Viewing posts tagged classroom

Creative classrooms in Patagonia

Education Futures founder, John Moravec, had the pleasure of visiting with the Ministry of Education in the Province of Chubut, Argentina for Aulas Creativas on February 27-28 this year. The program team recently published this excellent video, which outlines new perspectives for thinking about education.

When John released Manifesto 15 two months earlier, he had no idea that the message and the movement it is inspiring would grow so quickly, and attract so much international attention, especially in Patagonia. We are really touched that this work is helping to change the conversation and form new perspectives for evolving education in the province. For us, that’s the most rewarding part of our work.

John wrote to us:

In this brief visit, I enjoyed meeting the ministry and area teachers. I am grateful for the hospitality Ileana Farre and her husband, Ian Davie, extended to me during my visit. After hanging out with Ileana, Ian, and Gonzalo Frasca, I must say there is nothing better than good company and great food with dinosaurs, great views of the Southern Sky, and penguins!

Roger Schank on Invisible Learning: Real learning; real memory

With the free release of Invisible Learning (Aprendizaje Invisible), I am pleased to share the original English version of the epilogue, penned by Roger Schank.

The full Spanish-language text of Invisible Learning may be downloaded directly from

Epilogue: Real learning; Real memory

by Roger Schank

What do people need to learn and how can they learn it?

Every curriculum committee and every training organization has at one time or another convened a committee to answer this question. Their answers are always given in terms of telling about subjects: “more math,” “leadership,” “risk management,” “company policies.” But subject matter is far less important in learning than one might think.

Consider medicine. What should a doctor learn? Doctors take courses in anatomy and immunology and so on, and certainly we want any doctor who treats us to know about these things. But, what skill do we want him to have above all? We want a doctor to make a proper diagnosis of our problem.

Now consider a car mechanic. We want him to understand how an engine works and such. But what do we want him to know more than anything? We want a mechanic to make a proper diagnosis of our problem.

The same is true of business consultants, architects, financial planners, and most other professions. We want people who can do diagnosis. But, when do we teach diagnosis? Typically we teach it within the confines of a particular subject, way at the end, after all the theories and facts have been explained. This is exactly backwards.

What is harder to learn, proper diagnosis of an illness or the names and functions of all the body parts? Most anyone can learn body parts, but diagnosis is a seriously important skill. You would never choose a doctor based on their ability to name the body parts quickly.

But, if diagnosis is difficult to learn, that implies that one needs a lot of practice in doing it. And, if it is important to learn, that implies that one ought to be practicing it very early on in life.

Other critical skills include determining causation, making predictions, making plans, and conducting experiments.

How can we learn these skills?

People learn diagnosis by doing diagnosis. This means that learning occurs when people have to do diagnosis. They might have to do diagnosis in order to figure out why they are losing a video game or why they always eat too much. While diagnosis is, unfortunately, not a subject in school, it is a process that everyone practices. They practice it without help most of the time and unless they have a parent who can help they may well be lost and might not get better at it.

Consider experimentation. We think of this as being something scientists do, when in fact, two year olds do it constantly. They try out experiments about what is good to put in their mouths, what annoying behaviors they can get away with, and what happens when they smash a favorite toy.

When we assess someone’s intelligence we can forgive lack of subject matter knowledge much more easily than we can forgive lack of diagnostic ability. Here is a Sarah Palin supporter responding to a question about Palin’s foreign policy:

I don’t know much about her foreign policy but the state that she did govern was right across the street from Russia. You know so I’m not saying that she ever had to deal with Russia but I’m sure she had boundaries issues she had to deal with. We have boundary issues right now with Mexico now.

Clearly this man has no ability to make an effective diagnosis. He does not understand causation either. In short, he seems stupid not because he doesn’t know about Palin’s foreign policy, but because he has diagnosed “illegal immigration” as something one would certainly be an expert on if one had governed Alaska. The critical issue in learning is learning to think more clearly.

How can technology play a role in teaching diagnosis and in teaching thinking in general? Or, to put this another way, why is it that courses rarely work the way I am suggesting (diagnostic issue first, facts and theories later)?

When you teach a course in a classroom, it is not so easy to start with a diagnostic problem. Such problems require real thought, hard work, recovery from errant hypotheses, and mentoring focused on creating new ways of looking at a problem. In other words, teaching diagnosis is facilitated by one-on-one interactions between teacher and student. We can do this easily online (or at home with our children), but it is very hard to do in the classroom. One value of technology is to enable one-on-one teaching in a world where people can no longer afford personal tutors. And, of course, we can model physical situations virtually. These situations can be richly elaborated and allow for exploration and discovery. It is much better to diagnose a virtual patient (or a business or an electrical problem) than a real one.

