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A Note to the Reader: Valhalla High School’s rockin’ principal, Mary Beth Kastan, gave me permission to pitch these ideas to our staff in the spring of 2016 in the hope of facilitating a move toward leveraging technology to create a more student-centered learning environment. This post was part of my [failed] attempt to inspire change here at Valhalla.


I, of course, have my own ulterior motives, as anyone having read The Mac Lab Way and/or Small Annoyances will immediately recognize. Now it seems my [happy] destiny is to continue collaborating with teachers and administrators from other cities, states, and countries. So, fellow digital rebels, let’s begin (re)imagining!

Wagner, Tony; Dintersmith, Ted (2015-08-18). Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era (Kindle Locations 764-766).
Scribner. Kindle Edition.



Let’s conduct a gedankenexperiment.

What if…

What if our education system actually is obsolete?

I know. That sounds crazy. But humor me. What if…?

If it were true, wouldn’t you agree that we’d have a moral obligation to act?

We’re teachers. We care. We’re in it for the kids.

And after all, if we won’t try to reimagine it, who will?

So, in our hypothetical thought experiment, how might we reimagine our education system to better serve our students—to help prepare them for the demands of our rapidly changing world?

As an added challenge, how might we implement our reimagined system in time for the upcoming school year?

We’ll have the same classes, calendar, bell schedules, and standards. We’ll still be required to record attendance, assign grades, and, of course, maintain a safe and welcoming learning environment. Beyond that, however, we’ll have enormous latitude to reimagine.

Think about that. Even in public education, we have both the freedom and responsibility to reimagine our respective learning environments when circumstances demand we act.

Pretty cool, huh?

We’ll take it one step at a time, paint with broad strokes, and fill in the details later.

But before we begin in earnest, we need to acknowledge that we have acquired, over the years, more than a few preconceived notions about our education system. We, like our students, have been more thoroughly conditioned than Pavlov’s dogs.

In short, our “common sense” may reflexively reject most, if not all of the following.

Especially what’s up next.

Spoiler: There’s nothing hypothetical about this crisis.

Lewis, Michael (2010-05-12). The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition. [Tolstoy quote on opening page.]


Perceptual Juice Cleanse


Yeah, but necessary because we’ve all accumulated a startling array of perceptual toxins over the years. Don’t believe me? Try reading the following with an open and accepting mind.

New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed without any other reason but because they are not already common.

— John Locke

Common sense is judgment without reflection which is shared by an entire class, a people, a nation, or the whole human race.

— Giambattista Vico

Judging by common sense is merely another phrase for judging by first appearance… The men who place implicit faith in their own common sense are, without any exception, the most wrong-headed and impracticable persons.

— John Stuart Mill

Sound English common sense—the inherited stupidity of the race.

— Oscar Wilde

Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18.

— Albert Einstein

For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are more often influenced by things that seem than by things that are.

— Niccolo Machiavelli

The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.

— William Blake

The trouble with people is not that they don’t know, but that they know so much that ain’t so.

— Josh Billings

To die for an idea; it is unquestionably noble. But how much nobler it would be if men died for ideas that were true.

— H. L. Mencken

…illusions multiply, and among them there is, I suppose none more ubiquitous than the idea that “you can’t change human nature.” This ancient platitude might long ago have been relegated to a home for superannuated ideas, were it not so constantly useful.

— Barrows Dunham

In all cases of perception, from the most basic to the most sophisticated, the meaning of the experience is recognized by the observer according to a horizon of expectation within which the experience will be expected to fall.

— James Burke

Perception is based, to a very large extent, on conceptual models, which are always inadequate, often incomplete, and sometimes profoundly wrong.

— Lyall Watson

Every creative act… involves a new innocence of perception liberated from the cataract of accepted belief.

— Arthur Koestler

Reimagining, by its very nature, is a creative act. Some, though certainly not all, of our preconceived notions—our so-called common sense—are toxic to creativity. But which ones? And how can we identify them?

