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Creative Learning for those unhappy in “school-as-usual”


I'm interested in how creative and interest-based learning can be applied to those who feel stifled by their experiences in schools that are still running on "factory model" paradigms.

I honestly felt like most of my experience through school, especially in junior high, high school, and various attempts at college, involved minimal actual learning. Things were set up around complying with rules, and following instructions, imposed by people who didn't have the time or inclination to get to know me as an individual learner.

Over time, I've connected with many others who feel the same way... and over the past few years, I've found an explosion of voices (in the form of talks, videos, edu-MOOCs, and social media conversations) who agree that education needs to change.

The beginning of video (2) for the first week of LCL2 hit on that point, too.

(Here's a key 2-minute clip I made using YouTube's video editor -- yay, Creative Commons!)

And there's the problem: many students feel "trapped" in school, where interest-based learning, and creative learning, is often a foreign concept. Things like personal learning networks, learning through connecting online, and the like, are starting to be embraced by many more innovative educators.

I've talked to many of these students, who experience school just like I did. There's such an incredible amount of unhappiness among them, typically mixed with intelligence, interests, and at least the seeds of passions.. Many of them do pursue those interests -- but they typically seen as meaningless hobbies, relative to the "important work" of school, by parents, teachers, and even the therapists many of these young people end up seeing.

Meanwhile, I'm hearing all these voices, including at MIT Media Lab, saying, "of course education needs to change" and "let's change it!" But, I'm seeing a huge disconnect between these conversations, talks, and articles, and many students stuck in home-and-school environments where the relevant adults have never heard of such things, and reject it all as nonsense.

In most cases, the defining narrative of parents is "the story" Ken Robinson mentioned in Changing Education Paradigms. Go to school, work hard, do well (get good grades), go to college, get a job, and you'll have success. Creative learning? 21st century-skills? Pursuing one's interests? These aren't part of that equation-for-success.

Here's one of many similar complaints, posted in the past couple days:

"Homework that is. So many useless pages of homework, so much time, trees, ink, thinking power and mental stability WASTED on these useless ****** booklets that mean absolutely NOTHING. But you "have" to do them or else you will "fail" both in school and in life" (link)

Here's another:

"School has been killing me lately. For the past couple of days, when its near the end of the school day (about 7th or 8th period), I feel a big, deep depression come over me and i feel tired and unable to do anything for the rest of the day. I can't take much more of this. I don't know what to do anymore. My dad is opposed to online school and homeschooling, so I'm plain f*****.


Surveys like the High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE) show that these aren't isolated cases. A substantial subset of students are bored, disengaged and miserable in school -- despite the calls to implement creative learning, interest-based learning, and learner-centric learning.

(Continued in part two.)


So, where's the disconnect, and what can be done about it?

Ken Robinson's RSA Animate talk, Changing Education Paradigms, really sums up a lot of these key points. In short, "factory-model" schools are alienating millions of students, who "don't see any purpose in going to school."

Much of the problem lies the so-called "factory model" of education, and people's concept of education being strictly linked that.

Some elements of this basic structure:
(1) ringing bells between specific-length class periods.
(2) one-size-fits-all assignments, and per-subject letter grades, outweighing interest-based, passion-driven projects
(3) teachers being paid specifically to teach specific subjects, rather than working with learners directly based on their interests and learning preferences
(4) the common notion that connecting with others online is either frivolous or dangerous, rather than a path to substantive, credible, live-relevant learning.

Many students do alright with that structure, of course. Some thrive in it. But for a subset of students, school-as-usual is an incredibly dismal experience. That's led to the existence of a support site, School Survival, that gets a stream of these "school-averse" students who Google phrases like "I hate school."

Meanwhile, in their quest to compel their kids perform in school -- parents' #1 tool is often to take away devices and access to the Internet... key tools for connecting with interests, people beyond the limited roles in their schools, and so on (one teacher's perspective, one student's perspective.) Another common approach is to use psych meds, with the purpose of improving school performance, before ever asking whether the learning environment itself is the problem.

My quest in all this is to figure out how to help these unhappy students transform their learning. How to do that poses quite a creative learning challenge, in most cases!

As part of that quest, I'm developing a transmedia, documentary-style series that illustrates some of these disconnects, along with educating people about some of these concepts involved in creative learning.

And so, I'm curious who else in LCL2 is interested in talking about these issues in more length, and sharing related stories. I have lots of links and things to say... but I easily lapse into overwhelming walls of content. So I'll leave it here for now. smile


I appreciate how you have approached the problem and the various factors that contribute to the continuation of the "school as usual" structure. In your quest, it sounds like you are going further into illustrating the problem. When you have these links and documentation, who is the audience? Are you inspiring or provoking the parents or teachers into action or the students themselves? What is your view of creative learning that you hope to connect to others? I hope you don't mind questions so that it might create a dialogue to explore the issues and the solutions, I really appreciate that you are posting more to engage the MOOC into applications beyond the personal development of creative thinking and our self-selected individual products into a communal creative response to something bigger than ourselves.


