Blanket Forts & The Future of Learning

It has been said that for first time in human history the value of unique knowledge and expertise is declining significantly due to the proliferation of accessible digital technology. This phenomenon has happened in history before (see the Protestant Reformation and the works of Martin Luther and many others), however not at this pace and not to this scale. Access to information, knowledge, and each other is historically unprecedented.

This was very apparent to me, and its implications to education, last week when my daughter (Ellen-6) and son (Eddie-3) were building a blanket fort in our living room. When

blanket fort

Generic image of a blank fort. Didn’t take a picture of it, as I didn’t know it would be the subject/basis of an analogy in an upcoming blog. ūüôā

I came home Ellen informed me that they had built the Millennium Falcon. As I toured their creation, I asked her how and why they built it the way they did. My daughter informed me that they ‚Äúgoogled it.‚ÄĚ (duh dad?!?!?) She¬†continued to describe how they used our iPad to look up pictures and information on the features and look of the Star Wars ship. Amazingly they did a pretty good job ‚Äď including satellite dishes on its top, a spaghetti strainer for one of the windows, correct shape of the ship, etc.



Her statements, explanations, and process really hit me. Here I am listening to my 6-year old, who is completely comfortable and competent in using devices like our iPad, discuss how she used tools and resources available to her to access knowledge that previously she would not have had access to. ¬†(Get ready for it…obligatory parent line coming)…When I was a kid, I never could have done this. ¬†Not only did I not have I the internet or devices, but if I needed to learn something, I needed to seek out someone, an expert who could teach me about it. ¬†

So what does this experience mean and have to do with a blog about education?…A LOT!!!

– The world has changed.
– The impact of digital technology (i.e. devices, internet, etc.) is significant.
– Our children will learn and experience their world very different that we ever did.
РWe, in education, must understand the above and adjust our practices accordingly.  And if we fail to, we risk increasing our ineffectiveness and even the potential for total irrelevance.  

My kids were demonstrating the skills, abilities, and mindsets that soon (if not now) all of our nation’s schoolchildren will possess. ¬†Therefore we, in education, can no longer “hang our hat” on the fact that schools are the only place for knowledge and learning. We cannot place a great deal of value on information, memorization, compliance, and one-directional dissemination – teacher to students. Teachers are no longer the experts, holder of all of the knowledge, while the students are the naive, passive receivers of this process.

Now this is not all bad news for education Рit only is bad news if we ignore it and change nothing.  I would argue that if we approach this correctly and openly, we can begin a whole new era of American education.  An era where we can inspire a whole new generation of thinkers and creators that can compel our nation deep into the 21st century.  However to do this, we have to keep in mind the lessons from my blanket fort experience.

Lesson #1 РRe-Evaluate Knowledge РMy kids built a Millennium Falcon blanket fort on their own, as learners, using curiosity, accessible knowledge and technology, and their own abilities to find and apply information.  We need to re-examine and re-order our views and values related to knowledge.  We cannot continue to emphasize learning and knowledge in the traditional sense.   Information exposure is not the concern, it is information processing and application that now is more important.  

Lesson #2 – Be a Travel Agent – My kids built a Millennium Falcon blanket fort on their own without the direct role of ‘experts’. ¬†We, in education, also need to change our view, conception, and primary role of teachers. ¬†Shifting from being the keepers and sole knowledge bearers, to guiders and igniters of exploration and application. ¬†This doesn’t make the teacher any less significant in the learning process, in fact I would argue it makes the teacher more vital. ¬†Teachers can now serve so many more important roles to learning (e.g. facilitator, resource, vision caster, challenger, etc.), in addition to still being an expert on the subject area/material they have taught traditionally. ¬†As I have heard it said, “Highly effective teachers are more like travel agents, than tour guides.” ¬†¬†