Good questions.

As we move through the foundational elements of this reimagining—all of which, by the way, are interconnected, backed by research (that I’m not going to cite ad nauseam), and part of an integrated whole—we may find ourselves reflexively rejecting an idea. If we do, remember that we’re just conducting a thought experiment. These aren’t marching orders; we’re just imagining:

What if…?

If we find our reflexive impulse activated, resisting even imagining a possibility because we know for certain it’s impossible, unworkable, or otherwise unacceptable, we can be pretty certain our horizon of expectation has been adversely affected by a cataract of accepted belief if I may quote two of our distinguished contributors.

When that happens, as it surely will, remember this tidbit:

…a childlike playfulness which is one of the hallmarks of creativity. Consensus is rare in psychology, but most workers in the field agree that creative thinkers can be recognized by their ability to entertain wild ideas without feeling the usual need to pass judgment on them.

— Lyall Watson

That doesn’t sound too difficult, does it?

If all else fails, return and review the quotes in this section whenever you find yourself reacting like these guys…

WARNING: Contains naughty words.

The Big Short

Now that that’s out of the way, are you ready to entertain some wild ideas?

Let’s begin with something easy and obvious.

Spoiler: Your rejection reflex is about to be activated.

Rose, Todd (2016-01-19). The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness (p. 133). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.


Captain Obvious

Kids learn at different speeds.

We know that. Heck, we all learn at different speeds, right?

What’s even more obvious is something I’d never thought to consider before encountering it in Rose’s book: everyone learns different things at different speeds.

That means, to grossly oversimplify, a “slow” learner in your class might be a “fast” learner in mine. Or to more closely conform to the findings, she might struggle to comprehend one concept while intuitively grasping another in either class.

And there’s no way we can predict either outcome with certainty.

You see what’s coming, don’t you?

What if…?

What if our learning environments openly acknowledged that fact? What if we empowered kids to learn at their own pace?

But let’s not stop there.

What if we empowered kids to learn at their own pace and in their own way?

Kids are unique yet their individuality is seldom valued within our current standardized education system. Think of what we’ve been sacrificing on the altar of conformity and compliance.

What if…?

Relax. Take a breath. I know that sounds impossible to implement but we’re just imagining, right?

What would such a room look like? How would it work? And what would our role be?

Again, good questions. Let’s keep reimagining.

Spoiler: Everything that follows will be just as obvious. And just as hard to accept.

Couros, George (2015-10-20). The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity (Kindle Locations 415-417). Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.. Kindle Edition.


Transfer of Power

In a self-paced environment, the learner starts the class, not the teacher.


I know. Hang on to that childlike playfulness and imagine…

Imagine students walking into your room, reading information on the board, opening their Chromebooks (or notebooks) and beginning the day’s work without you having said a word or lifted a finger—all before the factory-inspired school bell has rung!

Wouldn’t that be something?

While the kids work, you’re free to meander about the room, observing and interacting with individuals and/or small groups, taking a daily pulse of your 21st century learning environment, developing your strategy for the next day, and occasionally making an announcement, providing clarification, asking questions, or inviting conversation—after apologizing for interrupting, of course.

You see, in this scenario, the students are empowered to begin the class on their own because of what you’ve already taken care of in advance. You’ve written and/or recorded daily learning objectives, project ideas, challenges, or even a little direct instruction and posted it online along with links to examples and resources that give your students additional direction.

Note: Begin with more possibilities than anyone could ever complete and continue the practice so that no one can encounter a stopping point. Provide an antidote to the poisonous possibility of a student ever uttering, “I’m done” so your self-paced learning environment is rich with choice and opportunities.

Because the information is updated and archived daily, all participants (including helicopter parents) have a record of classroom policies, expectations, learning objectives, and other requirements as they unfold all year long. Pre-Map Example | Current Example

Does this take time (and courage)? Yes! But you’ll save far more time, as we’ll see, by completely reimagining your own role in the learning environment. As Lead Learner, you’ll be working with your students to reimagine and individualize your curriculum.

