• Design, Engineer, Build
  • Personalize, Choose, Create
  • Access, Integrate, Engage
  • Curiosity, Interest, Passion, Joy

As regular readers may recall, I’ve written several times before about the extraordinary educational leadership of Dr. Pam Moran, superintendent of Albemarle County: first from a distance, and then from a close up and in person view.

Now readers have the opportunity to view her themselves by viewing this new TEDx talk from Dr. Moran, in which she shares her many ideas and concepts for educational transformation, as can be seen above, the titles of her slides.

In this talk, she calls upon all us to take learning from what NASA deems the limitations of low orbit travel exemplified by the space shuttle to deep space exploration of Moon, Mars, and beyond missions.    Standardized testing and test prep keep us in low orbits, but we need to take learning beyond to deeper understanding, greater mastery, creativity and production as opposed to consumption and regurgitation.

I especially appreciate her passion and commitment for not just STEM, but STEAM, because integrating arts and artistic/design sensibilities into STEM learning is so critical to creating tomorrow’s innovators.    She shares very engaging examples of students participating in Coderdojos and various Design/engineer/build and Makerspace labs.


Note: I am delighted to be co-presenting with Dr. Moran next month at Educon at Science Leadership Academy Philadelphia, on the topic of Performance Task Assessment & the CWRA: Better Goal Posts.

The Ted talk above is from Angela Duckworth, a Professor at U.Penn who is fast emerging, it seems to me, as an important thought leader and inspirational figure for those of us in the field of educating adolescents (and others).

Having just finished Paul Tough’s new book, How Children Succeed, I believe Duckworth stands out significantly in that book (she’s the star); she offers a series of perceptive insights and the research evidence which underpin the book, as captured in its subtitle, Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character. 

I love the quote Duckworth shares in the talk above from Darwin, which conveys much of her working thesis:

I have always maintained that, excepting fools, men did not differ that much in intelligence, only in zeal and hard work, and I still think this is an eminently important difference.

In the Tough book, Duckworth is quoted on her alternative from the norm view of school reform:

the problem, I think is not only the schools but the students themselves.  Here’s why: Learning is hard.  True, learning is fun, exhilarating, and gratifying, but it is also often daunting, exhausting and sometimes discouraging.

 To help low performing students, educators and parents must first realize that character is at least as important as intellect.

I worry too that we forget how hard learning is, for many much of the time.   Yet at the same time, this quote only partially represents her broader argument, because when you dig deeper, she is equally worried about, or at least her research reveals that we should be equally worried, about learning that is too easy for our students, learning that is about listening to the lecture, reading the book, and “cranking out” the paper, year after year, for at least 8 of them, and then coming out of college and realizing how much more is required of success.

There is also, and I want to return to this in a subsequent post, a fascinating discussion of “under-matching,” in education: sometimes some students attend colleges which aren’t challenging enough to them, local state or community colleges overwhelmed by numbers and by needed remediation for many, but not all of their students, and those that are more prepared for the challenge are under, not over, whelmed, and, bored and disengaged, drop away.  But undermatching can occur in other dimensions too, when students perfectly competent at cranking it out and “doing school,” as Pope calls it, get by but don’t transcend.

In my own observations of highly intellectually talented students at top California prep schools, I saw far too often a stultifying dullness in what was being provided for them, resulting in an apathy about genuine learning that was heartbreaking and  which is ultimately dis-serving.  In my own recollection of college, it was only a six months or so before I dropped out, not literally at all, but in effect, transferring the largest part of my time and energy to campus activism in various forms and not doing enough for my own learning.

From her collaboration with the legendary positive psychology guru Marty Seligman, whose work has long been highly important to me,  Duckworth, as Tough explains, has derived a list of 7 key traits of character in this context, and note the way this is understood as performance character, not moral character:

Grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity.

In my study of 21st century learning, I’m familiar with the emphasis placed on curiosity, (see Wagner), and social intelligence and all its significance for collaboration.  I’ve also seen optimism listed  and highlighted in the recent Marzano work on Teaching and Assessing 21st century skills, and gratitude is at the heart of much of positive psychology and the broader happiness movement, which I write about and praise regularly.

But for Duckworth, the twin towers on this list are self-control and grit, and the discussion of their importance in Tough should be required reading. (more…)

Certainly among the greatest highlights of the NAIS Annual Conference this year was the presentation and speech by John Hunter, 4th grade teacher and founder of the World Peace Game. John is a member of what I think is among the very most exciting school districts in the country, the Albemarle County School district headed by the terrific Pam Moran, about whom I recently wrote as a model of leading learning forward.   What is exciting for the members of NAIS is that he is becoming in a sense an adjunct member of our association, thanks to his recent appointment as a Fellow of the Martin Institute, which is a program in Memphis of Presbyterian Day School, an NAIS member school headed by Lee Burns.

