What if we used adventure and curiosity as more of what we call school?

Fabien Cousteau opens his TED talk, “What I learned from spending 31 days underwater,” with these words:

I have a confession to make. I am addicted to adventure, and as a young boy, I would rather look outside the window at the birds in the trees and the sky than looking at that two-dimensional chalky blackboard where time stands still and even sometimes dies. My teachers thought there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t paying attention in class. They didn’t find anything specifically wrong with me, other than being slightly dyslexic because I’m a lefty. But they didn’t test for curiosity. Curiosity, to me, is about our connection with the world, with the universe. It’s about seeing what’s around that next coral head or what’s around that next tree, and learning more not only about our environment but about ourselves.

What if we celebrated adventure and curiosity (even more) as a fundamental component of the schooling part of education and learning? What if we moved the needle from thinking that “something is wrong” with a child who drifts in his attention to exploring what it is that might capture his curiosity?

Fabien Cousteau offers an amazing talk of accomplishing three years of science through 31 days of dedicated PBL. How might we backwards design from such adult projects and ventures to design opportunities and make room for such adventure and curiosity exploration in that learning segment we call school?

Three views into the potential and power of project-driven learning. #iProject #iVenture

My dream is to build the world’s first underground park in New York City.

I always knew as a kid that I wanted to make a difference, and to somehow make the world more beautiful, more interesting and more just. I just didn’t really know how.

Dan Barasch: A park underneath the hustle and bustle of New York City

My dream is _______________________.

What a powerful sentence starter. What a powerful action starter. If we only treated it that way more often. What a profound entry point into an endless supply of worthwhile projects. And not the kind of “dessert-at-the-end” style projects that are all too common in schools when the “important content” has already been “covered.” But the kind of projects that serve as the meal and the fundamental sustenance on which the nutrients of interdisciplinary topics are baked in and intentionally made part of the main course. (On a brief aside, this makes me think that we might need “nutrition labels” on projects — like those nutrition labels on our cereal boxes and cans of food. But in this case, the learner would progressively include what learnings are contained in his or her project.)

People from all over contact me to talk about project work. I think more than a few struggle with seeing what others view as robust and vigorous projects. So, I look for examples to show people. Dan Barasch’s TED talk is just one such example. And it’s an excellent six minute view into how dreaming can materialize into a vibrant project of inquiry, innovation, and impact.

When Dan shares his vision and work on the Lowline, I also see the potential for almost any high schooler or middle schooler to showcase similar stories of their dreams and projects. Maybe they would’t have the 3D computer renderings of the proposed space, and maybe they wouldn’t have the solar arrays built for a pilot installation. Or maybe they could. With partnerships of internal and external experts. If not, they could be coached and supported to produce comparable and lower-resolution prototypes, sketches, concept drawings, etc.

So many possibilities to dig into one’s dreams. And as an integral part of schooling.

As this blog post was bouncing around in my head waiting for me to put it in writing, I re-watched October Sky with my family.

I was reminded of how Homer Hickam’s project started with an observation of Sputnik, a curious spark about rocketry, and a teacher who did not let her lack of knowledge about rocket science allow her to say, “I can’t do this — I don’t know anything about rocketry and it’s not part of our curriculum.” Still, Homer’s project, at least how it was portrayed in the movie, was mostly confined to time outside of school and the project work only “counted” in school thanks to the science fair possibility.

But what if that work had actually been a fundamental part of Homer’s schooling? And not simply confined to “Science” class, but originated in a project-block such that the subject-areas were allowed to weave together as they naturally do, unbridled by the typical boundaries of 55-minute, subject-narrow periods.

At the risk of seeming like this post is “all over the place,” I also remembered Dolphin Tale as my family watched October Sky last Friday night and visions of the Lowline project connected in my mind. Dolphin Tale is another “based on a true story” movie that shows how a student struggling with typical school finds a project that lights his heart and mind on fire. I first saw the movie on Oct. 1, 2011. I know because I walked out of the theatre and had to quickly record a blog post by phone.

