At some grade levels in our school, students are offered time to pursue passion projects in “genius hour” flexible time, often quite generous chunks of time over a number of weeks. Often, this time is presented as preparing kids for self-guided inquiry or the like. Several years ago, at ASB Unplugged, students gave inspiring TED-ish talks about the fruits of genius hour labor in a high school math class, including a smart trash can that separated recyclables from garbage, as I remember. The creativity and service embodied by such projects were awe-inspiring.
By the same token, I once heard a description from a parent of her student’s passion project focused on perfecting the bacon weave. When I delivered the graduation address for my cohort at Western New Mexico University’s Gallup Graduate Studies Center, I spoke eloquently (gorgeously, even?) about my drive to perfect an omelette, so far be it for me to critique this student’s passion. My speech about making an omelette made the point that it doesn’t really matter what we learn to do (within reason), but that we keep learning. In this vein, weave your bacon.
In another vein, school provides a time and place for more focused learning, and decisions are made, ideally by children and adults, about what to learn, when, and for how long. Passion projects implicitly teach that following our passions is a highest purpose, but that feels pretty wrong, fairly narcissistic. Maybe, we should teach something else instead. In fact, one needn’t search long before finding quite strong evidence that perceived success and well-being arises from a sense of being needed and useful to others. Indeed, the folks at 80,000 Hours suggest “you can develop passion by doing work that you find enjoyable and meaningful. The key is to get good at something that helps other people.”
That’s been my impulse for decades, and it’s nice to see it spelled out so succinctly. My confirmation bias is assuaged.
What, then, might a genius hour look like with young kids who, for the most part, have yet to develop professional-level competency in any areas from which others might benefit? How about a “Strengths for Service” hour? Kids could consider what they do well, thinking liberally and creatively about their strengths. Next, a crash course in design thinking like this one from Stanford University’s d.school could equip students with tools they can use to learn something real about people, places, or situations.
If kids used their Strengths for Service time to engage intentionally with their world, they may well find passions beyond football or creative meats that could begin making a difference today. The minor tweak to genius hour here is an outward focus, seeking to do well for others in a way the others need or want. Serving the needs or desires of others is as much altruism as entrepreneurialism, so this seems like a way to develop skills for life.
Innovation – we want some. Let’s do the new stuff, re-envisioning the old to make something better! I saw a graphical version of this blog post recently, an argument centered on torquing Dweck’s “growth” vs. “fixed” or (my preference) “entity” mindset concepts past their core purpose in order to “go beyond” to an innovator’s mindset. This argument means well, but sort of misses Dweck (imo) and focuses on an implicit value in new! shiny! that has some flaws.
From Juicero’s failed $400 juicer (expensive juice packets not included) to this little gem that popped up this week in my feed – Teamosa (#innovationnamingconventions) – a $399 tea kettle (early bird just $239!!!) that uses “ultrasonic extraction” to amp up antioxidant… oh, never mind, you get it: Innovation is often underwhelming and focused on selling us something we already have at a new, improved, higher price.
Recently, I worked with a colleague to refine an existing rubric for an essay to include specifics about the modes of exposition and rhetorical strategies that students would be expected to use. I realized that this process of reworking the rubric, refining for specificity and clarity of outcomes, was an inquiry for the teacher himself. We were digging into what good looks like on this sort of essay in response to a specific unit of inquiry into text and personal beliefs. We discussed lining up exemplars, as well, to really nail down the rubric and expose the expectations for the assessment.
None of this was new, really. But it was better. Better for student learning, better for teacher learning, so therefore better for instruction, better for assessment. By engaging in a process of regeneration, we built together on the good that existed in this rubric and this unit of study, standing on the shoulder of giants like Grant Wiggins in the process. I don’t think this is innovation, because we’ve got nothing to sell to anyone at the end of the process, and we aren’t done at the end of the process. We reflect, refine, and start again at the beginning of the process, which is a lousy product and a precious learning experience.
