GENSLER PANEL: steelemaley4.001

Prototyping the Future



Participatory Pathways for Teacher Research

Save for unique pockets of time in unique decades, education has drifted from the roots of participatory research known in the late nineteenth century. From the scholar tutor of early New England to the emboldened teachers of Kurt Hahn’s Salem1 it has been only the laboratory schools and experiments during the the middle level movement of the 80’s (some may argue Ted Sizer’s Coalition of Essential Schools and a few bold independent schools should be on this list) that have looked at schools as true communities whose flexibility and purpose was as real as the world with which we live. Learning in the context of these schools had to be created and often co-created with learners–it was in the school DNA to experiment and thus research what they were doing  along with why and how it could consistently get better.

Most schools today have suffered a standardization epidemic almost as potent as the worst epidemics of health and ecology imaginable. To be fair, this standardization ensured the largest single boost to global education in modern times.2 Just as the cure to epidemics created immunities, so to did we create institutional immunity to the kinds of learning innovation we would like to see today. This immunity fights against change as strongly as antibiotics fight bacteria. Now, as we look for holistic approaches to the health of our populations, we must also look for our institutions–our schools. We now know what causes many diseases and what over medication does to our children. But what of our penchant for holding onto blanket prescriptions for our schools health?

This is the era of looking systemically at the individual, the environment and indeed the ecology of learning again. Instead of being radicals, those who are taking this path are the pioneers of a new world. Sounds bold, but really it is on all educators minds, every headmaster and for the world of independent schools I identify with most–our parents minds. Yes, if you graduate form an elite boarding school, you are likely to get into the college of your choice, but what of your prospects there? Your prospects in life…. regardless of income? These are the questions I am asking as a parent, and the parents I serve are asking of me.

It’s time to innovate, and stake claims anew to a world of learning that has so boldly expanded it frightens even the most agile school leader. To innovate is to create pathways that others can benefit from, not just offer catalyst moments for others to be amazed by. Tackling  problems like:

  • weaving experiential and scholastic learning together,
  • learning outside of the classroom for extended amounts of time (be it online or field studies based),
  • personalizing the learning process (a personal learning plan for all),
  • balancing tradition with innovation to ensure the legacies and innovations are translated together,

takes extensive effort, tireless imagination and action.

To create pathways for innovation we must replace myths with methods. I strongly believe one seminal way to do this is through teachers being participatory researchers in the innovation process. Opening up our innovation process to ongoing and meaningful contributions from everyone in our institution not just surveying opportunities offered in professional development or school initiatives, but offering ongoing involvement in a measured cycle of experimentation for the practitioner. This is sustained, measured participatory research driven by the end users to contribute to innovations on the ground.

It is time to take the Skunkworks across the school. Does your school reflect the change in knowledge and networks ever present in today’s world–at a systemic level? Are you visioning for this world, translating that vision into practice with your managers as well as your mavericks? Are you collecting longitudinal evidence both qualitative and quantitative that it’s working? I believe many in the audience reading this post do have a good start on this (A direct nod to Brett Jacobsen, Bo Adams and Team at Mount Vernon Presbyterian). I want us to create networked and sustainable pathways for innovation in education together.

On Friday at the annual TABS 14 Conference, I discussed a few solutions that flatten participation in the design, prototyping and iteration process for innovation in educational change.


It was an honor to present for the second year with two incredible educators. Kim Sivick is a cofounder of the EdCamp movement and an EdTech maven and Scott MacClintic who is the founding director of the Kravis Center for Excellence in Teaching  at Loomis Chaffee, a deep thinker, designer and teacher representing a new American Boarding Schools movement. In our presentation Kim will painted an amazing picture of what the landscape of what participant and tailor made professional development looks like across the world right now, Scott chronicled a successful movement to bring Unconferences and social media based professional development into some of the most elite Boarding schools schools in America and I summarized new forms in participatory teacher research for both professional development and resilient pathways of innovation in schools.

This is not easy work yet so many amazing things are happening in education.  I hope we embolden a new generation of teacher researchers across our schools and learning ecologies that interweave both the innovators disposition and effective action we so badly need to see in education. Just as an armada of ecologists and citizen scientists are contributing to a systemic change in the way we see our health and well being, lets proliferate the same movement in education.

Your interest, thought, vision and ultimately your work is needed to transform our schools into learning ecologies that hold the best of tradition and see the frontier of innovation. I would love to hear how your school innovations are being studied, how you are managing the design and experimentation phases and who you are learning the most from in your networks.

