learners as consumers and map-walkers of cartographs that some adult(s) laid out for them prior to any real investigation driven by “rawer” learner curiosity.

      Of course, those of you who zeroed in on the specifics of Beauty helped me learn in that regard, too! So my selfish pursuit was expanded by being intentionally conversant with my PLN. I wonder if you have watched Dennis Dutton’s TED talk – your riff on “What’s beautiful?” reminded me so much of his talk!

      On another thinking route – you all make me want to have a face-to-face discussion on this idea of homework positioning. Can we have a flash-mob class on that?! 🙂

      I made a suggestion for the rename/rebrand of “Homework” in my comment to Meg.

  16. Bo, I love the juxtaposition between these two homework assignments. The first thought I have is why aren’t we doing more of Option 2? It is such a layered, arduous task that requires focus and fortitude, and allows an infinite number of choices for student learners. The essential question you crafted is so simple, but the brevity is what makes it complex. Because of this, I had some similar thoughts to what Jill mentioned above. I picture a Google Community type place for students to share ideas—this would initially help those who struggle with shipping their own ideas. It would be great for students to see us work through this process, too. Because I am a learner at heart, I went through your homework assignment for some of today, and discovered many new ideas that challenged my own thinking. Wouldn’t it be great to share that with our students? Learning doesn’t end when school does. Nor does it care your age.

    I find the networking piece to be crucial, and the most challenging for students. I am most interested in how we get students to work toward your Suggestions 3 and 4, rather than falling back on the familiar first two suggestions.

    Lastly (and this is something I constantly struggle with), let’s not call it homework. This “work“ (WORK= synonyms such as drudgery, slog, toil, and grind) will most likely be done in places other than home. Let’s immerse ourselves in Critical Thinking Beyond our Classroom (or some awesome, catchy word that means something similar) not Homework.
    Keep it coming…your blog is provocative and timely.

    • Meg,

      THANK YOU! You have given me so much to spur my continued investigation and pedagogical cartography.

      I love this from you…

      “Because I am a learner at heart, I went through your homework assignment for some of today, and discovered many new ideas that challenged my own thinking. Wouldn’t it be great to share that with our students? Learning doesn’t end when school does. Nor does it care your age.”

      YES! This past week, I have been re-reading Making Thinking Visible, and your suggestion of professional practice here not only echoes Jill’s “co-learning,” and those similar threads from Steve and Dave and Alice, but it also exclaims a fundamental point from that book (in Ch. 2, I think) about modeling and sharing our own thinking in more visible ways.

      I, too, wonder “Why aren’t we doing more of Option 2?” I have a number of hypotheses and working responses, but I’m going to refrain from writing them all here…for now. As I said in my comment-reply to Jill, I pinged this particular set of ed leaders because I am wanting to find out more about this very question you pose. Do we even know, to any degree of specificity and certainty, what our trending and patterning is – at whole-division, or whole-school levels – relative to the UX (user experience) of “Homework?” Do we even think in terms of “Portfolios” of assignments that a Learner would experience in the collective from a week, a month, a year, three years in school? How are we doing relative to our “responsibility to awe” for ourselves and our learners?

      “Homework” seems an interesting place to apply some levers and pressures.

      And, of course, we can change the name. Rebranding this age-old practice is probably long overdue. Nevertheless, I am trying to play in a sandbox of innovating within certain constructs of traditional education, so I kept the mental velcro, for now, that “Homework” conjures up!

      My suggestion for a rename/rebrand: “Exploration.”

  17. Hi Bo,

    Option 2 strikes me as a real upgrade to our standing Synergy assignment because of the choice and voice offered to the learner. I appreciate that the assignment is anchored with an essential question.

    I am particularly enamored with the scaffolding. As we experienced in Synergy, if you can do anything, you can do nothing. The scaffolding offers broad but directed actions for learners. I bet that the already self-evolved learner will be able to fit her ideas and actions into multiple sections of observe, question, experiment, network and associate. The traditionally acculturated learner has tasks and directions to hang onto while easing into independent, self-directed learning.

    I know you said We’ll share and review our “Game Plans” and “Gantt Charts” in two days, so we can see various strategies and plans. I wonder if collaboration might need some scaffolding too. What if each learner had a partner or team to bounce ideas and questions? What if there was a digital question board for sharing, idea generation, and inspiration?

    I love the tagging back to subject-organized classes. I wonder if there might be a need for sharing to find connections. Because of our differences and experiences, I might see connections not seen by another and vice versa.