Imagine the culture of your learning environment becoming one of cooperation and co-creation as opposed to compliance and control. Working together, your students will begin suggesting unexpected project ideas, sharing newly discovered resources, and even creating artifacts to help their peers grasp content as synergy takes root.

Imagine that many of the questions—and objections—you may be experiencing right now will be answered once you stop focusing on the curriculum to be covered and begin focusing on the culture to be created.

Empathy begins by acknowledging the damage our standardized education system has inflicted on our children. Learning can and should become a joyous act of daily discovery and adventure once again—an opportunity, not an obligation.

And imagine, just imagine, how that might apply to your life as well.

Hold on to these wild ideas as we continue to connect the dots and fill in the blanks.

Spoiler: We’ve been embracing and refining these concepts in the Mac Lab for well over a decade.

Pink, Daniel H. (2011-04-05). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (p. 35). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.


The Third Rail of Education

Grades are the currency of our education system. How can we reimagine grades so that the system is both adequate and equitable? And how can we do so in a way that takes the issue of grades off the table so we can begin to tap intrinsic motivation?

Before wandering over to touch this electrified topic, let’s pause for three short hopefully instructive stories.

The first two are lifted directly from Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era and their relevance will be explained by a former Mac Lab student.

The Lawrenceville School

Imagine sending your kids away to a real-world version of Welton Academy. The cost? A cool quarter million for a high school diploma. Yikes! But get this:

…[A] decade ago, it ran a fascinating experiment with students taking core science courses. When students returned after summer vacation, they were asked to retake the final exam they had completed three months earlier. Actually, it was a simplified version of the final, as the faculty eliminated any detailed questions that students shouldn’t be expected to remember a few months later. The results were stunning. When students took the final in June, the average grade was a B+ (87%); when the simplified test was taken in September, the average grade was an F (58%). Not one student retained mastery of all important concepts covered by the course.

Here’s a somewhat similar story with another startling punchline:

A few years ago, Dartmouth College had incoming freshmen who had scored a 5 on the AP psychology Exam take the final from Dartmouth’s introductory psych course. Ninety percent failed. Perhaps even more telling, students who failed the final and then enrolled in the class performed no better than students who hadn’t taken AP psychology.

It shouldn’t be difficult to imagine the implications of those two experiments, or to imagine the results could be replicated on virtually any campus, but before you try, consider Dominic Redding’s response to this Alfie Kohn article:

For the past 12 years of my life, I’ve been told getting good grades is what matters. If I want to live a comfortable life, I was told I would need to get into a good college. To get into a good college, I was told I needed good grades, so I got good grades. Year after year, I worked in my classes to get my A’s because it was expected; I would sometimes put more work into getting the grade (or calculating how I could get the grade) than into the class itself. Grades made me feel like I was playing the system, I was counting cards against the curriculum, and it worked. I didn’t have to worry about doing much work because the numbers said I could get an A without applying myself. It was boring. It’s still boring. I spend all day in class doodling on notes and assignments.

If the article changed one thing for me, it changed the level at which I despise grades. I absolutely hated this article because I knew that it was talking about me. From my family to my teachers to various educational horror stories on the internet, I’ve been told that grades are what matter. Grades are the only thing that have mattered. I can’t remember Algebra 2, much of World History, half of the material we “learned” last semester, even. I got an A in all my classes, but so what? I got an A because I memorized what I needed to maintain an 89.5% across my classes. Want to know how to do an anti-derivative of a logarithmic function? Well, I couldn’t tell you because I already got an A in calculus.

When we get rid of grades, though, I’m able to retain information. Even after spending about a year away from the Unity API, I still remember how to use most of the methods and functions, I still remember what I’ve worked on (and in which directory I saved it).

