The biggest problem with schools isn’t the industrial system of standardization that most education reformers are saying. The industrial system is a big problem, but the problem of the industrial system is rooted in a much deeper problem.
The deeper underlying reason then, is that most of the time students aren’t given a motivating reason to attend school.
In the a video that recently went viral, Jeff Bliss stands up in the classroom to a teacher that wasn’t teaching effectively. Bliss, like any other high school student in the United States, didn’t see the point in doing worksheets.
Telling students that attending school gives them a better future isn’t a sufficient reason.
What students need isn’t a reason, but passion and purpose. When a student finds their passion and purpose, and isn’t afraid to fully go after it, students can learn no matter what system they find themselves in. Having a passion and purpose will allow students to make their own reasons for learning in every situation.
But instead of helping students cultivate passion and purpose, schools bombard students with a system that doesn’t value who they are as individuals, forcing everyone into one size regardless of who they are.
Not many students will care whether their school looks like a factory or not, but every student is looking for passion and purpose in life that they can spend their lives learning and doing.
It’s time the system stopped neglecting that.
Don Wettrick, the founder of a new type of academic class in Franklin, Indiana, is taking principles of education reform by people like Sir Ken Robinson, Seth Godin, Daniel Pink, and putting it into practice. Wettrick’s Innovations class at Franklin Community High School is one of the many that are working to change education as we know it.
Wettrick, being an english teacher for fifteen years, knew that he had to find a better way to engage students and allow them to express their creativity. Inspired largely by Daniel Pink and Google’s work time model (where employees allocate 20% of their time to fun projects), Innovations is a student run, student taught, and student managed class. In the Innovations class, students have access to a television production studio, complete with computers and cameras and screens necessary to do practically any type of video work. Innovations is still in it’s early stages as a pilot program running for the first year, but there has already been significant results that have proven the power of such a class.
I had the chance of skyping with Mr. Wettrick and learn a little bit more about his Innovations class. While making the skype call, I was astonished by the quality of the equipment I saw in the classroom. The classroom does not resemble a typical classroom by any stretch, but more like a video producer’s playground.
With the equipment, the students not only have been working on their own personal or group creative projects, they have also used the equipment to reach out to and connect with industry leaders such as Microsoft’s Vice President and other international leaders.
To the class, social media is an integral part of what they do, and the students are realizing how powerful social media is to changing the world, and how they can put themselves out their by learning how to create their own personal branding. Being based largely on social media, the class aims to make teaching more transparent, because when teachers are transparent and collaborate, they are able to educate their students in a more effective manner.
According to Wettrick, “students don’t need to go to school to learn anymore. School should be a place where students can learn together.” Acknowledging the fact that learning from the Internet while collaborating with other students is much more powerful than listening to a teacher talk, the class allows for students to learn with their own preferences.
The truth is, many of the lectures and notes on the internet today are of much higher quality than anything a single teacher can produce on their own. Wettrick recognizes this especially in the field of video production, and instead of competing with online resources, he utilizes the resources on the internet to help his students to the highest quality content possible.
Since the beginning of Innovations, the class has made many accomplishments, one of the most significant being the selection to receive a pair of Google glass from Google’s testing program. Wettrick shared about how inspired he was by the way that the students pooled together the last minute to submit their application. Google glass will provide the students in the class to take part in the technology that companies around the world are developing.
Perhaps the most inspiring element of this class is how the students are able to take control of their own learning. Wettrick doesn’t need to assign projects and grade homework, because he is not interested in asking students questions with answers he already knows.
“The role of the teacher is to be a facilitator and motivator. It’s not about asking the right questions for students to answer, but inspiring students to ask the right questions.”
Education should be about pushing students to explore deeper than what is currently understood. Instead of observing areas of study from a distance or behind a textbook, students should be on the front lines, being the ones that explore and expand human understanding further.
Every school should provide the option for students to self-direct their learning, instead of forcing students into a systematic, factory model of education. To some, the Innovations class is seen as fluff, where students don’t really achieve that can be measured by a standard, but the effect of allowing students to explore on their own has had extremely positive results for the Innovations class.
If you are interested in helping out the Innovations class, they are currently raising money to extend the potential of the class. To them, having a budget leads students to come up with creative solutions to the challenges that they face.
The class currently has plans to publish a book, and if you are interested in connecting or helping the education revolution, check them out!
The answer is not that children have a greater capacity for learning, as this is just a naive excuse for not uncovering the deeper issues.
The playground: a place where kids play with each other, learning how to communicate, run, have fun, and dream. It was the place I spent hours catching butterflies, looking at flowers, staring at clouds, and climbing trees. It was the place where I made my first friends, played my first basketball game, and fell off the slide.
But somewhere along the line, I traded in the playground for a textbook.
