In my Google Drive I have a folder called Top Secret. There are only two documents in that folder. The first is a Doc called HaHa! My HaHa Doc contains what probably amounts to three hours of school-themed stand-up comedy. I did stand-up, off and on, in college; maybe 10 gigs or so. One day, I’d love to put together an hour long stand-up keynote about teaching. The other Doc in my Top Secret folder is called Crazy Ideas. My Crazy Ideas Doc is where I write down the ideas I’ve come up with, have heard about and would love to build on, or crazy ideas I’d like to one day implement into my program. I feel it is time to share some of my crazy ideas because others have started to try them, and I want to lend my support and some I have tried recently and they have been working pretty well. So, why not share them all? Here, against my better judgement, are my crazy ideas in all there half-baked glory.
Rethinking College Debt and Jobs – I ran across an article on EdSurge that talked about MissionU. Billed as an alternative to college, MissionU says it can prepare people for successful careers in about a year. The part I love though is the fact that students don’t pay anything to attend MissionU and only pay back 15 percent of their income for three years once they land a job that pays $50,000 or more. In a world where it is getting harder and harder to justify the price tag of college, what if colleges had to put their money where their mouth is and only got paid if their alumni got jobs related to their field of study? For instance, A few months ago I listened to a great gimlet podcast about Start Up Bus. Start Up Bus is a hackathon where people meet for the first time on a bus that is headed to a pitchfest. The teams are formed and products and businesses are built as they are riding the bus to the pitchfest. My favorite company to come out of Start Up Bus was Course Align. Course Align aims to “to create data driven curriculum that clearly aligns to evolving business needs.” Basically, they want to help colleges align the majors they market or offer around what the workforce actually needs. What if we combined these ideas? While I want to be so bold as to say all students shouldn’t have to pay back any money until they get a job in their field, what if I tempered that and said: What if colleges used data about what jobs our country needs and incentivize students to go into those fields by letting them defer paying back loans until they landed a job in their field and made a certain salary? Why don’t colleges have to be held accountable for all the Psychology degrees they dole out? This might help balance the “follow your heart” mentality we preach to kids as we let them signup for nearly unemployable majors and crippling debt. While it is ultimately the responsibility of the student to research their career path, can we help nudge them a more promising career path? College needs to be disrupted.
Nudge Theory in Schools– Don’t take my shot at Psychology degrees above as a slight. Nudge Theory is something that I’ve written about a lot on this blog. I find it fascinating. I’ve tried to apply some of what I learned in my free time about Nudge Theory to my classroom, but I would love to see more work done by the professionals on how it can be applied to schools. For instance, we know that a simple text message reminder can have a big impact on behavior. I know many schools use different programs to directly text message parents, but can we design a way for teachers to text message students valuable tips in a safe, easy way? Can we take the ubiquitous inspirational sign plastered and ignored on every school wall and redesign them using Nudge Theory to actually be behavior changing? I think nudge theory could do wonders in schools and I hope to see more of it.
Less Inspiration, More Perspiration – I believe every teacher got into this profession to make a difference. Teachers come into the profession ready to change the world. The problem with this profession isn’t inspiration. It’s the fact that the education system beats most teachers down until there is no inspiration left. To help fix that, what if the “thought leaders” we see on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram stopped filling their timelines with inspirational quotes and spent more time sharing the strategies and how-to guides that helped elevate them to thought leader status? What if the next keynote we went to was a hands on activity where we tried some best practices that improve learning for our kids and helped make teachers’ lives easier? A few months ago, I put a bid in to buy pedagogy.com. I want to build a crowd-sourced repository for teachers that featured only how-to articles. I wish thought leaders would stop trying to inspire me and instead share that awesome trick that stopped kids from playing browser-based video games in class or that really cool tweak that they made to their rubric that changed everything. If you want an example of a thought leader doing it right, check out Alice Keeler. She writes tons about practical things you can do in your classroom to make a difference. We need more of that from our most visible advocates. And, while we’re at it, if I got to an education conference, why can’t at least one of the keynotes be an actual classroom teacher? Its like that time the Forbes 30 under 30 in Education article didn’t contain a single classroom teacher.
