Which Way for K12 Blended Learning? (Part 2 - Rainbows, Unicorns and Edtech) -
Just beyond the mountains, there is a land where unicorns run free, jumping from rainbow to rainbow. The children call the land “Edtech Nirvana.”
It may be that education moves at such a glacial pace that it is possible to see into the future. However, predicting the future is difficult and conventional wisdom can be extraordinarily unreliable. Here are a few things I’m thinking about as I wait for the bus to Edtech Nirvana.
Which Way For K12 Blended Learning? Part 1: Boarding the Mayflower -
Hard to believe it has been two years since we published The rise of K12 blended learning. Here are a few things I think I’ve learned over the last two years…
EdSurge: Is Your School Ready to Date a Start-Up (Again)? -
Here is some dating advice for K12 schools and startups that are interested in one another…
This was originally posted on the Innosight Institute Education Blog.
Ask yourself, would the next Rocketship Education or Goalbook grow in your backyard? If not, what would it take? One thing is for sure: education innovation does not happen by accident.
Tom Vander Ark recently made some great suggestions of different ways to invest in blended learning by dollar size.
Here is a broader framework around how philanthropists can support education innovation and, in particular, accelerate new ideas in local markets. The framework generally holds whether investing in next-generation school models, education technology, or other potentially disruptive innovations.
Innovation has several distinct phases of development and it needs support across the entire life cycle. The three phases are:
There is a fourth category of investment, Talent - Community, that build the pipeline of edu-preneurs for ‘downstream’ incubation and launch. Great edu-preneurs are pure gold and hard to come by. But we can cultivate communities of edu-preneurs. Think how Stanford University develops talented entrepreneurs for Silicon Valley or Teach For America nurtures the next generation of education leaders. Rapidly scaling organizations, like Facebook or Google, can also be rich sources of talent as the most entrepreneurial leaders seek earlier-stage opportunities where they exercise more control.
New Talent-Community initiatives are emerging in the education innovation space. For example, Startup Weekend EDU and Teacher Square build communities of educators and technologists and let them collaborate on new edtech ideas. While we have come to expect this sort of “goodness” in Silicon Valley, 4pt0 Schools has built a vibrant education innovation community in New Orleans. 4pt0 brings educators together, equips them with new tools and approaches for solving problems, and gives them space to tackle ideas that rethink education. To date, edu-preneurs in the 4pt0 community have hatched ideas for new schools, edtech companies, and education non-profits.
Philanthropic investors have shied away from community-building as a core innovation strategy, but Talent-Community initiatives breathe life into the innovation ecosystem and expand the talent pool. Investments in discrete events are typically in the $10k -50k range while on-going programming can run $100k - 1MM+ per year.
Local markets can drive education innovation by investing across all four categories and building an ecosystem that supports edu-preneurs. Education innovation is not about a single program or investment, it’s about a comprehensive strategy to support edu-preneurs. Because most philanthropies cannot and should not play across all four categories, some market cooperation is required. For example, foundations that give in the $100k -1MM range can dramatically increase their impact by collaborating with other philanthropists ‘pointed in the same direction’ to invest across the innovation ecosystem. This can be done through loose cooperation or more directly through intermediaries like the Silicon Schools Fund. Larger funders, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, can focus on a set of markets and make a portfolio of investments across the four categories.
Education innovation sounds sexy but the “sausage-making” that comes with supporting early-stage, edu-preneurs is not for the faint of heart and it involves more risk than foundations are usually accustomed. Philanthropists can find it frustrating to extract learnings from early innovators because best practice on Tuesday may be different on Wednesday. We know very little about what the proven models or best practices will be in five years. Also, the lead times for impact are long. Early-stage investments made today may take 10+ years to reach scale and require access to larger and larger pools of capital. The bottom line: foundations supporting innovation need a strategy, functional expertise, intestinal fortitude and patience in order to maximize the impact of their investments. The good news is that foundations have more and more choices about whether to build some or all of these capabilities in-house or use specialized intermediaries.
Beware the euphoria. Philanthropic bubbles can and do exist and it’s challenging to be philanthropically efficient. Foundations can actually stifle innovation when they just mean to help. Grant-seekers can suddenly become “innovative” when they sense there are large dollars to be raised. The downside of promising new trends is they can lead to a tremendous amount of sector noise.