1 I am starting a research process into how Kurt Hahn’s interwar schools like Salem supported teachers. I have found enough disparate reference to include my reference in text. As I paint a bigger picture for myself of the incredibly rich pre -UWC legacy of Hahn’s thinking and school practice I continue ot be amazed. This will undoubtably be a focus of future posts in the new year.

2 One of the best contextualizations of this point is found in Zuboff, S. and Maxmin, J. (2002) The Support Economy: Why Corporations are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism, pp. 77-78.



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.



Pathways For Interdisciplinarity

It was an honor to present From Design to Research: Making Interdisciplinary Pathways for Student Directed PBL at the PDS STEM-STEAM and Beyond conference yesterday and my warmest thanks go out to Josie Holford and the Poughkeepsie Day School team for facilitating an amazing event..  It was an honor to lead a futures workshop on interdisciplinary innovation and project based learning. This workshop design is both participatory and design based. Participants in the PDSs2s workshop:

  • told stories about success and failure in interdisciplinary1 project based learning2 and other interdisciplinary innovation,
  • critiqued a range of critical issues pertinent to creating interdisciplinary innovation and
  • visioned the most ideal learning environments and technologies for creating interdisciplinarity, PBL and beyond
  • agreeing to report out on the next steps, research, design and practice taken after the workshop.

The workshop was packed with educators from all domains and across the k-12 spectrum. This is one small example of a significant trend in education. Interdisciplinary innovation is a prescient topic with frontiers for independent schools and education in general. Incredible interdisciplinary projects are emerging across education that are well planed and executed departures from the traditional siloed education.  How we develop pathways from these projects toward future school design is very important. The intuitive work of Bo Adams amazing work on Pedagogical Master Planning and  Bannan-Ritland, B. (2003 diagram)3 in design based research are a clear lens on this point. Educators need to ask critical,reflective questions. How do your schools develop theory for new projects, research and create design prototypes, test designs, iterate and implement/mutate your schedules, departments?  More simply (and possibly most importantly) what is your mindset for a cycle of transformation?

ILD design research

Becoming a practitioner researcher in schools starts with a mindset which was the focus of this weeks workshop at PDS. As a group we developed and refined theory, reviewed programs (prototypes) in participant schools (and the consequences of those programs) and ideated on the future. Participants explored their discipline/s and examples of projects that crossed discipline boundaries.  These projects ranged from maker-spaces to projects and the diversity of experience in the room was vast.  We also discussed the issues of content, standards, schedule, parents and paradigms…. “the softballs” of education that keep getting replayed (or thrown around is it may be).  We also heard of bold moves to re-imagine schedules, realign priorities in schools…. and we heard questions of the heart.

Over and over again, workshop participants fell quite after hearing each other discuss what student self determination looks like in learning.  Teachers and administrators spoke of working hard to bypass the “softballs” that seem like mountains to high to summit at times.  As educators we know what is possible with our care, passion, intelligence, hope and love for young people.  We want our social constructs….democracy et al. to survive and have caretakers, we want the realities of interconnectedness and interdependence in the world to find a fertile nexus in our school communities. There was agreement that we needed to consider change in may parts of our school structures.

I will argue, and did in my session that the process of schools moving from theory and initial design work to prototyping and new educational design and testing will be a significant linchpin to transformational change.  It takes a school communities of mavericks and managers imagining how events could be otherwise and then engaging in the significant and difficult work of co-constructing a community of learning with all of the stakeholders in your community to provide a relevant education in this century.4 The futures workshop process is one of many ways to provide a intentional landscape to start or move forward this process.


I hope that all who were in my workshop and those who’s network learning brought you here will peruse the resource posts at

  • If you are a head of School or Trustee, I suggest you read Grant Lichtman’s Zero-Based Strategic Thinking: Real Innovation Shifts the Focus to the Future. In the article, Grant provides an erudite view of why the innovation space is not enough and how the larger spacial turn in world systems demand educational and institutional mutation.
  • If you are a division head, curriculum leader or teacher I encourage you look at implemented designs that exemplify whats possible in your school.  Many critical upper school dreams are bounded in departmentalized structures that drive static schedules and outmoded views of essential skills delivery. Going “beyond AP” to cross boundaries and utilizing the vast flexibility in IB to foster and proliferate transdiciplinarity are just a few examples that demand the role of the “department” be diminished in order to illuminate imagination, creativity and innovation. Regardless of your model or method now, the few examples listed here should inspire jump-start your ability to question what you can do with your resources and school vision. If you know of other school-wide programs or incredible catalysts please leave a comment.