In middle school, I remember waking up at 7 in the morning, turning on my computer, and exploring the internet, playing games, learning how to code, or learning how to do photo manipulation because I was utterly fascinated with what I was exploring. I found such joy in learning things because everything seemed so new, so fresh, so unexplored, and I could learn about anything and everything my heart desired to know.
I found myself immersed in graphics, design, photography, web, and music to the point where I would spend all my spare time browsing web tutorials, talking to people, maintaining my website, recording music, or anything else that I felt like learning.
Children are able to learn much faster because their learning is natural and they haven’t fallen into the rigid structure that we call school. Children have a tendency to explore and question things, because of utter fascination with the world around them. They haven’t been taught frameworks of Cornell notes, scientific method, Socratic method, grade point average, or other systems that we have been forced to use in school.
To every young child, a desire to learn is given by default. Only after years of school do questions turn from “Why is the sky blue?” to “Will this be on the exam?”
I never took a formal class on web development. All my understanding of web development has come from building websites with the help of some friends. And ironically, I can remember details of PHP code that I learned on my own four years ago much more clearly than what was on the midterm I took last week.
Children are creative. We can either allow them to think for themselves through their innate creativity, or endlessly spend money and time trying to teach them how we think. One of these methods is a low cost way that creates a diverse, innovative world, while the other is an expensive, time consuming process that tries to force everyone to be the same.
Children take learning as a part of daily life, while adults see learning as a textbook in a classroom. Children see learning as a playground, a sandbox where they can create whatever they want.
And as I grew up, I had to fight against the current of conformity by regularly exploring topics that no one made me explore in to keep my childhood curiosity. I developed methods of minimizing my time spent on schoolwork in order to maximize my self-directed learning time by taking control of my own time, instead of allowing external systems control my time.
A video I made in a span of a year completely on my own.
Only within the last year was I able to put words to my mindset that I was so regularly living by. My childlike dreams and desires to learn things beyond what was required of me have given me the best adventures learning material I will never forget, unlike most of the lessons that were taught in classrooms.
My next dream is exactly that. To bring out the natural tendencies that children have to explore and learn, and to empower that rather than smother it. To encourage my ten year old self and the ten year olds in others to keep dreaming and exploring, and to never let go of that childlike passion.
I’m done with textbooks and scantrons. I’m going to go play in the playground.
I’ve grown up with you, you have often the first person I see in the mornings, and on some days I’ve spent more time with you in your classrooms than with my family in my own home. Thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made to teach me to the best of your ability. Each one of you has had an impact on the way that I see life, and contributed to the person I am today.
I thank you for being so consistent in the classroom, even on days when you weren’t in high spirits but still spent the effort and time to teach class. Thank you for taking the time to review our work, and for the times that you gave real and honest feedback to us.
I thank you for being so motivated, even when we have shown little or no interest in lectures by sleeping, texting, or talking, or even speaking slanderous words behind your back. It takes guts to do that, and I’m sure we don’t realize or acknowledge how much you have to sacrifice of yourself in order to teach us.
I appreciate you for all that you’ve sacrificed and who you are, and my interactions with you in the classroom have been the inspiration for my dream to come around and empower you to connect and teach your students on a whole new level. You’ve instilled in me a great value for education, and a real heart to believe in younger generations and inspire them to truly become themselves.
My dream is to bring a revolution to the way that you relate to and teach your students, not because I am angry or bitter, but because of a genuine desire to improve education to be more relevant to students, teachers, industries, and families. I dream of making your jobs even more fulfilling by building a system that encourages human connection and feedback, where trust becomes a path for you to have even greater impacts on the lives of your students.
My dream is to bring genuine trust and respect to parent-student-teacher relationships, so that teaching and tutoring fosters a human connection that extends deeper than simply the subject material. Because as I’ve realized in the last eighteen years, learning is just as much of an emotional process as a mental process if not more.
I know that it hurts you at times to give your students low grades because you believe in their potential to truly learn, but many times that has been lost in communication. I want to create a system where you are free to express that in order to inspire students, and make them look deeper than the letter grade on the surface.
But I can’t do this alone. I need your help. Just as I needed your help to understand academic concepts in your classes, I need your support at a time like this in order to bring a true revolution to the way schools are run.
This is dedicated to you.
Children are forced to attend school because we are afraid to let them learn on their own, make their own choices, and do whatever they want.
High schoolers are forced to take standardized tests because we cannot trust a personal and individualized measurement of creativity.
People often find themselves trapped in rigid, organized systems that don’t trust the individual.
Many of the systems that exist today are built on feelings of mistrust. However, there are other systems that are beginning to operate from a place of trust.
Trust brings human connection and innovation. Much of the business world is beginning to understand trust. Wikipedia trusts any individual to edit their knowledge base, Quora is trusting individuals to answer questions, Craigslist is trusting individuals to exchange goods.
