The New VEX Robotics Game Gateway is Out for 2011-2012

If you are on a VEX robotics team then I am sure you already know about the 2011-2012 new VEX Robotics game, Gateway. This year's game has a few really cool elements that should make the game as fun to watch as it is to play.

  • Autonomous, the first 20 seconds of the match where the robot operates without a human driver, is determined not by who scores the most but by who scores first.
  • There is one barrel that will double an entire goal's value and another that will negate it. This will make for some very exciting final seconds of play as everything can change in a heartbeat.
  • The game takes its name from two gates which divide the field into 3 parts. Teams decide when they wish to raise the gate to open the field.
You can find out the full details by checking out the video below and/or the main site with manuals and descriptions. Oh and by the way, World Championship is in Anaheim, CA this year so we will definitely see you there!

Of course, I don't post this for teams, they already know about this and are hard at work getting their robots ready.

I post this for the vast network of people who can support these students in their quest to learn STEM. It is clear that if we are going to solve the issues our planet and species face, it is going to come from young minds thinking in incredibly creative ways. Robotics is simply the best way to get students interested and learning for the real-world. 

Parents, community members, corporations and businesses, potential mentors, and government leaders, this is your opportunity to step up and support these students and this program. Donate your time, talent, and treasure in whatever way you are able. Don't worry if you do not know much about building a robot, the students have enormous support at their disposal to help them succeed, they just need someone to help them make it a reality and deal with the details and logistics.

If you want to start or support a robotics team and you need help or ideas on how to get started, contact me on Twitter or by email and I promise to help in anyway I can. It is easier than you think. Please consider donating to Chaos Vortex and/or the team in your area. Everything helps and it will make a long reaching impact.

Subscribe to BrokenAirplane and keep up with all of the latest education and technology resources!

Math As Jazz - Applying and Using it as a Tool

For me there is no better friend than one you can have great discussions with. I swear this was being written before Allison (of Infinigons) and I talked today, but having the discussion with her about it really allowed me to understand my own position better. Nonetheless, this was one of my more difficult posts to write because there are so many sides to it.

When I think of some of my favorite math bloggers/writers I can sense their frustration with how math is currently taught. Some refer to the "dumbing down of the curriculum", others say that rote memorization and skills are emphasized over understanding. In the incredible Lockhart's Lament, the loss of rhetoric, proof, and play with mathematics in schools is mourned for.

Image courtesy of (to read it is to love it)

Helping students discover fundamental concepts in math is a wonderful experience for all involved, yet as Lockhart himself admits, this can take a long time. Sometimes I cannot wait, I have things I want the student to use the math and the understanding can come afterwards. You see for me, math is both a beautiful thing but also a tool to be used. One can use an Arduino to create amazing things without understanding all of the design, science, and math behind it (in fact that was a part of its design), one can participate in the building of an FRC robot while learning along the way (it was similarly designed this way).

In the same way, the Pythagorean theorem can be tremendously valuable long before its understanding of how or why. While some would rail against this use before understanding, I find that it encourages motivation, play, and also progress. Often Math/Science teachers tell me that they never have the time to get to programming math because they are so busy trying to have them understand it before they can apply it. In my mind you will never get there in the unfortunately short amount of time we have students each day/year.

In my opinion, to try and teach understanding before application will often time go over student's heads and not stick in their minds in the long term. I would love to see what classrooms could accomplish if they were to start using math right away to build, create, derive, etc. Understanding would come but it would come from the student's aha moments and play. 

A car mechanic learns by playing and experimentation because often the manuals and experience fail to explain a problem, but a mechanic who has no basic understanding of the car, is just tinkering in their garage and is likely to break something. More so in the medical field where it would be grossly unethical to operate without understanding. On the job training is in my opinion the best there is but it is worthless if there is no foundation of skills.

Project based learning requires that we dive in and learn as we go but we must also have a skill set to build upon. At the beginning of the year, I am limited by what projects I can do with students because of their limited math, technology, and critical thinking skills. But as these grow throughout the year, I find them more and more able to do and create. By throwing them into the deep end and saying figure this out, they gain a mastery more quickly than a stepwise process would.

The pure math/applied math debate rages on even within the upper echelons of the math community as does the one over the superiority of theoretical and experimental science. What has been proven time and time again is that some gravitate towards a side but the community is stronger because of both. I can't imagine a class where my students constructed everything from first principles and derived and discovered all math/physics as that would seem to me to be too slow a pace and not my style of learning. Yet, a year spent only applying equations mindlessly would similarly leave the students at a disadvantage.