When asked what he was to do as a teacher first starting out, he was answered “what do you want to do?”   Let’s invite teachers to teach to their passions; let’s ensure they have the opportunity to do what they want to do even as we ensure they are carrying out our school’s mission.

Quotes from his very inspiring talk, which you really should take the time to see.

The game has these 50 interlocking problems and I throw them into this complex matrix and they trust me because we have a rich deep relationship together.

They learn to overlook short sighted reactions and think in a long term, more consequential way.

Student: You are learning to take care of the world.

I can’t tell them anything because I don’t know the answer.  I admit the truth- I don’t know.   Because I don’t know, they have to dig up the answer.

Maybe this game will help you to learn how to fix the world for us.

Who’s in charge of this classroom?  It is a serious question. Who is really in charge I have learned to cede control of the classroom to the students over time.  There is a trust and an understanding and a dedication to an ideal that  simply don’t have to do what I thought I had to as a beginning to teacher to control every conversation they have in the classroom:  their collective wisdom is much greater than mine.

That’s the kind of engagement you want to have happen. I can’t design that, I can’t plan that, I can’t even test that.   But it is self-evident assessment; we know that’s an authentic assessment of learning.  We have a lot of data but sometimes we go beyond data with the real truth of what is going on.

For more about John Hunter and his World Peace Game, a new movie is available.   The trailer is below; I have a copy and hope to see and share thoughts about it soon.

“This was the best TED Talk ever.”

“My favorite yet!”

“I loved this!  It totally spoke to me.”

After a lapse of a few months, I found this morning a slot to share at all-school meeting a TED talk– and when I announced this, the room broke out into genuine applause.   This is a very charming and sweet connection I am sharing with my St. Gregory students, one I will miss greatly:  our shared “fandom” for TED talks.

After viewing, we had a great ten minute all-school conversation.   First we focused upon the content– what is the relationship of happiness and productivity, how do we “filter” our experience, what are the five techniques for developing a positive outlook and happiness attitude, and do we agree with these five?

The five techniques to shift your attitude, enhance your happiness, lift up your filter, and strengthen your productivity:

  1. Express gratitude daily; deliberately choose to write or say thank you and express appreciation for what you have.
  2. Journal.
  3. Meditate.
  4. Exercise.
  5. Practice random acts of kindness.


Then we shifted to form: what made this talk so effective.  Humor of course was the most important element, but we also discussed the way the presenter himself modeled a positive affect, and the way he used a personal story at the outset to build a sense of connection with his audience.

Take the twelve minutes for viewing this one: It is a very funny talk with a very meaningful message.

A recurrent theme on this blog is advocating learning by doing in the 21st century, and I argue that we should be seizing the opportunities new technologies present to facilitate our students in shifting their focus from consumption to creation, from receiving information to producing knowledge and applying it to become themselves active innovators.

We have been working throughout our curriculum to promote this idea– see the way that our AP Gov’t class has written their own textbooks or created their own political campaigns complete with TV ads and websites as examples.   Our Design Built Tech Innovation class, often celebrated here on the blog, is a highlight of our efforts in this direction.

In the TED talk above, MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld explains that we need in our schools a  “Fab Lab — a low-cost lab that lets people build things they need using digital and analog tools. It’s a simple idea with powerful results.”

We’ve won the digital revolution; let’s look after the digital revolution to what comes next.

I’ve never understood the boundary between computer science and physical science… Computer science is one of the worst things ever to happen either to computers or science.

I started a new class, How To Make Almost Anything.   Students were not there [in this class] to do research, they were there because they wanted to make stuff.

Just year after year — and I finally realized the students were showing the killer app of personal fabrication is products for a market of one person. You don’t need this for what you can get in Wal-Mart; you need this for what makes you unique.

[paraphrase] When we opened FabLabs, we found a pattern: Empowerment begins, and then Education follows, serious, hands on education, Problem-Solving follows, and in turn Businesses grow around this problem-solving, and eventually there is Invention: real invention happening in these labs.

So, we’re just at the edge of this digital revolution in fabrication, where the output of computation programs the physical world. So, together, these two projects answer questions I hadn’t asked carefully. The class at MIT shows the killer app for personal fabrication in the developed world is technology for a market of one: personal expression in technology that touches a passion unlike anything I’ve seen in technology for a very long time.   And the killer app for the rest of the planet is the instrumentation and the fabrication divide: people locally developing solutions to local problems.

With this as inspiration, we at St. Gregory are pushing ahead to develop further our own version “Fab Lab” in Dennis Conner’s Physics classroom.   Already it is an astounding place, filled with terrific tools and resources for construction, measurement, and analysis.   Students are building solar energy stations, trebuchet catapults, and much, much more in this FabLab.  But we are not done: there is more to do.