School Wide Programs

The ILC – Interdisciplinary Learning Collaborative, Midwestern US:  “The Interdisciplinary Learning Collaborative is an innovative high school design that engages its adolescent learners in purposeful interdisciplinary learning, multiple community connections, and collaborative pathway experiences that contribute to and benefit from the greater community”.

Hobsonville Point Secondary School, New Zealand: ” is a school that places students at the centre of their learning with our expert teachers challenging and supporting them to achieve to their full potential across all areas of the curriculum. Personalising learning means we respond to the individual learning needs of your child, foster their personal interests and strengths, whilst also exposing them to a wide range of new learning experiences and opportunities that inspire new passions. This approach motivates and engages students more deeply as they learn how they contribute to their own success”. See also: The 2014 Modules of Hobson Point Secondary School

The Bridge Year at Kieve-Wavus, ME:The Bridge Year design is a co-educational boarding school for students who have completed their 8th grade year to enhance their academic core through campus and field studies which are experiential, integrated, and personalized. The Bridge Year supports students in developing: enduring intellectual passion, a sense of personal and social responsibility, confidence, and personal, technical and creative skills. The small intentional residential community and personalized academics at The Bridge Year provide students with the support and tools that they need to cultivate lives that embrace wilderness and culture, personal and social, and the intellectual with the experiential.

RiverPoint Academy, WA“Students take on real-world challenges and, using a design process to develop solutions, actually work to implement them. Professionals from the community work with students in order to create an authentic learning experience as they dive deeply into science, engineering, mathematics, the arts and humanities and entrepreneurship — all fueled by radical collaboration with peers, the use of powerful technology and a deeply caring and devoted staff. Coursework is strategically integrated to support meaningful learning all in preparation for college and career post high school goals. Many students will take advantage of college courses available through EWU’s Running Start courses at Riverpoint Academy. The focus at the Academy is on 21st century skills and leadership, STEM literacy and nurturing the creative passion within each student”.

Soundings: A Democratic Learning Community, PA:Soundings challenges eighth graders to explore student-selected themes that merge their adolescent concerns with global issues. It works something like this: following a process of asking, analyzing, and grouping lots of questions, the class works together to decide which questions they most want to study. These then become our themes for the year. For each theme selected, students learn to set goals and objectives, develop and initiate plans to achieve those aims, present their results, and assess their performance.  As they experience this process with its emphasis on both quality performance and higher order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis and assessment, students master essential skills and concepts from all academic disciplines and apply them to real world issues.”

Exemplary Projects and Planning Tools

Pedagogical Master Planning (Adams, B. 2013) Pedagogical Master Planning is a radical rethinking of strategic planning that  mashes up …. transformation design with master planning’s greatest virtues visualizing whole systems, layering complex  information, and phasing strategic renovation. Inspired by campus master planning, we’ve translated its principles to what happens  at the heart of a school.   We illustrate a school’s teaching and learning core its pedagogical ecosystem so that people can see  how the parts of the whole are interrelated and interconnected.  Then, school transformation can be designed holistically, with  blueprints, in a similar way to making changes to a school’s physical facilities”.

Mount Vernon Presbyterian Innovation Diploma“Mount Vernon Presbyterian School’s Innovation Diploma offers an unparalleled opportunity for high school students to observe, question, empathize, experiment, craft, and implement innovations in a variety of fields and contexts before leaving the Upper School. To earn the Innovation Diploma, students engage in immersive exploration and empathy, experiment as they design solutions to problems they observe and discover, and launch and implement innovative solutions within an environment of feedback and support. In addition, students complete a variety of coursework focused around skills of design thinking, problem-based learning, innovative technologies, and passion-finding”.


1I choose to use the term interdisciplinary innovation to describe a wide range of curriculum innovation. Multidisciplinarity, involves drawing appropriately from multiple disciplines to redefine problems outside of normal boundaries and reach solutions based on a new understanding of complex situations; interdisciplinarity, involves the combining of two or more academic disciplines into one activity (e.g. a seminar or research project) and about creating something new by crossing boundaries, and thinking across them; transdisciplinarity, when interdisciplinary learning moves across institutional boundaries into non-institutional spaces (partnerships with organization, citizen science, service work, entrepreneurship);and perhaps even post-disciplinary, re-imagining the institution and all forms of learning.

