Innovating the very foundations of school – who creates the courses!

What if “students” created the courses – at least some of the courses – offered at school? What if those courses were the kind that many people would describe as “the most rigorous” a school offers? This is innovation.

Two members of the Innovation Diploma at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School (and Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation) launched their own AP (Advanced Placement) Language course. Together they collaboratively built the learning targets, educational paths, academic arcs, and assessment strategies for exploring certain wonders and complexities of the English language.

They are both juniors in high school. I don’t think either of them actually drives a car on her own yet.

This is a story I highly recommend that you follow. Here are some posts Pinya and Kat have published to get you started:

Schools that work for kids – @E_Sheninger

“No longer should we have school and real life as separate entities.” So concludes Eric Sheninger’s TEDxBurnsvilleED talk: “Schools that work for kids.” Thanks to @Kat_A_Jones, a sophomore member of the Innovation Diploma Disney Cohort for sharing this talk with our team.

For whom is school really designed?

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.

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?!”

“my response to the high-pressure environment was making bows” #Curiosity

As I fell deeper into bow making, I began to search far and beyond my neighborhood.

I’ve been studying the TED talk below – “Dong Woo Jang: The art of bow-making.” In a high-pressure, high-stakes testing environment, Dong Woo Jang pursues a personal passion and extended project that helps him construct knowledge, skills, understanding, and wisdom from areas that we would typically separate and subdivide in school, likely with no intentional, threaded connection.

What drive and persistence it takes for a young person to make time for such committed exploration and discovery while living in a system that dominates so much of his day having to study someone else’s interests.

What if school were more purposefully designed for the committed pursuit of our passions and curiosities? So that a story such as Dong Woo Jang’s would be ordinary instead of extraordinary.