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T h e T e ac h e r ’ s Lo u n g e By: Joseph Weissgold

If you’re worried because you can’t see how it will resolve, and you’re afraid you won’t know what decision to make when the next challenge arises, you shouldn’t worry, because you’re already doing it, it’s already happening, you’re doing it, and you’re doing it well. The only thing that can stop you is your fear that you can’t do it... but as I said before, you’re already doing it.


D e d i c at i o n s a n d a c k n o w l e d g m e n t s This body of work is dedicated to my parents, Nora Gold and David Weiss, who have motivated me and supported me throughout my life. They have always treated me as an equal and the example they set is at the very essence of my pedagogical mission. I would also like to extend this dedication to my classmates who’ve been by my side throughout the past two years. Their diverse talents inspire me and the love that I’ve seen amongst the group has been my anchor through thick and thin. I would like to thank my thesis advisor, Andrew Pelkey, who’s been a role model in his humble style of coaching. I’d like to thank Allan Chochinov, who’s invited me into program, and with it his extensive network. Without him, this thesis would have not been possible. A special thanks goes out to Richard Tyson, who saw potential in myself that I had yet to see. He trusted me with his vision and he gave me the opportunity to flourish. I’d like to thank Liz Arum who introduced me to the world of STEAM education. Liz has collaborated with me on many programs thus far, bringing a technical brilliance and love of technology. For her willingness to share her expertise and truly see me as a partner despite her seniority and established reputation, I will be eternally grateful. Finally, I’d like to thank the many subject-matter experts and advisors who have taken the time to offer me guidance, insight, and support. The many hours of “interviews” have been so incredibly enjoyable for me. When I was getting carried away they kept me grounded, when I was defeated they gave me encouragement, and when I was lost they gave me direction. Their willingness to engage with me so honestly and at such a deep level has brought me tremendous comfort, knowing that there are so many brilliant minds working together towards the same goals. They’ve inspired me to play my part and I have every intention of following through.


F o r wa r d I’ve always been fascinated with the near future. The imminent unknown has a way of conjuring hope and terror simultaneously. But more than anything, I’m afraid of paralysis. That compels me to stare into the face of this complexity and not shy away from it. This is what drove me to become a designer. It is fear of the unknown that drives us to prepare at such lengths, reviewing precedent and practicing adaptability. But despite our preparations, we are still uneasy, and so we seek out patterns to follow. We make hypotheses, which eventually become truths. Around those truths we define terms and the terms have values and they become facts. And facts are reassuring because facts are predictable, and nothing is left unknown. But this is far from the Truth. For all our conclusions, all our definitions and logic, our vast accumulation of knowledge, and still we are confronted by the unknown, and still it terrifies us. Do we really believe that one day we will defeat the unknowns of reality? Do we think that we can prepare so well as to truly have nothing to fear? Is fear something we can eradicate, and in so we may behave like gods, or will we conquer fear by acknowledging it? Fear can become excitement, if the prospects are good, but if we anticipate a fiery end then the unknown future becomes terrifying. When we anticipate people will be selfish and hurt us for their own gain, the unknown stranger is dangerous. There will always be things unknown. If we are going to survive this, we can’t give up and resort to hiding in a cave of passive consumption, unwilling to address the scary hard questions. We must take on the pioneer spirit, become explorers. We must look at the wilderness and see adventure, not exile. This is how we obtain empathy, by ceasing to define everything out of fear, by looking into the eyes of the unfamiliar, heart racing, hands shaking, and ever-curious to discover.


Ta b l e o f c o n t e n t s Introduction


The Education System 13 Research Methodology 14 Scope and Audience 19 Results of the Research 27 Learning Objectives 27 Balance of Passive and Active Lessons 43 The Job of a Teacher 59 The Teacher’s Lounge Problem Structure Logistics Prototypes

115 116 120 128 132

Other Design Offerings




Appendix Fieldwork Book Overviews Contact Bios Organizations

169 170 185 188 200 13139



This body of work focuses on educators interested in bringing active lessons to their students. It aims to help them to cultivate the tools to design, deliver, and document lasting learning experiences. 


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W h e r e d e s i g n m e e t s e d u c at i o n Supplementing the current landscape of education with more opportunities for active learning offers a unique opportunity to foster empathy, self-efficacy, and imagination in our students. However, the transition can be uncomfortable for teachers, especially when there is a decade or more of tools and strategies that they feel they’ve fallen behind on. It also implies that teachers are no longer expected to know everything. Therefore, the shift can only happen if educators engage in an ongoing creative process in which they learn with their peers, gain hands-on experience with new tools, and apply them to their teaching practice. I have been teaching in informal educational settings since I was fourteen years old. I’ve designed curriculum and taught in synagogues, after-school programs, sleep-away camps, and day camps, primarily for kids aged 8-18. I also have received training in Industrial Design. From there I adopted many design principles and competencies into my practice. Those frameworks and skills have largely come to define my approach to designing educational experiences. As a designer I script experiences. In game design, playwriting, teaching, product design, in everything I do, if I’m not scripting, I’m at least creating the setting for a scene to take place. I strive for the balance of structure and freedom that empowers the participant. Too much structure is oppressive; too much freedom is intimidating. Whether I’m designing a product or a lesson, it’s this balance of structure and freedom that grounds me. With this body of work, I would like to offer my expertise as a designer and an educator to help teachers become more comfortable with the part of their practice in which they serve as guides rather than instructors.



The structure of the book This book is organized in two sections based on the two big questions I was striving to answer. First, how does the education system work and where is it going? Second, what am I going to contribute? It’s easy to be cynical about the education system. Many people consider the problem unfixable. I’m inclined to see the issue differently. The challenges that exist within the education system are tremendously complex. The inability to find a single solution that will fix the problems that exist is obvious. The problems that exist are simply too interdependent to address with a single intervention. In order to design for the education system, I’ve had to immerse myself within the vast complexity of the system without striving to reduce it to simple terms. The challenge that I face, in my design work as well as in this text, is to present a clear and simple story without being reductionist or simplistic. Part 1 concerns the question, “how does the education system work and where is it going?” It begins with an overview of the methodology of my research. It then dives into the research, laying out definitions to set the scope. Finally, it presents the results of the research in a fairly linear fashion. My hope is that this representation of the system allows you, the reader, to identify some new connections and opportunities. Part 2 answers the question, “what am I going to contribute”. It begins by honing in on what I believe to be the best opportunities for me to impact the Education System. It then goes on to present the platform that I’ve designed to address these opportunities. Because I am presenting simple products to address complex circumstances, I don’t refer to them as solutions but rather as design offerings.


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W h at i s d e s i g n ? Design generates insights through reframing. Design is a form of communication. In that sense, it doesn’t say much about what you do so much as how you do it. This is to say, design can be applied to any industry, from fashion to health care. The value of design is especially clear when the internal and external communication of the industry have become overly codified. In those cases, the power of design to represent familiar realities in new media, can generate huge insights. In this way, design allows the industry to reframe what it already knows. Design is intentional about what is scripted and what is open to interpretation. Designers have a high degree of power to script an audience’s interaction, and therefore shape what is communicated. They also can choose to leave the communication open-ended and see how the audience interprets it. Every time designers get feedback from an audience, they can measure what worked and what didn’t against their intentions for the prototype. Design work is never truly finished, because every time it meets a new circumstance, the designer sees ways to make improvements. This is what makes design an iterative process.



Design is not limited to a specific toolbox. Designers do not rely exclusively on visual media to communicate. In fact, sketching, mapping, photography, and digital illustration represent only one branch of the media designers can be fluent in. Designers also work in three-dimensional space to prototype and visualize complexity. This can be achieved with mock-ups, 3D renderings, or fabrication of artifacts - with or without digital assistance. Designers can also use film, audio, dance, public-speaking, or games. Even written and numerical literacy are welcome tools for designers to communicate with. Whatever medium designers use, they strive for a balance of structure and room for interpretation. Design is useful for students in the course of project-based learning. In the course of project-based learning, students need feedback in order to continue making progress towards their goals. This can pose a challenge for teachers. They want their students to continue making progress, but they want to let them figure it out on their own. Design can be used, not only for external communication, but for selfreflection as well. The design outcome the student creates serves as an embodiment of their perspective at that point in time, and often reveals assumptions or ways to improve. In fact, the challenge in design is often to make students finish the current iteration and reflect on it before making changes. This is the case regardless of the medium the student uses. A common example, one that often appears in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) education, it the iterative process of writing out goals, doing light sketches, making a mock-up, 3D modeling, and finally digitally fabrication. In this case, many design fluencies build upon each other.


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Design is useful for teachers as a communication tool. Whether a teacher wants to use new media to make their lectures more interesting or to create an active learning experience for students, they can benefit from an understanding of design. When students absorb information passively, they have to find ways to incorporate that new knowledge into an existing mental model. They will refer to that model for an access point to recall that information when it’s needed. This is why lectures benefit tremendously from an effective use of storytelling and visuals. The sequence of a narrative serves as a standalone mental model, and visuals have a similar effect for visual learners. Teachers also design lessons when they think through active learning experiences. Coming to an intentional balance of structure and room for play is exactly the challenge in active lessons, and exactly the power of design. Design empowers teachers to explore the breadth of ways that they could execute the lesson before deciding which approach best accomplishes their learning objectives. I use design to visualize complexity, to create provocative media, and to design offerings. I used design for all three purposes at different stages throughout the process. But my design work is only half the story. The insights that I was designing around were generated through extensive research, and likewise, the course of my research was informed by my design work. This cycle is ongoing and has been throughout my process. There haven’t been eureka moments, but rather intersections of unfamiliar circumstances coming together. My approach to design is essentially an extended exercise in lateral thinking. I draw parallels between disparate subjects. I think in metaphors. Therefore, throughout the design process I continually form and reform my mental models of how I understand a system to function. Whether from conversations, literature, or first-hand experience, with each new insight I have to revise my mental model.


Sketches from early on in the process to 11 visualize some of the ideas I was juggling


The E d u c at i o n System

This section presents the complex education system through a design lens. The insights that are contained in this section emerged through an extensive research process that is laid out in the following pages.


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Research Methodology Before I began my research, my understanding of the education system was littered with assumptions. I began my exploration by interviewing my contacts in education and design. Each contact suggested one or two more people I should speak to, and after a month I’d already spoken to more than a dozen subject-matter experts. In this early stage I was using design to reflect what I was learning, both to myself and to others. Whenever I came upon an insight that seemed poignant enough to stimulate discourse I’d design an artifact or an exercise to prompt that discussion. In the second phase of my research I’d immersed myself in the literature and I had artifacts to represent my thinking to that point. The interviews I was conducting were still largely a survey of the landscape, trying to understand as much as I could about what the interviewee had experienced and draw out insights. But as I was able to reach more established contacts, people who’d written on their areas of expertise or started organizations that I could investigate, I was able to dive deeper more quickly into the challenges they’d faced, the opportunities they saw, and their models of what would be ideal for the education system. I had expected to find disagreement among the experts I interviewed, but it seemed that they generally shared a similar vision for a better way to teach, at least amongst the network I established. The differences were primarily with regards to the best approach to take to get to that desired result. Additionally I have my own experience and opinions on these matters. Throughout this process and leading up to it, I’ve been teaching teachers and kids. This experience, along with the interviews I’ve conducted, talks I’ve attended, and literature I’ve read makes up my research.


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Here is the list of subject-matter experts I’ve interviewed in the course of my research. For more information on these experts, please consult the appendix. This group is made up of teachers and administrators: Dominic Randolph: Riverdale Country School Principal Ruth Jergensen: Little Red Elizabeth Irwin School Principal Paul Kassel: SUNY New Paltz Interim Head Dean Liz Arum: St. Anne’s School Technology Teacher Lou Lahana: The Island School P.S. 188 Technology Teacher Jaymes Dec: Marymount Manhattan College FabLab Tech Lisa Yokana: Scarsdale High School Art Teacher Chad Gallant: Dalton School Robotics Teacher Yahav Barnea: Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City Darius White: Realm Charter School History Teacher Frantz Jerome: City Tech History Teacher This group is made up of professionals who work with schools through institutions: Tony Wagner: Expert in Residence at Harvard Juliette LaMontagne: Project Breaker Pascale Mevs: Department of Education iZone360 Katie Salen: The Institute of Play Richard Tyson: The Special Project Office Don Miller: Department of Education Software Sean Justice: Columbia Teacher’s College Amy Vreeland: Design Educator TrueSchool Gabrielle Santa-Donato: The Future Project Rachel Katz: Workshops at the Jewish Museum Brie Bunge: Khan Academy Computer Engineer Aaron Solomon: MaRS Innovation Ann Peel: The Institute at Havergal College Director


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This group is made up of experts who have developed frameworks for innovation: John Thackara: Author “Doors of Perception” Steve Daniels: IBM and Make Shift Magazine Stephen Duncombe: Gallatin School Utopia Expert Steve Portigal: Design Consultant using Bad Ideas David Weiss: Strategic Consultant Weiss International Rob Walker: Journalist Design Observer Gustav Peebles: The New School Sociology Dean Salina Gray: PhD Candidate at Stanford Education Ariana Koblitz: IDE Cambodia Designer L i t e r at u r e

Here is a listing of books that most influenced my conceptual thinking. For more on these books, please consult the appendix. “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paolo Friere “Thinking in Systems” by Donella Meadows “Flow” by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi “Drive” by Dan Pink “Reality is Broken” by Jane McGonigal “The Art of Explanation” by Lee LeFever “Making Thinking Visible” by Ron Ritchhart and Mark Church. T a l k s I ’ v e Att e n d e d

Here is a listing of the talks and lectures that have had an impact on my understanding of design, education, and human nature.


The PopTech Conference “Sparks of Brilliance” Scott Barry Kaufman: Neuroscience of Creativity Ellen Langer: The Cognitive Effects of Self-perception Kevin Slavin: The Psychology of Games and Gambling Zach Lieberman: Making Poetry with Code Nick Martin: Techchange

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The Progressive Education panel at The New School Kate Turley: City and Country School Bruce Nussbaum: Parsons David Rockwell: Rockwell Group Charles Adler: Kickstarter Mark Pinney: Vimeo Lori Breslow: MIT

The NY3DP Panel on 3D printing Steve Farnsworth: Dwight School Liz Arum: St. Anne’s School Jaymes Dec: Marymount Girls School Shaun Justice: Columbia Teacher’s College Lou Lahana: The Island School Paul Kassel: SUNY New Paltz Lauren Sloic: Shapeways

The Hybrid Higher-Ed Conference at Providence College Andy Cutler: 5 Ways to Hack Higher-Ed David Goldberg: Big Beacon Michael Kraten: Accounting at Providence College Cary Collins: Business Innovation at PC

The SVA Products of Design Lecture Series Ezio Manzini: Small and Local Cameron Tonkenwise: Designers with Politics Tim Brown: Design Thinking Paola Antonelli: MoMA Curation

iZone 360 Affinity Groups 1on1 Coaching at PS289 Socio-emotional learning at The Lab School The Flipped Classroom at YWLS Astoria


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My Recent Teaching Experience

Here is a listing of the practical experience I’ve had over the course of this process that has informed my thoughts on how to teach. These are the programs I’ve run for kids NYU Poly Botcamp: Various programs around 3D printers The Jewish Museum: 3D printing for the exhibit “MerKaBa” The LREI school workshop: Build your own society and rituals These are the programs I’ve run for teachers The Jewish Museum: 3D printing for prototyping in class Innovate Scarsdale High: Design Thinking Workshop PopTech: 3D printing connectors for prototyping with straws SVA Visible Futures Lab: Teaching with Technology (upcoming) These are the talks I’ve given and panels I’ve sat on Keynote at the Hybrid Higher Ed at Providence College Panel at the PopTech Conference about 3D printing Guest for teachers-in-training at Columbia’s Teacher’s College


The Education System

Scope and audience This research is concerned with the complex landscape of middle and high school education in North America. The focus is first and foremost on teachers, but that word has many meanings. Therefore this section aims to provide some definitions to help avoid any confusion. Ad o l e s c e n t Ed u c a t i o n

Because this research is specifically investigating middle and high schools, “student” in this context implies an adolescent learner. A wide variety of educators bring learning opportunities to these students, in and beyond the construct of school.


The word “teacher” as it is used in this research refers to fulltime practitioners who work in schools. They may work in public, charter, or independent schools. Public Schools

Public schools are funded and operated by the Department of Education. They are bound by the corecurriculum. Nonetheless, there is room for public school teachers to explore alternative teaching styles. This is exemplified in iZone schools, a group of nearly 300 schools within the New York DOE that are supported in their experimentation with technology and approaches to classroom management.


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Charter Schools

Charter schools are publicly funded, like public schools, but they have an independent curriculum. Because they are a fairly experimental form of alternative education, they have recently been appearing in under-served communities. An extreme case of this is in New Orleans, where many charter schools have opened since Hurricane Katrina. TrueSchool, for example, serves their community by teaching with design and technology. Today nine out of ten students in New Orleans attend charter schools. Independent School

Independent schools are funded and operated independently of the Department of Education. This gives them a tremendous amount of flexibility with nearly all operations of the school. One criticism of independent schools is that they cause the public system to suffer by attracting the most talented teachers and students. They also have a reputation for being extremely competitive despite their progressive teaching methods. Some independent schools go to great lengths to assure that they maintain a diverse student body. The Riverdale Country School, for example, is able to offer scholarships to half their students thanks to their high tuition rates.


The Education System

i n f o r m a l Ed u c a t o r s

Not all educators work in schools. They work in all varieties of educational environments. These include cultural institutions, clubs, camps, or homeschooling. C u lt u r a l I n s t i t u t i o n s

Cultural institutions can include museums, community centers, libraries, and more. What links all these organizations is that they have a staff of educators. Unlike teachers, they may see their students relatively infrequently, and their content is often current. For example, at the Jewish Museum, I was invited to run a workshop with their team of educators around an exhibit they had on display. The exhibit had to do with mystical geometry and digital fabrication. The program that we designed was specifically catered to that exhibit, and it may be a long time before that program has a chance to happen again, if it ever does. Cl u b s

Clubs convene on a regular basis to support students around an area of interest. Many schools host clubs in their school buildings before or after the school day. They usually focus on subjects that extend beyond the school curriculum, like sports, dance, theater, or art. Alternatively they can serve as opportunities for students to apply what they’ve learned in school. At the after-school club I co-led through the Institute of Play, we taught students to apply what they were


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learning concerning electricity to create circuits. We then had the students take it further, incorporating programming, using an Arduino microprocessor and making fully functioning toy robots. Naturally, clubs have a great deal of flexibility because they aren’t subject to giving students grades or covering specific material. Camps

What differentiates camp from any other educational organization is the level of autonomy that campers have. This is particularly the case at sleepover camps. Camps are not usually recursive like clubs, but rather they exist within a time window. They may reoccur on a seasonal basis, but for the duration of camp, they will usually meet up every day. The immersive nature of camp gives creates a unique opportunity to foster social relationships between campers. Camp counselors also usually have very loose criteria to follow in terms of learning objectives, which allows them to place a great deal of emphasis on the campers’ behavioral learning. This was certainly the case at Shomria (a sleepover camp) but also at BotCamp and MobileQuest (day camps). Homeschooling

Students who are homeschooled are educated outside of the traditional school system. In the past 15 years, the number of homeschooled kids has gone up by 75%.


Pr o t o p e rs o n a s o f t e a c h e rs

Educators need support in order to develop meaningful active learning experiences for their students, but different educators need different kinds of support. Protopersonas help designers check their offerings against a diverse set of needs. These four protopersonas reflect some of the patterns with regard to the type of needs that a teacher may have. Each is loosely based on several teachers I’ve met.