    I believe that it is time for the pendulum to swing toward Option 2. In your previous post, you wrote What’s our balance like, as educators…as schools, for utilizing homework to “go through the motions” vs. “inspire awe” at our condition as humans? How might we rebalance our scales?

    I fear that the imbalance is way towards Option 1. I wonder if many learners ever experience anything even remotely similar to Option 2 in school. Your Option 2 offers an opportunity for co-learning – everyone regardless of age is learning together.

    Is there anything to lose by trying? There is much to gain.

    • Thanks so much, Jill, for your incredibly forwarding comments. I so appreciate you connecting this developing idea to our multi-year work in Synergy 8. Because of the work and learning in Synergy, I will never see the school world in the ways that I did pre-Synergy. Like you point out, this thinking here builds on that Synergy experience, and I highly value you calling it an “upgrade” to the standing observe/question assignments we used in that group of 26 learners.

      Thanks for the calibration relative to the intentionality around scaffolding. As you probably guessed, this is one way that I am trying to factor in more of the research and practice from Fisher and Frey regarding “Gradual Release of Responsibility.”

      Your suggestions about how to enhance the collaborative sense-making during the game planning and tagging are great – the means for exchanges and communications are essential to work like this that is less pre-defined by the adults so that curiosity and intellectual “wandering” can do more of their magic.

      And, while other commenters seemed to zero-in on the concrete example of “Beauty,” that was not my primary point – although I learned a lot from some others pointing out their questions relative to that context and EQ specificity. My primary point was to continue the exploration of how we predominantly use “Homework” in U.S. Education, and how imbalanced I believe the practice is relative to our purpose. I appreciate your comments about shifting us all more to re-balancing with more Option 2 opportunities. Those I chose to ping for this feedback exercise are all ed leaders, and I am curious how the use of outside-of-school practice (a.k.a. “Homework”) is researched, purposefully implemented, etc. in our various schools.

      • One important outcome to glean from the comments…Those looking toward product and analyzing the specific assignment illustrate the power and beauty of such an assignment. Chris and Steve look at this assignment and feel the need for historical comparison. John and I, on the other hand, are drawn to science and math. Alice dove into literature. There is something for everyone in this type of homework. The opportunities for individualizing interest abound. The magic comes in connecting diversity of ideas, interests, and passions. Bravo!

      • “One important outcome to glean from the comments…Those looking toward product and analyzing the specific assignment illustrate the power and beauty of such an assignment. Chris and Steve look at this assignment and feel the need for historical comparison. John and I, on the other hand, are drawn to science and math. Alice dove into literature. There is something for everyone in this type of homework. The opportunities for individualizing interest abound. The magic comes in connecting diversity of ideas, interests, and passions. Bravo!”

        YES! Thank you for summarizing and pointing this out. This type of pursuit lives at the core for me! It beckons Sir Ken’s statement at colab13 “The basics are not subjects. They are purposes.” By pursuing purposes, our classes, courses, grade-levels, divisions, schools, etc. will more naturally find ways to learn that align with the more natural human condition of integrated and personalized learning.

      • I love reading all the comments from the variety of familiar and unfamiliar Tweeps, Bloggers, Educators, etc. Feel free to add me to your PLN via Twitter @meghancureton if you haven’t already. I am working to do the same to the rest of this incredibly insightful group:)
        Jill-I love this: “The opportunities for individualizing interest abound. The magic comes in connecting diversity of ideas, interests, and passions.”

        And agree on your “Bravo” to Bo!

        It also got me thinking…
        While I wrote, I also thought about the countless connections I would make in my class, as well as in my life in general (tying it to literature, words and family, and of course, my sweet babies–as that’s where beauty is drawn for me), and I wondered if that would naturally lead me down a path that I would have already gone down rather than opening my eyes to seeing beauty as it relates to, say, math. It never occurred to me to quantify beauty, and actually, that scares me (anything numeric scares me!). Thinking about how beauty plays a role in science is not much better. What I am getting at is one question I may or may not have woken up in the middle of the night thinking about: would students go down the familiar path, and simply cut out the “subjects” that disinterest them? And is that a disservice?

      • @Meg- Your comment made me spring up in the middle of the day and run across the room to grab my computer, because I could not contain my excitement at the thoughts your questions brought on.

        “What I am getting at is one question I may or may not have woken up in the middle of the night thinking about: would students go down the familiar path, and simply cut out the “subjects” that disinterest them? And is that a disservice?”

