The keynote speaker this morning is James Sanders from Classroom in the Future. I love the title of James’ talk “A Resume Full of Failure.” He begins by telling us that he “fails all the time.” We work so hard on avoiding failure, that we forget that it’s an integral part of learning. In fact, google “succesful people who have failed,” and you will find a list of impressive people that have not only failed, but failed miserably.
James tells us about his childhood working in a mill. He learned how to drive specialized vehicles and doing hard, demanding work. He also spent quite a bit of time going to the doctor and the hospital as a result of his work there. In the process, however, he learned a lot about himself; in order to learn about yourself, you have to make mistakes. He tells us that “we are a collection of all of the mistakes that have come before us.” We have to learn from what has failed and take that and try to do better. He then tells us his resume of failure. He tried to become an entrepreneur t-shirt developer, that failed. He then tried to get his kids on tumblr… not a good idea. He then worked as a teacher with students in rows, and they went all “Lord of the Flies.” He next tried to create an online gambling website. He then was exposed to the KIPP Academy of Opportunity and their Chromebooks programs. The Chromebooks were a prototype at the time. The Chromebooks made it possible for his classroom to be mobile, the internet access allowed them to connect with students from around the world, and students could engage with material outside of the classroom. They used the Kiva project, investigating entrepreneurs, and making investments around the world.
Even though this roll-out was great, they had a number of problems that arose. Chromebooks were quickly damaged. So, they had to start teaching students how to treat their devices.
He also found that traditional lessons didn’t work very well. For example, a current events project was quickly written after a student grabbed an LA Times that morning. Instead, he made students create their own newscast! You can see their news network here. Students couldn’t do this at the last minute, it required planning, structure, writing, and production. If you tried to do this at the last minute, it would fail miserably. However, in keeping with his method of learning by failure, he got so excited that he had all of the students create their own YouTube accounts. As a result, students start to post things that were not appropriate to learning, including an aspiring rapper whose language on his YouTube channel was…. you can figure it out.
James then started to have his students post their work online. He then began to put himself out there even more. He started a podcast show. However, his hashtag “pen is mightier,” which became #penismightier caused a few problems. Their Edunation Cast didn’t take off, so they decided to push it a little further. He drove up to Google and tried to pitch an educational angle at Google. He joined them to help develop “YouTube for Schools.” The goal of this was to move towards unblocking YouTube. He moved to San Francisco and then started another company called “Classbadges,” which allowed teachers to award digital badges to students.
After his work at Google, he moved to DC and joined the White House Presidential Innovation Fellows. While there, he started the White House Film Festival. I’ve seen some amazing student submissions with this project. Students get to highlight their own learning experience; it gives them a powerful voice that is then witnessed by the Federal Government.
James finishes by talking about his experience teaching in Los Angeles, where the school to prison pipeline is a reality.
He said that in our classrooms, we need to take risks to disrupt this. There isn’t an easy solution. As teachers, we need to take big risks and be willing to fail… and if you take big risks, you will fail. It’s not easy, it’s hard. At the same time, the rewards for success are immeasurable. We write our own script, and we need to try to do more. Put yourself out there, and let your students put themselves out there. HIs latest project is Future Ready Schools. Start looking at what schools should have today; more big idea projects, what do you need to be successful in your job? What do students need? Being Future Ready means. Look for that window, the opportunity to relight your fire and allows you to put yourself out there. If you keep pushing through your failure, you will find what works for you.