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Ot h e r St a k e h o ld e r s

The complexity of the system emerges from the many parties that have a stake in education. Each has its own set of values and drives the system towards a set of goals. It’s when the driving forces don’t align that tensions arise, and these tensions create the opportunity for design. S c h o o l s Administrators strive to support their teaching staff, and to create a positive learning culture within their institutions. But with all the demands being put on them by the Department of Education, the board of directors, the parent-teacher association, in addition to their personal pedagogical agendas, often it seems that change only emerges out of the dedication of an enthusiastic champion, usually a principal. However, according to Juliette LaMontagne of Breaker, people are increasingly disinterested in taking on administrative positions. Administrators are expected to manage their teachers while serving as institutional directors. This duality has the potential to lead to a conflict of interest, namely between cultivating their teachers’ growth and keeping up the school’s reputation on standardized metrics. Ed T e c h I n d u s t r y

New technologies with applications for education are called EdTech. They range from software applications to 3D printers. The EdTech industry understands the opportunity that there is to introduce their products


The Education System

to kids when they’re still in school. For one thing, they really do offer some tremendous learning opportunities that would otherwise be impossible. The shift towards physical computing and digital fabrication has brought technology back into the tangible world, and with it a resurgence of making that has been sorely missing since the disappearance of shop-class. More cynically however, they know their technology is intimidating to learn for the older generations, and they want kids to get their hands on them early. To some extent it is about units sold. Luckily, there is a massive online community working to assemble useful ways to use this technology for learning. p o l i c y m a k e rs

When American schools perform poorly on standardized tests, it concerns policymakers. One reason is that it looks bad compared to other countries around the world, and calls into question the true value of the American way of life. In the long term it represents a threat to the American economy, as a growing number of jobs get outsourced overseas. The policies that reinforce these scores largely happen on the state level, so for all their aspirations to allow local communities more control over their education structures, they reinforce a bottom-line that comes from the highest levels, and is not subject to interpretation.


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pa r e n t s

Parents can easily get caught up in the space between their ideological views and their hopes for their children. The most practical example is when affluent parents choose to send their kids to an expensive independent school. In principle they may believe that education should be offered at the same standard across the country, but in practice they will have a tough time not giving their kids all the best opportunities they can afford, even if it perpetuates the social problems they perceive. This dichotomy is presented in Davis Guggenheim’s film “Waiting for Superman” and also in Thomas De Zengotita’s book “Mediated”. Parents, and their hopes for their future, can also be a major source of stress for their kids. As a parent, the challenge is to help the kid navigate the many conflicting goals they encounter, and to not add to that burden. But as role models parents can’t avoid influencing their kid’s choices. All they can hope to do is try and influence them for the better and communicate with them effectively to catch any false expectations.


Learning Objectives

R e s u lt s o f t h e R e s e a r c h This section presents the insights and synthesis of my primary, secondary, and literary research. Because it is presented through the lens of design, it calls specific attention to conflicts and gaps. These tensions serve as opportunities to design around in the following section.

1.0 Learning objectives One thing that is common across all lessons is that they contain learning objectives. These learning objectives can be any of an understanding, a skill, or a behavior.


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1 . 1 U n d e r s t a n d i n g

The understanding can be a mental model or it can be informational content. 1 . 1 . 1 M e n ta l M o d e l s

A mental model is the way one imagines something working in their mind. It’s often rooted in metaphor. Throughout our lives we constantly form and reform our models of understanding how things work. It would be so comforting if all these systems could be explained with one model that works for everything, but this is obviously not the case. Nonetheless, we seek to correlate models because it allows us to apply our understanding of relatively simple systems to much more complex systems. When the complex system behaves inconsistently with that model, historically we understand the inconsistencies as exceptions until another more suitable model emerges. Shifting a mental model can be referred to as reframing. Here’s a simple example of a mental model. When we’re young, we learn a lot about our world from trees. Trees have a trunk, and then they branch out. They start from a unified place, and then fragment off into smaller distinct parts. We correlate this model quite broadly, as with lineage in a family tree, or with life decisions as indicated by the phrase “branching out”. Based on this model, if we were to look at a map of riversystems, we’d be compelled to assume that the water flows from the ocean and branches out into smaller


Learning Objectives

and smaller steams as it enters inland. Of course, this is not the case. Luckily, our understanding of topography with relation to gravity allows us to create a model that supplants the tree model. But it still seems quite counter-intuitive that streams flow into rivers and rivers flow into the ocean. The same could be said for lightning flowing from the ground up to the cloud. But why is it so conceptually difficult to understand these models? Perhaps because we’re talking about the convergence of distinct entities that have no consciousness. How do the streams know to converge? Only by bringing the model into a different axis does that question seem simplistic. It’s more complicated when those models get projected onto larger systems where they may or may not apply. The same tree vs. river dichotomy can be applied to our model of education. Applying the tree model, we imagine all children should begin in relatively the same place, and as they grow older, they differentiate themselves and “branch off”. But this assumes a) that children all begin in the same place and b) that we all end up in different places. In fact the river model applies better to education. Children all begin in different places and as they grow and connect to others, their passions converge. Ultimately our unified efforts converge to form the whole, all our distinct rivers run into the ocean.


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And you can hear that same simplistic challenge as before, “but how will they know to converge?” The answer is simply that it would be unnatural not to. It’s true, some rivers stagnate before reaching the ocean, and so attempts to redirect rivers may in fact be well founded, but our gravity is to converge and to collaborate. It’s the tree model, which so unnaturally promotes individualization and differentiation. Donella Meadows talks about social hierarchy in much the same way. She asserts that originally it emerged from the people as a way for them to organize, but due to the long time past since its natural establishment, we’ve reassigned it the tree model. Another example of a mis-correlation of models is the way we understand atoms. It makes a lot of sense to us to think of atoms in much the same way planets orbit a sun, but quantum physics has proven this model false, much to the chagrin or Newtonian physicists who’d been quite satisfied with the unified model of physical matter. The issue there is that electrons aren’t matter, so they don’t behave like matter. They don’t exist in a definite position in space, moving with a predictable momentum. They don’t follow laws on an individual basis. Only their aggregated patterns reveal any predictability at all. That’s why quantum physicists work in probabilities. In other words, they don’t orbit. The solar system model just doesn’t apply.  But what happens when the new model is so counterintuitive that it demands a kind of faith? Are we mature enough as a society to release our old models and accept the new models, though they are incomplete, but certainly more true than what preceded them?


Learning Objectives

1 . 1 . 2 I n f o r m a t i o n a l c o n t e n t

Content sticks when it fits into a mental model. If a piece of information is put into application, then it may be stored in the context of that memory and can be recalled through it. This is the basic idea underlying experiential learning. If information is taught using the textbook model, first memorized then applied, then many of the memorized facts may get lost because they were only stored in the student’s short term memory, essentially disconnected from everything else they know. This can be fixed by explaining to students why what they’re learning is useful, even if only in a very specific context. Putting content into application is as easy as creating a need and then providing the pertinent information just in time. Or the students may have had it all along but only in the right moment they really understand its value. If some information can’t connect to any mental model, it will be much more difficult to recall. The Bauhaus, the foremost school of modernist design and architecture from the early 20th century popularized the principle “form follows function”. The principles conveys that an object’s function should dictate it’s form, so without understanding the function, a designer shouldn’t yet consider form. As it pertains to education, we might say “formula follows function”, such that an application should prompt the need for a formula, rather than learning a formula and only then looking for a function for it.


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1 . 2 S k i ll

In this context, a skill refers to proficiency with a tool or one’s body. It specifically applies to physical mastery over a mechanical activity. 1 . 2 . 1 C r e a t i v e O u tl e t s

The creative output of the tools may take a variety of forms. It may exist as language, in two-dimensions, in three-dimensions, or in performance.


Learning Objectives

Students may be able to imagine an experience, world, object, interaction, emotional reaction, expression, and want to make it real. But they can’t just skip directly from thought to reality. Instead, students must rely on intermediary steps to articulate these things to themselves and to others, because we need to iterate and collaborate. This process, is appropriately adapted from the field of design, and serves as a framework for bringing ideas into reality in the most general sense. To design, students need outlets, and those outlets require skills, and those skills demand practice. That means to say that creativity is not something that comes from a one-time workshop, but rather it is a process, one that takes dedication on behalf of the student, the teacher, and the administration. Design skills are much like skills in math or English, in that they not only rely on practical ability but also on a way of thinking. To be able to solve a math problem may take only basic knowledge, but to create a formula relies on the fundamental ability to think in abstraction in the language of numbers. That is something one can’t pick up overnight. Similarly, to 3D print an object from the internet takes minimal skill, but to design something for 3D printing demands the ability to think in three dimensions, an intellectual practice that has not yet entered into the core curriculum. 


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Creativity in language allows the student to remain in the abstract realm. It benefits from allowing the audience to use it or interpret it with a great deal of freedom. These languages include coding, writing, or mathematics. This kind of creativity is best used for presenting patterns. Two-dimensions

Two-dimensional layouts are not as tied to sequence as language is. They allow the student to present themselves across various scales simultaneously and highlight critical elements with the use of hierarchy. These skills include sketching, illustration, photo manipulation, graphing, and mapping. This outlet of creativity is ideal for presenting mental models. In the book “Making Thinking Visible�, Mark Chuch discusses in depth the value of having students map out their understanding of concepts or of their own learning process. Certainly if mapping were more widely embraced in schools, it would have great potential to help visual students in particular to communicate complex ideas.


Learning Objectives Three-Dimensions

Three-dimensional skills are necessary for students to bring their ideas into the tangible world. These skills include creating models in virtual or real space. This can include 3D modeling with computer-aided design software (CAD), using craft tools (like cardboard and modeling clay) to make mock-ups, or using workshop tools and digital fabrication tools. This kind of creativity is best used in a prototyping process, but it can also be used as a form of abstract expression. 1 . 2 . 1 . 4 P e r f o rm a n c e

Unlike the other three outlets, performance doesn’t necessarily remove the student from the product. This includes activities like public speaking, dance, and sport. Video and audio may be abstracted from the student, but they are still a kind of performance. Video has been called the lingua-franca of the next generation, and the accessibility of tools to create high quality films is unprecedented. This will become increasingly useful for students as the tools continue to improve. Performance is best used to keep an audience engaged.


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1.2.2 Teaching for mastery

In order to use these tools for their creative potential, students need to develop technique and fluency. Technique

Technique refers to one’s level of comfort handling the tool. Teaching it is a balance of offering best practices and letting the student figure it out. Especially with new technology, it can be difficult for teachers to find the balance between guided lessons and openended creative pursuits. Too much guidance and the creative potential gets buried, too much freedom and the class can easily become a free-for-all indistinguishable from free time. This is explored in more depth in section 3.2.


Fluency is achieved when a student is able to use a tool without thinking about it as anything but an extension of him/ herself. It is obtained through practice. Greater fluency allows a student to better use a tool to demonstrate the desired thought or feeling. This leads to “flow”, a term coined by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi for the psychological high that comes from working fluently.


Learning Objectives

1 . 3 B e h a v i o r s

A behavior is any expression that reveals social and emotional skills. Behaviors happen in interactions, some that are internal and some that are social. I co-facilitated a design-thinking workshop at Scarsdale High School in March of 2014. We began the workshop with an exercise, prompting the participants to come up with a set of skills that students would need in the 21st century. The group came up with a set of skills that was very different from what would have surfaced even ten years ago. The list was nearly entirely made up of behaviors, otherwise known as soft-skills, socio-emotional skills, or non-cognitive skills.


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1 . 3 . 1 S o c i a l S k i ll s

Social skills include empathy, communication, and critical thinking. 1 . 3 . 1 . 1 Em p a t h y

Empathy is the student’s ability to encounter a foreign mental model and embrace the contradictions it may have with his/her own mental model. Students learn as much from their teachers about content as they do about how to be good people. Therefore teachers need to work on making themselves into the best possible role models for their students. Empathy is not taught with words, it’s taught through behavior. It’s felt when a teacher embodies the assumption that the world is good, that people are trying, and that things aren’t easy for anyone. Even the most ‘difficult’ students are trying to bring their actions in line with their ideals. The challenge is to align those ideals with the school’s values. Students come into school with all sorts of ideas about what those values are. For them to open up to learn, those assumptions need to be drawn out.


Learning Objectives

Darius White, a teacher at the Realm Charter School asks himself while he plans, “would I like to sit through my own lesson?” He holds himself to the same standard he’d expect to receive. It’s so important for teachers to remain life-long learners, if for nothing else but to remember that learning something for the first time is hard. Teachers who are humble enough to acknowledge this truth reflect it in the way they offer their expertise, and their students have the opportunity to learn first-hand what it is to empathize. Simply, empathic teachers treat students with the respect that they expect in return. And by giving respect, they demonstrate exactly how they expects to receive it. 1 . 3 . 1 . 2 C o m m u n i c a t i o n

Communication is the student’s ability to use one of the creative outlets listed in section 1.2 to express themselves. 1 . 3 . 1 . 3 C r i t i c a l T h i n k i n g

Critical Thinking is the student’s ability to identify and evaluate assumptions based on evidence or experience.


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1 . 3 . 2 I n t e r n a l S k i ll s

Internal skills include metacognition, grit, and creativity. 1 . 3 . 2 . 1 M e t a c o g n i t i o n

Metacognition is the student’s selfawareness regarding how he/she thinks and learns. The challenge with teaching for metacognition is how an educator could hope to evaluate it. This speaks to the need for students to learn good communication skills. Everyone has a mental model of how they learn, but without understanding the biases and assumptions that support that it, anything that doesn’t align with it seems like an anomaly. This is especially problematic for students who consider themselves stupid. The ability to express one’s current mental model is the first step toward revisiting those assumptions and changing one’s self-perception for the better. 1 . 3 . 2 . 2 G r i t

Grit is the student’s ability to be resilient in the face of adversity, and stay motivated by long-term outcomes. The term was popularized by Angela Lee Duckworth of UPenn.


Learning Objectives

1 . 3 . 2 . 3 C r e a t i v i t y

Creativity is a student’s ability to access and apply his/her own imaginative and critically aware thoughts. In our brains we possess two large-scale networks: the imagination network and the executive attention network. Activated independently, these neural networks allow us to think divergently and convergently. Activated together, the critical network censors most imaginative ideas before they have the chance to become anything. This alternative to the widely embraced myth of the analytic left brain and the creative right brain was presented by Scott Barry Kaufman of NYU at the PopTech Conference. As the future looks ever more complex, our collective capacity to speculate and imagine a world beyond our own is only becoming more important. Embracing science fiction and art - worlds parallel to our own, representations different from the formal models – allows us to gain insight into ourselves. It comes down to the capacity to present possibilities, rather than simply identify a problem and seek a specific answer.


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After so many years of students practicing looking for the ‘right’ answer that the teacher is expecting, one of the main challenges for teachers is getting students to think ‘outside of the box’. Steve Portigal, an innovation consultant, prompts his clients to begin with bad ideas - not irrelevant ideas, but bad ideas. Stephen Duncombe, who is a professor at NYU Gallatin with a focus on utopia, achieves this kind of thinking by having his students start with their utopian end-state and work backwards. Both begin with farfetched situations and mine them for valuable insights. Stephen’s work at the Center for Artistic Activism also reveals the importance of labels. He noticed working with activists that just by calling them ‘artists’ they granted themselves permission to explore their creativity and take more risks. Creativity thrives within a good balance of structure and freedom. Working outwards from what’s possible limits one’s capacity to innovate, but completely unguided brainstorming allows people to fall into old habits.


Balance of passive and active lessons

2 . 0 B a l a n c e pa ss i v e & a c t i v e l e ss o n s Today kids in middle or high-school have their attention being pulled in all directions. For better or worse, this means that kids today expect to be engaged. Some teachers choose to ignore this new reality, leaving the onus on students to stay motivated. But that only deepens the divide between fun and school in the eyes of the students. It also means that when students lose motivation, there is little teachers can do to keep them from dropping out. The ideal is a healthy balance of active and passive learning experiences. Today that balance doesn’t exist. 2 . 1 P a ss i v e L e a r n i n g

Teachers and students are always communicating on many channels, through body language, the physical learning environment, assignment structure, and direct speech. These other channels of communication can easily distract from the content, if they are not intentionally designed. No matter how good the content is there is always the question of how to present it. Putting it down may not be enough to make students receptive to it. Lee LeFever explores the variety of ‘packages’ one can use to create engaging and clear explanations in his book, “The Art of Explanation”. Passive lessons involve minimal student interaction. They can either exist as presentations or lectures. Presentations offer layers of engagement beyond the intellectual plane, but they demand more preparation by the teacher than lectures do.


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2.1.2 Lectures

Lectures can be very compelling and are by far the most efficient way of conveying information. They rely heavily on the teacher’s charisma and preparedness, and they are relatively inflexible when it comes to addressing student interests that emerge in the course of a class. Lecturing establishes the dynamic in which the teacher is the expert and the students are recipients. This can sometimes be comforting for students. In this context, lectures are specifically referring to talks that do not include the presentation elements described below. What’s valuable about this distinction is that lectures of this kind demand almost no preparation beyond familiarizing oneself with the content. 2 . 1 . 1 Pr e s e n t a t i o n

Presentation embraces the adage “show, don’t tell”. It includes narrative, visualization, and/or demonstration. Disciplines outside of education have developed their own sophisticated tools for engaging audiences: the salesman’s enthusiasm, the real estate agent’s cookies, the designer’s renderings, the architect’s models, the director’s trailer.


Balance of passive and active lessons

In his book “Emotional Design” Donald Norman explains that people respond to design in one of three ways: viscerally, behaviorally, or reflectively. This is to say, one could connect with a product because of its formal qualities, because of its usefulness, and/or because of the social implications of owning it. The profession of design has worked so hard to prove to the world that it is more than ‘drapes’, that it’s come to look down upon stylizing. “Emotional Design” makes the argument that we can no longer regard the things we feel viscerally with suspicion. Emotion is how we sell because it’s powerful, and it’s just as effective in teaching. The point is, good presenters engage their audiences by any means necessary. 2 . 1 . 1 . 1 N a r r a t i v e

Narrative is a sequence of events that follows a flow or arc. It also often presents the audience with a point of view, which makes it very easy to follow. 2 . 1 . 1 . 2 V i s u a l i z a t i o n

Visualization, usually in the form of a diagram or map, is a very clear way to present a mental model.

D e m o n s t r at i o n

Demonstration involves the teacher showing how one might go about a specific process.


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New Yorker Comic

When technology makes it possible for students to study independently from teacher instruction, it serves as an opportunity to balance the traditional formula of the teacher standing at the front of the class lecturing against a more active kind of learning. Right now, the balance is so far skewed toward passive learning that it would be hard to imagine a situation in which learning were too active. That’s what I was trying to accomplish with this New Yorker style comic. Here, in this 2030 scenario, school has become so active, that students are bored with their robotics project, and they crave the exact kind of lecturing that dominates the education system today.


Balance of passive and active lessons

2 . 2 A c t i v e L e a r n i n g

Active lessons engage students in interaction. Their power is that they can motivate students to participate beyond the incentive of grades. Active lessons are systems. That means that they have embedded motivation, they exist within constraints, and they provide feedback to students. 2 . 2 . 1 I n t r i n s i c a lly m o t i v a t i n g

There are three kinds of intrinsic motivation that can be called upon to incentivize voluntary participation from students. There is the visceral, the personal, and the make-believe. It’s a concern if students can’t reconcile their school obligations with their personal interests, because it sets up a dynamic of doing the bare minimum for school, in order to spend as much time as possible on other interests. If this pattern is upheld throughout all the years of education, then when those students enter the workforce, they may similarly strive only to meet the base requirements of their work, investing their heart elsewhere. This is a real problem for innovation on a society-wide scale, especially if the “elsewhere” is not generating social or financial value. One great example of this is in video games. Billions of hours per year get spent building up these virtual worlds, developing avatars and earning them experience. Many people who aren’t immersed in that world shun it, and write off the people who are in it. Jane McGonigal, in her book “Reality is Broken”, presents it instead as an opportunity. The question she asks is, how can work


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become more like gameplay, so that people who love games can put their creative energy back into the real world? The same question applies for school. So much of what kids do outside of school goes unrecognized, and may even be situated at odds with schoolwork. Reconciling that divide could have tremendous value for schools and their students. The toys that students play with today are the tools they will use in the workforce tomorrow.


