Follow Your Passion: Crazy or Genius?

Street musicians—I have a warm place in my heart for people that have decided they must play music. I call them “can do no other” people. They found clarity, followed their passion, and hit the streets.

Is their pursuit of passion crazy or genius? A few are discovered and make some money. Some figure out how to turn busking into a business model. Most never make enough to support themselves.

When does it make sense to follow your passion? A new book, The Passion Paradox, tries to answer that question. Authors Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg say that just following your passion can be overwhelming, incomplete and ultimately, defeating.

They observed that passion fuels big accomplishments, but it can also be problematic. They share that, “passion and addiction are close cousins.” They explain that you must develop the right kind of passion: the kind that lets you achieve great things without ruining your life.

Malcolm Gladwell recently highlighted Howard Temin, a scientist initially shunned for his work on an obscure virus. His colleagues had long dismissed him as a heretic—until he turned out to be right and created the whole category of antiretroviral drugs.

So how long do you pursue your passion? LinkedIn founder Reif Hoffman often cites grit as one of the most important lessons for entrepreneurs, calling it “a key differentiating factor” between those who are successful, and those who aren’t.

But Hoffman resorts to nuance as well. “Hard work isn’t enough. And more work is never the real answer,” says Hoffman. “The sort of grit you need to scale a business is less reliant on brute force. It’s actually one part determination, one part ingenuity and one part laziness.”

By ‘lazy,’ Hoffman suggests “you want to conserve your energy to expend it on the right things.”

“You want to minimize friction and find the most effective, most efficient way forward. You might actually have more grit if you treat your energy as a precious commodity,” adds Hoffman.

Applying a Four-Way Test

All this advice still seems pretty nuanced. If you’ve ever closed down a business you were passionate about (like I have…twice), you know the decision is excruciating.

One way to think about following your passion is the Rotary four-way test. Two of the questions ask: is it fair to all concerned? And, will it be beneficial to all concerned?

These questions situate your dilemma in a broader context of community and commitments. The Rotary four-way test is a reminder that it’s not just about you; it’s also about the circle of people invested in your success and wellbeing.

Another four-way test is the Japanese concept of Ikigai. It is a sense of balance at the intersection where your passions and talents converge with the things that the world needs and a willingness to compensate for them.

Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” Bodetree, adapted from Francesc Miralles.

Adding the business model question is key: can I get paid for doing what I love? If, after a good attempt, you can’t answer that affirmatively, it is time to make that passion a hobby.

Figure out what you’re good at and what causes you care about. Look for ways to get paid making a contribution at that intersection. But it’s dangerous to be gritty when it’s not “fair to all concerned.”

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This post was originally published on Forbes.

Is the Transition to Flexible Spaces That Challenging?

By: Andrew Miller

Flexible learning environments encompass many facets—from furniture and physical space to student agency and choice in how they spend their time and take ownership of the learning environment. The implementation of flexible learning environments captures the dynamic way space, time and agency come together to create student-centered learning. Singapore American School has been on this journey for quite some time. It is one of their components of personalized learning, which also include competency-based learning and customized pathways.

Sixth-grade teams were involved early in the ‘pathfinder’ work of piloting flexible spaces and learning in the middle school. I recently had a chance to sit down with one team and learn about how they saw the transition of students to what may be for many a different way of learning. While flexible seating and spaces are just two aspects of flexible learning environments at SAS, it is important to reflect on and learn about their specific implementation.


Community Building and Ownership

Culture comes first. As teacher Linda Xuereb says, “We bring students together often and build community right from the start.” She knows the importance of setting the tone with clear expectations and a culture of care. She adds, “It’s important to build routines and habits to support them in their transition to flexible learning.”

Teacher James Toney shared one very practical routine: “As a practice, we have students take responsibility to reset the space.” In addition, he says “We get students involved in naming the spaces.” It’s a fun way to have students take ownership of the space both in terms of culture and routines. Teacher Chris Peterson says, “We allow students to take ownership as they get to choose where they work and how they work.” Teachers provide coaching and the students often reflect on their choices to help them support the culture of the classroom and their own learning.

Need for Parent Education

We conduct regular learning walks at Singapore American School, often with parents. These walks can help parents get a sense of how flexible spaces work. Students are often collaborating on projects and engaging in collaborative learning experiences in middle school. That being said, sometimes parents come for an initial visit and it may look a little chaotic to them. As Toney says, “Parents may actually struggle with the transition more than the students.” There needs to be follow-up with parents and perhaps multiple visits so they see the space being used in different ways. Teacher Kris Munden says, “Parent education is essential—they need to know that we don’t always have all the walls open. It’s all about helping them realize that our learning experiences drive the configuration of our flexible space.” Having parents engage with educators is essential to helping students with the transition and establishing a shared understanding and partnership.

The Space Talks

The Regio Emilia approach calls the learning environment the “3rd Teacher.” This is particularly noteworthy in a space and environment that may be new to students. Classrooms and learning environments are created for students with the intent of aligning teaching and learning practices. In fact, the space goes further than alignment. Teacher Brendan Riley says, “The flexible space facilitates collaborative and interdisciplinary learning. When we want to collaborative, it is as simple as turning our heads to the left or to the right.” Instead of collaboration being a separate learning experience, it is part of the culture of learning in the classroom. Knowing the flexible space fosters this type of learning suggests the focus on the transition may be more about learning habits than seating habits. If students are struggling in the space, it may be that attention should be given to addressing learning practices and routines to support them.

