As the float plane circled Davidof Lake and into a spiral upward out of the remote lakeside encampment (we had called home) there were multiple thoughts in my mind.  The first was what an endeavor I was involved in.  Our capable pilot let us know by radio prior to pick up that we needed to be prepped and ready to go once he landed as weather (fog and cloud cover) was opening but would soon return.  Once on-board (engine not idled), the pilot quickly took us and circled the lake to “corkscrew” (all apologies to Bush Pilots who may call this otherwise) out of our pristine remote locale.  I knew this pilot and trusted him, having flown Southeast Alaska (a few times….), but his intensity, focus and ability on this trip took me.  The plane shook (as de Havillond Beavers do upon take off) as the pilot intensely took us aloft and flew with purpose.  Seeing the clouds close above closing, he saw a pathway where the lake overflows into a brilliant canyon. Flying through the canyon (and yards from the Lake), he descended to the ocean only then to regain altitude and fly us into to Sitka. The intense and unbelievable possibility of doing what we had just done sunk in to my bones.  The accuracy and intensity of the pilot and his creativity, unwavering belief in what’s possible, and then the sanguine flight across an expansive ocean reminded me of how important it is to imagine, believe and do….now.

You know when you are amidst something special, when the feeling of that float plane adventure comes back.  When I talk and collaborate with my Wife and Charlie Richardson, Shoshana Zuboff, Jake Maxmin,  Rob Greco, Grant Lichtman, Bo Adams, Brett Jacobsen and Scott Looney, Shane Krukowski,  Jim Groom, Audrey Waters…. I get that feeling of flying out of Davidof Lake again. When I watch Michael Wesch discuss becoming Knowledge-Able vs Knowledgable, I get that feeling again.

What binds us all is a feeling and  belief that the educational community to come is not only possible but underway.  A belief in the process, driven by a strong understanding of why the field of education needs change, a penchant for designing interventions that will Mutate education, and the ability to iterate as needed to see a pathway to our goals.

Over the coming months, I will write a series of posts on my current project: GEMS World Academy Chicago.  As CIO and Director of Academic Technology I am supporting four educational innovations to scale in PK-12 1:


For students to become global citizens they must think and act as self directed learners. From the earliest years we inspire our students to ask more questions than they answer, follow their interests and passions and act as part of a community to identify and work towards solving real world problems. As the years progress our programs support self directed and interdisciplinary/transdisciplinary project based learning which start with student interests and questions about the world. In groups and as individuals students find relevant problems, ask ever more complex questions, work with mixed research methods (both in the city and online), analyze, synthesize and reflect on their work through portfolio’s of understanding and action. Students share their work with the world through service and exhibition.


For students to become global citizens they must explore, ask questions, observe, empathize and act in the world without borders. During the year a minimum of four hours each week is dedicated to learning outside of the school building in local landscapes. Through a pioneering landscape as learning initiative, students closely engage their local community through field study based mobile learning labs. Through multimedia data collection using iPads and other tools, students experience the sensory aspects of their community while learning about systems, empathizing with others and contributing through engaging projects and meaningful service. This learning in the real world, looks and feels like the real world thus creating the conditions for a fundamental expansion of where and how learning happens. We believe the disposition of seeing and studying the world as it is and working on how it might be otherwise, is at the root of global citizenship, community based learning, internship and entrepreneurial studies.


For students to become global citizens they need to connect and collaborate across the world in rich and purposeful experiences. Our connected and blended learning program provides a landscape where the internet supports and enhances interactions in real time and anytime. We encourage and support our teachers to engage in a wide array of connected and blended learning with their classes. Our connected and blended learning innovation allows for:

● Co-learning and creation across continents, oceans and cultures giving our students a direct and experiential way of using the internet as a mediating force in learning.
● An extensive digital documentation system allows for self, peer, teacher, parent and community assessment for learning.
● An ePortfolio platform allows students to collect, select, reflect, and project on their learning.
● Networks to connect, aggregate, remix, repurpose and feed forward work and the work of the world.