Balance of passive and active lessons

2 . 2 . 1 . 1 V i s c e r a l

Visceral motivators are sometimes considered “cheap”, but that is unfair. Using novelty to spark a student’s curiosity is an excellent way to set up the conditions for an experiment. By showing students a phenomenon that contradicts an existing mental model, they begin to ask questions themselves. They build hypothesis naturally. All that the teacher has to do then is give them the tools to test it, and get out of their way. 2 . 2 . 1 . 2 P e rs o n a l

Relying on personal motivation is at the core of project-based learning. By helping students to identify their passions and interests, they feel a sense of autonomy to bring life to their ideas. When students are treated as participants in learning, it has the power to break down the ‘school-mindset’. By asking students to draw from their own experience, letting them make connections between subjects, asking them how the world might be, they gain confidence in what they know and allow themselves to open up to learning.


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Lou Lahana teaches technology at the Island School. His lab is full of technological tools but he rarely avoids giving specific assignments. Rather with the resources he has, he creates the opportunity for learning to take place emerging from students’ existing passions. Armed with all the internet of information, an issue that’s personal, and a variety of tools, students can largely be left to their own devices and come away with amazing results. Lou discussed with me the idea that some students just don’t care about anything, but he doesn’t believe it, and he’s backed by a library of evidence that attests to the power of passion-driven student work. The argument for project-based learning is that a student who can motivate him/herself through a process from inception to execution is better prepared for life after school. This hands-off approach is well established in the teaching of art, where often the teacher is not defining the constraints so much as the material itself creates the limitations. This broad definition of “material” is how Sean Justice of the Teacher’s College at Columbia explains technology to his students. What he


Balance of passive and active lessons

brings from his background in fine art is that sometimes there is no need for a hypothesis. Learning can be an openended experiment. That’s the basic difference between the artistic and the scientific method. In art, there is no objective wrong. All one needs is a direction, a passion. The unique opportunity to teach in an open-ended way afforded by these new technologies won’t last forever. It may not be long before the usefulness and methods for teaching digital fabrication become codified and assigned standards, and then innovative teachers will need to find new technologies to teach with.


Playing make-believe is fun. Pretending to be in someone else’s position allows students to temporarily adopt their drive. It also allows them to experiment with different perspectives. Students have the incredible ability to be in one place, but imagine being in an entirely different time and space. Jean Baudrillard uses the term “simulation” to refer to representations of reality (past-memory, past-history, or present realities), and “simulacrum” to refer to


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demonstrations of things that never were (fictional realities or futures). Using the classroom as an imaginarium for simulation or simulacrum, a piece of knowledge that may not be useful in the present, can be brought into a different context in which students can understand its usefulness, not hypothetically but contextually. Experiencing these simulations makes it so that when students do eventually encounter similar situations, they won’t seem totally foreign. This allows students to not always be reacting. This presents an alternative to teaching in abstract terms, relying on formulas and patterns devoid of context. In simulation they play out real life situations in which what they’re learning in school can be applied. In simulacrum, students are encouraged to imagine many ways things can play out, and they use all the information they have to make these projections. When this happens, the context is generally simplified in order to allow the understanding to unfold gradually and be digestible, but they still get to see the information in all its usefulness. The challenge is to find the balance of


Balance of passive and active lessons

just how much to reduce the complexity of any given situation to make the learning manageable but not overly simplistic. Games provide the context for just this kind of imaginative play. Today, games are an uncomfortable subject, mostly because of the abuse of “gamification” across all sectors. Suddenly you could amass points for everything. This kind of game is different. The points serve predominantly as feedback to students to indicate that they are making progress. The motivation in games is not from the points you get, but rather from the feeling of fiero that comes from achieving a goal. As Jane McGonigal describes it, fiero is the feeling that makes you want to throw your hands in the air. “Real-life” goals aren’t achieved every day, but in simulations, fiero can be experienced as often as one wants. Games use rules to create challenges for students, and they use levels to assure that the challenges are well suited to the student’s level. Levels assure that one’s skill always matches the challenge and this too leads to flow.


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Games are able to use play to create a safe space. It’s understood that it’s all pretend. This allows for competitiveness and intensity. The challenge is to make sure the game is fair. Games are enormously powerful tools in education, specifically with respect to the goal of fostering metacognition in students. During and following gameplay, the discussion of one’s own learning process is embedded within the conversation that happens. Likewise, brainstorming solutions is inseparable from the exploration of the limitations and opportunities set out through the rules of the game. It’s specifically in this discourse that games have their value, so it is of the utmost importance that games get discussed, if they are to be used for the purpose of learning. There are three aspects of games that make them particularly effective for teaching, that they break down barriers, they bring about strategic thinking, and they can represent complexity in an interactive way. Each of these traits is embodied in a particular style of game, but they can be naturally overlaid as well.


Balance of passive and active lessons

The first type is called the “icebreaker”. The objective of this game is to loosen everyone up in order to create a positive environment for sharing and to alleviate any tension or mistrust that may exist. Icebreakers are often physical, demanding engagement on multiple levels, and resulting in a participatory atmosphere. The second type is the “hypothetical game”. These games begin with a scenario, providing as little information as necessary, and encouraging the participants to fill in the rest. As more conditions are added, the participants continue to build a narrative adding dimensions and increasing its complexity. This game is particularly effective at generating dialogue and surfacing assumptions. The third type of game is the “system model”. These games serve as simplifications of a micro-system within the larger system, as a model of the whole system would be far too complex. Participants have the power to influence the system. These games are good for subtly conveying information, and having participants put it to use.


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elements of game design

This map represents some of the major considerations that one can choose to implement when designing games, specifically for educational purposes. It is a visual adaptation of Katie Salen’s Game Design textbook, “Rules of Play”.


Balance of passive and active lessons

2.2.2 systems

As a teacher, the challenge with active learning experiences is to make them fair and challenging. 2 . 2 . 2 . 1 Fa i r n e s s

A fair lesson relies on providing reliable feedback that fit with the expectations that were set out. A fair lesson also is perceived as unbiased by the students. 2 . 2 . 2 . 2 C o n s t r a i n t s

A challenging lesson has constraints. Some are specifically in place to make it challenging, and some are purely practical limitations. Teachers can set boundaries in order to make students use what they’ve learned. Sometimes there is in fact an easier way, but they need to do it the hard way. All lessons have practical constraints, like time, space, budget, class size. The goal is be creative within those constraints.   


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Mapping Active Learning

This map depicts an early understanding I had of active learning experiences. Naturally, it’s evolved quite a bit since then.


The Job of a teacher

3.0 The Job of the teacher Teachers have more responsibilities beyond creating engaging lessons for students. The love of learning and coaching students to grow, of learning from them and learning from others and always looking for ways to improve is only one half of the story. The other half is about evaluation. It’s the need for assessments that are fair and goals that are attainable. Many states use the Danielson Framework as the guideline for their teacher evaluations. The framework outlines the four major criteria upon which teachers are evaluated: Instruction, the classroom environment, professional responsibilities, and planning and preparation.


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3 . 1 I n s t r u c t i o n

Instruction refers to the way in which the teacher simultaneously engages and assesses students. What is the goal of education: Knowledge, socialization, enlightenment? Can we even hope to all agree about the goals of education? The question becomes even more complex when we try and innumerate them. But this question needs to be answered, if not by society, then at least by individual educators. Otherwise, how would they be able to evaluate their own success as educators? It seems that schools now are torn between being places for technical training for the workforce and being a place for fostering invention and imagination. In some respect, the question is, are we training our future employees or our future bosses? Can one pedagogy really hope to accomplish both simultaneously? The Brazilian philosopher Paulo Friere presented the dichotomy over 40 years ago. Are schools in place to conform the youth, or are they in place to empower them? But it might not be so black and white. Certainly the goal is not to force students into some kind of mold, but it is important that they learn to communicate in the established disciplinary languages. The challenge is to teach them those languages without stifling their creative capacity.


The Job of a teacher

3 . 1 . 1 St a n d a r d s

The demand for standards come from the competitive nature of education, which exists at multiple scales. Students (and parents) compete for university acceptances, teachers, departments, schools, and states compete for funding, and countries compete for international rankings. At the end of the day, everyone’s competing for money. The reliance on strict standards is a natural reaction to the fear of a drift to low performance. This rationale proliferates many institutional systems, whether legal, financial, penal, military, medical, or educational. The efficiency of the systems rely on the participants willingness to stay in line. Precedent guides the infrastructure, and innovation, which is almost always disruptive in some respect, can easily be viewed as an obstacle rather than an opportunity. An institutional structure that promotes individuality is highly unpredictable, and by definition, must be willing to adapt to accommodate its participants, but this isn’t the strength of institutions. Institutions serve best to promote definite values. The idea that a school could have a fluid set of values and skills that adapt to accommodate individual student needs is very progressive and quite recent. The complexity and ambiguity that these schools deal with is overwhelming, and is a testament to the institution’s commitment to the cause.


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But what does this mean for ‘progress’? If students have the freedom to pursue their own way, it would seem that the larger goals of society must defer to the seemingly aimless aggregation of individual goals. This is where the matter becomes political. Some say that it will only be by ways of a large-scale strategic plan that society can be sure to end up where it should. Others reject the notion that anyone could really point to a place that we ‘should’ end up, and suggest that by virtue of imposing a strategy en-masse, society is in fact fighting against the way it is ‘naturally’ headed. This debate has a striking similarity to that of modernism and post-modernism, at least as it exists in the field of Urban Studies. The post-modern approach is resilient by virtue of its sensitivity to contextual consequences and ability to adapt to accommodate for change. The modernist approach affords a much faster diffusion of innovation, but is inflexible. Without it we may have never arrived at the superhighway network, suburbia, mass-market consumerism, factory farming and many other systems that, for better or worse, most everyone benefits from every day. The negative consequences of these designs could never have been seen at their inception, and they were very successful at least insofar as they were executed with extraordinary efficiency and speed. Standards are the education system’s way of defining the future that we are educating towards. They emphasize efficiency and progress, and they are the source of much stress for teachers and students.


The Job of a teacher

3 . 1 . 1 . 1 C o m m o n C o r e

The common core is a massive standard curriculum that public school teachers have to cover. The fact that private school teachers are allowed to set their own curriculum is one of the main advantages they have. Public school teachers are to a large extent evaluated based on their students’ performance, and at times that creates a conflict of interest. The result is that teachers often end up ‘teaching to the test’ or focusing on ‘bubble’ kids (the group of students who are neither sure passes nor lost causes). The sheer magnitude of the common core means that teachers have to strive for efficiency and demonstrable progress in teaching. Many teachers feel like they are forced to lecture and give textbook homework just because of how much they are expected to cover. The irony of the strict standards of the “no student left behind” initiative is that there’s no time left to help the students that got left behind.


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3 . 1 . 1 . 2 N a t i o n a l F e a r

Despite the increased pressure to meet common curricular objectives, the United States still under-performs by international standards. It is assumed that the great minds of the next generation will feel some responsibility to the American economy. But in this globalized world, nationalism has taken a back seat to other identities, be it a brand, profession, or species. How ungrateful, one might say, but in fact the social contract that they’re expected to uphold seems is presented more like a debt than an agreement. Education on the national scale is often talked about as an investment, in that it expects returns. Since those returns must ultimately come in economic terms, those who speak out for kids have jumped on this opportunity to make the argument that making school more fun, will yield profits for America. And the case is being made. Creativity and non-cognitive skills lead to an innovative mind, one that is capable of generating value, not just as an employee, but as an entrepreneur, a creator of jobs.


The Job of a teacher

The story as it is often told in the media is rooted in fear. The US used to have the highest graduation percentage in the world. Now it ranks 22nd out of 27 developed countries. Every year in the US, 1.2 million students drop out of high school. That’s 7000 a day. One in five kids who start high school will not graduate. Over a lifetime, each of these dropouts will earn $200,000 less than high school grads, and nearly a million less than college grads. The pressure that it puts on kids is unfortunate, as it takes a lot of the joy out of learning. The stakes of their education are so high that it can seem as though everything is very fragile. And meanwhile, they are expected to deliver innovative ideas without challenging the brief. In order for students to come up with new ideas of their own design, they need to be given a certain degree of trust. The irony is that what underlies the trust is the fear that they will fail. It’s the same fear that drives standardized testing and the massive workload that students are assigned.


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p r o - e d u c a t i o n Pr o p o g a n d a

I represented this fear-based argument in one of the iconic media of fear-mongering, the propaganda film. The film reflects conflicting sentiments to the viewer. The appeal for educational reform is coming from a good place, but it uses an approach rooted in fear; this medium exaggerates that dichotomy. While I don’t think fear is the value that should be driving the educational reform, it is certainly the conversation that is happening in the media. The script for the film is as follows: America, home to commerce, celebrated architecture, technology, culture, sport, but also world leader in science and innovation, but for how long? Our friends across the pond have other ideas. They train from a young age in math, written and verbal communication. They excel with tremendous discipline and meticulous training. But what do they think of us? Our school is easy, they say. We socialize all day and go home early to go do drugs and have casual sex. No, maybe we can’t win at discipline, but not to worry. We’ll find something new to be best at, because we’re America and that’s our way.


The Job of a teacher

3 . 1 . 1 . 3 C u r r e n c y o f e v a l u a t i o n

Different stakeholders have different mental models of school as a system. Despite the differences that exist, most of the models will use grades as their primary currency. Grades serve many roles. For one, they serve as reward and punishment to students. Some students see grades as rewards while others see them as punishment. Certainly, grades shouldn’t be “why” the students learn, but there are few alternatives. One unintended outcome of the dependence on grades is that students become accustomed to quantified feedback. As they get older and the feedback becomes more ambiguous, where do they turn to get that hard feedback? In some respect, the competitive nature of grades can be seen as a training ground for the competitive capitalist world. Grades don’t only serve as reward and punishment. They also serve as a feedback loop for students, so they can know if they’re on track. But they also serve as a feedback loop to larger systems. Grades tell administrators how the teacher is performing, they tell


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the board how well the administrators are performing, they tell the district how well the school is performing, they tell the state how well the district is performing, they tell the country how well the state is performing, and they tell the world how well the country is performing. To ask the question, “Why are they all using the same currency?” implies a fairly radical cultural shift. It questions the legitimacy of grades as the standard currency of academic knowledge. After all, many things don’t get included in grades. How might they be included in assessment and feedback? For example, a teacher who uses a “gold star” system creates an alternative currency and in doing so differentiates the system of her class from the school. In her class grades aren’t the only thing that defines students. And while stars and grades may not seem so different, merely presenting students with an alternative currency to grades allows them to see that grades aren’t everything. In more complex lessons, such as project work or a game, many currencies can exist concurrently. In a game, a student may be motivated to collect the most


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points, but also to finish the game first. These layers of currency demonstrate to students situations in which there can be more than one winner. And just as importantly, they serve to motivate students within the context of the game. That way students don’t have to feel like their GPA is at risk every time they don’t win.


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3 . 1 . 2 E v a l u a t i n g p r o d u c t a n d p r o c e ss

At school students don’t only learn information, they also learn how to learn. When a teacher only assesses the end-product, it can come across as though they don’t value the personal growth of the student. Just by virtue of not acknowledging the student’s personal triumphs, they risk implicitly conveying that learning how to learn is in some way not as important. Certainly the fact that state tests and SATs seem to emphasize the end product reinforces that false notion. The opposite is true as well. When a teacher demonstrates a real interest in the students’ process, the grades and other incentives may become less important to motivate their work, and that allows the students to align their school-work with their personal goals. Teachers should therefore strive to assess both product and process.


The Job of a teacher

3 . 1 . 2 . 1 Pr o d u c t

Evaluation of the end product refers to the practical outcomes of their work. Some are easier to assess than others. Tests and homework are specifically designed to be marked. They are often more about demonstrating you can do it for the teacher than they are about practicing it for yourself. Assignments with more freedom, like project work, are much more difficult to evaluate. To accomplish this teachers have to use their judgment, which can be perceived as biased and therefore unfair. To address this, many teachers will use a rubric, but that generally serves as an invitation to students to contest the grade.


The Teacher’s Lounge

F i ft h G r a d e H o m e w o r k Early in the process, I was talking to my peers about how miserable it is getting assigned three or four hours of homework per night, and to my surprise, many people had little recollection of what it was like to be assigned homework.

It’s natural that ten or twenty years after the fact, only the great and terrible moments get remembered, and all those mundane hours slip into the background. I noticed this was a major barrier to getting my audience to appreciate the need for a new way to think about homework. More importantly, if there are teachers who also forget what it’s like to be assigned four hours of homework a night, they might find it hard to empathize with their students when an assignment doesn’t get done, or is rushed or sloppy. To help people appreciate my cause, I designed a ten-minute experiment to hopefully jog their memory. I handed my participants a three pieces of real fifth-grade homework from three different subjects, all due tomorrow, and I told them I would be collecting it. The homework was one page of real math homework, two pages of reading about the Viking Lief Erikson, and to prepare an oral presentation about the country of your choosing. The challenge was to do it as quickly as possible, because your friend is having a sleepover tonight and you have to finish this first, says mom. And then I timed them. They finished mostly within 4-6 minutes. I collected the math homework, and handed them a history test on Lief Erikson, which they completed in silence as I marked their math homework. They groaned as they took the test, regretting having elected to skim the reading. Their math tests were sloppy and careless. Only one person wrote down notes for the geography presentation, and they were entirely unrehearsed. The participants immediately understood my agenda, and were discussed it after,


The Job of a teacher

3 . 1 . 2 . 2 Pr o c e ss

Evaluating process is a challenge because the teacher can only be in one place at a time, and even then, a lot of work happens at home. In order to evaluate process, teachers either need to base it on their own observations or on self-reporting from the students. A teacher’s observation of process work is hard to substantiate, so it often counts for not much of the grade. Self-evaluation and peer-evaluation are both games to the students. While they may reveal insights, they rarely serve as good quantitative data. This is where documentation is particularly useful. If documentation of process work is built into the project, whether through a written log or photographs or any other medium, it provides the material for the student to make a case for his/ her process work. It’s also just a good habit to teach.


The Teacher’s Lounge

3 . 1 . 3 E v a l u a t i o n a n d t r u s t

Ideally there would be no need for evaluation. Everyone could trust students to work hard and do their best. The notion of not having a right and wrong answer can be nerve-wracking for teachers. It can be harder to teach and harder to evaluate. Not having a right answer also fundamentally calls into question the role of the teacher in the classroom. To teach for self-efficacy, to empower students to trust themselves in the face of a challenge, it stands to reason that the teacher should serve as a resource more than an instructor. It seems hard, however, for teachers to surrender their post at the front of the class. But it doesn’t have to be all one way or the other. In one sense, active learning needs to be offset by passive learning. It can’t be all projects all the time. In another sense, not having a definite right and wrong does not mean there’s no methodology to follow. In informal educational settings like camps and extracurricular programs this more open-ended style is quite commonly used. It often involves the educator presenting situations rather than problems, allowing students to explore rather than follow, and letting them come to conclusions rather than always seek out the right answer. To this end, teachers who guide their students highlight not only the best path but the common missteps as well.


