Luci’s Story. “I want to learn about Pi.”


In reading Chapters 5-7 of  Dr. Katie Martin’s Learner Centered Innovation, I once again found myself in a state of constant reflection while personalizing her words. I have been impressed with her ability to take theory and allow it to be internalized at the level of day to day instruction with not only the students in my class, but within my personal world outside of the classroom. In this reading, I thought a lot about the daughter of two of my very close friends: Luci. Katie does a fantastic job of intertwining personal stories of her loved ones, her friends, and her own experience in the classroom. In this vein, I would like to share Luci’s story through the lens of a young lady who’s very educational world is one that is based in Learner Centered Innovation.

I have known Luci her entire life. I met her 5 days after she was born, and I have watched her grow into a fascinating young lady. She is now eight, and I have been lucky enough to interact with her on a regular basis. She has one of the most curious souls I have ever encountered, as I again encountered last summer while traveling with her in Yellowstone National Park. As we encountered a herd of American Bison, I told her that the Lakota word for bison is “Tatanka”. After several hours of driving, I still had not satiated her desire to know more about this word and other facets of Lakota culture. After all, “Mr. Rich, you know I am Native American. This is important for me to know.” I was exhausted telling her stories of the Plains tribes and she drank up every word. All while in the most beautiful surroundings in North America. Relevant, personal, authentic, Engaging, Empowered learning. I share this story because Luci has had trouble fitting in to the compliant based system of learning she was experiencing at school. Luci doesn’t rebel against learning, but was rebelling against school. she needs (As Dr. Martin points out on page 166 of Learning Centered Innovation) “…personal learning experiences that can allow students to apply their newly learned skill in ways that are meaningful and relevant to them…”

She would regularly feel sad about school, but spend hours at home on her iPad learning how to code, how to build, how to dance, how to play Minecraft, how to cook, how to speak Lakota, how to read, how to sing, and even memorize the Periodic Table of Elements. Just yesterday, she saw a picture of Gandhi in my classroom. She turned to me and said: “Gandhi was an inspiration to Dr. Martin Luther King.” I hit the floor. I called over her mother from the class next door and asked Luci to repeat this. We teach 10th grade, and it would be a stretch to imagine that 50% could have made this connection. I asked her how she knew this, her response was: “I googled it, because he is Indian” (Luci recently received a DNA test from Ancestry.Com that indicated she may have Indian relatives—relevance to her!) Then, she proceeded to tell us how Dr. King “Believed in the content of your character, not the color of your skin.”

She is Eight.

She learned this on her own.

Her report cards indicated that she didn’t listen to directions, and had trouble keeping focus.

With all due respect to the hard working individuals who have been her instructors in school life, there was a fundamental and pedagogical misunderstanding about teaching young minds like Luci. Dr. Martin asks the questions “If we aren’t providing opportunities to engage in personal and meaningful learning, what are we doing? Are we educating for life or school?

Luci loves learning, but struggles in the compliant based system that places scores and results over learning.  Classrooms that “limit students to what [the teacher] knows” in the words of Dr. Martin. A focus on standards being used as checklists and not guides. A system which “fills the pail” but doesn’t “light the fire“.

“Chickens”, he said. “I already know about butterflies.”

This brings me to my title. Luci has a fascination with Pi. Why? Hard to say. She sees it as a challenge, and wants to know all she can about it. In the past month, she has moved into a learning environment which allows for her creativity and curiosity to take center stage. I have never seen her happier, and her Mom and Dad are adoringly thrilled with the fire back in her eyes. At her new experience, in Math they asked her what she wanted to know about. She said Pi. And here she is. At eight years old, figuring out the use of Pi in Math as opposed to completing standards based, redundant, compliant driven worksheets on math concepts that hold little relevance to her. She had moved past those concepts long ago, but was stuck on a treadmill that was dulling her spirit. No longer.  Her goal is not only to memorize Pi. (she is up to 20 numbers) but to learn how it is used. How it is applied. How it is relevant.

