These are my notes from the keynote “Teaching In the New Era” by Roger Schank (Socratic Arts, USA) at SITE 2007. Read more about him on the WikiPedia article about him and in the multitude of sites that come up from a Google search for his name.

I consider myself a fulltime educational revolutionary right now

John Adams quotation about education: “There are two types of education… One should teach us how to make a living, And the other how to live.”

I think George Bush is going to go down in history as the person who really changed education because he screwed it up so badly.

Guido Sarducci video clip about memorization and parroting back for the test
– “the five minute university”
– in five minutes you can learn what the average college graduate remembers five years after he/she graduates

This is a 30 year old clip and still so relevant becuase nothing has changed

How do we interact in this environment?
– pictures of people interacting in work environments
– pictures of kids not

Why do schools look this way?
– because schools were designed for factory work prep

Teaching continues to look like this… (clip from Feris Bueller economic history lesson)

So at least we know comedians and moviemakers

I can think of a lot of things that relate to what kids care about

Survey: how many people know the quadratic formula
(another film clip)
– why will you need it? you won’t! I was a math major in college and a professor of computer science for 35 years, I don’t know the quadratic formula because I don’t need it and I don’t care about it!

3rd grade FCAT test, trying to get at teaching graphs

Understand in the school system today, people are teaching kids to memorize NONSENSE

No wonder kids hate school

Fixing this means: teaching the right stuff in the right way
– I know how to do this, and so do you

Right way to form the question: Just tell me about stuff you do each day?
– you talk on the phone
– you use the computer
– you talk with people
– you have to

A curriculum formed in 1892 can’t possibly prepare students for today’s world
– the whole thing needs to be thrown out, every subject we teach today

The right way?
– taking advantage of available technology

The school system should look closer to the workforce

What can you do on a computer?
– people don’t take tests on a computer

Real people
– communicate
– prepare documents
– search
– enter environments
– more…

If this is what we do all day at work…

School is about the antithesis of learning now

How does learning work?
– you pursue your own goals
– you fail
– you try again
– you develop a theory of how to improve

(picture of Roger’s 1 year old grandson)

At some point after trying things over and over, you “get fixed” via your theories of how to improve
– all about trying, creation and recreation

Learning depends on reminding
– we fail
– we wonder
– we get reminded
– we wonder
– we explain
– we create new expectations

That is what learning is all about

Put this in another way, we have theories about everything
– stories about theories of signs, in Puerto Rico, in Paris, in New York

life is about theories, failures, and recoveries
– learning depends on failures

I am doing a show on business and innovation on NBC
– lots of

make sure your kids fail early and often should be a goal of schools
– but that is not what we do in schools

Failures require explanation


Try to get kids to ask as many questions as humanly possible
– but now our schools have gotten to the point where kids can’t ask questions because they are not in the curriculum
– this is school becoming the antithesis of

Learning starts with truly held goals

Why do we want to call things that people do intrinsically “extra-curricular?”
– I think those should be the curriculum, and kids should volunteer for Algebra

What goals are held in schools?
– wanting to win
– wanting to be liked
– wanting to go home

Do kids hold other goals in school?

As we produce goal orientated environments, we will need teachers because:
– they may not know how to ask
– they may not know who to ask
– they may not want to ask
– they may not realize there is knowledge they don’t have
– they may not know the question to ask

These are the goals and roles of teachers in the future

The role of the teacher: picture of a basketball coach
– coaches have a bad name
– they have motivated kids
– they teach “just in time”
– why don’t we teach that way in school? because kids are not doing anything except trying to pass tests

I consider this ENTERTAINMENT not teaching
– you can’t learn this way
– human beings have simple models in their minds
– you hear something, you compare this to something else

If this was school, I would be forcing you to remember what I said not what is going on in your head
– the only way you can remember what

with any luck I inspire you or get you angry, but that is the best I can do

Watch kids walk and talk
– there is a goal that learning the skil will help us achieve
– the accomplishment of that goal is the reward
– the approval of others is a vital element of the process but not sufficient to motivate learning
– after the skill has been tried and its first elements learned, the skill is practiced every day for the rest of one’s life
– there is continuous improvement
– apart from other goals, teh skill enables independence
– the intial rewards are sufficient to motivate learning
– rewards that accure from this skill later on in life are unknown to the learner at the time of learner
– failure is no problem. In fact, faiulre occurs all the time….

My proposal: create Virtual Apprenticeships in schools
– teacher sets out the task
– kids work in teams (why teams? that’s the real world)
– kids go to the web, books, the teacher, mentors

Kids create a plan of attack
– divide work
– creating a deliverable (everything we do in the real world involves being a deliverable)
– seek mentoring
– more….