Regeneration guides authentic teacher learning by doing and, ideally, inquiry into learning evidence. Just as schools teach content – so out of fashion – like texts or mitosis or Reconstruction, schools teach teachers how to best guide learning through working on the work, regenerating and refining what is already good to be better. Just as students can’t think deeply without rich, relevant facts and content to dig into, neither can teachers build ever more effective skills, practices, strategies, approaches, skills, or theories on what’s best in all of the above without something real to work on and improve.
Innovation can look like anything, really, and can certainly be good, at least for a while. One of my mentors, the inimitable Julie Horowitz, told me once that kids are not experiments, which is right. We needn’t be stuck repeating the follies of old to play it safe, though, but should lean on expert teachers and well-founded evidence of what works. Teachers, like students, need the “more knowledgeable other” of Vygostky to guide their continued growth as practitioners across the multiple axes of good teaching. Happily, that can be anyone with expertise and care enough to share – that degree of “more” knowledge or skill in a given area.
Regeneration honors what is good and old – Dewey, dialogue, Duvel – by re-conceptualizing, reinvigorating what works in order to know and be able to do it. Students coming to a deep conceptual understanding of how and why the quadratic equation works aren’t inventing anything, but are at once learning real content and becoming experts in the process of gaining expertise itself – the learning process. Teachers inquiring into their work and refining it to become demonstrably more useful for students in the process of learning themselves are learning by regenerating.
In the early days of a new school year, I’ve found myself reflecting on and talking a lot about classroom routines for all sorts of management and learning needs. Optimism abounds – setting routines at the beginning of the school year is an investment of time that can turbo charge learning experiences later in the year.
But how? Routines for thinking, like the simple (yet profound!) examples shared by Project Zero, can build the toolbox of thinking strategies students employ during different stages of learning. “Connect-Extend-Challenge” is one I recently shared with a colleague during unit planning. He asked how often kids should use this routine, and we spoke about perhaps leaning on this initially as early research happened and as kids inquired into a variety of journalistic articles on a given topic, then offering an alternative or two, and perhaps a “free choice” of routine to use as a way of engaging with and beginning to process a complex text or set of ideas. Repetition with coaching-style formative feedback lets kids gain expertise and confidence in thinking routines, but they shouldn’t become the one hammer we use every time we encounter a nail (or a Jello mold for that matter, but that’s for another post, perhaps).
Structures for discussion, like Text Rendering, for example, can also become routines that keep the action of learning student centered, which are one domain of classroom routines.
Another domain of classroom routines are those that belong to the teacher. These teacher-focused or driven routines can’t really be handed over to kids, but rather serve a need of the teacher. An example from our Upper School right now is that classrooms school-wide have instituted a routine of storing student cell phones in a pocket organizer at the beginning of every class. This routine serves a legitimate classroom management issue, but isn’t likely to become a routine students engage in independently. Bell-ringers or other warm-up routines to begin class might fall into the teacher-driven domain of routines, but with an aim pointed at student learning and classroom management, to ease the transition between classes and to begin focusing students on learning in this classroom context for the given time period.
What I’m realizing is that student-centered routines that serve as transferable learning strategies should take priority in the early days of the middle and high school year because they are an investment in time, intensity, and engagement for students. Such routines also place the teacher’s planning focus on what kids are doing during classroom time, how kids might manage themselves and their learning between the bells. Teacher-centered routines are perfectly appropriate, and planning these thoughtfully gets us out of the realm of habitual practice, which is always good.
So who are your classroom routines for? Is the balance of the scales tipping in the student or teacher-centered direction? Will a second wave, third wave, fourth wave of routines build upon these routines, instilling learning strategies in students as they become ever more independent learners? Or, do routines get locked in during the first weeks, or, alternatively, set, and then progressively ignored as other concerns take priority? Is it time to mix it up? If so, follow a link above, choose one that might fit, and give it a go!