Good questions! For one thing, audience... I'm interested in helping everyone involved in education, including educators, families, policy-makers, and learners, take a step back and look at things from multiple angles.

Really, I'm still evolving my ability to write in a way that pulls together various references into a readable and engaging format. So in that sense, I'm engaging in my personal creative development as well. smile

My view of creative learning might well be a post of its own. But in short, I think starting with people's interests, and finding ways to connect to real-life challenges, are both key elements of creative learning. I also think there are some basic concepts and skills people can develop that can enhance creative learning... including understanding some things about the mind and brain, about the creative process, about how to do research, and how to collaborate with others and produce deliverables (as technical as that sounds.)

I lurked in LCL1, so I have a sense of what LCL2 will be about. I've also participated in some other edu-MOOCs, like DNLE (Designing a New Learning Environment.) Courses like these, and broader PLN-based learning using social media, by nature incorporate a lot of elements of creative or connected learning. Of note, the people running these courses are using them as learning opportunities, as well, and I think that's an excellent example of creative learning. Also, these courses, by nature, transcend particular subject-areas, so they're different from the typical single-subject "school class." Personally, I love this, and learn much better this way. smile

I suppose it's also possible to define creative learning by what it's not... which can be seen in learning environments that are based heavily on rote memorization, behavioral compliance, and simplified assessments (multiple-choice tests, very constrained rubrics, and the like.) I think a lot of educators, especially those would seek out courses like LCL2, are also eager to move beyond that approach to eduction, but they encounter their own set of roadblocks: parents and students are used to school working in a cetain way, administrators and policy-makers want data they can easily make sense of, and in cases where a teacher's school environment is stifling to them, it may be very difficult to either (1) change things within, or (2) find a teaching job that's more open to creative teaching (as well as creative learning.)

On that note, I lurked in another edu-MOOC that wrapped up recently, New School Creation, which was interesting to observe. Roughly 200 educators got together to learn about creating their own schools, often based on these now-familiar sets of themes centered around creative, learner-centric, interest-based learning, as opposed to the traditional one-size-fits-all "factory model."

I think as courses like these continue to run, more people will get up to speed with the underlying ideas and methods of creative learning, and then the question becomes "how do I apply this?" -- whether it's in one's career, one's home life, or just with personal pursuits.

Anyway, did that answer your questions? smile

In short, yes, I'm interested in inspiring and provoking those in all of those roles... whoever's interested in jumping into this often confusing question of how to do education differently, whether on a personal level, or on a bigger picture level.


Do you really think it's just a subset of kids that aren't being served by the current education system? Many may have the skills to play the "game of school", but they are still missing out. We need to get better at what we do in schools. I'm really not sure what we're waiting for. What are the teachers, administrators, and parents so afraid of?


You pulled out the clip of the intro that spoke to me so clearly. What are we waiting for? I'm tired of being told by many of my colleagues not to rush things. In many ways we already know what needs to happen in classrooms for learning to improve, but still it's not happening. School hasn't changed in any real, lasting way since its start. Give or take an iPad or laptop, the classrooms I see today would be totally recognizable to my 6-year-old self (I'm 47). Where is that amazing school that isn't afraid to let its teachers and students fail and learn and fail again?


Do you really think it's just a subset of kids that aren't being served by the current education system?

I think there are two broad ways to look at it:

A subset of kids (and even people of college age) can't stand school and are truly disengaged, miserable, and despairing... or dreaming of an alternative. Yet, typically, nobody in their worlds sees it as their job to ask what would be better and build it for them. (Or, such people are constrained by factors like colleagues, other family members, not knowing what to do, time/resource constraints, etc.)

Roz Hussin, part of my PLN on G+, coined the term "cognitive refugees" to describe people of all ages whose minds basically work in different ways than the dominant educational paradigm. (G+ thread about cognitive refugees)

Some are able to find schools that work in a different way, or use some form of unschooling/homeschooling that works for them. But, these aren't always options. Alternative forms of schools are rare (and some are worse than usual, while many others aren't all that different.) Unschooling/homeschooling -- though it works well for many -- isn't seen as an option by most families, and it lacks some of the benefits of school in many cases (including space, resources, and potential expertise of educators beyond their family that school is meant to provide.) That's a big conversation, but I think schools have a lot to learn from the better examples of homeschooling/unschooling.

