Tech speaker: Move from status quo

We live in an era in which the learning that students do outside of school looks very different from the learning they do inside of school. And that’s a problem that school boards must confront, according to Will Richardson, speaker at the Education Technology Leadership luncheon Sunday at NSBA’s annual conference in San Antonio.

“The status quo is not going to serve our kids moving forward,” said Richardson, co-founder of an innovation website called

Gather stakeholders in a room and ask them to describe a healthy, productive and valuable learning environment, Richardson urged. You’ll get a list including things like: challenging, relevant to their lives, real-world application, aligned with student’s interest and passions, self-directed, guided by mentors, cross-disciplinary and maybe “flow.”

“I’ve asked that question all over the world,” Richardson said. “You know what no one ever says?” He popped this list on a screen: sitting in rows, teacher-controlled, discrete curriculum, one-subject focus per lesson, emphasis on grades and standardized assessments.

“In schools, we are trying to do the wrong things right,” Richardson said, crediting the thought to the late organizational theorist Russel Ackoff of the University of Pennsylvania.

No wonder only about a third of high school juniors say they are engaged in school, he said.

At home, using the internet, students can gain knowledge about any subject they desire, and there are many examples of young people who have created products and other impressive results by finding mentors, experimenting, learning from failure and persevering. Why, Richardson asked, should learning at school be so different from how students learn at home?

Productive learning leaves the individual eager to learn more, Richardson said, paraphrasing famed educational psychologist Seymour Sarason.

Step one involves embracing the internet, which creates a universe of new possibilities.

For instance, Denmark allows students to use the internet during exams. After all, Richardson said, they can use it everywhere else in life.

While apps such as Photomath and webites such as Wolfram Alpha can solve math problems, so what? “If kids can answer all the questions with their phones, we need to ask better questions,” Richardson said.

The key skill graduates will need in a rapidly changing world is “how to learn,” he said. So schools should be giving kids a lot of practice on that skill, not preparation for standardized exams or even college prep, he said.

He noted a group of private schools affiliated with plan aims to send kids into the college admissions process with “no numbers on the transcript.” Colleges are willing to work with the group, he said, but have cautioned, “Whatever you send, we have to be able to read it within four minutes,” Richardson said.

He recommended schools use a strategic planning process to ensure that what happens in schools is aligned with the goals of the community and the district’s vision.

“You school board members have a great role to play in creating a culture in which innovation can happen,” Richardson said. And if you have any doubt that the status quo is inadequate, just shadow a student for a day, he said.


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