I was honored to attend the Deeper Learning conference last week at High Tech High in San Diego as sort of a visiting reporter.  If you did not lurk via Twitter, you can go back and call up #deeperlearning to gather connections, links, and perspectives from a number of people who share a foundational journey to shift education off of the Industrial Age assembly line.

Rather than writing long posts on the conference workshops, here are some reflections and takeaways from 2.5 days with 400 education innovators:

  • “Deeper learning” is as good a name for the learning we are trying to create/re-create.  But I hesitate to capitalize the term, as if there were a brand name that works better than other brand names.
  • At the first set of breakout sessions, High Tech High students were standing politely on the side in case anyone needed help. I was sorry I had to ask if they could join us in our work.  Why don’t we default to having student voice in our learning?
  • These 400 educators passionately want to create highly engaged student learning environments.  Most of them say that it is lonely quest back home.  The understanding and support for deeper learning is intense but still shallow, broad but not deep.
  • Modifying our use of physical space to amplify deeper learning may be the easiest and cheapest “first step” for many schools.  Clear out the junk, write on the walls, and open the windows and doors to the rest of the world.
  • There were really only about a dozen active Twitter “reporters” at the conference.  Hmmm. We know this is a key connector with thought colleagues and a simple, efficient way to expand our PLC’s and real-time learning.  Is this a baseline “badge” for the deeper learning educator?
  • All educational PD should model deeper learning best practices: out of our seats and working together. The report from university attendees that at their own conferences they all still gather to listen to each other present “papers” is really disturbing.
  • As I found on my #EdJourney, the answers to most of the questions I heard already exist. The questions that public and private school educators ask are vastly more similar than they are different. It is a matter of connecting what we each want to do with solutions that others have already created.

What if a million educators could share “deeper learning” with colleagues for thirty minutes every week?

As I mentioned over the weekend, there is something important brewing in Atlanta. If you have never scrolled through a Twitter stream, now would be a good time to try. If you have, now would be a good time to scroll through #AK12DC from the Atlanta-based 11 school K-12 Design Challenge last Friday and Saturday. Bo Adams provides a summary and some resource links to the event.

I don’t suggest you read every comment or open every attached photo.  If you peck your way through, though, you will get a montage understanding of how teams from disparate schools serving diverse communities and with a range of innovation foci, in a very short period of time, collaborated to generate ideas and concrete action plans. Maybe spend five minutes with this and think what this would look like at your school, with your team.  More productive than the monthly faculty meeting?

My interest in AK12DC is this: I wonder if it is a model that can be exported and leveraged to a large number of cities, schools, and districts across America, a process that can turn smoldering brushfires of school innovation into a true conflagration strong and hot enough to move us off of the outdated assembly line model  of education within this generation?  I don’t know, but the team in Atlanta is learning some valuable lessons we call can share.

Your interest may be more localized; you, after all, probably have a school to run and students to teach.  The design thinking approach to innovation used by this team, in conjunction with resources from the Stanford d.School, is the foundation for an expansive type of cultural growth that I, and others, are increasingly using in our school work.  It helps shift our organizational thinking from “better than what we have done in the past” to “what might we do in the future?” ; from “what, who, and how?” to “why, what if, and how might we…?”  That is the kind of nimble innovation capability our schools must learn if we want to actually innovate rather than talk about innovation.

imgresFor those who don’t follow me on Twitter or are not on Twitter yet, I want to share a link to some powerful education transformation that took place yesterday and today in Atlanta.  A group of 11 public and private schools in Atlanta are gathering for a long-term design challenge on how they will meet the needs of their students today and in the future. They are working in partnership with the Stanford d.School and businessman/design thinking leader Scott Sanchez. I have been following their process and progress on Twitter…and so can you, either now or any time you feel like it. If you have a Twitter account (if you don’t it takes 2 minutes to set up), just enter #AK12DC, and when you get the “Results for #AK12DC” make sure you click the “All” option (not “Top”) right below the header.

Scroll through.  Click on the photos that are embedded in the Tweets. You will see that they are going through a LOT of post-it notes and designing actionable change for how they “do” school.  You will find some wonderful group prompts you can use with your school teams to help unwrap who you are and where you might find future value as educators. You will see how quickly and easily they are expanding their idea base…and then focusing on a few possible pilot options. And you can connect with some of the best educators I know and follow them on Twitter or share those connections with others at your school.

I urge you to follow their progress as they report findings and the way forward on the Atlanta K12 Design Challenge web site and blog.