(2) More broadly, the so-called "factory-model" of schools are failing a majority, even the ones that "play the game" and enjoy the social aspects and structure of these forms of school.

Justin Schwamm (another of my PLN on G+) gave a striking example of this when two of his students who had learned to "plat the game" approached him, as he describes in this blog post: Unexpected Convergence, 2/10/2013

**”It seems like schools spent 10 or 11 years beating the creativity out of us,” she said, “and now, all of a sudden, when we’re seniors, we’re being asked to be creative and independent learners.” **

Much more than that could be written about what's missing in factory-model schools. One of my favorite talks on that topic, highlighting just some of what's missing in schools, is Dan Siegel at TEDxBlue. And I've found many more talks, articles, and posts over the past couple years. And yet, it's very difficult to initiate different kinds of conversations in households and schools that are oriented around an "I went through this, and so will you" mindset.

Many may have the skills to play the "game of school", but they are still missing out. We need to get better at what we do in schools. I'm really not sure what we're waiting for. What are the teachers, administrators, and parents so afraid of?

Great question. I have a pretty good intuitive sense of the answers... or at least I can link a lot of content about it! I'll have to get into that in a separate reply, though, do to length restrictions in Discuss.


I'm not sure there is a clear consensus on what needs to happen in classrooms, or at least it depends how you define "we." smile In my case, I'd prefer not to have single-subject classrooms at all -- I learn much better in a nonlinear, connected manner. That may not work best for everyone, but it raises big questions about the established roles of teachers in post-elementary education... including college.

That reminds me of this clip... Maintaining Classroom Discipline (1947)

And yet, that's part of the problem: teachers and parents alike often believe things have "always" been this way, even though the "factory model" of education has been around for more like 150 years.


Here, there are amazingly a lot more examples than many people are familiar with.

Here's one model of school, for example: A Simple Ed Reform Solution - Connect School Life to Real Life

Shawn Cornally's enter link description here is another secondary-level option, developed by a teacher who was frustration with the limitations of his traditional single-subject classroom.

Bill Ferguson is another teacher I found on G+ who is applying Sugata Mitra's "SOLE" concept to his 5th grade classroom, with very good results and writing about it on is blog (short video/thread about implementing SOLE.)

This video shows a stunning example of a school that's let some of its students do learner-centric learning within a public high school: If students designed their own schools...
The best small town in America experiments with self-directed learning at its public high school. A group of students gets to create their own school-within-a-school and they learn only what they want to learn.

And those are just a few examples. But, doing things differently in a traditional school is hard. Justin Schwamm, who I mentioned above, has blogged daily about his efforts at creating "Joyful Learning Community" in his Latin classroom... with quite a bit of success. But, as he details there, he's still operating within the "factory model," and various aspects of that make overall change difficult.

One question I have is, beyond creating new schools entirely, is, why can't some students and teachers within existing schools, who aren't happy with how things are going, just try doing things differently? The starting point would be a conversation (or series of them) about what that might look like. But, I think for this to happen, in a typical school, someone from outside the school, with some kind of credibility, would have to come in and "give people permission" to do so.

And, I mean that not just (or even primarily) in the sense of formal permission, but in the sense of helping people realize it's not the end of the world to take some risks and open up to asking the big questions, like "why are we doing this?" without reflexively answering from a list of "just because" answers.

It comes back to the question of how the gap can be bridged between what often plays out in schools and households, and all the creative, interest-based, learner-centric, networked learning an increasingly large number of people are embracing and discussing.


In your original posts you talked about lurking in MOOCs and then this one was the one you engaged in. What made the difference? Is it possible there is a tipping point for the students and teachers too? That perhaps they are "lurking" right now because of all the bewildering varieties of c-MOOCs, x-MOOCs, LOOCs, Collaborative Explorations, DIY learning/universities, Maker Movements etc? I think one reason that it's hard for them to have a conversation is because of all the examples you cited that are great but risky. Each has advantages but actually going ahead and choosing means committing and no longer lurking. Even the conversation can be risky, because everyone has his/her idea of the fix and it will mean a lot of time, cost and collaborative work to even listen to each other. I'm not sure if people are looking for permission to start (especially from the outside) just as much as they are looking for a space to imagine on their own first. Where would you start the conversation if you could sit down with a group of students and teachers willing to talk and dream? What would you want to know from them? (More questions smile


Oh, I would never claim a consensus, but I know from experience and research that inquiry-based learning is key to creating classrooms that work better for a majority of students.


