From a number of educational power-thinkers and get-it-doners, assembled by Ericsson’s Future of Learning project, we can continue to imagine and prototype super learning solutions. (This is the first time I’ve tried re-blogging. Just to make sure – please know that I am reblogging Ki Mae Heussner’s 10.23.12 GigaOM piece.)


The future of learning is far more than new devices, digital content and online classrooms. It means potentially rewritten relationships between students and information, teachers and instruction, and schools and society.

In a short documentary released Tuesday, telecom giant Ericsson (s ERIC) pulls together observations from leading voices in education technology and entrepreneurship to give a high-level snapshot of what the future of education could look like and how technology is leading it there.

The 20-minute film, called the Future of Learning, which is part of the company’s ongoing Networked Society project, is particularly timely given the momentum behind online education platforms like Khan Academy and Coursera, adaptive learning technology from Knewton and the transition to digital textbooks.

It includes commentary from Knewton founder and CEO Jose Ferreira and Coursera cofounder Daphne Koller explaining how their startups are shaping the new world of education. But…

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Monday morning ideation – imagining the future of schools and schools of the future #WhatIfWeekly

Three idea seeds from my weekend “studying”…

1. What if we developed “nutrition info” for our school courses? Looking at an egg crate this weekend, I wondered why we don’t have something like this for our courses in schools? How might we develop guides for the 7Cs that could accompany a course description and indicate to folks what’s actually in the content-and-skills meal that one’s about to partake in?

2. What if we understood capital-P PBL as futebol de salão? Reading Farnam Street, I learned about a game credited with developing the soft skills of young Brazilian soccer players.

This insanely fast, tightly compressed five-on-five version of the game— played on a field the size of a basketball court— creates 600 percent more touches, demands instant pattern recognition and, in the words of Emilio Miranda, a professor of soccer at the University of São Paulo, serves as Brazil’s “laboratory of improvisation.”

For students working on real-life problems in a curriculum more balanced toward challenges and contexts, instead of so content-centric, they could be developing such soft skills for problem finding and problem solving in comparable improvisation labs for applying their interrelated subjects of math, science, English, history, etc.

3. What if we devised ways for personal learning, like Susan Solomon describes medicine is developing personal drug treatments? Listening to the TED talk “Susan Solomon: The promise of research with stem cells.” I was struck by this part of the transcript:

But it isn’t really enough just to look atthe cells from a few people or a small group of people,because we have to step back.We’ve got to look at the big picture.Look around this room. We are all different,and a disease that I might have,if I had Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease,it probably would affect me differently than ifone of you had that disease,and if we both had Parkinson’s disease,and we took the same medication,but we had different genetic makeup,we probably would have a different result,and it could well be that a drug that worked wonderfullyfor me was actually ineffective for you,and similarly, it could be that a drug that is harmful for youis safe for me, and, you know, this seems totally obvious,but unfortunately it is not the waythat the pharmaceutical industry has been developing drugsbecause, until now, it hasn’t had the tools.

And so we need to move awayfrom this one-size-fits-all model.The way we’ve been developing drugs is essentiallylike going into a shoe store,no one asks you what size you are, orif you’re going dancing or hiking.They just say, “Well, you have feet, here are your shoes.”It doesn’t work with shoes, and our bodies aremany times more complicated than just our feet.So we really have to change this.

Too much of formalized education in schools seems targeted to the mean…or overly generalized, so that many experience something comparable to the shoe store that says, “Well, you have feet, here are your shoes.” With the advances in technology and brain research, how might we design personal learning, like Solomon describes designing personal drug treatment?

Education and the Presidential Debate 10.3.12 – my overly simplistic (and predictable) view

Last night, I tuned into the first hour of the 2012 U.S. Presidential Debate with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. In the first few minutes, I heard education mentioned several times, but I never heard many specifics or actual plans of a concrete nature. (Perhaps I am naive and overly optimistic that I would hear such… one can dream… one should dream.)

This morning, I read a recap of the education-mentions in the debate – from EdWeek.
[After initial publish, I read this other EdWeek article – excellent!]

So, we want to enhance education so that, among other reasons, we can improve the economy. Maybe we should work to align education and the economy more purposefully. Perhaps business and education and non-profit could be considered three strands of the same chord. Perhaps they could play for the same team. Perhaps students and faculty should be considered the incredible resources they are for transforming school into more “real life.” Or for transforming more “real life” into school.