So why bother? I believe that we are at the beginning of a 10-20 year cycle that will revolutionize education. I believe that learning experiences can be “better.” I believe we can do more to help educators invent the future of education.
You can make the difference for edu-preneurs in your own backyard. What’s the saying? Innovation starts at home?
The figure below gives examples of initiatives, both non-profit and for-profit, across each of the four categories described above. The framework is applied to education technology and new school models, two areas of education innovation that foundations often inquire about.
Note: I am on the boards of Rocketship Education and 4pt0 Schools and an adviser to the NSVF Seed Fund. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is an investor in the Charter School Growth Fund. CSGF is a scale investor although we do seed and launch investments when necessary to support our “next-generation” school investments. I’m spending a larger share of my “Google 20% time” supporting Talent-Community efforts; I view these activities as long-term investments in future next-generation school leaders.
This entry originally ran at Dropout Nation.
Okay! Okay. My turn. You don’t have a crystal ball, you can’t look at a kid and predict his future any more than I can. I’ve sat at those kitchen tables with you and listened to you tell those parents ‘When I know, I know! And when it comes to your son, I know’. And you don’t. You don’t!
—Billy Beane, Moneyball—
My wife tells me its not healthy to think about education 24 hours a day so I picked up Thinking, Fast and Slow, a book on judgment and decision-making by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman. The book distills a lifetime of work by one of the most provocative, decorated scholars of the last century. Read it.
On my wife’s instructions, I’m edifying myself, finding new things to talk about at dinner parties… Then midway through the book, all kinds of #edu hell breaks loose.
For three chapters in Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman argues that professional expertise is largely an illusion. Specifically:
Kahneman deluges his readers with fascinating studies across many different industries supporting these conclusions. I won’t spoil them for you.
Here are some of the implications I see for #edu:
Khaneman notes that his research is met with hostility and disbelief by professionals - and then usually ignored. Understandable. I’ll be honest, Kahneman’s book still has me on edge. I’ve invested a lot in my career and I don’t enjoy being told that my expertise is not as reliable as I like to think. But if we are serious about building better learning environments, we should examine how the ‘illusion of expertise’ manifests itself in K12.
Read Education Week or The New York Times and you will see opinion piece after opinion piece about how assessments are an attack on teachers and an insult to their professional judgment. Or articles about how mindless, heartless algorithms may one day replace teachers. Yet if education is anything like other highly-trained professions, data and statistics will only help ‘professionalize’ instruction.
I’ve been a fan of algorithms and standardized tests since one of my sons was administered the Apgar test at 1 minute and 5 minutes old. His declining score helped flag that his lungs were filling with fluid and that he could not breathe on his own. Thousands of lives have been saved by this simple assessment because, in the absence of a standardized procedure, doctors and nurses focused on different cues and danger signs were often missed. No one would say that these doctors and nurses did not care about newborns, it is just that professional judgment can be inconsistent and have real consequences for children.
What most unnerved me in Thinking, Fast and Slow was the implication that educators may not be good at determining appropriate levels of rigor for our students, because rigor forces us to make predictions about what students can do in the future.
In her new book Mission Possible, Eva Moskowitz shares some of the struggles Success Academies in New York City has in identifying appropriate rigor for their students.* Success Academies runs some of the most rigorous public schools in the country and Eva has more courage than you can shake a stick at. And even then…
In response to teacher concerns over a difficult, new math assessment, Eva wrote:
We are pioneering… because schools have not found what kids are capable of mathematically. Rather, a ridiculous number of assumptions have been made. Kids in Japan and Germany and Singapore are being asked to do much more rigorous math and at much earlier ages. The expected pace of learning outstrips what American educators are expecting.
Here in Harlem and the South Bronx we are doing what India did a decade ago. We are experimenting. We are trying to find the rigor bar. We are trying to develop a shared culture around struggle and challenge, both for the grown-ups and the kids.
As an educator, I’m often haunted by one of my own students who went from failing every core high school class to making the honor roll in a year and a half. I worked in a high expectations school where we all took pride in helping students reach their potential. But this student was dragging every risk factor in the book to school each day. In my deepest, darkest moments, I wasn’t sure this student would graduate from high school. I finally concluded, in the absence of knowing any better, we just have to treat each student like they are going to Harvard. If we are going to be wrong, let’s at least do no harm.