2 Yong Zhao (2012) curates an erudite research profile on PBL in his book World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students. He narrows the research into three general descriptions of PBL as a starting points: academic PBL that is primarily classroom based, content driven, single subject and teacher led mixed models where teacher and student collaboration through groups is key and a product is sought within the constraint of academic disciplines inside and outside of a school entrepreneurship models that are completely student led, focused on a product with the teacher serving as venture capitalist, consultant, and motivator and focus group. Academic disciplines emerge out of need and feedback NOTE: This student directed project based learning description is closest to the spirit of the definition for this set of workshops.

3Bannan-Ritland, B. (2003) The Role of Design in Research: The Integrative Learning Design Framework. Educational Researcher, 32 (1), 21-24.

4 Essential Questions: Learner: Which elements seem of vital importance for learning from the personal and educational needs and interests of the learners themselves? Society: Which problems and issues seem relevant for inclusion from the perspective of societal trends and needs? Knowledge: What is the academic [intellectual social and physical] and cultural heritage that seems essential for learning and future development? From McKenny, Niveen and van den Akker (2006). In van den Akker, Gravemeijer, McKenney & Nieveen (Eds.) Educational Design Research (p.68) Abbingdon, Oxen: Routledge.


A Networked Learning Ecology

I wrote this post in 2011 and am reposting now after an inspiring NAIS14 session led by Bo Adams, and  Grant Lichtman and after confluence with so many incredible educators over the last two weeks. You can find a crowd-sourced archive of Bo and Grant’s session at the Twitter hashtag #boandgrant. I hope these ideas might spark further conversation about what’s going on in education already and what’s possible in the near future.

A day in the learning ecology of Piper Hahn

Piper is a 15 year old who lives in Midcoast Maine, US. A year ago, Piper heard about a new way to learn, and decided to take part in a new learning experience called the Maine Networked Learning Project. Known as “the Mesh” to participants, this learning ecology offered Piper the chance to apply her passion for learning in highly experiential and collaborative ways with groups of young people of varied ages, adult and youth mentors with knowledge territory specialties and organizations focused on ensuring sustainable and resilient societies, economies, and the environment. This is a snapshot of her day.

A day in the learning ecology of Piper Hahn

Piper gets ready for her week by sitting outside sipping tea and looking at her smart phone. She is checking project updates sent from the team she has been working with for the last two months on her Google Reader and Twitter feed. The project Piper is checking in on deals with food justice in the rural communities of her bioregion.

Seeing many updates, and much activity she decides to look at the overall “mesh” schedule for the day. She notices that the MNLP van will be moving across the local region starting in an hour. To get a ride on this local transportation system she has to ride her bike to a station stop or have her parents drop her off at the regional mesh meet-up location. But before deciding this she reviews her weekly schedule on her mobile.

Piper notices that she and three others will be presenting at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars organization to a large group on the history of local food cultivation in the region. She and her Food Justice project group have spent a good deal of time completing ethnographic studies of the areas “locals”. These participant interviews are seminal to their presentation as they show that local sustainability and resilience projects are not “outside” or “rich Peoples” pursuits, but can save local economies and the historical heritage this stakeholder group cherishes. The group has also been working in restoration crews on local farms as a service learning tie in to their studies. The project has been extensive. Piper and her group have covered mathematics, experimental sciences, writing, social sciences and much more in an integrated project framework. They have relied on their mesh mentors, local experts (educators, authors, historians, scientists….), and the internet for research, recording (writing, video) and exhibiting their knowledge and understanding to multiple community stakeholder groups.

As the project presentation pre-work is done, Piper contacts her group via twitter hashtag to remind all that they will need an hour to meet-up before the presentation and to ride their bikes to the VAW hall from the meet-up. Immediately she gets a response from three of the four other group members that they will meet prior to the VAW event. They remind each other that a collaborative learning session will be going on for applied algebra and trigonometry concepts at Noon. This session will be special, as an innovative regional planner from rural Scotland will be mentoring at the Self Organized Learning Environment today along with their local quantitative reasoning/systems thinking mentors. She video chats with one participant letting her know that she will be at the SOLE, and is hoping to get a ride to her house (or dorm) after today’s VAW presentation. That done, Piper checks with her parents (or dorm parents) and decides to ride her bike to a mesh station stop. She then rides the mesh van into town and catches up on posts in her Reader and replies to myriad comments and responses in here network on the way.