I don't struggle with the balance, I seek quality. As Allison mentioned in her post, I get frustrated by those who rabble rouse and say that teachers are doing it all wrong but don't provide any steps to improve. If your class is so amazing then share in detail. Don't just post on your blog, "My students are engaged and discuss math like Euler and Gauss reincarnate." Post the lesson, the dialog, a video, something! I know we cannot replicate another's teaching exactly because that depends on the context, relationship, style, etc. But, at least give us something to work with and inspire instead of just tearing others down.

I agree more than anyone else, that things need to change for the better. What I am unwilling to do is cut down the efforts of hard working passionate people (like the Khan academy) because their work is in its infancy or is being misused. I am also similarly frustrated with those who call for reform but provide no resources or ideas. If a teacher is online and reading blogs, that is a good thing and they should come away equipped and supported not guilt ridden. If there is something that needs correcting or calling out, then by all means do it, but it should always be coupled with resources or ideas on how they can improve.

Finally, lets all remember what has been said about opinions. No matter who you are or how popular your  blog, always remember that there is more than one way to teach "right". If your background is in pure math, then teach that with passion and your students will love it; if it is in the application of it (e.g. engineering) then likewise do that. Students love passion and while we should seek balance, if you are bored or confused, your students will be likewise. But let's please stop name calling and using superlatives. If someone's math or teaching looks weird and different to yours, learn from them but stop saying it "isn't math" or that they are "destroying critical thinking" at least unless you are willing to provide evidence or support to other teachers to help them see your side.

Subscribe to BrokenAirplane and keep up with all of the latest education and technology resources!

Please Support The "Arduino in Education" KickStarter Project

Support the Arduino in Education Kickstarter Project! Why should you?

Kickstarter is one of my favorite websites because it allows everyone to have a chance to have their dreams and projects realized. It is just one more of the crowdsourcing benefits of the World Wide Web.

I have talked at great length about our need to ensure that our students experience real world learning and in math/science I believe there is no greater skill than programming. Every single job is and will be influenced directly or indirectly by programming because of the enormous amount of data we collect, and those who have the most control over their data will be able to innovate and create far more than others.

Now, most will balk at the idea of programming with high school students. Especially since many of you were exposed to it in a very boring way. Thankfully there are much more interactive and enjoyable ways of learning programming and using programming. My favorites currently are Python and Arduino. Both are free to download and use. Arduino microcontrollers cost around $30 plus any electronic components you wish to use (sensors, LEDs, motors, etc). But this is far less expensive than the commerical products out there.

What I hear most often when I tell someone about a new technology they say, it will take too long or I will get to it later. This is why I create tutorials that break it down really simply so you can get started in less than an hour and see why this is so cool and perfect for your classroom. I was going to create an Arduino curriculum where students could learn an incredible amount of science while being able to program their sensors and directly interact with their data. The adage, teach a person to fish and they eat for a lifetime comes to mind.

As I was doing my initial research to create this curriculum, I came across Quarkstream and Steve Dickie's Electronics Page, both of these men, like me see the potential in Arduino and how it can reduce the cost of doing high quality physics in the classroom. Steve, has a Kickstarter project where he would like to refine and open source all of his materials to the physics community so we can all benefit from his 11 years of teaching electronics. I'll let him tell you about it:

If everyone who came to this blog each week gave the minimum $3, this project would be more than funded. Please do your part to help the open source community and your students get a quality 21st century skill that is really fun and applicable to their lives (artists, doctors, scientists, musicians, have all used the Arduino in their work). Even if you don't teach STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) perhaps you will see the benefit in doing so and give up a cup of coffee or pizza for a day to donate to this cause. We will do it for you when you create your Kickstarter project!

New Frontiers of Learning and Old Ways of Thinking

When I was in college, I asked if I could take a class online because my wife was a flight attendant at the time and I only saw her once or twice a week. They placed me in the online learning class and it was the silliest thing I had ever experienced. Basically, we watched (or were supposed to) a video of the lecture and then answer some multiple choice questions afterwards. I soon found out that the questions after the video were extremely simple and could be found from a quick reading of the textbook which for me at least was better than sitting through a 90 minute video.

