Outcome of a project-based pursuit – a demo of deep learning.

I’m fascinated by “Ge Wang: The DIY orchestra of the future.” It’s not so much the music he makes that fascinates me though. Watching this musician and computer scientist – but even more, watching this human being – I am struck by his curiosity, his experimentation, his integrated exploration and his interdisciplinarity.

He’s got a project, and he’s exploring. And that’s a cool way of journeying to learn.

PROCESS POST: Curiosity is the tap root of innovation and deep learning.

So you never know where curiosity-based research will lead…. Robert Full: The secrets of nature’s grossest creatures channeled into robots.

Observe. Question. Experiment. Associate. Network. (from Innovator’s DNA)

Is your school interested, even peripherally, in nurturing innovators? If so, then have you studied and analyzed how exactly your programs and your people make space and opportunity for your learners to originate their studies and pursuits from their own curiosities?

On balance, are your student learners pursuing more questions posed and originated by the adults and the teachers, by way of the curriculum? What degree of a student’s time (day, week, month, year) is “arranged” by what that student finds curious — and from a point of origin of his or her own initiated observing and questioning? Do you actually examine such statistics about yourself?

Today, when I got home, my wife and partner Anne-Brown told me a story of our boys creating home-made pizzas this afternoon using tortillas, tomato sauce, and some cheese from the fridge. At first it did not taste so great to them, so they added some additional spices and stuff. JT declared, “This is the best pizza I’ve ever tasted.”

Then, the boys proceeded to create a restaurant and menu from their cooking and dining experience. A-B says Jackson wrote out menu items for over half an hour. The boys created a name and a motto and a basic visual feel for their eatery. As she retold the story, she noted, “If I had started by asking Jackson to write for 30 minutes, he would have likely wailed and gnashed teeth. But he wrote for a sold half hour on his menu ideas.”

And I said, “You just summarized in a couple of sentences what my career has been about for the last 10-15 years.” This anecdote showcases a fair amount of what I mean when I ponder school looking more like “real life.”

“You never know where curiosity-based research will lead.”

From observation and questioning, Robert Full’s robotics lab experimented with some pretty amazing robust systems turned mechanical. By associating insect movement specs with robotic possibilities, and by networking with other inquiring seekers, Full may just discover a major breakthrough that uncovers an insight that did not exist before and makes possible a significant impact in prosthetics, transportation, or some other field.

And it likely started with curiosity. Not necessarily an already neatened assignment in a single-domain subject area.

Hmmm. Gotta be a school lesson there, right?!


[Cross-posted on Inquire Within]

What if form followed function in school? Inspired by David Epstein #TED talk

On May 11, 2014, I will (quietly) celebrate a third anniversary. That day will mark the moment that I have spent exactly three years watching a TED talk every day.

Being an educator, as I watch TED talks, I think about how they might “fit” into school. I sometimes imagine the speaker as a student in a typical high school, and I wonder what courses and subjects his or her talk would align with.

And often that exercise bothers me. It bothers me because I imagine a speaker like David Epstein prepping and preparing his “Are athletes really getting faster, better, stronger?” talk embedded below. I wonder…. Would David be doing this “project” in math class? In science class? In history class? In English class as a persuasive speech assignment? Maybe in some technology course? Would he be so lucky as to have teachers who would allow a single project to “count” for all of his courses? After all, the project integrates a number of disciplines that we subdivide and separate in school.

And that entire imagining bothers me because of the ridiculousness of having to think this way. Why do we continue to remain so wed to the unnatural subdivision of the “school subjects?”

What if at least part of David’s school day allowed for him to pursue the project of his dreams and interests and the subject-area lenses were more like threads in a tapestry that David is weaving?

And what if that deep project identification and discernment had developed partly because of more innovative “homework” that encouraged and made room for David to explore his developing passions and curiosities?

And what if the subject areas in his school behaved a bit more like “subjects on demand” and recitations in which David could schedule time with a relative expert to spend some concentrated time digging into the statistics or biology specificity that he needed for his emerging understanding?

And what if his assessments were more akin to badges and endorsements showcasing the disciplinary, interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and transdisciplinary knowledge, skills, and understandings that David was building?

And what if David were at the center of his own progress reporting and learning conferences?

Then school would look different. Because form follows function.

Enjoy the talk. It’s amazing.

Moonshot teaching: “real-life problems that require hands-on solutions”

“Getting Our Students to Own Their Educational Experience”
Raymond W. Cirmo
Independent School Magazine
Winter 2014
(HT @nicolenmartin)

If our interest and motivation are piqued when we work on tasks that interest us, that directly involve us, that have outcomes based on our abilities, and that succeed or fail based on our level of understanding, effort, and involvement, then why not apply this same logic to student learning in our classrooms?

To do this, we first need to realize that the students are not in our classroom, we are in their classroom. And the room is not set up for us to teach; it is here for us to be facilitators in the students’ learning. We are here for the students, not the other way around. This means that we need to educate them in a fashion that makes sense to them and the world they live in. And the best approach I have found is to assign them tasks involving real-life problems that require hands-on solutions — in other words, learning by creating and doing.


Paper or plastic? Work that blurs the lines between school and real life. #Synergy #iDiploma

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

This question lives at the heart of my research for the past decade. This question largely drives my work.

Many people ask me, “So, Bo, what do you mean by ‘real life?'”

Well, one aspect of blurring the lines between school and real life involves reimagining the kind of work that students engage in during their school experience. What if more of the student work had real-life application? What if more of the student work were aimed at targets well beyond the grade-book columns and end-of-year locker clean outs?

For example, what about the question, “Paper or plastic?” You know – at the grocery store. How should we respond to that question at the conveyor-belted check-out counter? (If, of course, we don’t bring our own reusable bags.)

From that question, a group of student designers and solution seekers might find themselves on a path leading to the investigation of the refrigerator and the crisper drawer.

“What?!” You might ask. What if student-learners actually worked on product design for such things as refrigerators, water boilers, etc.? What if students really knew the best answers to “Paper or plastic?”

Watch this TED talk from Leyla Acaroglu, and you might just see what I’m talking about – what I dream about…

Student-learners engaging in real-life work that goes well beyond a grade in a grade book and provides the weave-work and relevancy hooks that integrate and amplify the core purposes of our school-segregated subject areas. Work that recognizes and respects the systems of which our products and our persons are all parts of the whole…


Innovation Diploma @MVPSchool