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.


Places of Learning, Places of Joy….

In the history of education, the most striking phenomenon is that schools of learning, which at one epoch are alive with a ferment of genius, in a succeeding generation exhibit merely pedantry and routine.-Ted Sizer (2004)

I recently perused an amazing strategic plan for a boarding school that is thinking to the future and thinking deeply about students as individuals at the heart of the process.  The thought of supporting and mentoring young people while also co-creating learning environments that bridge tradition, today and in the future is both daunting and wonder filled. The difficult discussions and direct actions toward progressive change are not made lightly in any school seeking resiliency, but the sustained motion toward those changes are essential to ensure a chance at resilience.

When thinking about the design and planning of these learning environments I am at once inspired and then cautionary.  Inspired because we are right to want, and more importantly work toward, schools of the future.  Institutions that shift and realign resources to grant both the permission and “place” for Interdisciplinary, connected, mobile and cross cultural education will have a place in history.  As core contributors of direly needed solutions for a world in ecological, social and economic overshoot we will tell stories of their grand experiments and bold action. I am cautionary because the roads of reform are now well paved with good intention, money and research yet driven back and forth with the “exceptions” at the wheel.  We can do the most visionary x but must not radically alter the schedule because of y.  This is a place where  Ted Sizer’s 1973 book “Places of Learning, Places of Joy: Speculations on American School Reform illustrates and illuminates this pattern in American education.  At the time publication, Ted had just arrived at Andover as headmaster to oversee the Abbot-Andover merger (Undoubtedly a landscape of intellectual, social and physical change that allowed his thought to further steep about reform in American schools and undoubtedly a reason for the success of Andover today.  In the book Sizer argues, that we know the barriers to educational reform and as a country we rest with them willingly.  As a country we will throw out slogans, sentiments and salutations; spend millions of dollars tinkering and ignore the science and possibly, more importantly, the humanity and needs of our children.

To often only that change which fits neatly into our schedules, classrooms and conditioned comfort of work pass after calls for change in education are raised.  Ted asks that we look in the mirror and ask deep questions about what schools are for…. Are they places of learning, or places of joy…..or something more? Schools that place their tradition (today and tomorrow) onto the wind with a mission and vision of change instilled give hope for what can be.  Sizer spoke of words, and actions that suppressed and confused movement for needed change in schools.  In some sectors of education, thirty four years later we may see the same issues that Sizer discussed in Places of Learning Places of Joy but we also see an independent school movement poised to transform education and one starting to do so.

Growing the taproot of scholastic learning

“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”. -M. MacKenzie

IMG_4165It was difficult leaving North Country School (NCS) and the Adirondacks yesterday.  I felt like I had just scratched the surface of this junior boarding school tucked within the old and sheer mountains of northern New York.  What I did find was a very intentional community that grew out of a camp.  In many ways, this camp like spirit flows through many aspects of NCS, yet this is a place of scholastics and experience, a boarding school that gracefully supports the growth of intellectual, physical and social skills.

Prior to my arrival, I viewed Headmaster David (Hock) Hochschartner Thanksgiving remarks to parents.  In the video Hock covers the four elements that he feels make NCS the community it is: “We help them be happy”; “they’re engaged constantly”; “we help them become resilient individuals”; “we help them form strong relationships with there community”.

Over lunch with Hoch and others, and in my time on campus I saw the four elements Hoch elucidates first hand.  A paramout example of the culture under-girding the NCS experience was the student led community meetings after a wonderful lunch.  At this meeting students and adults work together to “schedule” the farm chores, outdoor and other outings, and community concerns and celebrations.  In a walk through campus I witnessed classes where students were engaged and at ease with the adults and technology in the room and a community that lives and breaths a type of work that is endeared to students, healthy and connected to the learning process.  From the “wool room” where students card, dye, felt and weave the sheep’s wool they have cared for, to daily morning “horse”chores at the barn, the integration farm and food into science courses and student driven work on environmental issues, NCS is a place worthy of a closer look.

Growing a “taproot of experience for scholastic learning to flower” in education starts with the safety, empowerment and the space provided for young people for flourish.  One shape does not fit all, yet it may do all of us well to ask how our learning environments ensure the happiness, engagement, resilience and healthy relationships of the students entrusted to us on a minute to minute, hour to hour and daily basis. It is precisely this that may allow our taproots to grow even further.

Many thanks to Hock and David Damico for their time yesterday.



The Middle Grounds: Revisited

I wrote this post almost a year ago and dusted off the the archives to find sentiments I still find so important.  As discussions of  systemic change, grit and this evening grading take place, I am left in awe of the work we must do and at the same time the interest in the work that must be done! I am amazed at my PLN and the work they are doing in the Middle Ground.  With minor adjustments, I put this post back into the network-

“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 networks 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 meetings in the last two weeks with Ed Maggert, Matt Henderson, Peter Gow ,Grant Lichtman, Shoshana Zuboff, Frank Strasburger, Scott MacClintic, Julia Finny, Nancy Doda, Bill Ivey along with my conversations (Twitter and other) with many more….not to mention my small rural public school board….exemplify conversations with the pragmatic and forward thinking 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 as we acknowledge the information revolution upon us.  We seek 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






