Monthly Archives: December 2014

Collaboration in An Hour of Code

I’m thrilled to participate in this week’s “An Hour of Code,” that is taking place as part of the annual “Computer Science Education Week.” “CSEd week” is celebrated each year in honor of programming pioneer, “Amazing” Grace Hopper. This year’s events speak volumes to the benefits that private and public sector collaboration can have across the spectrum of learning, and how that in turn can positively impact on the workplace.

An Hour of Code is the brain child of Hadi Partovi, co-founder and CEO of, an organization dedicated to expanding computer science education by making it more available in the schools.

To date, 58,275,865 people (including me!) have tried An Hour of Code, with 77,213 Hour of Code Events around the world in over 180 countries. Tutorials are available in over 30 languages, with resources provided for teachers to expand on the activities themselves.

A Collaborative Effort

This effort has received the endorsement and participation of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Sal Khan, President Obama (and pols from both sides of the aisle), Arne Duncan, and a host of other corporate partners and supporters.

The actual Hour of Code activities are exercises that can be done in class or at home to learn the basics of coding. There are simple block (drag and drop) coding exercises, and more sophisticated JavaScript activities. Themes include Angry Birds and Anna and Elsa from the ever popular “Frozen” and more.

To expand the reach of the event, organizers have included exercises that can be done without a computer, including on smart phones and pen and paper.

To motivate schools to get involved, prizes including the following have been offered:

  • A class trip to D.C. to participate in a “top-secret” hour of code.
  • 10 GB free Dropbox storage for every educator hosting an Hour of Code.
  • Free laptops for 51 schools
  • 100 classrooms to have video chats with “tech titans and tech-loving celebrities.”
  • Set of programmable robots for 100 classrooms.

To motivate schools to stay involved, follow-on courses have been developed and prizes including gift cards for Skype or a variety of online stores are being offered.

Corporate support includes Amazon, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Teach for America, Khan Academy and many others.

Shared Goals; Everyone Benefits

What’s most exciting about this event is the shared mindset that has brought together all these different parties. Partovi’s initial comments regarding the project noted that this was the right thing to do, “the gift that the tech industry owes America.”

But behind the very pragmatic goals of job creation and boosting the economy are those very first steps that all these different sectors have joined together to support:

  • The building of problem solving and critical thinking skills;
  • Reasoning the way code teaches in a way that is fundamental across industries;
  • “Trying to help the next generation navigate the modern world by understanding the technologies around them.” (Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn)

We applaud the collaboration that brought all these folks together to help expand everyone’s knowledge about the fundamental technologies governing all aspects of our lives today and to better prepare the next generation to enter an increasingly complex workplace.

I think it’s a lesson that “students” of all ages can benefit from. Go ahead and try it!

Visit us at Designs2Learn to learn more about our perspective on technology and education and how we can help you use learning design for positive social impact.

Partnerships for Lifelong Learning

By default and most frequently by definition, most schools are designed to ensure success measured by graduation and college acceptance rates. And socially, we have been encouraged to measure our own success by these milestones and by the one that logically follows, the landing of a respectable job with a respectable salary. In “Is High School the Mother of All Event-Based Learning?” I questioned the emphasis on these specific goals at the potential loss to those lifelong learning skills such as the ability to identify, organize, plan and allocate resources; work with others, acquire and evaluate information; understand complex interrelationships; and work with a variety of technologies. Clearly, we need to continue preparing young people to enter the workforce with the appropriate level of skills. How can we more effectively provide the competencies that are going to help them through a lifetime of work and learning?

Project-Based Curricula in PK-12

In previous blogs, I’ve shared ideas around incorporating more project-based learning and Maker curriculum that require both individual and team effort to succeed. These projects not only bring teams of kids together with more thematically-driven material, but they may also bring outside expertise into the schools. Think of how flipped classrooms remove the sage from the stage and make the teacher more accessible to groups of learners as well as individuals. These partnerships around project-based learning broaden the range of role-models and potential mentors and also actively model real-life collaborations as part of the learning process. Here are a couple of examples of groups doing some of this great work today.

