NAIS Annual Conference 2016 #NAISAC

During the last week of February 2016, I attended the National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference 2016. To document some of the major milestones in that experience, I captured a version of the story on Storify. That running record is linked below (because Storify does not embed in sites).

Quick View of My NAIS 2016 Annual Conference.

My session selection had a huge effect on my experience, of course, and my major take-away, which was connected to my choice to do school visits, involved the ways that schools are striving toward great “student-centeredness” and “real-world context” in the work students are undertaking. From sessions with Hawken, Colorado Academy, and a case-study session with Tim Fish of McDonogh, I was afforded a view into several schools that are prioritizing setting the conditions for students to engage in very meaningful, relevant work that goes far beyond some green-covered grade book, or the digital equivalent. Bravo!

And the Urban School shared a session about Inquiry for Equity that showcased that methodology and their faculty as collaboratively curious! I will definitely be looking more closely at that process, as it connects to instructional rounds, critical friends groups, design thinking, etc.

As I continue to reflect on my experience and learning, I will share more specific ponderings, I’m sure.

Who’s the author and DJ of a student learners’ school experience?

A few weeks ago, one of my relatively new colleagues – an incredible learning partner of mine – shared this quote:

If your time at school is a story, then who’s writing it.

from Hathaway Brown: Institute for 21C Education

I can’t get this question out of my mind. I’m wondering if we teachers insert ourselves into our student learners’ stories, or if it’s more like we ask (require?) them to insert themselves into ours.

As many of you readers know, I watch a TED talk every day. This morning, I watched “Mark Ronson: The exhilarating creativity of remixing.”

During the viewing, with the Hathaway Brown quote freshly on my brain folds from a morning mediation walking Lucy, I wondered if student learners are the mixologists of their school learning episodes. How are they remixing the samples of “melodies” that they hear in various classes and schedule periods? How are we making time and space for them to be the authors and DJs of their stories as learners in school? Where is the primary agency in the relationship between student learner and teacher learner?

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?!”

Time on Task and “Learner-centered”

Time on Task and “Learner-centered”

I had an “aha” moment today. While doing a deep re-study of Tony Wagner’s _Creating Innovators_, I’ve been tweeting some notes, insights, and questions. Andrew Carle answered back and pointed to the “lie” behind our “learner-centered” language. For me, this short string is a major R&D area!

  1. In school, time blocks somewhat predetermine tasks. What if tasks/objectives determined time blocks? #RealLifeEd #CIStudy #SchoolStructure
  2. @boadams1 From my last decade of pushing for that, the main inst. roadblocks are equity, for both subjects and Teachers (workload).
  3. @boadams1 neither insurmountable. But they reveal the lie behind our “learner centered” facade.
  4. @boadams1 impossible to be learner centered when you hire adults for N hours of Y subject, 45 min at a time … and then look for Ss agency.
  5. @tieandjeans My last half-decade shows same insights as you shared. Thank you! I could not agree more. Your 3 tweets are at heart of issue.
  6. Curators of “lessons” exercise > meta-cognition. We need to make time & space for Ss curation. IF we want #creativity #innovation / #CIStudy
  7. Love this paragraph. Harkens the real root of “education.” #CIStudy… Beverley explained further, “It is a compe…
  8. How’s our balance in schools among “succeed tasks” and “explore tasks?” #CIStudy… So many kids are so programme…
  9. Another “balance” to explore: delivering content vs creating opportunities. How might we know our pedagogical balance in schools? #CIStudy
  10. “CQ [curiosity] PQ [passion] > IQ” Friedman via Wagner #CIStudy #SchoolStructure… “CQ [curiosity] plus PQ [pa…
= = =
Note: I’m learning how to export Storify to WordPress. I’ll get better at it. Anyway, I share this collection of tweets in hopes of inviting more people into this reflection, discussion, and R&D.
How might we move forward on the big ideas of “student-centered” and learner-centered?” As long as the teachers are the primary curators of departmentalized content knowledge, how will we get to the type of Edu 3.0 learning environments that seem essential for transforming “content-delivery systems” into “creativity-and-innovation facilitation labs?”

Do we give our students enough credit? #WhatIfWeekly

Do we give our students enough credit?

What are the traits and characteristics that we hope students develop most deeply? What knowledge and understanding?

Certainly, those schools that have engaged in exercises like “Portrait of a Graduate” have wrestled with such considerations as an entire community. A number even work to structure program and experience in such ways that there is intentionality around the development of the graduate, not only the delivering of a curriculum.