Why do so many project ideas seem to happen outside of school? Why can’t they BE school? At least a part of school.

So, here are three examples that I believe help many people visualize the power of project-driven, transdisciplinary learning. I hope they help you see the potential of drawing this form of working and learning into our next iterations of school.

Project Idea #4: Grab a challenge on Innocentive

Innocentive is like a matchmaker for problems and solvers. If you’re looking to make a difference (or just looking for an interdisciplinary project), the innocentive site (https://www.innocentive.com/) can provide a ready-made “bug list” of challenges that are looking for creative solutions…and creative solution seekers.

On the landing page, one of the top level menus is “Challenge Center.” Once you’re in the center, you can use various filters and tabs to narrow a search. 

Another bonus — many of the challenges come with solution “rewards.” For instance, a past TSA challenge posted a $15,000 prize. (Hat tip to @LauraFlusche of MODA.) So, a school full of innovators might just find an additional source of income, in addition to doing good work for the good of others.

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 3.42.12 PM



I am writing a series of blog posts about project ideas that could happen within a school – projects that could both transform school and, ultimately, transform us beyond school. This is my fourth part in the series. I’d love to know what you think.

More on Project Ideas:


Project Idea #2: Use TED as a rolodex of idea sparks for a virtual army of engaged citizen leaders

I love this talk from Aziza Chaouni: How I brought a river, and my city, back to life.

As I watch, I see an inspirational activist and change maker. And I see a meta-lesson. I see the potential and possibility of dozens and dozens (thousands?!) of student learners giving just such a talk to showcase and share the work that they are engaged in — as their school work — to make a difference in their project(s) of passion and curiosity as engaged citizen leadership.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have watched a TED or TEDx talk everyday since May 11, 2011. Maybe it’s rewired my brain somehow. Because I see in my mind’s eye a virtual rolodex of project stories — to spark, to inspire, to model storytelling, to demonstrate the integrated and connected nature of real-world learning.

Imagine schools across the world where student learners are giving such updates on their project work. What if they joined the rolodex of examples?

Imagine. Make happen. What are the possibilities?


I am thinking of writing a series of blog posts about project ideas that could happen within a school – projects that could both transform school and, ultimately, transform us beyond school. This is my second prototype. I’d love to know what you think.

Project Idea #1: Establish a true, three-part government in school. Live the democracy.

Project Idea #1: Establish a true three-part government in school. Live the democracy.

How serious are we – U.S. schools and educators – about educating citizens for our American democracy?

How many of our schools allow for, or even promote, student governments that model and mirror the three-part system of our governmental system?

Imagine a high school that elected two senators for each grade level. Imagine that high school electing representatives for each grade level, based on population of the grade level. Or perhaps advisories or homerooms could provide for the “state” structure to mimic.

What if there were a true judiciary of the student body, elected and appointed just in the same mechanisms as our U.S., state, and municipal judiciaries? 

What if there were a true executive branch of the student government, elected and empowered in the same manner and mechanism as our President, governors, and mayors?

Imagine that such a system started in elementary school, progressed through middle school, and culminated in high school. 

Over the years, how might our democratic citizenship be “practiced” in the ways of leading and participating in our civic structure and responsibilities?

Imagine a student or group of students who became so passionate about such an idea that they made it happen. Image if they lived the lessons they are being taught in U.S. History and Government classes. 

What system of government are students actually practicing in school? Is it a representative democracy? Is it a relative dictatorship? I wonder what that’s teaching them over 13 years. 

What if they lived and practiced the system that we want them to take responsibility for? What if we operated school in the ways that would more authentically educate a citizen of our democracy?

Imagine. Make happen. What are the possibilities?


I am thinking of writing a series of blog posts about project ideas that could happen within a school – projects that could both transform school and, ultimately, transform us beyond school. This is my first prototype. I’d love to know what you think.