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?!”

How might we hack school to more closely resemble good education? #MustSee Logan LaPlante

We don’t seem to make learning to be happy and healthy a priority in our schools. It’s separate from schools. And for some kids it doesn’t exist at all. But what if we didn’t make it separate? What if we based education on the study and practice of being happy and healthy? Because that’s what it is – a practice. And a simple practice at that.

– Logan LaPlante, 13 years old. TEDxUniversityOfNevada

When I think about what I want for my own children, and when I think about what I want for all children, my list includes the attributes and ideals and realities that LaPlante shares and demonstrates in his profound talk: “Hackschooling Makes Me Happy: Logan LaPlante at TEDxUniversityofNevada.” It may be one of the best TED/TEDx talks I’ve heard.


Also this week, I am immersing myself in Tom Little’s tour of 50 progressive schools during the months of February and March. (Thanks, @GrantLichtman!) As I read @ParkDayTom’s posts, I dig into the school websites and links that Little provides about “emergent curriculum,” PBL, and progressive education. I am struck by such things as…

We believe that learning should be joyful, active, open-ended, project-based, and collaborative in order to foster children’s independence, accountability, intrinsic motivation, and intellectual curiosity.

We believe in cultivating a community of civically-active learners, where everyone’s voice can be heard, as decisions are democratically determined through discourse.

We believe in allowing the time, patience and unpressured environment necessary to support the individual developmental unfolding of each child – academically, socially, and emotionally.

The Children’s School (Chicago) Core Beliefs


Though educators have been challenged in agreeing upon a single definition for progressive education, consensus builds around these defining principles:

  • Education must prepare students for active participation in a democratic society.
  • Education must focus on students’ social, emotional, academic, cognitive and physical development.
  • Education must nurture and support students’ natural curiosity and innate desire to learn. Education must foster internal motivation in students.
  • Education must be responsive to the developmental needs of students.
  • Education must foster respectful relationships between teachers and students.
  • Education must encourage the active participation of students in their learning, which arises from previous experience.
  • Progressive educators must play an active role in guiding the educational vision of our society.

– Progressive Education Network

When Grant Lichtman and I talk, and when I am privileged enough to hear Grant speak and facilitate with bigger audiences, he often says that his own tour of 64 schools in 12 weeks, exploring what innovation in education looks like, could be boiled down to one word – Dewey.

How might we work and take action to help transform schools so that more of them possess these core characteristics? Theses core values?

How might we hack school to more closely resemble good education?

#TED Andreas Schleicher: Use data to build better schools #MustSee

How can we measure what makes a school system work? Andreas Schleicher walks us through the PISA test, a global measurement that ranks countries against one another — then uses that same data to help schools improve. Watch to find out where your country stacks up, and learn the single factor that makes some systems outperform others.

TED – “Andreas Schleicher: Use data to build better schools”

These are not direct quotes from the end of the talk, but I tried to capture the basic messages (the TED transcript is not posted yet):

Range of factors true of high-performing PISA schools:

  • Leaders have convinced citizens to value education more than consumerism – consumption today.
  • Belief and practices that all children are capable of success. Expect all children to succeed.
  • Growth mindsets.
  • Diversified and differentiated instruction. Personalized learning.
  • Clear and ambitious standards that are known, understood and pursued.
  • High quality, highly trained, collaborative teachers. Intelligent pathways for growth.
  • Clear on good performance, and enable teachers level of autonomy to reach those performance standards. Not prescribed what to teach. Autonomy is not independence, though.
  • Shift from delivered knowledge to enabling user-generated wisdom.
  • Moved from administrative forms of accountability and control to professional forms of work organizations. Provide development for pedagogical innovation.
  • Looking outwards.
  • Achievement across entire system. Every school is part of success – it’s systemic.
  • Align policies and make them coherent. Consistent implementation.

A truly great talk. Schleicher admits that there are no “copy and paste” approaches to school innovation and transformation, and I love his use of the data and analysis to inspire thinking about what can work for other schools. It’s not the usual “country competition” talk using PISA. It’s so much more.

A Golden Rule of School Reform… Okay, Maybe a Few Golden Rules #WhatIfWeekly

From “Why Not Ask Teachers How They Would Improve Our Schools?,” Kenneth Bernstein, Nation of Change, 17 January 2013 (emphasis mine) —

We teachers are aware that our influence can be both positive and negative. To be certain that it is positive, we need to have our voices heard as educational policy is being formed. And yet, for too long, teachers have been forced when they are allowed to speak to do so in a frame that is not authentic. In my conversation with the reporter, she began a question by framing it in terms of “accountability,” and I immediately stopped her. Those of us who take teaching seriously dislike that word because it implies that we would not care nor act responsibly towards our students absent some outside measure. To a teacher, that is a wrong mindset, an improper frame that loses sight of the students for whom we are responsible.

Just to be clear, I agree with Bernstein – educational reform MUST include the voices of educators. But this post is not about my agreement with Bernstein.

This post is about the statement in bold above and repeated here – “Those of us who take teaching seriously dislike that word [accountability] because it implies that we would not care nor act responsibly towards our students absent some outside measure.”

But isn’t this exactly what many of us do to our students? We assume – intentionally or unintentionally – that they “would not care nor act responsibly” towards the curricula “absent of some outside measure.”

“Let’s do unto our student learners as we would want done to us.”

Let’s ask students what they want and need from their schooling reforms as well!

…and parents

…and various industry leaders

…and real-world problem solvers

…and …


What if… we did.

[Hat tip to Charles McNair for passing along the article to me.]