The driver and the passengers. Is school driver’s ed or passenger’s ed?

When traveling in a car, who tends to learn the routes better? The driver or the passengers? Who better internalizes the paths and roads and mental maps of the journey?

It’s an interesting metaphor for schools, isn’t it? If we say we want children to be and become deep learners who internalize the cognitive and social skills and knowledge to direct their own paths and journeys later, then how much are we willing to commit to letting them be the drivers more often?

While it’s certainly not always the case, I’ve found that subject-area organization of school – the traditional math, then English, then science classes for a little less than an hour each – tend to be driven by the teachers, and the student-learners are more the passengers.

If you want to test that assumption, then ask a K-12 student to describe to you what they will be doing and studying during an upcoming day or week of school. Then ask them who decided on that plan – that route.

Yet, in project-point-of-origin settings, where the learners launch projects based on their curiosities, interests, wonderings, and passions, the students tend to be in the drivers’ seats, and the teachers can become more like navigational passengers (not backseat drivers!) on the journey.

Who are you letting drive the learning? What’s your school’s balance among time for the teachers to drive and time for the students to drive? Whom do you say you want to engage in deep, powerful learning?

So, I can’t help but ask: Do we want school to be more like “Driver’s Ed” or “Passenger’s Ed?”

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Inspired by Krista Tippett’s interview with Dr. Adele Diamond.

Related posts on It’s About Learningsearch category: “Curiosity”

Curiosity, Control, and Caring. #fsbl and Bran Ferren’s TED talk on Pantheon miracles.

The best passionate pursuits of learning always seem to begin with exploring, observing, questioning, and being curious. This is why we started #fsbl – “father-son-based learning” – in my family.

As I listened to “Bran Ferren: To create for the ages, let’s combine art and engineering,” I smiled almost continuously throughout the talk because I pictured Ferren on an #fsbl adventure that started with raids of electronics piles, trips to science museums, and a mesmerizing visit to the Pantheon. And his adventure is still going.

Ferren’s curiosity was allowed to flourish as he was granted a high degree of control over his explorations and observations. And from such foundations of his surrounding adults’ pedagogies (and parenting), he developed deep caring for what he was discovering and learning. From these depths of curiosity, control, and caring, Ferren maintained the persistence and intrinsic motivation that nurtures his continuous inquiry, innovation, and impact.

If there is a “formula” for passionate pursuit of learning and difference making in this world, then I believe this is darn close to it!

Curiosity Tap Root @boadams1


RELATED POST: “Could there actually be one ‘C’ to rule them all?!”

Change the World… Change School

From “Young People Are the Geniuses Who Change the World,” Angela Maiers, Switch & Shift: Human Side of Business, 7/28/2013 [HT Angél Kytle]

At Choose2Matter, our opening line in speaking to young adults is “You Are a Genius, and the World Needs Your Contribution.” Next, we tell them they can change the world.

Why do we say this?

Because studies show that, at the age of five, 100% of students believe they can, and will, change the world. When I visit with first-graders, they always confirm this by enthusiastically charging the stage en masse when I invite them to share their genius and tell me their ambitions for changing the world.

By the age of 9, only half of students believe they are geniuses who can change the world.

By the age of 16, just 2% of students believe they are geniuses who can change the world.

When I visit high schools, I see something very different than I do in elementary schools. The genius is still there, but it’s buried under years of schooling. How? I’ve actually had educators and parents comment on my posts that we shouldn’t tell students they can change the world, because it sets unrealistic expectations. My response: unrealistic for whom?

An incredible post that then highlights nine young people who are changing the world. One of the people is Jack Andraka, whom I spotlighted on my own blog before. And there are eight more.

Correction. There are THOUSANDS more! MANY THOUSANDS!

A few more of the many – all whom I’ve met thanks to TEDxAtlanta:

Brittany Wengerpost and TEDxAtlanta Profile and Talk

Brittany Wenger, a high-school senior, is well on her way to making the diagnosis of breast cancer less painful and more accurate.

Clare O’ConnellTEDxAtlanta Profile and Talk

At age 20, Claire O’Connell is a co-founder of EyeWire, an online game / “citizen science initiative” that’s helping to map the human brain by mapping the connections between retinal neurons.

Hannah SalwenTEDxAtlanta Profile and Talk

Kevin Salwen is a writer and entrepreneur. With his 15-year-old daughter, Hannah, he is co-author of The Power of Half. The book is the story of a eureka moment by Hannah that resulted in the Salwen family’s commitment to reduce their consumption by half — started by selling their house and moving into one half its size.

School is not just preparation for real life. School is real life. And real life could be school.