If You Won’t Pay Teachers, Perk Us – I’m in it for the money, said no teacher ever. I get that. And while the case for paying teachers more should be evident, I don’t see it happening anytime soon. So how about an alternative? I’ve written out a plan that sought to rally the community around spoiling teachers with what they all want, discretionary time. The basics: in many schools it is hard to get subs. One reason is because subbing isn’t steady work. What if we hired full time subs to not just sub in class, but also do all duties? Instead of a teacher doing hall duty and lunch duty, a permanent sub did it. This discretionary time can be given back to teachers to do with as they see fit. To give more discretionary time back to teachers, what if we, like Google, provided perks. What if they quick lube changed teachers oil in the parking lot while they are working? What if the local grocery store took teachers’ grocery lists and have it ready for them after school? What if the nail salon set up shop once a month in the faculty room? What if you could leave mail and packages in the main office and it would be taken care of? Could we learn from Google’s employee retention strategy and apply it to our teaching force? We can’t take a lot of school stuff off of teachers plates, so can we take the other time consuming parts of their life off their plate?
Teachers and Admins Should be In The Same Union – I’ve tried to research why teachers and admins are not in the same union (at least in NJ). I can’t find much on the topic, but I think teacher and admins, really all school staff, should be in the same union. It would go along way in building cohesion and helping people realize we’re on the same team.
Silos Need To Be Busted – I’m not sure why we have subjects in schools. I am a huge advocate for project and problem-based learning because it helps students to use knowledge from a bunch of different fields in concert together. Take for example what The Apollo School is doing. Can we take this brilliant idea and ramp it up to where a students entire day is working as part of a team on things that matter to them?
Varsity Esports – kids love video games. We need to embrace gaming in school to embrace a population of students we often leave out when it comes to after school activities. Some schools are starting to explore esports – professional video game playing – as a thing. While it is mostly as after school clubs, I’d love to start a varsity esports league in my county. For example, I have 24 laptops that are capable of running, say, Overwatch. To play Overwatch, you need a team of six. That means I could have four teams of six. These teams would practice, just like a varsity athlete, and then battle it out with other schools complete with all the pomp and circumstance of “real” sports. Records would be kept. Playoffs would be had. Championships would be won. And we would be embracing something students love and making it part of their education/life balance. As someone who coached varsity football, wrestling, and track for ten years, I would still support this. Anything that engages students is a win. Maybe they’ll even get a college scholarship.
Every Classroom Should Have a Dog or Baby in It – Maybe my craziest idea: can we better teach students empathy by putting a dog or baby in every classroom? What else could having a class dog or a class kid to look after teach students?
Alternate Ways To Run My Class – My program centers around running real businesses with students; we run the businesses together as a grade. I have two more models for running a similar program. If I ever change up what I’m doing I’d do one of two things. 1) Instead of running a business together as a grade, I’d let students start a business with a team of their choosing in, say, sixth grade. For the next three years, that team would continue to run that business. I’ve done year long projects with students, how would things change if they worked on the same project or business for their entire school career? 2) I’d love to style my class around The Amazing Race. Teams of students competed in competitions to earn real money to run their businesses. There’s a lot of holes in this idea as of now, but I can’t shake the idea of how cool it would be to treat my class, or any class really, like a game show.
Rethinking Technology Classes – 25% of the money my students make goes to our student-run charity FH Gives. With the other 75% of the money, we grow our businesses. What this means, among other things, I have the funds to buy students the technology then need to be successful while working on the projects that they design. For instance, I have students working on a tumbling composter and hydroponics systems. They did the research, drafted the design, and told me what to buy for them and I bought it. Early this year, students worked on making a wheel chair tracking system for our local hospital using RFID sensors and Raspberry Pis. They told me what to buy, and I bought it. Technology classes should be less about the tools and more about teaching students to find and use the tools they decide they need to be successful. I plan on diving deeper into this topic in a future blog post.
The Teacher As The CEO – You’ve probably heard that teachers should be moving from sage on the stage to guide on the side. And while I agree, I think we’re ready to evolve. To me, one of the most important jobs a teacher can have is CEO, or the Chief Experience Orchestrater, of the classroom. I’ve been lucky where my kids have partnered with Google, Microsoft, Skype, Slack, and many other national and local businesses and experts. I want to pack my classroom with as many experts and opportunities as possible so I can gave my kids the opportunity to do something great. I do that by creating the conditions for greatness to happen. I figure if I can make learning real and relevant for my students, rather than teaching them things that they could Google themselves, I can light a fire under them that will lead to a love of life-long learning. I plan on diving into this topic more in a future blog post, too.
There you have it. Most of the crazy ideas in my Crazy Ideas Doc. I’ve left a few out, but maybe I’ll be brave enough to post them one day.