To understand why learning needs to happen this way it is important to realize that all human beings have a dynamic memory, one that changes in response to new experiences. The popular conception of memory is a static one, more like a library in which what one puts in stays there unchanged until it is needed again. This popular conception of memory causes schools to try to pour in information and test to see if it is still there. And, it causes parents to worry if their child doesn’t seem very good at either acquiring information or retaining it.

Human beings do not have static memories. They can change their internal classification systems when their conception of something changes, or when their needs for retrieval changes. For the most part, such changes are not consciously made.

Despite constant changes in organization, people continue to be able to call up relevant memories without consciously considering where they have stored them. A dynamic memory is one that can change its own organization when new experiences demand it. A dynamic memory is by nature a learning system.

People use the knowledge structures created by this memory, the ways of organizing information into a coherent whole, in order to process what goes on around them. What knowledge structures does a child have and how do they acquire them? They have knowledge structures about their own worlds: what the people they know are likely to do, how the stores and parks around them function, and they ask questions endlessly to find out more.

Understanding how knowledge structures are acquired helps us understand what kinds of entities they are. A script is a simple knowledge structure that organizes knowledge we all know about event sequences in situations like restaurants, air travel, hotel check in, and so on. We know what to expect and interpret events in light of our expectations.

If something odd happens to us in a restaurant, how do we recall it later? We would recall it if we entered the same restaurant later on, or if we had the same waitress at a different restaurant, or if we ate with the same dinner companions (assuming we ate with them rarely.), or if the food was extraordinary, or if we got sick. An incident in memory is indexed in many ways. Those indices are about actions, results of actions, and lessons learned from actions.

People can also abstract up a level to organize information around plans and goals. To put this another way, if the waitress dumped spaghetti on the head of someone who offended her, you should get reminded of that event if you witness the SAME KIND OF EVENT another time. The question is, what does it mean to be the same kind of event? Whatever this means, it would mean different things to different people. One person might see it as an instance of “female rage” and another as an instance of “justifiable retribution.” Another might see it as a kind of art.

The key issue is to learn from it. Any learning that occurs involves placing the new memory in a location in memory whereby it adds to and expands upon what is already in that place. So, it might tell us more about that waitress, or waitresses in general, or women in general, or about that particular restaurant, and so on, depending upon what we previously believed to be true of all those things. New events modify existing beliefs by adding experiences to what we already know or by contradicting what we already know and forcing us to new conclusions. Either way, learning is more than simply adding new information.

A child’s mind is acquiring and abandoning scripts. A child is wired to create patterns by expecting something to happen after something else because that is the way it happened last time. A child is set up to make generalizations, have them fail because his expectations were not met, and then create a new generalization.

And then, there is school. No actual experiences, except those about school itself, are had. So a child easily learns how one is expected to behave in school and how school functions, but he may not want to behave that way or function in that way. Reading, writing, and arithmetic, actual skills, can be taught because they are the new experiences the child is wired to seek. But other subjects, ones that are not themselves experiences, i.e., scripts that can be practiced, are much harder for a child to learn because they are not offered up by schooling, typically.

As a child gets older, he begins to understand implicitly that it is his goals, and his plans to achieve those goals, that drive his learning. While the child seeks to make his script base larger and to clarify the expectation failures he has had and to find new stories to tell or hear stories that will help him make sense of his world, the school takes a passive, librarian’s view of knowledge as something you can just deposit.

In school, all children are seen as the same, and the goal is teach them all the same stuff. But, a child processes new information in terms of the memory structures he already has. Since those are different than those of the child sitting next to him, he literally will not hear the same thing that a teacher is saying, in the same way.

The people who are in charge of schools completely misunderstand the inherently experiential nature of learning.

Students who are wired to learn from experience will have a hard time learning from static information that does not clearly relate to goals they have. Curiously, little children learn very well until they meet up with school and its arbitrary standards. They have experiences and they learn from them. The more varied their experiences, the more they can be said to know. The more they have interesting people to discuss their experiences with, the more excited and comprehending they become about their own knowledge.

Not only does school ignore what we know about how human memory and learning work, it is also concerned with teaching subjects that have nothing to do with everyday life. So students learn the wrong stuff in the wrong way.

young men grow up such blockheads in the schools, because they neither see nor hear one single thing connected with the usual circumstances of everyday life

That was written by Gaius Petronius in the Satyricon although it is just as true today.

We need to re-think our very conception of learning. What we have now simply doesn’t work. It’s time for a new model.