In the next decade, we have a chance to build better schools using new approaches and new models. Once we let ourselves see beyond our own expertise, I suspect we’ll find that children are capable of more than we ever thought possible. Let’s see what the evidence says.
* My employer, Charter School Growth Fund, is a philanthropic investor in the Success Academies.
[This was originally posted on EdSurge.]
There are two vibrant conversations going on in education right now.
The first centers around creativity, and is led by the likes of Ken Robinson, Tony Wagner, and Dale Dougherty.
The second is about personalization and innovation, and includes Sal Khan, Tom Vander Ark, Sebastian Thrun, and Clay Christensen.
The two conversations couldn’t be more different. The creativity clan has been around since the days of Dewey, only now with a new set of champions preaching the virtues of authentic tasks and constructivist learning. After some false starts, the personalization pack is embracing technology to create new delivery models for learning, with the promise of dismantling the factory model of education.
Competing ideologies in education often result in spectacular feuds along the lines of the Hatfields and McCoys. Remember whole language vs. phonics, new math vs. old math, direct instruction vs. constructivism? I’d rather talk religion and politics in polite company, thank you!
But I say this is a modern day Romeo and Juliet, hopefully without all the poison and daggers at the end.
The tribes driving these conversations have gone from mingling, to flirting to outright making babies. Just in the last few weeks:
Look, it’s early. And this love affair is fueled by youth, optimism and naivete.
But I think the two movements, with creativity on one side and personalization and innovation on the other, will come together and drive the education conversation for the next 20 years.
Our young lovers put students at the center of “school.” I run a school design activity (which I pilfered from Education Elements) where I introduce educators to an individual student and their task is to create the student’s ideal learning environment. Without fail, the designs look more like Starbucks than public schools: they are relaxed, social, and wired. Educators begin to ask if certain technologies exist for self-paced learning. They design projects around student interest. They see if they can mash the two together.
When given the freedom to dream, educators think about how to create rich experiences for students. Technology is an enabler for many of the experiences, but rarely the focus. It doesn’t matter if you belong to the creativity clan or the personalization pack, there is enough goodness to go around. More often than not, our two lovers work closely to make everything hang together.
Educator have yet to suggest a classroom of 25-35 students that meets for roughly 30 hours per week.
At a recent design session, a fourth grader told a room of educators how “cared about and appreciated” she felt because they took the time to ask her what she wanted from school. The moment was both touching and heartbreaking — an important reminder to build our schools around students, not fit our students into our schools.
Our young lovers will captivate the hearts of students and families. Families will realize that as education moves into the cloud, the learning options available to them and their children are multiplying. Today, families pick schools for their children. As options multiply and student achievement data becomes more ubiquitous, families will begin to demand specific experiences: self-paced learning, deeper learning, personalized schedules, coaching instead of teaching, etc.
This is consistent with the last 10 years where technology has shifted power away from institutions and towards individuals (e.g. think how one 9-year-old girl’s school lunch blog shamed a school into better meals).
Imagine a second grader working on second grade math at school but rapidly advances to fourth-grade content on an online math program at home. The teacher sees the student is proficient in second grade math (i.e., “doing fine”) while the parents see a student capable of so much more. The school distrusts the data from the online program and worries that moving the student to a fourth grade math class would be socially traumatic. See the problem?
Now imagine our young lovers show up and say: “That’s great your kid is ahead in math. How about we spend more time during the school day cultivating her love of robotics. And, oh by the way, we’ll keep pushing the fourth grade math.” Inspiration and personalization beat standardization every time.
Our young lovers are better together than apart. The creativity movement and the personalization and innovation movement need each other to scale. Creativity in education never fulfilled its potential because it could not ideologically co-exist with the basic skills camp. Students need a foundation of skills and context to engage in progressively deeper learning.
There is more than one way to learn foundational knowledge and personalized learning can help. What if a group of high school students design a project to study cancer incidence in surrounding communities, a project inspired by a student’s personal experience with cancer. The project is “unlocked” for students when they pass the prerequisite statistics unit from Khan Academy. A couple students take Machine Learning from Coursera and design a more robust study that attracts the interest of a local university. The other students get curious about what this machine learning is all about… The creative effort is strengthened by the interaction with personalized learning.