But while trust brings authenticity, creativity, and personality, it also means vulnerability and inconsistency.
It means that people will no longer have systems and programs to hide behind, and really expose themselves to the world. It means that people will have to take command of their own learning and creating, and building for themselves what they dream in their heart.
When we learn how to trust other people by default, creativity will create innovation at a much faster rate.
I recently got together with an high school friend to put together a short article on college.
Even though more people than ever are receiving a higher education, there still hasn’t been a true democratization of college. This is ironic, because we have all the tools to make such a change. The biggest difference between the past and the present is how drastically communication has improved.
At this point, there are two visions of the future. One would continue down the path of escalation and hyper-individualism, where human beings steadily become more machinelike, starting from taking college prep courses in elementary school and ending with being hooked up to an IV at work, continually ingesting a cocktail of Adderall and Ritalin and other cognitive enhancers just to be able to hold onto your job. When everyone is struggling to place themselves above the rest, every man is an island, with no opportunity for collaboration.
In the Meta Learning section of The 4-Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss, he shows a graph which he calls the bipolar learning graph. Below is a quick replica of it.
This graph charts out the ups downs of each new thing that someone learns, allowing a person to anticipate how they are going to feel as they learn a new thing. Tim Ferriss uses it in his book to illustrate learning a new language, but the principles can be applied to practically anything.
Whenever someone first begins learning a new subject or skill, there will be a period of accelerated learning that brings a very satisfied feeling of learning in a very short amount of time. This part of the learning is related to the concept discussed in my previous post about the 80/20 rule, in which 80% of the material can be learned in 20% of the time, which explains why so much is learned so quickly in the beginning, making the learner feel very confident.
Shortly after learning the basics of a new language, skill, or subject, comes a point where a person begins to realize how difficult a new skill actually is, and has run out of the “beginner” material that is simple concepts and memorization. Additionally, at this point, the person realizes that they are no longer learning as quickly as they were before, dropping their confidence and morale a little bit. Regarding languages, this is the point where the person begins creating their own sentences and thoughts in the new language instead of using simple canned responses.
At some point later, the person’s learning confidence hits rock bottom, and the brain begins neurally adapting whatever it is they are learning, pulling it deeper than simple surface level memorization, working to allow the brain to do less thinking to accomplish the same tasks. It may be muscle memory or habit formation.
The graph then plateaus out to a place where the person is still using effort to learn, but it feels like they are not learning as quickly as they did in the beginning.
Then eventually, the person reaches the inflection point, which is casually referred to as the “click”, and the learning becomes easy and accelerates the person to fluency, or proficiency.
Using this bipolar learning graph, it is easy to predict various levels of confidence as a person learns a new subject, making it easier to prepare for what’s ahead and not get stuck or give up at a low point.
I’m weird. While most people study different subjects, I study different ways of studying.
After reading things from Tim Ferris, Michael Ellsburg, and others, I have found that the 80/20 rule applies practically anywhere.
The idea is that 20% of the work produces 80% of the results.
The challenge then, is deconstructing and figuring out which 20% gives you the most results. For example, in every language there are words that are the most commonly used words, which often make up a large majority of the whole language. If you are able to supercharge your learning by learning what matters, everything else comes a lot easier.
This concept has saved me countless hours of academic work, by prioritizing material to learn. In my most recent writing class, I experimented on how to read and analyze multiple articles and write a two to three page response in less than half an hour. With the end paper in mind, I began typing my response to the articles while I was reading them, knowing that all my teacher wanted was a thoughtful response to the articles.
This concept explains how people like Tim Ferris are able to master skills in extremely short periods of time. (Look him up if you’ve never heard of him)
Therefore, it is no longer about how you study, how long you study, but also what you study and the order you study it in.
It’s been about a week since I attended TEDx San Diego, and I’m still thinking about the inspiration and ideas that were shared at the conference.
TEDx San Diego
In case you aren’t familiar with TED talks that are slowly popping up everywhere, feel free to check them out. You won’t be disappointed. I promise.
I stumbled across TEDx San Diego while browsing the internet one day, and decided that I would like to go to one of these conferences at some point in my life. Coming across the TEDx San Diego page, I promptly noticed that I would be in San Diego at that time, and filled out an application. (Yes, you must apply in order to attend a TEDx Conference)
I applied, thinking that I probably wouldn’t get in seeing as I had applied late, and probably wasn’t the hyper-entrepreneur that other people probably were. But when I received the acceptance letter, I quickly paid my $100 for a ticket.
TEDx was incredible. To say the least. The way that the speakers engaged with the audience on levels ranging from emotional to intellectual was nothing short of mindblowing.