Are these some of the attributes you would name?

  • Curiosity
  • Development of a passionate pursuit and constructive interest
  • Persistence and deep practice
  • Responsibility
  • Creativity
  • Multi-media communication skills and language competency
  • Enthusiastic connection with joy-producing activity
  • Autonomy and initiative
  • Scientific knowledge and understanding
  • Presentation capabilities

What do we credit?

Do all of the credits awarded by a school – to determine successful completion – have to be curated and generated by the school, and only by the school?

Certainly, when a student enters a school from another school, credits can be granted by the receiving school – credits that the student actually earned elsewhere, namely, the previous school.

Occasionally, at the school where I worked last, we awarded credit for summer study, particularly for programs earmarked “Talented” or “Gifted Youth.”

With the rising tide of Khan Academy, badgification, MOOCs, and online learning, surely the time is not too far away that a school will award a seventh grader or eleventh grader credit for completing a physics course via Coursera or Udacity or iTunes U.

Even independent study is not too far afield from what I’m about to ask next – I mean, many schools have systems for students pursuing “independent study.”

So what would it say about a school if the school granted credit for a body of work that a student created on his or her own? Something not originally located in the course catalog. With all of the talk and movement around “student-centered learning” and “student-directed learning,” I would hope and imagine that at least a few schools are contemplating how they might formally recognize student learning pursuits that don’t necessarily arise from the school itself as originator or curator.

Don’t we want to give credit to those students who can show evidence of developing the traits and characteristics named above, even if the body of work in the “course” was not created by a faculty member or administrator? Isn’t that the whole point in the first place – to nurture life-long learners who self-initiate curious pursuits of persistent development of brain cells and heart cells?

Three Quick Examples


When I moved back to Atlanta to teach middle school, a high schooler had converted his Ford truck to run on used cooking grease. He would go to local fast food stores and ask if he could transfer their waste grease to his tank in the back of his truck. He had modified his truck so that it was actually fueled by this recycled material.

Today, why would we not grant credit for such demonstrated learning?


A high school sophomore earned his student pilot’s license for single-engine aircraft. See one of the articles here. In addition to joyfully pursuing an interest, the accomplishment demonstrates admirable persistence, commitment, and strong knowledge in a variety of scientific topics.

What if the student could apply – if he wanted to do so – and receive credit for this work in a way that would result in its listing being included on a transcript?


Another high school sophomore writes, directs, produces, and hosts a cooking show called the SWAGourmet! Along with the multiple episodes bundled on YouTube, the SWAGourmet also maintains a blog, from which people can link to the show, request recipes, and connect to related news stories.

When I saw this former student of mine last December at a Sunday brunch, SWAGourmet was the first thing he mentioned when I asked how he was doing. I loved hearing that genuine and non-bragadocious pride in his voice. And, I now love following his work, thanks to his multi-media  sharing.

Anticipated Criticism

“But if we absorb that personal-hobby stuff into the credit system, we’ll set a precedent we don’t want to be burdened with. We’ll have to credit anything and everything.”

“Making it for-credit will remove some of the joy from the activity. You know, Bo, not everything has to earn quantified credits.”

“Does that mean that students could forego the course requirements in the course catalog and replace or substitute the entire curriculum with their personal interests? You’ve lost your mind, Adams.”

“Sure, Bo, and we’ll give credit for going to the bathroom, too. And holding the door open for someone… and taking out the trash. … No, that’s not ‘school’ and it shouldn’t be.”

“But what about the NCAA clearinghouse? What about the colleges and universities? They don’t want to see such ‘soft’ work on the transcripts. We’d never get that passed.”

I’m sure there are other criticisms. Those above are just the ones I’ve already heard from actual educators as I brought up the topic in casual conversation – as I was just pursuing my own curiosity.

Yes, and…!

And there were others that loved the idea. They immediately started to think about how such a system could work in conjunction with the current offerings – just like MOOCs, online academy offerings, summer credit, independent studies, etc.

The dreamers seemed to believe that by organizing such a system – granting credit for work not included in a school’s official course catalog – a school community could communicate to students that their self-curated learning and persistent pursuits MATTER. Such a hybrid could show students that their voices and myriad interests can equally contribute to the development of those “Portrait of a Graduate” traits and characteristics. One person I spoke to even suggested that a committee of faculty, parents, admin, and students formulate the process by which a school could launch such a program.

And we all enjoy getting a little credit, now and then, for things that we are excited about doing and becoming, don’t we?