Contrast this with my experience as an Electrician in the US Navy's Nuclear Power program. After taking classes for a year or so, we are transfered to the "Prototype", a permanently moored (docked) submarine where we can learn and apply our knowledge before going out to the fleet. This involved spending about one-third of your time reading the T-manuals aka textbooks, one-third in the boat finding the equipment and learning on it, and one third in front of a computer being assessed on your knowledge. Meanwhile you also met with a mentor who would actually sign you off on your knowledge and test you as he/she felt necessary.

Blended learning, hybrid learning, or whatever else people are calling it, claim that organizing learning in this matter will change education. Here are some questions that one should ask when designing this type of environment:

1) Are you trying to teach the old stuff in a new way? This could work but it requires student motivation or it will have the same problems that you encountered when you did it the old way. Some tech advocates (salesmen), have been saying for the last 30 years that if you add a computer, students will do better. This is blatantly stated in some of their pitches but it is wrong. Boring is still boring. Technology has never been nor will it be the magic bullet or panacea for education's problems.

The Nuclear Navy has not updated their curriculum much in decades, but because we were all hand picked for our program and wanted to be there, we didn't care how old the boat or the textbooks were. This would apply to any program, think of your classrooms and how every time there are those few students who you wish you could clone. This is usually the difference between a college gen-ed class where everyone needs to be there and an upper division degree specific course.

2) If you are going to make your class online or at least assess it online, are your assessment questions able to be found by reading the book or Googling the answer? Are you ok with that possibility? I have the impression that my professor in college wanted me to watch the video, but if that was the case then they should have made the questions require more thought than just fill in the blank or put something into the lecture that was worth my time.

Many of you may have encountered annoyances with online learning. Yet, this is no more an indictment of online learning than sitting through a bad lecture is of direct instruction. This is not a technology problem as our Navy technology was outdated and the graphics looked about 20 years old, this is a pedagogy problem. If your class would be boring and ineffective in person, it will be even more so online because the human engagement is lost.

3) How can I best use the technology I have to enhance learning? I always say, that learning should be able to happen in a field in the woods or on a mountain. Technology is not needed to make learning occur. What technology is best at doing is automating or offloading repetitive or annoying tasks and facilitate fast retrieval or information or communication.

In my Navy Prototype Training, computers and books were our primary sources of learning. There were no lectures but we would form discussions with other students and train ourselves using good old whiteboards. When we had a question, instructors were there to clarify or deepen our understanding but we always had to come with a question. They were too busy for us to come up and say, "what are you going to teach us today". In the boat, we could learn via hands on one-on-one demonstration/application.

When we felt ready to be assessed, the computer would check for our basic level of understanding and then we could go to our advisor. They would have some more questions that could not be found directly in the book but had to demonstrate our understanding (e.g. what happens when this valve is open and you try and speed up the pumps?) The conversations were always frustrating because they would enjoy trying to stump us but we loved it nonetheless because it was a game.

4) Why do we need to know this? I know the arguments for a Liberal Arts education and yet I feel like our learning is so broad that students graduate with no mastery of anything. What job could a student get out of high school, or as Quinn puts it, "What survival value does high school have?" You might say, "Well that is why they need to go to college" but with the amount of learning available online, I bet we could do a lot more efficient job of learning with mentors helping clarify and support online learning.

There is no replacement for human interaction/discussion when learning, it's how we culturally evolved. The question is what role will humans play in learning with all of this information readily available for free? This is not a new question it is a rediscovery of old ways of thinking. Ancient peoples did not have school houses with lectures and curriculum, learning happened through exploration. Far from thinking that as a quaint or savage mode of learning, I think it is the key to unlocking our human potential for creating and innovating.

This does not replace teachers, it just changes our job description.

Subscribe to BrokenAirplane and keep up with all of the latest education and technology resources!

Lets All Share Our Awesome Math

So as I said in a previous post, Spring Break is my chance to take a moment to reflect and see what I can do better. Thanks to all of you sending me articles and my network of resources, I have had no shortage!

One theme that mysteriously keeps coming to my attention is the lack of richness in our curriculum. In one of BrokenAirplane's earliest posts, I encouraged all of us to aim for the highest level of application as the end result of our student's learning. Now in the last couple of weeks, I am seeing great posts from thoughtful writers about how shallow our textbooks and assignments are.

In this one, Frank speaks about how the Khan Academy is actually reinforcing our shallow model of education. I agree with his point if teachers are allowing these "tools" to be the complete math curriculum. It would be like going to a cooking class and spending weeks learning about the mixer, the oven, baking soda, etc. and never actually making a cake.

