Two years ago I took a job at a charter high school down the street from my house in an effort to affect my own community and to challenge myself professionally. Despite charters’ many failings (which we’ve all read about ad nauseam and to which I can verify, personally) it did present me with a few unique opportunities.

Class sizes were small and I had a chance to teach the same group of students two years in a row, in 9th and 10th grades. As far as I can tell, no one had ever given these kids a chance to prove themselves academically, creatively, or personally, but they damn sure know how to shut up and take a standardized test. 

So, I decided to give them some different chances by ending my career the way I wanted to build it all along: with inquiry-based learning. I spent 7 years and 8 months of my career worried about meeting standards, teaching learning targets, pleasing unappeasable “leaders” in the building and in the district, relying too heavily on “best practices,” using canned lessons too often, talking too much, and not having confidence in the young people in front of me.

The hardest part has been getting the hell out of my students’ way and letting them prove how capable they truly are.

I’ve completely handed over control to my students for the last six weeks of school. I’ve provided a general framework, frequent check-ins, a few hard deadlines, and an end date. Asked them to write detailed projects proposals (persuasive writing) and didn’t hear one groan or complaint. Some even turned them in 3 days early! The topics, research, projects, think time, collaboration, inspiration, and conversation have been completely on their shoulders. Somehow, with them carrying their own learning, I’m working harder than I ever have.

And despite low expectations in elementary, middle, and now high school that often accompany children of color from poor homes, they’re flourishing. Some have had difficulties sustaining work day in and day out, or finding a passion to pursue, but nothing like when I made them sit, listen, and write like me through day after day of modeling (it’s best practice you know).

At first they didn’t know what to do with the freedom I had given them. They were saying things like “This is too hard. Why can’t you just tell me what to do?” or “No one ever let me learn whatever I want” or “I know I’m interested in things, but I just don’t know what. No one has ever asked.”

Sad, yes. But beautiful, too. The sky is the limit. They’re full of unharnessed potential.

And they’ve proven it.

I saw two students, whom I have never seen interact before, have a 10 minute, self-initiated discussion about astral projection (her topic) and the reaches of the universe (his topic). He spent two years sleeping through my class. Now I can’t get him to leave on time because he’s so interested in learning more.

Another kid, who tries hard, but struggles mightily, took to his topic right away: how gang violence affects his community. Some research, a few YouTube videos of Gangland, talking to his family members, and a solid mentor connection has him more engaged than I’ve seen him in our two years together.

He met last week with an ex-gang member, a third generation guy who got out once he was stabbed 17 times. Now he works with families to show them how to leave the gang life behind. He wants my student to volunteer with him. The day after they met, I saw a changed kid walk into my room. His head was higher. He has a purpose. And a business card. He showed the man’s card to anyone willing to look and listen.

And that’s just two of eighty! Other topics involve battered women, pedophilia, sexual violence, gravity, storyboarding and gaming, the supernatural, police brutality, contraception, El Chapo, graffiti, and world hunger.

I didn’t come up with these topics. I didn’t even offer suggestions. Not bad for a group of kids who have never been asked what they want to learn about.

The work they want to do around these topics is even more amazing. Scale models, documentary films, creating a “safe space” in school for victims to have a voice, support groups, guest speakers, shadowing experiences, and volunteer opportunities. All I had to do was get out of the way. They’re working so fast I can’t even keep up.

We’ve all read the books, posts, blogs, and articles about the value of inquiry learning. Chances are, we’ve probably already convinced ourselves this is the best way. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely not what gets called for in the national media. The funny thing is, you won’t really find any research that debunks the practice of inquiry (granted, I’ve never really looked). You’ll find alternative methods and “best practices,” but no one is saying this doesn’t work. So why aren’t more schools do this?

The best part about giving up control and letting kids make decisions for themselves is that they eventually end up where I wanted them to go, anyway. The ones who insisted on working together eventually split up because they weren’t getting enough work done. Those with weak project ideas that didn’t lend themselves to good research, eventually changed topics and came up with something much better. All I had to do was be patient enough to let them figure it out.

In two weeks, I’ll walk away from teaching for good. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t have the courage to do this sooner. I was afraid of how I’d look. Out of control. Incompetent. But once I let go of my ego, the world changed in front of me.

