Wrapping Up Genius Hour…

We’ll be wrapping up Genius Hour in about 3 weeks with PitchFest.  

PitchFest is our first (hopefully annual) contest where you pitch your idea, product, organization, or creation to the world.  Rules will be posted shortly.

Over the next three weeks, you will wrap up your project for the purposes of our class, even if it’s not done. It is my hope that you will continue to work with this project until it is done, however. Whether you’re done soon or still working, you have learned some big-time real-world skills:

You have developed major entrepreneurial skills. You’ve: 

  • Identified a need in society. Identifying opportunities and needs in the market or the world is an entrepreneurial skill.
  • Taken that idea and moved it forward. Some of you are even walking away with an MVP. An MVP is a “minimum viable product.” This is your first draft in entrepreneurial terms. You’ll take that and make it even better.
  • Asked other teams and people for feedback. That’s called market research.
  • Taken the results of the feedback and changed your ideas and products. This is called a pivot.
  • Designed and done preliminary pitches to see what it felt like to sell your ideas and/or products to the world.
  • Swapped out teammates. This is real-world stuff. Sometimes, when you’re not a good fit for a team or idea, you move on and start something new. Recognizing when it’s time to part ways is an advanced skill. Doing it nicely with respect–even more advanced.
  • Asked other teams for help. So, you need an artist, a designer, a writer, someone with a fresh idea? I’ve seen you helping each other. This is real-world stuff. Sometimes, people get paid for this–it’s called consulting. Sometimes you do it for others because it’s been done for you. That’s called helping. Helping’s nice.
  • Networked and built your base of people around you. I see some groups really getting out there into the world, meeting professionals and people that will not only help with this project, but will help in real life. Some of you are making contacts, calling people, asking old teachers and principals, “What do you think?” and even getting out in the world promoting your passions.
  • Created physical products. I see books, apps, platforms, and posters emerging. Remember, if your product is too big to do now, save it in your “someday” file. Bite off what you can chew now.
  • Begun to study and master the art of public speaking. Most people hate this and refuse to do it. When you do it, even if you’re not comfortable, you’re miles ahead of your competition.

This is amazing, and I’m proud of each and every one of you. You have overcome obstacles to advance your causes, and learned in the process.

Everything we’ve done in this project has connected to current events–you’re working with your passions that are in the limelight every day–everything from animal rights, bullying, healthcare, family issues, fundraising, thinking about bettering the economy, filling consumer needs in society–I’ve seen a range, that all connect to our themes. Keep it up!

But… everything we’ve done also connects to your shops and technical areas. Most of the passions and needs you identified solidly connect to your shops–this is no coincidence. Your shops should be areas you feel passionate about.

Critical Questions: 

1. What can you do now that you couldn’t do before this experience?

2. Do you have any skills that you didn’t know were marketable skills? What? How could you use them in real life?

3. How can creating ideas, products, and platforms be a real job for you?

4. What parts of this experience were the most difficult for you? What parts of creating something–a book, company, app, etc–do you suppose are hardest for an adult?

5. How did you grow through this experience? Do you think we should do more (or less) of this type of project in classes?

6. How would you measure your success in this project if you had to give it a grade?

Here’s How We Get Things Done!

Yesterday, it snowed. I was supposed to go to an event–Choose2Matter Live, hosted at East Greenwich High School. I was excited, because the event is right up our alley–Genius Hour for two days straight resulting in things that really matter and continue into–real life. Because guess what–school is–and should be–real life. 

This year’s been all about themes that affect the world. We’ve talked about real world needs, and we’ve seen teens making a difference on the world stage. If you’re just reading a book and regurgitating information, guess what–you’re not making a change. Sure, we need to learn the fundamentals so we can apply them to stuff that matters. That’s the whole goal here. So, the next thing we’ll study is education throughout the world. 

Critical Questions: 

What’s school for? Seth Godin asks this in his TEDxYouth talk. 

Have schools, in fact, killed creativity? World-renown author, speaker and expert Sir Ken Robinson asks this question. Since he’s been knighted by the Queen, we should probably listen. If you enjoyed Sir Ken, here’s a bonus–a whiteboard anamation saying we must change the way we think about education. 


If the media and society is so up in arms about education in the US, we need to dig deeper, asking ourselves the questions

  • Is education so bad in the US? After all, we do educate everyone. Even though our “scores” might not match other countries, are they valid comparisons? Are we testing all our students? Are they? Are the tests equivalent? Maybe so, but never believe the media.
  • Where can we improve and how should we do it? How should schools look in this nation?
  • Should we have a national curriculum so that every student in the US gets the same chance? Or should local schools decide what to teach independently?

How’s the rest of the world doing? Really?

  • Which countries value education the most?
  • Do other countries offer free education for all citizens?
  • How do other countries rank against us?

The Big Questions: 

  • How does the fact you can get an answer to a question about China from a student in China, in real time, change the way we educate?
  • You wanted to get rid of the textbooks? And replace them with what?
  • Information is available about everything at any time. What skills do we teach to process this?
  • How will you use all this in your real life and change the world?

These are the questions we’ll be asking. Any one of them is big enough. All of them together is the beginning of a reflection about what education means to us, and how schools can make that happen. 