While on the other hand, I teach at a school which does not track and I have 9th grade students who are ready for Trigonometry and others who never understood Elementary Math. Using ALEKS and Khan Academy occasionally (<20% of class) has dramatically improved their confidence in their skills and participation in class discussions.

Another source of this mathematical meme came from Republic of Math and describes the difference between contrived and real problems. Contrived problems are a poor attempt to compel the student to care when the only purpose of the word problem was to wrap a story around a calculation problem. Kirby Urner has said before that we need to tell better and bigger stories and we will find that math is a part of that bigger story without having to make some contrived reason up, and just a couple of days ago, Dan Meyer spoke about the need for strong narrative to drive critical thinking.

The other part that keeps rattling off in my mind comes from my "Is Calculating Math?" post about Conrad Wolfram's exhortation that we stop the trend of 80% class time teaching/learning to calculate. I agree 100% and yet I am now finding myself overwhelmed. I am asking you out there for help at getting better at mathematical modeling. If you haven't watched the TED Talk, check it out here.

According to the Mathematics for Teaching Blog, mathematical modeling breaks down into 4 categories:

Empirical modeling involves examining data related to the problem with a view of formulating or constructing a mathematical relationship between the variables in the problem using the available data.
Simulation modeling involve the use of a computer program or some technological tool to generate a scenario based on a set of rules. These rules arise from an interpretation of how a certain process is supposed to evolve or progress.
Deterministic modeling in general involve the use of equation or set of equations to model or predict the outcome of an event or the value of a quantity.
Stochastic modeling takes deterministic modeling one further step. In stochastic models, randomness and probabilities of events happening are taken into account when the equations are formulated. The reason behind this is the fact that events take place with some probability rather than with certainty. This kind of modeling is very popular in business and marketing.
All of these are applications of mathematical knowledge and I want my students to do it more than they are. The Internet is based upon the idea of sharing and not reinventing the wheel so if you have had success in your classroom with Challenge Problemsprojects, or any other application of these ideas that you think would be suitable for 9th grade math students I would greatly appreciate it.
I am aware of the great resources out there from Dan Meyer, Ben Rimes, ASU's modeling instruction and the like. As I said, I am not so much concerned about the pedagogy as the questions. At my school we have teams of humanities/math teachers and I yearn for my students to talk about math class the way they do after leaving my partner's class. Sure they talk about the cool thing they just did with Arduino or Python but I want to help them see the bigger picture and allow puzzles and math to be a source of fun and thought for them not just frustration.

I am tired of looking through textbooks and sifting through websites hoping for great math. There is nothing I like more than walking around and having a great idea for a project or problem come to me, but I would love more. Basically, I am asking for your "Awesome Awesomeness" as one of my colleague put it. Please share it in the comments or tweet it using the hashtag #AwesomeMath.

Subscribe to BrokenAirplane and keep up with all of the latest education and technology resources!

Dependable Ride, The iPhone and Android App That Could Save Lives

There are some pretty sobering statistics about drunk driving that anger and frustrate me at the same time. Unlike cancer or war these deaths are preventable or accidental and always traumatizing for all involved. While efforts are made to educate people on the risks and costs, people still make foolish decisions.

Some will designate a driver or set up a ride home only to have it fall through. This is an even bigger problem with high school students who will try to drive home because they don't want to face the legal or parental repercussions if they are discovered intoxicated.

This could also be helpful if you suddenly find yourself lost or in danger. There is no reason why a child or someone alone should have to increase the risk of their life by calling numbers one-by-one hoping for rescue.

Some of my former students were tired of seeing this happen at their school with their friends and peers and decided to take matters into their own hands. They created Dependable Ride, an iPhone and Android app that will alert those on your phone's contact list that you need a ride home. This increases the possibility of finding a safe ride home.

How you can help
These students have come up with an amazing solution that could take drunk drivers off the road and find safety for those in need. They have used their programming, research, and marketing skills to make the world a better place. But the app has not been made yet, and you can help make that happen.

Team R Squared has submitted their idea and proposal to the Conrad Foundation's Spirit of Innovation Contest in hopes of getting their idea funded and supported. The team has already been selected as a finalist and with your vote, you can make it official.

Click on the link to Vote for Dependable Ride (Team R Squared) and Like their Facebook page. These are the two ways to increase the likelihood of their app being selected for funding.

Subscribe to BrokenAirplane and keep up with all of the latest education and technology resources!