Conversely, personalized learning is pretty dreary if the learning experiences are weak. There is plenty of hand-wringing over the thought of plopping three-year-olds in front of laptops where they drill-and-kill for eight hours a day, with nary an adult in sight.
But this is more than a Jerry Maguire “you complete me” moment. Many radical ideas come from “connecting the unconnected.” The merging of the creativity and personalization movements will lead to new ideas with unexpected results. When our young lovers see that the world can be better, they make it their life mission to create “amazing.”
There is plenty of Shakespearean tragedy in K12. And the parents of our young lovers deeply disapprove of their relationship. But the world is changing and the bitter past may not matter.
I think our young lovers will stop trying to “fix” education and focus on building something better, creating experiences that stimulate “passion, purpose and play” for our children.
Note: My employer, Charter School Growth Fund, is a philanthropic investor in Summit Public Schools.
Alex Hernandez is a partner at Charter School Growth Fund, a venture philanthropy that provides growth capital for high-performing charter school networks. He leads CSGF’s “next-generation” learning investments in blended learning programs and is eager to talk to social entrepreneurs who want to re-invent schools. twitter: thinkschools
A Learn.ist Board for K-12 Blended Learning Models -
See whether you like this one or MentorMob better.
A MentorMob Playlist for K12 Blended Learning Models -
Enjoy! Need to try Learn.ist and Gooru next…
[This was originally posted on the Innosight Institute Education Blog.]
Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
—Alice in Wonderland—
I am fortunate to collaborate with a number of amazing educators who want to completely reinvent high school education.
Through this process, I began to notice that school design frequently starts with the class schedule. The air usually begins leaking out of the innovation balloon when this happens and we have some version of the following conversation.
Me: Something doesn’t feel quite right, huh?
Them: Yeah, I can’t put my finger on it.
Me: You are trying to reimagine high school, but your class schedule just laid down dozens, maybe hundreds of constraints on your still emerging school design.
Them: What do you mean? Oh. Oh… Oooooooooohhhhhhhh!!!
Me: What are your ultimate goals for students in this learning environment?
Them: I want [x, y and z…]
Me: So how about we start there? Put the students at the center of your school design. What experiences would enable your students to achieve these goals? What are students doing? What are adults doing? What happens if we loosen [x] constraint?
It is hard to resist the siren call of the schedule. The scheduling process is a combination of science and voodoo and, speaking as a former high school teacher and administrator, few things are more gratifying than getting all the moving parts to fit together.
But if you lock down the schedule before you are clear on the experiences you are trying to create for students, you give up a lot of flexibility around time, staffing, personalization, learning modality, etc. All you begin with is constraints.
It’s hard to do everything different when you start in the exact same place.
There is no cookbook or recipe for innovation. But we do notice some starting points that, at least for now, seem to be more productive than others. Variations of these approaches are found in most books on creativity and innovation (e.g., The Innovator’s DNA , Disciplined Dreaming, and Creative Thinkering).
Answering the opposite question: Summit Public Schools is working with its faculty to answer the question, “what would school look like if it were entirely mastery-based and not organized around seat time?” MATCH Education is wondering what a school would look like with only 1:1 tutors. I think about how to build a high school that promotes “passion, purpose, and play” like Tony Wagner suggests in Creating Innovators. Looking at the opposite of what currently exists can generate new insights. There are other ways to modify what exists to create new ideas using the SCAMPER strategy: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Magnify, Put to other uses, Eliminate, and Rearrange.
Drawing a picture: One day we were trying to design different learning environments and decided to draw a picture of 90 students in a room with three teachers and a paraprofessional. We kept drawing different scenarios of groupings, learning modalities (e.g., direct instruction, peer-to-peer, online, independent, etc.), staffing arrangements, cycle times, to create new learning experiences that were optimized for students and teachers. Before long, we had dozens of drawings and realized there were a seemingly endless number of permutations of how to organize learning.
