If magically all our kids were proficient on state assessments and we had no drop outs, would society be satisfied with our product?

we are wasting our time in many cases talking about school improvement, because

– are schools:
– fine, they just need a little tweaking
– broken, they need fixing
– obsolete, they need replacing

I get about a third for each answer

Does this look familiar? (lists of subject areas for study in school)
– this is Charles W. Wliot who came up with this curriculum
– President of Harbard University in 1892
– he had a problem
– formed the Committee of 10
– Defined “college bound” curriculum

they formed subcommittees and defined this
– finished this work in 1894
– how many kids went to college in 1894? Not many
– in 1907 10% of our kids went to high school
– we have used this same core curriculum for 150 years

we have never asked if our core curriculum should be updated

education in the 19th century
– highly educated: aristocracy, didn’t work, ruled people and land, knew a lot
– taught to do a job: apprenticeships, guilds, learning by doing, natural learning

We’ve tried to merge the two, and knowing absent a context for using it, has won out

we started adding vocational stuff about 80 years ago
– that worked well when our society just needed people to go out, work hard and get jobs


dropout rate in 1950: over 50% (about 55%)
– the word dropout was not used until the 1960s, it didn’t matter

the pressure to change schools now is based on kids needing to be able to do something when they leave school

pictures: 1900 classroom, 1950 classroom, 2008 classroom
– society has changed a lot, schools have not

Einstein: “Common knowledge is nothing more than a collection of misconceptions.”

if you ask kids to describe school in 1 word, what would they say?
– boring
– I have had 4 answers: boring is 99&
– worthless, prison, and sucks are the others

Is boredom a desirable condition for learning to occur

if schools need to change, what does that mean?
– we can’t agree on this!

What does this mean?
– changing the way that we teach
– can mean a great deal to change WHAT I teach

What Steve thinks it means:
– how we learn
– what we learn
– how we organize to learn
– how we assess

audience member is designing a school at Erie(?) that is designed to not have classrooms

I think everything ought to be up for discussion and conversation

Roger Shank: chairman of AI dept of Yale, then chair of cognitive psychology department
– he starts with driving exam: two parts (written and driving)
– which was more meaningful? of course the driving part
– what we have done in school: we have said metaphorically we need our kids to be better drivers, so we are going to give our kids longer and harder written tests
– question is: are our kids coming out as better drivers today?

I don’t think that written tests reflect our best drivers

Roger says we tend to focus on conscious knowledge in schools

it is the difference in knowing something and doing something that is important

what does society want? kids that can make meaning
– this is best explanation of what we are doing

I don’t think feeding kids on test day means our kids are leaving school better prepared for the world

Learning – Teaching
– natural learning: there are natural steps that you go through (think about driving a car)
– you had a goal: get a driver’s license
– you had a plan
– expectation
– expectation failure
– explanation

we all had expectation failures
– learning occurred because you got an explanation
– you must have an expectation failure, and the point at which you received an explanation is when you learned
– how do you remember something
— it was emotional, it was your plan, you had a goal, you experienced it in the context of doing it
– all those things are requirement for long term memory / retention

lectures at the dinner table about driving didn’t make much of a difference at all
– why do we set kids down in school, tell them everything under

teachers really did like school, they were really comfortable there

I have been quizzing a lot of engineers
– I ask them if they use everything we taught them
– you only learn by doing
– you may be able to remember the steps

only 1 career needs to remember all the steps of math
– math teachers really don’t use math in a real world context, they remember math

that is an issue we face because teachers really did like school

traditional teaching looks like:
– explanation
– explanation
– explanation
– test

participant comment: when it comes to driving, we grew up watching modeling of the behhavior

we should really analyze: what math does every kid need?
– why should every kid take biology, chemistry and physics?

you see things every day, but you still have to learn by DOING IT

if you don’t do math in a real world context, you won’t really learn it

watch out when people say “they really need to take this because they

participant comment: algebra is a door
– sometime in the past, people in colleges were uncomfortable

where do we do natural learning: art, band, shop class, all the classes where the learning is about DOING something
– where are our kids happiest in school?
– debate and drama

there is not a correlation between grade point average and “success in life”

Roger Taylor talks about that a lot

when you learn to walk, drive a car, your favorite hobby– go through this explanation of natural learning (expectation failure is the point of learning)

when we design learning experience for kids, we must keep this process in mind
– we have to build in time to let the learners grapple with it a little bit

“I know you won’t volunteer but you’ll give your neighbor up in a heartbeat”

what is the average student-teacher ration in the state of Kansas?
– it is just over 13:1 (per certified staff member)

reason we have those issues is our systems issues, it is how we organize to run schools

Roger Shank does a lot of work with story-centered curriculum
– there are strategies to do this, they just don’t involve people standing at the front

the more experiences you’ve had, the more you can learn about it without doing it
– more experienced mentors still play an oversight role with practice

if you tell kids something once, they take notes and take a test on it a few weeks later, what are the chances they will remember that long term?
– zero

Whenever somebody says that “a student needs to know something”… they should be asked to asked to add “in order to do….”

our most precious resource in education is TIME
– things in education need to be focused on DOING
– exposing kids to ideas does almost ZERO good

this has come into such sharp focus today is because we have defined highly educated as “kids knowing something”
– one of the conversations we have to have in the near future is: the purpose of our schools