Not a Big Deal?

One of my biggest takeaways from talking with the team was questioning the assumption that “the transition is really a big deal.” Riley says, “If you make it a big deal to them, then it will be.” This really gave me pause. As educators, we do need to be mindful of the transition and plan accordingly but also treat it as normal routine; addressing it, but not playing it up. Teacher Sue Greaney adds, “Because middle school is a big transition, students are really open to anything.” This made me reflect as well. Students are constantly in transition, but the transition to middle school can be especially challenging. However, one of the opportunities is that students are excited and willing to try new things. There needs to be a balance of explicit preparation and embedded, responsive practice to support students.

Reflect and Revise the Furniture

One of the opportunities we have at SAS is modeling a learning organization. As students are growing and changing before us, we need to be cognizant of what is appropriate for them. In addition, we may find some spaces are not used or that small aspects of the space need tweaking. Consequently, changes are made to the spaces year after year, refining it to really meet student needs. “Furniture can make an impact on the classroom. It’s important to audit the furniture to see what is working and what is not working,” says Greaney.  Administrators regularly work with the teachers to learn and then select new furniture or make changes to the space. They also partner to survey students and run focus groups. It is important to approach the transition to flexible spaces as an iterative process. We need to learn as much as our students in order to create spaces that work for them.

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Andrew Miller is the Director of Personalized Learning at Singapore American School. He is also a consultant for ASCD and PBLWorks.

How Can We Prepare K-12 Students for the Future?

By: Rachelle Dene Poth

In the discussion about skills that students need for the future, there are many things to consider. We can ask about student interests and have a good understanding of the current opportunities in the world for work and learning. However, we also need to continue to research and stay informed of changes happening and new trends and technologies that are evolving. Where do we start? 

We can first look at the evolution of required skills over the past 10, 20 and 30 years to find some commonalities and use it to predict possible future needed skills. We could look for trends in technology and certain industries of work. By looking at how technology has changed the types of work and jobs that are available within any given industry, we can come up with a plan for the future and design the right learning experiences for our students.  

Consider this: Think about book stores or shopping malls. Now we have so many online sites for people to purchase the items they want, without needing to set foot into a store. When it comes to books, we don’t even need a physical book any longer, we can quickly download it to our devices and access it at any time. Our purchases arrive at our home the very next day, if not the same day, depending on location.

Thinking back from childhood until my early 30s, I spent a lot of time in bookstores and record stores. Bookstores provided a space to sit and read or study or whatever you needed to do. It was a place to be social and to maybe enjoy coffee with colleagues or take time for yourself. But today it’s hard to find bookstores; many have closed over the past few years, which means there are employees who have been replaced across the world because of online sellers. It also means a loss in jobs replaced by automation. Shopping malls, especially in smaller towns, are also losing tenants because the stores cannot compete with the ease of buying online. 

Newspapers have downsized either the amount of information in the papers has decreased or stopped production completely. These are just a few examples that I think of where new technologies have greatly impacted the world of work. How much more will technology seemingly replace the need for humans and human skills? What impact will automation have on our students? How do we prepare to be ahead of technology? 

Preparing for the Unknown by Working Together

First, we prepare students by helping them to understand the technology and the potential impact it has on our future. We need to take a bigger step and help students to become the designers of the technologies for our future. We need to encourage students to create new ideas, find problems to solve and create problems to explore. We need to work together to provide learning opportunities within our classrooms, our schools, and our communities, where students get to experience different types of learning. Sometimes even taking on something new that’s outside of their comfort zone, and likely outside of ours as educators, too. We need to encourage students to explore new areas, even if they initially express a lack of interest. We should give students the same opportunities to explore and see if something else out there sparks curiosity or leads them to learn more and build skills in a new way. 

Ideas to Start

To better understand the changes happening in the world, we need to take chances with experiential learning, place-based learning or working on community service projects. These can provide more real-world opportunities for students to develop skills on their own.

A few ideas:

  1. Have students create a business based on the content area,  specific topic or thing. Set some guidelines. For example, if students are studying the 18th century, they likely won’t launch a social media campaign. Having these types of guidelines will push them to think creatively, problem-solve and collaborate to come up with new ideas. Maybe the next step is then changing one fact about their project, maybe it occurs in a different country, in a different time, on a limited budget. These changing variables will push students to look at learning as an ongoing process. 
  2. In many schools across the country, courses are being offered on entrepreneurship, project-based learning, innovation, or some variation of these. Students are creating their own podcasts, designing their own clothing or creating their own brand of something innovative. Fostering these types of activities will keep students actively pursuing new ideas and help them to be flexible when it comes to changing technologies and the world of work.
  3. Connect students with some of the learning opportunities available through edtech companies such as Google and Flipgrid or organizations such as StartEdUp Foundation and Remake Learning. Earlier this summer, Google announced a certification program for high school students to become certified in GSuite tools. Flipgrid partnered with Find Your Grind to provide career decision-making resources to students. Students can take a lifestyle assessment and find out which careers might match their interests. 