Teacher leadership is on my mind, as a powerful professional development path and a simultaneous potential distraction from the core driver of student learning. I am transitioning from 16 years of teaching and serving as a teacher leader for much of that time to a full-time teacher leader role with responsibility for curriculum development and instructional coaching, among other areas. The constant tension between various teacher leadership hats and full-time teaching is one I am certain many other teacher leaders have felt and negotiated, as well, between pride in adult leadership well-done and dedication to student learning. Such tensions stress us out; people start talking about work-life balance, managing stress. Is there a tipping point between empowering teacher leadership and distracting teachers from the daily business of learning? I think so.
At their core, schools exist to guide each member of their community, in the words of John Dewey, “to be fully and adequately what one is capable of becoming through association with others in all the offices of life,” whether adult or child (1985, p. 368). Teacher leadership in a distributive model offers an egalitarian model for schooling that can break authoritarian impulses deeply embedded in the traditional culture of education. “Egalitarianism implies a democratic workplace where employees participate in decision making” as “a matter of style and climate” (Bolman & Deal, 2008, p. 155). Investing in and empowering teachers to lead and make decisions may reflect down into the teaching and learning, as well, creating an impetus to welcoming student voice and choice into the classroom, for example.
Additionally, teachers teach daily. As such, teacher leadership might keep a school’s focus on learning more so than if all the decisions flow down from the office alone. The vision of high-quality, authentic learning for every child every day may be realized by empowering teachers who hold this aspiration at the heart of their practice to lead. Vision through action, if you will.
But what if the tipping point between empowering teacher leaders and distracting them (or just plain stressing them out) lies in vision and culture? What are the teacher leaders empowered to do? When teachers are empowered to pursue a passion and lead on it – say, mindfulness in schools, they can get pretty deep into the topic, become engrossed, and find a strong voice to share practices. Pursuing passions with single-mindedness is engrossing and fulfilling, and I feel very lucky to have made one of my passions my life’s work. The downside? Passion turns to frustration pretty quickly when their passion and new leadership work can’t find an avenue into application. Likewise, when teachers are empowered to lead on aspects of school life that aren’t teaching and learning, like a class dean with disciplinary responsibilities or a part-time athletic director, those responsibilities can start to take over and obscure the primacy of student learning. There are lots of reasons why, I think, from the personal to the professional, teacher leaders chase the leadership rabbit and lose sight of the core work, but a culture and vision relentlessly focused on student learning can mitigate the distraction.
Hopefully, teachers and administrators are familiar with the science on divided attention, but I love Dewey on this, too, who defines “single-mindedness” (in teaching method) as “Completeness of interest, unity of purpose,” which he equates with “mental integrity.” Single-mindedness is fostered by “Absorption, engrossment, full concern with subject matter for it’s own sake,” which sounds a lot like the flow states described in the Times article linked above (and here) about needing a little less balance in our lives (183). Heresy! More Dewey on this, because it’s so good (and suggestive of contemporaneous political/social battles, but…):
“Obvious is the loss of energy of thought immediately available when one is consciously trying (or seeming to try) to attend to one matter, while unconsciously one’s imagination is spontaneously going out to more congenial affairs. More subtle and more permanently crippling to efficiency of intellectual activity is a fostering of habitual self-deception, with the confused sense of reality which accompanies it. A double standard of reality, one for our own private and more or less concealed interests, and another for public and acknowledged concerns, hampers, in most of us, integrity and completeness of mental action.”(184)
That’s a pretty deep parsing of the mental effects of divided attention, and I see it as the battle of competing priorities for the teacher leader between what she must do and what she really wants to do. The task for the administrator is to keep the must and the want to laser focused on advancing student learning, always. Otherwise, the distributive leadership model forces teacher leaders into what Parker Palmer terms a “divided,” not authentic, life, assuming their reasons for teaching are learning focused. Yikes.
