Live Curious

This is a blog about the lifelong pursuit of knowledge.  I happen to enjoy education, technology, and entrepreneurship.  What are you curious about?

Learning is not the same as Education (Unfortunately)

What is the point of education reform?  I feel like many people have jumped on the bandwagon in recent years, with myself included.  I have begun to rethink my interest in this "reform".  I've been asking myself questions like, "Can education be reformed at all within the current system?" and "SHOULD education even be reformed?".  What is education anyway? (I'll delve deeper into the last question in an upcoming post) 

Let's refocus our education on engaging students in their own curiosity.  We can do this.

Let's refocus our education on engaging students in their own curiosity.  We can do this.

Sir Ken Robinson talks about the distinct difference between education and learning in his latest TED talk, which was aired on PBS a couple of weeks ago.  He is right, and at the same time, I find this disturbing.  Education should be about the facilitation of learning, but there is minimal curriculum and delivery in public schools today that engages our kids.  Hello!!!??  Does anyone else hear me out there?

Learning is about activating and nurturing our human curiosity.  That's all it is.  Curiosity is what makes us want to find out more about something.  We will spend hours doing research, watching multimedia, and trying to master each component of that field or project.  Why can't education be focused on this one thing?

Maybe some of it is, and I just don't see it happening in our traditional public schools.  It is work for our students.  It is work for our teachers (my fiance is one, so I know the kind of sweat she puts into this), and it is work for parents and administrators.  

We, as human beings, thrive when we are having fun.  Education is not fun.  Learning is as fun as it gets.  How can we get back to this?  Let's stop for one f*$king second, and put some tactical steps in action to refocus on nurturing curiosity in schools.  As a society, we need it.

When Mastery Meets Passion and Curiosity

You learn to code by doing.  Just another example of building a skill.

You learn to code by doing.  Just another example of building a skill.

Competency based education has been going on for years; just not in the disciplines that the majority of us deem "practical".  Art and design students do not sit around and read theory, they are tasked with creating portfolios of their work.  That work is then graded on the student's mastery of the craft...which is the basis of what we know to be competency based learning (CBL).  The focus in education must be on building actionable skills that translate to jobs or starting a business that takes advantage of that skill.  However, that does not mean that learners must force themselves to become practical.  Build the skills that YOU find important and passionate; then that will force you to put the work in and success will follow.

What makes me think of this?  Recently, my cousin Sarah had a video production crew create a video based on her passion for "tape art".  It is a combination of her artistic talent, an application of that talent to a unique part of the craft, and some inbound marketing.  I am so proud of her.  Since April 5th, 2013, her video has gotten 20,000 views.  To translate, the video was posted YESTERDAY.  People are drawn to passion, and the combination of passion and great skill has made this a viral smash.

I have no doubt we are about to see her become a very successful artist.  But this is not about commercial success.  This is about what happens when one develops a skill based on their passion.  It truly is a beautiful thing.

What is my message?  If you are just moping around working 9-5 today.  Stop right now.  Think about what skill you want to develop.  Go do it.  No excuses.  I don't want to hear that you are "too old" or "too busy".  If you love it, that will carry you through.  

I am trying to practice this myself.  We'll see what happens, but I'll keep trying to do what I love.

The Importance of Being Informed

I recently watched a video interview that included Tim Ferriss, of Four Hour Workweek Fame.  He was asked about what he has learned, and continues to learn, about writing.  I am a very mediocre writer, so I am constantly looking for active tips on how to become more effective when writing (and typing) my thoughts down.  Ferriss talks about a great way to work one's way through "writer's block" is to write about something you are angry about.  It sounds like great advice, but I decided to put it into action after a recent conversation at a dinner event.

I am a founding board member of a proposed charter school here in MA.  I am proud of the work we are trying to do, and especially proud of the experienced and passionate team that I am humbled to work with.  Education, and progressive education in particular, can be a very delicate subject, and especially with certain personality archetypes.  In this instance, I was in a conversation with a current high school teacher at a local public school.  Her neighbor's oldest child was recently admitted into a well respected charter school in the area, this person had very strong opinions against charter schools.  The conversation included:

Be informed before you judge.

Be informed before you judge.

  • Why would you send your kid to a school where no one is required to have a master's degree?
  • What teacher would work at a school when you have to work 8am-4pm?
  • I used to work at a charter school, and I had a bad experience because it was run by business people"

I admit, I got caught up and irritated during the conversation, and I probably should not have even attempted to convince this person of what I understand charter schools to be and why I believe in the one I am involved with.  it is difficult to argue with an "uninformed opinionated" person.

Individuals and nations owe it to themselves and the world to become informed.
— Paul Harris

This is neither a piece about whether or not charter schools are good or bad.  Nor is it a piece about the state of the U.S. education system, and what we may need to do to improve it.  