Inquiry is hard for us because we’re too impatient as the people in charge of the room. My guess is that most of us are too afraid to let go. Teachers are control freaks. Naturally, too. It’s safe. It’s self-preservation. We have no control over anything besides our classroom. So we hold on to that little amount of control with a fierce intensity.

But it’s time to let go. Give over the reigns. Kids don’t need teachers anymore. They need leaders. And good leaders know when to get out of the way.

Tinkering around the edges is no longer acceptable. Now that I know this type of transformation is possible, anything else is malpractice. If we were doctors, we’d be sued. How can we accept anything less from ourselves and especially for the students and families we serve?

You have the opportunity to awaken curiosity and change the world. So move.

What are you afraid of?

Chris Cooper is now a freelance copywriter. He can be reached at

Wow the blogosphere…my first blog feels like trying to ride a unicycle, which is tough because in my world everyone rides bicycles.  My world of learning has been that of academia and only recently have I realized that this blogosphere is a great source of learning.  Here it goes…

As I consider some recent research I completed for a state university, I am starting to understand change and why there is so little in education.  We have a broken system that cannot be fixed by someone but rather must fix itself from the inside. Education is not a car that just needs a new transmission. I am the student that I do not want my students to become.  As I change myself as a student, I have found ways to change the experience for my students.

 D’s get degrees right? The path of least resistance has become the norm as teachers encourage students to take this path because teachers are also in search of what is easiest as our orders are dictated to us.  I have been working on my masters in math education and I was the student looking for the path of least resistance.  Yes, I did plan and teach a “cool” lesson and then submit a reflection of how this affected learning.  This taught the students the same content in a more enjoyable way but did not teach them to believe education is something better.

We endure and accomplish our education for the chance to make more money or get a job, but why not because we are curious and thoughtful beings?  I have a job and the next degree will not make money for me so why am I in school? I am changing as a student, I must be in this for the right reasons.  I want to be there and believe it is right, yet I was still jumping through hoops and not learning. Educational blogs and Twitter have become my stimulant of choice for evolution of thought and learning.  It was this world that got me engaged in my craft and now I have also been more engaged in my own education.  I must give students the opportunity to be curious and engaged; then, I can support their learning.  Their Learning! I learn the most when it is for me…this is in a college class, off a blog, or working around the house, if it is for me…then I am learning. 

My beliefs had evolved and I began my final research project with a new goal…change the learning experience for students. Change is not enacted by someone directing me to post daily goals, or to backwards plan my units.  Change is affected by me having a different vision of what the learning experience should be.  After this picture has changed, the time, content, grades, environment can all be changed to make this picture come to life.  No one change will create this type of transformation as we have witnessed over the last 100 years.  It is time for teachers to change their beliefs and challenge the system to support teachers in a common effort to transform the learning experience so that learning can be valued and not endured by students. How have your beliefs evolved and does your classroom know it?

Years ago I attended a Q&A session with an IBM senior executive that came out from HQ in Armonk, NY to visit the IBM plant in Boulder, CO. At the time the offshoring of jobs had gone from a gentle brook to a roaring river, and many at the Boulder plant had been laid off as their jobs had gone to India without them.  The mood in the room was icy and finally one brave soul asked the question on everyone’s minds: “why are we sending jobs to India and when will it stop?” The answer was candid and to the point: “we are sending jobs to India because the economics are too compelling and its not going to stop, so if you want to keep your job you need to retool.” She went on to say that American workers, to justify their salaries (often 2-3x salaries in other countries), needed to become innovators or in IBM-speak, “thought leaders.”

It was a globalization wake-up call and there was an uncomfortable silence in the room as it became apparent we needed to work on moving up the innovation “food chain” or get eaten.  Our mission: help our students develop the innovation skills to avoid getting eaten in the global marketplace.  I hear the mission impossible theme song…

If someone asked you to pinpoint the reason you went to school, what would it be? Was it to learn new things? Did you go to school to explore your interests? Was it a place to socialize? Or was it a place to do all of the above? That’s how I’ve always viewed it.