The Job of a teacher

This whole process may seem rather inefficient, and it is if the goal is to get the students to the finish line. But if there are also goals in the process of learning, then the idea of progress doesn’t always imply forward motion. In this respect being focused on product and process at the same time means that education can’t be a perfectly efficient process, because learning takes time and it involves the inefficiency that comes with making mistakes. By virtue of trying to spare students the time and trouble of figuring everything out from scratch, of “reinventing the wheel”, and just giving them the conclusions, the frameworks, the formula, they are at risk of feeling as though everything has already been figured out, which couldn’t be more untrue. Stuart Firestein raises this issue his book, “Ignorance”. By teaching students in a content-first approach, they develop a poor understanding of the complexity that adults struggle with in their jobs. They think scientists do science problems all day long, and this makes them not want to become a scientists. That is such an incredible shame. Having students do open-ended work is unpredictable, but even that can be seen as a positive rather than a liability. Since each class is different, with each new group the opportunity exists for new methods and insights to emerge, just by virtue of the changing student body. In this way, teachers might see their classes as living laboratories.


The Teacher’s Lounge

Fear of losing control

In the academic world it is considered good sense and scientific practice to be a skeptic. This extends to the intention of students as well. Paternalism is ingrained in the tradition of schools. The greatest fear is releasing control. Many of the expectations that kids perceive as oppressive are in place ‘for their own good’. This notion that kids don’t know what’s best for them is reasonable in some situations, specifically dangerous ones, but in other cases it’s certainly subject to debate or at least cause for explanation. A pattern of being told what to do without explanation ‘for your own good’, is a recipe for mistrust. It can be perceived as disrespectful if the educator seems unwilling to take the time to appeal to reason or emotion. It’s worse still when the educator him/herself doesn’t believe in the instruction. In this case, both the educator and the student are at risk of feeling patronized. When it’s comes from an abstract authority, ‘your own good’ comes across as just a way of bucketing people and largely neglecting their individuality.


The Job of a teacher

Finland, as an exemplary case, consistently ranks first in the world in international standardized testing, and they have very high expectations, but relatively few demands of their students. By giving trust to students, Finnish students are motivated to exceed expectations. They want to prove their teachers right. They want to earn the trust that they were given. The ability of Finnish teachers to give trust to students is also a reflection of the trust they are given from their administrators. Becoming a teacher in Finland requires more schooling than in The U.S., and training is only available at the best institutions, but the result is that the profession is very highly respected. There, teachers are expected to teach much fewer hours, about half on average, and they have more freedom to try new things because of their credentials. Tony Wagner holds up Finland as an example for America in the future. Some independent schools have adopted a similar model, and they’ve seen similar results, but those institutions often rely on a visionary strong leader, and those are in increasingly short supply.


The Teacher’s Lounge

3 . 1 . 3 . 2 t h e c y c l e o f m i s t r u s t

It is up to both students and teachers to learn to trust one another, but who goes first? Because teachers have to teach and grade, they simultaneously serve as the coaches and the jury. This can sometimes make it hard for students to trust teachers. It’s like the good copbad cop of education, except that the teacher is expected to play both parts. Teachers who blame the administration for the tests they “have to” give are able to transfer the mistrust, although this hardly helps the situation in the long term. Conversely, teachers who are able to embed the assessment within engaging challenges can avoid animosity from their students without having to find a scapegoat. The lesson itself becomes the adversary, not the teacher. If students are given validation by having their passions and experiences acknowledged, they will enter into an unspoken contract of give and take. They may not make the first step, but presented with enough love and respect, they will eventually receive it.


The Job of a teacher

3 . 1 . 3 . 3 2 1 st c e n t u r y k i d s

The education system that exists was developed in the context of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. The goal was to socialize and educate students with a standardized method such that they could eventually find roles in the engine of society. Presently, in the face of massive complexity and an accelerating rate of change, it is clear that students can no longer be prepared for definite careers. Rather, they must be equipped with processes that will allow them to be resilient in the future. The media that entertains kids outside of school is so stimulating, so captivating, that it’s nearly impossible to compete with that much personalized fun. But that’s the task that schools are faced with, to make students care as much about curricular learning as pop-culture. The task is so obviously insurmountable, it would seem that it’s not worth even trying, but school has one thing going for it, that deep down everyone loves learning. The question is what or how they love to learn. To students, memorizing facts, and being able to regurgitate them on command is rudimentary task work.


The Teacher’s Lounge

Outside of school they build worlds, make things, play games, act roles, compete with each other. These constructs that kids establish for play are also opportunities to learn, and there is a lot that can be learned from them. The fact that it’s seen as a problem when a student complains about sitting at a desk all day or memorizing formulas is more so an indication of a poor definition of ‘model student’ than it is an indication of a maladapted child. For example, a situation in which you are expected to answer a question, right or wrong, where two dozen or your closest peers are actively judging your every word, would be considered hazing outside of school but it is the model that many classrooms use for encouraging participation. That sounds intimidating. It calls into question the true learning objective of that environment. It could be argued that overcoming the social anxiety involved in speaking up in group settings is more the lesson than the content that was being quizzed. If that is the case, is that really the best way to teach students to gain confidence in public speaking?


The Job of a teacher

3 . 1 . 4 s y s t e m t r a p s

Students know when they aren’t trusted and their individuality is neglected. As a system, this leads them to fall into traps. Donella Meadows outlines the common system traps in her book, “Thinking in Systems”. 3 . 1 . 4 . 1 R u l e B e a t i n g

Students know that succeeding at school is not only about hard work. They figure out how to play the game as a way of appearing to satisfy expectations while in fact pursuing their own goals. This mentality is called rule beating. When students feel that it is going to not be possible to align their own interests with their academics, it becomes clear that to succeed, they have to learn to play the game. The game works as follows from the student’s perspective. There are four ways in which the grade can be affected: homework, testing, attendance, and participation. The grade is important because without it the student can’t get into a good school, not to mention risking disappointing their parents, their friends, and themselves.


The Teacher’s Lounge

One might think it’s a game of intelligence, but in fact it’s primarily a game of discipline and self-control. All that attention that students need to succeed in school is in high demand. On one hand it is being appealed to by the multi-trillion dollar media industry, whose explicit goal is to attract and retain attention, and on the other hand, family and friends, the very people that the student wants to impress with all those accomplishments, they too want attention. TV, movies, video games, sports, parties, music, conversation (in person or online); limiting one’s involvement in these things is the recipe to winning the game of school. That is, unless one can find another way to beat the game, which many students do. Some progressive schools see this contention and urge parents to keep their kids away from media and gratuitous socializing. It’s not surprising, under these conditions, as media only develops more sophisticated methods for being captivating, that attention deficit disorders continue to proliferate, along with the subsequent prescription of focus drugs, at an unprecedented scale. 


The Job of a teacher

In the case that the system succeeds at convincing the student that grades are worth working for, then the student will hopefully be disciplined with great control over his/her own attention. But he/she will also have learned something else: how to find the right answer. 3 . 1 . 4 . 2 C o m p l i a n c e

Students are encouraged to try and get the right answer. Under those conditions success is equivalent to meeting expectations. They get trapped in a cycle of compliance. To go beyond the assignment and strive for excellence could easy be perceived as rebellious. Therefore it’s safer to just comply. Nobody likes being told to sit down and shut up, not adults and not kids. In his book, Drive, Dan Pink reveals the counter-intuitive truth that in creative professions the best incentives are not in fact bonuses, but rather autonomy, mastery and purpose. Concerning rote tasks, money incentives improve performance, but in creative professions, the opposite seems to be true. For creative professions, the driving motivators are autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose.


The Teacher’s Lounge

Models of compliance The top map demonstrates how a healthy balance of active and passive learning allows engagment to flow back to the student and also into school work. The bottom map demonstrates a situation in which someone wasn’t encouraged to pursue their interests, and become dependent on standards for motivation.


reLa y anD TesT maTeriaL

acTive Learnin g

g eT pa ssing graDes

puRSue inteReStS


graDe s



pl ay


w ork

seT brieFs anD qu oTas

sT ay eMpLo ye D


ev aLua Tion



puRSue inteReStS

eng ag emen T


The Job of a teacher

In this light, it seems that teachers should be considered to be included as a creative profession. How then should this shift the way they are incentivized? It seems intuitive that trusting employees to follow their instincts would yield more driven employees, and even more so if they feel that they are bettering themselves and the world in the process. The alternative, to provide little trust and very controlled standards, would conversely lead the employee to strive to meet those standards. To pursue excellence, in that case, is risky business, and is often not worthwhile. This ‘compliance’ model is at the heart of the mechanisms that stifle innovation and growth. This dichotomy of trust vs. compliance is explored in Tony Wagner’s documentary “The Finland Phenomenon”, and Tony and I discussed at much greater depth in our interview. In these cases, we become susceptible to fall into system traps that make us want to “beat” the system, rather than “thrive”. However, if we can see the systems for what they are, benefits and shortcomings alike, we can evaluate how we want to engage with it.


The Teacher’s Lounge

This sense of voluntary participation is necessary to make the participant feel empowered and open to learn. This does however mean that the systems need to establish new mechanisms for motivation, because as of right now, many systems keep participation up largely by legal force. On the other end of the spectrum, at Democratic Schools in Israel, the students don’t have to attend classes, but that offer makes their experience that much richer when they eventually do decide to return to class. 3 . 1 . 4 . 3 E m o t i o n a l D i s s o n a n c e

If trust doesn’t exist, students experience dissonance between the responsibility they have to deliver creative work and the lack of true authority to make choices. The expectation of creativity necessitates a sort of vulnerability. If the conditions are not in place to allow that vulnerability to follow its natural path, either the student will become disappointed or he/she will shut down and refuse to be vulnerable at all. In other words, the student will have to choose between feelings of alienation and apathy.


The Job of a teacher

The dissonance between responsibility and authority trickles down. The more strictly teachers are held to meeting institutional requirements, the more that pressure will fall on students to perform to set specifications, and students will reject the process because the exacting expectations demonstrate a clear lack of trust, which is nothing short of disrespectful. The teachers would then be the ones to suffer the backlash of a class of insulted students, and that would make them resentful of the initiative. Therefore institutions that are overly prescriptive of their teachers will get a lot of contention coming back at them, and the students will only be worse off because of it.


The Teacher’s Lounge


T h e Cl a s s r o o m E n v i r o n m e n t

The classroom environment concerns student behavior in the physical space, and the presence of established processes and a culture of learning. The trouble is that it’s very hard to evaluate, since it is all done through observation. At least in New York, public school teachers have the choice of an administrator sitting in a few full classes or dropping in randomly. Both of these can feel unfair. 3 . 2 . 1 D i ff e r e n t t e a c h i n g s t y l e s

In cases where the administration is unclear about what they are looking for in observations, classroom management can get confused with obedience. This has the potential to skew evaluations, especially if the teacher has a more informal approach. A teacher who is humble enough to admit when he/she doesn’t know an answer could be seen as weak in this model, but showing vulnerability and being humble are excellent ways to develop trust with students. If the goal of the class is to have students absorb facts, then possibly the lecture-textbook model is the most effective, but it is so incredibly deficient in the development of non-cognitive skills. When teachers talk from the front of class, more than anything else, their tone and body-language speak louder than their words. This sets up the dynamic of the teacher who never makes mistakes and the students who don’t know the answers. As a role model, this teacher sends a clear message that it is not acceptable to err. Not only does this stifle participation in class, but it sets up barriers


The Job of a teacher

between teachers and students that make students unable to ask for help. It would be quite intimidating to admit mistakes to a role model like that, and students may therefore avoid such a scenario, even if that means avoiding risky pursuits. But being wrong doesn’t have to hurt so much, if it’s more of a concession that one had limited knowledge (bounded rationality) at the time the decision was made, and that with new information, that previous decision must be re-evaluated. Also an organized room or a disciplined class environment make for a less than conducive place to try things on for size, rather in that environment everything seems very set in stone. This raises the stakes which limits the potential for an open and generative creative process. Recent research by Dr. Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota reveals that a messy workspace is actually more conducive to creativity. 3 . 2 . 2 A s a f e e n v i r o n m e n t

A quiet and tidy classroom is ideal for some subjects, but not all. Creative work, especially when it happens in groups, demands a certain degree of comfort with messes and chatter from the teacher. This calls into question the role of teachers and their relationships to students. Do teachers necessarily need to be infallible in the eyes of their students? Can a teacher admit to being in a learning process as well? This classroom management style can easily be misunderstood, which is a barrier for teachers who may want to try it out.


The Teacher’s Lounge

I met Greg at the New York Collective of Radical Educators meeting. He is a new 5th grade teacher working in Brooklyn. He told me how his administrator had sat in his class for an evaluation as he was walking around talking to students. Based on those observations, he’d been reprimanded for running such a disorderly class. The message he received was clear: To get a strong evaluation, stand at the front of the class and preach. 3 . 2 . 3 W i l l i n g n e ss t o e x p e r i m e n t

There is already the opportunity to bring Educational Technology into schools. The problem is that many schools have become comfortable in their routines, and they are reluctant to make drastic changes when there are incremental changes on the table. That’s why often schools will choose to bring in an outside consultant to work with the staff rather than adopting strategies to change the school’s culture or infrastructure, although it’s not the most sustainable option. As former NYC School Chancellor Anthony Alvarado said “isolation is the enemy of improvement” and in most schools there is simply not a culture of collaboration between teachers. Part of this is because of the infrastructure of schools, in terms of time and personnel, but there is a more personal barrier in place as well. In theory teachers want to work together but in practice they are quite defensive about their autonomy. Their defensiveness is quite natural, as they are under ongoing scrutiny from the administration, their students, and their students’ parents. They are expected


The Job of a teacher

to justify their choices every step of the way, and any admission that a particular tactic was experimental or unsuccessful, is an invitation for criticism and possibly even disciplinary action. Angela, a high-school math teacher, told me about a project she wanted to run for her class, but she insisted on perfecting it before bringing it to her administrator. She felt as though she only had one shot to get it right, which is to say, she was afraid that if she was experimental in her classroom and the results weren’t good, she’d have her a more difficult being experimental in the future. Whether Angela is correct or not, her impression of the reaction to her experimentation is what matters. This is a problem because unless teachers can feel comfortable trying new things in their classrooms, the scope of their creativity will be limited by their existing mental model of what will be successful.


The Teacher’s Lounge

3 . 3 Pr o f e ss i o n a l R e s p o n s i b i l i t i e s

The job of a teacher extends beyond the classroom. The professional responsibilities that teachers have include communicating with parents, getting involved in a community of educators, and participating in continuing education to develop their practice. 3 . 3 . 1 P a r e n t s

Some teachers post daily to parents to keep them informed. While this is a lot of work, it helps prevent misunderstandings that lead to problems down the line. Parents can serve as a resource for learning, so students interact with adults in professions beyond education. The role of the parent-teacher association (PTA) varies from school to school. Sometimes it is very involved in even the smallest decisions (Earth School) and sometimes it’s hardly utilized at all. 3 . 3 . 2 A c o m m u n i t y o f e d u c a t o r s

Many teachers struggle to document their work and share their practice with others. Part of it may be that they don’t think others would relate, but that could be addressed through more collaboration between teachers. It just seems that there is never enough time to document to the quality that one would want. And even then, turning those notes into something that can be shared publicly is a whole secondary process.


The Job of a teacher

This proves to be a major obstacle for the diffusion of innovation within education broadly. Online resources are a major step towards spreading innovative practices, but they’re still in infancy, and the challenges in forming consistent documentation practices stand in the way of attracting a broader community of contributors. The lack of formal structures for diffusing best practices in education reform has recently become a matter of concern for the Department of Education, and it has a lot to do with notepad documentation that never moves beyond the page. Until recently, each teacher or school trying a different method meant that there was much redundancy in terms of discovering best practices, and that made it not a good model for disseminating innovation. However, with the proliferation of web-based networks, the context-specific experiments can be shared on a mass scale, lending their insights with incredible efficiency of time and resources. This shift is fundamentally challenging the assumption that the only way to make change is through a top-down approach, and as internet-based networks gain credibility, that will only increasingly be the case. It also means that all teachers have the opportunity to participate in the international community of educators that lives online. Real-time feedback, specifically thanks to networked software, affords a new kind of adaptability that previously could not have existed. Previously,an institution may have had to create a multi-year strategy before launching any sort of campaign, and then wait until the program finished to get useful feedback.


The Teacher’s Lounge

Today services and systems are able to be always a work in progress, using real-time feedback to adapt on the fly. This is what it means to be in a constant state of reframing, which is an indispensable characteristic of organizations that are able to remain relevant over time. 3 . 3 . 2 . 1 C o m m u n i t y o r g a n i z i n g

Digital communities of teachers have become very popular. They share resources and support each other in many ways. That being said, it’s no substitute for a community of teachers that exists offline. Maintaining a community offline takes time and effort. Teachers do converge around community events and conferences, but it is a challenge for them to manage their own communities without outside support. It would seem obvious that teachers would at least collaborate with teachers within their schools. However, schools can be very competitive environments. Teachers compete within their department and between departments. Generally teachers who teach electives or have younger students rely on other teachers in planning more frequently.


The Job of a teacher

3 . 3 . 2 . 2 f r a m i n g

Working with others poses challenges, especially within a diverse group. In order to overcome these challenges, teachers need to be proficient in framing themselves. Framing oneself for others provides them with the necessary context to provide directed and relevant feedback. It allows everyone to align their goals. 3 . 3 . 2 . 2 C o a c h i n g

Coaching is most often used in reference to helping students achieve their goals. It is a practice in empathy and politeness. This same skill can be used for helping other teachers succeed. 3 . 3 . 3 C o n t i n u i n g e d u c a t i o n

Schools have professional development requirements of their teachers, and they generally provide budgets for continuing education. Despite the great resources that exist and the overwhelming demand for more learning opportunities, professional development is still often regarded as an obligation rather than a privilege. Â


The Teacher’s Lounge

3 . 3 . 3 . 1 R e fl e c t i o n

In order for teachers to know what they need to improve at, they need to be able to reflect. To reflect on their successes takes time and good documentation, both of which are sparse. Documentation, especially for teachers, is regarded as being quite tedious. It often happens as an afterthought, and is regarded without much care. Partly this is because there’s rarely an audience for it. Why would a teacher take the time to synthesize their work, let alone curate it into a presentable format, if realistically it’s going to live in a drawer? The practice of documentation should really begin before class even starts. The preparatory work that a teacher does makes up the majority of the documentation. Having teachers articulate the plan, their hopes and expectation, the content they hope to cover, and the schedule of the class, to themselves if no one else, only serves to reinforce their agenda, and give them greater confidence in the material. Similarly, it lends itself to considering contingency plans, which also gets the teacher to address what part of the lesson needs to be flexible.


The Job of a teacher

Insights emerge from every class. If teachers don’t create for themselves artifacts upon which to reflect, they may not be able to see the need to revise the lesson, and they put themselves at risk of stagnating. This is at the heart of the problem when teachers become too comfortable in their repertoires. 3 . 3 . 3 . 2 S c h e d u l i n g

Taking courses takes time. That’s time that could have been spent elsewhere. If the course is useful, that’s not such a big problem, but if the course is really just to fulfill the requirements it can be seen as an impediment. Attending courses is time consuming enough, but teachers have to find the courses too. When this job isn’t treated with rigor, teachers end up taking courses on things they either already know or don’t need. Resoundingly, these courses struggle to provide teachers with the opportunity to implement their learnings. After the course ends, the teacher has to try and incorporate the resource into their lessons on their own. This means that it often doesn’t happen.