Philosophical, maybe, but also practical. School leaders need to be fully engaged in the goal of learning, authentically. As Shamir & Eilam claim, authentic leaders are “motivated by goals that represent their actual passions as well as their central values and beliefs” and “internal commitment” (2005, p. 398). Of course, the buses still need to run, but if the vision and culture are embodied by leaders and flow down to teacher leaders, there will be a clear reason why the buses need to run. As roles are developed or imagined for teacher leaders, the core purpose of improving student learning should drive decision making – mindfulness? What’s the relationship to learning? How does it fit? How will leadership support the teacher with money and minutes to lead on this initiative if it indeed supports student learning? If the answers to those questions aren’t clear, wait to empower the teacher to lead until the answers become clear.
Often, but not always, our most competent teachers get rewarded with ever more responsibility that isn’t teaching. Don’t let competence become a curse; stay focused on learning.
Unlinked Works Cited
Bolman, L., & Deal, T. (2008) Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, 4th Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 4th edition.
Dewey, J. (1985). Democracy and education, 1916. J. A. Boydston, & P. Baysinger (Eds.). Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
Shamir, B., Eilam, G., (2005). “What’s your story?” A life-stories approach to authentic leadership development. The Leadership Quarterly, 16, 395-417
After five years of successful, exciting work with my Digital Journalism 1 -3 curricula, I was ready to take on some challenges to improve learning and engage with more opportunities for authentic learning. Many years ago over a beer in Prague, my friend Suzie Boss challenged me to include meaningful service opportunities for students through this course. Additionally, last year my students were more diverse than ever, and in individualizing the course to best meet their needs, I lost track of collaboration as a core driver of the course. Time to revise!
Over the past year, I had focused on crafting inquiry-based, ideally project-based curriculum for my AP Literature & Composition and IB Language & Literature Standard Level courses both alone and with a team of colleagues respectively. PBL to address external standards clarified for me – more and more, I found ways to craft narrow skill and content outcomes through broad, rich project-based units of study. It was a great year of professional learning.
This summer, I redesigned Digital Journalism with a central focus on teamwork. I am 75% happy with the current product in this respect. Teams work together to plan coverage, help each other reach deadlines, workshop each other’s media and writing, and celebrate each other’s successes. Additionally, both teams and the class as a whole are working together to create all of our rubrics based on news examples from all over the English-speaking world, a practice I’ve leaned on since my first Masters research, and which leads to co-constructed understanding of task demands. I presented this new curriculum at my CFG last week, and got solid feedback that should lead to further improvements, especially in terms of offering authentic, inclusive teamwork for a very diverse group of learners from 9-12.
Find a truly authentic goal for each team to share in. This is a bedeviler, as our student newspaper is a club project, and because of our schedule, IBDP students cannot take the course (which means most of the editorial board are out). I am pursuing other publishing opportunities and perhaps subeditor structures to pump up the authenticity.
Add roles to the teamwork, especially those that occur in journalism. Hopefully, this can marry with the above and be a win.
Connect with professionals through the lens of teamwork – what roles are necessary, and how do they contribute toward producing quality journalism?
Ask students clearly what they hope to get from the course and use this information to organize teams. Just a simple, great idea. Not sure why I haven’t done this!
But wait, there’s more!
The second part of the redesign involves service opportunities, built into our investigation unit and final exam. Last year, I got multiple points of feedback that stated there was too much time to work on assignments – surprise! So, students will either complete two investigations in the final unit or one investigation followed by a service project to address or ameliorate a problem uncovered in the first investigation. Alternatively, this project can serve as the basis for the final exam which is a choice menu of smaller projects. I’m excited about the possibilities, but time will tell how this pans out.
Between my new AP Seminar course co-taught with my excellent colleague Rob Friesen, continuing work on expanding and embedding the Global Citizen Diploma at our Upper School, promoting inquiry- and project based learning and curricula school wide, supporting professional development among my colleagues in giving feedback amongst other skills, working with my CFG as an empowering PLC, providing invigorating outdoor education with a great team in our Whitewater Kayaking Club, and rocking some solid teaching five days a week, there’s not much time for other focuses. However, my first goal this year is improving my classbuilding and teambuilding approach in every class, every day. As Rob says, “Iron sharpens iron.” To maximize learning, kids need to work together effectively and to leverage each others’ strengths. If you see that in my new Digital Journalism curriculum, please leave a comment and let me know!