For me, school was a place where I learned to play the trumpet, guitar, and French horn in band. It was where I learned about automotive repair and electrical diagnostics. It was where I learned to write a cohesive sentence, paragraph, and essay. It was where I learned about the rest of the world, its history, its geography, and its cultures. It was where I first learned that I loved math, even if I was too lazy to apply myself back then. It was at school that I hung out with my friends and vied for the attention of girls. In short, school was about three things for me; education, exploration and socialization. One thing it was not, however, was a place to increase my income potential.

At a school board meeting last week, Director Richardson cited a Harvard study, stating:

“The difference between a highly effective teacher and an ineffective teacher in fourth grade produces, on a present value basis, a quarter of a million dollar difference in lifetime income for each student in that classroom.”

He continued:

“It is scandalous in this country that we are paying that highly effective teacher $52,000 a year based on the number of years of service and whether or not they have a master’s degree. I want to get to a point where we’re paying them $152,000 and more, reflecting the true value they add economically to the economy.”

By his logic, a calculus teacher deserves a higher income than an algebra teacher or an elementary school teacher since a student who takes calculus is more likely to enter a career in the sciences, which traditionally results in higher earnings. The salary bands in Douglas County reflect Director Richardson’s opinions about a teacher’s worth.

This line of thinking shows just one of the fundamental problems in education today. Too many people in charge of education think of schools as nothing more than workforce training facilities and teachers only as career development facilitators. How does a school determine the income potential of a student and how exactly does the district make the determination that the calculus teacher was the reason for the increase? Suppose that both of those determinations could be done. Who is to say that those were the most important aspects of school?

Looking back at the list of things I did at school, playing music was something that brought me a ton of happiness. It has been nineteen years since I graduated and it still brings me that same happiness. Aside from my wife and kids, playing music in a band makes me happier than nearly anything else I do. Did it increase my earning potential? Unless you count the couple hundred dollars I can make at gigs from time to time, the answer is no.

Likewise, I have never made any more money because of what I learned in history, geography, or math. Sure, I learned that I love math. Ultimately that led me to pursue a degree in electrical engineering, but that degree won’t ever make me more money than my current job. The reality is that I would have to take a cut in pay in order to work as an engineer. Should I eventually decide to teach high school math (as I’d really like to), it would be an even larger pay cut.

Interestingly enough, it was my vocational education in high school that actually did affect my earning potential. I currently work as an automotive instructor and technical writer. It even turned out to be a good income. Unfortunately, I don’t think that this is the type of class that Richardson was thinking about when he made his comments.

Is my appreciation for, and love of music any less important than the academics I studied? Were the math classes that fostered my love of math and taught me math fundamentals any more important than the countless hours I spent in band class, on the football field, and in the auditorium playing my instruments? Were any of those subjects any more or less important than the vocational education I received that ultimately introduced me to my career? The answer is no. Not one of those subjects was any more important than the others.

Even within a single subject, no single teacher has a more important role in the outcome of the student than any other teacher who has taught that student previously. The teacher in first grade who teaches a student to add and subtract is no less important than the teacher in fourth grade who teaches that same student to multiply and divide fractions. The same is true for the algebra teacher who teaches about functions. Without previous teachers working to develop a strong grasp of the mathematical fundamentals along the way, the calculus teacher has no one to teach. Education is a collective effort. Everyone involved adds to the knowledge of that student and plays an important role in his or her development and outcome. Placing a greater importance on one teacher over another is absurd and tying their pay to the student’s earning potential is ludicrous.

So why does this board member think that a teacher’s pay should be tied to the student’s earning potential? I wish I could say that this is the first I have heard about students and their preparation for the workplace, but I would be lying. This is something that seems to be a trend today. The people who look at education from this perspective see students only as future workers.

Education is so much more than a single class. It’s a thirteen-year life experience. Actually, it’s so much more than that, but we’ll leave it at primary and secondary for this discussion. Schools are not factories designed to pump out an endless workforce supply. They don’t exist solely for the purpose of career development. Schools are places where students explore a variety of learning opportunities to see what interests them. They are places where kids learn to think critically, act responsibly, interact with others, and grow up to become young adults. They are places where kids receive a comprehensive education and hopefully develop to become well-rounded, well-adjusted young adults ready to decide the path they’re going to take in life.