I think you've hit on it here. I know all the references you sent, so I guess I was being a bit facetious with my question. I don't work in any of those schools and am not likely to, so I guess I'm wondering why it's so hard to try things differently, as you say. Fear seems to be at the core of it: parental fear based on a misunderstanding of what their children will need to succeed in the world they'll live in; teacher fear of not covering required material and being unsure where a method like inquiry might take them; administrative fear of backlash from parents, boards, etc.


Ultimately what I meant was that I think we're not failing a subset of students; we're failing all of them and ourselves.

Thanks for the links.


Yeah, that's the question! I think one step, is to do interviews with the people who are interested, and get to know who they are in some depth.

What are their goals, their visions for the future, their ideas about the purpose of education?

Further questions, that I'd ask individually (or in a group setting where the main focus is on getting to know the people involved.)

Are you interested in learning more, and open to changing how they look at things?
How much time would you be willing to invest?
What approaches to learning about learning have you used before?
Which have been helpful?
Looking back on your life, what are some significant learning experiences you've had? What were the factors that led up to these? (This question parallels the Gears of My Childhood LCL assignment, as well as questions Steve Hargadon describes asking in his Hack Your Education Tour
What was your experience of school at different points? What did you like and dislike about it?
How did/do your parents view education, school, and path in life?

Those questions need to be fleshed out more, but they're a step toward building up a sort of personal learning profile that I think would be useful when facilitating discussions between people about re-envisioning education, as well.

Part of what's needed, in most, if not all cases, is exposing participants to ideas, examples, and references they may not be familiar with. In fact, that's a big part of all of these edu-MOOCs, like LCL. Once people are exposed to some new content and ideas, their vision of what may be possible might evolve.

But, people vary a lot on how much time or effort they'll spend taking in new information. Justin Schwamm has written quite a few times on his blog about teachers who are so busy managing their classrooms, and so used to the factory-model as the only way to do education, that they see conversations as "philosophical nonsense" and "a waste of time."

If that's the perspective of some of the players in a given scenario (like a family or school) -- alongside others who want to see change -- the question of drilling down into people's current understanding, backstory, and overall motivations for teaching/learning/parenting are even more important to establish as a basis for conversation.

I already try to ask questions along those lines in the conversations I do have with people, but asking all of them is almost like doing a full-on interview!

Still, I think that's one of the things that's necessary in order to establish what people are willing to buy into, and try out, going forward.

Thoughts on that?


Yes, it's certainly overwhelming. Especially when you add in the sheer number of videos on YouTube (even you limit it to TED/TEDx), educator blogs, academic journals... and the list goes on.

For me, the first (c)MOOC I joined was Ed Startup 101, which was pretty obscure (200 participants or so, far less active ones), as part of a long search to figure out how to connect with people who were into discussing education. Through just a little bit of participation there, I found Justin Schwamm, and that led me into the big world of education discussions on G+.

That, for me, was like an "ongoing MOOC" in itself. In those conversations, I learned about another edu-MOOC, Designing a New Learning Environment (DNLE), which I participated in somewhat (I posted some things in the very crowded forums, and participated in the group project, but didn't do the individual assignments.) Much of my "participation" in DNLE took place in parallel G+ conversations, and various G+ threads that have occurred since, with some of the same people who took DNLE.

Through that whole mix, I met @mpoole32, who I've talked to at length since then. He got involved in LCL1, and linked me to the session 2 video, with Joi Ito and Mimi Ito. I think that video has a lot of insight, and I discussed it and shared it outside of the class, but I didn't really dive deeper into LCL1.

Since those, one of the things I've thought about a lot is how these edu-MOOCs could be a lot more effective if they were part of sequences, rather than one-off events. Now, a year later, that's actually happening, with LCL2, so that's one thing that caught my attention.

However, I've tried linking MOOCs (including this one) to quite a few people, and very often they don't bite. Those who have participated in MOOCs in the past often feel overwhelmed (and perhaps they didn't get enough out of previous MOOCs), and those that haven't, often don't see what the big deal is.


I agree... it's not necessarily permission, but it's some combination of motivation, and lack of restraint. In many cases, people don't have any expectation that their imagination could turn into reality, so the may not take the first steps in that direction. Also, it's been pointed out by quite a few people that factory-model schools themselves aren't really designed to support creativity (and imagination...), but instead often function to crush it out of people, in favor of more "practical" pursuits.

That's worth keeping in mind when asking its participants to shift modes into imagination and envisioning a different way of doing things!

Likewise, risk is an important part of it. Just getting into a conversation risks giving others permission or encouragement to question things they're learned to do because they have to. If a parent or teacher starts entertaining the notion that a given students' current assignments and grades maybe don't matter, relative to some other pursuits (like interest-based projects), they open the door for more and more of those questions that don't have easy answers.