If you want to get better at the guitar, what do you do? Do you mostly sit and listen to others play the guitar? No. You PLAY THE GUITAR!

If you want to get better at soccer, what do you do? Do you mostly sit in desks and watch someone lecture on how to play soccer? No. You PLAY MORE SOCCER!

If you want to get better as an artist, what do you do? Do you mostly use your senses only to collect information in your head like a vessel to be filled? No. You MAKE ART! 

Maybe if we want learners to know how to create and contribute to the economy and the national citizenship as producers of value, we should work on an educational system that more systemically facilitates students PRACTICING such now!

[For the record – I think aspiring guitarists should listen to other musicians. I think soccer players should watch film and other games and listen to their coaches. I think artists should observe other art and visit museums. But, I think these aspiring creators should spend a huge balance of their time… creating. Creating things that matter for real audiences and learning by doing. Seems simple to me. School should be more like what we know works for the rest of our learning lives. Teachers and students are fully capable of this. I do realize the transformation is not “simple,” but we could do this together. I have no doubts.]

PROCESS POST: Roused emotions of possibility – choreography as teaching and school leadership

This morning, I realized that I aspire to be a choreographer. While watching “Wayne McGregor: A choreographer’s creative process in real time,” I was moved by the emotion of possibility. Not only was I moved by the literal art and science of McGregor’s work as a master choreographer of physical dance, but I was also moved by the metaphorical force of McGregor’s message – for the translation that this work can be for teaching, school leadership, and education.

As McGregor recounted:

So this is not the type of choreography where I already have in mind what I’m going to make, where I’ve fixed the routine in my head and I’m just going to teach it to them, and these so-called empty vessels are just going to learn it. That’s not the methodology at all that we work with. But what’s important about it is how it is that they’re grasping information, how they’re taking information, how they’re using it, and how they’re thinking with it.


I’m going to start really, really simply. Usually, dance has a stimulus or stimuli, and I thought I’d take something simple, TED logo, we can all see it, it’s quite easy to work with, and I’m going to do something very simply, where you take one idea from a body, and it happens to be my body, and translate that into somebody else’s body, so it’s a direct transfer, transformation of energy.

Likewise, our student-learners are not empty vessels to be filled. They are creative, thinking, energetic forces who can express their constructing understanding of the world…with a bit of support and guidance from a choreographer. [As I learned from Farnam Street’s “What’s the best way to begin to learn a new skill?,”this transfer could also be called engraving.] Student-learners can do so much more than receive, memorize, and recall for testing. They can connect, empathize, and interpret. What could be used as the stimuli? How about world issues? How about big ideas and grand challenges that we face in our schools, in our communities, in our cities, in our nations, and in our world?

School leaders could choreograph the orchestrated dance of a coordinated, collaborative faculty…working in harmonious partnership with business, government, and non-profits. We could dance together with a bit of guidance and support from our school choreographers (school in the BROAD sense).

Later in the talk, McGregor explained:

So they’re solving this problem for me, having a little — They’re constructing that phrase.They have something and they’re going to hold on to it, yeah? One way of making. That’s going to be my beginning in this world premiere.


Okay. From there I’m going to do a very different thing. So basically I’m going to make a duet. I want you to think about them as architectural objects, so what they are, are just pure lines. They’re no longer people, just pure lines, and I’m going to work with them almost as objects to think with, yeah? So what I’m thinking about is taking a few physical extensions from the body as I move, and I move them, and I do that by suggesting things to them: If, then; if, then. Okay, so here we go.

“So, they’re solving this problem for me.” Student-learners, in partnership with their teachers choreographers and collaborators from the “real-world,” could construct phrases to test and trial against a dialogue with the big ideas and grand challenges we face. Our learning architects could assist in designing “structures” that provide for such dancing with ideas and interdisciplinary problem solving. For the accompaniment – the assessment, the communications, the engineering – would have to be re-imagined to facilitate well-architected dancing and duet-ing.

And, nearer the conclusion and the unveiling of the completed dance premier, McGregor articulated:

That was the second way of working.The first one, body-to-body transfer, yeah,with an outside mental architecture that I work withthat they hold memory with for me.The second one, which is using them as objects to thinkwith their architectural objects, I do a series ofprovocations, I say, “If this happens, then that.If this, if that happens — ” I’ve got lots of methods like that,but it’s very, very quick, and this is a third method.They’re starting it already, and this is a task-based method,where they have the autonomy to makeall of the decisions for themselves.