Educational ARPA, Innovation from Within

A couple of weeks ago I saw an article about Obama's desire to create an ARPA for Education. For those of you not familiar with what an ARPA is, it stands for Advanced Research Projects Agency. This refers to a way of organizing research and directing funds towards certain projects. We have all benefited from ARPA projects, for example, a few Defense ARPA projects led to the Internet (ARPANET) and GPS to name a few.

ARPAs have a philosophy and structure that has made it highly successful and make it a perfect structure to help recreate education for the 21st century. Spurred on by this hope, I contacted the Department of Education about participating as a member of the ARPA-ED Network. There is some preliminary research and data collecting going on right now but awaits funding for FY2012. As this could take a while, I want to share my responses to some of the initial research questions. Feel free to leave your comments below.

How can we implement technology in the classroom effectively?


Over the last 30 years there has been a great push for technology to enter the classroom. It was believe that it would transform education as it was transforming society. Yet, the expected gains did not show up and we have not seen the increased learning and engagement that was hoped for.

It is easy to say that not enough was done, that we had too few computers/technology in the classroom and that the problem was simply funding. This has been the mentality for years but even as the market has caused a considerable drop in the cost of technology the issues stay the same. I have had the pleasure of teaching at some of the finest schools in the country with 2:1 computer ratios, the newest in interactive software/hardware, and yet many classrooms looked exactly as they did before the technology.

The reason technology has not had a transformative effect in our classrooms is because there has not been a shift of the paradigm for education. Technology has made it possible for us to look up any fact, equation, article, or video in seconds and yet we spend the majority of our time teaching students to calculate and remember content.

If that time was spent applying and using that time to apply and deepen their understanding then there would be dramatic gains in our schools. One technology that has helped to transform my math classroom has been ALEKS and the Khan Academy. These resources provide students the opportunity to learn math at their own pace. They can use the explanations, video tutorials, and the Internet to help them understand and I step in to provide one-on-one tutoring when necessary.

The reason this has made such a dramatic impact in my class is for multiple reasons. Students’ anxiety is reduced as the curriculum moves at a pace and level that is appropriate for them. If they are confused there are numerous resources at their disposal and they sit themselves in groups to support one another. This teaches them the valuable skill of learning how to learn. It also requires that they take charge of their own learning and empowers them to go as fast as they want. Over ⅓ of my students have completed the California Algebra standards and have graduated to the Geometry curriculum with some preparing to move into third year Algebra before completing their Freshman year.

This has required that I make the shift from being the one in charge of disseminating knowledge. There are books, videos, resources that have already explained this well and I am wasting my students time to lecture on one single topic when they could learn multiple topics in the same amount of time. I am more than happy to shift roles as it has allowed me to work one-on-one with my students and get to know them and their strengths in math. This would have been extremely difficult if not impossible in a traditional math class.

Another technology that I and my colleagues have found useful is the use of teacher created video tutorials. Sometimes the resources out there are not relevant or high enough quality to what you are trying to teach. Through the use of free software like Camstudio and ingenuity, we have created video tutorials on art, computer software, programming, robotics, math, physics, and more. These videos allow us to create the lesson once and then share it with students to watch at home or in class while we can help others work on projects that apply and deepen their understanding without having to waste time repeating ourselves.

It is important that students be able to connect to the world of information and diverse learners in order to succeed in a 21st century curriculum. We have found Google Apps for Education to be a powerful force for leveling the playing field. It has provided our students a way to communicate in real-time as well as asynchronously, gather data, collaborate and refine each other’s work, and so many other features that make it feasible for all learners to participate in the wealth of resources in our age. As for the teachers, it has dramatically decreased the amount of paper we need to use, increased parent-teacher communication and other time saving features that allow us to focus on students.

The most important factor in implementing technology is using it to accomplish what was not possible before instead of doing the same thing in an new way. It is silly to think of using a cell phone while standing right next to the person and it is similarly non-sequitur to use the amazing software/hardware at our disposal to teach the same way we did for the last hundred years. My colleague and my classrooms look very different from other classrooms, technology is used to allow students to learn at their own pace and teachers assist them one-on-one to achieve full differentiation. Students are guided by their passions and use their skills the achieve personal and common goals.