So, risk is absolutely something to discuss. It's not something many people seem familiar with thinking about in a positive way. "At-risk" is a synonym for "problems ahead," as is "taking risks" in many cases, while "taking risks" is an important part of creativity and change beyond the status quo.


Exactly. Fear, and an aversion to risk and uncertainty.

On the parent side of things, what their children will need to succeed in the world they'll live in" is the core of it in most cases. That's a whole discussion in itself! What they'll need to succeed, and what they'll need to avoid catastrophic circumstances... however each family defines those things. (And, very often, different parents or other family members have different views... so discussing them can bring up its own kind of conflict.)

On the teacher-and-school side of things, it's noteworthy that you mentioned not just fear of the response from those "above" (administrators, even policy-makers), but parents. So, the way parents look at all this is relevant from multiple angles.

And yet, most parents -- and certainly most parents who are keeping their kids in school-as-usual (vs. unschooling or scouring the earth for unusual kinds of schools) -- went through the same system, and that's often all they know and understand.

So, a process of education is needed to get parents (and in fact, often the students themselves) up to speed on different ways of viewing education. After all, when students are "indoctrinated" with the idea that the reason they're in school is to play the game, to get the grades and credentials, rather than learning... proposing a different way of doing things is likely to stir up fear in many of them... and part of that is linked to the question of what colleges expect to see in their applications.

(That, in turn, gets into a whole conversation about how college works, and might work, in the 21st century... especially given how many people drop out, get into massive debt, or have trouble with life "according to plan" even if they do graduate.)

In other words, more fear and uncertainty to grapple with, in an already overwhelming set of conversations.

The question is then, how can all of this be made safe, enjoyable, and "worth it," despite the risk, fear, and uncertainty?

(And that's where I think getting to know individuals and their worlds, through the kind of questions I mentioned in post 14 above, is a key step toward figuring that out.)


You have so many great points it's hard to know where to continue the conversation. I will start with "practical" creativity. Some of the risk you are asking from people is to see imagination and creative thinking as useful and not just for kids.People can think that you give up creativity the same way you give up playtime or toys. I've also believe that when people define creativity as breaking the rules, it is not taken seriously. Traditionally we brainstorm (allow creativity) but then when it comes to application, we do "critical thinking" and even look down on continued divergent thinking. In order to reach critical (skeptical) thinkers, it might require a creative approach. Showing that interest based education or student partnering in lesson planning/execution actually saves time is one option. Using the interviews as part of a lesson on something else (tie in with topics or skills, etc) are two for one lessons--bonuses for teachers. What are some of the ways you think might work to approach weary teachers who are leery of yet one more "you should do this" or "this will help you" suggestion? What time investments or other supports can we offer so we do not hand off ideas to someone and then move on?


Definitely. Perfect for this course. smile

Good point. How to do that is the next question. It's certainly easiest to do so within a course like this, where the teachers in question are already expressing an interest in learning and trying new things.

So, maybe one step is to do a call-out within the course for follow-up discussion (perhaps hangouts) on that topic in particular. (This could also be shared elsewhere, like G+, and maybe pull more people into the LCL2 conversation.)

The harder part is to give the students I'm talking to the tools to get their teachers involved in these conversations. (In other words, students not happy in school, likely already getting bad grades and not fully participating in current assignments.) That makes for a difficult conversation.

For example, one such student I talked to this evening wrote,

"what do you think would happen if you criticized a teachers teaching method?
I smell trouble"

Of course, suggestions for new ways of doing things don't necessarily require "criticizing," but even introducing new ways of thinking about teaching is a big leap for students whose traditional role in school is "sit down, shut up, and do what you're told." frowning

Still, I think if we got the ball rolling, with conversations with teachers already looking for these conversations, that could lead to something to show more reluctant teachers. (Including edited clips from Hangouts-on-Air, and so on.)

Yes, two for the price of one. smile

That could be related to a general exploration in how to go from "too much to do," to being able to get a lot done with fewer steps.

Great question. I guess I'd put that to teachers... and that might merit its own thread. Maybe LCL2 participants who are looking for new methods can give some thoughts... both in terms of themselves, and their ideas about colleagues (who may be less-receptive.)

Another great question. I think providing some form of ongoing support, and backup, and interest in how experiments play out, could help encourage people in general to take more risks, educators included.

That's part of what I meant above by "permission" from outside. Not just permission, but basically support... for example, if someone complains, or things don't work out, at least some people who can provide constructive feedback and a place to discuss what to try next time.