As I’ve been participating in Infomagical, an attempt to MOOC-up a week-long learning experience in information literacy on the part of the fine podcast Note to Self, their recent episode on FOMO has sprung back into my consciousness. Infomagical has been fairly cool, but a few comments – gems in a podcast that otherwise wavers between interesting and so hipster-navel gazing as to be maddening – are worth sharing.
First, FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out, is a phenomenon that self-replicates and feeds on the impulses woven into social media – to shape our public personas into fabulous brands, to feel anxiety over some lack that can only be pursued, purchased, photographed, shared. FOMO is an echo of instant nostalgia.
Caterina Fake claims in the course of this podcast that we need media literacy to remember how to be human in the face of technology. The tech has a bias – she worries about us “productizing” ourselves as we “peacock” through social media. I couldn’t agree more. Media literacy is an essential piece of education, but it isn’t really in style (so sadly – this was a GREAT organization). As a former student told me last year, “now that I am literate, I just can’t stop seeing.”
Media literacy prepares us to recognize persuasion, to examine subtext and purpose, to expect untold stories and describe them, to become creators ourselves. As we engage in dialogues (multilogues?) through social media, guarding our humanity against the relentless “desire” of design requires the active engagement of a media literate public.
Where do you keep your ketchup? If you run out, what do you reach for? Chances are, if you keep your ketchup in the fridge, you are white or northern, and if you are not white or from the south (of America, to be clear), you keep it in the cupboard. This Reply All podcast begins with a “Yes, Yes, No” segment on the “Manosphere,” which is throw-up-in-your-mouth worthy, as concepts go. Listen, or skip ahead until the Leslie Miley story about diversity – or the lack thereof – at Twitter.
The point about ketchup is this: if you keep your ketchup in the fridge and run out, you are likely to reach for other condiments you keep in the fridge, like mayonnaise or mustard. If you keep ketchup in the cupboard and run out, you are likely to reach for a condiment that you keep in the cupboard, like malt vinegar (or mustard, I suppose). Diversity offers ways of problem solving in ways that we can’t anticipate in monocultural or monolithic organizational cultures. Even a diverse culture may lose out on problem solving options native to someone with a background not represented in the decision making space.
Diversity is a moral imperative in schools not just for obvious reasons, but also because diverse learning environments are necessary to prepare students for life in a broad, diverse world! This podcast makes the argument better than I can, so give a listen.
In this brilliant podcast episode of “On Being“, Krista Tippett interviews Brother David Steindl-Rast on gratitude. Brother Steindl-Rast is eloquent on gratitude, but also on all that we may not be grateful for, like violence and environmental destruction, and his thoughts on being born as the beginning of our struggle with anxiety, to go forward is to live, to retreat from fear is to die – indeed before ever living, struck me. He says for this purpose we must validate our anxiety, recognize it as real, and as based on reality. In a humanity that is choosing to destroy our own ecosystems of survival and networks of connection that, as Brother Steindl-Rast points out, put food on our plate, this anxiety is valid.
Such resonance – our anxieties are valid. In the context of a school, imagine all of the anxieties on offer every day for each member of the community. Will my daughter reach a competitive university like her father and I did? Is my child being bullied? A bully? What if they find out I am here on scholarship? Will the principal observe this lesson today, and will she understand what she sees here? Nobody else in this room is dressed like me. I’ve been away on business too long and missed another play. I don’t have anything for show and tell.
Obviously, that list could go on.