Last fall I visited All Saint’s Episcopal School in Ft. Worth, hosted by director of the Tad Bird Honors College, Dave Ostroff (see full report from that remarkable day).He just shared with me this short snippet of the day. I asked this group of 9th graders to spend 15 minutes walking around their school observing how learning takes place, thinking about what is important in their lives, and then asking some “what if” questions.  Total time spent was 70 minutes; the quality of the observations and synthesis speaks for itself.


Last night on the always provocative Twitter #DTK12Chat, thought leader/teacher/design thinker Mary Cantwell asked “In design thinking, does either process or product trump the other?”. Most responses favored process; a few championed product, for without a product are we not just spinning our wheels? I offered two thoughts and have been stewing over them. “In design thinking, as in all learning, process IS the product.” And “process and product are two sides of the same coin.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 12.04.58 PMMary’s question did just what it was meant to do: provoke thinking.  I think that the question embeds a false assumption, as if we asked, “which is the more critical element in water, hydrogen or oxygen?”

As I have said before, I believe design thinking is a scaffold of “good thinking” or “creative problem solving”, and not a unique species.  I believe the Tao of learning is that by engaging the process we learn…which is the most important product. 

But is not a key strength of design thinking to prototype a result, and then tweak it, make it better, do it again, and learn from those incremental results?  Yes, but the question is, “what is a result, or product?”  Turned loose in a room full of stuff and tools and encouragement we make things. This is valuable, even fabulous work! And it is relatively easy for a good teacher to extrapolate from that physical design studio to, say, an English class where the students empathize with other writers, the world around them, and classmates, and iterate better and better poetry.

imgresBut consider this: we are at the base of a mountain searching for a path to the top.  We try this way and that and wind our way up the mountain, finding our way across swollen streams, up rocky cliffs, along narrow tracks, past the sleeping bear, and enjoy the view, or not.  We never make it to the top; maybe daylight runs out or we get too tired, or we just plain give up because we don’t have enough “grit”, or we decide to take a nap in the meadow instead, or we lack enough knowledge of the mountain, or a guide who can teach us what we need to know.

Some would argue that the “product” of this experience, or “process” would be an understanding of the lessons we learn from failing to get to the top, of successfully concluding the exercise.  I think the “product” is the cumulative experience of the time spent on the mountain, regardless of completion of the task. Any one of us, student or adult, who spent time on that mountain would have engaged a process replete with design thinking strategies, whether we could name them or not. To the outside observer it may appear difficult to identify the product, but it is there nonetheless.  I just don’t see how it can be otherwise. Surely that process resulted in really good, perhaps even unique or life-changing learning, even if the product might be in dispute or hard to define.  Maybe we just don’t try hard enough to understand highly intangible products, because in school we compel ourselves to measure the tangible.

I think this thought experiment proves my point that we can’t separate process from product in real learning, but any good experiment must stand up to challenge.  Hopefully you will!

Got up early this morning to join Jeff Shields, President of the National Business Officer Association as we were interviewed by Larry Jacobs for BlogTalk Radio on the future of independent schools and the 28-school collaboration we are piloting this year.  Larry was also kind enough to invite me back to talk about my upcoming book, #EdJourney: Roadmap to the Future of Education before it hits the stores in August or September.

Here is the link to our 35-minute chat this morning.

I have neither the time or depth of knowledge to make this a scholarly post.

We celebrate the opportunities and economic challenges of a flattened world.  Some win and some lose as commerce, investment, and jobs flow more freely since the end of the Cold War, that “last” gasp of centuries of imperial expansion and competition amongst a handful of nations powerful enough to export control beyond their natural borders. Or was that last gasp merely a breather; a chance for the old guard to let progressive ideology grow soft and accommodating; to believe that interwoven commercial interests trump all moral obligations?

imagesIf Russia did not supply natural gas to Western Europe,and American and European companies had not invested deeply in the Russian economy, armies might be massing on the borders of Ukraine today. What else does Russia offer in return for its unilateral return to the same annexation tactics that Hitler used in the run-up to WW II? Why else do we let a bully run wild? Will we draw the line at Crimea, or will Putin realize his dream of re-absorption of Ukraine into the Russian Empire?

It may be that our only pragmatic weapon in a war of interdependent opponents is also commercial.  Every Russian oligarch, those who support Putin and those who don’t, has banked most of his wealth outside of Russia. I know; I was there when the robbery started in 1991.  They are not stupid; they converted rubles to expatriated currency as fast as possible then and they still do it today because they know that Russia-as-a-nation is a corrupt, bad bet.

Freeze every penny of Russian money outside their borders. Redirect gas shipments from all over the world before next winter. Flattened worlds work in many ways. Russia needs the West vastly more than we need them.  Maybe Crimea should be part of Russia; I don’t know.  But an inch beyond and we just lost the Cold War to a KGB chess player who would have made Josef Stalin proud.


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