This is probably my all-time favorite post. It comes from May of 2013 and provides such a clear, compelling vision of how different (and exciting, fun, energizing, powerful) school could be if we really push ourselves to transform. I thought about it as I drove to school this morning because I saw this graph posted by a friend on Facebook:

It got me thinking: what percentage of my day is usually devoted to creative work and/or leisure? For these big names, that’s the majority of what they do. For me? Not so much. I also wondered how often I include creative work or “leisure” time that allows students to follow their passions and interests flexibly into my class time. My guess? Pretty seldom. Yikes! This image reminded me that school as we currently do it is often overly prescriptive, constraining, and limiting for both students and teachers. We plan and control too much. Students sit and absorb rather than create and act.

Take a moment to re-read our throwback today for a little inspiration about the alternative.

From May 28, 2013:

After reading about our 5 stage framework, you might be wondering what teaching and learning looks like in the final stage: students as innovative problem solvers who change the world.  This week we’ll be looking at that question from three different angles:

1) What would schools look like?

2) What would classrooms look like?

3) Who is doing this work (or close to it) right now?

So to kick-off our week, let’s start with this question:

What would schools look like if we were developing students as collaborative innovators ready to tackle the world’s most complex challenges?  

Picture this:



You are  a senior at Save the World High in Washington, DC.  Your Monday morning starts off with a Skype conference call with a Bangladeshi NGO, a group of 12th grade students from Dhaka, and another from a rural town in Michigan.  On the call, your team brainstorms with your collaborators about how to improve working conditions in Bangladeshi factories.  Three months ago you, your team, and your partners developed a four-part plan that included:

1)   Raising awareness in the United States about companies whose factories in Bangladesh have unsafe conditions for workers

2)   Raising awareness among Bangladeshi workers about their labor rights and tactics for improving working conditions

3)   Developing a simple and effective way for government inspectors to evaluate the safety of factories (this includes creating a model that takes into account the architecture of the building, the ground conditions, and the vibrations created by machines)

4)   Lobbying the US government to pressure Bangladesh’s government to require inspectors to use this tool routinely to evaluate factories

After you finish the call, you and your team note down action steps and divide the tasks  based on each member’s interests and expertise. You have two weeks until the next call and in between then you have one scheduled team meeting and a full day lab session to work on this project with an expert and the teacher who is mentoring your group.  This project is called your Grand Challenge. 

At the end of year you will present your work to a group of experts who will evaluate your technical skills, application of disciplinary thinking, your ability to think critically, and your collaboration.  If your work measures up to the standards for a particular area, you’ll receive a badge denoting your skills in that area.  More and more these badges are what employers look for when they are hiring new employees.  You’ll have a chance to earn more next year in college, but this year you hope to earn several that will help you to continue working on this project professionally while you take higher education courses.



The badge you are most excited about earning is: Advanced Uses of Social Media.  At the beginning of the Grand Challenge, in consultation with your advisor, you decided to focus on the part of the team’s plan that deals with raising awareness in the US.  To develop your expertise in this area you are taking a special MOOC on leveraging social media to raise awareness on global issues and working with a mentor weekly.

In addition to your Grand Challenge project and individualized course, you also participate in five courses that all seniors take: Thinking like a Mathematician, Thinking like a Historian, Thinking like an Engineer, Thinking like a Rhetorician, andCollaboration & Problem Solving (your weekly meeting with your Grand Challenge team is part of this course).  For each of these courses, teachers design learning experiences that (sometimes in-person and sometimes online) help you hone your disciplinary thinking, deepen your understanding of the big ideas of the discipline, and learn key information.  Each week you apply what you are learning in one of these courses to real world problems that teams in your school are working on.   During these disciplinary thinking labs, a team will present a problem they are facing as part of their Grand Challenge to the students in the class.  The students are charged with using the thinking of the discipline to help the team better understand the issues, test a possible idea, or develop a solution.  A group of teachers act as coaches who help structure the learning and provide feedback during these labs.

The last element of your weekly schedule is coaching a disciplinary thinking lab for 6th graders.  This helps you strengthen your thinking in one area of your choosing, creates community in the school, and gives the adult teachers more time to plan rich learning experiences for students and provide effective feedback.

As you think about what lies ahead for the week after your Monday morning call, you are excited.  You know the work you are doing is tapping into your passions and purpose.  It is also intellectually challenging – you are always uncovering and applying big ideas, evaluating your own thinking using intellectual standards, and applying that thinking to the real world.  You believe that your efforts in school will truly change the world and the great thing is they will.