The Teacher’s Lounge

3 . 3 . 3 . 3 PD D a y s

PD Days exists at most schools as halfdays for teachers to do professional development, but it usually end up just being free time for marking and venting.   3 . 3 . 3 . 4 C o n t i n u i n g e d u c a t i o n

Continuing education units (CEUs) that teachers attend are either tools or strategies. Tools can serve either as creative outlets for students or as organizational tools for teachers. Strategies are different ways in which a teacher can run a classroom or lesson. While CEUs are intended to enrich the teacher’s experience, they can often be a point of stress: which tools are worth it for teachers to invest the time to learn? With a constant flow of new approaches to try, how is a teacher to hone any one strategy? And once they finally get one that works for them, it would seem all the more stressful to be told to try new things. It’s especially stressful to experiment alone. The anxiety that what they are doing is wrong or too radical may be put to rest seeing teachers doing similar work, and sharing similar concerns.


The Job of a teacher

3 . 4 P l a n n i n g a n d p r e p a r a t i o n

Designers spend most of their time doing work ‘behind the scenes’, much of which doesn’t make it into the final implementation. Teachers have to do this same planning and preparation, but it happens on their “off-hours”. This part of teacher evaluations is particularly difficult to assess, especially in contrast with student performance. Without providing a structure for recognizing a teacher’s drive to improve his/her practice and commitment to thoughtful preparation of creative lessons, those behaviors are at risk of taking on less importance in the teacher’s mind. 3 . 4 . 1 A n o n g o i n g p r o c e ss

Teachers are expected to design their courses over the summer, but increasingly they need to plan throughout the year. This is because they want to be relevant to their specific group of students and current events.

e v o lv i n g c o n t e n t

It is important that teachers are comfortable with the content they teach. They need to review it throughout the year because it has to be fresh in their minds so they can answer questions. There may also be some news or evolution of the content since they last taught the subject.


The Teacher’s Lounge

3 . 4 . 1 . 2 C a t e r i n g t o c l a s s n e e d s

It is a goal for teachers to make their lessons personally relevant to their students. This means that defining the learning objectives has to change based on the pace and interests of the class. 3 . 4 . 2 I n c o r p o r a t i n g t e c h n o l o g y

Technology is changing how teachers offer personalized education to their students, adding layers of game elements and multimedia. However, since different subjects need to be taught in their own respective methods, there is no one platform that can be adopted across the board. As Bill Gates said, Khan Academy should focus on math, since they do that so well, and not try and apply their method to humanities, for example. As Brie Bunge, a former employee of Khan Academy explained to me, the goal is that learning should be self-directed. Teachers should feel that the platform is alleviating some of the pressure put on them to perform on a daily basis, but it’s important to not have them feel robbed of their authority. Technology being used in this way is called blended learning. Some people look at it and see a terrifying dystopia of kids being led by computers in front of screens all day. The flipped classroom model offers an alternative. It suggests that students watch video lectures at night when they’re alone at home, and do their homework in groups when in class so they can get the support of their peers. Flipped classrooms


The Job of a teacher

represent a radical shift in the way technology impacts education, but it’s a demanding undertaking for teachers. They not only need to learn new tools and make videos for their classes, but they need to know when to step down from the front of the class to serve as a coach and when their students need additional instruction. The struggles of managing a flipped classroom were discussed in depth at the iZone affinity group meeting on flipped classrooms and also at the Hybrid Higher-Ed panel on blended learning. All too often, schools enthusiastically invest in technology, without proper preparation, and invariably they end up generating little to no new value. Most people who have been around schools in the past five years will be familiar with the SmartBoard. Land Grant, the founder of NY3DP uses the SmartBoard as an excellent example of a missed opportunity in EdTech. Because schools brought them in without the adequate training or appropriate lesson plans, these white boards that are capable of serving as a largeformat computer interfaces, like giant Wacom Tablets in every class, are used pretty much used as a dollarstore white-board. If the teacher is so tech-savvy, maybe it will serve as a projector. This is one example of a situation in which a technology was invested in without contributing much real value in return. Especially because of the fast turnover of technology, it really is a poor use of resources for educational institutions to invest in technologies that they are not able to gain real benefit from.


The Teacher’s Lounge

Responsible technology Metric

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to assess if a technology is in fact being used effectively. For this purpose, I composed the Responsible Technology Metric. The metric can also be divided by the cost of each EdTech investment to consider which technologies are adding real value for their price. But in reality, this metric is meant to facilitate discourse around technology in school settings. The responsible adoption function is equal to the percentage of the total lessons using a given technology that simultaneously align with the learning objectives and are able to accomplish otherwise impossible/ impractical tasks.

The formula is R% = 100 [T(O,I)/T] (R) responsible adoption function (T) lessons using a given technology (O) align with the learning objectives (I) otherwise impossible/impractical


The Job of a teacher

3 . 4 . 2 . 1 T a b l e t s a n d l a p t o p s

While tablets and laptops do provide opportunities for schools to interact with students differently, it is really up to the school to take advantage of that opportunity. There is good reason to be concerned about bringing new technology into classrooms. Even tablets and laptops need to be introduced with a high degree of sensitivity lest the students turn any class into free time for Minecraft. I encountered this first hand in my experience working as an after-school teacher with the Institute of Play. It was so difficult to keep students off Minecraft and other web-based games that eventually we had to set aside time specifically for that. If we hadn’t absolutely needed to use computers for coding, having them in the room would have been a terrible distraction. At Little Red Elizabeth Irwin High School they use 1-to-1 iPads, not just for novelty, but rather because they offer more sophisticated experiences next to paper or books. Ultimately, the value of the platform is only as great as the software it runs.


The Teacher’s Lounge

Some of the most useful software for teaching provides feedback between teachers and students. They allow teachers to be responsive and adaptable. These software platforms include Google Docs, Evernote, The Khan Academy, Knowmia, Knowre, and Techchange to name a few. The flexibility that real-time feedback provides can enable teachers to create just the kind of personalized learning experience that would have been far too inefficient to execute in the traditional institutional model. 3 . 4 . 2 . 2 Fa b L a b s

One particular area of interest for EdTech teachers is the FabLab. FabLab are particularly designed to enable digital fabrication, carrying tools like 3D printers, CNC routers, lasercutters, vinyl-cutters, milling machines, sewing machines, soldering irons, and whatever else the school can afford. Jaymes Dec started the FabLab at Marymount girls school, and has become a FabLab expert. Most of the challenges he faces are not with students using the tools themselves, but rather concern the inconsistency with which his class meets.


The Job of a teacher

Even in schools that are willing to invest financially in FabLabs, there are other kinds of support that are needed to make them useful. The benefits of “making” to support the learning of both cognitive and noncognitive skills is explored in depth in Matthew Crawford’s book, “Shop Class as Soul Craft”. But since shop class was removed from most schools to be replaced by computer labs, the rise of the FabLab represents a resurgence of making in the school setting. This transformation is happening quite literally in Brooklyn Tech High School where the very same rooms that were once woodshops to later become computer labs, are now home to several 3D printers and other digital fabrication tools.

3 D p r i n t e rs

3D printers can have real value in teaching, but without the skills and understanding of the potential the tool holds, many teachers are unable to develop their own projects around them. Instead they resort to a sampling of projects that often fail to relate to any learning objectives beyond the experience of getting to see a part printing.


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The 3D printer is a tool, and it requires a whole new skill set to use it effectively. In my work with Liz Arum, it’s an ongoing challenge to use the 3D printer as a tool to cultivate the creative skills, not just execute prints and bask in the novelty of the tool. 3D printers are being sold to schools and cultural institutions around the world. Having printed a few dozen chess pieces and some artifacts from Thingiverse, now people are finally starting to ask, how can a 3D printer be useful in a learning environment. To answer that question, let’s begin by calling it what it is: it’s a printer. This means that it allows us to transfer digital files from the screen into the tangible world at the click of a button. Without a 3D file, nothing will print. There are three applications of this tool that make it amazing: For manufacture, for prototyping, and for visualization. To address the excitement around the applications of 3D printers, at least at this stage of development, we can use the analogy of the desktop printer.


The Job of a teacher

When the ink-jet printer came out people said: “Now no one will buy books or artwork because you can just print it off yourself.” “Now anyone can write a book or make digital artwork and print it off. This is the democratization of print.” “Now anyone can take the level of detail of digitally constructed images, graphics that were too complex to draw, and we can see them on paper.” All the same things are being said about 3D printers, but we should be realistic about what the true potential is. The manufacturing applications of 3D printing are an entirely different conversation from the usefulness of 3D printers in schools.  The major limitation right now is materials, so if we’re talking about 3D printing in schools in the coming years, we’re talking about printing in plastic. This means, nothing that isn’t a small weak plastic part is coming off one of those machines. So outside of making little coins or plaques, the best application is not manufacturing products. It’s still cheaper and easier to go to a dollar store.


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To the second comment, just because you can print a book, doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly have something inspired to write. However, having the potential to print it, might be just the push to start trying. This is the most suitable application for 3D printing in schools. With the promise of being allowed to use the 3D printer in the building, students may be encouraged to design or scan products in digital 3D. The experience of printing something of your design is incredibly empowering. But even beyond the self-efficacy that comes from creating something, there is real learning that comes from prints that don’t work, because they are an invitation to do more iterations, which is a key aspect of the design process, and very important for building resilience in terms of the student’s confidence. It’s ultimately an incredible communication tool. Just as sketching takes an idea from the mind to paper, mock-ups take the idea from 2D to 3D, renderings take the idea from 3D to dimensionally accurate 2D, and 3D printing takes the idea into dimensionally accurate 3D, in a way that was impossible a decade ago. At each transfer point, insights occur. This is at the heart of the design process.


The Job of a teacher

And even if 3D printers and the interfaces that support them transform completely in the next few years, there is still enormous value in getting students comfortable just getting into these tools, if for nothing else, as an introduction to thinking and communicating in 3D. Even beyond that there’s the world of data, sonar, satellite imaging, ultrasound, these 3d maps that have thus far been confined to the 2d digital world can now be represented in tangible (as opposed to virtual) 3D. As a tool for visualization, 3D printers provide the potential for teachers to print off specific artifacts that they can use as teachable objects for their class. But it’s not as easy to manage as most would hope. In fact, to adopt a metaphor from Richard Tyson, a 3D printer is more like a potter’s wheel than an ink-jet printer. It relies on the loose supervision of a skilled practitioner, as well as on an understanding of what will print successfully. The tool is better at some features than others, and there’s a lot of micro-adjustments that are often made even as the print is ongoing. It’s a material-tool fusion and it needs an artist, not a command.


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3.4.3 Teachers as designers

The Danielson Framework uses the word “design” in reference to the planning of lessons. Design is creative work, but the profession of teaching is not treated like other creative professions. The fact that teachers do their “design” work in their off-hours means that they lack the creative work environment and the support structure that it provides. 3 . 4 . 3 . 1 P l a n n i n g t i m e

There isn’t a set recursive time for teachers to plan, which means it happens only when it has to. Currently, nearly a third of a teacher’s workload happens after school. That’s when most of the planning time happens, which means it mostly happens in isolation. As it is, planning is just not part of a teacher’s daily routine, which means that the work it takes to design creative projects, games, and experiments, or to incorporate new technology into lessons, happens at the teacher’s own expense. So, many teachers feel powerless despite their imbalance of active and passive lessons. To expect them to take it upon themselves is not only unfair, it’s unsustainable.


The Job of a teacher

Design takes as long as the designer has to do it. For that reason, lesson design demands interim deadlines for teachers to meet. Those deadlines don’t exist within the structure of most schools. Because those time constraints aren’t embedded in the system, teachers have to set them for themselves. This proves stressful and quite ineffective. Offering teachers with the time devoted specifically to designing lessons grants them a kind of permission to put all their other obligations on hold. And they appreciate this opportunity, since designing lessons is actually something they quite enjoy. 3 . 4 . 3 . 2 As k i n g f o r h e l p

There isn’t a structure for teachers to collaborate within, so teachers have to ask for help on a case-by-case basis. It’s not that American teachers are inherently resistant to collaboration. Thanks to a study of U.S. teachers by Scholastic and the Gates Foundation, we know that 90 percent believe that providing time to collaborate with colleagues is crucial to retaining good teachers. However, of their 35 hour school-week, teachers spend only 3% of it with peers.


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A community is important for three reasons. The simplest is that teachers, especially when they’re going the extra mile to make their classes awesome, want to feel like they’re part of something bigger. This is most apparent at conferences, where all the educators get excited, but the momentum diffuses soon after. The second is that innovation is generated at the convergence of diverse opinions, and many teachers, especially those who’ve been teaching for a while, rarely encounter diverse perspectives on their areas of expertise. The last is for friends that can hold you accountable to your own goals. As much as the goal is to plan together, it’s also to have fun together and feel recognized. Planning alone is not a problem, in fact it’s quite necessary. The problem is planning in isolation, with no outside inputs. Frantz, a high school teacher in the Bronx says he plans with other people maybe 2% of the time. Angela says she “never ever” plans with others. This is unfortunately common among teachers.


The Job of a teacher

What effect does this have on student performance? The correlation is absolutely clear in countries like Finland and Japan, where teacher collaboration is fundamental to the profession. Those countries consistently outperform the US in international tests such as PISA and TIMMS. 3 . 4 . 3 . 3 A s p a c e f o r d e s i g n

Creative professions place a great deal of emphasis on the physical environment in which design happens. And yet there simply isn’t a space for lesson design. The internet is massively saturated with resources and communities for teachers, and while they are inspiring and supportive, the teacher is still ultimately plan at home or at school, usually late at night or early in the morning. Both those places are loaded with obligations other than planning. So for teachers to get in the right mindset to be creative, they need to get away from all the familiar architecture and the social dynamics they contain. They need to enter a space they associate with the creative work of teachers.


The Teacher’s Lounge


The Teacher’s Lo u n g e

This section highlights some of the key tensions that emerged from the research, and presents the design offerings that I created in response to those opportunities.


The Teacher’s Lounge

A C o m p l e x Pr o b l e m Today, half of teachers quit in their first five years. This has dramatic financial implications, as it costs between 15 and 50,000 dollars to hire and train a new teacher. What’s frightening about this statistic is not just sheer quantity of teachers who quit, but rather who makes up this half. The teachers who quit are the innovators. They are the ones who, despite the lack of support, strive to exceed expectations, spending as much time in continuing education and planning as they do lecturing and grading. They sacrifice their personal lives for the engagement of their students. These are the teachers who burn out. This sentiment was shared by Tony Wagner, Amy Vreeland, and Juliette LaMontagne, all of whom were former teachers and eventually left the profession to impact the education system in other ways. What’s tragic is that the half that quit are specifically the ones who represent the only hope of “fixing” our education system by restoring a healthy balance of active and passive lessons.


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t e n s i o n s , o p p o rt u n i t i e s , o u tc o m e s This situation is the product of various intersecting tensions that exist. The Teacher’s Lounge hopes to address these tensions in order to ultimately reduce teacher attrition, increase adoption of technology, and bring about a better balance of active and passive learning opportunities in schools. 1 . c o mm u n i t y , T i m e , a n d s p a c e

Tension: Educators lack the infrastructure to work with educators from outside their own schools, to schedule time for planning into their routine, and to find a space where they can get away from their other obligations. Opportunity: They need a creative space to meet regularly with a diverse community. Outcome: From “Don’t fix what’s not broken” to “There’s always room to improve”. 2 . L e s s o n D e s i g n St r u c t u r e

Tension: Educators want to design games and projects to make their lessons more actively engaging, but they don’t know where to start. It all feels rather arbitrary. Opportunity: They need a way of transforming learning objectives into active lessons. Outcome: From “Some things are just boring, it can’t all be fun” to “I want my students to love learning, even with its ups and downs”.


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3 . I n t e g r a t i n g Pr o f e ss i o n a l d e v e l o p m e n t

Tension: Educators want to learn how to use emerging technologies to support their teaching, and while they do get exposure to new tools and best practices, they don’t get enough support actually applying them to their specific classroom environments. Opportunity: They need courses where they get practical help applying new tools. Outcome: From “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” to “I’m a life-long learner, there’s nothing I can’t do if I work at it”. 4. framing

Tension: Educators want to be proud of their lessons and share them, but without clear framing and good documentation, people seem to misunderstand which can lead to defensiveness from the teacher. Opportunity: They need strategies to help them explain their work to others. Outcome: From “If they could see what I do, they wouldn’t understand” to “Teaching is my art and I want the world to see it”.


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5. Coaching

Tension: Educators want to offer students opportunities to work independently, but they aren’t used to acting as coaches, and they rarely get useful feedback on their coaching styles. Opportunity: They need the opportunity to practice coaching with peers. Outcome: From “If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile” to “If you give a mile, you’d be amazed what they can do with it”.


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The Structure The Teacher’s Lounge is a creative space where teachers can enter into a structured collaborative work environment. It offers Professional Development programming and community-wide events, but most importantly, it offers set times for Lesson Design. The workshops themselves flow as follows:

1. Vent

The participants enter the space and have time to mingle with the other participants, caffeinate, and talk about whatever is on their mind.

2 . St r e t c h

The participants stretch from head-to-toe in order to reconnect with their bodies and release some of the physical tension they might be holding in.


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3. Ground

The participants take some time on their own to write about themselves in preparation for working in teams. This specifically addresses tension #4, framing. By taking the time to prepare an explanation of one-self, the team can better get aligned behind a definite set of goals. The alignment worksheet asks participants to think through their explanation on three scales: Aim: What do you care about? Who are you? Frame: Where and what do you teach? What context are you designing for? Expand: What do you want help with? What decisions are already made?


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4 . R otat i o n s

The participants then enter into groups of two or three, and take turns working as teams to support each other’s goals. Each participant has approximately 45 minutes as the lead, where the group is dedicated exclusively towards his/her project. Each rotation begins with the lead giving a brief explanation based on the framing work prepared in the previous section. Because the lead only holds that role temporarily, the other teammates should be able to comfortably play the supporting role, knowing that eventually their turn will come. In this reciprocal exchange, each teacher benefits from the diverse opinions within the team to help design a lesson, but also the opportunity to practice coaching a peer in project work. This speaks directly to tension #5, coaching. In order to support teachers in coaching, they are encouraged to ask clarifying questions predominantly, and offer suggestions only when it is called for by the lead.


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The lead has the opportunity to work with the team look for ways to integrate new tools, to craft assets for class, or to design a lesson. Integration:

Using the time with a team to explore new tools in more depth and look for ways to incorporate them into lessons directly addresses tension #3, about integrating professional development. This would be particularly useful if the workshop immediately follows a professional development course offered at the Teacher’s Lounge.


Sometimes what a teacher really needs from a team is just help preparing the props they will use in class. This may include cutting up paper money for a game or finding good videos for a lesson. This doesn’t specifically address a tension that teachers feel, but it’s certainly more fun to do it with others, and students know when the teacher had fun preparing. It comes through in so many subtle ways.


Participants who want to design active lessons for students are invited to use the Lesson Design framework offered by the Teacher’s Lounge. This framework was designed specifically in response to tension #2, that teachers want structure for lesson design.


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User Journey This map describes the process one might go through at the Teacher’s Lounge. It begins with sense of isolation in planning, followed by the overwhelming flow of resources to be learned. Then at the lounge itself, the chance to meet new people, followed by collaboration with a diverse group of educators, making the assets for the class, running it with the students, and then retuning to the Teacher’s Lounge the following week.


