Stepping Away From the Blackboard and Sitting in a Desk Facing It

Great design not only comes from addressing an important need, but in responding to it with deep empathy and understanding from the point of view of a user. It’s true: walk in the shoes of your customer and try and assume where their head is at and you will have a much better chance of producing something that is truly valued, truly appreciated and truly lasting. That’s design thinking 101.

Perhaps that’s why it’s particularly painful to watch bad design, especially when the need that is being addressed is so important. Enter our traditional education designs of schools, classrooms, curricula and teaching. The whole tool set has huge impact but it is not a hot bed of empathetic design; at least if you agree that the “user” in this case is a student. From elementary school all the way up to post-doctorates, students spend hours upon hours sitting in their seats hurriedly scribbling notes so as not to forget what the teacher is saying, all in the quest of repeating it back on the next test. That’s but one typical example of a series of activities that students experience, and the data shows that the design just isn’t cutting it. Deep and lasting learning isn’t resulting from that activity nearly enough. Learning is the need, isn’t it?

Veteran high school teacher Alexis Wiggins decided to shadow two high schoolers for two days (one day per student), to learn a little bit about what her students’ days were like. She learned some lessons and wrote about them in a post that was read by hundreds of thousands of people. The Washington Post picked it up and it exploded on social media.

She starts off her post saying, “I have made a terrible mistake.” (more…)

The Shape and Contour of What Learning Can Be

Last week while listening to my friend Olga Viso (director of the Walker Art Center) speak at Inside the Leadership Studio with the Urban Land Institute, she mentioned something that really caught my attention. Ever pushing the conversation of art – where to experience it and its societal importance – she mentioned the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Massachusetts and how they have teamed up with the nearby Lincoln Nursery School so as to provide experiential education to children. Naturally, I went home and did a little research. (more…)


Connect kids with nature and amazing things happen.

And yet, more and more often kids are losing the time they get to spend outdoors during recess in exchange for math and science training (read my blog post from early June on this very topic). In place of getting their hands dirty and running around and breathing fresh air, kids are spending more time at their desks studying math and science so they receive good test scores.

I’m not arguing that getting good test scores is unimportant. It’s just that it’s not important enough on its own. There are some incredibly important skills we need to deliver into our kids’ knowledge arsenals … even if they aren’t things we measure on an SAT. (more…)


I don’t think I’m biased when I say that what I’m about to lay out is one of the coolest educational experiences a kid can have outside of the classroom.

Lemonade Day, a nation-wide experiential learning program that planted its roots in Texas in 2007, will be celebrated this Saturday, May 5th in dozens and dozens of cities across the continent. Around 120,000 children will be putting their entrepreneurial skills to work as they get their hands dirty and sticky by making lemonade, convincing people to buy it, and running the cash registers (or tool boxes, paper bags or whatever is handy). (more…)


Last month I wrote a blot post called Making the Veggies Taste Like Candy about BrainPOP, an outstanding website and iPad application that makes learning sweet as candy. I did my raving about it, but what I didn’t do was note that it’s a tool for children. It really is fantastic … but not aimed for adult needs.  But then, why shouldn’t the grown ups get some brain treats too? (more…)


Growing up we were all told we could be anything we want, but in order to do so you would need to swing for the fences in middle and high school so that you could reserve a chair in a crowded auditorium of a college or university.  No doubt there is much that remains true in that path and the income disparity between college grads and high school dropouts is a stark reminder of the benefits of being “educated” in our society.  But that said it sure seems like there may be some cracks emerging in the argument that a college degree equals a good paying job. (more…)