Thoughts on that? There are several angles to branch of from there, I think, that might be posed in different threads. I'll take a (little) risk, and try making some. smile


What a great thread this is! I am also an LCL1 person coming back to participate in conversations such as this one.
As a retired teacher I have had the chance to reflect on my "career" inside the Education Factory and have learnt so much from people like Ken Robinson about the failures of a system that I could see, as a practitioner, were stamping on the passions and potential of so many.
I feel that we exist on the margins of power and influence, but I am heartened by the lessons of history that a small group of dissenters can bring about massive changes.
Thanks to all the contributors to this particular conversation. The thing that matters is that you are there!


See how your little risk makes a difference smile So glad others are giving feedback to your posts, you have a lot of ideas to address!
I am glad to see how you have engaged others in the conversation, especially the students as peers. I liked the point one made that "criticism...smells like trouble." What if the word or approach was rephrased? Instead of criticism, "exploration" of the system in order to find out why and how the system works before asking for or suggesting new techniques or models. This might show respect that the "reluctant" teachers need to open the door to any change. If it doesn't, then the students have learned the interview and taking responsibility for own learning skills that might lead to a mutual collaboration or risk taking for the changes in other ways. Like outside the school or even committing to working to change things for younger students (becoming the change they want as Gandhi would say). Would you envision this project as a one school/one district system experiment that shares what happens as it pilots various lean start-up ideas (quick failure/results emphasis) or would it be better to try in multiple locations with a support/sharing system among different initiators--multiple constituencies and longer term?


There is a group of educators out of BC Canada that are doing a self directed, passion based, mentor lead leanring program where children and youth are allowed to self direct their own learning plans. Everyone's is different. It has been going on for 30 years low. A hybrid of it an unschooling sort created by Brent Cameron. I joined it and began educating my son at home using the question, "if time and money were not an issue what would you like to learn?" I think that some up much of what step is next. Our children can chooses their own educational path and we need to trust that. We need creative problem solvers with 21 century skills and our schools crush that, or it doesn't nurture Indepenant thinking and problem solving. It means to me creating a new educational pardigm with my learner based on his needs and creating our own new hybrid of education based on his interest passions and strengths. Our industrial based educational system that has not changed much since we left the rural farms and came to cities to work in factories is out dated. We all know that it is failing. People who are engaged and interested in learning and feel the time spent is worth the outcome of sitting in a school all day do not drop out in the numbers that students are. Even my states graduates are woefully unprepared to perform in reading and math at a successful college level. I am convinced a passion based individualized education is a way to change. One child at time. Oh the movement is called SelfDesign!


Great, so most of us agree about the need of changing today's school system. I've been hearing this complain for more than ten years now. But I think it dates back to the 70's or even before.
Now what?
What can we do?
What are the steps to change the situation?
If schools are forced to comply with State mandated rules, if High School diplomas are still requested from Colleges, how can we instill Creative Learning in schools?

Suggestions are welcome.
Thank you for this thread.


What are the fears and what might be the misconceptions and barriers to change? Even the ideology of online and hybrid education is still in the enhancing stages for the most part. With online resources and objects designed to replicate those that would be found in a typical brick and mortar classroom. How do we help create transformational teaching using project based learning and the opportunities that technology tools provide for creating personalize learning opportunities?


Fears, misconceptions and barriers to change seem like the biggest obstacles. I think it is important to continue sampling a variety of perspectives on policies and policies themselves. I think it is important to keep educators and localized administrative staff in focus, as well as parents and students. If we include local, individual, and unique perspectives in the global discussions on education then we can better identify more obstacles such as fears, misconceptions and barriers.

One barrier to change for many might be limited time. It can be difficult to change a plan already running on a tight schedule or swap it out for a completely different approach, especially when standards framed the perceived need for efficiency with tight scheduling. There may be fears and misconceptions tied in with this example.

One fear surrounding misconceptions of education reform seems to be past experiences with the effects of letting for-profit education industries, vocal proponents and influential lobbyists mangle best interests for their own best interests. Many professionals involved in education reform over the years have undoubtedly acted with integrity, but there are many instances of experiences that have left sour tastes in mouth for those affected by and with limited controls to navigate the educational landscape those bad experiences helped shape.

Like any discussion, a particularly harmful obstacle in the global discussion on education reform can occur when different views lose objectivity. If you oppose efficiency standards (described by Philipp), consider individual itemized standards for their own merit each. If you are reluctant to change because of fear or other obstacles or support standardized testing, consider whether creative learning can enhance the learning experiences of those students your decisions affect. Where requirement is mandated, co-habitation of requirement and creative learning can try to occur best. Be careful never to dismiss a potential solution or point just because it is uttered by a different view. The merits of individual solutions and views should be weighed fairly.