Education is broken. It’s not broken because of the teachers or the students. It’s broken because of those in control and their shortsightedness. It’s broken because we allow them to treat schools, teachers, and students as factors of production and graduates as finished goods. What will it take to shift the focus from earning to learning?

In “Inside Man on Education,” Morgan Spurlock looks into aspects of the Finnish and American systems of education. He packs a lot into 40-ish minutes!

LInk to the episode:

Here’s a thoughtful response to the episode from Jim Calhoun (twitter, blog), a high school educator and principal:

Finland’s success is mostly founded in economy of small scale. I saw a system still based on 20th century methodology but with a societal approach we can’t reproduce in the U.S. Students are still sitting in traditional settings learning a one size fits all curriculum.
Williamsburg Collegiate is an fine example of awesome 20th century teach-to-the-test education. At one point (29:14 of the film), A sign on the outside of the door says, “Tricking.” Exactly. An immersive approach to learning is what Morgan says. The pedagogy is remarkably absent of any student-centered thought. I am concerned the learning environment is being sold as what is needed to fix the education system. A quiet atmosphere where you can fill out an application to buy back demerits.
The scene where Dorothy lists her dreams. The irony was not lost that she had one dream which she actively worked on in school, going to college.  The rest of her day was spent on mindless regurgitation of facts she could find on the internet.  This is sad not remarkable. Dorothy has a internal drive supported by her parents.  She is also in a school filled with like minded students who also probably have supportive parents.  I would not want my own kids to go to this school.  However, I do understand how parents in poverty would choose this over other schools.
The lesson plan for Morgan: one size fits all.  Morgan is worried about getting the lesson done and actually intimates that listening and connecting with students is less important. He says kids like structure. Another ironic point comes when a few students give their thoughts.  Did every student truly engage in talking about soda?  I am not so sure.  Morgan’s goal for having students walk away with some pertinent knowledge (antagonists vs protagonists) is the goal. The standard has been met but the goal is so trivial and mind-numbing I can’t be what we really want for our students.  The ceiling is so low. We (educators) have to do better. Morgan says our children’s future depends upon it. I would add our country’s future is in the balance as well.
The comment made by one student who came from a school where students do what they want is the number one element we will have to fight in Mosaic. We will also struggle defending our structure because parents see structure as a ingredient for success. The film reinforces the importance of our work. We have to change the thought process of those who think making 20th century education better is the answer to the goals we have for the 21st century.

Curious? Watch the video and let us know what you think.

Thanks, Ryan

Thank you Will Richardson (@willrich45) for sharing this.

It blew my mind!

It’s always great to learn of other schools and programs that are modernizing, but this movement may be a game changer for me.

Not only because of the name and that it is a university, but because of their use of shareable multimedia that doesn’t pull any punches.

Missions instead of majors….

And the way they directly call out how majors are currently chosen - without any real experience… It just cuts and then exposes.

I can’t wait to dig deeper and to create some of our own material to share.


One of the ideas behind the design of the Mosaic Collective involves the elimination of a bell schedule and classes as we traditionally know them.

I’ve been thinking about this more and more. We often describe this idea and its need as one of an elimination of unnecessary distractions and artificial time constraints. Thinking deeper, however, it seems to come down to two words: schedule and rhythm.

How does rhythm differ from schedule?

I see a schedule as planned events with times often assigned to each - these events are usually listed and may have no real relation to each other and may be listed in chronological order. Scheduled activities have beginning times and ending times. In high school, these times are marked by the ringing of a “bell,” which now days is really a loud electronic noise that seems to yell, “Next!” and “Leave!”

Rhythm implies flow. There’s a fluid, flowing quality from one activity to another, movements are purposeful and not random or arbitrary. They are intrinsically motivated driven by the quality of the activities and thinking involved.

No bell schedule will mean more flow and rhythm, but it will also mean more tardies and attendance issues. Bells really serve as cues; it’s the classes that are the schedule. Rhythmic learning in Mosaic may result in 14 minutes of science one day and 3 hours the next… of days with no real “breaks” and others with long periods of that involve a break in activity (to no doubt think, process, brainstorm, and reflect).