The “Cream Rises to the Top” Strategy
– prepare every student to pursue a four year bachelor’s degree (core curriculum focused on liberal arts bachelor’s degree) *
– send them all to college to get a four year degree **
– weed out students using general ed classes (the flunk out classes – kids all know the classes and the professors)
– weed out students with really hard classes which may or may not have anything to do with their real job role (in Engineering, it is Calculus I, II and III)

that worked well when the syste was just designed to sort and classify, so we knew where everyone went

in Kansas, we gradated just under 450 engineers in the whole state
– 80% of them went back to their country of origin
– we need 1000 per year just in Wichita
– we graduated 5 aerospace engineers in Wichita that were going to stay here in the

The Indians and the Chinese have us beaten with this system because they have so many more kids

we have to educate ALL our students better, we can’t just use

we have 8700 open jobs in the Wichita area now
– average salary is $66,000 for manufacturing

Knowing something and not being able to do something with it is the same as not knowing it! (Steve’s quote)

there is a fundamental difference between knowing and doing
– simply knowing is not doing

Center for Leadership in School Reform
– authentic engagement (kids lose track of time because they are so engaged: all of those are DOING experiences, may be cognitive doing)
– ritual engagement (what do I have to do to get an A)
– passive compliance (what do I have to do to pass)
– rebellion

Every semester at KU I talk to about 200 kids in the College of Education
– all of these kids want to spend the rest of their lives in school
– I ask them how many of you were authentically engaged most of the time in school
– I never get more than 6%

over 90% report they were ritually engaged, and most admit they had their own teachers convinced they were authentically engaged
– to reach authentic engagement, you have to do it the way it occurs naturally

if you don’t have expectations as you go into a learning experience, you will never have learning because you can’t have expectation failure

we’ve got to get all our kids to the authentic engagement level, and it has to be done around natural learning

Phil Schlecty: “A teacher’s job is not to teach kids. A teacher’s job is to create meaningful, engaging work whereby kids learn the things we want them to learn.”

this is where the natural learning piece comes in


learning is a pre-requisite to teaching

you have to create

goes back to European model of instruction for the aristocracy
– focus must be: our kids have to DO things with what they know

The Good News
– career and technical education
– if you want kids to be motivated, and you connect with their goals and desires, you can have much more success

students take

the older kids are, the more stable their decisions are

participant statements: kids are going to have 10 or 12 careers
– it is not just the skills you emerge from school with, it is the belief that they can do anything that is important
– what makes us excited is the emotion
– we have raised kids who don’t have judgement

our kids do not come to school intending to learn: they intend to serve time, get grades, and socialize
– they do learn, but that is not their intention (coming to learn our curriculum)

simply because we say kids are doing it now doesn’t mean they are learning it now


passing a test does not reflect what has been learned

when we say something must be “research based” we use as a lens “explanation, explanation, explanation, test” better


We are working on an international virtual school now that is story-focused with Roger Shank

Front page of Wichita Eagle business section: “What happened to work ethic”

21st century behaviors
– technological fluency
– communication… verbal proficiency
– collaboration… leadership / coordination / teamwork / interpersonal skills / relationships / horizontal collaboration
– solve complex problems
– gumption… self-direction and reflection skills
– creativity
– analytical and thinking skills
– initiative and ambition
– adaptable… versatilist
– inquisitiveness

It is hard to make these changes when you have been taught to stand and deliver content

1 more point (more applicable to secondary)

If schools ran basketball
1st hour: dribbling
2nd hour: shooting
3rd hour: passing
4th hour: rebounding
5th hour: offense and defense
6th hour: history and philosophy of basketball

– we’d have them learn basketball by sitting and listening
– we’d allow them to play the game of basketball after they graduate
– and it would be up to them to figure out what position and what knowledge was appropriate for them

I don’t think accountability is mutually exclusive from doing schools right
– the lengths we are going to know to raise test scores is ridiculous
– I told the state board 2 years ago we have higher test scores and less well prepared kids
– we are taking tests better and getting kids with worse 21st century skills

Book “Don’t think of an elephant” talks about framing

counselor in Colby High School
– had every student take the KUDER inventory (interest survey) and mapped out plan of study in college pipeline
– that was successful because it catalyzed so many conversations between kids and parents about the goals and where the students wanted to go

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2 Responses to Natural Learning: What Schools Don’t Do by Steve Wycoff

  1. Wes,
    Thanks for posting your notes of this session. I agree that the current method of instruction and testing has to be improved.

    You are doing a great job spreading the word about how to integrate technology into the classroom.

    In 2004 I was fortunate to have begun the Carnegie Mellon West implementation of the Learning Sciences curriculum designed by Roger Schank and as part of the orientation we spent a couple of days with him to talk about learning and his vision of how to change schools.

    Our courses for the Master’s Program were story-centered. To give an example of how it works.

    We worked in small groups of two or three.

    We played the roles of instructional designers and developers for a fictional company.

    We were given tasks, such as evaluate proposals, design an elearning interaction, storyboard the elearning interaction, and prototype the elearning interaction, and the resources to complete the task.

    Using the resources and a faculty mentor to assist by answering questions, giving direction, and evaluate the deliverable product that we produced.

    The goal was to use what we were learning and produce a document, PowerPoint, or other visible product that would demonstrate acceptable understanding of the principles and concepts.

    By having this structure I learned much more about how to design and develop effective learning for adults as well as younger students.

    Keep up the great podcasts,
    Richard Sheehy
    Instructional Innovator
    What do you want to Learn2Day?

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