Without grades, I learn practically. With grades, I barely learn.

Dominic, by the way, graduated #10 in his class despite 40 credits of 4.0 A’s (from the Mac Lab) dragging his GPA down. When he wrote of getting rid of grades, he was referring to a very different system with a very simple rubric—one that required Dominic to actually apply himself to earn his A.

Imagine an individualized grading system that rewards dedication and diligence while acknowledging each student’s unique strengths and weaknesses. Imagine a grading system that focused on long-term goals rather than incremental measurements. Imagine a system that fosters perseverance and resilience while eliminating micromanagement. In that vein, imagine an end to the countless hours spent assessing minutia which, in a very real sense, have little or no long-term impact on the learner.

Finally, imagine it only takes 17 words to make a system that’s both adequate and equitable. Well, 17 words directly tied to a very specific, student-centered classroom culture that, when taken together, removes the issue of grades from the table.

Spoiler: Very few teachers will even consider using my rubric because “they know” it’s unsound because [fill in the preconceived notion].

Schwartz, Katrina. “What’s Your Learning Disposition? How to Foster Students’ Mindsets” March 25, 2014. 


Reimagining Assessment

Before we touch that third rail, ask yourself why those Lawrenceville students dropped from an average of a B+ to an F on their science finals. And while we’re at it, why did 90% of those Ivy League students fail a test they’d previously aced?

The answer, like all of our answers, is completely obvious.

Students studied for the tests before performing spectacularly. And studying, for most students, means packing relevant information into short-term memory.

That’s why it’s called cramming.

As unbelievable as it sounds, our standardized education system places enormous value in test scores that measure little other than one’s ability to retrieve and collate information stored in short-term memory.

Study for the quiz. Study for the test. Study for the mid-term. Study for the final. Study for the SAT.

Study. Study. Study.

Then pass the test and forget most of it a few days, weeks, or months later.

While the world is in desperate need of creative, collaborative problem solvers, we’re asking kids to study for tests.

What if we were to reimagine assessment to better align with our reimagined learning environment?

Look, so far we’ve simply imagined a learning environment that empowers kids to take charge the moment they walk in the door. They read the board, check for new information online, and pick up where they left off unless otherwise instructed. They’re working at their own pace and learning to play to their strengths as they find their own way to meet learning objectives.

We still have other intrinsic motivational strategies, scaffolding, and documentation to add to the mix but let’s face it, we’re just like our students; we want to hear how this supposedly magical grading system will take the issue of grades off the table.

Apologies, in advance, for the buttons I’m about to push.

Imagine a dedicated student who attended your class every day ready and willing to learn. Imagine that she followed all your policies and expectations, that she embraced every challenge, worked diligently every day, and never stopped trying.

Remember, in this imaginary learning environment, because you’ve taken care of instruction before the day began, you have the entire period to observe and interact, to nudge and redirect, to connect one learner to another for a round of peer mentoring if necessary, or just to sit down and work one-on-one when the situation demands it.

So, considering the student’s attitude, drive, and determination as well as your own freedom to intervene when necessary, one question remains.

What’s her grade?

Please forgive me for asking, but are you considering the question or are you generating excuses for evading it?

In case of the latter, I’ll give you a clue. You already have all the information you need to arrive at an adequate and equitable assessment.

If you believe you require additional information in order at assign her grade, why not start by assessing the other individual in this scenario? The student held up her end of the deal. She did all she could.

Did you?

I realize we don’t normally involve the educator in grade calculations, but if you’ll excuse me for asking, why not? We have all the power in the classroom and as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility.

Or do you think Uncle Ben was wrong?

And now we know her grade. She earned an A.

We, as Lead Learner, earned a different grade. And we’ll grow from the experience.

The Grit-Based Rubric (GBR) is both adequate and equitable, and it removes, as much as is possible, the issue of grades from the table.

Persistent, consistent effort in a collaborative, self-paced, student-centered learning environment leads to the highest level of success a student can achieve in a given subject.