A Glimpse of 1936

“When they come back in the morning they have an expression in their eyes such as you see in fishermen who are in the habit of looking out to the horizon.” -Kurt Hahn 1936

A wonderful post by Josie Holford on “grit” contains links to arguments by Ira Socol about the leisure gap between classes in the US.  Both Ira and Josie’s thoughts brought me back to an early paper that Kurt Hahn wrote in the intersession of wars.  His emphasis is on the power of learning environments to overcome social stratification and even physiological patterns through living, learning and working together. These are a positive roadmap for dealing with the very complicated issues of ago and possibly today.  Perhaps we need a few more boarding schools to expand on Hahn’s vision for Schule Schloss Salem say at 50% scholarship–1 Here a glimpse of those schools c. 1936 and the dedicated man who sought to unify the world through them: Hahn (1936) Education and Peace: The Foundations of Modern Society


1 I realize that the current of Hahnisian schools is to follow IB et al. and though I tend to find UWC and Salem very appealing, they still provide less time today for experiential education and more time attending the rigors of standardized curricula. Without judgement, my thoughts are with Hahn’s original conception and the possibilities for the future.

A New Field of Learning

I am spending this week in Winnipeg, Manitoba with Matt Henderson of Saint-John’s Ravenscourt School (SJR). Matt’s teaching and research focus on a few deep interests of mine, ecoliteracy and experience in educaton. Its been wonderful to get to know him better, and share time this week on a new level. As part of the visit I wrote a short piece called a “New Field of Learning”. The paper title is inspired by a Rumi quote first read in Roberts (2012), “Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” The short paper takes a wide view of a new movement in education weaving scholastics and experience. My work on the design of The Bridge Year is also part of the paper and used as an example design and possibility in this movement.

The paper was inspiration for a teacher workshop I delivered to Upper School faculty at SJR and was published in the Manitoba Association of Computer Educators and Manitoba Social Science Teachers Association journal ahead of a gathering this week.

If you are not following Matt Henderson yet, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. He is an inspiration and will be a guiding figure in the new fields of education.


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.





The Essence of Connected Learning on Vimeo



The Essence of Connected Learning on Vimeo on Vimeo

via The Essence of Connected Learning on Vimeo.

Building a Village Starts with Learning from Team WikiSpeed | Factor E Farm Blog

Building a Village Starts with Learning from Team WikiSpeed | Factor E Farm Blog.

Childhood and informal education

One of Colin Ward’s greatest contributions was his focus on childhood and the built environment. This interest first appears in a chapter of Anarchy in Action (1973) – ‘Schools No Longer’ – where Ward discusses the genealogy of education and schooling, in particular examining the writings of Everett Reimer and Ivan Illich, and the beliefs of anarchist educator Paul Goodman. Many of Colin’s writings in the 1970s, in particular Streetwork: The Exploding School (1973, with Anthony Fyson), focused on learning practices and spaces outside of the school building. In introducing Streetwork, Ward writes, “[this] is a book about ideas: ideas of the environment as the educational resource, ideas of the enquiring school, the school without walls…” (1973: vii). In the same year, Ward contributed to Education Without Schools (edited by Peter Buckman) discussing ‘the role of the state’. He argued that “one significant role of the state in the national education systems of the world is to perpetuate social and economic injustice” (1973: 42). Here, we can again see the inter-relatedness between Ward’s own experiences, politics and writings. Ken Worpole, fellow writer and collaborator, reflects on this period of Colin’s work, which also included the initiation of a Bulletin of Environmental Education through the Town and Country Planning Association:

The point…was to help get children out of school and into their communities, to talk to local people, and explore their neighbourhood, its amenities and utilities, and understand how buildings, streets, landscapes and social life interact. This led to Colin’s focus on the unique world of childhood which, in the end, may prove to have been his – and anarchism’s – most enduring contribution to social policy. (Worpole, 2010)

Indeed, in The Child in the City (1978), and later The Child in the Country (1988), Ward examined the everyday spaces of young people’s lives and how they can negotiate and re-articulate the various environments they inhabit. In his earlier text, the more famous of the two, Colin Ward explores the creativity and uniqueness of children and how they cultivate ‘the art of making the city work’. He argued that through play, appropriation and imagination, children can counter adult-based intentions and interpretations of the built environment. His later text, The Child in the Country, inspired a number of social scientists, notably geographer Chris Philo (1992), to call for more attention to be paid to young people as a ‘hidden’ and marginalised group in society. Ward, however, was keen to stress the individuality of children and their educational needs, quoting cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead that “it’s a good thing to think about the child as long as you remember that the child doesn’t exist, only children exist, every time we lump them together, we lose something.” (1978: vi) Ward was also an educator himself as a teacher of Liberal Studies at Wandsworth Technical College in South London during the 1960s. This grassroots experience of education, including his work as an Education Officer, gave Ward’s writing an authoritative and yet sympathetic edge. This quality, combined with his passionate and long-held concern with the politics of place, makes Colin Ward an inspirational key thinker.

Mills, S. (2010) ‘Colin Ward: The ‘Gentle’ Anarchist and Informal Education’ the encyclopaedia of informal education.[].