For students to become global citizens they need a school that promotes self organization, inquiry innovation, and futures thinking. Our physical school has interactive whiteboards throughout the building, on every floor, in hallways and in classrooms along with networked computer stations, hydroponic plant labs, weather stations and much more. At any moment a few students or a whole class can connect with peers or mentors from around the world to discover and learn together in real time throughout the day. Using these tools students also can connect the data from their projects in growing sustainable food systems, tracking weather and climate patterns, or how play effects our learning to a global consortia of other individuals, schools and organizations. Through these interactions students are encouraged to understand how their school functions as part of a global “internet of things”.

In each of these innovations I am struck by the intensity and passion displayed in the praxis of the educators I am working with right now. Their embrace of something very different from any other school has me on edge with excitement and possibility.  As I look out from the “floatplane” this time, its not old growth forest and pristine oceanscapes I see, but rather the landscape of three quarters of humanity–the city.  What canyon we find to fly, and ocean we decide to traverse, is our to decide.  I hope you find the story inspiring.

A [person] who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn no other way-Twain


Without question, experiential learning enhances scholastic  learning….this type of learning builds confidence, encourages risk  taking, reduces the fear of failure, gives oxygen to collaboration,  nurtures imagination, promotes problem solving, allows reverie, and  grows a taproot from which scholastic learning flowers”.- MacKenzie

1 My acknowledgement to the foundational design and praxis from (Steele-Maley, Richardson, C. 2012) The Bridge Year at Kieve-Wavus, Project Foundry Schools, SuperFlux….et al.



In 2010 I showed an undergraduate class in instructional technology I was teaching Sugata Mitra’s TED Talk The Child Driven Education .  As we finished, I asked them to develop questions for our next  seminar on new learning ecologies and opened the floor to immediate questions and discussion.  Though a blended class, I had shown this film face to face so that I might see the reactions of these soon to be minted teachers. They were silent until an older student in a midlife career change asked the critical question…. “what did he mean when he said ‘if machines could replace a teacher’ they should?” From there, the discussion flowed beautifully.  That conversation persisted for the rest of the course and, I hope, beyond.
In that class and many others, I have tried to guide deliberation with big questions about humans, design and practice– not offering technology as some cut away all powerful and intervening point of its own. Technological tools in the hands of humans can be used to innovate, expand and open our social economic and environmental frontier. An iPad used by a second grader to answer the questions she has co-developed by collecting participatory data for a global & multi-sited project on water quality is powerful.  Crowd sourcing people (student partners, mentors, etc. . . ) to support the learning process via the vast landscape of the internet is powerful.  Focus on the action, the social construct, the learning involved, not the structures of “school” or “positions” and you have the aims of education alight and aloft–in practice. That said, technology today is being used to replicate the 20thcentury models of education anew.  The replacement of textbooks “online”, the “flipping” of didactic instruction to the web and the adaptive learning wave seem to inflame institutional immunity to change, not reflect what is needed in our rapidly changing world.  I will admit that technology, used to replicate 20th century teaching challenges the salience of teaching–a very stark realization.  Enter Sugata.

Sugata challenges, inspires and infuriates the educational community.  He is an educator and a futurist who, through his design research projects, has created a series of design fictions, described by Bruce Sterling as “the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change.”

Take a look at his TED Wish again:


Sugata is not advocating that technology replace humans, rather that humans use technology  to envision, design and practice within new ecologies of learning. He posits that the teacher’s role today is to “set the learning in motion” and that “educational self organization Its not about making learning happen its about letting it happen.” He also asks a  wondrous question in the Ted talk… we “want to be spare parts for a massive supercomputer in the future?”.  Sugata is challenging us to a global deliberation, to join a global research project, to observe, question, experiment, network and associate.  To me, this is the way human agency is embedded in technology and innovation.  Deliberation, decision making, prototyping, iteration all involve the designer and end user to be involved as active and connected agents in learning–if not this, what is the aim of education?

Sugata recently headlined The Oppi Festival with a host of others I respect dearly including Yong Zhao, Tony Wagner and Doug Belshaw. According to this post, Sugata continues to ruffle feathers in certain circles of education while according to this post he continues to inspire.  Sugata is doing exactly what he set out to do, and he is doing it well.

Are you engaging with Sugata in his research, incorporating his ideas into your design and practice as an educator?  I would love for you to leave information on your project, commentary and links.