A colleague recently described the anxiety high school/upper school parents in affluent schools feel about university entrances as “guarding the family jewels,” and it helped me to conceptualize that anxiety as one of preserving capital – cultural or otherwise. I recognize that parents in high poverty areas like those in which I have previously taught have many different anxieties – will the child return home if she attends university? Is that a reasonable fear? And what Brother Steindl-Rast shares is that yes, this is a valid anxiety, and that acknowledging this should protect against reactions from fear, like pressuring a child until he cracks and has a real psychological break before reaching majority age, or blowing up a relationship with a child to protect oneself against the pain of another brilliant kid leaving the reservation forever.
I wonder how many schools open conversations about these anxieties and validate them? How many ameliorate the problem at hand with platitudes and then roll eyes in the office after 5 pm? That’s a hard conversation, even just the easy bit about Penn State being a great place to be educated, even though it’s not in Princeton, NJ. Honoring anxiety about an ever crowded and seemingly chaotic world that could strip a standard of living from our children acknowledges how little control we actually have. I wonder: Would that reduce fear and stress in the long run?
Today, in fact right now, our Upper School faculty are engaged in the classic Marshmallow Challenge to kick off a year of innovation. The always-modeling-best-practices Elizabeth Wargo (@wargoelizabeth on Twitter) organized this mini-project to get people moving in the morning, excited about the day, and working together from the get-go. //instagram.com/p/roVKM4sxr1/embed/ I was tasked with using hashtags and social media, as well as WordPress blogging to later share as a PBL option for archiving and sharing. I used #zispbl and #marshmallowchallenge through Instagram linked to my Twitter account, adding in Twitter usernames of colleagues featured in photos and videos.
What do I love about this? As mentioned above, modeling best practices. This is a kick off, and will lead into a Speed Geeking session in which we share the various methods in which faculty recorded, archived, and shared this session. Perhaps obviously, this is an initial reflection – time has just been called! People are very into their towers. Jason Welker (@jasonwelker on Twitter) is measuring the towers, logging group numbers, tower heights, and time to completion into a Google form to track and graph data. Alison Callaghan has photos and notes in Microsoft OneNote, Geoff Peake has video and photos, Christine Jordan has audio going onto SoundCloud via her phone. All are options, depending on the desired outcome, and can be mixed and matched.
Liz Wargo also retweeted one of my videos, sharing with Suzie Boss, PBL expert and all around great person who will be joining us in October for 10 days of workshopping on PBL. The same tweet was retweeted by an #edtech robot because I slapped that common hashtag on one video, which is an interesting example of how hashtags work, extending the conversation and aggregating information. Additionally, Carmen Crenshaw-Hovey, one of our do-it-all folks around the Upper School, liked and commented on my Instagram posts. Once again, social media has the potential to share learning experiences in ways we may not anticipate and to involve more of the community beyond the classroom.
Liz is debriefing now and launching into the rest of the day while linking to our summer reading, Bringing Innovation to Schools by the aforementioned Suzie Boss. Now break, then Speed Geeking. Soon, I will share this post with colleagues and discuss how blogging for reflection and blog-as-digital portfolio for archiving might work for teachers and students. One final learning piece for me: if a Twitter username is used in Instagram posts shared to Twitter, those posts drop the @ and are not usable in Twitter. Weird. Play nicely!
Maurice de Hond gets attention – in conversation, at a dinner table, and in national and international media. After a few minutes in de Hond’s company, the forces of both his personality and intellect assert themselves.
No wonder then that de Hond has taken on nothing short of the structure of public education in the Netherlands as a project in founding “Steve Jobs Schools” throughout his country.
Steve Jobs Schools have ambitious plans to change the structure of the school day and year, allowing students to meet required curricular outcomes via virtual school spaces, apps, and coaching from a team of teachers in and out of school. Currently, the schools must adhere to Dutch regulations requiring a uniform length for the school day, but they have been able to consider 10% of the school year “virtual”, according to de Hond, ostensibly reducing the amount of time students are required to attend school in person.