It is about making sure that we are well informed before we formulate an opinion.  I am not a saint in this regard, I have done my share of being stubborn and thinking I know things when I obviously do not.  In an age where information can be found in a heartbeat, it is imperative that we teach our young people to become informed before formulating an opinion.  

In addition, we must be open minded enough to have a respectful debate in which one admits that their opinion is wrong; therefore changing your mind as you've gathered new information.  This is the sign of a thoughtful human being; a person of integrity and warmth.  Let us be accountable to this starting today.  Not just for us, but for our youth.  Let us set the example.

Breaking the Vocational School Stigma

It seems that something is compelling me to write this post.  I recently read an article by C.M. Rubin in The Huffington Post titled "The Global Search for Education:  What will Finland do Next?".  I enjoy reading case studies where educational systems have been successfully designed, implemented, and culturally accepted.  Can the U.S. just replicate the whole educational system in Finland?  No, and it would be naive to think that is possible.  Finland is a nation of just over 5.4 million people, with a much different political, socio-economic, and financial situation than the U.S.  Can the U.S. learn something from what Finland has done?  Absolutely, and I am quite sure there are many smart people involved with education reform who are identifying translatable aspects of Finland's system to implement here.  

Make something. Learn something.

Make something. Learn something.

I found this piece of information from the article fascinating with regard to student preference & choice: "Today nearly 45 percent of Finnish 16-year-olds choose to study in vocational upper secondary schools and 50 percent in academic high schools. Competition to some vocational programs has become fierce. Much of the negative stigma that vocational schools had in Finland 20 years ago is gone."  This information tells me that not only are the options available to students interested in learning a vocation, but the culture promotes vocational education in earnest.  I may be wrong, but I do not feel this is the case in the United States.  This needs to change.  I know that others feel the same way.

In the United States, it is common to hear this sort of rhetoric:  "Go to college, you'll earn more over the course of a lifetime" or on the other side "Some people just weren't meant to go to college".  I love hearing these type of generalizations.  To me, its not just about providing choice, but cultivating a culture that shows there is not one way to be successful in one's life.  As Sir Ken Robinson says frequently, it is about aptitude, altitude, opportunity, and passion.  

I think we are going in the right direction.  Also, please note that I am a product of a four-year college degree.  It helped me immensely, I am fortunate to have it, and I would not change it for the world.  As we continue to work ourselves out of the devastation of the economic collapse from 2008-2009, and with the student debt worries, there seems to be a cultural awakening on the come: Increased interest in options, and the promotion of those options as viable solutions.  At a recent conference to provide solutions to the higher education budget and enrollment concerns in California, Jeff Selingo offered these words that included "The idea in the US is not that right from high school the only choice you really have to get ahead is to go to college."

As I close this post, also try to think outside of the box on your perception of "vocation".  There are what I call "modern vocations" that will continue to be in demand, and there needs to be an emphasis on building these skills as our digital native population continues to grow.  

What do you think?  I would love to hear your opinion.

We Must Give Students Permission to Fail

What is failure?  Many of us are taught, from a very young age, that failure is the opposite of success.  Whether it be when we struggled on an algebra test, or lost a city championship game in baseball.  Or maybe you don't like the career you chose, and you want to do something else but everybody tells you that its too late and you'll have to start over.  Does change equal failure?  Does risk equal failure?

Maybe we should ask the Wright Brothers if change and risk equal failure.  It took the Wright brothers 8 years of engineering and perseverance until their first successful manned flight.  They were given permission to fail as young kids.  As adults, they saw failure as opportunity, not as something to feel sorry about.  What if the Wright brothers weren't given permission to fail as youngsters?  It may have taken another quarter century before we saw the innovations in flight we take for granted.

Failure is a part of life.  Peter Sims wrote a fantastic piece in the Harvard Business Review titled "The No. 1 Enemy of Creativity: Fear of Failure".  The idea of perfection means that all of us will fail to be perfect.  This is not a bad thing.  Failure, under the right coaching, provides experience.  What is experience?  Experience is the application of information transformed into knowledge.  We need to breed this in our kids from an early age.  Failure provides all parents and teachers and opportunity to guide students through a "learning moment".

If you want to succeed, double your failure rate”
— Thomas J. Watson (Chairman & CEO, IBM from 1914-1956)

This is not a new concept.  As human beings, we inherently understand this.  Think about when you learned how to ride a bike.  You did not read a book first called "How to ride a bike".  You did not listen to a lecture on how not to fail or look stupid while riding.  You went outside, most likely with a parent, and you  got on and fell off.  Then your mom or dad gave you some guidance.  You tried again and failed.  The process repeated until you did it!  That feeling is remarkable isn't it?  We learned, through experience, how to ride a bike.  We do it throughout our lifetimes with things we mostly take for granted.

How can each of us find a way today to give a student you know permission to fail?  If you agree with me, I think we all have to do our part.