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Lesson Design The lesson design framework is essentially a set of questions that surround five major considerations: The learning objectives, a suitable context for the learning objectives, the constraints on the lesson, the social dynamics of the group, and documentation of the lesson. It draws largely from my experience as an educator over the past decade, with much influence from pedagogical literature, and the help of many gracious advisors. Learning Objectives: Learning objectives refer to the teaching outcomes described in depth in section 1.0 of the research. They can refer to understanding, skills, or behaviors. Some of the questions in this section include: Is it part of a larger unit? What mental model are you trying to convey? Are there any social skills the students should practice? Suitable Context:

The suitable context is asking about how the students will be motivated. Ultimately, students will be applying the learning objectives in some capacity, but as section 2.2 of the research describes, students can be motivated viscerally, personally, or through role-play.

This step will identify the lesson as a project, a game, and experiment, or something else, depending on how students are incentivized to participate.


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This section refers to two different kinds of constraints; the practical limitations that the teacher faces and the challenges that students encounter that make the lesson engaging for them. This is explained in more detail in section of the research.

Some of the constraints that a teacher should address include time, space, tech. resources, and the available budget. As far as constraints for the students, the goal is a balance of structure and freedom. The adage goes, if you put students on the roof of a tall building with no ledge, they will stay in the center for fear of falling off. But, if there were a ledge, they would run around as free as if they were on the ground. In this way, setting artificial constraints allow for safe risk-taking.

Social Dynamics:

It’s a common misconception that putting participants into teams naturally results in teamwork. Often it just generates frustration and inefficiency. If the frustration comes about in play, one might say it’s great way to practice empathy. But when it exists between peers, there’s the risk it will spill over into “real life”. That’s why it’s so important to bring more structure to the social dynamics. Some of the questions in this section include: Should it happen individually, in groups, as one big group? Are there distinct roles within groups? Do they change over time?


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One of the biggest challenges in experiential learning is evaluation. Fair evaluation in process work relies on students having enough proof to make the case for themselves. Additionally, cultivating strong documenting habits is a valuable skill in its own right, both for students and for teachers. Some of the questions in this section include: Does the work itself generate artifacts? Is there a platform that they can use that will make it less “painful”? Do all the students have to use the same medium? How can you prompt documentation throughout the process?

After thinking through these five considerations and answering all relevant questions, the teachers should have some idea of what they want to move forward with. At this point, they have to make some difficult decisions. They are asked to give the lesson a descriptive title and a two-sentence explanation, one that they could explain to a friend. They then have to break down the lesson into three of four major stages, each of which has the students doing something different. The teachers think through the mechanics of each stage as well as what information the students need at each stage. Do they know what’s coming up next? Do they have what they need to progress? Finally they will have a complete lesson design ready to move forward with.


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L o g is t i c s P a r t n e rs h i p s

The Teacher’s Lounge, at its core, is a partnership between teachers and libraries. So far, I’ve partnered with the Brooklyn Public Library who have invited the Teacher’s Lounge to pilot throughout their network. The involvement of libraries is natural since they are everywhere, they’re dramatically underutilized for community organization, and they have a soft spot for teachers. I also have been in close contact with the iZone at the Department of Education. After months of doing work around their Affinity Groups, I went into their office to introduce this idea to their team, and they were excited about the chance to use their 300 affiliated schools as test-beds as well. I’ve also gained tremendous support from the Special Project Office, a business strategy firm and professional network.


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Why do teachers care?

When teachers are supported in the creative aspects of their work through a collaborative environment, then they may feel like they are part of something bigger. This also happens when teachers engage in pedagogical discourse to fuel their practice. This is so important because teachers can get caught up in the routine of babysitting and grading, underpaid and overworked, and working very much in isolation. 1. Teachers come to work in teams and get feedback and ideas from teachers outside of their immediate community, because they understand that working in teams not only saves time, but also gives them a sense of community. 2. Teachers go to their local Teacher’s Lounge after long days of teaching because of the trusted and easily accessible professional development programs. 3. They come to enter a safe environment designated specifically for preparing lessons. Otherwise they would work at school or at home where there are many distractions.


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Va l u e p r o p o s i t i o n s a n d f i n a n c i a l b a c k i n g

The Teacher’s Lounge is first and foremost an educational project incubator. The main offering is the chance to work with one another. The participants themselves come in with a variety of skills and networks that they can share. What the Teacher’s Lounge offers is the framework for collaboration, and permission to ask for help. That being said, the Teacher’s Lounge also generates quantifiable outcomes. The metrics for success are to increase teacher retention, to increase the integration of EdTech into the classroom, and to have teachers who come to the Teacher’s Lounge create more personalized learning opportunities for their students. This means the Teacher’s Lounge can be financially supported based on a diverse portfolio of value propositions. Continuing Education:

Currently the Teacher’s Lounge is supported entirely by dues to attend professional development programs which comes from the professional development budget that teacher’s receive.

Network of Educators:

There are ongoing negotiations with EdTech firms to provide corporate sponsorships in exchange for access to teachers who are actively interested in incorporating new tools into their practice.

Teacher Retention:

The Teacher’s Lounge is also eligible for government grants. This year NY received 4.7 million specifically to encourage teacher retention initiatives.


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Evaluation of Planning:

In the future the Teacher’s Lounge may enter into contracts with local schools to provide documentation of their teacher’s process work for evaluative purposes.

Public Good:

They Teacher’s Lounge can provide scholarships to teachers with the help of donations from the community and charitable organizations.

Lesson Database:

Lessons generated within the Teacher’s Lounge are available online. Once it reaches a critical scale, there is the opportunity for revenue from advertising.


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Prototypes To this point, I’ve conducted prototypes on the lesson design framework as a digital application and on the structure of the Teacher’s Lounge itself. The Lounge

The Lounge is the digital embodiment of the framework for designing experiential lessons. The goal of this series of pilots was to have the lesson design framework able to exist without the need for a facilitator. With each prototype I revised the framework to be less dependent on my involvement. Some of these revisions were changes to tone and copy, while others used graphic elements.

The early prototyping was done through a GoogleDoc


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The framework as a workbook

The final prototype as a website that walks you through the process


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The Spring Pilot

On April 15th, 2014, I hosted the first pilot of the Teacher’s Lounge at the Central Location of the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza. We welcomed a group of six teachers whom I’d not met before into the beautiful Trustee’s room on the top floor for a three-hour lesson design workshop. I drew a crowd with the promise of a 3D printing tutorial, snacks and coffee, and takeaways. The event was promoted through a digital invitation that circulated via email, a meet-up group, social media, and the library itself. We went through the process of venting, stretching, and getting grounded before jumping into the rotations. I was reluctant to provide too much structure, for fear of coming across patronizing, but the feedback I received was that in fact there should have been more structure. That feedback will inform future pilots.

The pilot took place in the Trustees Room


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The Teacher’s Lounge


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Next Steps My immediate next steps are to assemble the core team of designers and educators and continue piloting. The plan is to have one lounge running consistently by this time next year, and three in the next two years. Ultimately I imagine every teacher within walking distance of a Teacher’s Lounge.

The Vision I see the recent changes in education as no less than a paradigm shift in learning, and the infrastructure of the school has simply been unable to keep up with it. There is a need for a new layer of infrastructure to support this emerging creative class of teachers. It’s the vision of the Teacher’s Lounge to provide them with the structure they need to continue evolving with the changing needs of 21st century students.


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O t h e r D e si g n O f f e r i n g s

Throughout the process of designing for the education system, there were many ideas that were left behind. For whatever reason, their development stopped after one or two iterations. Nonetheless, they are included because they address the same tensions that the Teacher’s Lounge addresses.


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Pr o j e c t L a n d s c a p e C a r d s

When one is working on a project, it can sometimes feel like no one could possibly understand, let alone help. When someone offers to lend either emotional support or practical help, if they misunderstand at all they may only end up deepening that sense of isolation. When offering help, it’s one of the most difficult, and most important things, to first and foremost understand what kind of help would be useful.  This proves to be a challenge for educators who are engaging their students in project-based learning. Never mind that classes are often so big that giving every student the time they need would be near impossible. Just walking up to a student who’s struggling in a project and engaging them on that level is challenging enough. All too often the conversation goes, “How’s it going?”, “Fine”. To answer ‘fine’ hints at a very deep problem, because it sets up the educator as the adversary or at least a distraction, and presents the educator’s prompt as a quiz rather than an offer to help.  Educators know that if they are going to lead their students through projects, they need to be able to offer their support in a manner that allows it to be perceived as just that, an offer. But, because this is such a challenge, and educators fear that they won’t be able to help their students, or even worse that they will be perceived as though they are just walking around being critical, some educator would rather steer clear of project-based learning altogether.  It’s that first moment, the “How’s it going?” that’s really the hardest part. If the student gets going talking about how they feel about their work, the educator can infer in what way they can lend support. If the student is unable to get to feelings and only talks about thoughts and actions, the educator will in all likelihood only comment on that. Because it can be strange to start talking about feelings out of the blue, it may be more comfortable for some to enter into it through metaphor. 


Other Design Offerings

“Project Landscapes” are a set of cards that create just such an opportunity through the metaphor of being an explorer through natural landscapes. There are two types of cards that students can use as triggers to start the conversation. “Landscape” cards reveal the student’s perception of where they are in their process in relation to where they think they should be. These metaphors like ‘thick woods’, ‘steep cliff’, and ‘endless beach’ may shed light on what kind of practical support the student might need in terms of a recap of where they’ve been or more explanation about what’s coming up. “Terrain cards” like ‘soft sand’, ‘loose rocks’, and ‘hard dirt’ reveal how the student feels the pace of the project has been going so far, and might inform what kind of emotional support they crave in the form of encouragement, or more or less guidance.


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T h e H e x a g o n E va l u at i o n

Rubrics are the teacher’s response to complex evaluation criteria, but they still often resolve to a quantifiable grade. It’s a real challenge to balance have a rubric that’s simple enough that the students understand what they’re aiming for and it seems fair, with the understated complexity of evaluating such criteria as risk-taking, creativity, or teamwork. A teacher may go into thorough detail about what differentiates a 1 from a 2 (out of 4), just to be able to justify giving one grade or another, but even this scale seems to be an injustice to these complex capacities. The Hexagon evaluation is a rubric, but not on an integral scale. This means that it’s not incredibly useful for translating into grades, and therefore may not find its application in contexts where that is a demand. However, it does serve as a strong source of feedback for students, visually representing their strong and weak capacities relative to the rest of the class. What’s nice about Hexagon, is that the visual language mitigates the likelihood that this comparative evaluation scheme will be interpreted in a competitive way. Rather, because there are so many domains, and they are laid out radially, it speaks more to each student’s respective strengths and weaknesses. If anything, it’s an invitation for students to know who in their class they should be going to for help.


Other Design Offerings

hexagon holistic evaluation

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T h e T e a c h e r Pr o f e ss i o n a l Gr o w t h I n d e x

The mode for this intervention is an alternative teacher evaluation system. It is comprised of three equal parts that make up the Teacher Professional Growth (TPG) Index: Teacher performance, teacher preparation, and  student performance.  In other words: Teaching, planning, and grading.  There are some obvious challenges that this intervention would encounter. First, there are policy driven methods for evaluating teachers, and those policies emphasize student performance so heavily for a reason, because that is a priority for them. Second, evaluating teachers on the preparation would mean an infrastructural change to the orchestration of PD days and the role of administration. Resources are limited as it is, and so there may be reluctance to place more demands on everyone. The TPG Index could only reliably be adopted en-masse if there are a few examples of schools who take it on that can demonstrate that it won’t have a negative impact on student performance.


Other Design Offerings


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P e rs o n a l H o m e w o r k t h r o u g h a p p l i c a t i o n

This extra-curricular program lies at the convergence of homework help and project-based learning. Working with young volunteers, students are challenged to find applications for the content they learn in school. Faced with large class sizes, and an ever-expanding fact-based curriculum for students to take in, it’s often difficult for students to make personal connections to the material. Nonetheless, the expectation that students will apply what they learn in a mode that is relevant to them, falls on their shoulders. Because teachers assume that they probably won’t apply it of their own volition, teachers assign homework, so that at very least the student will practice the content in abstraction before returning to class. But this program maintains that if homework could manifest in personally relevant application of the material, it would only be better. So the approach starts with homework. At the beginning of each twohour session, each student pulls out some homework that they are particularly removed from. As they begin the homework, the highschool volunteers work with them individually to come up with projects they could do to apply the material.  By the end of the first hour, students need to have formulated a plan for a project they will do, how far they hope to get by the end of the next hour, along with a paragraph explaining how it’s an appropriate application of the content. If the project is considered to be relevant, the teacher in the room will sign off on it. The plan that the student created is used as the very criteria for evaluating if they were successful at taking sufficient steps toward completing the project. And if the project does go as far as they all had hoped, the student will be exempt from completing the homework. If, however, the student slacks off for the second hour,


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they’ll still be responsible for the homework, so it’s all at their own risk. Of course, there’s always the chance that a student will want to carry on with a project. That’s a welcomed option as well. But at it’s core, the hope is to present students with the opportunity to find personal applications for the curriculum, and that ultimately this will lead to a deeper lever of comprehension than the homework that students themselves don’t want to do. research-less Design

In design, a lot of the projects we do begin with research, because we really want to become familiar with the audience that we’re designing for. This is a very complex process. You need to conduct interviews, as well as referring to secondary sources, and no matter how much you read, and how many interviews you do, it’s just incredibly hard to feel like you’re every really solving the problem for anyone else. At some level, there’s just a lot of conjecture about what actually needs to be done. This is supported by the fact that design is an iterative process. You prototype, you bring it back to the user group, and then you realize that it wasn’t perfect the first time, you make refinements, bring it back to the user group. It’s incredibly intensive and time consuming and laborious.  A lot of the benefits that come from engaging in a design process, like learning the technical skills that allow you to make something, or the self-efficacy that emerges from taking an idea from concept to functional working intervention can exist without the research phase. This is especially the case within a school setting. How do you get kids to do really sophisticated and accurate research? The alternative of simply taking the results of someone else’s research, can feel inauthentic to the target audience as well.


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One way around this, and this is something we experimented with at Botcamp, was to allow people to create designs where the target audience was themselves. It’s still an iterative process, there’s still prototyping, but the research is very authentic. Suddenly there’s no more inference. You don’t need to ask questions and then read into how you asked the question and how you answered it, which is a very different skill, and one that is very valuable, but maybe not in this context. This kind of project, which is reading into yourself and how you respond to the product, is very empowering. It feels all of sudden not like a school project, but like you’re designing for real life, because the audience you’re designing for is in the room. A similar example is from the Marymount School FabLab, where students volunteered to staying late after school to work on their project, which was vinyl-cut decals for the school library. Because they knew it was going to be put into use, and also be personally useful for them, they demonstrated motivation above and beyond. I found this to be such a powerful tool for motivating students to get into their projects, that I decided to conduct a similar experiment on my peers. In this context I wanted to see if I could create excitement around a speculative project-based university level course, just by virtue of allowing the target audience to be us in the program.  We have a studio, there are fifteen of us in our class, so the assignment for this speculative class was to create a design offering for us in our space. They were encouraged to not start with ethnographic research, not with interviews, your only research is your intuition. I ran a short exercise, just five minutes long, and got people to generate lots of ideas for projects they would love to see happen for our studio space. The model for the class would be that the cohort would be divided up into groups, and each would spend a full seven weeks designing these offerings. There seemed to be a lot of excitement around it. It’s my


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hypothesis that if we’d actually moved forward with these projects, because we would directly benefit from the outcomes, it would add another layer of motivation to make the projects relevant, beautiful, and also truly useful. To me, that seems substantially more powerful than working for the grade. These are some of the ideas that the group came up with: Time not for assignments (sabbatical) Free resources for sharing - place (give and take) To do list in a discrete place Voting up and down requests Studio improvement day (desks, bins, beanbags, quiet room) Bar night Better food time - Wednesday night (challenge) Park day Yoga Movie on the projector sleepover Halloween in the studio


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T h e L e a r n i n g L a n d s c a p e s Fr a m e w o r k

Thinking about designing programs as landscapes with natural constraints (rules), missions (goals), and maps (feedback loops), provides a sophisticated frame for students to enter into any kind of highly personalized learning experience. And if the actual play and goals are enticing enough, then they afford a great way to motivate a learner without the need to bring grades into the discussion. • The Mission The Party Crew (Teams or solo) Roles (Specific responsibilities within teams) Allegiance (Competitive, collaborative, or both) The Goals Exploration (Expect the unexpected) Reconnaissance (Obtain specific knowledge) Conquest (Achieve mastery and control) The Outcomes Mapping (Visualizing expectations or documenting) Logging (An ongoing personal journal of the process) Appeal (Make a persuasive hypothesis) • The Climate The Natural Laws Boundaries (Reasonable constraints) Sunset (Predictable time limits) Equipment (Tools at your disposal) The Terrain Mountain (A laborious moment leading to a peak) Peak (A place where you see a lot of work ahead)  Cliff (Where the long route is the most efficient) Coast (A monotonous moment leading to a bend) Descent (An easy moment, but high risk of stumbling) Desert (A place providing no leads as where to head)


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Forest (A place where you lose all landmarks) Tunnel (Clear short term goals but no map) River (A seemingly impassible barrier) Riverbank (A safe path to follow with low risk) Sand (Where it seems like it should be moving faster) Swamp (Where each next step is possibly unsafe) • Tactics Wayfinding Landmarks (Places to look back upon or forward to) Monuments (Truths from the past, possibly arcane) Maps (Reliable information laying out possible paths) Resting Points Campsite (A place to stop and recap, set outcomes) Settlement (Satisfaction, no motivation to continue) Oasis (A place amongst adversity to recollect)


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W h at i f N e t w o r k s S u p p l a n t i n s t i t u t i o n s ?

How it happens: Institutions need to consider their own self preservation, so they are forced to make choices regarding which members are active enough that it is worth their time to support them. When the top 1% of any distribution curve is responsible for 25% of total contribution (or top 20% is responsible for 80% of the contribution), then it becomes simply unfeasible to chase down that final 20% of the resources if it would take 5x as much work. Distributed networks don’t suffer this problem because they don’t have to chase people down, rather they let people come to them. And it’s not that networks only pick up the final 20%, they get all 100%. How this affect behavior: It’s not economical for institutions to continue running at such exorbitant costs when they admittedly neglect 20% of the value of the group, so people stop investing in them. With such a viable alternative, the exclusive nature of institutions will only become more apparent. The centralized power shifts to the aggregation of the distributed networks that make it up. This transforms our government, financial, penal, legal, healthcare, and education systems. How this affects education: Curriculum becomes a much looser concept. What students need to know, what kind of people they need to be, becomes a localized decision. The values that carry the community come to define its education, but also the larger network of pedagogical thought that the school ascribes to will have more authority to define how it teaches. The most successful models persevere and many schools have to keep evolving until they figure out what works for them. More importantly, the communities can extend education beyond school making after-school and summer camp just as important parts of education as school itself. How this affects society: Suddenly everyone is represented, and with the agency to define how they believe their small share should


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function. All the good things that emerge from diversity remain, and are precipitated by the broadened access to information, while the negative aspect may be avoided. This future is fundamentally valueneutral. It would allow for really messed up people to form culture as well, but that’s the price to be paid for not having a centralized authority with a set of absolute values.


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D i sr u p t i v e E d u c a t i o n C o n f e r e n c e

The goal of this speculative conference is to help teachers who feel isolated from the larger educational movements that they wish they could identify with. The fact is that there are already a lot of great conferences out there, where educators come from around the country to learn from one another and return home inspired. What’s different about the Disruptive Education Conference, is that it’s bringing together, not teachers, but entrepreneurs who have developed organizations or platforms to support school teachers. It goes one step beyond Educational Technology (EdTech), to include the broader landscape of “informal” educational channels for students. As it is, the variety of opportunities that are offered supplementary to school, especially in New York, make for a very rich program. I can only imagine if they joined forces, they might be able to form a consortium credible enough to work in tandem with the school system to offer students a well-rounded education.