We visited one of several Steve Jobs schools operating since August, 2013. A full day trip, a group of international school teachers traveled from Amsterdam to Sneek by bus, regaled with Dutch history and geography, and informed about the history of this project by de Hond as we went.
Once we arrived at the school in Sneek, a small, nicely designed school in what appeared to be an economically diverse area, we were free to wander and speak with anyone we wished. I witnessed lots of normal behavior for any school: students read books, filled out worksheets, had conversations, played on and off the iPad, got shushed by teachers, got coached by teachers, and gawked a bit at their visitors.
I also saw plenty that was interesting. Students have an individualized learning plan with goals created by the teacher, parent, and student working in concert. Students learn language, math, and science in classrooms during 20 minute blocks, then retire to a central common area to work. In these classrooms, kids of all ages appear to be learning together. Students come and go independently, reminded by their iPad’s calendar when to move. This was all pretty impressive.
In the common room, the teacher in charge worked with two assistants to keep kids on task and to help out when needed. This teacher reported enjoying his new job a great deal, stating that it was both more fun and fulfilling than his prior position because he could help each student individually via their “Learning Talks” and goal setting.
Clearly, the Steve Jobs Schools are a response to the current lockstep curriculum of the Netherlands, in which inspectors enter a certain class on a certain day, expecting to see everyone working on the same page of the same book. EDIT: Maurice de Hond shared via email that these inspections are less rigid than I described here, stating that ” of course the tests are forcing many in a rigid system.” As an option to what could be a stifling academic environment for some learners, de Hond’s project makes good sense.
But these schools are fledglings, with a palpable sense of running on enthusiasm inherent to such a new, attention-grabbing enterprise. Teachers are working long hours compared to their previous jobs, and the personalization level they hope to reach is not currently in operation – eventually, they plan to have each child’s iPad set up around her goals. Currently, the set-up is the same for all the kids. Ever greater personalization will lead to more hours, I imagine, particularly if the school is responsible for organizing such a set-up, rather than transferring responsibility to the child.
Additionally, succumbing to the fantasy that being busy is the same thing as learning can be intoxicating, at least as alluring as the classic teacher fantasy of controlling learning. Watching a child swipe randomly minute after minute across number and mathematical operator symbols to arrive at an answer was unnerving. I saw many abacus apps, and a good deal of app jumping. However, I also saw kids using blocks and good old analog manipulatives, sand tables and books. In this quick, drop-in tour, my biggest take-away was that this was a school, working like a school, with a good deal of learning and some healthy mucking about taking place simultaneously.
At lunch following the visit and on the ride home, de Hond shared his vision of education freely and his hopes for his organization, O4NT (Education for a New Era). We visited the Sneek school because it is currently the most compete realization of the organization’s vision for Steve Jobs Schools, but a handful of others exist, employing recommended strategies to varying degrees. De Hond didn’t express an interest to force schools to conform to a standardized approach, but he can see a time in the future when some adherence to basic norms – once more well-established than they are now – is necessary.
I went into the Steve Jobs Schools fairly skeptical of what I might see – personalization as a playlist of worksheets or more old things done in new ways. However, this iteration of Dutch schooling as an innovation on the past and on existing regulations has potential to offer variety for students turned off by traditional schooling.
Future challenges exist. Is this model exciting enough to help teachers and students maintain their energy and enthusiasm long term? Can O4NT keep personalization and community relevance at the fore while demanding some sort of brand standardization for Steve Jobs Schools, or will this lead to stronger echoes of the existing system of education? Once finely-tuned, what relationship will the O4NT suite of virtual school apps have with Steve Jobs Schools, and to what degree will such apps drive educational, curricular, or pedagogical decision making?
New approaches in education are few and far between, with much that is new or reform-minded providing little more than a fresh glaze over last century’s progressive-isms (many of which featured great ideas). De Hond and his Steve Jobs Schools are executing some thoughtful concepts and forging a clearly welcome path through the community of Sneek, engaging kids in the process. And de Hond seems to bring enough energy to the project to keep it steaming along for some time.