Sunday, April 18, 2010


Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ new book, Curriculum 21, outlines the need to change education—not just for the sake of change, but for the sake of growth, meeting the needs of the 21st Century learner.

What she describes in the book is “New Forms,” meaning that “RE-forms” aren’t what we need. We can’t just slap a new coat of paint on an old model—we need a NEW MODEL.

This weekend, I had the privilege of seeing this in action at the New York State Destination Imagination tournament in Binghamton, New York. Destination Imagination is the world’s leading creative problem solving program. Students are given a task for which they must develop a creative solution for, using very little money. They also have months to develop, create, and ultimately perform their solutions with their peers.

There are no worksheets involved. There are no desks. There are no bounds.

Everything that is beyond tradition is what is valued, and the learning that takes place is unbelievable.

I talk often in workshops about the need to create lesson “EVENTS” versus lesson “PLANS.” The difference being what kids will remember after the lesson is over. When you ask students at the end of a school year what they remember the most about their learning, what do they say? They remember opportunities that were above and beyond the mundane: field trips, special projects, and special opportunities—anything that was different.

We are wired to pay attention to those differences, but we are also wired to appreciate “automatic pilot” where our need to develop habitual behaviors overrides the responsibility we have to be innovative and really shape a learning path for students who live and breath a world that is wholly different than the ones we learned in as children.

As an appraiser for Destination Imagination, and the improvisational challenge called “Do or D.I.” where students were given random scenarios to act out based on months of research about endangered things and particular character types, I got to see multiple iterations of how a group of students deconstructs a problem and constructs a solution.

During the course of the day, I was wowed and amazed, sometimes jaw-droppingly so, by creative visualizations of Octopi, Boats, a desk, a revolving door, a recliner, a motorboat—all using only human props. I was introduced to new things I didn’t know about Pitcher Plants, Giant Pandas, The Yiddish Language and more.

I was simultaneously ecstatic and depressed about what I saw. Ecstatic that there were schools and teachers that valued this “out of the box” learning method, and depressed that it was seen as an extracurricular activity, and not taken seriously as a classroom-level, research-based methodology for learning.

When I talked to the students after each performance, or heard students talking in the halls during the course of the day, there was a resounding theme. They were having FUN. They learned so much, and put so much of themselves into their creative solutions that the learning became a by-product of the experience.

This is what a NEW FORM looks like. This is what a NEW FORM means.

Out of the box.
Out of the classroom.
Out of the traditional mode.

NEW FORMS mean the creation of Learning EVENTS with built in intrinsic value.

Oh, and by the way, congratulations to the New York teams. The sense of camaraderie and the overwhelming display of hard work and creativity made every single student a winner in my book. What I saw yesterday was A.W.E.S.O.M.E!

P.S. I didn’t mention the computer at all in this post. 21st Century Learning isn’t necessarily about tech tools. It’s about thinking, connections, problem solving, and collaboration. Technology might assist in those objectives, but they are just tools to enhance a process.

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