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L i v e A n i m at i o n L e c t u r e

When sales representatives go in front of an audience that they’re trying to sell to, there is no such thing as cheating. People’s attention spans are short and the more assets and tools they have to keep the attention on them, the better. Over the years, the practice has become refined. With some audiences, being too flashy or too loud can work against them, and in others there’s no such thing as overboard. They cater their pitch to the specific audience, because they know what will keep their attention, but even more importantly, what will allow them to connect with it viscerally, crave it practically, and align with it as a reflection of themselves. It’s not always so shallow, the art of persuasion, and it’s not always so manipulative. Teachers have a similar challenge. Their audience has a short attention span too, and they possess their own particularly taste. Teachers who refuse to cater to the preferences of their students risk losing their attention, and teachers who try too hard lose out as well. It’s really an art form to be able to know an audience so well as to design a lesson that fits their taste in just the right ways. But how is a teacher supposed to compete when students are so used to being compelled by incredible graphics, fast action, and everything on demand? Some companies, like BoomGen Studios, have made it their mission to create educational content at a quality that is cinematically comparable to pop-culture. While this serves everyone as a valuable resource on those subjects, most teachers, couldn’t make that kind of content if they wanted to, so they go back to the blackboard. I actually love the blackboard or white-board. It’s always such a shame when teachers only use it for text. It’s a huge canvas, and when it’s used well, it can be as engaging as any blockbuster film, if for no other reason than that it’s live. I’m used to drawing on the board while I teach, but usually I’ll spend a few minutes before class doing at least one or two


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really nice drawings to make the board more interesting. But while I’m talking I usually just write keywords and make little sketches or maps. In a ten-minute lecture on the convergence of informal and formal education, I challenged myself to up my game and animate everything I said in real-time. For inspiration, I drew from the success of digital teaching platforms like Common Craft and Khan Academy, who use real-time illustration with voice-over to stimulate both the visual and aural senses. A second inspiration was RSA Animate. They take the audio from brilliant lectures and illustrate the content over it. Of course, these videos are not done in real-time, or by the lecturers themselves, but they are completely engaging. I hope to continue refining the method to use in my own practice. 


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A n Ed T e c h D a y d r e a m

I love inventing futuristic technological devices. I easily could have spent the entirely of this thesis designing useful gadgets and software for classrooms. The problem is, the EdTech industry is exploding right now, and I’m not immersed in it, nor am I an interaction designer. Likely, whatever I’d design would already be on the market by the time I’d graduate. So, instead, I decided to write all my ideas into a narrative, and let the reader’s imagination fill in the details. Best-case scenario, some technological genius reads this story and turns one of the ideas into a million dollars and I get to feel good about having made school better for everyone. Darius is just finishing his coffee as the students start filing into the classroom. He drops the plastic cup in the sink before grabbing his mobile and taking a seat at the head of the search table. Meanwhile Erin is making light conversation with students as they unpack their bags into their cubbies. The familiar chatter of excited students, the hum of old radiators, the syncopated melodies of Dave Brubeck, Darius feels right at home amongst it all. He takes a deep breath, dropping his heart rate just enough before making eye-contact with the teacher module. His own voice comes through his hearing aid, “Good morning Darius, you seem relaxed.” The students are now standing in a circle with Erin, who is the class’ junior teacher. She’ll stay with this one group of students for the whole year, through all their subjects. In each student’s hearing aids, their individual music fades out and is replaced by a song with a steady bass and a predictable progression. A plump twelve-year-old named Miles and a tall eleven-year-old named Julian have been tasked with leading the stretches today.  “The  song is called  ’Still Here’ by Juggle,” Julian proclaims. It’s a big part of the job, choosing just the right song, and the students take it very seriously. “OK guys, first is calves,” Miles says, as he crosses his stubby legs and folds at the hips, grabbing his shoes with four fingers. Miles and Julian were assigned five muscles to stretch


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out on this wintry Monday morning. They know that how well they can answer questions about the muscle and how to do the stretch safely will be reflected in their weekly reports, but also how well they get the class pumped up to stretch. Erin’s keeping tabs as she participates in the stretching. Darius has been using the past five minutes to curate the recap. He selected a few short video clips, diagrams, and quotes from last week’s class and assembled it into a kind of collage. Each of the students takes a seat around the room - some on chairs, some on the floor, some on the bleachers - and pulls out their mobile, taking a deep breath before checking-in through eye-contact. As they explore the recap on their respective mobiles, they are encouraged to talk out loud, sharing sound-bites containing their reflections, or better still their way of understanding the concept. Darius watches the transcriptions of the sound-bites stream in, each linked to a specific video or quote, and he looks for patterns. Much of the time, the sound-bites will just let him know what from last week went over well, and what didn’t. But if there’s a too little feedback on any concept, or if there’s a clear misinterpretation of an idea, or if there’s anything worth noting, he’ll be sure to somehow get back to it at some point. Today, Darius finds that a handful of students have explained their own ways of remembering the differences between metaphor and simile, and so he decides to share them with the class. But Miles spends the while recap in silence, not leaving a single comment, so Darius makes a note to himself to take Miles aside when he gets the chance. Meanwhile Erin is walking around making sure that no-one is getting too distracted from the recap. In Colleen’s political history class, the students are learning about World War I, so Darius decides to use this as an opportunity to connect their subjects. At Erin’s suggestion, he’d talked to Colleen about it in Wednesday morning’s design session, so on Friday Colleen ran an activity for the class to help them understand what it might have been like to be confronted with the decision to enlist in that time.


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Knowing that the students had already gone through that, Darius broke up the students  into groups of three and had them read the classic poem “The Road Not Taken”, by Robert Frost. The students first unpacked the first layer of metaphor, one about making choices, but then going further, they looked for deeper meaning given the context in which the poem was written. Then they all come back together around a big table covered with a large sheet of paper and lots of pens. Darius poses the question, “Why does Robert build out this whole story about a forest, when really he’s talking about making life-decisions?” He asks them, before calling out the answers, to first write down their ideas anywhere on the paper and circle each idea they had. Darius got the sense that some of the students didn’t see how they could apply poetic devices, so he decided, rather than try and justify the value of it to the students, he’d play devil’s advocate and see if they couldn’t justify it to him. The students take the next ten minutes to walk around the paper, writing ideas as they talk to one another and read what other students have written. After the time’s up, Darius scans the large sheet in the room’s plotter and it’s sent to each student’s mobile. Each student then finds a spot to work and independently drags the ideas around the screen, clumping them into bins based on patterns they see. The students’ maps are then overlaid over  each other and projected onto the floor and everyone has to go stand by the bucket that they feel is the strongest argument. Each of the new groups takes a minute to talk about why they agree before one person is chosen to explain the ‘value’ they see in the use of the poetic devices of metaphor and simile. The students are then given five minutes  “break” to talk amongst themselves to come up with conversations that are hard to talk about with someone in particular. After five minutes, Erin stands at the white-board at the front of class and writes them down. Each student chooses one that they personally connect to, and is then encouraged to put their own music in their hearing-aid and think of a metaphor that


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would help communicate the difficult subject. Just as the students are finally settling down into their individual work, the lights flicker and a hum comes through the hearing aids. The students all calmly and silently stand up and line up at the door. Erin takes the lead and Darius follows behind as they make their way across the hall and down the stairs. The hallways are full of students walking in silence down toward the gym which was built entirely underground for exactly this purpose. Once all the students have arrived, they line up by grade and the junior teachers count the student off. The steel doors are air locked and the room is sealed. The principal, a tall woman named Ms. Laine, stands at the front of the room and speaks in a normal tone into everyones’ hearing aids, letting everyone know that it’s only a drill, but if it were the real thing that would have been almost forty seconds too slow. It was the third one of the day, but no one seems too bothered by it. They understand the purpose of the inconvenience and they take the principal’s warnings very seriously. In this day and age, one can never be too well prepared. That’s a lesson most of us know all too well.


B ib l i o g r a p h y

The bibliography contains a comprehensive list of references used in the course of research, design, and synthesis.


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Books and articles

Bloom, Benjamin Samuel. Taxonomy of educational objectives: the classification of educational goals. New York: McKay, 1956. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: the psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Perennial, 20081990. Delpit, Lisa D.. Other people’s children: cultural conflict in the classroom. New York: New Press, 1995. Derrida, Jacques, and Alan Bass. Writing and difference. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978. Dewey, John. Experience and Education. New York: Simon & Schuster, 19971938. Firestein, Stuart. Ignorance: how it drives science. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Frankfurt, Harry G.. On bullshit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the oppressed. 30th anniversary ed. New York: Continuum, 2000. Gagne, Robert M. The conditions of learning and theory of instruction. 4th ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1985. Hannigan, John. Fantasy city: pleasure and profit in the postmodern metropolis. London: Routledge, 1998. Huizinga, Johan. Homo ludens: a study of the play-element in culture. Boston: Beacon Press, 1981955.



Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013. Keller, John M.. Motivational design for learning and performance the ARCS model approach. New York: Springer, 2010. Kelley, Tom, and David Kelley. Creative confidence: unleashing the creative potential within us all. New York: Drown Business, 2013. Larsen, Elizabeth Foy, and Joshua Glenn. Unbored: the essential field guide to serious fun. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2012. LeFever, Lee. The art of explanation: making your ideas, products, and services easier to understand. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2013. Levinson, Stephen C.. Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge university press, 1995. Locke, John, and Ruth Weissbourd Grant. Some thoughts concerning education. Indianapolis [u.a.: Hackett Publ. Comp., 1996. McGonigal, Jane. Reality is broken: why games make us better and how they can change the world. New York: Penguin Press, 2011. Meadows, Donella H., and Diana Wright. Thinking in systems: a primer. White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green Pub., 2008. Norman, Donald A.. The design of everyday things. Revised and expanded ed. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2013. Nussbaum, Bruce. Creative intelligence: harnessing the power to create, connect, and inspire. New York: HarperBusiness, 2013. Pink, Daniel H.. Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. New York: Riverhead Books, 2011.


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Ritchhart, Ron, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison. Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 20112011. Rogers, Carl R.. Freedom to learn: a view of what education might become. Columbus, Ohio: C. E. Merrill Pub. Co., 1969. Sahlberg, Pasi, and Andy Hargreaves. Finnish lessons: what can the world learn from educational change in Finland?. New York: Teachers College Press, 2011. Salen, Katie, and Eric Zimmerman. Rules of play: game design fundamentals. [Nachdr.] ed. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.: The MIT Press, 2010. Schumacher, E. F.. Small is beautiful; economics as if people mattered. New York: Harper & Row, 1973. Seligman, Martin E. P.. Flourish: a visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press, 2011. Skinner, B. F.. The technology of teaching. Acton, Mass.: Copley Pub., 2003. Thackara, John. In the bubble Designing in a complex world. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005. Tough, Paul. How children succeed: Grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character.. s.l.: Mariner books, 2013. Vohs, K. D., J. P. Redden, and R. Rahinel. “Physical Order Produces Healthy Choices, Generosity, and Conventionality, Whereas Disorder Produces Creativity.” Psychological Science 24, no. 9 (2013): 18601867.



Wadsworth, Barry J.. Piaget’s theory of cognitive and affective development. Classic ed., 5th ed. Boston: Pearson/A and B, 2004. Wagner, Tony, and Robert A. Compton. Creating innovators: the making of young people who will change the world. New York: Scribner, 2012. Weiss, David S., and Claude P. Legrand. Innovative intelligence the art and practice of leading sustainable innovation in your organization. Mississauga, Ont.: John Wiley & Sons Canada, 2011. Zengotita, Thomas. Mediated: how the media shapes your world and the way you live in it. Pbk. ed. New York: Bloomsbury, 2006. Zhao, Yong. World class learners: educating creative and entrepreneurial students. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press, a Joint Publication with the National Association of Elementary School Principals, 2012. Zukav, Gary. The dancing wu li masters: an overview of the new physics. New York: Morrow, 1979. Internet Videos

Ariely, Dan. “The Truth About Dishonesty.” RSA Animate. http://www. Canada, Geoffery. “Our failing schools, enough is enough.” TED: Ideas worth spreading. failing_schools_enough_is_enough.html Carr-Chellman, Ali. “Gaming to re-engage boys in learning.” TED: Ideas worth spreading. gaming_to_re_engage_boys_in_learning.html


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Coplan, David. “Re-Imagining Work.” RSA Animate. http://www.thersa. org/events/rsaanimate/animate/rsa-animate-re-imagining-work DeWitt, Tyler. “Hey science teachers -- make it fun.” TED: Ideas worth spreading. teachers_make_it_fun.html Duckworth, Angela Lee. “The key to success is grit.” TED: Ideas worth spreading. to_success_grit.html Gilbert, Dan. “The surprising science of happiness.” TED: Ideas worth spreading. happy.html Harvey, David. “Crisis of Capitalism.” RSA Animate. http://www.thersa. org/events/rsaanimate/animate/rsa-animate-crisis-of-capitalism Krznaric, Roman. “The Power of Outrospection.” RSA Animate. http:// Leadbeater, Charles. “Education innovation in the slums.” TED: Ideas worth spreading. education.html McGilchrist, Iain. “The Divided Brain.” RSA Animate. http://www. Mitra, Sugata. “Build a school in the cloud.” TED: Ideas worth spreading. the_cloud.html Pink, Dan. “Drive.” RSA Animate. rsaanimate/animate/rsa-animate-drive Pinker, Steven. “Language as a Window into Human Nature.” RSA



Animate. Rifkin, Jeremy. “The Empathic Civilization.” RSA Animate. http://www. Robinson, Ken. “Changing Paradigms.” RSA Animate. http://www. Robinson , Ken. “How schools kill creativity.” TED: Ideas worth spreading. creativity.html Salecl, Renata. “Choice.” RSA Animate. rsaanimate/animate/choice Schell, Jesse. “When games invade real life.” TED: Ideas worth spreading. invade_real_life.html Schulz, Kathryn. “On being wrong.” TED: Ideas worth spreading. Schwartz, Barry. “Using our practical wisdom.” TED: Ideas worth spreading. practical_wisdom.html Sinek, Simon. “How great leaders inspire action.” TED: Ideas worth spreading. leaders_inspire_action.html


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Smith, Larry. “Why you will fail to have a great career.” TED: Ideas worth spreading. will_fail_to_have_a_great_career.html Taylor, Matthew. “21st Century Enlightenment.” RSA Animate. http:// Zimbardo, Philip. “The Secret Powers of Time.” RSA Animate. http://



This section contains all the supplementary material, including details of my field experience, book overviews, contact bios, and a list of inspiring education organizations.


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Fi e l d w o r k H av e r g a l j u n i o r s c h o o l The Institute at Havergal hosted a Day of Creativity with Purpose for Havergal’s Junior School. Their goal was to encourage the students to try and get a bit more comfortable showing vulnerability in their work, and to see all their work as creative, not just the arts. In the morning, the students watched an acrobatic show, performed by a group from Cirque du Soleil. The plot addressed themes of sustainability, and at a higher level, the relationship between creativity and vulnerability. Like a seed needs the right conditions to grow, creativity needs certain conditions as well. The kids were encouraged to experience that freedom through a series of drama games. In the afternoon, students worked in groups to express their understanding of creativity in the medium of their choosing. One group made a collage, another made a skit, other groups wrote a song, or choreographed a dance, or made illustrations. I was involved in the planning process, and in preparing the teachers to work with the groups on their respective projects. More importantly, I was documenting the day’s activities and transforming them into a video and presentation so that the Institute would be able to explain to the parents and the larger community why they’d taken a full day away from studies to bolster their students’ creative confidence.




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Mobile Quest This project is one example of technology being used for educational purposes to enable an opportunity that would otherwise be impossible. I didn’t design this program, it was created by the Institute of Play, but I was one of the head teachers at the multi-session week-long day camp. At Mobile Quest we had kids learn basic principles of game design by giving them the chance to design games of their own using an online location-based game design platform. That means that kids were able to take what they’d learned about game design, and create a fully functioning game by the end of the week. The program they learned, Aris, lets them drop interaction points on a map interface. They could set up various different kinds of interactions like plaques, characters, or items, and compose them into a narrative that would serve their game. When the game is ready, it can be played in the urban environment on an iPhone. Throughout the week we had students setting up their games, and on the final day everyone, parents, kids, and staff showed up at the designated field by the Hudson to play each other’s location-based games.



Short Circuit The Institute of Play after-school program, Short Circuit, was a chance for sixth and seventh grade students to meet twice a week and develop their own design projects using whatever technology would suit their needs. I co-ran the program with Don Miller. At the end of the semester-long program, the students submitted their projects to the Emoticon competition at Parsons, which is usually for high-schoolers, and one of our students took home the first place prize. What was so special about the program was that the students’ projects were so different, and with my design sensibility and Don’s technological fluency, there was not really a project we couldn’t help the kids make into a reality. One project was a device for parents to know if their kids were sneaking out. It was installed on the kid’s windowsill and would send a text message to the parent’s phone if the window was opened after 10pm. The winning project was a snake-like game that the student designed in Scratch, and a custom controller that he’s designed with an Arduino.


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M e r K a B a at t h e J e w i s h M u s e u m The Jewish Museum invited Liz and me to design a family workshop using 3D printers and to do with the exhibit by ThreeAsFour, called MerKaBa. With the five families that came, we had a discussion about beauty and the various ways in which we come to understand it. We specifically were interested in finding patterns in nature, and the numerology that underpins those patterns. We then introduced the group to Inkscape, a free vector illustration program, and had them create their own geometries. While we printed out their custom shapes, we gave them some standard shapes and encouraged them to use them as stencils to make handmade cards.



O t h e r Pr i m a r y S t r u c t u r e s Liz and I returned to the Jewish Museum to run a professional development class for teachers using 3D printers. The class was based off the exhibit “Other Primary Structures”, a show in which intersecting primitive shapes interacted with the gallery space in interesting ways. We began the program by introducing the programs Tinkercad, and the other software they would need to make a 3D printed object. We then broke up the group of forty teachers into six groups and gave them the connectors I’d designed for the PopTech conference, as well as some that Liz had designed specifically for this workshop. We gave them twenty minutes to build a structure out of straws and the connectors, and then another twenty minutes afterwards to try and 3D model it in TinkerCad. The best models were eventually printed.


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B otC a m p Botcamp was a series of three one-week programs for middle-school aged kids. I ran the program for all six weeks and managed the structure of the program. Liz Arum was supporting me technically through the first few weeks. She also provided me with options of products that the group could design, and the technical expertise to build the electronics and 3D print. The three programs were divided by theme and learning objective. Light: DIY, Sound: Engineering, Motion: Storytelling. The first week, Light, was an introduction to the world of DIY. Each week had three projects that increased in difficulty. By the end of the five-day camp, most of the kids went home with at least two working products. The first light project was the 3D design and printing of a little flashlight with a projection disk so that when it was on, it would project the disk’s shadow onto the wall. For this project they used Tinkercad. This was also an opportunity for them to learn to solder a simple LED circuit with a switch. The second project was a lamp made of three lithopanes. A lithopane is an image that looks three dimensional because of the changing thickness of the material. Thingiverse has a great customizer that allows anyone to turn images into lithopanes for 3D printing. The students went online and found images that they wanted to turn into lithopanes, and then designed the fixture to hold the lithopanes and LED’s in place. The third project was a music box, and was by far the most complicated. It involved assembling a circuit with a motor activated by a light-sensor, and designing a “ballerina” that would spin when the box would be opened and light would hit the sensor. It also had a song that would play when the box was open. The second week, Sound, was an introduction to the world of Design and Engineering. The three projects in the second week demanded an even higher level of technical skill and attention to detail.