Tomorrow is “Pi Day” around the world. It may as well be Christmas for Luci. Her school is taking the time to bake pies in class and for Luci to explain the importance of this function. This will never be on a standardized test, yet I am certain that 30 years from now when she is working at Google (Her goal) she will remember the day she made pie at school and explained to her mates what it meant.

While the system wanted to push butterflies on Luci, she wanted to know about chickens. She already knows about butterflies.

Thanks Dr. Martin, your writing is wonderful in its relevance to our experience as not only educators, but in our own personal lives watching our dear young ones grow. Thank you for sharing your personal stories. Quid Pro Quo.


(Luci reading to me in our Lodge in Jackson Hole Wyoming about Animals in the Park after our 5 hour car lesson on the Plains Indians. Hi-Lite of my trip)IMG_4941


What’s Your Message?

Powerful. Reflective. Personal.

These are the three words that I can use to sum up the reading of Chapter 2-4 of Dr. Katie Martin’s Learner Centered Innovation. It seems to be the very purpose of this book that as one reads it, they personalize it–and focus upon their own experience on a day to day basis. The relevance of this style of writing allows for the message to be internalized, and thereby reflective in the very nature of it. A true model for us as educators and our relationship with students. What is our message? How are we building a culture which personalizes the learning? Is our end goal authentic learning, or evaluation? (“Doing well on a test is NOT an end goal”--page 101, LCInnovation) With all that can “hold us back” in realizing this learning environment, what do we do to move past the obstacles and build (in the words of Dr. Martin) an “Innovation Ecosystem“.

“Culture is not the most important thing, it’s the only thing” -Jim Sinegal (p68, LCInnovation)

The creation of an Innovation Ecosystem seems to me to be of utmost importance. In a system which seems to be designed for “…people to comply and implement programs and policies…“, are we implementing proper policy? Theory X seems to dominate the culture in which most of us educate children. Developing a Theory Y system which inspires students to be “self motivated, involved, responsible, and creative” is paramount, but receives lip service and hastily implemented staff development with little follow through. An answer to this conundrum in my district is found in the style of change outlined on page 117 in “Pockets of Innovation”. I am blessed to be surrounded by a group of like minded individuals who formed a group we refer to as the “Bump Gang”. We meet on Friday mornings and discuss ways in which our lessons can be “bumped up” to be more innovative and in line with the theories of an Innovation Ecosystem. This half hour every week allows us to share, collaborate, reflect, and go out to implement high level, relevant lessons. Although our vision is not “shared” as official policy, we are making inroads as more and more staff joins us before school on Friday mornings. Our vision and values are to one day influence policy in our district which truly values this learning culture. In time, the system throughout our district will change to become an environment of true “learning”, not just “teaching”. Within the Bump Gang lies the answer to developing an Innovation Ecosystem–collaboration and sharing. Get out of the Silos and talk to each other!

In our school district, we recently worked on creating the characteristics of an “Ideal Iroquois Graduate.” This falls in line with Dr. Martin’s vision on page 103:

ideal graduate

Although I found this exercise to be revealing and refreshing, I am hoping we can make the leap from “talk” to “action” in bringing these characteristics into our day to day instruction. Shifting the paradigm in this direction requires staff to let go of the fears found on page 86. A shared vision requires true belief in the ability to take risks and “fail” in our journey toward innovation. An Ideal Graduate must necessarily come from a multitude of Ideal Classrooms in their daily experience within a school.

Ideal Classroom.

What does this look like? Put simply, incorporate Dr. Martin’s “10 Characteristics of Learner-Centered Experiences” on a daily basis. Of course, all 10 can’t be done every day–but, if they are the NORM of the room they will be become the culture.  Not an imposed culture, but an expectation that has grown organically through daily interaction between students and teachers. Every lesson should be reflected upon to discern whether of not it allows for:

Personal learning, ownership in their product, goals/accountability which measure characteristics other than standardized goals, Inquiry which stimulates questioning, collaboration, authentic/relevant display of their work, critique/revison/reflection upon their work, proper modeling, and enough challenge to make the student “struggle” with the hope of building within them the long sought after “grit”.