I’ve mentioned Tools at Schools before as one organization doing great work in this area. They partner with schools and companies and introduce design thinking as a means to problem solving around a specific real-world issue. Tools at Schools and the manufacturing partner then work with the students to develop prototypes of the design solution that is presented at a final “market launch.” The six-month project has teams of students working together steadily building many of the competencies associated with resources, information, relationships and technology.

Another group doing some good work in this area is team at The Future Project. The Future Project brings “Dream Teams” into schools to work with students to create “Future Projects” that may include clubs, websites, companies, etc. Not only do students complete individual projects, but the sense of esprit de corps and cultural changes resulting from the overall effort benefit the entire school community. Working with volunteer entrepreneurs and businesses, students create brands, budgets and project timelines for implementing their business plans. An annual Dream Con event showcases final projects. Here, too, those lifelong learning skills are addressed through the duration of the project.

Apprenticeships for Millennials

Beyond K-12, Enstitute is a very impressive group matching millennials with mentors and apprenticeships that engage them directly with the type of work they want to do. These year-long paid apprenticeships may enhance or provide an alternative to traditional higher education programs. Enstitute develops the relationships with the host companies, selects the candidates, and manages the year-long program.

UnCollege is another group providing a more hands-on alternative to a formal college experience. The group, started by unschooler author Dale Stephens, offers two main programs. The one-year Gap Program is a four-phased program that includes travel abroad, a U.S.-based residency, an internship, and a capstone project. It’s a skills-based program built on the principles of self-directed learning and connects participants with mentors and internships. A more streamlined “Hackademic Camp” provides participants with a three-day workshop drawn from the Gap Year curriculum. Skills development focuses on networking, building social capital, negotiation and more.

Today’s challenges in the educational arena require an extended network to ensure that we are developing capacity for a lifetime of learning rather than moving students from one milestone to the next.

Stay connected to Designs2Learn for more on how learning design today is helping to shape tomorrow’s workforce.

Is High School the Mother of All Event-Based Learning?

Many parents have been ushering now senior high schoolers through the college application process for almost a year now. If you’ve been working at it at this level of intensity for much longer than that, my condolences to you and your child both. The 2015 graduation crop is filling out the last of their applications, sitting in on the last of those interviews and auditions, and perhaps breathing one sigh of relief before starting to panic over fall finals and AP exams they’ll be taking this spring. And once June comes around, they’ll have that one foot out the door and the other tentatively reaching out toward the next phase.

Whether the “2015 grad” is going on to college, taking a gap year, has chosen or is continuing an alternative educational route, it is questionable that the majority of our 18-year-old population is suitably prepared for these next steps. Is it possible that we have spent the past four years prepping and grooming these kids for essentially one task and left them somewhat unprepared to take that next step?

The skills needed to succeed in the years ahead continue to evolve, but even if you submit (as I do) to the premise of “we don’t know what we don’t know yet,” we do know a few things about what it takes to engage in today’s workplace. The U.S. Department of Labor and Education even reported on this in 2000 with its SCANS report and can provide some context for the purposes of today’s discussion.

So, at a time when so many of our nation’s youth are struggling with not only a regular course load but also the challenges of the college application process, it seems reasonable to ask if we have prepared the next generation to engage in, succeed in and perhaps even enjoy participating  in the workplace and society overall.

Can our young adults effectively do the following upon leaving high school?

  1. Identify, organize, plan, and allocate resources (Resources)
  2. Work with others (Interpersonal)
  3. Acquire and evaluate information (Information)
  4. Understand complex interrelationships (Systems)
  5. Work with a variety of technologies (Technology)

Developing these competencies requires a continuous learning process that is designed with ongoing engagements to ensure the building of these processes over time. Agreeably, for many families, as their students go through the application process, there is currently increased emphasis on test scores and application forms. But so much of our PK-12 education has led to this point that it begs the question as to how prepared our youth are once they walk out the door.

For more on effective learning design across the continuum of the educational spectrum, visit us at Designs2Learn.