I learned about and connected with people who had inspirational life stories, people who were making a difference socially in the world, people who were researching new technologies such as thought controlled computing, and people who were musical prodigies. There were people who were teaching entrepreneurship in prisons, people who were educating homeless children, authors who wrote countless bestseller books, researchers learning about indigenous African tribes, engineers who are creating contact lenses with a computer chip on them, and so many more.
It felt amazing sitting in an auditorium surrounded by people who were so captivated and willing to learn and understand what each speaker was talking about. Each session lasted approximately an hour and a half, but the day felt like it went by in a breath.
It was a seven hour conference packed with 33 talks, all of which struck different intellectual and emotional chords.
Regardless of the obvious flaws in the education system, most people still have to endure at least eighteen years of it, if not more.
I love challenging traditional notions that no one else challenges.
Take studying for example: It is nearly unanimously accepted that spending more time learning studying will make a person smarter.
But I believe that such thoughts are largely misguided. While counselors and teachers heavily emphasize the amount of time a student should be working on academic-related work, it is much more practical and effective to focus on what is actually beneficial to a person’s learning.
In my four years of high school, I picked up how to maximize results of the time I spent on academics, while retaining facts and exploring areas that were of interest to me.
I went to a nationally distinguished and highly competitive high school that sent students to every single Ivy League college.
And yet, while many of my peers spent hours and hours studying, I can probably count the number of times I actually sat down to study with one digit. And even despite studying only a fraction of the amount that my classmates studied, I maintained a solid 3.9 GPA in high school.
And with the extra time that I had, I focused my energy on actually learning thing that I cared about, such as web, graphic, circuit design, etc.
I’ve never believed in studying the way that most school teachers explained it. Don’t get me wrong, I love learning new things, and challenging myself to grow. But if you tell me that successful learning is found in patterns of reading, doing homework, and taking exams, you’ve been listening to what other people tell you too much.
True learning comes from an internal desire to expand your horizons. Such a desire can be manifested in a desire to take a class, go to school, etc, but is not limited to traditional means.
The most effective way to learn is have an internal passion and drive to learn it on your own. But most of the time, schools and educational systems do not give students enough freedom to allow students to learn completely in accordance to their passions.
For example, I love writing. I love expressing my thoughts on a blog, and articulating what’s on my mind to the internet. I am genuinely interested in improving my skills as a writer, but the writing class required for my college makes me want to gouge my eyes out. Why? because the class puts me in a box, forces me to analyze poorly written articles that I have no interest in, and then expects me to pick a side and come up with arguments for it.
Children, when they are born, are naturally curious about the world around them. They want to learn about the mechanics of trains, cars, and planes, animals, or anything else they can see, hear, taste, touch, or smell. It only takes a decade of schooling to demotivate them from learning. They start dreading subjects because they are forced to memorize information and regurgitate it on an exam, and their genuine internal drive starts fading away.
Perhaps it would be most effective to avoid the education system altogether, if you’re an individual that is motivated and driven enough to learn things on your own. But for most of us, who are in school for a degree, or because we need classes, exams, and fear of failure to motivate us, here are some ways to readjust your mindset and allow yourself freedom to actually learn.
If you never want to spend an hour studying ever again, you have to focus on learning. You have to learn the material to the point where you are able to teach it to someone else. There were countless of times in high school when I walked into a class, and remembered upon walking into the class that there was an exam that day. Did I study the night before? No. Did I freak out because I didn’t study? No. Did I have a nervous breakdown? No. I sat down and aced the test.
I was able to maintain that habit throughout high school because I focused on learning the material as soon as it was taught, not waiting for an upcoming exam to force it all into my head. I let my mind connect different subjects together, seeing the big picture of how everything I was learning was connected to everything else. That way, I was always prepared for an exam, and never let fear serve as a motivator to learn.
Here’s the big catch. If you want to get more out of school, you have to care less about your grade. In fact, it would probably be the most advantageous to learning if you never saw your grade or numerical progress in a class. That way, instead of worrying you won’t get a good grade, you can focus on truly learning and understanding the material being taught. In fact, learning not to care about your grade will naturally relieve you from being as stressed, tired, and burnt out, allowing you to actually learn in a healthier mental state.
The 80/20 rule applies to learning as well. If you aren’t familiar with the 80/20 rule, it basically states that 20% of the input causes 80% of the output. Applied to learning, 20% of the effort will allow you to understand 80% of the material.
I believe that anybody can do this. Most people have difficulty unlearning everything they’ve been taught about how to study, thus hindering them from being motivated from a deeper, more effective place.
This is not to say that one way of studying is perfect for everyone. You will definitely have to experiment with circumstances, environments, and conditions that will help you learn best, or motivate you to learn best.
Take advantage of what you have. Just because you aren’t in a class doesn’t mean you can’t learn that subject. Just because your professor teaches math doesn’t mean you can’t ask them about art. Don’t feel boxed in by the suggestions of other people, learn to think outside the box and be as creative as you can.