Next on our list is the installation of a 3D printer, ordered recently from MakerBot and which will be ready to go for students next month. (more…)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Last week I spent a few days visiting a very wonderful, creative, and lovely school, Seacrest Country Day in Naples, Florida.  While there, in conversation with a pair of terrific high school Science teachers, I was turned on to The Big History Project, a Gates foundation funded initiative to bring this interdisciplinary curriculum to high schools, based in large part on the vision and wisdom of historian David Christian, whose TED talk, which we showed today at St. Gregory, is above.

The TED talk is terrific: Christian uses terrific visuals, short videos, and a well-designed timeline to articulate the “threshold” moments in the universe’s history, and identifies what makes possible the development of greater complexity in a universe governed by the 2nd law of thermodynamics.    Most interesting, of course, is the role of collective learning: that only by learning with and from each other, and sharing that to pass it forward, can we sustain and advance our greater complexity.   As Christian concludes, however, with greater complexity comes greater fragility: we have an awesome responsibility as humans, we who alone have crossed the most recent threshold, to sustain our accomplishments and our creativity.

At the very end of the TED talk, the Big History project is mentioned, and it is explained more thoroughly in the video after the jump (more). (more…)

Two of our junior students adopted this summer a passion for the cause, CharityWater.org, and brought to all-school meeting an inspirational video promoting its 5th Anniversary September campaign; immediately afterwards they sold water bottles with the Charity:Water logo to serve this cause.

As one of our teachers, Lorie Heald, who oversees community service and is working hard to integrate CS  in an exciting new way with our one year old faculty-study advisory program, transforming what had been isolated individual work into a new collaborative team initiative,

This morning Becca and Marion demonstrated EXACTLY what I would like each advisory to consider doing.  They identified a need in the world outside of school, they chose a charity to support, they took action, then they shared it with the whole school.  Community service will be much more meaningful if we follow their lead.
Awesome job girls!

The video is greatly engaging and moving, and the cause valuable and meaningful.  It was important to me to balance this effort with another approach, “thinking differently,” that brings ingenuity rather than heavy machinery to the cause.   It is not that one is better than the other altogether, but that they can complement each other valuably.   Accordingly, I shared the following Ted Talk, which created quite a buzz among students in the theater as the presenter first created a batch of disgusting water, and then drank it out of his water bottle.

But as I have thought more about it, both of these two approaches– one about heavy machinery from abroad, and the other about ingenuity from afar,  reflect something of a limited viewpoint: (more…)

Julian Treasure offers us above a recent TED Talk, a lovely exhortation on the value of listening, but notably short on the details.

His key recommendation is for the use of the acronym RASA.

Receive (which means pay attention to the person); Appreciation (making little noises like Ok), Summarize (the word so is very important to communications), Ask (ask questions afterward).

I live to listen, that every human being needs to listen consciously to live fully: we need to be connected in space and time to the physical world around us, and connected in understanding to each other.

We need to teach listening in our schools, as a skill: Why is it not taught?  It’s crazy.

We can move it to a place where everyone is consciously listening all the time, or at least capable of doing it.

Let’s transform the world to a conscious listening world, a world of connection, a world of understanding and a world of peace.

The video could make, I think, for a lovely preface to an advisory session (pressed for time? Just watch the last two minutes, beginning at 6.00) about listening, and students could be invited then to practice good listening for the subsequent 15 minutes in pairs or trios.

In this second video, Eli Parisier, author of the Filter Bubble, calls upon us to listen better by listening more widely to a wider array of ideas and perspectives.   (more…)

[cross=posted, slightly modified, from Connected Principals]

While interviewing a teaching candidate a few weeks ago, I asked her about her own digital citizenship and the ways she uses Web 2.0 tools to create, collaborate, and communicate online; her answer was swift and firm:

“Oh no, I would never do that; I know that it is dangerous and deeply problematic to ever put information about yourself on line because it will come back to haunt you.  In our family we know we must guard our privacy and protect ourselves from anything that could hurt our reputation. ”  We didn’t hire this candidate.

Let’s view digital footprints not as  frightening dangers to avoid, but as fruitful opportunities to cultivate for ourselves and especially for our students; let’s seek to support them in creating digital portfolios and wonderfully positive images of themselves online.

TEDx youth programs are a magnificent vehicle for this endeavor, and are readily available for schools and associations to participate in.

I am extremely proud of my regional association of schools (Independent school Association of the Southwest) for the work of  our technology directors in launching a TEDxYouth day for our member-schools, in which dozens of our students prepared and presented their own TED style talks.  The video above is a promotional video for our association’s program: it is blended with the promotional video for student TEDx programs broadly, and you can find and share the universal TEDxYouth video here.