The students deliver
– the teacher provides feedback

I redesigned several graduate programs at Carnegie Mellon
– learning by doing, working in teams to create things
– that is the focus

The point about the teacher: to help you get better
– you are NOT the information source anymore as the teacher!
– that is an absurd use of it

I’ve decided “the hell with the system, I’m building the new school curriculum now

VISTA curricula
– what I intend to build is hundreds of these, each lasts a year, you choose the ones you want to do, you do 4 of them and that is high school
– I picked these to start with because I thought they would be easiest to get funded first (four: scientific reasoning, aerospace engineering, health sciences, more)

I am really teaching these skills:
– write
– speak
– reason
– relate to tothers
– make a plan
– executate a plan
– use available tools
– make use of known principles

at the end of the day you should be employable as a graduate

Why should we prepare kids for college? and what does that mean? ramming algebra down their throats

so this is a really sick system we have right now

Kids can’t do 5 things at once

Vista curriculum
– story centered
– employed in pieces by schools
– used as entire school for charter schools
– used as entire school for alternatives within existing schools
– used as entire schol for online VISTA high school
– also used for adult training

What should story-centered curriculum involve
– real experiences
– real deliverables (you know when you won!)

Vista is a simple idea with many rotations
– internal medicine example I am showing now takes 5 weeks

Goal of the curriculum is to not make kids experts at searching, but provide resources they need “just in time” to accomplish their goals
– available at all times during this process: MENTORS

Teachers are not naturally mentors, but can become mentors

Elements of Health Sciences Projects
– nutrition advisor
– health clinic
– more: never just sitting and listening, always role playing and taking on roles

Sample questions that students

Being used in Emporia Public Schools in Kansas

Good anecdotes from Kansas principal, students

There are a lot of people who are good at school, who would rather
– lots of kids complained that they had to work really hard

A good teacher does NOT:
– give lectures to students
– answer students’ questions

Example: video of aircraft emergency procedures
– hearing and even seeing information is NOT the same

People don’t learn by listening
– don’t answer your students’ questions
– kids will get really angry

A good student does NOT:
– tell a student what the teacher thinks is interesting
– give grades to students (I recognize you have to do this by the s
– determine the curriculum
– have any authority over the students’ achievements
– do not necessarily have any in depth knowledge about the subject knowledge (teachers are there to talk to you)

I taught at Stanford, Yale and Northwestern

Grades are a disaster,

the future of teachign has a lot to do with parenting
– no parent ever gave their child a “B” in walking

Kids have to direct the learning process
– kids are interested in leaves: they learn about leaves

In the Vista curriculum
– teachers don’t teach
– teachers help students accomplish goals they actually want to accomplish

This is the future of teaching

I have proposed a “Student’s Bill of Rights” available on my non-profit and in the online book I wrote several years ago

1- no student should ever have to take a multiple-choice test.
2- no student should have to learn ssomething that does not relate to a skill that will be needed in adulthood
3- no student shouldbe required to memorize any information that is likely to be forgotten in six months
4- ….

it is all about DOING, not listening (Plato said this)

A kids’ interest is a terrible thing to waste

expressing ideas

Knowledge and Memory: The Real Story By Robert S. Wyer, Robert P. Abelson, Roger C. Schank

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9 Responses to Rethinking Teaching: How Online Learning Can and Should Completely Alter Your View of Education

  1. Paul says:


    While it took me 2 full times to read through the post in order to digest all the info here, it was well worth the time. The post is a nice mix of digital native application and sound pedagogy. What was the reaction and the discussion of the attendees to his keynote.
    Thanks and keep up the work.

  2. WOW. I hope you are to upload the audio of this presentation as a podcast. While your session notes are always great, its always good to hear it from the speaker as well. Thanks, Wes for all you do.

  3. Scott McLeod says:

    Okay, I want to see the video clips! Especially the one about the quadratic equation!

  4. […] One last thing: I recently read this very fragmented post and loved it!  It references this video: […]

  5. Wesley Fryer says:

    Paul: I am not sure what the response was from other audience members, but as it was almost 100% higher ed professors I would guess it struck many as threatening. I think this audience was perhaps the most challenging one to share this message. I wasn’t ready for this at the SITE conference! It was a great message, but very confrontational for the “school as it is now” idea. This was not a pro-evolutionary change in schools message, it was more of a revolutionary message.

  6. […] Apr 2nd, 2007 by theothersideofthedesk Last week, I referenced a post by Wesley Fryer that contained his notes from a keynote session in San Antonio.  I was mesmerized by the content and didn’t even mind that it was a little bit choppy – it was one fantastic statement after another and it seemed to me that the speaker had so many great things to say that at times, Mr. Fryer just couldn’t keep up.  What a delightful predicament!  Thankfully, Mr. Fryer recorded the session and has now posted it as a podcast on his blog.  I can’t wait to hear it! […]

  7. Brie D. says:

    My first raection as I was readign this was … WOW… a bit choppy, but the point is still there. Then as I read the comments left, I realized that these were notes. Notes… pretty good notes on education.

    I am a science teacher and I absolutely despise when I give an assignment or ask a question that requires Higher Order thinkign Skills (Bloom’s Taxonomy) and students just sit and stare or ask questions like “What do I do?” or “How do you figure this out?” (after I gave the equation for accelleration. ect.). Students are so used to being “spoon-fed” material. I like to enocurage my students to problem solve, use and access resources necessary to find and answer, Inquiry Based Learning!

    After all… isn’t that what they have to do in the real world… use strategies and technology to problem solve life?

    As for the relating to the real life situations… in science I try to relate everything to studnets’ real lives. For example: Sound Waves and Car Stereos. ALso with science I always have hands-on learning (labs, webquests, building models, outside adventures, ect.).

    Yeah education really needs revamping!!!

    *~* Science Nerd *~*

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