Einstein said, “It’s a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” Survives.

How might we enable curiosity to THRIVE in formal education?

By helping school become more about the “business” of real-life, relevant work. There are armies and armies of young people who care and want to change the world. A few will demonstrate the initiative to do so in spite of the rigidity of an industrial-age school system. But how many more might be activated, inspired, and motivated IF school were structured to nurture such inherent passion for wanting to make the world a better place – while the learners are IN school?

Recently, at our school, Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, faculty T.J. Edwards (@TJEdwards62) and Mary Cantwell (@SciTechyEDU) have invited and enlisted others in our ranks who might want to work on OpenIDEO’s Creative Confidence Challenge.

What if we ALL participated?!




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Related Posts:

PROCESS POST: Content = Solute; Context = Solvent; Curriculum = Solution (finding)

We believe that students learn best when they are . . .

  • essential members of a vibrant, diverse learning community,
  • immersed in challenging, real-life experiences that make a difference,
  • exploring ideas, questions, and projects that are meaningful and relevant to them,
  • collaborating with inspiring adults who know them well,
  • given real responsibility for their education, and
  • in touch with their innate wisdom and capacity for insight.

from Watershed School

Re-listening to outgoing NAIS president Pat Bassett’s TEDxSaintGeorgesSchool – Schools of the Future, I heard him say that one of his grandchildren attends The Watershed School. At 18:30, Bassett explains the way 7th graders start the school year at Watershed – with an expedition to the source of the Colorado River. Learning is based on exploration and discovery, problem finding and problem solving – real-life context in which the content is solute dissolving in solvent to form a solution.

What does your school believe helps students learn best? How are you realizing those beliefs?

Building further from this post: “Could there actually be one “C” to rule them all?!”

Could there actually be one “C” to rule them all?!

Some describe four “Cs” of essential skills for this 21st century – traits such as: Critical thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity.

Some list five or six “Cs.” Five: Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Character. Six: the list above plus cultural competency.

Other people and organizations talk about seven “Cs.” Here is one version of seven “Cs”:

  1. Communication
  2. Connection
  3. Collaboration/Cooperation
  4. Creation/Contribution
  5. Community
  6. Continual Learning
  7. Culture

All of those C-words are great. Definitely essential.

And I believe there is an underlying “C” that provides the necessary foundation for student learners to develop all of the above C traits.


Control in the sense of ownership, investment and engagement, degree of agency and autonomy. Control to exercise choice. Control to pursue curiosity.

For student learners to develop deep degrees of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, cross-cultural competency, computational capacity, etc., don’t we need to facilitate them having more control over their learning?

Less sitting and getting. More choosing and doing.

Don’t we know at least that much about motivation, relevancy, cognitive commitment, heartfelt conviction, grit, and perseverence?

If adults migrated their traditional varieties of control (content, curricular, lesson plans, demonstration, delivery, etc.) to reflect more coaching, then space and time and opportunity could be created for student learners to be more in control.

I am reminded of sports and arts. When student learners play a sport, they are more in control over what they do on the court, on the field, in the water, or on the course. When musicians and visual artists engage in their activities, there is also much doing – high degrees of control. Coaches and directors orchestrate and advise. But the athletes and players are much more in control than is the case with our stereotypical classrooms and curricula.

I am more and more convinced that a single “C” – CONTROL – may prove the bedrock for the development of all those other “Cs.” For in the giving of control, I believe we provide student learners with more opportunities to practice the skills organically and authentically than if we assign them work organized into the seven “Cs.” Through the autonomy of control – motivated by the control of choice – we naturally invest ourselves in those seven “Cs.” When we feel in control, we learn to take control, and we develop our capacities to maintain good control.

What does offering more control to student learners look like? Below I provide some examples – patches to a quilt of sorts. My examples are by no means exhaustive. But I think seeing examples helps.

I could continue this list indefinitely. There are virtually countless examples. What examples would you add?

But are there many schools – whole schools – where a core tenet of the school’s purpose, operations, and daily practices allow the students to be the primary controllers of their learning?

This morning, I asked my eight-year old son, “PJ, what are you looking forward to in school today?”

His first reply: “I don’t know dad. The teachers are in control and decide what we’re going to do and learn today. I won’t know until I get there.”


What if school taught students how to learn from a position of personal and interpersonal control? What if school remodeled and renovated based on this premise of student “locus of control?”


What if we controlled kids less and let kids control more of their learning?

My hypothesis: those children would develop all of those “Cs” more quickly, deeply, and meaningfully.

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This post was cross-posted to Connected Principals and Inquire Within on 3.22.2013.