Here's a video of a speech one of our local high school kids gave to a local school board:


What a fantastic speech! I know a bit about the Common Core (used at my int'l school) and the Chinese system, and what Kenneth says resonates with me on many levels. But how to bring about change? Well, it's the weekend, and I'm heading to the Maker Faire with 20 other teachers and students. It's a start, right?


"Maybe the factory-paradigm really is crumbling as fast as I’d hoped, and maybe the desperate attempts by Great Powers Indeed to enforce process really are further signs of that collapse." Unexpected Convergence

I find this thought very encouraging!


This is a great discussion. A great book is the book of learning and forgetting.
I think many teachers, admin are afraid of how to assess creative learning. They need data to report on a kids progress.

I am so interested in exploring starting a school. Would love to talk more.


I'm glad to see so many replies here... I have a lot of responses to catch up on!

I'll try running through the gist of each one, and see if I can add something to each.

I think a lot of people within the system see its issues, but feel powerless to change things -- however they frame the core problems.

From my experience, both personally and in terms of hearing from young people today, I think one of the big centers of power that gets overlooked is parents and students themselves. Power and influence from above is also worth noting and addressing, but in the US at least, it tends to be families that buy into the system... despite the options of homeschooling/unschooling and other (rather uncommon) alternative models of education.

But, those approaches have two main problems in many cases:

(1) Alternatives don't necessarily provide all the benefits of a holistic, connected education (they can, but it's not automatic -- not every family knows what to do when they walk away from traditional public education, and not every alternative model of school is a utopia.)

(2) There's the question of how to provide the benefits of universal, public education to people in general, when alternative approaches are only made on a family-at-a-time or school-at-a-time basis.

Here's one related blog post that addresses both the benefits of homeschooling/unschooling, and the concern about how to make universal public education available for those who are left behind when the system built for that purpose has major flaws:

10 Thoughts by an Educator about Homeschooling (and Why I’m Still Worried)

(...and over 100 comments there are an indication of how big of a conversation this is.)

That did lead to an interesting hangout, though not directly through LCL2. One major issue has to do with scheduling: not everyone can make any particular hangout. But, there's certainly a lot to address!

And, with some experimentation, I think "we" in an overall sense will figure out how to address them. I came late to today's session, but I ended up having a very interesting, multi-hour conversation with @mpoole32 (who I've communicated with a lot over the past 18 months) and @artyowza (who I met by showing up to the LCL2 session.)

So, one bit at a time, I the conversations are coming together.

Agreed -- showing respect for teachers, and using positive, non-threatening language are keys to exploring what's possible. And, when that doesn't work, there are still other avenues to explore, like learning outside of school.


I see potential in both of these approaches. Some of it just comes down to who wants to jump in and do what. I'll come back to this point later with some more examples that span circumstances, but that involve both individual, single-location efforts, and the the benefits of sharing those efforts in ways that can be replicated.

Agreed. I think the same question can be asked when it comes to public education. Of course, it takes money to operate a school building with staff... but I think many barriers to changing education are less about money, than about mindset.

The idea that school crushes key skills and literacies, rather than nurturing them, is a painful reality for anyone to confront... especially those working in, attending, or sending their kids to. But, it really does seem to be the case.

This is another "wicked problem" to come back to and figure out how to solve.

(I have ideas, links, and more in my head, but it's a lot to dig through or present at one time!)


Yeah... this really sums up the issue.

The students on School Survival keep asking that question, as years keep going by...

Here's one recent variation, from a 14-year-old:

I think it's time for us to do something about the school system

(And the follow-up responses on the linked thread there show how many young people are looking toward a positive future, rather than one of negativity, conflict, and despair.)

This is a good question... and it's hard to answer in a few words.

That'd be a good question for a whole LCL2 session. smile

I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that money is the core problem... whether it's not having enough, or whether it's some people/organizations/companies making too much.

Those are valid things to discuss... but they aren't the core problems, the way I see it. In contrast, I think a lot can be done by just changing how people do things.

The key concept there is "win-win-win" solutions, as discussed by John Kellden on G+, a.k.a., positive forms of "zero-sum" solutions.

In other words, one person, or group of people, deriving benefit, doesn't have to mean a loss for another person or group. It depends on the circumstances. But so often, people think that the biggest obstacle is "someone else is benefiting."

I think that more often, the roadblock really is what @James_B summed up:


I think that courses like this are a start. Another is simply giving people the space to do what they want to do, when they have a legitimate request. So often, even if a learner wants to opt-out of mandated "learning" in favor of genuine learning, their request is denied without a second thought. That's the case, even as many educators struggle to inspire their students to want to learn.

When those moments of "I want to learn this!" occur, it's all-too-common for those requests to be dismissed in favor of one-size-fits-all instruction.