If you believe you must test students to gauge their understanding, do so but do it without ever asking them to study in advance and do it as a repeatable, non-punitive formative assessment so you’ll both know where you stand. Well, you’ll both know according to a test. And as we all know, not all students are good test-takers and not all tests are good measuring sticks.

For those of you who think this is foolishness, that it rewards low-performing students simply for trying their hardest—which would be an awesome outcome, if you think about it—please remember that you also have Dominic Reddings in your class and they’re skating through your curriculum, putting forth minimal effort to “earn” an A, and retaining next to nothing without having any concept of what they might have otherwise achieved.

If for no other reason, you owe it to both groups to give the GBR serious consideration.

A:  You gave it your all.
B:  Great, but…
C:  No second effort.
D:  Are you kidding me?
F:  Who are you?

Sustained effort, in the self-paced learning environment we’re imagining, is self-evident. Students choose their grade with deeds, not words. They have freedom with responsibility and both of you will know beyond a shadow of a doubt which grade the student has chosen with her deeds.

Because some will wonder, no, I’ve yet to have everyone in a class choose to earn an A. We—the students and I—continually modify and refine our learning environment but a significant, yet diminishing, number of students opt for one of the other four choices.

As the chief architect of my learning environment, I consider that my fault.

How, you might be wondering, could this ever work in your classroom because you teach [fill in the blank]?

All classrooms, regardless of the subject matter, are different because all teachers and all students are different. Maybe we should try to focus on commonalities to begin rather than on the unique challenges you and your students will face.

UPDATE: Grit-Based Rubric (redefined)

Yes, I really use that 100 point grading scale.

Spoiler: Tapping intrinsic motivation is the key to unlocking any kid’s potential in any class.

Pink, Daniel H. (2011-04-05). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (p. 204). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.


P is for Purpose

There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.
— A great line from Dan Pink’s TED Talk.

Whenever I read or hear about business-centric research, I read or hear it like this:

There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what education does.

And that mismatch is huge.

Autonomy, mastery, and purpose are the keys to tapping intrinsic motivation.

Imagine how kids might react to being given a measure of autonomy in how they acquired and demonstrated mastery of the subject matter in our student-centered learning environment. It’s easy to imagine the confusion, the discomfort, and the meandering paths many students might initially choose for themselves. And that’s okay because exploration and failure are a significant part of the learning process that our education system typically avoids or vilifies.

But the biggest failure in imagining then quickly dismissing the roles autonomy and mastery might play in our learning environment is to ignore and/or underestimate the power of Purpose.

Purpose isn’t something we add to lend credence to our intent; Purpose (with a capital P) is the cornerstone of all we’re hoping to achieve. Purpose is where we begin, what we lean on, and why we’re willing to consider embracing these wild ideas.

Back at the top of this page, I asked you to imagine what if…?

What if our education system actually is obsolete?

If you were the sort to believe our education system is both adequate and acceptable, I’d admire your resolve in reading this far but would fail to comprehend how you’d arrive at your conclusion because it doesn’t take much of an investigation to discover that our standardized education system treats kids like interchangeable parts passing through the educational equivalent of widget factories, established by the Committee of Ten, molded by the tenets of Taylorism, and found worthy or wanting by the almighty testing industry.

Standardized education served its purpose back in the day but our rapidly-evolving world presents far more immediate, critical challenges than our current system can address.

Today, our world demands innovation, not standardization.

What if we invited our students to help us reimagine education as they enter our self-paced, student-centered learning environment on the first day back at school next fall?

The GBR (Grit-Based Rubric) provides students with both security and surety when embracing AMP (Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose)—the driving force of our adventure.

Students need not fear for their academic standing as they acclimate to our wild ideas.

All that’s missing is documentation and a dash of ZIM!

Spoiler: Some of our best ideas will come from our students.