Dr. Roger Schank is the CEO of Socratic Arts and Managing Director of Engines for Education (a non-profit). He was Chief Education Officer of Carnegie Mellon West and Distinguished Career Professor in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University from 2001-2004. He founded he renowned Institute for the Learning Sciences at Northwestern University in 1989 where he is John P. Evans Professor Emeritus in Computer Science, Education and Psychology. From 1974-1989, he was Professor of computer science and psychology at Yale University, Chairman of the Computer Science department, and Director of the Yale Artificial Intelligence Project. He currently works with La Salle University in Barcelona on developing new online degree programs.

Classroom of the future? A response

This article from the New York Times on the use of technology in classrooms and test scores merited a response:

Dear Mr. Richtel–

I enjoyed your article “In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores” — but I have a key concern.

The entire “debate” around the use of technology in classrooms is focused around using new technologies to teach the same, old stuff. You cite a few studies, and there have been more globally (i.e., OECD) that agree with the finding that simply injecting technologies into the classroom will not make any difference. The *purposive* element (the “so what”) of what they’re being used for is not adequately addressed.

Instead of using these tools to teach centuries-old subject matter, perhaps we should instead use them to help us develop meaningful skills and personal knowledge — and to enhance our capacities to imagine, create, and innovate.

Any furtherance of using such devices for “teaching” ancient information hinders the potentials these technologies provide, and puts our children at risk by excluding them from the co-creation of opportunities in the 21st century. We need to create, not repeat.


John W. Moravec, Ph.D.

Bulgarian students dream about future schools

As we shared earlier, Project Dream School started with a simple question: If you could build a dream school, what would you do?

This morning, I received some inspiring ideas. Elena Stateva writes,

Dear Dr. Moravec,

I would like to share with the you the Dream Schools of my students. They worked on them as a project for their Philosophy in English class (grades 8-11). We are from Bulgaria, and we are part of a summer school program.

And these dreams are inspiring: Robot teachers? No tests? Creativity and the development of individual identity?! Read on:

Creators: Radoslav Asparuhov (16), Daniel Rashin (18)

Just a Dream is a school made of technologies, but not only about technology. It places a very high value on the potential of technology to transform the ways we see education. As full-fledged citizens of our dynamic modernity, students at Just a Dream are extensively trained how to use technology in the most innovative and effective way. For example, sculptures and other three-dimensional figures are created on computers, thus enabling students to develop their spatial and analytical intelligences. Top-notch technological innovations render the school one of the pioneers of knowmadic thinking.

Furthermore, Just a Dream gives students the crucial opportunity to have a practical go at their field. Relevant internships at successful companies are provided to each student, through a wide a range of sponsors. The sponsorship by highly acclaimed names in the business makes it possible for the students to go to school and use their modern facilities practically for free. In fact, these companies often recruit graduates from Just a Dream as the most prepared professionals.

In addition, Just a Dream is a school which recognizes extracurricular activities, within and outside the professional field, as essential to students’ academic and personal growth. Therefore, school trips are regularly organized, featuring exciting destinations in the country and abroad.

Creators: Victoria Ivanova (17), Magdalena Kostadinova (15), Blagovest Pilarski (16)

My Dream School is a unique institution, notable for its out-of-the-box, ground-breaking philosophy. Using a student-centered approach, which values what really is best for the student (and not for the administration, for example), My Dream School incorporates a wide range of fundamental practices. Combining the arts and technologies, students experience a comprehensive headstart to their professional careers. All subjects are taught in a way, which does not stifle student’s ideas, but on the contrary – encourages students to have their own opinion. Thus, My Dream School stimulates its student body to be active citizens, able to think critically about the world around them, instead of following blindly the leaders of today.

Moreover, My Dream School defines the term “revolutionary”, with its grade-less system and robotized teacher collective. Originating from the notion of boosting motivation internally (as opposed to externally, which is often the case), My Dream School has removed assessment completely, allowing its scholars to pursue knowledge itself, and not just good grades. The replacement of teachers by robots has further contributed to the establishment of an objective, knowledge- and skill-oriented classroom, free of discrimination and favoritism. Thus, students can learn in a safe, conflict-free and thought- provoking environment.

In addition, My Dream School puts great emphasis on the connection between learning and nature. During the weekends, students can enjoy environmental activities, such as hiking in the mountains, which build up mind and body together. The beautiful parks surrounding the school are themselves a source of relaxation, inspiration and energy.