According to Thomas Kuhn’s study of paradigm shifts we are at the tipping point where there are a critical mass of people who are ready to leave the antiquated mode of teacher/learner into a new way of doing things but they are unaware of how they can do so. There is not necessarily a need for more technology but support and training in how to do new things. Educators have made amazing innovations and advanced in student learning for the last 30 years with technology but society was not ready for it nor was it cost effective. With the amount of free and open source technology, there has never been a better time to implement technology in the classroom. The question is what would the 21st classroom look like?

What are barriers to differentiated learning?

  • Phase out grade levels based upon student age. Older students can train the younger students while still challenging themselves.
  • Have learning be not only relevant but efficacious. Participating in research, projects, apprenticeships, programs that result in an actual outcome.
  • Have classrooms become global connection points to the world wide learning community. Using information freely available and social networking, work together to study and accomplish more than possible in one classroom with one teacher.
  • Modify universal curriculum provided to all students and retool it towards mastery. The idea of the liberal arts degree where all students learn everything in order to become cultured and cosmopolitan has become too far removed from applicable skills towards innovation and job skills.

When I spoke to a colleague about this issue I likened it to the cars at Disneyland’s Autopia, there is a control of how fast or slow you can go but there is very little control over what direction you can go, there is only one track. For much of our classrooms, we are only empowered to modify the pace of the curriculum. All have encountered the student who simply does not seem to care. They never speak in class, nor turn in work, we fear the worst for their future and some of us even give a chance to make up work for credit or modify the amount of work. Anything to keep this student from missing out on life.

If we were to follow that student outside of the classroom we would see a very different person. We would likely be amazed at how his demeanor changes when he is not in a classroom. Lets move into this student’s future. He/she has found a niche for themselves and perhaps even enjoys what they do. They are good at what they do, otherwise they would not have applied for the job nor would they likely keep it. The question is why could the education not support and help this student?

In biological evolution, diversity equals strength. The more species our planet sustains, the more healthy our ecosystem is. It can continue through any cataclysmic disaster or even slight changes in climate. Our educational system however does not support a diversity of learning. I appreciate what Rick Lavoie tells teachers concerned about their struggling students, “High school is the only place in life where you need to succeed in everything.”

Imagine if a student’s passions/abilities were able to guide their path of learning. What kind of students would graduate from a place where they had spent 10-20 years mastering skills that they were motivated and successful at. What kind of innovation and creative society would it be? This is not just an issue of the human but an economic and societal one as well.

If we look at our education system it is highly redundant and inefficient. Teachers teach everyone the same thing multiple times a day and then repeat themselves all over again next year with a new group of students. This is not how any major company or research facility operates.

  • Differentiated learning is more than just modifying the speed or amount of work a student does. It is a curriculum that works for the student and is aligned with their interests and goals.
  • Differentiated learning is difficult when all students are required to take the same standardized test. Any attempt for students to pursue other valid interests will hurt the school’s report card/test scores.
  • Removing grades determined by age range will allow students to teach new students while deepening their own understanding. This mirrors the role that many graduate students take with undergraduate classes. The teachers role is then freed from that of content dissemination into mentoring and 1-1 support.
I realize this is an seemingly overwhelming task, but it can actually be implemented tomorrow with little cost. Much of these concepts can be found in other countries with higher rates of education for less cost per student. I know this can work in the United States because it is already happening around the country with after school programs. For example in my robotics team it is student run/driven with a teacher acting as a mentor and guide. The team has been very successful and in addition to success within the robotics competitions, they have:

  • Created a Virtual Bike Tour for the National Science Festival in Washington D.C.
  • Developed Android Applications
  • Learned how to program in C, Python, and Java
  • Implemented a marketing and business plan generating $30,000/year.
All of which could not have occurred in a traditional class. Nor would we have been able to because it required students highly motivated towards STEM and Business. However, I have witnessed my colleague in his Graphic Novel Project do similarly amazing things with art, graphic design, and business. I believe that if there was enough diversity, everyone would find a niche in which they could be highly successful and learning towards mastery.

Students could pursue their passions in a way that fosters innovation and works with their natural motivation and interests. Organized in this fashion, classes could go even more in depth into the content because everyone there is interested and pursuing that field.

Colleges would be able to accept students that are more highly trained and have actual experience. My robotics students speak with engineers as peers, explaining their design and understanding the feedback they receive. They are accepted to engineering programs  that understand that these students have already traveled around the country and had experience in their field.

Students are not expected to have a job or financial constraints until much later in life. This allows them the freedom to try new things, travel, take risks and fail where they might not be able to later in life. This would raise the bar of what is possible from a citizen entering the workforce.