Christensen, Clayton; Johnson, Curtis W.; Horn, Michael B. (2010-09-17). Disrupting Class, Expanded Edition: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns (pp. 140-141). McGraw-Hill Education. Kindle Edition.


Content Creators

If you haven’t already, you’re going to be hearing a lot about digital portfolios—online artifacts created by students to chronicle their learning experience and/or showcase their best work.

But they’re far, far more than that.

First and foremost, digital portfolios, in combination with our own online presence, create a transparent learning environment. And as frightening as that might sound at first—to Lead Learners or students—that transparency ignites our Purpose.

Think of it as a form of public speaking.

Students no longer turn in assignments; they publish them. Publishing work invites far greater scrutiny and that scrutiny—whether real or imagined—leads to deeper reflection.

And if you doubt that, create your own blog, write something meaningful, then click the Publish button. The introspection, the doubts, the fears, the proofreading, the editing, and the re-editing that precedes clicking that Publish button speaks volumes to the commitment you’re making.

Luckily, there’s also an Edit button so you can continue to polish and iterate.

Writing for an authentic audience changes everything.

Conversations about digital citizenship and netiquette become immediate and relevant because everyone has a stake in the game. Peer review, collaboration, iteration, and peer mentoring become an integral part of the process.

Kids begin to learn more about one another through this organic interaction and a sense of community grows. As students begin to embrace our Purpose, a sense of communal ownership develops. They begin to see for themselves just how important this window into the learning environment can be and a natural desire to help one another blossoms.

As Lead Learners, we MUST lead by example if we’re to expect our students to build rich, personalized digital portfolios. We need to embrace and embody our Purpose. If we want students to move outside their comfort zone to reimagine our education system and their place in it, so must we.

After all, if we can’t dare to dream aloud, how can we expect our students to?

And this leads us to the final piece of the puzzle.

How might we scaffold academic freedom—giving kids latitude to demonstrate mastery of our learning objectives in their own way—in order to maximize outcomes?

Spoiler: Every alpha needs its omega. AMP is bound by ZIM!


Inspired by Bud Caddell’s “How to be Happy in Business” Venn diagram. Modified with permission.


ZIM! The Zone of Intrinsic Motivation

Imagine presenting students with a version of our ZIM! Venn diagram and challenging them to find ways to expand our agenda—the teacher-centric WHAT I WANT YOU TO DO stuff.

Imagine saying something along the lines of:

Convince me of other ways you could learn and demonstrate mastery of this material. Think about it then pitch your ideas. Sell me! Then deliver the goods.

If our overt academic goal is to create and publish evidence of successful student-directed learning, we’re effectively defining flexible boundaries for student autonomy and introducing an element of what might be called academic entrepreneurship into the learning environment. We’re the equivalent of venture capitalists in this scenario and students are startup founders trying to find funding for their innovative ideas.

Because, as previously mentioned, we’ve all been conditioned to expect something other than AMP, ZIM! and the GBR, this takes time, patience, and scaffolding. We provide the objectives and formative guidance, wrap them in our Purpose, and leave the bulk of the knowledge acquisition to the students.

Think of it as an innovative, collaborative, self-paced, self-directed, flexible, iterative, constructivist learning model—one in which Lead Learners and students alike have access to the sum of human knowledge. As a consequence, we—the Lead Learners—are no longer the experts in the room.

Lead Learner isn’t a euphemism; it accurately defines our role in this cooperative learning environment.

We join our students—in word and deed—as co-learners and co-creators, openly participating in this not-so-quixotic quest to reimagine education.

And that changes everything.

Spoiler: This wasn’t really the final piece of our puzzle. 

Kelley, Tom; Kelley, David (2013-10-15). Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All (Kindle Locations 139-141). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.



Most teachers care deeply about what they do. Most teachers work incredibly hard at refining their strategies and course materials to better serve their students. These incremental improvements lead to, more or less, doing the same thing but doing it a little better each and every year.