Providing a path out of that dilemma, for learners who do have an idea of what they'd like, is likely a key part of an overall solution. Helping other learners find those ideas for what they'd like is another.

(See Ken Robinson's second TED talk, Bring on the Learning Revolution, for a bit more on that concept.)

That's a good place to end this post... and a good talk to re-watch, even if you've already seen it. smile


Agreed. So much to do, so little time. Meanwhile... so many people feel like a lot of their time is wasted. Students, in particular... but this feeling is hardly limited to students!

That's another big set of questions to further address... time management, and who decides who gets to decide what, when it comes to time.

Agreed. And yet, even before "education reform" came to be, school-as-usual was still school-as-usual. And, unfortunately, that's easy to forget.

Justin Schwamm wrote a memorable paragraph about this point a while back:

Those Good Old Days, I realize, are a lie. They’re a lie we tell ourselves, like the lie about Better Times Ahead that will, magically and effortlessly, appear if we just keep our heads down, close that door, do that worksheet, fill out that form. Factory-thinking, as Seth Godin keeps pointing out, reinforces those lies; the factory appeals because it’s a “safe” place, because They tell you what to do, because there’s a nice safe salary, good benefits, and the golden shining promise of Retirement and Better Times Ahead. And in the meantime there are things to buy, things to accumulate, things to replace, neighbors to compete with. And don’t forget the vacation you might just be able to take if you’re lucky!

It’s hard to let go of the factory-vision … hard, but necessary. My great-grandparents would have been puzzled, even repelled by it; earlier ancestors would have been horrified; my own future grandchildren and great-grandchildren will doubtless wonder how anyone could have believed such nonsense. While Ms. X and other friends shriek in anger and fear at the death of the factory, there’s an amazing consensus building about what schools and other learning environments might look like in a post-factory world.

Steps and Setbacks, V, July 26, 2013


Any mention of standardized testing in the US, in comparison to the Chinese system, reminds me of this excellent talk from Yong Zhao, about redefining excellence (one of my favorites.)

YONG ZHAO: "Redefining 'Excellence'" | #PSP2012 [20m]

Even more than that, I think parents have no idea how to assess anything but a traditional report card... and/or anything linked to the key word, graduation. Meanwhile, quite a few students manage to "graduate" with a GED and a possible jump into college... (like I did, before starting to question college itself.)

But really, so much comes down to giving parents some metrics to say "my kid is doing alright." This was my personal experience, and I see it again, and again, and again.

And, teachers deal with this problem of parents hanging on grades, as well.

Here's a short clip from Justin Schwamm on this topic, from a recent hangout:

There's certainly much more to that conversation, and more conversations to be had... but the problem comes up for so many people, on so many sides of this educational dilemma, of "what do I do?"

Here's Justin's thread as referenced in that snippet:

Taking Stuff Away, March 13, 2014

Check out the G+ archives from the edu-MOOC New School Creation for more on that topic. Justin Schwamm and @mpoole32 also participated, as did I (though I mostly lurked.)

Quite a few people in my PLN -- students, teachers, and parents alike -- are interested in further conversation (and action) on these topics. So, definitely, let's all connect further on these topics.

Ultimately, a big question is how to create new learning environments, both online, and in specific locations. There are rare examples of people looking to transform existing schools, or create "schools within a school" that provide more options to interested students. But too few people have even heard of these approaches.

Here's one video (maybe the only one, outside of fiction) I've found on that school-within-a-school topic:

If students designed their own schools... [14m]

Thoughts on all that? smile


I am intrigued with the independent project video. I think there is an interesting compromise that is happening right now in my daughter's Instructional Communication class in college. This course has a required text of how to teach and some basic rules/format to start and give structure/success probability to them. Every class session, one of the three groups of students presents a chapter of their textbook to the rest of their classmates in whatever format they choose. They have to come up with a way to assess content and the following class a short debriefing from students and professor is given on their reflections (assessing teaching effectiveness and retention). They also keep a learning log/journal as individuals and for the midterm (and soon final) the professor asks them each personally what grade he/she feels was earned--also explaining why with examples (and what they could improve upon in the future--honest answers).
The students are engaged by teaching each other--they also experiment and get to try out different ways to share the information and to actually discuss the text and whether they agree. While only one student in there has taken education classes, they all are doing things far beyond the lecture method. Their creativity is inspiring and their ideas just keep getting better--I am paying attention to what I can use and learn! This is peer to peer learning--it is happening everywhere!


Hi, Brendam @xcriteria! I tottaly agree with you. I have been working with school problems students for many years now. They are from different schools but the complain is exactly the same. So I do know what you're talking about.