It would empower students and take students from being receivers of information to creators. Teachers’ roles would change and instead of spending all of their time creating motivating ways of delivering content (e.g. lectures, worksheets, labs, projects) and then assessing the short term retention of it, they could move into mentorship and support roles. This I believe is the true reason why teachers joined this profession.

If more real world justification is needed, consider that professionals (e.g. doctors, engineers, architects, mathematicians) are not expected to remember everything or even to know everything. As Seymour Papert said, “Those who succeed in their field, will not be those who know everything, but know where to find everything.” Think of what could happen if as Conrad Wolfram suggested, we spend our time applying and creating instead of just learning how to calculate. If we shift our efforts towards application and mastery instead of memorization and recal, we can powerfully shift how our students time is used and what they are able to do.

What are undiscovered networks where innovation in learning is occuring?

  • There are huge communities of people learning organically that could be quickly adopted by the larger education system.
  • The largest manifestation of this is in the Maker/Hacker community as they use the Internet as their classroom and connect on a constant basis to support, share, and inspire.
I believe the best way for us to learn how to innovate in education is to watch successful learning communities where people voluntarily learn and support each other in creating. One huge community that grows larger everyday are the Maker/Hacker community. These groups of people teach one another both online and in person.

Whether it is programming, welding, sewing, painting, robotics, or anything else, makers will find no shortage of resources, videos, instructions, and more keep everyone learning all of the time. This is seen most vividly at the yearly events Maker Faire and pwn2own. Communities like these participate in what are called infinite games where “everyone wins” by helping each other and it never ends.

These communities are driven by a strong view on the openness of information. Usually what is created has an open source licence from the creative commons or GNU. The goal is to share in order that others may improve it. This mentality would be helpful for education. Those who have blogs and twitter are sharing as much as they can, but there might be more out there that is even better.

There are clusters of communites and groups who are contributing to this goal. Open Education Resources is one example, and there are a vast number of Personal Learning Networks via Twitter, Ning, Facebook, and Google Groups. The problem is helping them to talk to each other. It is my opinion that the resources are out there the people just haven’t connected yet.

Are there opportunities for students to participate in opportunities to crowdsource and learn and be a part of projects bigger than themselves?

Absolutely, and if there are not any that specifically interest them, the tools are more available than ever for them to create new ones.

Some examples are listed here. But there is no reason why learning opportunities have to occur online. There may be all of the resources necessary but the necessary people are not connected. In fact there are numerous reasons why it would be best to encourage students if possible to connect with others in their community to participate in learning. Strengthening the communal bonds and sharing resources has always proven to be a powerful force for good. Meetup and Kickstarter are excellent resources for connecting communities for learning opportunities.

What steps could be taken immediately that would have a great impact for education?
  • Create a culture of cyclical relationships between businesses and school.
    • Internships and apprenticeships inspire and improve the future workforce.
    • Mentoring of school programs.
    • Examples include Google summer events, Connect a Million Minds
  • Encouraging the adoption of Open Source software to reduce cost and allow students to have the ability to work from home.
  • Implement differentiated programs like Khan Academy, ALEKS, etc. Not to eliminate the need for a teacher (which these software could not do anyway) but change their role into one of support and mentor.
  • Create a socially connected repository of high quality projects, labs, lessons, and assignments where educators could share and provide feedback to other teachers.
    • Educators share ideas for feedback, to inspire others, and share quality concrete curriculum which other teachers could use immediately.
    • Other educators can provide feedback and have a rating system to help the best ideas rise to the top.
    • Students, parents, and others can learn independently as well.
    • Some of the best implementations of this can be found at Instructables, All Recipes, YouTube, CK-12.
  • Create a show that inspires students to pursue STEM. Don Herbert was Mr. Wizard, then there was Bill Nye and Paul Zaloon as Professor Beakman.The current generation has more tools and resources at their disposal than ever yet no hero or guide to follow.
    • Make TV shows a lot of promise in inspiring others but is missing that hook to bring in a larger audience.
    • Adam and Jamie of the Mythbusters are highly motivating but for safety reasons do not teach how to do what they do.
    • There are many videos online that people can learn from. A show that brought in the best teachers from around the country and gave them the resources and platform to teach many would be inexpensive and inspiring as it would create local celebrities as well as organically kickstart local movements.

Creative Commons License
ARPA-ED Response by Phil Wagner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.