I am really delighted with the program: can you think of  a better way to support students in the development of their oral and digital video communication skills, to provide them opportunities to share and advocate their visions and passions, to connect them with a vibrant global network, and to enhance their digital footprints?

Last week I enjoyed seeing Jason Kern, Technology Director at Oakridge School (TX), do an excellent presentation on the ISAS TEDx program, and Jason welcomed me to embed his slides (after the jump).    (more…)

I downloaded the TED app recently to my iPhone– I regret I waited so long.   The first tab within the app is devoted to TED themes, and I am struck that one of the most popular theme is “The Rise of Collaboration (54 talks)” and it says that this also understood as “the wealth of networks.”

Struck, delighted, but as I reflect, unsurprised.  We are living in an era of extraordinary intellectual networking, and so many of us are finding ourselves connecting, communicating, collaborating, networking, and growing by the virtue of our online networks.

This is a major theme of my recent writing here on the blog and of my recent keynote address, Innovative Schools, Innovative Students.   It is prominent in the new book by Steven B. Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation and in the new book by John Seely Brown, A New Culture of Learning.   Many are writing about it online: one terrific post about the power of being a networked educators is by Lyn Hilt: Becoming the Lead Learner. 

In the TED talk above, Will Richardson provides a brilliant and compelling articulation of the significance of a newly networked era and its significance for learning.    Even more compelling than the TED talk is Will’s slideshow, Learning in a Networked World: For our students and for ourselves: Check it out.  It is exquisite both in form and content: I am intending a blog post about it soon.

Some favorite quotes from the TED talk:

I think this is the coolest moment to be a learner.

It is very different from when we were growing up… Our kids can learn whatever they want whenever they want… (more…)


I shared this with our upper school student body last week, in a continuing series of TED talks for student assemblies, ( which I think is the greatest thing since email).

Simon Sinek tells us of an extremely simple and extremely powerful strategy for leadership and commercial success: to tell Why first? All people need to follow you, and follow you passionately, is to know why you do what you do, and to believe in it.  The what doesn’t matter nearly so much once people believe in the why.

Martin Luther King was so successful because he shared his dream: his followers knew why he was calling and working for change, and the followed him.    Apple, the computer company, shares its vision for why they are a company: to disrupt the status quo, Sinek explains, and that is its secret sauce, not its quality products; this is in contrast to TiVo, he says, which has a similarly quality product but hasn’t explained why consumers would want it.

Myself, I am conflicted about the success of the talk.   I think his historical examples are less than convincing: both Apple and TiVo have had, over their histories, plenty of ups and downs on the roller coaster of the stock market and consumer adoption. (more…)


After my talks last week on the topic Innovative Schools, Innovative Students, Karl Fisch suggested to me to Dan Meyer’s talk, and I thank Karl for that.   Dan’s terrific talk has a great resonance with my argument that if we are to teach our students to become innovators, we must move them away from simplicity and formulas and most of all from absolute answers,  against actually.   We must become more comfortable with discomfort, with lack of clarity, with a lack of simple or certain solutions.

Dan says early in his talk that this is an amazing time to be a math teacher, and this is certainly one of my larger arguments in parallel: this is an amazing time to be an educator.

Dan fears that our educational system is inculcating in our students exactly the wrong traits for their future success, and I would extend, exactly the wrong ones to prepare them to be innovators.

  • Lack of initiative
  • Lack of perseverance (more…)

This is a tiny bit outside my normal range of topics, but two of my intellectual influences, blogger Andrew Sullivan and Slate writer Emily Bazelon, have both written about it in recent weeks, and I am impressed by their argument.   Many, too many, anti-bullying videos dramatize bullying and its effects in ways which make bullies look powerful and victims look weak and defenseless.

Bazelon, in her piece “How Not to Prevent Bullying”   points to other current videos in circulation which really go the wrong direction. In them the bullies often look attractive in their social power, in a way almost akin to the way some anti-cigarette advertising can actually romanticize the practice that it seeks to condemn.   Even more problematic, videos which show bullied students resorting to suicide only reinforces their sense of powerlessness.  As Bazelon says about one of them,

But the video has nothing in it about how Jenna could have gotten help, no models of kids or adults reaching out to her, nothing to help kids remember that however awful bullying feels in the moment, high school doesn’t last forever. It’s like the dark opposite of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project, offering hopelessness instead of hope.

The video provided above, on the other hand, shows the power bystanders have, and the way students can stand up, be strong, and make bullying behavior look anything but cool– instead, her it looks kind of pathetic.  The denouement here, reminiscent of that wonderful climactic scene in the Kevin Kline film In and Out, is heartwarming and inspiring: we all have in our power opportunities to stand up and make clear we don’t stand for homophobia.    It is a great bit, and worthy of showing in our schools.