By exploring the work being done by Don Wettrick with StartEdUp, educators can find podcasts and other resources to learn how to provide these innovative learning opportunities to their students. Students can sign up for free events through the foundation, which will have locations in six cities. Remake Learning provides a wealth of resources in its playbook, blogs, online forums as well as local and national events.

Think about all of the resources we have available to us with things that don’t even require us to interact with humans. We can arrange food delivery, purchases from Amazon, or have questions answered about our technology troubles. These are the ideas that led to a change in the way work is done. We need to give students opportunities to manage big projects, to look at problems and to come up with solutions, especially out of the box solutions, and try new things.

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Future Trend: Designing Schools for How Humans Learn

In 2001, Marc Prensky coined the term ‘digital native’ and proclaimed that existing schools would prove to be obsolete for modern students. Though this theory has been debunked, Prensky’s narrative has served as a catalyst for calls to innovate education. Ironically, in the forward to Allan Collins’ and David Halverson’s 2013 book, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America, renowned scholar John Seely Brown describes the epitome of the future of education using an iconic image: the one-room schoolhouse.

Brown argues that in the digital revolution, technology will enable the best practices of the past. Armed with new tools, students could experience the active, social, and meaningful learning that occurred over a century ago. While technologists and edtech enthusiasts extol the potential effects of future technologies, in order to understand how we can create learning environments that prepare students for their future might once again require an examination of what we already know. As Dr. Joshua Eyler (@joshua_r_eyler), director of faculty development and director of the ThinkForward Quality Enhancement Plan at the University of Mississippi explains in How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories behind Effective College Teaching, learning is evolutionary and as much a part of our genetic make-up as a product of our educational system. Therefore, whether referring to the current era as the Fourth Industrial Revolution or The Age of Agility, one tenet holds constant: schools should not only prepare students for active participation in a networked, global economy, but also for lifelong learning. To do this, Eyler promotes five critical concepts to frame the design instruction for the future:

One: Curiosity

Throughout history, curiosity has been a critical component of learning. Without wonder or inquisitiveness, learning rarely happens. Think about small children. To learn about the world, they explore with their senses, building mental models through touch, sight, hearing, and even taste.

At an academic level, scholars ask research questions to construct knowledge. Whether that curiosity leads to a solution or a dead-end, the experience of wondering forges new connections and understandings. Given the rhetoric that today’s students will need to seek out novel solutions and prepare for an unknown future, curiosity is both a trait to nurture and a pathway to learning. Consider strategies like understanding by design and project-based learning. At their core lies the idea of inquiry; that experiences should drive and foster curiosity as students construct their own sense of reality through social learning.

Two: Sociality

Social psychologist Lev Vygotsky argued decades ago that learning manifests through language and communication. While it is possible to learn independently, most learning occurs through social interactions and play. For example, the Reggio, Waldorf, and Montessori models all encourage children to ask questions, explore with peers, and play with learning. These tenets certainly translate to older students as they also need to engage in dialog both to formulate ideas, knowledge, and theories as well as to receive feedback or validation.

As Eyler writes, “play helps to cultivate creative thinking and provides students with an opportunity to explore multiple sides of an issue in ways other teaching strategies might not allow.” Whereas traditional classrooms encourage quiet learning, often in solitude, and a transmission of information from teacher to student. Ideal learning environments should encourage conversation, curiosity, and play.

Three: Emotion

Though sociality contributes to learning, Eyler explains that emotion “adds substance, nuance, and contours to our social interactions.” From a neurological perspective, learning occurs as the brain builds patterns. However, a brain experiencing stress, confusion, or turmoil thwarts that process both from a biological and a psychological perspective, often manifesting as fight-or-flight reactions in threatening situations or the notion of toxic stress.

On the other hand, enthusiasm and joy serve as powerful motivators. When students feel safe and cared for, they become more apt to deeply engage in the process of learning and more confident with the social structure of the environment. As educators build personal relationships with their students to create this sense of psychological safety, they also learn more about how to scaffold instruction and tap into student interest as a means to truly personalize learning.

Four: Authenticity

Throughout history, teachers have dreaded the question “Why do I have to learn this?” However, that question most likely correlated to a moment when the content or skill seemed disconnected from the student’s reality. Current instructional trends advocate for real-world problem solving and sharing or publishing to a real audience, but Eyler argues that an authentic experience is more valuable than a real one.

Not only does learning need to feel connected to the world outside the classroom, but it also requires students to do work that feels authentic to them. Students need to act as historians, mathematicians, scientists, and scholars of literature. Assignments and activities should feel immersive and compelling such that students want to pay attention because the experience feels valuable. Consider the student who can become an expert at Minecraft, dance, or baseball but not apply the same level of focus in class. This is a clear sign that their school learning lacks authenticity, essentially preventing any learning from occurring.

Five: Failure

Numerous debates over the value of failure exist. Some argue that failure is a natural result of trying something new. Others proclaim that stakes are too high to fail. Eyler asserts that if educators create low-stakes conditions for students to fail, and then provide guidance, scaffolding, and time for reflection, then failure becomes a catalyst for learning.

Few concepts exemplify this idea better than maker ed. Students have the time, space, and resources to try, test, fail, iterate, and try again. In these contexts, students often explore and create something of interest; collaborate and share with peers; and then create an artifact that is meaningful to them. Failure is part of the process and viewed simply as an opportunity for improvement.