And that, as H. L. Mencken might have suggested, is unquestionably noble.

But how much nobler it would be if we were to recognize the mismatch between what kids need and what we’re providing.

What if we were to accept the premise that our standardized education system was designed for the needs of a time and place that simply doesn’t exist anymore? What if we were to recognize this thought experiment as the foundation of a new way to serve 21st-century student needs?

What if…?

Trust is time to ask yourself, to find the strength to ask
Questions free the answering, unbinding them our task
Faith is time spent wondering, what we’re meant to find
Imagine it’s your purpose, adventure by design
Belief is time to listen, but who has time for that?
Especially when the answers, knock expectations flat

We have to believe if we’re to expect our students to believe.

Disruptive innovation is messy. There’s no clearly defined path from where we are to where we want to go. We’ll forge our paths together with our students, documenting our journeys so that others might benefit from our stories.

We’ll offer our students unprecedented learning opportunities. We’ll soar. We’ll crash and burn. We’ll rise from the ashes stronger and wiser and celebrate the failures that lead directly to unexpected discoveries.

But none of this happens without you. The decision is yours.

If you wait until you’re fully prepared, you’ll never begin because you cannot, by definition, ever be fully prepared for disruptive innovation.

Valhalla’s admin has your back. Check with Mary Beth. Your fellow disruptors will have your back as well. Disruptive innovation is a team sport.

The Committee of Ten had their day; it’s time to embrace the future.

Spoiler: You’re the hero of this story—you and your students.

Richardson, Will (2012-09-10). Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere (Kindle Single) (Kindle Locations 143-145). TED Conferences. Kindle Edition.


Creativity and Complexity

From Small Annoyances:

Search and you’ll find business leaders complaining that most college grads don’t possess the critical skills today’s world requires while universities bemoan the growing number of incoming freshmen they claim aren’t prepared for the rigors of college.

And high schools? Think about it. We’re supposed to prepare students for career and college—for careers that may or may not exist when our students enter the working world and for colleges that don’t seem to be preparing students for the rigors of the real world.

Much that has gone unsaid will be covered in the next post but one thing needs to be made clear. We stand between yesterday’s world—the edu status quo—and tomorrow’s. To help bridge that gap, I propose something tentatively called c.school.

c.school: Built by teachers and students (school within a school)

c = critical thinking, creative problem-solving, collaboration, communication, career preparation, cultural awareness, citizenship, character, creativity

The purpose of c.school is to inspire students to learn critical skills needed for career and citizenship, engage their passions, nurture their growing sense of purpose, and empower them to make their world a better place.

Or more simply:

Empower learners to make their world a better place.

Building blocks:

  • Participants opt-in
  • Participants co-create curriculum
  • Participants modify curriculum as needed leveraging everything from AMP to ZIM
  • Classes start themselves (students know what to do)
  • No one is ever “finished”
  • 10 min max lecture/instructions per day (Online or at hand is optimal)
  • 30 min max homework/day (Zero homework is optimal)
  • Curriculum must be relevant to real-world applications
  • Real world project-based, inquiry-based, etc. learning
  • Create and share artifacts—with everyone (traditional and c.school)
  • Access to Makerspaces
  • Begin building interactive, gamified resources (integrate CS into all classes)
  • Purpose-driven learning: Identify and solve problems and/or provide services
  • Iterate. Iterate. Iterate.
  • Transparent Learning Environment: Everyone reports online
  • Students: Blog. Document the experience. Show what you did, tried, and learned
  • Teachers: Blog. Document the experience. Show what you did, tried, and learned
  • Open book/internet if testing is necessary
  • Oral, written, and multimedia presentations
  • Peer review and mentoring
  • Guided, structured self-assessment
  • Student-initiated asynchronous collaboration
  • Maximize cross-curricular opportunities
  • Stress initiative and academic entrepreneurship

Imagine sharing electronic versions of standards and learning objectives at the onset and challenging students to publish artifacts demonstrating mastery of the material over the course of the year.