We call these permutations “plays” because our walls began to resemble playbooks in video game football. What if these “plays” changed dynamically depending on the desired learning outcomes? For example, the Kunskapsskolan schools in Sweden offer students choices between lectures, center-based instruction, independent learning time and seminars to meet their learning goals. The schools organize staff and students differently (i.e., run different “plays”) to accommodate student preferences for different learning modalities. Through pictures, we can break the confines of 20-35 students in a single room with one teacher and explore new possibilities for learning environments.
Focus on first principles: Another approach is to focus on a set of first principles or essential questions to help inform school design.
Using the Innosight blended learning taxonomy, it is clear that the different models take very different approaches to the first principles. In fact, one could read a school’s responses to the above questions and predict, with a fair degree of accuracy, what the learning environment looks like.
While there is no straight line to get to the next breakthrough idea, these are examples of processes edu-preneurs can use to move their ideas forward.
There is a security in starting with constraints – it’s what we know. As educators, we are experts in constraints and the various reasons why certain things don’t work. Rob Schwartz of the Level Playing Field Institute recently wrote about his own struggles to move beyond what he “knows” about education (a struggle I share):
As I imagine what schools may look like, I bump up against my pre-conceived and ingrained notions of what school has always been – seat time, mandated testing, teacher credentialing, students in rows of desks, classroom management, staffing, custodial needs, and on and on and on. These throw up barriers to any new notion of what schools could actually be. And I know that I am not alone.
One of my favorite things about John Danner, CEO of Rocketship Education, is he doesn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on obstacles and constraints. He thinks about the way the world should be and goes after that. In the words of one Rocketship employee, “I have ten things on my to-do list. None of them have ever been done before.” He wasn’t complaining.
It is scary to look at a blank piece of paper and imagine what schools can be. It can be like drifting in the ocean, grasping for something to hold onto. I humbly suggest grabbing onto a creative process that leads to new possibilities and takes you to unexpected places. The class schedule is an anchor, not a life boat.
Note: My employer, Charter School Growth Fund, is a philanthropic investor in Summit Public Schools and Rocketship Education. I serve on the Rocketship board of directors.
The Accidental Creative, Henry Todd (2011). The “conception” and “birth” of our ideas are small bookends to the real work of creating - the process.
The Architecture of Learning, Kevin Washburn (2010). To build true understanding you must use “perceptual thought.” That is thinking that overlays the new data with known experience and blends the two to produce meaning.
Blah Blah Blah, Dan Roam (2011). Pictures aren’t training wheels; pictures are the front wheel.
Brain Rules, John Medina (2009). If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you would probably design something like a classroom.
Creating Innovators, Tony Wagner (2012). There are some classes now that encourage students to go out and do things… classes that matter to the world.
Creating Tomorrow’s Schools Today, Richard Gervin (2010). Why is school not as exciting as Disney World?
Disciplined Dreaming, Josh Linkner (2011). Someday a company is going to come along and put us out of business. It might as well be us.
The End of Ignorance, John Mighton (2008). Raise the bar incrementally so students can experience the thrill of meeting a series of graduated mathematical challenges.
The Innovator’s DNA, Clay Christensen (2011). Intelligence is basically a genetic endowment but creativity is not. Nurture trumps nature as far as creativity goes.
Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman (2011). We found that people, when engaged in a mental sprint, may become effectively blind.
The Lean Startup, Eric Ries (2011). If you cannot fail, you cannot learn.
Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm. —
Maker Faire brought out a flurry of ideas about how making, innovation and design are causing us to re-think education. Here are my favorites. Huge thank you to all the bloggers for helping celebrate Maker Faire!