Once again, as a new school year begins, articles will emerge touting the latest trend in education and the new future of education as dictated by some innovation or technology. However, as Eyler helps us to understand, we have always known how humans learn. The question is whether we will design learning environments that maximize our students’ experiences.

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A Lesson We Keep Relearning: It’s All About Relationships

Paul Wezeman was a tech-savvy teacher on a planning team for a new school in Western Washington in 1994 (the year WWW showed up on the cover of Time magazine). He made the case for an Apple computer for every two students and set out to create a new kind of fifth-grade experience, one not limited by a whole group slog through textbooks.

His student-centered, project-based classroom challenged young people to think, to create, and to collaborate.

Wezeman got to know each of his students. He helped every learner discover their superpowers and created leadership roles that leveraged their strengths. For students stifled by traditional classrooms (like my daughter), Wezeman unlocked a passion for learning and changed life trajectories.

Many of us were really optimistic 25 years ago that tech-enabled learning would be a game-changer. Yet where it has, it’s been about relationships more than the tech.

We keep rediscovering that most learners are motivated by relationships and grow in community.

Relationship First Schools

Schools in the New Tech Network prioritize team-taught, team-based integrated projects.

They promote and assess collaboration as part of every project. The small schools foster powerful sustained relationships—New Tech students build relationships with their advisory, their teachers, their peers and their community.

In the Big Picture Learning network, schools prioritize “Rigor, Relevance and Relationships.” Advisors help learners identify areas of interest to design projects and engage in internships. In an environment with no traditional classes or grades, students at Issaquah’s Gibson Ek school learn independently through self-directed projects, with certified teachers serving as guides. At New Village Academy, LA, individualized education is part of a holistic academic relationship that also recognizes and supports students’ whole selves. The school incorporates health and wellness activities into the routine of everyday.

EL Education is a network of 160 schools that emphasizes a culture of respect and belonging. Every day begins with an advisory period called Crew where they build relationships and success skills. The EL character framework encourages students to accomplish meaningful work by building strong relationships with one another and with their communities.

Energy Institute High in Houston is a STEM-focused magnet school that partners with local natural resource businesses to inform a project-based course of study that connects students to their peers and to professionals, who offer critical insights on their work.

The two middle schools in Denver’s Beacon Network “welcome all students into our culture and make sure students have a safe space to grow and learn, built on mutual respect and unity. In each class, students receive feedback on five character traits that build mental and moral development.

Valor Collegiate Academies in Nashville start the day a morning meeting of students in a circle of support. The holistic approach to human development program is based on the belief that “our humanity is found through our relationships with others.” The schools create a culture of belonging and inclusivity that helps students manage their social and emotional lives in relationship to their learning. They are also the top performing academic schools in the state.

These exemplary schools prioritize powerful sustained relationships in their:

  • Structure: small schools or houses that encourage strong relationships;
  • Guidance: an advisory system that connects each learner to a mentor that promotes sustained relationships and productive decision making;
  • Learning model: a sequence of experiences created for and with young people that include opportunities to collaborate with peers and community members; and
  • Culture: routines and rituals that value community.

Good schools build relationships into their structure, culture and practices. Strong relationships build a sense of belonging, they cultivate success skills, and they promote achievement. Strong relationships today makes possible a lifetime of success.

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Header image caption: Kepner Beacon Middle School, Denver Public Schools 

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This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures, please see our Partner page.

This post was originally published on Forbes

How to Develop a Mastery Dashboard That Works

By: Scott Ellis

A key challenge in mastery learning is how to organize and display the data about student learning progress. A web-based data dashboard is a common and reasonable approach for accomplishing this task–and scalable in a way that a Google spreadsheet is not. But how should the dashboard be structured? And what kind of underlying data architecture makes this possible? In developing MasteryTrack we confronted these issues and sought to develop a scalable approach that would work for students and teachers as well as principals and parents. We learned many lessons on the way, and these along with the details of our ultimate solution may be helpful for others trying to grapple with the thorny issue of organizing and displaying data to enable mastery learning.

5 Mastery Dashboard Design Tips

1. Grain size. Early in our efforts, we struggled with what “grain size” of objectives to include in the dashboard and how to organize them. After experimenting with a few different structures, we ultimately implemented a five-level hierarchy to describe learning content in any course:

  1. Subject (math)
  2. Course (Late Elementary Math II)
  3. Unit (decimals)
  4. Concept (basic operations)
  5. Objective (multiply decimals up to hundredths)

We initially had an additional level between Unit and Concept called Topic because we thought we might need a sixth level in the hierarchy, but we eventually found that it was never used. Five levels have been sufficient for a range of courses and course “types” (e.g., math, computer science, SEL, world languages, etc.). All courses use Subject, Course, Unit, and Objective, and some (but not all) use Concept as well. We have also found that the structure can vary for different sections of the same course—some have enough levels of detail that they need the Concept level while others can be accurately displayed without it.

2. Dashboard types. We created two types of dashboards: the overview dashboard and the objective dashboard. We found that teachers wanted to see a high-level view of student mastery status across an entire course and all its units (the overview dashboard), and then they wanted to be able to dive into the status for every objective within a unit (the objective dashboard). These two views enable users to quickly and easily understand where students are in their learning.