Do I even need to translate this one? “This is a task-based method, where they have the autonomy to make all of the decisions for themselves.” Isn’t this what we all want for our student-learners? Don’t we want to choreograph in such a way that they are not vessels to be filled but the paradoxical wonders of simultaneously independent and interdependent thinkers and doers? That they have autonomy to go and make the dances themselves that will solve our school, community, city, nation, and world issues?

Yes, I aspire to be a choreographer. A choreographer of School 3.0. And I’m looking for dancers.

Making reality a school. #IDreamASchool

If school is meant to prepare students for real life, then why doesn’t school look more like real life?

This is the primary question that has kept me research-busy for the past seven to ten years, at varying degrees. Of course, there are countless corollaries that spur me to sidebar explorations, integrated component searches and implementations, and related co-primary investigations. For example, during my middle-school principalship, I concentrated significant efforts to studying and orchestrating professional learning communities (PLCs) as a foundational structure and ethos for the way we worked. If the world at large is moving to more collaborative ways of working, then our educator workforce should operate in such paradigms and methods, too. (Of course, 25-years of research from public schools helped enormously!) By becoming a more formalized professional learning community, we blurred some of the lines between “school” and “real life,” and we enhanced the ways in which we worked as team problem solvers and educational designers – for the benefit of ourselves and our students. What’s more, we were able to empathize more genuinely about what we were asking students to do when we asked them to collaborate.

One of the most important and critical co-primary investigations in which I continue to search is How might we transform school to look more like real life?

As schools explore sustaining (tier 1 and tier 2) and disruptive (tier 3) innovations, one strong way to transform schools into more life-like analogues is to reconsider the traditional departmental structure. Typically, schools sub-divide into departments called “Math,” “Science,” “History,” “English,” etc. Curriculum tends to be categorized by these departments and divisions – by subject-area or topic. Often times, silos develop…sometimes intentionally, but more understandably in unintentional ways.

But what if we re-imagined curriculum to be more about the issues and challenges that we face? What if we had departments like…

  • the Department of Energy
  • the Department of Justice and Equity
  • the Department of Education
  • the Department of Health and Human Services
  • the Department of Environmental Sustainability

Liz Coleman’s call to reinvent liberal arts education

Through project-based and problem-based learning, students in K-12 education could engage genuine issues, concerns, opportunities and possibilities. Whereas the traditional departments – math, science, history, English, etc. – have been used to segregate the disciplines, with a newly devised departmental structure, the traditional subject areas would continue in importance and vitality, but they would do so as lenses co-ground into the same optic glass.

Imagine a Department of Energy in school. Student learners could explore and work in the fields of energy research and investigation, and they could employ mathematics and statistics as lenses through which to understand energy – math in context. They could hypothesize and experiment as genuine scientists working to discover the emerging, integrated sectors of biofuels, solar energies, and other non-fossil-dependent sources – science in context. They could research through lenses of historian, anthropologist, and sociologist, and they could write persuasive and expository pieces – humanities in context. They could examine the economics and psychology of energy consumption – interdisciplinary human studies in context. Design and visual prototyping could play an integrated role – industrial arts in context.

Context should inform content and cognition. And student learners deserve to gain practice with “the app for that.” We know that athletics require much practice, but the athletes regularly have opportunity to apply their skills and development to “real-life” settings called games. We know that musicians require much practice, but the instrumentalists regularly have opportunity to apply their skills and development to “real-life” concerts and performances. When do student-learners regularly have opportunity to apply their content learning and skill development? A test is not a game or concert. An essay for a teacher is not a game or concert. Contributing to a blog about experimental energy sources is more like playing in a game or concert. Designing alternative-fuel engines is more like playing a game or concert. Partnering with local businesses, NGOs, universities, and other co-creators of our energy future – such experience most certainly is comparable to playing in the games or concerts of real life. Surely, we don’t really believe that students should wait for application until they are finished with formal schooling. Surely, we can devise better responses to the age-old question, “When will I ever use this?” Student-learners could be using their imaginative, developing understanding now.

Compassion should also inform content and cognition. The world needs problem finders and solutions makers. Todays students care more deeply about the world than I think my generation cared when we were in elementary, middle, and high school. By engaging student-learners in real-life, problem-based work, we could essentially connect the millions of students like batteries in a series to light the solutions to some of our greatest challenges in society. Business and non-profit could become involved in more integrated ways with education so that a symbiosis of efforts would build self-reinforcing and sustaining capacities – innovators guiding future innovators for for a more dynamic and productive future.