Sounds easy! Nope.

It isn’t. But, if we as educators can find ways to incorporate these characteristics into our lessons we will see the growth. They will become second nature as they have to many of us in our journey as educators. The Catholic-to-Buddhist Continuum described on page 115 is pure gold when it comes to assessing our individual classroom. We need not be at either extreme at all times, but finding the way to gracefully move from end to end of the spectrum will create an ideal learning environment in my opinion. Empowerment and inspiration are not easy to attain, and if it were easy–everyone would be doing it. Moving toward it through the models Dr. Martin shared in chapters 2-4 point our compass in the proper direction.

Ignite Passion. #LCInnovation

Diving into a new book is always a time of great anticipation and curiosity. “What can I learn? What ideas are out there? How does it have an impact upon my day to day?” are all things that I consider as I launch into the unknown of a new reading. Having participated in the George Couros led Innovator’s Mindset IMMOOC last year, I knew that his recommendation of Katie Martin’s Book Learner Centered Innovation would inspire and challenge me. I have not been disappointed.

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” –Jessie Potter, page 10 #LCInnovation

What a quote. It speaks volumes of the current state of education in my experience. As we sit upon the precipice of a major paradigm shift in education, there is great reluctance to let go of the industrial model of compliance and conformity. In a world where EVERYTHING is different than it was when I attended school, the model of education looks exactly the same. What if my doctor used the exact same techniques from 1987? Or my dentist? My contractor? My automobile? My forms of communication? It would be unacceptable to us as consumers. Yet, we are asking our children to consume from a model that has moved at glacier-like pace for 30 years. Katie Martin offers the inspiration to “be the change” to our students, and move this model into their world. A world we are woefully slow at adapting to. To move our model into one of relevance to their futures. She tells a story of students at Starbucks on page 6 that can be repeated at all student conversations around the country. I have personally watched students go from “explorers” and curious learners to drones that copy knowledge into their spiral notebooks. All while the 21st century tools our district has afforded the campus sit in a backpack.

I recently was asked by a 5th grade daughter of a dear friend to look at her science project with her. The instructions clearly dictated that it MUST be presented on a tri-fold cardboard display, and include encyclopedia references as her sources of information. It was heart breaking. NO mention of innovative exploration, wonder, or learning of something that she is interested in. Just a rote list of items to be displayed the same by all students. A true compliance model for the 1950’s Cold War Era. We all know of projects like this, and they do nothing to prepare our students for the world which awaits them. The references to Kodak, Blockbuster, and Sears that Katie and George make are numerous and accurate. WHAT IF we actually inspired creativity and innovation in the 5th grade? What could our world look like if we didn’t focus on preparing them for a world that no longer exists? Katie has done a fantastic job offering up these questions and challenging us as educators to make that leap of faith and dip our toes into the world of Learner Centered Innovation.

Why is it critical to spark curiosity and ignite passions in learners?

I believe this to be simple. We owe it to our future. In a world which will be predicated on Theory Y organizations (p57-58 #LCInnovation) we are training Theory X, compliant based Industrial workers. If our true mission is to prepare students for the “real world”, don’t we have an obligation to look past our imagining of what that meant 20 years ago and focus on what is reality now?

Ask the students. The 2016 Gallup poll on page 21 makes their thoughts clear. All key indicators decline as they move on through their education. What are we doing to reverse this trend? To make them WANT to be in our classrooms?  Katie sums it up best: “When school is characterized by compliance and mandates, opportunities for creation, exploration, and developing connections between people and ideas are limited at best.” (Learning Centered Innovation, page 22)

Participating in this IMMOOC is a fantastic way for us to light a spark in our individual schools. Let one innovative classroom become 2, which becomes 4, then 8… and a movement begins. Let us be on the forefront of that movement in our districts.


student poll 2016

“To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often.”