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The first project was a small horn with a complex curve. It was really an introduction to 123D Design, the modeling program they’d be using the rest of the week. It also served as an opportunity to make a simple circuit that could play a tune stored on a chip. The second project was a toy organ that was run off a circuit using a variety of capacitors to make a sequence of pitches, like a little piano. The students then had to design an enclosure for their instrument, 3D model it and print it. The final project was the most sophisticated. It involved creating a fully functioning battery-powered speaker, which could be used with any device, like an iPhone. The students who were more advanced by the end of the week were even able to build a bass speaker into their unit. Once they had the circuit working, playing music, they designed the body on the computer and 3D printed it for assembly. While this was the most advanced project we ran, it was also the most loved because the kids could take it home and really make use of it. The third week, Motion, was about storytelling. In this program we didn’t focus 3D modeling or circuitry, but more on 3D scanning, cleaning up digital files, and making stop-motion animations. The first project was to get a successful digital scan of each person in the class to make everyone their own action figure. The second and final project for this group was to make a stop motion animation using iStopMotion, making at least some of the sets, characters, or props on the 3D printer. First they made a sample movie to get used to iStopMotion. Then they started writing their scripts. Once they had a bill of their characters, sets, and props, we discussed what made sense to print, and what should be made from craft materials. One of my favorite stories from this project was when one kid started printing this massive sheet of plastic, pretty much dimensionally identical to a piece of cardboard. That was a great teaching opportunity for me, to have to explain why if something can be made from cardboard, it should be. Apparently, it really has to be taught that the 3D printer is just another tool in the shop, and that it’s not right for every application. On the final day we had a Film Festival and the kids were interviewed for a local news channel.



PopTech Conference Following this work over the summer teaching using 3D printers, I was invited to the PopTech conference in mid-October to sit on a panel and share some of my insights into the usefulness of new tools in educational environments. Leading up to the panel, Richard Tyson and I, had stationed two 3D printers in the break area of the opera house where the lectures were taking place. One printer was working hard making “teachable objects”, and Richard presented the opportunity for teachers to craft their own personalized artifacts to compliment their lessons. The other printer was playing its part in an ongoing iterative design process that I was running. The attendees were given drinking straws, and we’re challenged to design 3D printed parts that would connect the straws to construct the them into structures. As people mocked-up their ideas with modeling clay, I manipulated 3D models on the 60” monitor and the printer printed the little connectors. The idea was to represent the value of 3D printers both for their ability to make tangible digital data, and for its usefulness in a prototyping process. The challenge of building a structure was chosen because it’s something that’s particularly difficult to design without building it up in the real world. At the panel discussion, I addressed the challenges that come with novelty in a new technology. On one hand, I explained the unique opportunity that comes with new technology, because the process is not yet codified, so teacher have more room to play. This play is permitted and even encouraged because everyone is just so excited to see the thing print. On the other hand, it’s easy to get distracted by the new toy, and start printing for printing’s sake, in which case, I argued, what is really the lesson?


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Teachers from around the Northeast approached me talking about their experiences with 3D printers, and exchanging tips to yield the best results. Through the conference, I at once formalized my insights from my experience teaching with technology, and gained exposed to many potential partners using technology to achieve the most fundamental human objectives, like making and learning.



L REI h i g h s c h o o l This four-hour workshop was co-run by Zena Verda Pesta and me at Little Red Elizabeth Irwin School for a group of eight eighth-grade students. Zena helped me develop the concept and was at LREI facilitating the session with me, but she took a back seat on the design of the program itself. The goal of this workshop was to have students challenge their own assumptions regarding the existing traditions and rules that they actively engage with. Through a process of concepting, prototyping, testing, and reflecting, we had the students create an alternate society in which they were free to make the rituals and laws, which govern daily life. It would have been too difficult for the students to design a completely new society without any constraints, so we roped them in with a bit of narrative. Part I: The Letter

Dusk, May the third, year fifteen hundred thirteen

This letter comes from Captain Louis Richard of His Majesty’s ship The Winter’s Edge. We left the coast of Calcombe eighteen weeks ago in search of new lands to claim for His Majesty’s Kingdom. Today that voyage comes to an abrupt end. These folk who carry this letter were my crew. They are loyal and trustworthy members of His Majesty’s fleet, and I hope you see to it they are appropriately accommodated as such. Sixteen years I’ve been at sea and I’ve not seen a storm quite like this. It is as though a drain were pulled from the bottom of the gulf and swallowed everything in its path, fish, water, and vessels alike. At high noon today, under a cloudless sky, me and my crew of twenty-five


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departed the peninsula the natives call Mikata heading southwest into the gulf. We sailed as planned for some hours until, at a moment’s notice, a wall of cloud flew toward us from the southeast. I knew we’d not make it back to Mikata before the storm would reach us, and being unfamiliar with the unexplored gulf, we pressed on, praying to find refuge. But we were not so lucky. The winds spun our great ship nearly capsizing us, the waves hurled against our hull like cannonballs, and lightning crashed all around us. As the mast fell and gargantuan waves flooded the deck, I gave my final command as captain and ordered my crew to abandon ship. This note that they carry, should it come into the hands of some benevolent soul, should relate their courage and loyalty to their captain, ship, and nation. They would have surely stayed aboard with me to drown with The Winter’s Edge had I not ordered them to do otherwise. Their resourcefulness, strong moral code, and will to survive will keep them safe from the elements. My only fear is that they be mistaken as deserters when they were in fact the finest crew a captain could wish for. Signed Captain Louis Richard of The Winter’s Edge

They were told: You were Captain Richard’s crew, but he went down with the ship. As the sun was rising, you found yourselves, the lucky few who survived, on the beach of a strange and uninhabited land. Carrying only what you could on your backs, you began to ascend the steep escarpment that separated the beach from the inland. You walked many miles through jungle and marsh seeking fresh water and shelter until you came upon a clearing in the thicket and just on the edge of it, the rush of a natural spring. The perfect place to settle. You foraged for food, set up shelter, and under the tropical sky, the gulf to the east and the mountains to the west, you began to make a life.



And then they were given five minutes to ask for whatever details they wanted about their past or the land on which they were marooned, and I made up the answers however I pleased, going into more detail than they’d asked for. Part II: The Mission The group was asked to lay out the core values of their society, mapping it out, and honing in on key words and ideas. Then they had to write a declaration (the values written out in full sentences). They had to think about behaviors. What can people not do because it would go against your values? Make legislature (write out things that you can not do in your society). Think about rights. What should everyone be entitled to? Be practical, not abstract like in values. Make a constitution (list rights that no one can take away from you). Part III: Identity Find a word or a theme or a series of words or themes that represents your core values. Make a name for your society riffing off that theme. Create two-dimensional symbols and choose colors that represent your core values. Make a flag that presents any combination of those colors and symbols. Part IV: Culture and Ritual What are the kinds of behaviors that you want your people to do in order to live lives in accordance with your values? Add a layer of meaningful experience to a routine activity or create a new activity entirely. Make at least five rituals (daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, once-perlifetime)


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Rituals often rely on cultural artifacts. Some are totems (representational) and some are functional. Scavenge the school for supplies to use for making rituals. Part V: Life as Usual You made up these rituals, now do them. Go through each of the rituals as a group. No laughing. Take it seriously. Feel free to make modifications as you go. Part VI: Discussion Did the rituals you made reflect the values you laid out? What are some rituals and traditions you do in your life? How do you feel when asked to do things you don’t understand? Why do you think those specific rituals were put in place initially?



Book Overviews P e d a g o g y o f t h e O p p r e ss e d ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ questions the basic role of education, whether that be socialization or empowering students. The basic argument is that there is no such thing as neutral education. “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

F lo w ‘Flow’ explains how we invest our psychic energy in an attempt to achieve optimal experience. Flow is obtained when high skill is equal to the challenge, resulting in total engagement and ultimately growth. “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.”


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Reality is Broken ‘Reality is Broken’ makes the claim that we should use games beyond just the entertainment industry. All games have four traits: A goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation. “In today’s society, computer and video games are fulfilling genuine human needs that the real world is currently unable to satisfy. Games are providing rewards that reality is not. They are teaching and inspiring and engaging us in ways that reality is not. They are bringing us together in ways that reality is not.”

Making Thinking Visible ‘Making Thinking Visible’ addresses the importance of meta-cognition concerning how we think, and offers a series of strategies that teachers can use to help students visualize that process. “[Students] may be doing more learning about the subject than learning to do the subject. To develop understanding of a subject area, one has to engage in authentic intellectual activity. That means solving problems, making decisions, and developing new understanding using methods and tools of the discipline.”



Drive ‘Drive’ questions the assumption that traditional incentives have similar impact towards motivating creative work as with rote work. The insight is that our current models actually stunt innovation, whereas to generate creativity an organization should offer autonomy, mastery, and purpose. “The problem with making an extrinsic reward the only destination that matters is that some people will choose the quickest route there, even if it means taking the low road. Indeed, most of the scandals and misbehavior that have seemed endemic to modern life involve shortcuts.”

Thinking in Systems ‘Thinking in Systems’ reveals how in fact our who perception of reality is a model of reality as defined by the patterns we recognize. Coming to see all decisions within their larger systems will yield more sustainable results. “A system is an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something. If you look at that definition closely for a minute, you can see that a system must contain three kinds of things: elements, interconnection, and a function or purpose... An important function of almost every system is to ensure its own perpetuation.”


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C o n ta c t B I O S Liz Arum Where we met: We worked together at the Makerbot Foundation, a non-profit offering social value projects using 3D printing. Our major collaboration was BotCamp hosted at NYU Poly. It was a series of six one-week camps where we taught principles of 3D printing with other learning objectives. We used it as an opportunity to iterate on curricula and compare a variety of software tools. We are still working together through the Special Project Office. Expertise: Liz is an expert in 3D printing. She was part of the original Breaker group. She worked at Makerbot as the educational coordinator for years and teaches at St. Ann’s. Discussion: 3D printers can have real value in teaching, but without the skills and understanding of the potential the tool holds, many teachers are unable to develop their own projects around them. Instead they resort to a sampling of projects that often fail to relate to any learning objectives beyond the experience of getting to see a part printing. The 3D printer is a tool, and it requires a whole new skill set to use it effectively. We need to teach the skills to create, not just execute. Projects: curriculum.makerbot - Online resource for project-based lessons using electronics and 3D printing as well as other digital media. Also her technology class at St. Ann’s School.



J u l i e tt e L a m o n ta g n e Where we met: We were introduced though Lisa Yokana at the Scarsdale High School innovation session. Expertise: Juliette was a teacher for more than a decade. Like many teachers, she felt that she wasn’t going to be able to impact the system from within it. She decided that she could make the most significant change by cultivating public-private partnerships. That’s when she started Project Breaker. Discussion: You don’t need to supply very much in a business incubator. The participants themselves come in with a variety of skills and networks that they can tap into. The main offering that an incubator provides is the chance to work with one another. They may already have access to each other, but without the framework of a project, the opportunity to collaborate is often missed. Those institutions that have succeeded in shifting their culture have often relied on a visionary strong leader, but those are in short supply and increasingly people are not interested in becoming teachers, let alone principals. Projects: Project Breaker, expanding to Portland and across America, Partnerships with PIE


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Richard Tyson Where we met: Richard taught a course at Products of Design in the fall semester of 2012. addressing systems, the scales they exists at, The class was an introduction to thinking about product and service offerings with regard to the scale they impact and their larger systemic consequences. Expertise: Richard has always worked on wicked problems, specifically concerned with social injustice and human rights. He is a bonafide systems thinker. Discussion: Different people have different goals for schools: Knowledge, socialization, enlightenment. Can we even hope to all agree about the goal of education? Even if we all agree that the system doesn’t align with our values, it should be acknowledged that we always hold onto systems longer than they work. We need moments of failure to see the cracks in things, and those failures shouldn’t and couldn’t be avoided, because they serve as the evidence for change. If we want people to reframe their perspectives and practice empathy, engage them in negotiations and collaborations with other people. Projects: The Special Project Office



Sean Justice Where we met: We were introduced though Liz Arum. Liz was invited to give a talk about the teaching potential of 3D printers in the classroom, and she invited me to come with her to Columbia to address the group of student-teachers. Sean also was on a panel at NY3DP, talking about using additive digital manufacturing in the classroom setting. Expertise: Sean’s background is in fine art. He teaches teachers to approach high-tech like any artistic medium, by getting your hands dirty. Discussion: There is a delicate balance between being formulaic in frameworks for learning with new media and giving total space for free exploration. New technology should be approached the same way, as a material like any other. Most teachers come in expecting how to learn how to use new digital tools in a step-by-step fashion, but if you tell them to trust their intuition and explore, you allow them to surprise themselves, and even come up with things you wouldn’t have taught. It also helps teachers remember that learning something for the first time can be hard, and allows them to better empathize with their students. Projects: Various class at the Teacher’s College: Coding, Digital Fabrication, and Photography in the Classroom


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Lo u L a h a n a Where we met: We met at a panel hosted by NY3DP. We were introduced by Liz Arum. Expertise: Lou was a librarian for years. He now teaches students to address social issues that they identify with personally, using a variety of media that they learn largely through self-directed project-based work. He also has a PhD in project-based learning through technologyenabled social action. Discussion: There’s a misrepresentation that some students don’t care about anything, but there’s no denying the evidence that emerges from a good project, in the form of student work. Teachers need to be building portfolios of their students’ work if this is going to spread. Fundamentally, it’s about passion-based learning. This presents a completely new approach to technology. It allows students to pursue a highly personalized project, rather than just adding on layers to the current model of teaching. It’s difficult for teachers to transition into being ‘creatives’ and marking subjectively, but it’s needed. Projects: The Techbrarian - Blog of resources to utilize technology in classrooms.



Ann Peel Where we met: We worked together on the Day of Creativity with Purpose at Havergal College in 2013. I’ve since worked with the Institute on their innovation plan. Specifically we’ve strategized about how they might better document and share the insights from the innovative programs that they run. Expertise: Ann used to be a professional runner, so she is very in tune with the fact that students learn in various different ways. She seeks to nurture all those learning opportunities through her work. Discussion: In conversations, teachers are on board with the philosophy of progressive education, but in practice they are too defensive about their autonomy in teaching to put it into practice. There is just not a culture of collaboration between teachers. Part of it is that they don’t sense the urgent need to innovate. As they see it, they are already teaching creatively, and they don’t need help. That’s a huge problem, because even the scope of their creativity is limited by their mental model of the classroom functioning in a certain way. If we could get teachers working together, they’d come up with much higher-level creative ways to achieve their learning objectives. Projects: The Institute at Havergal and Forum for Change


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Pa u l K a ss e l Where we met: Introduced though Liz Arum. He was also on the panel hosted by NY3DP at LREI. Expertise: Paul’s background is in theater. He is in the process of establishing a FabLab at the art school in New Paltz, and has been collaborating with the science department around the lab. Discussion: The scientist asks why, the artist asks why not. People don’t invest time unless they see immediate results, but some things are wait and see. We need to keep a beginner’s mind. We need to encourage our teachers to continue developing themselves, but giving them sabbaticals, and hiring strategically. Projects: FabLab at New Paltz SUNY, developing partnerships with the school of science and engineering.



Stephen Duncombe Where we met: Stephen came in as a guest critic for our final presentations in our Point of View class. We were introduced by Rob Walker. Expertise: Stephen writes and teaches on the subject of utopia. He also runs workshops using the utopia framework to generate creativity. According to him, utopia is always unattainable, and therefore serves the sole purpose of provoking people’s imaginations without having them get hung up on the technicalities of how it would manifest. Discussion: After so many years of students practicing looking for the ‘right’ answer that the teacher is expecting, one of the main challenges for teachers is getting students to think ‘outside of the box’. One good way to do that is to start with their desired end-state and work backwards. Ask for unrealistic answers, get into farfetched situations and then pare them down until they’re attainable. Working outwards from what’s possible limits one’s capacity to innovate. That being said, completely unguided brainstorming allows people to fall into old habits. Labels are also important. Calling people “artists” allows them to grant themselves permission to explore their creativity. Projects: Artistic Activism, Utopia class at NYU Gallatin


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G a b r i e ll e S a n ta - D o n at o Where we met: Introduced though Lisa Yokana at the Scarsdale High School innovation session. Expertise: Gabrielle holds a degree from Harvard in Arts and Education, she now works with the Future Project supporting innovation in schools. She has researched psychology and education primarily. Discussion: There is already the opportunity to bring Educational Technology into schools. The problem is that schools have become very comfortable in their routines. Compared to changing the school’s culture or infrastructure, bringing in a consultant to help the teachers or students is a relatively cost effective option, although not the most sustainable. Projects: The Future Project, The Harvard Innovation Lab



Brie Bunges Where we met: Introduced through Ariana Koblitz. They worked together when they were both in the bay area. Expertise: Brie has a computer science degree with a focus on Hardware Platform Interface. She recently had an internship developing a social network for users of the Khan Academy site. Up until her involvement, Khan motivated students with comprehensive progress reports and badges, but the social network was a first attempt to augment that with layers of peer-motivation and pride. Discussion: Technology is changing how teachers offer personalized education to their students, adding layers of game elements and multimedia. However, since different subjects need to be taught in their respective methods, there is no one platforms that should be adopted across the board. As Bill Gates said, Khan Academy should focus on math, since they do that so well, and not try and apply their method to humanities, for example. The goal is that learning should be self-directed, but it’s important to not have teachers feel robbed of their authority, rather they should feel that the platform is alleviating some of the pressure put on them to perform on a daily basis. Projects: Software engineer at an undisclosed mobile payments startup.


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Darius White Where we met: We were introduced through Ariana Koblitz. Expertise: Darius is a teacher at REALM, the only charter school in Berkeley, California, and almost entirely comprised of minorities. He teaches 7th grade English and History using the frame of his students’ personal experiences. He also holds a degree from Stanford. Discussion: Students come into school with all sorts of predispositions. We need to challenge those assumptions. That happens if we see the students as participants in learning. Their past experiences are a valuable resource for teachers, and they should tap into it. If we treat them like people, then we can break down the ‘school-mindset’ that inhibits learning. We need to embrace the ugliness and uncertainty of asking students what they think, let them try and fail, make connections between subjects, ask them how the world might be, let them draw from their own experience. Maybe teachers need to ask themselves more, “would I like to sit through my own lesson?” Projects: 7th grade English and Math at Realm



S a l i n a G r ay Where we met: Introduced through Darius White. Salina has been a mentor to Darius on all things education. Expertise: Salina’s work primarily concerns the under-representation of the black and Latino communities in the scientific disciplines. She is in her final year in Stanford’s PhD program. Discussion: In order to tackle sensitive subjects in the classroom, like racial discrimination, teachers need to first be able to address them openly. One way to avoid getting people feeling defensive is to put it all in historical context, and acknowledge that the participants are not actually being accused of anything. Projects: Teaches a Digital Thinking curriculum around perceptions of race in science, and her dissertation.


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O r g a n i z at i o n s Project Breaker Riverdale Country School Khan Academy TrueSchool Studio Brooklyn Lab School New York Collective of Radical Educators Marymount FabLab The Dalton School Quest2Learn The Institute of Play Little Red Elizabeth Irwin City and Country TechChange Edutopia The Network for Public Education Center for Bits and Atoms Girls who Code NYC3DP Project H Design Education 2025 Realm Charter School EdTalks Skaffl Share My Lesson Boomgen Studios Rocketship Edgenuity Carpe Diem Education Next Innosight Institute NY DOE iZone 360 High School Everywhere


The Teacher's Lounge: A Master's Thesis  
The Teacher's Lounge: A Master's Thesis  

This thesis deconstructs the complex education landscape, uncovering tensions that exist, and revealing opportunities for design to make an...