3. Structures of courses. Structures of courses vary significantly by subject area and grade level, so in MasteryTrack we have implemented several different types. Some dashboards are designed to cover roughly a year of learning content. This is common in some math courses (e.g., Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II, etc.) and high school science courses. This may simply be an artifact of the existing time-based system, but it might actually be a reasonable long-term approach to structure mastery-based content in a way that is feasible for teachers and students. Learning trajectories like Algebra/Geometry/Algebra II are well understood, and structures like Chemistry/Honors Chemistry/AP Chemistry may provide an established mastery-based course architecture. So although mastery learning generally drifts away from grade levels, we have found one-year courses helpful in some cases.

Many subjects are moving towards a grade band structure. This is easy to display in MasteryTrack and enables teachers to see the data for students who are at widely different places in their learning—it is easy to see the progress of students who are far ahead as well as those who are earlier in their learning. This has worked well for structuring courses like SEL, Computer Science, Elementary Math, and Social Studies, and could easily apply for others. One downside of this approach is that if there are too many units or too many objectives visible on the screen, the dashboard starts to become more cumbersome and less useful. A “course” that includes content for multiple current grade levels may have large sections that are not used simply because students have not learned much of the content.

We have developed a few courses that include several years of content. This has particularly been true in languages—this is the structure for Spanish Interpersonal Oral and Mandarin Chinese Writing. In Spanish Interpersonal Oral we initially designed a dashboard that included all content from beginner through advanced-intermediate, which covers several years of learning. This course has 10 units. The early units have one to six learning objectives each, while the advanced units have 14. This has been useful for teachers to see the full learning trajectory for students. Recently, however, we have received requests from teachers to restructure the Spanish content to create separate courses designed for earlier learners since so much of the advanced content is not relevant for them.

4. The number of objectives. A final dashboard architecture issue is the number of units and the number of objectives. The overview dashboard may become cumbersome if it has so many units that the user needs to scroll far to the right to see everything. In these cases, it can be helpful to split the course in two, or else to consolidate units so the full content can be seen in one view. In the objective dashboards, if a particular unit has too many objectives (more than 15-20), it can become hard to read and also require scrolling to the right that the user may find undesirable. We found that in these cases the best solution is to divide it into more than one unit so there is a more manageable number of objectives per unit. On the other hand, we have encountered some situations where a unit only had one to two objectives. While this is feasible, it becomes a bit cumbersome for the user, and so it can be more efficient to consolidate multiple units so there are at least four to five objectives in a unit.

5. Our best advice? Don’t over-engineer your dashboard. If you’re building your own dashboard, initiate two or three trials with a simple prototype and commit to continuous iteration so you can start to identify the right foundation in your context. The risk of building a solution on the wrong architecture is too high to justify trying to create a complete tracking system without getting user feedback along the way.

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This blog is part six of a series on mastery learning, sponsored by MasteryTrack. If you’d like to learn more about our policies and practices regarding sponsored content, please email Jessica Slusser. For other posts in the series see:

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Scott Ellis is the Founder and CEO of MasteryTrack. You can find him on Twitter @MasteryTrack.

The 3 Secrets to Scandinavian Innovation in Education

It’s 8:30 am on the first day of school. There are no bells to indicate the start of the day, or administrators hurrying the students into their classrooms. In fact, the school is completely empty.

Teachers, pupils, and administrators have shed their school attire in exchange for comfy t-shirts and colorful trainers. They are all busy playing group games in the forest nearby. After all, who would want to play the world’s largest game of Jenga in a button-up shirt and slacks?

The First Week of School in Scandinavia

I learned about the first week of school in Scandinavia from good friends and former colleagues at High Tech High, Loni Bergqvist and Tina Schuster. One spent time in Finland as part of a Fulbright scholarship to study innovation, and one was in Denmark for long-term consulting work.

I was particularly interested in what made the Nordic system of education so world-renowned. After all, four of the five Nordic countries have ranked continuously in the top 12 countries for education quality in 2018. And more, although comprising only .3 % of the world’s population, they contribute a disproportionate amount in the creative fields of music, game- design, and technological innovation.

Like Loni and Tina, I assumed their ingenuity had something to do with high standards, a rigorous curriculum, long school hours, unlimited funding, mandated testing and limitless tech. Instead, I learned these contributed little if anything to their success.

The magic of Nordic education lay entirely in the way they build relationships within their schools.

Here are what I believe to be the magic ingredients of Scandinavian education and the implications they have for us as educators:

Magic Ingredient #1: Autonomy to Innovate and Take Risks

No formal evaluations. No sitting for centralized exams until the age of 16. No measurement of children in their first six years of education. These are some of the hallmark characteristics of an education system that prides itself on autonomy and trust. In fact, in Finland, the average teacher spends only four hours a day in the classroom while the other hours are given to hone and refine their craft.

And while there is a nationalized curriculum that Scandinavian teachers follow, they are written as helpful guides, rather than the main feature. This creates a culture centered around growth rather than measurement. As Tina Schuster aptly puts, “I never got the sense from any teacher I spoke to that there was someone evaluating them from leadership.” Instead, leaderships’ main role was to provide the conditions that allowed them to thrive. For example, when one teacher wanted to institute a camping trip with students focused on survival, the response from the administration was, ‘Why not make it a regular thing?’