The title of this post is a quote attributed to Winston Churchill, and I have combined it in my mind with a quote from my Grandmother: “Nobody’s Perfect.” So, it seems I have found a conundrum. Who is correct? Churchill, who arguably saved the Free World, or my Grandmother? Does change inevitably lead to the path of perfection–or merely lead us in the direction of a never attainable entity?

I have decided (with all deference to the brilliance of Sir Winston) that my Grandmother has the edge here. And it came into focus when I considered the Innovator’s Mindset “5 Ways to lay the foundation for Innovation”. Innovation necessarily requires change, and frequent innovation will  therefore lead us down the path that Churchill challenged us to.  But can you ever reach perfection? To believe that you can  is a trap that there is no recovery from. George mentioned in his last blog post “…I have always believed that you could have been a great teacher ten years ago, changed nothing, and now be irrelevant.” (GCouros, “Intent vs. Impact”)My Grandmother would have agreed with George. The moment you feel “perfect” is the moment you stop innovating–and eventually become irrelevant.

How can we make sure that we never feel ourselves as having become “perfect”? Simple. Open Cultures that embrace change and innovation. Share your success, Share your stumbles. Share your questions, share your answers. Share your concerns, share your affirmations. Share your fears, share your bravery. All in all–SHARE. #IMMOOC has been a gold mine of affirmation and revelation to me in the past month. Can you replicate this environment in your own school setting? Create an open culture where day to day fears don’t exist? At our school–inspired by this community of learning through George–we have started a group of teachers who will meet on Friday mornings to share. To promote an open culture that is a community of learning–and talking about teaching. The norms are strict. We speak of innovation, learning, teaching, and reflection. Day to day complaints and “issues”have no forum here. We post our thoughts on quotes, post our reflections, post our ideas, and post any innovative thought we have on our online notebook. When you need inspiration, it is there for you to dig in. Our own, local #IMMOOC is being born. I couldn’t be more excited.

You simply need to understand that the world is changing.” (Dan Brown) Embrace this change TOGETHER in an Open Culture at your school. Walk the path that Churchill challenged us to, but remember that Grandma says you can’t get there, but you better keep walking. And THAT is the formula for growth in your profession and therefore in our students– if you do it with others.


“Adapt, or die.” ~Moneyball

“LEARNING is about challenging perceived norms” ~George Couros

It is a SNOW DAY here in Upstate NY, and I ended up scrolling through the Apple TV for an inspirational movie—and found one of my favorites in the library: Moneyball.

I am a huge baseball fan, have always been and will always be. In the past 20 years this game has changed dramatically and I found within this change a metaphor for education.

Baseball thinks the way I do, and will be glad to throw you and Google Boy under the bus.” was a common theme among  MLB scouts in the early 21st century. Today, all teams employ analytic experts to study SaberMetrics and LEARN from the performances on the diamond. The bus in question was in fact heading backward, and “Google Boy” is now the norm.

Can we continue to break down these very same walls in our classroom and our schools? The perceived norms of education rely upon teacher centered classrooms, standardized testing, and banning of phones, Twitter, YouTube, and all forms of SM. It is MLB in the year 2000. Perceived “threats” to our “status quo” in education. The problem is, the “status quo” is not working for our students–only the educators.

There is another way. ADAPT to the worlds that our students live in. Grab a foothold there. Ask THEM for help to get started, and find a way to tailor it to your classroom and your objectives. Collaboration, Digital Citizenship, Relevance, Rigor, and perhaps if you play your cards right—EMPOWERMENT will be the result. Daily assessments through Twitter? Do it. Collaboration with other students and experts through Skype? Do it. Find your norm that suits today’s child. Not the norm that suited the graduating class of 1985. Challenge those perceived norms. The students will win.

The clip in question from the movie Moneyball: “Adapt or Die”

~Rich V

PS–go Jays. #ComeTogether

What if we promoted Risk Taking to our staff and students?

#IMMOOC Live Episode 3 and Blog Prompts – The Innovator’s Mindset MOOC.  Which “what if” question challenges your thinking in the Innovator’s Mindset? What would you add to the list of what ifs?