Our environment will be real and natural … Mosaic teachers will “conduct” our Learning Symphony with keen eyes for pattern and opportunity. That’s really why we’re eliminating the bell schedule, not necessarily because of distraction and other perceived cons, but because we value the beauty of rhythm and flow and the internal and intrinsic, as opposed to superficial and poorly veiled measures of crowd control.



What analogy can you share that relates rhythm and learning?

I’m working on one that involves breathing in and breathing out. Future post?

Thanks for reading,


Yesterday right after school, I saw one of my prior students in the hall. After our usual pleasantries in Spanish (which, with almost all of my students, consist of only “¿Cómo estás?” and “Bien, ¿y tú?” - another thing to work on…), I asked her if she was going on to Spanish 3 next year. Her answer nearly broke my heart and actually did leave me speechless…

see full post at


From The Heart of a Teacher by Parker J. Palmer:

First, the subjects we teach are as large and complex as life, so our knowledge of them is always flawed and partial. No matter how we devote ourselves to reading and research, teaching requires a command of content that always eludes our grasp. Second, the students we teach are larger than life and even more complex. To see them clearly and see them whole, and respond to them wisely in the moment, requires a fusion of Freud and Solomon that few of us achieve.

The label “Collective” is is as powerful as the name Mosaic. Despite coming second - and thus easily dropped in casual conversation - it must be strongly considered in everything we do, design, create, etc.

Our understandably limited content knowledge and ability to forge strong and loving relationships with each and every student, as mentioned in Palmer’s quote, only serves to reinforce the collective nature of, well, a Collective.

So, here’s to the crazy ones … the Collective Crazy Ones!


Around 20 students reportedly were suspended from McKay High School in Salem earlier this month, after they retweeted a piece of gossip about one of the school’s teachers.

According to Oregon outlet the Statesman Journal, the students retweeted a post from an anonymous, local gossip account called Salem Confessions. The Feb. 11 postalleged that one of McKay’s female teachers flirts with her students, and it mentioned the name of the teacher’s son.

Administrators at the school say retweeting the post amounted to a form of cyberbullying…

And I wonder, how will actions like this play out when students begin wearing connected technology and social media becomes more and more impactful. How, dare I ask, will schools respond? Defensively? Proactively? Or, if social media is such a deep part of their (and our) lives, will it eventually catalyze pedagogical and cultural shifts?

It’s a simple task – define inquiry…

Yet, I struggle in finding a definition that truly represents a holistic view of inquiry based learning. To me, inquiry is more than a method, more than a buzz word, more than simply asking a question. Inquiry is a feeling, an lifestyle, and a culture that is created. It evolves as time passes and morphs into different forms as curiosities rise and fall. Inquiry can be engaging, loud, and messy. It can change the way people think and the way people view the world. Inquiry inspires people to remove the old confines of how and when to learn. It allows for true out of the box thinking. Inquiry can also be very structured and methodical. Some may not see that from the outside, but behind the scenes, inquiry based teaching is incredibly thoughtful.

Inquiry is the “yes man” in a “no man” world. Inquiry methodologies encourage people to explore their ideas and when they fail – they try again. In this type of culture, it is okay to fail – as long as you reflect and try again. You will see a large increase in creativity in this culture because people are not afraid that they will lose points, get in trouble, or be ridiculed for being “wrong”.

I am in no way an expert on inquiry. I like trying new things in my classroom and finding new ways to make my students think differently. (I would love to learn how inquiry techniques are used in other disciplines… hint hint.) What I can provide are examples on how the students and I create an environment (a culture) that is conducive to inquiry. In my science room, we hold off on content for the first week. We focus on team building and collaboration. We also spend a great deal of time being silly and working on fun puzzles and brain teasers. Setting up this environment is crucial for an inquiry driven classroom. If they (and you!) don’t feel comfortable with each other then inquiry based teaching could just be an awkward exchange of looks in silence. When we know each other and feel comfortable in asking and exploring questions, we build the unit together. I am a huge fan of addressing misconceptions and exploring what the students already think and know about science. I like starting with a simple word wall. It is just a collection of ideas, phrases, and yes, words, that the students think about when I give them a topic. So, for example, my students came up with pretty predictable things for our topic/unit on microbes: bacteria, e. coli, virus, infection… Then they get into sweet things like: jock itch, toe fungus, cancer, fecal matter, pink eye, UTI’s, fermentation… These are the topics that are super interesting (and in some cases unfortunately relevant) for the students. What looks like a simple activity is really an assessment for me as the content leader in the classroom. What do my kids already know? What are they passionate about? What direction do they want to take this idea? This simple idea allows the students to build the unit. I can fit the crucial content into things they call out. (Now honestly, I might have to send questions back at them to help them get thinking or to guide them off a tangent.) So I tell them we will learn about jock itch, UTI’s, fecal matter, and pink eye. That sounds way cooler than we will learn the differences between various microbes. It makes the content relevant and more importantly, it gives them a voice in their education. I know what I need them to learn in my class but they just told me how they would like to learn it.