Students are also provided with this level of autonomy. During one of Tina’s observations, she noted that after a kindergartner arrived late to school in their snow boots and down jacket, the teacher simply stated, “You know what to do.” In five minutes, the child was out of his snow gear, seated and ready to work. This kind of autonomy is built through trust.

Questions for reflection:

Do you provide autonomy for your students and teachers? What systems or routines have you established to help foster this autonomy?

Magic Ingredient #2: Supportive and Egalitarian Community

‘Hey, Janet, what’s the homework for tonight?’ You might expect to hear this kind of exchange between two close friends. In Scandinavian schools, however, this is a question from pupil to teacher. Pupils are free to address their teachers by first names and are viewed as equals in the education partnership. As Loni Berqvist explains, it’s a ‘way to develop a friendly learning atmosphere in which learning is a communal experience.’

Perhaps that’s why for the entire first week of school, instead of opening a textbook, Danish teachers instead spend time building relationships with students through games, activities and ‘hygge;’ a Danish phrase that loosely translates into a ‘nice, cozy time.’

This ‘hygge’ continues in the classroom as students are free to design and decorate the classroom according to their preferences. That is because rather than move from class to class after each successive lesson, the students remain in the classroom, while the teacher moves to a new group of students.

Egalitarian relationships also permeate their way into teacher and administrator interactions as well. Tina Schuster explains that every day the whole school eats together in the cafeteria where students all receive a warm and healthy free lunch. Lunch was not a time to catch up on grading, but rather a time to build relationships with the school community. With equal pay, time off and professional development opportunities, it’s easy to view colleagues more as allies than adversaries. In fact, relationships are so communal that when one teacher requested to take a mental health break for a weeklong cross-country ski trip, the teachers banded together to pick up his classes.

Questions for reflection:

How do you promote equity and equality within your classroom and school? What time might you dedicate to strengthening those relationships?

Magic Ingredient #3: Balance School and Work Life

When I first started as a teacher, I attributed the minutes I spent planning, grading, teaching and thinking about school as directly related to my effectiveness as a teacher. After about year two, I realized I wouldn’t make it to year three if I didn’t change this unhealthy mindset.

Scandinavian countries know the value of balance.

For every 45 minutes of class, there is a mandated 15-minute break. According to Tina, this cycle worked like ‘clockwork,’ with everyone in school taking this same break regardless of role. You could even take this time to nap in the staff room (true story).

Perhaps this focus on balance is why Tina insisted that she “never saw an unhappy teacher.”

The reverence given to balance and play was reflected in my conversation with Loni as well.

Whereas in the U.S. and other stricter educational systems, learning is equated with the number of minutes allotted in the timetable, the concept of ‘wasted minutes’ does not exist in Denmark. Instead, Danish schools balance the minutes of academic instruction with minutes spent on whole child development. Teachers get to know each of their students through home visits, advisory classes and community social gatherings.

Questions for reflection:

What time have you built into the school day for social-emotional and mental well-being? How do you help support members of your community when they need breaks?

As we move into the 2019-2020 school year, it’s tempting to jump on the education roller coaster and never take a moment to breathe. But if we have learned anything from the Scandinavian schools, it is the time we take to breathe that reaps the greatest returns for our students. This year, by allowing yourself and your students to take risks, building an intentional, egalitarian community, and balancing your time for play and work, you will witness the ‘magic’ firsthand.

To your continued success!

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Tina Schuster and Loni Bergqvist contributed to this post. Tina Schuster is a Project-Based Learning Specialist and Professional Development Coordinator for the High Tech High Graduate School of Education in San Diego. You can find Tina on Twitter at @TinaMarieSchus. Loni Bergqvist is a Pedagogical Change Agent/Founder of ‘Imagine If’ in Denmark.

Indian Giant Infosys Opens Tech Center in Phoenix, Partners with ASU

“With very low unemployment—almost zero in tech—we’re hiring from campuses,” said Infosys CEO Salil Parekh.

The Indian tech giant hired 15,000 graduates in the last 12 months, including more than 2,000 in America, where many come through community college partnerships. “We hire people with adjacent skills and put them through our training program,” explained Parekh.

To build customer proximity and a talent pipeline, the Bangalore-based tech leader opened a campus in Phoenix last week at Skysong, the innovation center at Arizona State University (ASU). By 2023, the tech services company plans to employ 1,000 Arizonans.

The 35-year-old company has a deep commitment to growing employees. They are widely recognized as providing the best tech training for graduates in India—and they are bringing that talent development strategy to America.

Additional hubs are located in Indianapolis, Hartford, Providence, Raleigh, and Dallas-Fort Worth. Staffing up the Phoenix hub will bring the company close to its goal of hiring 10,000 American tech workers.

New hires will receive anywhere from six weeks to six months of training. “Our commitment to grow talent provides huge longevity. Most of our senior team has been with the company for more than 20 years—and they started in the training program,” said Parekh.

Infosys revenues grew 12% last quarter, with 40% growth in the digital portfolio. Parekh pointed to rapid growth in data analytics, cloud computing, and in user interface design.

On the importance of good design, Parekh said, “People increasingly choose their bank by the app, they choose where to get coffee by the app.”

The company has 160 design clients. “We’re helping a telco develop stores that work more like their mobile apps,” said Parekh.

Digital studios to design quality customer experiences have been opened worldwide, including U.S.-based studios in Providence, Los Angeles and Seattle.

