I spent the first half of this week in Memphis, Tennessee, working with a remarkable local group of educators, parents and developers (yes, developers) who are all dreaming big together as part of Crosstown Concourse, an ambitious effort to redesign a 1.5 million square foot former Sears warehouse into a vertical urban village of residents, retail outlets, non-profits, and — wait for it — an innovative public high school.
It comes from the Fullerton (CA) School District, which has developed “epic storylines” and a gamification around core skills in order to make learning more technologically integrated, experiential, and fun.
It also looks and feels very different from the sort of educational experiences almost anyone above a certain age has ever had. Is that a good thing, or does an approach like this take us too far from the tried and true backbone of what teaching and learning has always looked like — and should continue to look like into the foreseeable future?
Or, more specifically, this is a video about a conversation of those issues. It features yours truly, but also Jaime Casap, the head of education at Google, and a number of other great educators in both K-12 and higher ed. Check it out, and see what it ignites in your own thinking . . .
If a person wishes to wonder deeply about the world, which ingredient is more important – the person, or the world?
Until recently, our answer was clearly the latter.
For the great majority of our time on this planet, human beings have viewed the world almost entirely through the prism of “we,” not “me.” As foragers, we lived in unquestioning obedience to the unknowable marvels of the natural world. And in the earliest civilizations, we lived to serve the needs of our Gods in Heaven – and then, later on, their hand-chosen emissaries on Earth.
It has nothing to do with education — and I still don’t really get it. But I love that Einstein predicted it a century ago (!), and that now we know that it’s true.
Here’s the thing about me: I love schools. And I’m in them all the time. Lots of them, all over the country. So it’s safe to say that I am as aware as just about anyone what is out there when it comes to American educational options.
And yet here’s the other thing: I’m constantly hearing about new places doing great work — new to me, at least, because the folks there have been doing their thing for a long time — and whose approach to learning is precisely the sort of thing we should be hearing a lot more about.
Imagine what a place like this is capable of unleashing in the mind of a child.
Imagine what places like this are capable of unleashing in the mind of every adult.
St. George’s School in England was a failing school — filled with children who were struggling in their lives and whose school was a reflection of that chaotic state of being.
Today, it’s one of the top 2% nationally. If you wonder how such a change could be brought about, take a look at this video (26 min long), and see what you think about the ways in which its educators transformed the teaching and learning climate at their school.
I admit: I’m the type of person who sees every New Year as a chance to reboot, revisit and refresh.
And this year, 2016, I want to try and sustain a yearlong exploration of wonder.
Part of the reason for that is pretty straightforward: on January 1, I officially became a partner in a global design studio that helps communities reimagine learning at the intersection of space, culture and story.
Our name? WONDER, By Design.
But part of it is also a desire to wrestle with some questions my colleagues and I want to understand more deeply:
If wonder is to learning as carbon is to life, then what are the neurochemical underpinnings of wonder itself?
In what ways does our capacity for wonder help explain what is most essential to what shapes and drives us as human beings?
What blocks our ability to wonder widely about the world? What gets us unblocked?
You can imagine my excitement, then, when I saw that the Renwick Gallery, a century-old museum in Washington, D.C. once described as the “American Louvre,” had recently undergone its own reboot – a literal, massive, two-year renovation – and was reintroducing itself to the public by having its first new exhibit transform the entire building into an immersive, multisensory work of art.
The inaugural exhibit’s name? WONDER.
Increasingly, I’m hearing a question that drives me crazy: “Are you for or against charter schools?”
There can only be one legitimate answer to that question: It depends.
Are you speaking of the situation in Michigan, in which four out of five charter school operators are for-profit entities? Or the overall tendency for charters to be even more segregated than their public school neighbors? Or the reluctance by some charter leaders to hold themselves to the same standards of transparency and openness as traditional public schools?
If so, thumbs down.
But if you’re talking about places like Baltimore, where all charter school teachers are unionized (and the charters themselves are almost all locally conceived and teacher-led), or if you’re pointing to the growing movement among some charters to intentionally enroll and serve integrated student bodies – by way of the National Coalition of Diverse Charter Schools – the picture takes a very different shape.
And then there’s what’s happening with Summit Basecamp – a new sort of partnership between charters and traditional public schools that may very well offer the best evidence so far of what Al Shanker first called for back in 1988, when he imagined a new kind of school in which teachers could experiment with different ways of reaching students, and then inject that wisdom back throughout the public school system.