Okay, now the topic/unit is planned… moving on to how we approach the content. RIG’s (research in groups)is another technique I like to use to get the students thinking and researching. We already know what we’d like to learn about so we take the main questions that came up in discussions and explore them. To keep the microbe unit example going, they had a slew of awesome questions. What really are antibiotics? Where do they come from? Why does a cold suck so much? Where does mucus come from? Canker sores are herpes – fact or fiction? I do these in two different ways – depending on how the class discussion goes or how interested the students are in the questions. If there is one big question that the kids disagree on, I have the teams (collaborative tables with 4 people at them) research the same question. My only stipulation is that they must answer the question and provide scientific evidence to support their claim/answer. The groups spend time looking for answers and in the process come up with several other questions. I tell them to write them all down. We go through and present our answers and discuss the relevant content along the way. Pretty soon, the kids know the different between bacteria and viruses and also how to research, how to speak in from of a large group, how to argue a claim, how to react to set-backs, and how to ask additional questions. So I could have lectured or given a PowerPoint on the difference between bacteria and viruses but I believe using the students natural curiosities is much more powerful. #inquiryforthewin.  The other way I use RIG’s involves the teams to research different questions but they all stem around the same general topic. Using this slight modification allows for a wider scope of answers and opinions. It also tends to generate more questions that can be explored (either through research, actual laboratory exploration, or through human interactions/conversations).

Last little tid bit on how I make the science labs inquiry based. Instead of a cookie cutter lab where the students are robots following a list of commands from a company that wrote the procedure 10 years ago, I have the students create their own investigations. I might start with a guiding question (like right now in AP Biology – What factors do you think will affect photosynthesis?). I go through and show them some different methods to measure/see that photosynthesis is working, then I set them loose. They have to come up with their own hypotheses, controls, and procedures. They collect and analyze their own data. They come up with their own conclusions about photosynthesis based on their data and the data of their peers. Each group does something different and presents their findings out to the class. I’m there to help guide the students to become better scientists and to expand their content knowledge but this way, they are doing the majority of the thinking for themselves. This inquiry approach ‘covers’ scientific thinking, collaboration, data analysis, summary writing & speaking, and a great deal of photosynthesis details all in shorter amount of time than a traditional lecture and lab to confirm the lecture.

So, what is inquiry… It’s complicated but beautifully simple. It’s open but thoughtfully structured. It’s asking questions but actually exploring and creating your own conclusions. It’s collaborative, but metacognitive and personal. It’s engaging in your passions, while learning something new. Inquiry is fun(gi).

(Special thanks to Kyle & Ryan as we have had several conversations about inquiry and collaborated to make inquiry a success in each other’s classrooms.)

I spent some time with Marc Prensky and some fellow teachers today. 

We were there to discuss anything education. The format was a bit hinky as we were arranged in a large circle and were asked to simply, well, ask Marc questions. 

We had an hour.

Now, to know me is to know that I can talk - especially about education. I enjoyed our discourse but after an hour’s time was just starting to get warmed up. It’s possible that the meeting could have been organized differently to make an hour feel much longer.

Here’s some feedback:

Roundtable discussion. We sat in a large circle.


I agree with Marc that “circles encourage conversation,” but I would have loved to have been sitting at a round or oval* table. It would have been easier to take notes, doodle, live-tweet, etc. Do they make tables large enough for this group?