At the Meet-up location (a wide open space that reminds Piper of a open market of some kind), she settles in with the other young people in study, discussion and deliberation. Today she takes out her tablet and reads a work in global literature that was suggested by a mentor she has in South Asia. She will take notes on the work over the next hour and send those notes via blog post to the mentor. The mentor, other participants and Piper are involved in a global project combining cultural understandings of place into a wiki resource for future learners to use. She sees connections everywhere in her learning and after being inspired by an experience in India she’s just read about (or had?), Piper adds content for today’s VFW presentation to the shared presentation document for group review.

Piper takes a run with others from the meet-up, and then decides to review the quantitative reasoning skills that figure into the edible re-vegetation project from Scotland being discussed at the SOLE today. Piper will get another chance to apply her growing knowledge and understanding with today’s SOLE because the re-vegetation work they are doing locally is based on the Scottish project being discussed.

After the SOLE, and successful VAW presentation the group meets at a Mesh group members house. The group has grown from five to seven now as the crew who filmed the presentation and ethnographic methods over the last months are with them to discuss editing and working on the script for the groups public exhibition of findings. Piper and her group know that the scientists, mentors, politicians, local and global participants, and their peers will attend the exhibition. This step in their project leads to funding and further action on their multi-year food security project. After Dinner with the host family, rides home for most, and ePortfolio updates. The rest of the week will be full of networked, experiential, and mobile learning directly applied to creating solutions in an interdependent world.


At the rise of today, and after a long and wonderful day in our vegetable garden prepping and planting, I watched as my wife and co-conspirator did something that reminded me of how wondrous learning environments are designed.

Design can be many things to many people and the at times worry laden “field” of educational design takes into account the cultural, corporate and confused landscape of “education” with an engineers eye and an activists heart, often to good ends.  Learning in many places (I will not list here) shows progress, smiling children and overall good results.  However, the best results, and we all know this, come from something more organic than even the best  design plan.

Back to the land (in this case our organically certified property that we lease to some of the most amazing organic farmers and try to farm ourselves), and my wife.  I spent the day prepping beds, raking and honing some of the best soil in Maine….it will grow amazing vegetables if tended well.  No chemicals, no water (seriously) and little interference tell  of much understanding and planning year after year….good results.  My wife though, always has a way of bypassing all of the planning and just planting the seeds.

On this day, she emptied out a compost bin on a mostly tilled piece of pasture near our garden beds. Its important to know that I have been worried over this piece of land as it was planted but untended last year (read re-pastured) and has had one disc and one till this year (still a frontier).  No matter, out came the rich compost-ish material: some soil but also egg shells a few carrot bits and some other still showing things (not totally “cooked” at all).  She then proceeded to gently mix in some soil from the area near the pile.  It looked messy, disheveled and then…. then she planted seeds.

No this is not the first time she has done this and yes it is second nature to her, passed down from a line of powerful and practical women and their gardens–and it works every time but it always takes me by pleasant surprise.  For out of this pile of mixed and mashed freedom will come our best and sweetest melon of the year, the pumpkin that makes us all gasp…..

I sat and watched, then after all was well finished and I remained in the field, I looked at the pile and thought of the best learning experiences I have had with communities of kids.  Should they have grown to what they were, did I have a plan or design….( was the soil prepared enough)? I can only say that I trusted the seeds, and the environment found–mashed-up and perhaps even unsightly (you do remember the last time you heard the *sound* of learning or looked deeply at the kids as they interacted?  That sweet and tad bit chaotic sound and sight….).  These times, yield the most growth, the sweetest moments, and the lasting bonds.

A wondrous learning environment is often one that emerges, with our care as adults. Our care in letting go of our worry and will to control, our importance in knowing what “works”, or what history says will work “always”…. For just as those seeds will grow wild, they will grow because a gentle bravery bucked all of horticulture and believed in the ability of seeds and freedom at one moment in time.





Social Imagination

During a wonderful conversation today with Grant Lichtman, the topic of deliberation came up as a key characteristic for deep human interaction. In turn, I thought of this beautiful quote on the importance of social imagination.  I hope you open yourself to deliberation in your dealings (not debate) and exercise your human freedom and power to imagine how events could be otherwise than they are….

“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)


On Mutation in Education

Mutation in Education1



The Individual

In the 21st century, the individual is the kernal of energy for educational design.


Who are you? What do you need?

Two questions that drive education at the root and rhizomatic levels. Schools have not been tasked with these questions in the past at more than a philosophical level (there are distinct examples otherwise most certainly).


