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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Imagine an Education Nation: Six Leading Edges

Milton Chen

Senior Fellow, The George Lucas Educational Foundation

My new book is just out, Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools (Jossey-Bass). You can preview it on Amazon. In it, I pose this challenge: "Imagine an Education Nation, a learning society where the education of children and adults is the highest national priority, on par with a strong economy, high employment, and national security."

The most important step in making an Education Nation a reality is not a greater investment of dollars, but a greater understanding of what this new educational system should look like. It will require bringing the many "islands of excellence" featured on Edutopia.org to the center of this nation, moving the edges of change to the middle.

So this book is my effort to "curate" the marvelous Edutopia.org collection of films, articles, and multimedia features from the past few years. I've organized this collection according to what I see as the six "edges" of innovations redefining schools, teaching, and learning. They are:

1. The Thinking Edge Changing our thinking about teaching and learning and calling a truce to the wasteful education wars that pit one school of thought against another -- from the reading wars of phonics skills vs. "whole language" and children's literature, to the debate over 21st Century skills vs. "core curriculum." Just as hybrid vehicles are an important solution for our environment, hybrid thinking -- taking the best of differing approaches -- will improve our schools.

2. The Edge of Curriculum All around the country, schools and districts, as well as afterschool programs, are redefining what is taught and how it's assessed. Importantly, through project-based learning, creative educators are relating curricula to students' lives, so their students never ask the most frequently asked question in most schools: "Why do we need to learn this?"

3. The Technology Edge From the Internet to mobile devices, online curricula and courses, technology-based content, platforms, and experiences are enabling students to learn more, earlier. And helping teachers make the learning process more visible to themselves, their students, and parents.

4. The Edge of Time and Place Learning can now truly be 24/7/365 rather than limited to what happens in a classroom 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, 31 weeks a year. As my last blog post described, in many places around the country, the summer months are becoming the "third semester," advancing, rather than delaying, student learning, especially for lower-income families who cannot afford the camps, travel, and enrichment activities other parents can.

5. The Co-Teaching Edge Rather than the traditional model of one teacher in a room with 30 students, smart teachers are involving a team of "co-educators" in the learning of students, from parents -- a child's first and most important teacher -- to other teachers and content experts in the community and online.

6. The Youth Edge Today's youth are becoming the first generation to carry powerful mobile devices wherever they go. As I like to say, they are carrying this change in their pockets. They are used to instant access to information and their entire social network. They learn in a fundamentally different way than we over-40s did (and certainly those of us way-over-40) and they are teaching us how to restructure this new educational system.

Last week in Orlando, Florida, I spoke about these themes at the Florida Teacher of the Year conference, a gathering of 100 of Florida's best teachers, staff of the Florida Department of Education, and corporate sponsors, including Bank of America, the Florida Lottery, and Promethean. Florida does a spectacular job of honoring its best teachers every year. The Commissioner of Education, Dr. Eric Smith, and members of his staff travel to the schools of the five finalists and surprise them, along with a camera crew, with the announcement.

At a black-tie gala at the Hard Rock Live! event center at Universal Studios, we were all treated to a dinner and awards ceremony hosted by Deborah Norville of Inside Edition. Suspense was crackling in the air as the five finalists stood on stage waiting for Dr. Smith to pronounce the winner: high school science teachers Kelly Burnette from Yulee High School and Allan Phipps from Broward County; 8th-grade language arts teacher Cristine O'Hara of Miami-Dade, and 4th-grade teachers Zachary Champagne of Jacksonville and Cheryl Conley of Vero Beach. The room erupted as Smith named Cheryl Conley as the Florida Teacher of the Year. In film clips of their classrooms, their students testified, eloquently and enthusiastically: how these five teachers made learning fun, helped them become more persistent, and if they didn't understand a concept the first time, their teachers found another way.

Earlier that afternoon, in a media circus that riveted the entire nation, LeBron James had announced he was going to the Miami Heat. I wish the honoring of our best teachers could achieve just 1% of the air time that James received. Even better: wouldn't it be great if celebrities like James stood up and said, "I have some important news to announce, but I want to do it at the Teacher of the Year ceremony so the really important people in our nation get the recognition they deserve."

When our media and celebrities devote more attention to our best educators, we will know we are becoming an Education Nation. Instead, right now, we are a sports- and entertainment-obsessed nation. Unless we want to be known as the United States of Hollywood, we need to get our priorities straight and get more obsessed with the quality of our schools. In fact, basketball has a few lessons to teach us about learning. In sports, we know it's about performance and what athletes do and not about memorizing the rules of the game. I'll say more about that in a future post.

Editor's Note: Did you miss our webinar with Milton Chen? Click here for the archive video, and to get the full list of resources that were mentioned during the show.

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