Creators: Elena Kehayova (15), Dafina Nedeva (15)

The name of this school – Art School – already speaks a lot about its fundamental values. And yet, the Art School is much more than a school about art. It is a school where students go not only to grow in the direction of their talent, but where they actually find their talent and grow as a whole person. At Art School only the core subjects are obligatory – Literature, Math, Foreign Languages. The other subjects are a matter of preference: each student has the right to choose every part of their education. This freedom allows the students to explore their interests, inclinations and talents, to strengthen them or create them. Creativity – this is the key word which this school emanates through all its elements – from its facilities, to its curriculum, and of course – its teachers. The teaching collective is distinguished with its sharp eye to talent, broad mind for creativity and liberal view on individuality.

In addition to its exceptional creativity, Art School prides itself with a policy which preserves equality and prevents discrimination. Everybody at Art School is regarded equally, as an equal member of the school community.

Want more? Have a dream to share? Project Dream School invites you to submit your dreams online at

Will it blend? Social media and education

This morning, MPR’s Midmorning aired a forum on the role of social media and education. From the program’s description:

How can social media and technology influence the way students learn and the way teachers teach? Kerri Miller hosted a live forum discussion with a Minnesota-based entrepreneur who is pioneering a social teaching project called Sophia, an internet (sic) platform that aims to enhance student learning both in and out of the classroom.

I also give my two cents at 30:41 into the program:

Sophia is featured in the broadcast. To request a beta invitation, click here.

Invisible Learning to be published in early 2011

About a year ago, Cristóbal Cobo and I announced a research project called Invisible Learning. After many months of work, collecting experiences, researching literature, interviews, and exchanges with experts (and –above all– many hours of writing), we can announce that in 2011 the Invisible Learning book will be a reality (in print and digital formats).

Details about the upcoming book, Invisible Learning: Toward a new ecology of education, are available at — and, because we will first publish in Spanish, the website is (for now) in Spanish. We will roll out an English edition of the website and book later in 2011.

The project has exceeded all of our expectations. Not only in terms of interest (over 15,000 references in Google, 7,500 TEDx video playbacks in Spanish and many as well in English), but in the scope of contributions from universities and researchers in the United States, Spain, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, United Kingdom, Netherlands and Finland. We view this as a global commitment (Western, at least) to take a transnational perspective on education at all levels.

The ingredients from these sources are combined in this work to build a large map of ideas, proposals, experiences, tools, methodologies, and research frameworks that seek to make visible those invisible components that lie behind learning. This text seeks out new questions about learning for the upcoming decades.

Although the text has a critical perspective, resulting from the analysis of the shortcomings of educational systems, it also seeks to highlight innovative and transformative initiative that are launching in various corners of the globe.

We do not offer magical fixes for the problems identified, but we assemble the pieces of a conceptual puzzle, constructed from: Society 3.0; lifelong learning; the use of technologies outside of the classroom; soft skills; methodologies for building education futures; serendipic discovery; the hybridization between formal and informal learning; skills for innovation; edupunk and edupop; expanded education; digital maturity; Knowmads and knowledge agents; plus many new literacies relevant to the times in which we live.

We believe that the vested interest and the support provided by dozens of collaborators and institutions such as the Laboratori de Mitjans Interactus (LMI) at the University of Barcelona (publisher) are a living demonstration of the deep interest that exists for building a better education for tomorrow. Hugo Pardo, editor and the publisher’s tireless engine of this book provides some insight on his blog. We will write more about this project and its “added values” as it approaches publication. Stay tuned!

Review: 21st Century Skills (by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel)

Book: 21st Century Skills: Learning for life in our times
Author: Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel
Publisher: Jossey-Bass (2009)

Some ten years into the 21st century, I find it amazing that we are still having conversations on what skills are necessary to succeed in this new century. We’ve explored some ideas of what skills are relevant before (see this, this, this, and this, for example), and there appears to be a general consensus that there are needs for skills development in creativity, innovation, smart use of ICTs, and social leadership. This is exactly in line with what Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel, co-board members on the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, identify (lifted from the book jacket):

  • Learning and Innovation Skills: Creativity and Innovation, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, and Communication and Collaboration
  • Digital Literacy Skills: Information Literacy, Media Literacy, and ICT Literacy
  • Career and Life Skills: Flexibility and Adaptability, initiative and Self-Direction, Social and Cross-Cultural Skills, Productivity and Accountability, Leadership and Responsibility

What makes this book valuable to practitioners, however, is that instead of building up chapters of reasoning for why we need to adopt the P21 skill set in education, they focus more on what each of these skills mean. Moreover, they tie in examples of the skills in practice with an included DVD, containing real-life classroom examples.

While the book excels at understanding each of the P21 skills and their implications, it falls short on how to build these skills in broader contexts – i.e., as a replacement set for NCLB standards. For this, the text could have benefited with an invitation –and mechanism– for its readers to join the conversation on adopting and embracing new skills for the 21st century. Instead, leading the conversation seems left to us: Where shall we begin?