Design Fiction and Prototyping Disruption

I was amazed by this Bruce Sterling talk at NEXT 13 that Audrey Waters forwarded. She mentions going over the talk again and again….I can see why:

Though Sterling situates a role for design fiction in the disruptive innovation/innovators landscape (for a VERY talented crowd at NEXT13 ) he does much more in this talk.  His call for a networked civil world is stunning, his scolding questions to the crowd about the facile nature of innovation and humanity even more so.

I realize now that so much of my instructional design has started with  what I could call design fiction (though I have called it theorizing).  My good friend Rob Greco has long discussed design fiction and encouraged me to think more broadly about the space.  I will be doing this more over the year and exploring the obvious nexus between design fiction and the design thinking/making/diy movements afoot in education. This quote from Boulding (1996) keeps surfacing for me…..

Imagining how events could be otherwise than they are is a hallmark freedom and power of human beings. Making social imagination work for us involves us in new concepts and principles, in new ways of using our minds to grasp complexities we do not yet comprehend. Thinking this way helps us construct new social realities both locally and globally. Social imagination is not merely for the sake of of academic knowing; it must include our feelings, and it must include our acting.- D. Bob Gowin in Boulding (1998)

Here are a few links that Sterling mentions about those leading in the design fiction/human-design-innovation space.

Superflux: “is a collaborative design practice working at the intersection of
emerging technologies and everyday life to design for a world in flux.”

The Near Future Laboratory: who’s “goal is to understand how imaginations and hypothesis become materialized to swerve the present into new, more habitable near future worlds.”

Arup Forsight: who “research and raise awareness about the major challenges affecting the built environment and their implications. We also run events to help clients think more creatively about the long term future, and to manage risk and uncertainty more effectively.”

Design Interaction Program at RCA: who “are interested in the social, cultural and ethical consequences of emerging technologies, and this means asking probing questions through design. To this end, we encourage students to consider the implications, as well as the applications, of new technologies, and thus to seek fresh approaches to interaction design – approaches that are meaningful and relevant today. In short, we see this field of design as a fertile way of thinking about the life around us, within us, and in the future beyond us”.


Place and play

play and place: transforming environments

“Before reading these programme notes it would be particularly valuable to reflect for a few moments upon any special places you had as a child and to jot down some notes for yourself. Were any of these places found or made by you? In what physical environment(s) were these places? What qualities made them special? What value do you think they might have offered in your development?”

Open University (1976) [PDF]

from Tumblr
via steelemaley/fieldnotes

Why Don’t We Learn Like this in School?

In our theorizing, design and prototyping for institutional innovation, mutation and schools of the future how do the students in your school participate? What youth voice is in the deliberation and ultimately the decision process for change? How does this participation look in the primary years, middle years and upper school years? I offer the following article to provoke thought and consideration of these topics.

Zaal and Ayala (2013) “Why Don’t We Learn Like this in School?” One Participatory Action Research Collective’s Framework for Developing Policy Thinking (via Journal of Curriculum Theorizing)
via steelemaley/fieldnotes


On Knowledge and #MBMY1


In this short post I am happy to join Matt Henderson and the participants of #MBMY14 in a discussion of knowledge acquisition. The question posed to me for this post was “how do you personally acquire knowledge and how you as a teacher foster acquisition in your learning environments?”. Certainly a broad question (my favorite kind) and one I think about often.

Personal Knowledge

Acquiring Knowledge

To start,  I see my learning broadly as a theory, design, and praxis cycle. I yearn to theorize the world around me, design learning environments for myself and others that intervene in the confluent and ever changing learning process. I then actively test those designs through mentorship, facilitation, teaching and learning.  Thus, I acquire knowledge through qualitative, quantitative and distributed modalities:

  • I read, write and cipher daily and have done more than my fair share of institutional learning (schools-universities).
  • I  am connected and those connections can grow, focus, change, and enhance my experiences and those of others acquiring knowledge.

A scope and sequence for my personal knowledge acquisition might look like1:


Orient: I reflect on what I would like to know, why (research) and how I might go about learning.  I locate resources, human, multimedia (including Twitter, blogs, video, image, journal, book),  and print. Initial aggregation of these quantitative or qualitative resources using social and collaborative bookmarks, notes, and often, project management software allow me to build up a base from which to know what I am studying and build new knowledge . Identifying and cultivating mentors in the field who share interests is paramount to  knowledge acquisition also.   The goal of my orienting is to clearly see the initial  landscape of my learning community.