Infosys EVP Krishnamurthy Shankar (TVA)Infosys EVP Krishnamurthy Shankar (TVA)

While the company hires many community college graduates, they do encourage them to complete a four-year degree, said Krishnamurthy Shankar, EVP and Group Head of Human Resource Development. “It provides higher potential lifetime earnings.”

Reskilling existing workers, providing rapid learning pathways for new hires, and partnering with leading institutions like ASU is all part of the Infosys culture of lifelong learning, explained Shankar.

The biggest talent development challenge? “We can teach the tech skills; what is more challenging are the client relationship skills,” Parekh noted. “We have programs that do some of that, but it’s also learned through experience.”

“Our main driver is the digital transformation of our clients,” said Parekh. A commitment to talent development—and a new hub in Phoenix—are key to that strategy.

Infosys has a comprehensive talent strategy based on a geographic arbitrage of distributed talent, which leverages the ubiquitous infrastructure of community colleges and the distinctive strengths of leading universities while retaining last-mile training to ensure that learning experiences are aligned, dynamic and engaging.

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Five Learner-Centered Opportunities in Oakland

Located 11 miles northeast of San Francisco, Oakland is home to a little more than 425,000 residents of which nearly 75% are minorities. Considered part of the Bay Area, Oakland has witnessed economic and population growth along with gentrification, which has become commonplace for many cities in California. The growth in Oakland has not always been equal for all neighborhoods of the city, East Oakland, for example, has not felt the economic growth that other places in Oakland have.

Opportunities for learners have been on the rise, as many Oakland community members see the need for more meaningful learning, experiences, and connections for their youth. We visited several organizations in Oakland that are working to unleash and help develop the incredible potential in local learners, making Oakland a prime community for others to learn from.

The Hidden Genius Project

The Hidden Genius Project was founded in 2012 by five black male entrepreneurs/technologists who were unnerved by the dramatic juxtaposition between the high unemployment of black male youth and the plethora of career opportunities within the local technology sector. The organization offers three programs for young men:

  • Immersion:​ Designed for 9-11th graders, is a holistic mentorship experience that provides computer science, software development, entrepreneurship, and leadership training.
  • Catalyst: ​Designed for middle and high school students, offers workshops throughout the year with the express aim of igniting interest and exposing black males to mentors, basic computer programming and pathways to tech careers.
  • Uber Career Prep:​ In partnership with Uber, this program for college students is a year-long program consisting of bi-monthly (Friday) three-hour workshops on variable topics covering a range of competencies.

Brandon Nicholson, Founding Executive Director told the story of The Hidden Genius Project and how they came to be a formalized organization to support young men of color. It was a great testimonial of how wrap-around community support is necessary to overcome barriers and gain access to opportunity.

Latitude High School

We met Lillian Hsu (Principal) and John Bosselman (Director of Instruction) at  Latitude High School to kick off our exploration of what’s possible for high-quality learning with an introduction to their new meeting space- a repurposed bus! After getting a rundown of what’s on the horizon for Latitude’s building & facilities, we had an opportunity to learn about the journey of Latitude High School and dig into an awesome 9th grade project inclusive of speaker design and construction, research, and the production of a podcast, which you can listen to here.

Earlier this year, Latitude High School became the 17th XQ Super School and received a five-year $10 million grant ​to “further its innovative work deepening students connections to their hometown, the city of Oakland, California.” ​Latitude High School​ prioritizes real-world PBL, with strong arts, multimedia, and technology integration and extended learning opportunities with all students participating in internships and student-designed businesses.

Ever Forward Club

The Ever Forward Club was founded in 2004. It mentors young men of color in middle and high school by providing them with safe, brave communities that build character and transform lives. We went to learn from Ashanti Branch and experience a transformational activity related to the Masks We All Wear initiative, an effort to help young people and adults understand the masks we wear and those things we are going through that we might not always share and hide from others.

Oakland Reach

Back in Oakland, we had the opportunity to meet with Lakisha Young from Oakland REACH and she set our group on fire with wisdom and opportunity! Oakland REACH is a parent-run, parent-led group committed to empowering families from our most underserved communities to demand high-quality schools for our children. They are waking parents up and letting them know their kids aren’t getting the education they deserve to be ready for the future. But, by coming together they have the power to create change. Oakland REACH has already engaged over 4,000 parents by hosting one-on-one conversations about how schools are doing. They have also had almost 300 parents go through the Oakland Family Advocacy Fellowship, providing the leadership training needed to change a system that has left students behind for far too long.

Lakisha’s overview of The Oakland REACH and the activism of how they make the powerless parent powerful provided examples and important insight that our group needed to affirm their efforts and set priorities for their work moving forward.

Early Learning Lab

We closed out our day with dinner and learning from Sheetal Singh about how the Early Learning Lab ensures children’s healthy development and kindergarten readiness. The Early Learning Lab​ was formed in 2015 and has a mission “to ensure children’s healthy development and kindergarten readiness. They identify and spread smart innovations and technology solutions that equip parents, caregivers, and teachers with better ways to help children from birth to age five when it matters most.”

In 2017, the Early Learning Lab launched the year-long Parent Innovation Institute in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood to “work more closely with parents to ensure that they have the best tools and strategies to help their children learn early.”