“Only those who play win. Only those who risk win. History favors risk-takers. Forgets the timid. Everything else is commentary.”
Iveta Cherneva
In order to start this short-blog, I googled “risk taking”. (I know, so daring of me). This young lady and her quote appeared before me, and I wanted to learn more about her. What a fantastic individual I discovered today, taking on the world and making it better for our children at the U.N. She lives the words she speaks, and is not sitting by offering “commentary”. A great way to start a Monday, being inspired by someone I knew not of yesterday. Find these people, allow them to motivate you and stir up your “risk taking” genes.
I asked the question last night on #IMMOOC, “what methods do you use to motivate those who fear taking risks? ” (@ICSMrV34) and I received a wonderful piece of feedback from @AlexLCarterEDU suggesting that I find our their fears and support them through modeling risk in my classroom.
I am setting up Open Chat Stations this week in class as a means of review. Students will collaborate over OneNote to help complete very open ended points to reflect upon in our current unit. I am terrified of not “GIVING” them the material to know, but letting them discover what they do already know–and build the assessment from there. I am terrified of the technology not working, I am terrified of a student question I can’t answer. I am asking my neighbor to watch me in this attempt. To watch me try, to watch me screw up, to watch me ask the students for help with the collaboration, to watch me recover, and then watch the result–empowered students in an environment of learning.This will hopefully break down the walls of fear and allow for communication and collaboration about innovation with this colleague.
Fingers crossed, fears being faced, in full view of colleagues. Let’s do this.
~Rich V

“Once you stop learning, you start dying.” #IMMOOC

Fantastic beginning to what I am sure will be an enlightening and motivating book, “The Innovator’s Mindset” by George Couros.

I am jumping into the#IMMOOC Live with great anticipation, how can I continue to adapt as an instructor to help serve the needs of our contemporary learners? We live and work in a culture that fears–but craves change. It is a difficult relationship to understand. We all have colleagues who race out to buy new phones, watches and tablets while posting on Facebook and Instagram–but refuse to allow this world into the most important tool it can offer: Our classrooms. Why the paradox? Why the fear that neutralizes our ability to help our students acquire 21st century skills?

Want to teach collaboration? How about setting up groups with representation from 4 continents to study particular current events and their impact around the globe using social media. Or how to solve a math problem, or an engineering challenge.

Want to teach critical thinking? How about attempting to find solutions to real world issues like refugees while having students be in contact with people who have actually existed in that world.

Want to teach Source Analysis? How about having students dig through thousands of hashtags regarding a particular subject, then ask them to not only evaluate content–but assess the source from which they came for perspective, point of view, bias and reliability.

Instead, we gather students in straight rows to listen to a single individual pontificate about what the “facts” are, and to “write this down”. Instead, we teach collaboration through the occasional grouping of students without much premeditated thought, to work through some basic tasks that can best be described as clerical. Instead, we teach source analysis by droning through sources which can best be described by the students as “boring” and “irrelevant”.

Why the disconnect? Why the fear to change? I find myself constantly looking about my profession hoping that a change to more relevant instruction will take place. But, I am always left wondering “How do I do it? How can I make others change with me?” Well, it is with great excitement that I placed multiple stars and notes on page 8 of George’s introduction to “The Innovator’s Mindset”. He notes: “…The question I am most frequently asked in my talks and workshops is, “How do we get others the change?” In reality, you can’t make anyone change; people can only change themselves. What you can do is create the conditions where change is more likely to happen...” This page brought me great peace and answered that question that always comes to my mind while standing at the crossroads. I can help change by being the change.

I come to #IMMOOC in hopes of collaborating with like minded individuals who want to learn to “do something amazing” through change. How ironic that on this very day, today in class, a young lady was complaining to me about the handwritten agenda that our school provides for students to record assignments and calendars. She hopes for an app or phone based agenda someday. As she spoke, my first response to her was a quote from Gandhi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world” and I told her to offer a better idea to the administrative team. I was quick to offer advice to her that I am often hesitant to take myself.