Declare:  I typically will try to add value to my learning community regarding my research as soon as I can through twitter posts and contribution to hashtags , blogposts and bookmarks while online. I usually initiate discussions or sharing of materials face to face.

Network: Connecting with others and starting a conversation has redefined how I acquire knowledge.  Following others and community in hashtags via Twitter, reading and commenting on Blogs and Replying to those who have commented on my blog or responded to twitter posts builds a network of people and resources. Building this network galvanizes my own research and makes applied what otherwise might be exclusive or hidden.

Cluster: I tend to build closer networks for certain times in my process, leaning heavily, benefiting and benefiting from a close generative connection with those researching similarly. This happens online and in face to face contexts.

Focus: As I gather knowledge I work to see both that I have an end in mind (theory, design, praxis) and can keep myself organized. This is important because I want to contribute new knowledge in efforts to better humanity, the ultimate goal of knowledge acquisition.

Fostering Knowledge in Learning Environments

My Background

Since 1998 I have led experiential education programs in the backcountry of Alaska, Wyoming and Utah and developed leadership initiatives for national service learning organizations.  Understanding young people through experience with them outside of school is an attribute I find prerequisite for seeing young people in toto in schools or institutions.2  Since 2004 I  have devoted my career to teaching and learning with middle level and secondary school aged young people in schools and through extensive independent studies. I have also held a few adjunct positions at the university level teaching pre-service and in-service teachers. All of my teaching, learning and design based research focus on planning with students in technology rich, socially relevant learning spaces.

My Praxis

I have focused my research, curricular design, and teaching on  networked learningproject based learningePortfoliosblended learning environments, and mobile learning infused Field Studies. Shaping learning environments in this way allows the best supports for student collaboration, communication and problem solving in a flexible, connected and (I hope) interesting way. The methods I use to foster the acquisition of knowledge are co-developed, participatory and challenging.  I help create a community of learning in a classrooms, online or in mobile spaces  for negotiating the learning process with students– from content to products, reflection to portfolio.

My curriculum is designed to foster four core strands of knowledge: Personal Knowledge addressing self-concerns and ways of knowing about self ; Social Knowledge addressing social and world issues, from peer to global relationships, and ways of critically examining these. Explanatory Knowledge including content that names, describes, explains, and interprets3, as well as commonsense or popular knowledge; Technical/Twenty First Century Knowledge incorporating ways of investigating, communicating, analyzing, and expressing in a technologically rich global environment.4

Curricular examples I have designed and facilitated to foster the four strands of knowledge can be found on my resource wiki. A selection of readings I would suggest can be found at the Kieve-Wavus Educators Conference Wiki see:  Readings and Media.  Especially important to Middle Level Educators is Beane (1997) ‘Curriculum Integration: Designing the Core of Democratic Education and Springer (2003) Soundings: A Democratic Student-Centered Education.

Please contact me at any time via Twitter @steelemaley , Leave a comment below, or follow my Pinboard Bookmarks tag for #MBMY1 .  I look forward to learning with you.


1This framework has been adapted from my expereince in CCK 11 and is based in part on Dave Cormier’s “Success in a MOOC
2Being with young people in a remote backcountry setting 24/7 and the ability to see students at their best and worst in real life situations remains the single most important set of experiences I have had.
3Including that involved in the systems of knowledge (Life Systems – Biology, Ecology, Anatomy, Physiology, Health; Physical Systems – Geological, Chemical, Physical; Numerical Systems – Statistical, Relational (Algebraic), Spacial (Geometric); Social Systems – Cultural, Political, Organizational, Historical, Economic; Thought Systems – Spirituality, Philosophy, Psychology); Visual and Performing Systems — arts, design, media
4Research, critical reading and writing, finding, validating, leveraging, and synthesizing Information, mapping, modeling and representing data, communication, collaboration and problem solving, service and leadership. These core strands of knowledge inform an educational experience providing students with a bridge between the personal and social, intellect and experience, wilderness and culture.