Oakland community efforts recognize the importance of the entire community in supporting the access and acceleration of our marginalized youth. Experiencing the possibilities in high school learning, the focus on self-care and mental health, and powerful organization to empower parent advocates helped establish clear next steps and opportunities anywhere someone wants to take action or make a change for young people.

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5 Ways PBL Facilitates Lifelong Learning

We are hearing more and more each day about the changing world of work and what type of skills will define the success of today’s students and future professionals. Outside of education, it’s often called upskilling. In education, we often refer to lifelong learning. Either way, experts agree that an individual’s ability to learn, continuously and adaptively, may define one’s success more than any other employability skills in this ever-changing, tech-infused and globalized economy.

Educators have always professed the priority of creating lifelong learners. But what does this really look like and how can we create learning environments that truly foster this? Project-based learning (PBL) is poised well to inherently teach students to become persistent and growth-oriented lifelong learners, among many other advantages.

How does PBL do this? Well, it’s at the core of how PBL functions. Here are a few of those ways:

Real-World Learning

First and foremost, PBL focuses on students addressing real-world challenges, issues or problems. This immediately creates both relevance and authenticity. The relevancy of working on work that matters demonstrates to students that their school work is related to what others in the real world do and how it applies to their futures, skill development and agency. We talk about problem solving as a foundational skill and it is. However, the problems need to be real. We don’t have to solve them, but students have to continually try to tackle them. This is what all of us do in our professional lives and how new opportunities, jobs, innovations and more advanced each day. PBL’s focus on authenticity (or being real world), as a core design principle, creates this real-world learning environment. A project can be authentic in several ways and often in combination. It can have an authentic context, It can involve the use of real-world processes and tools, it can have a real impact on others, and a project can have personal authenticity when it speaks to students’ own concerns, interests, cultures, identities, and issues in their lives.

Sustained Inquiry

This is a core design principle in high quality PBL. To inquire is to seek information or to investigate; it’s a more active, in-depth process than just looking something up in a book or online. The inquiry process takes time, which means a gold standard project lasts more than a few days. In PBL, inquiry is iterative; when confronted with a challenging problem or question, students ask questions, find resources to help answer them, then ask deeper questions, and the process repeats until a satisfactory solution or answer is developed. Projects can incorporate different information sources, mixing the traditional idea of research, reading a book or searching a website, with more real world, field-based interviews with experts, service providers and users. Students also might inquire into the needs of the users of a product they’re creating in a project, or the audience for a piece of writing or multimedia.

Public Opportunities

In this pursuit of creating lifelong learners, we need to allow students to experience the true power of learning and the real impact of their work. This is where producing public work, seen my multiple audiences or even users, comes into play.

When people see or even use our work, it creates significance in us. It means one’s work matters. Its means learning matters. It means we matter. When audiences see, appreciate, experience, engage in and even possibly benefit from our work we naturally are more engaged, more likely to see the true power of learning. Ultimately, sharing our work publicly provides the opportunity for one to develop their personal brand. It’s the process of sharing one’s high-quality work and getting feedback. This is what we’ll do professionally for the rest of our lives. Lifelong work produces lifelong learning. We buy-in, we have conversations, we consider others’ opinions and ideas; all this while gaining confidence, portfolio, skills, a resume and valuable networking opportunities.

Student Voice & Choice

We hear words like agency, ownership, advocacy, leadership, git and mindset. These are great. And these are really traits of a lifelong learner. But how do we create the environment and means to make these a reality? Having a say in a project creates a sense of ownership in students; they care more about the project and work harder. If students aren’t able to use their judgment when solving a problem and answering a driving question, the project just feels like doing an exercise or following a set of directions. Students can have input and (some) control over many aspects of a project, from the questions they generate to the resources they will use to find answers to their questions, to the tasks and roles they will take on as team members, to the products they will create. More advanced students may go even further and select the topic and nature of the project itself; they can write their own driving question and decide how they want to investigate it, demonstrate what they have learned, and how they will share their work. High-quality projects also allow students to assume real roles and responsibilities in the production of their work. Think of things like project coordinator, media coordinator, tech coordinator or dozens of other roles. We don’t create roles for roles’ sake, but rather to move work forward efficiently and allow those involved to specialize a bit (become experts).

The Power of Learning (To Love What You Do)

We’ve all heard the saying that if you “love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” This may be the most powerful aspect of deeper learning like PBL.

Teachers have always wanted their students to love learning for learning’s sake. But our traditional system has focused students more on grades, points or even punitive approaches vs. training them to love learning. PBL, done well, creates the opportunity for students to focus on the work, the challenge and even the final product. All of these, as well as the opportunity to engage with their peers, their community and the larger world, focus them on the true power of learning. The impact and significance of our work is what drives all of us professionally throughout our lives. When students produce high-quality and professional projects that are experienced or use by others, addressing real-world issues and produced like that of their professional counterparts, they too have that awakening, the internal and external factors that drive us to work, succeed, improve, grow, reach and stretch. We have allowed them to view work and learning differently.

There’s Always More

The beauty of high-quality PBL is that it truly does all the things simultaneously that we think are important in learning. Whether it’s collaboration, metacognition, skill acquisition, social-emotional learning, technology integration, personalized learning or more, PBL can deliver. But with all that being said, nothing may be more important to our students’ future and sustained success than that of being lifelong learners.

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