I am not just theorizing and hypothesizing. The type of real-life schooling described above is already happening in many places. Kiran Bir Sethi’s Riverside School comes to mind. Bob Dillon’s Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School comes to mind. Project H Design comes to mind. Whitfield County Schools comes to mind. Geoff Mulgan’s Studio Schools come to mind. Projects at High Tech High and Partnerships at Science Leadership Academy come to mind. Even in my own personal experience, I co-piloted Synergy 8, a non-departmentalized, community-issues, problem-solving course for 8th graders. One group of four boys organized a job fair for residents of English Avenue and played a major role in helping people secure jobs. Other programs at Westminster, like the Summer Economics Institute, Philanthropy 101, Dr. Small’s Research course, and the Junior High Leadership Experience Advisory Program come to mind.


And just this week, I heard Brittany Wenger share in her TEDxAtlanta talk about her experience creating an artificial intelligence app to help more accurately diagnosis breast cancer. However, she did reveal that only about 10% of the project was supported as actual school work. The kind of work and contribution that Brittany Wenger is making could BE school.

Business leaders understand the inter-related, interdisciplinary nature of real-world problems and issues. Consider Michael Moreland’s explication on his SEEDR website:

No single discipline or sector can drive meaningful progress alone. To meet the most intractable challenges, we built SEEDR as a vehicle for next-level collaboration, building bridges among industry, philanthropy, government, and academia worldwide. We value wild multidisciplinary, cross-sectoral work and if you share our passion for global development and thirst for learning the languages of technologies, causes, and cultures, we want to work with you.


Does our world possess high-quality activists and efforts geared toward making the world a better place? Absolutely! Do these people come from our existing schools and educational institutions? Of course. However, I believe there is a realization gap. The type of interdisciplinary and cross-sector work that Moreland espouses above could be significantly enhanced with innovative thinking and implementation to transform schools into more “real-life” organizations. We could realize an amplification and acceleration of problem solving by activating our schools as more contributory blends of practitioner-based learning labs. With the proper attention to pedagogical and instructional master planning, I can imagine many scenarios in which content knowledge and cognitive accountability would only be enhanced. In other words, I challenge the typical rebuttal that students would loose content-knowledge attainment chances by working in the ways suggested above. Numerous researchers and practitioners are finding otherwise…especially as they focus more on what is learned and retained, instead of what is delivered and taught.

To summarize several of the points discussed earlier, and to introduce a few not detailed above, I believe that a number of advantages could come from re-organizing school departments in such ways that make school more like real life:

  • Student engagement would improve, as school studies became more relevant and contextual. Attendance issues could improve. In the current state of testing, assessment performance could rise, as shown by people such as Kiran Bir Sethi.
  • Testing could be re-balanced, even replaced in cases, with performance-based assessments that are more realistic and aligned with those performance assessments encountered in the “real world.”
  • The 21st century skills, particularly the 7 Cs, would be more purposefully and realistically integrated into the school day. The practice would better match the games and concerts.
  • Curriculum would move to curricula vitae – “the course of life” – as learning goals and objectives aligned more authentically with the challenges facing our societies and world.
  • For-profit business, government, and non-profit organizations – spokes of a wheel, in some ways – could be connected through the hub of education. Innovation could breed innovation as social entrepreneurship and education became more intertwined and interrelated.
  • Students could experience more giving and contribution as an eventual norm in schools, instead of school being so focused on what students get during their school years. Yet, students would also gain tremendously as they experienced more of a powerful mixture of cognition and affective domains.
  • The issues we face as a human race could be addressed in a solutions-based manner with amplified and accelerated attention from and with schools…schools working more in partnership than in precedents with real-world problem solvers.

Of course, such a move to organization around Departments of Energy and Departments of Justice and Equality could strike fear and trepidation in school administration and faculty and parents. Transitions and transformations could occur in a number of ways. Schools could invest more in master planning. Schools could experiment with a mini-test of such a department with those teachers, students, and parents who were interested and willing. Or wholesale changes could be bravely attempted. In fact, many of our new-school startups are exploring just such re-imagining and re-organizing.

What are your thoughts? Where are the opportunities? Where are the challenges? Do you know of more examples, exemplars, failed prototypes, and not-yet-realized possibilities? How might we think together on such multi-tier innovation in schools and education? I would appreciate your idea, links, questions, and insights. It’s going to take many of us working together to make reality a school.

[This post was cross-published on Connected Principals and Inquire Within on 9.28.12]