Beth Rabbitt: Teacher Innovation, Making, and Underwater Mood Robots (EdUpgrade)
Robert Schwartz: Enabling Schools of the Future (Huffington Post)
Tom Vander Ark: Maker High - Why Every School Should be a Maker Faire (Getting Smart)
Betsy Corcoran: Maker Movement Inspires Students, Teachers (San Francisco Chronicle)
Josh Densen: I Want a School For Makers (thinkschools)
Jennifer Medbery: Reinventing Education to Teach Creativity and Entrepreneurship (Fast Company)
Alex Hernandez: We Need A Fab Lab For Education (Innosight Institute)
Ben Daley: I Want a Classroom Full of Craftsmen (thinkschools)
Brian Greenberg: What We’ve Got Here is a Failure of Imagination (blendmylearning)
Michael Horn: Making Education Innovation Come to Life (Forbes)
Marie Bjerede: DIY Learning - Schoolers, Edupunks, and Makers Challenge Education As We Know It (O’Reilly Media)
MAKE: Why Educators Want to Attend Maker Faire 2012 (Makezine)
Levi Sumagaysay: Palo Alto Fab Lab Teaches Students to Create and Build (San Jose Mercury)
Guest post by Josh Densen, Bricolage Academy
I can’t wait for Maker Faire, the two-day festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness planned that starts today in San Mateo, California. It’s a little strange that someone trying to start a new charter school in New Orleans would spend the time travelling halfway across the country to the world’s coolest show and tell exposition. But in many ways, I doubt there is anything else I can do to better prepare me for leading Bricolage Academy, the proposed charter school I plan to start in 2013.
I have spent most of the last thirteen years working in urban public education. I started as a special education teacher in Oakland, California, later taught at a charter school in Harlem, and most recently led the local office of a national education non-profit in New Orleans. Still, I think a lot about the schools I would want for my own children and I find myself still searching.
The question now guiding me as an aspiring school founder is “How might we design a school that prepares children for the world 20 years from now?”
What would happen if we built a school that goes beyond the acquisition of knowledge all schools should provide? What if every student experienced an ongoing entrepreneurial and creative journey? And best of all, what if this was all done not after school, or during a special elective, but instead could be felt throughout the entire academic experience for every student?
That’s what brings me, a school founder who has never built a robot, hacked a computer, or designed jewelry to San Mateo fairgrounds this weekend.
My hunch is that, in twenty years, creativity and innovation will be essential. At Maker Faire, I’ll be searching for clues and insights about what we’re missing in our current antiquated classrooms. I’m excited to see how what a tinkerer built in their spare time can help us rethink education. What did they learn? Where did they fail? What lessons will they apply to their next challenge?
People often ask me what the ‘theme’ of Bricolage is. In my mind, school themes are often oversimplifications that allow people ease with categorizing, but reveal little about the school or its actual program: think “Arts-focused” or “Blended Learning” or “STEM.”
In response, I usually say that we don’t really have a theme, but that I want Bricolage to be a “school for makers,” then explain the maker movement as a great intersection between art, design, technology, engineering and creativity. Sounds like a school every child deserves, and definitely one that I want for my own kids.
If you want to keep up with an innocent abroad at Maker Faire, follow the school on twitter at @BricolageAcdmy.
Guest post by Ben Daley, High Tech High
“Probably the greatest and commonest mistake we all make is to forget that learning is a necessary incident of dealing with real situations.”
John Dewey (p. 4), 1915
noun workmanship, technique, expertise, mastery, artistry
His carvings are known for their style, detail and craftsmanship.
“I want a classroom full of craftsmen. I want students whose work is strong and accurate and beautiful.”
Ron Berger (p. 1), 2003
Our country is currently mesmerized by “raising student achievement,” by which people mean, but are too savvy to say out loud, “increasing scores on bubble tests.”
Meanwhile, in too many traditional schools, some students take vocational courses where they receive narrow skill training for a specific occupation while other students take academic courses where they receive “college prep.” (And that we can predict which students will be in which track, based on the socio-economic status of their parents, might give pause to any defenders of such a system).
In contrast, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology famously holds the motto “Mens et Manus” (Mind and Hand). But using both your hands and your mind need not be limited to the elite accepted into MIT. All students should make things. They should tinker. They should develop a habit of craftsmanship.
At High Tech High, we aspire to help our students create amazing work that they present to a real audience and for a real purpose. We want our students’ work to be known for its “style, detail, and craftsmanship.” We want people to say, “a kid did that?!”
Maker Faire embodies the best of this spirit. Maker Faire is about “showing what you’ve made and sharing what you’ve learned.”
So, how can we take the energy and enthusiasm of the Maker movement and infect our schools? And please, not just an after school club. Isn’t this work important enough to happen during the school day and for all kids?
Ben Daley is the chief academic officer for High Tech High and a faculty member at the High Tech High Graduate School of Education.