Education–>>Content–>>Hours | Resources and assets needed for each individual.

A premium puzzle exists within this design.

  • Education is multifaceted–culture-as-local space blends with a global civic culture born of the networked world. The individual as interdependent and connected part of the world.
  • Content drives education, be it pure experience or didactic instruction, content is what we as humans intake and produce in organic realms of design,  iteration, understanding and beyond in cycles.
  • For schools and society at present hours matter.  How long someone needs to spend on any given content is important for both progress and leisure.  Schools need to understand the fluidity of time and its discontents.  Ubiquity in learning requires a very different conception of “scheduling”.

Once education, content and hours are considered in design, schools must look at the resources and assets necessary to see education as an ecology.


What would need to happen to realize this mutation in your learning community?

1 Distilled from ongoing conversation and deliberation with Shoshana Zuboff,  Jim Maxmin, Grant Litchman and a very important roundtable discsussion on Lake Damariscotta, ME this spring.

Middle Grounds

“May the weary traveler turn from life’s dusty road and in the wayside shade, out of this clear, cool fountain drink, and rest” R. E. Speer, “Robert Burns,” Nassau Literary Magazine 43 (1888): 469.*

Today, we are in the “middle grounds” of society, economy and the environment. This middle ground encourages the educator, intellectual and citizen to bend beliefs and praxis into new designs taking into account the realities of world systems.  Many recent encounters I have had remind me of the importance of developing and acting on a shared understanding for our collective work in education.

In The Middle Ground  (1991) Richard White describes the process of globalization, genocide, blended culture and mutual aid in the French-Algonquin great Lakes Region from 1650-1815 he writes that “the creation of the Middle Ground involved mutual invention” This mutuality was necessary because the French and Algonquian where displaced (for different purposes ) into a new space/human ecology and confident in the cultural forces that shaped there world view.  In their new- found common landscape however they did not war, or isolate the other but rather took part in the messy business of social, environmental and economic deliberation for mutual aid.  White posits:

Perhaps the central and defining aspect of the middle ground was the willingness of those who created it to justify their own actions in terms of what they perceived to be their partners cultural premises.

What is our shared middle ground as educators, community members and humans?  Forces outside of our control see many cultures, communities, regions, nations and world together at nexus in a new emergent space.  Education has been separated by the industrial and industrial culture for long enough that the new pattern of cultures, one currently under creation in our shared middle grounds takes a moment to see.  But the examples are everywhere.   Grant Litchman writes of interconnected “learning ponds” in a post he recently forwarded to me called Welcome to the Cognitosphere. This post was forwarded after I had shared a video with Grant that Roberto Greco had shared with me…. Both Grant’s post: a narrative of interconnectedness, along with Roberto’s feed that exemplifies his erudite thinking on the interdependence and need for freedom in learning without boundaries cause me to write this post. I could go on, my face to face meetings in the last two weeks with Kim SvickChris Thinnes, Mike Gwaltney, Peter Gow and more at at EdcampIS,  NAIS 13 and TABS Global Symposium along with my conversations (Twitter and other) with MaryAnn Riley, Selin Jessa, Matt Henderson,   Fred Bartels, Christina Jenkins to name a few….not to mention my small rural public school board….exemplify conversations with the traditional to the radical educator and all in between.

I hope that all of you reading this recognize what a moment we are in.  Large corporations in education seek to reinforce the hegemony of industrial education in practice and function  while our schools and projects make motions to upend an industrial revolution long past and acknowledge the information revolution upon us.  We are seeking plans, programs, places and praxis to express our passion for humanity.  Remember as Burns reminded us at the beginning of this post to rest for a moment in “the wayside shade”.  Relish in the relationships you have with the young and elder , new and old and look around at the landscapes that make up your spatial turn. Because as my friend and historian-geographer-networker, Jo Guldi writes: “by ‘turning’ we propose a backwards glance at the reasons why travelers from so many disciplines came to be here, fixated upon landscape, together.”*

See you in the middle grounds.

Readings I suggest:

Berry, W. NKU Commencement Speech

Boulding, E. (1990) Building a Global Civic Culture: Education for an Interdependent World

Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2011 MOOC

Geertz (1977) The Interpretation of Cultures

* Guldi, J.

Independent School Magazine Spring 2013

Wagner (1981)The Invention of Culture ,

White, R. (1991) The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815






Chomsky on Education

Sound doxa on critical education, deschooling, open learning, complexity in reform, technology in education.