* and by oval I truly mean elliptical (hat tip to Karl Fisch)

Coffee talk! Coffee was there somewhere but it would have been brilliant to have it at the tables where we sat… you know, like at a coffee shop. I suppose the words I’m thinking of are ambiance and warmth.

Ask us questions. Encouraging conversations amongst educators is such an important part of professional development and growth. I would have loved it if Marc would have asked us questions and then facilitated our group’s conversations. Instead the format was long-winded and too filibuster-ish. Given a description of our collective expertise, passions and vision I think would have allowed Marc to prepare and facilitate such a discussion.

Lights! Cameras! (No) Action! I certainly value the decision to video our session. Video is a shareable medium that can propagate and go viral. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind as to its importance and impact. I suppose by setting the scene as I described above (table, coffee, etc.) would help here, but there must be a way to make the camera and crew less obvious. People get self-conscious and seemed to either talk too much or not talk enough. It was entirely too composed in there! To borrow a phrase from one of my colleagues, we just weren’t getting “rowdy” enough.

Though I certainly appreciated the invitation and the time to gather with my colleagues (and Marc), I think it could have been more impactful with provided some purposeful planning and execution. The conversations were just getting deep when our time ended, which is why I’m craving a “Round Two” of sorts.

Though this post may seem a tad bit critical, I’m really just reflecting on the time spent with Marc and my colleagues, its overall impact, and how events/meetings like this could be conducted in the future. I’m very thankful to the people who organized today’s meeting. Like I said earlier in this post, creating conversations in educational professional development is fantastically important.


Here are some points that Marc and others made that, for one reason or another, are sticking with me because I either agree, disagree or am still working to figure them out.

Content cannot live in isolation. We must recognize opportunities for multidisciplinary work and design learning with respect to such opportunities.

We are in the midsts of a digital revolution that had no specific beginning, but is truly revolutionizing society.

Nothing, not even reading, writing and math, is immune from this rapid change.

Some current reforms and legislation may be mired in “20th century” and/or “analog” thinking.

Computer science should be introduced early and in an integrated fashion with all content.

Programming languages are world languages, i.e., World Languages are not necessarily defined by physical borders.

The time-tested concept of campus education will change as eLearning technologies continue to evolve and improve. Translation: “Stand by to stand by!” and, “Fasten your seat belts!”

Marc, like others I’ve met this past year, travel the globe having these types of discussions. Globalization.

Again, thank you to the organizers, my colleagues and to Marc for the thoughtful conversations.

With more than 100 years in education COLLECTIVELY, we know that most high school freshman:

  • are not truly self motivated to learn in a traditional academic setting. They need external srewards or punishments for motivation

  • are not oriented toward long-term goals. Instead, school forces them to focus on short term successes or goals (test, week, project)

  • do not know what they are passionate about or lack the inspiration to pursue that passion within the traditional academic setting

  • have a limited awareness of their potential powerful relationship to the larger communities in which they reside

So, IMAGINE a school setting that will attempt to create intrinsically motivated, goal oriented passionate students able to take full ownership of their education before they fully matriculate into the world of work or post-high school education.

IMAGINE a school that will focus on student “doing” and “creating” as learning. Instead of learning, then doing, our students will learn AS they build, design, produce, experiement, create, innovate and invent. A school that adopts:

  • Problem or Project Based Learning using an Inquiry approach.

  • the elimination of grades in favor of a more informative, more relevant form of narrative feedback. Feedback that describes a student’s progression toward mastery of specific content or skill standards

  • the elimination of a traditional bell schedule, term lengths and seat time. A schedule flexible enough to allow students to learn what they need when they need with the guidance and mentoring of content experts

  • small seminar classes where teachers offer skill and content specific lessons students will need to master in order to complete projects. Instead of 35 students spending 90 minutes with one teacher for 18 weeks, seminars work with small-groups in shorter periods when students and mentors identify the need.

  • a more individual curriculum based on student needs, interests and personal academic goals identified with the guidance and mentoring of content experts.

  • public displays of student learning where they design, present and DEFEND their learning

  • A building design that includes spaces for collaboration, computers, quiet reflection, to use tools for messy creations, small seminars and lectures, guided and independent labs, and presentations.