All this, after our classes spent a day last week brainstorming ways to “change” education for the youth of today based upon our school’s very recent adoption of a new Vision Statement. Our class fictitiously decided to build a new model school where our mascot would be the Proton. (As we would put a positive charge into our learning) and that we would seek to change all Electrons (those with a negative charge). Kids spoke openly and freely about what they wanted in their school, and how they would learn. It was among the best days in my career with open, free flowing discussion with students. I honestly went home thinking all night about a new model school that would encompass all of the vision of the truly honest young men and women.

When I read George’s introduction, it pointed out to me that I can tell my students to “Be the change” as Gandhi did—but, I also need to follow his advice in my own passion for teaching. Yes, change is difficult. Yes, change seems slow. Yes, change seems at times to be impossible, but the reward: “…an opportunity to do something amazing…”.

So for me, I intend on living in this profession for many years. I will work to find the “adjacent possible” and hope to “unleash the talent” in my school. I’m in, let’s do this. Thanks for the inspiration George.


“I touch the future, I teach.”

There’s a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and an historian later said, “He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it.” Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake’s, complete.

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

-Ronald Reagan,

January 28th, 1986. A day I can pinpoint as the day I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I had spent a contemplative day as a 10th grader wondering how something like this could have happened. A beautiful blue sky, a sun splashed background, and those brave astronauts heading off to further the exploration of the great frontier. All destroyed as two rockets spiraled off into different directions in the Florida sky.

Aboard that mission was Sharon Christa McAuliffe, a teacher who had hoped to inspire her students and other teachers around the world. Well, you did Christa. You reached the eyes, ears, and heart of a young boy in Cheektowaga, NY who knew that day that my youthful dream of becoming an astronaut had now morphed into a goal of one day “teaching” in the way that Christa seemed to.

As I became older and did realize that goal 8 years later, the first thing I placed on my desk was a framed print of that most famous quote which is often attributed to her: “I touch the future, I teach.” Alongside this, I always kept handy another of her quotes–perhaps even more prophetic: “I have a vision of the world as a global village, a world without boundaries”

Twenty three years have passed in my career. And in these times I think about Christa and my inspiration a lot. Do I in fact still touch the future? It is indisputable on a day to day basis I interact with students in a positive manner, and will have an impact upon their future lives–but do I touch the future anymore? Education, life, social interaction, and our global community have changed so much in the past decade and has changed exponentially since that January morning in Florida so long ago. Have I adapted as a teacher in a way to keep up with that change? Or, am I preparing students for a future that I envisioned in 1986, or 1994?

What tools do I give my students to give them a chance in their futures? Do I give them collaborative skills? Or do I teach them that they will succeed based on their own individual skill. Do I give them the ability to find solutions to problems? Or do I give them the solution. Do I give them the ability to locate information and learn while distinguishing among multiple sources? Or do I give them the facts they “Have to know”.

Am I still preparing them for the “Future” I had always hoped to “touch”.

I hope so.

Books like “The Innovator’s Mindset” by George Couros, (  resources such as Edutopia and the Buck Institute, and countless educators I can follow on Twitter point me in the direction of the future. In our profession, it is so easy to bury ourselves in a protective layer of habit and self-preservation. We forget our passion. We forget why we did this in the first place, and trade it for a myriad of variables we never once considered when we decided we wanted to teach.

If we are afraid of the future, how can we prepare students for it? How can we “touch” it? Embrace change. Embrace technology. Embrace the passion these young students have–and don’t sell them short. They know, and can do, so much more than many give them credit for.

I have signed up for The #InnovatorsMindset MOOC Starting February 27, 2017 (#IMMOOC) and I am hoping to be inspired, and find like minded individuals who believe what Christa believed 31 years ago. We can touch the future—IF we teach.

~Rich V (@ICSMrV34 )

Teacher in Space, 1986

Innovator’s Mindest