Lesson #3 – Create Empowered Learning Opportunities – My kids now know and will remember more information and features of the Millennium Falcon because of the opportunity they had. ¬†This is probably the most critical step in our re-visioning of the learning process and schools. ¬†If we only learn lessons #1 & #2, we will be missing the larger point and will actually do more harm than good to our students and their futures. ¬†We need to create more applicational learning opportunities for our students. ¬†Places/times when they can explore curiosities, develop hypotheses, navigate through the ocean of information, ask questions, share their ideas with others, re-learn from their peers, seek out support and advice from others, and ultimately “create” things. ¬†If we do this, not only will we increase student engagement and stronger learners, we will become more effective in teaching the “traditional knowledges” we have always wanted to emphasize. ¬†

In building their blanket fort, my children effectively used their technology skills, were disseminators of available information, applied their learning to create something/solve a problem, shared it with others, ¬†were highly engaged, AND developed a strong knowledge base of Millennium Falcon. ¬†Knowledge, skills, and mindsets that we need to emphasize in schools. ¬†Not bad for a Sunday afternoon…

The Power of HOPE

quote-each-time-a-man-stands-up-for-an-ideal-or-acts-to-improve-the-lot-of-others-or-strikes-robert-kennedy-54-63-48In 1966 then Senator Robert Kennedy (D-N.Y.) visited South Africa in the midst of some of the worst years of Apartheid. ¬†His speech, known as “Ripples of Hope” at the University of Cape Town, which some historians believe was the best of his life, Sen. Kennedy described a better future for all and the role and responsibility of all of us in making it happen:

Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Senator Kennedy used his visit and speech as an opportunity to spread his message of HOPE to inspire and empower others. ¬†With no attempts to parallel or compare to RFK, however greatly inspired by RFK, his life’s efforts, and his message of¬†HOPE, I was recently honored by the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators (AWSA) as the 2016 Associate Principal of the Year. ¬†At the awards ceremony, I took my own opportunity to make my own ‘ripples’ and share my message of HOPE. ¬†A message and concept that I believe is very important, dare I say critical, to the profession of education and those who have dedicated their lives to it. ¬†Below is an excerpt from my speech about HOPE:

imgresI want to leave you today with one word…a word that drives me every day…and that word is HOPE. ¬†This school year Mr. Damian LaCroix, Superintendent of the Howard-Suamico School District¬†(@DLHSSD1),¬†challenged all of us to read a book about HOPE called “Making Hope Happen” by Dr. Shane Lopez (@hopemonger). ¬†In his book Dr. Lopez defines HOPE, what it does, and why it is so important. ¬†After reading the book, reflecting on its message, and discussing it with colleagues, I now define HOPE to mean — HOPE = DREAMS + DETERMINATION. ¬†

HOPE is powerful, it isn’t wishful thinking or optimism alone…it is the confluence of beliefs that:¬†(1) The future will be better than the present;¬†(2) I have the power to make it so;¬†(3) There are many paths to my goals;¬†(4) None of them will be free of¬†obstacles.¬†¬†HOPE takes vision, optimism, aspirations AND hard work, creativity, passion,¬†perseverance¬†— it take DREAMS +¬†DETERMINATION.


It is my HOPE to make a difference in the lives of my students, their families, my teachers, and my community.

It is my HOPE to be an effective and impactful leader, who works tirelessly for others, challenging, supporting, and inspiring them to grow.

It is my HOPE that I am an agent of change in education.

It is my HOPE that our profession of education will one day be controlled and driven by educators, not politicians.

It is my¬†HOPE to help lead a revolution in how we do education and schools – updating our practices to reflect our students’ future, not our pasts.

It is my HOPE to continue efforts to transform how we professionally develop our teachers Рthey want it and deserve it.

It is my HOPE to continue to learn and grow everyday.  To never settle for good enough.

It is my HOPE to continue to be a connected educator Рdedicated to learning, expanding, and influencing others through my Professional Learning Network (PLN) through Twitter, Voxer, my blog, conference presentations, etc.

It is my HOPE to come to work every day with the same level of passion and zest for my job that I had as a new teacher on my first day of school.

It is my HOPE to inspire others.

It is my HOPE that I can look back at the end of my career and know that I have made a difference.

And…it is my¬†HOPE…that you will join me!