        What made me spring up: I think that’s the beauty of the Network & Associate section. Leaving the activity at Experiment would mean that each individual stays inside his or her own Observation Journal, never necessarily experiencing what others would consider in reference to the EQ. By ensuring that students hear from & learn from others’ explorations during Network & Associate (whether it be other children, adults, whomever), it ensures an opportunity to see that variety of perspectives in the way you’ve described.

        Of course, this also highlights the IMPERATIVE of the Network & Associate section of this lesson design. Without it, I think it would be more likely for students to live within his or her own bubble of personal interests, which may well lead to the realization of the potential disservice that keeps us up at night.

        Thanks for sharing this perspective – really enjoy thinking with you!

  18. Happy New Year, Bo! Thanks for your tweet inviting input…

    I’m really enjoying following your developing thoughts through this series of posts, Bo. This latest scaffolded exploration surely honors your call in Iteration Two to “inspire awe” rather than “go through the motions” via ‘homework.’ I wish I’d been invited to pursue this kind of discovery, and develop this kind of empathy and collaboration, through my high school experience–as I’m sure many other will as well.

    My only questions would depend entirely on the context for this activity — would this follow a historical survey of conceptions of beauty, or invite one? Would this encourage students to examine varied cultural conceptions of beauty? Would this encourage students to examine the construction of conceptions of beauty through representations in art and media?

    This may or may not be relevant, but I’m not sold — far more broadly — on the goal that students should become ‘disruptive innovators’ per se. If I were sold, I would wonder if the anchor for this particular exercise is too abstract — i.e. how the contemplation and exploration of current conceptions of ‘Beauty,’ without a historical comparison and/or contemporary objective correlative, would foster a concrete exercise in design thinking to follow. Though I can see how the result of the inquiry could inform any number of such exercises, as an ‘umbrella,’ in the future. I suppose this is probably a (vague) question, or confusion, about the intersections of the VTRs with the Innovators DNA skills.

    Finally, I wonder if this iteration of the ‘What is Beauty?’ framework in ‘Option 2’ marks such a dramatic departure from the stale “spend x minutes doing y” assignments in ‘Option 1’ that it’s an unfair comparison (not that the hypothetical assigner of ‘Option 1’ is owed any particular courtesies, in general or in this thought exercise). In between the two options, I’m sure there’s no shortage of homework assignments, essay prompts, whatever, asking all students to examine “How did X define ‘beauty’? Do you agree or disagree, and why?” — substituting Plato, or Brecht, or Cervantes, or Hansberry in its various iterations. I suppose the disadvantage of such assignments is to obligate the study of a historical lens — but that the advantage of such assignments is to study the obligations of a historical lens. The likelihood, or inevitability, of students examining changed/changing/varied definitions of ‘Beauty’ — perhaps more effectively on their own terms — is probably implied in your references to students’ reading, nodes, etc.

    Looking forward to witnessing the continued development of your thoughts! Thanks for your willingness to share your ideas as process posts, and to invite feedback from your PLN: as always, you set a high bar for transparency, vulnerability, creativity, collaboration, and humility in your work.

    • Chris,
      THANK YOU! And Happy New Year to you, too!

      Your thoughts here – under-caffeinated or not – are so incredibly helpful, expanding, and appreciated. For process posts, I set a timer for 10 + 5 minutes and write. Then, I stop. So, I go into them knowing that my contextual setting will be rudimentary. I create all kinds of problems – and opportunities – by vomiting in pixels for a set amount of time. By inviting your feedback, and by you graciously giving your time and mind, I am able to more fully investigate some of my own unspoken assumptions, developing dynamics, wormholes, etc. So…THANK YOU! You’ve given me a lot to spark my continued thinking.

      By way of one simple response to your extraordinary prompts in paragraph #3, I would say…”Yes.” The purpose of the practice is to explore, discover, reveal connections, expose curiosities, etc. And in ways that are not possible in the same ways when adults make most of those decisions ahead of learner exploration. What’s more, I didn’t necessarily see this intentionally catalyzing a design-thinking project, but I certainly believe that it could – as learners engage more with their world, environments, communities, etc.

      So, for now, perhaps this: stimulated curiosity breeds context, which breeds content deepening. Personally and professionally, I prefer this approach to the reverse, which overly dominates the traditional education model. I think we’re out of balance as an educational system, and I am exploring ways and means to re-balance with natural human curiosity, while playing in the sandbox of typical school settings.

      Again, thank you so much for your mental sparks!


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