In order to accomplish these goals, IMAGINE a school that offers a solid, real advisory program where mentors assist students in

  • choosing projects that will allow them to proves mastery in all contents needed in order to earn a solid liberal arts education and ultimately a DCSD and Colorado diploma.

  • building their weekly schedules. Once Mosaic publishes the weekly schedule, mentors and students build a personal schedule based on individual skill and content needs. These seminars address the identified academic needs and help students gain mastery in skills/content needed for current project(s).

  • creating individual long-term project management skills, including: goal setting, self-analysis, and work-flow analysis.

  • communicating regularly with family regarding progress toward mastery and interventions in place to support success.

IMAGINE a school day that looks like this:

  • students arrive and review their schedule for the day

  • Because their current project, he and his mentor have identified a specific need in Math. He heads to 8550 for a 20 minute session with Mr. Justice for his seminar of Exponential Rate of Growth

  • He and his partner have blocked out early-morning to continue to test, collect and analyze data in order to identify further design changes for their invention

  • Since he plays trombone in the Jazz band, he leaves to attend CVHS Band class that meets 2A - every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

  • Since he is coming from the band room, he decides to take first lunch and meet his friends

  • After lunch, he has scheduled a writing lab/conference with Mr. Schneider to review his research and essay plan regarding his data collection.

  • After the conference, he meets with his project partners to share new insight into their research

  • Based on weekly conference with his mentor, he moves to a 90 minute lab with Ms. Chloupek on the Zombie Apocalypse Contagion (Rate of Growth)

  • Before he leaves for the day, he drafts and publishes his daily blog. At this time, he refines his script for his groups’ weekly podcast and previews his schedule for tomorrow.

Notice a few things:

  • He know when, where and WHY he travels from place to place, teacher to teacher and content to content

  • Parents will know exactly what he is doing through his own words, teacher narratives and public displays of learning

  • He has time for collaboration, experimentation, reflection and production each and every day

  • He is guided by a mentor and several content experts

  • He is learning specific skills and content WHILE he collaborates on a long-term, interdisciplinary project

  • He is free to take advantage of CVHS life - lunch, electives, sports, clubs

As we attempt to fulfill our school’s Mission Statement, these are our plans. We know the hard work starts now as we continue to present Mosaic to students and parents, design and refine project ideas, create and submit a budget, modify the physical space, research and choose the best method for digital portfolio creation and curation and narrative feedback - and continue the difficult job of navigating the never ending minefield that is our colleague negativity.

Any thoughts or suggestions? Thanks,


Here’s a provocative, five-minute video wherein a student from Knox County, Tennessee addresses his school board. Here are some quotes that stuck with me… please consider watching the video embedded below.

Rigorous is a buzzword.

These subjective, anxiety-producers do more to damage a teacher’s self-esteem than you realize.

Erroneous evaluation, coupled with strategic compensation, presents a punitive model that - as a student - is like watching your teacher jump through flaming hoops to earn a score.

… teaching is interaction.

Education is unlike every other bureaucratic institution in our government. The task of teaching is never quantifiable.

Everything is career and college prepatory. Somewhere our Founding Fathers are turning in their graves… pleading, screaming and trying to say to us that we teach to free minds - we teach to inspire, we teach to equip. The careers will come naturally.

Haven’t we gone too far with data?

Ethan’s closing remarks are evidence of a deep thought process that he undoubtedly went through as he prepared his comments. He says that fools complain about the state of affairs without suggesting improvements. He then strongly urges the board to study and research his comments before continuing their course of action.

What a wonderful example of a freed mind and I can’t help but wonder: What career will come naturally for Ethan?

From a recent email:

Thank you for all your hard work during term one.  Congratulate yourself for everything you have done - creating your e-portfolio, formulating your goals and professional growth plan, developing performance task assessments, posting your grades, establishing your club, participating in STOMP and/or Showdown, mentoring an intern and/or colleague, taking tickets at an athletic event, conferring with parents at conferences, participating in safety drills. You have all been very busy and deserving of a relaxing fall break to re-charge for next term. Enjoy your family and friends and bring balance back to your life.

Me: Oh, and for teaching kiddos. :)


I did all of this stuff AND even found time - with the help of my chemistry students - to add another fire drill to the list.

It was a nice and well-intended email. I just thought this list was funny (and kind of pathetic).