Use your 5 to 10 minutes each day to explain, demonstrate, challenge, or simply to share your own sense of joy relating to the adventure. But keep in mind that your subject matter, while important, is secondary to nurturing and empowering students to learn a new way of learning—one that embodies freedom with responsibility and demands deeds, not words.

Here’s something I wrote years ago that still rings true:

Of all the lessons in the Mac Lab, the most important have nothing to do with media arts. The most consistent, persistent lessons I teach revolve around personal responsibility and doing the right thing. (Remember, my favorite quote is Richard Bach’s: You teach best what you most need to learn.) I make no secret of the fact that I was a surly, arrogant, know-it-all (or at least I thought I did) or that I made foolish choices in high school. Above all else, I try to teach the kids to be responsible, reliable, moral, ethical, honest, dedicated, hard-working individuals. I encourage them to dream, to choose wisely, to learn from their mistakes, and to just do something! Above all, I try to persuade them to look within, to search for what it is they want to do in life, to find their bliss and work to make it a part of their individual lives.
— August 14, 2009, Blog Entry

Do something to make their world a better place.

It’ll make your own world a better place, too.

Spoiler: Your efforts will connect with others in unexpected ways.

McQuivey, James (2013-02-26). Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation (p. 143). Amazon Publishing. Kindle Edition.


Apologies and Thanks

Though I’ve tried to reshape all of the tactless phrasing scattered throughout this missive, I’m certain to have offended someone. Please be assured that no offense was intended. My subdued Howard Beale routine was aimed at the system, not at any individual.

If you’d like more context for c.school, please see The Mac Lab Way and/or Small Annoyances. To better understand AMP, check out Dan Pink’s informative and entertaining TED Talk. This Alfie Kohn article might help persuade you to reconsider the status quo of grades. If you like to read, here are some of the books that have helped shape my thinking. If you’d rather it in bite-sized bits, my Twitter feed might appeal.

If nothing else, please consider reading The End of Average. Imagine what would happen if over 100 years of critically important research was found to have been built upon a single faulty premise.*

And what, you might ask, has happened? So far, not much. The consequences are so far-reaching most folks don’t seem willing to take the next step and even try imagining, what if…?


Common sense strikes again.


Thanks for accompanying me on the ride. This post is a work in progress and subject to editing so it’s more a living document than a traditional blog post.

Until next time, I’ll leave you with the same words my students hear at the end of the period every Friday:

Do something to make the world a better place!

Spoiler: I’ll be sharing specific plans for next fall once I recover from the small annoyance of writing this post.

*…the same assumption served as the basis for research in every field of science that studies individuals. It called into question the validity of an immense range of supposedly sturdy scientific tools: admissions tests for private schools and colleges; selection processes for gifted programs and special needs programs; diagnostic tests evaluating physical health, mental health, and disease risks; brain models; weight gain models; domestic violence models; voting behavior models; depression treatments; insulin administration for diabetics; hiring policies and employee evaluation, salary, and promotion policies; and basic methods of grading in schools and universities. The strange assumption that a group’s distribution of measurements could safely be substituted for an individual’s distribution of measurements was implicitly accepted by almost every scientist who studied individuals, though most of the time they were hardly conscious of it. But after a lifetime of mathematical psychology, when Molenaar unexpectedly saw this unjustifiable assumption spelled out in black and white, he knew exactly what he was looking at: an irrefutable error at the very heart of averagarianism.

…A century and a half of applied science has been predicated on Quetelet’s primal misconception. That’s how we ended up with a statue of Norma that matches no woman’s body, brain models that match no person’s brain, standardized medical therapies that target nobody’s physiology, financial credit policies that penalize creditworthy individuals, college admission strategies that filter out promising students, and hiring policies that overlook exceptional talent.

Rose, Todd (2016-01-19). The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness (p. 62, 65). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.