Note: The publisher provided a copy of the book for review. Please read our review policy for more details on how we review products and services.

Is YouTube bursting higher education's bubble? Not so fast…

Last Sunday, Jeffrey Young wrote about the use of the Internet to deliver lectures in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The article centered on the work of Salman Khan, who posts home-made lectures on YouTube:

The lo-fi videos seem to work for students, many of whom have written glowing testimonials or even donated a few bucks via a PayPal link. The free videos have drawn hundreds of thousands of views, making them more popular than the lectures by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, famous for making course materials free, or any other traditional institution online, according to the leaders of YouTube’s education section.


[…] called up one of the donors, Jason Fried, chief executive of 37signals, a hip business-services company, who recently gave an undisclosed amount to Khan Academy, to find out what the attraction was.

“The next bubble to burst is higher education,” he said. “It’s too expensive for people—there’s no reason why parents should have to save up a hundred grand to send their kids to college. I like that there are alternative ways of thinking about teaching.”

A review of the comments appended to the article suggest that many readers agree that higher education faces serious competition from online knowledge repositories. What the article misses however, is consideration of the conversion of information acquisition/collection to personal knowledge. Schools such as MIT, through their support of the OpenCourseWare Consortium, have demonstrated their understanding that the real value of higher education is not the downloading of knowledge through texts and lectures, but rather through the production of new and personal knowledge that their unique environments offer. This tacit, added values provided by the institutions are what define quality higher education.

European colleges and universities are notorious for having embraced lectures over other course formats (i.e., seminars, laboratories). In these environments, student learning does not occur as much within lecture halls as it occurs outside of the classroom — through interactions with other students, individual and informal study groups, independent or directed research, etc.

In the age of YouTube lectures, universities need not worry about their bubbles bursting, but rather, what they should be doing in the classrooms instead of lecturing.

Is it too late to bring creativity to schools?

An interesting conversation on creativity is emerging on the blogosphere.

Many people saw Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk on reintroducing creativity into schools, and undermine assembly line approaches to creating automatons out of students. On Sunday, North Carolina 6th grade teacher Bill Ferriter countered, “Creativity is dead, Ken,” and outlined barriers in his classroom that makes creativity impossible:

  • States define MASSIVE curricula for our kids
  • No one is measuring creativity
  • Teachers are rarely encouraged to be creative
  • Progressive thinkers aren’t making policy

(More in Bill’s post…)

The Guardian, however, posted an interview with Ken Robinson last week, getting his take on the state of education after the UK abolished much of its testing regime:

He suggests the education system needs to be not just reformed, but transformed – and urgently. In times of economic crisis, we need to think more creatively than ever, he says. “Just about everywhere, the problems are getting worse.”

The history of education has been centered on educational “reform,” but very little has ever been reformed. If we have failed at reforms for so long that education needs a radical transformation, then would it be easier for us to work outside of the education system rather than inside of it?

Other people who put their two cents in:

Knowmads in Society 3.0

Remember nomads?

In the pre-industrial age, nomads were people that moved with their livelihood (usually animal herding) instead of settling at a single location. Industrialization forced the settlement of many nomadic peoples…

…but, something new is emerging in the 21st century: Knowmads.

A knowmad is what I term a nomadic knowledge worker –that is, a creative, imaginative, and innovative person who can work with almost anybody, anytime, and anywhere. Industrial society is giving way to knowledge and innovation work. Whereas industrialization required people to settle in one place to perform a very specific role or function, the jobs associated with knowledge and information workers have become much less specific in regard to task and place. Moreover, technologies allow for these new paradigm workers to work either at a specific place, virtually, or any blended combination. Knowmads can instantly reconfigure and recontextualize their work environments, and greater mobility is creating new opportunities. Consider this coffee shop in Houston:

The coffee shop has become the workplace of choice for many knowmads. What happens when the investment banker sitting next to the architect have a conversation? What new ideas, products, and services might be created?

The remixing of places and social relationships is also impacting education. Students in knowmad society (or, as I also like to call it, Society 3.0) can learn, work, play, and share in almost any configuration. Remember our videoconference with a fifth grade classroom in Owatonna? The purposive use of technologies allowed standard desks to be removed from the classroom and for students and teachers to instantly reconfigure their social learning environment, allowing for more individualized instruction …and co-instruction among students and their teacher. The differences between students, teachers and colleagues are beginning to blur.

Who are these knowmads in Society 3.0? Workers, students or coffee shop patrons?

(To find out, click on the picture)

Are you a knowmad?