I Know What You Did Last Summer

Most of us use features on our phone that require GPS or geolocation. This means that our phones collect, store, and transmit data about our present, past, and (depending on Facebook) possible future locations. We tell it everything. 

This is convenient for me when I want to find my way around traffic or navigate to a new place. It’s great when I want to check in somewhere with a friend. 

It might not be great if you’re up to something, or if you just want a little privacy. Going to rob a bank? Geolocation will find you. Going to do a little Christmas, birthday, or Valentine’s Day shopping for that special person? Geolocation knows. 

Crimes have been solved using these features, cheating spouses have been caught and lies unfolded. Houses of vacationing people have been robbed. 

“What,” you say. “I’m honest.” So am I. So, for me, the convenience of having all things Google, geolocation notwithstanding, outweighs the risk of privacy. I’m fairly public and out there. You can read my thoughts or just ping me and ask. I’ll tell you. And I don’t get out much these days. Google doesn’t have that much to track… 

Or does it… 

Is there too much information out there? Even for the honest person? You decide. 
Review this Learnist board and add to the comments, both on the board and for this blog post. 

Polite War

This video was contributed by Jamaal Ross as an addendum to our discussion of British colonization and military methods.

We see evidence of this in Alice in Wonderland. This story takes place at the height of the Age of Imperialism. By 1750, the British East India Company under Elihu Yale (of Yale University) placed India under British rule, enslaving many Indians. The 1783 Treaty of Paris saw the end of British colonization in America, but by 1881, the “Scramble for Africa” had divided Africa up into European colonial strongholds, and the British were looking toward China.

This video is a humorous look at the American view of the British military, but it fits nicely into the context of British colonization as a whole. Thanks, Jamaal!

Transportation and Social Justice, Part II

According to the March 2011 report released by The Leadership Conference Education Fund, “Where We Need to Go: A Civil Rights Roadmap for Transportation Equality” , transportation truly is a civil rights issue. Here are some salient points taken from this report:

  • Average cost of owning a car: $9498
  • 33%: Low income African-Americans without access to a car
  • 25%: Low income Latinos without access to a car
  • 12.1%: Low income Whites without access to a car
  • 80%: Portion of federal transportation money dedicated to maintaining highways
  • Americans in the lowest 20% income bracket spend 42% of their income on maintaining automobiles compared to middle-class Americans, who spend 22% of their income on maintaining automobiles.
  • “One survey found that 4% of U.S. children (totalling 3.2m) missed a scheduled healthcare appointment due to lack of transportation.”
  • Racial minorities are 4x more likely than Whites to rely on public transportation to get to work.
  • NYC residents earning less than $35K/year are 11x more likely to have commutes over one hour as compared to residents earning over $75K.
  • Black NYC residents’ commute times are 25% longer than their white counterparts, and Hispanics’ commutes are 12% longer.
  • People who live in neighborhoods with plentiful transit options (access to bus routes and subways) spend just 9% of their income on transportation as compared to 19% average for Americans.
  • People who live in car-dependant suburbs spend 25% of their income on transportation.

This paints a stark picture of inequality.

Critical Question: 

1. Is this truly a civil rights issue, or an issue where people have the freedom to choose where to live?

2. How can tranportation issues for the nation’s poorest Americans be fixed?

3. Does this create a cycle of dependency on low-income jobs? If so, how can this be reversed?

4. What examples of excellent urban planning are trying to fix this problem in the United States?

What the World Eats

Food and water are critical subjects on the world stage. 

Time Magazine shows “What the World Eats” in pictures. It’s a very insightful look into the diets of the wealthy and the poor, the most developed and the least developed nations. Time shows what we value, in terms of food, family, and lifestyle. 

There are many food documentaries out there that outline our food crises–the unintended consequences of building an industrial based food infrastructure in America, with experts building arguments on both sides of this subject: 

  • for and against GMOs (health and safety factors vs. food availability and pricing, nutritional content)
  • for and against factory farming (health and safety factors vs. food availability and pricing)
  • for and against certain diet lifestyles (locavores, vegan/vegetarian, paleo, gluten-free)

Consider these arguments carefully as you decide on a food and health lifestyle that is right for you. Consider whether there is injustice in the national food supply and what we might do to correct that. Are you happy with the food choices you make? Do you live a healthy and balanced lifestyle or might you be at risk for health issues mentioned in the documentary Food, Inc?

There are no completely right or wrong answers, because the industrial food supply chain in this country has the responsibility for feeding a lot of people both in and outside of America. However, there are situations where we, as a nation, can do much better in food pricing, quality, availability, and quality. Please put your thoughts in the comments. 


End of the year thoughts. Oh. And a survey.

This year is ending. I figured I’d get the course surveys out of the way before you’re angry about the final exams. 

This was a transitional year for me–I really thought about how to get us out of the book, dealing with day-to-day issues in our courses. I expect to digitizing courses to be an ongoing process, now now that we’ve worked on the process together. I appreciate the feedback you’ve given me thus far, and I’m grateful that you took time this year to be my students. 

“We didn’t choose to come,” people always say.

I disagree. You did. You came, you brought it, and even on days that were tough most of you powered right through. For those of you who didn’t quite get to that finish line, don’t beat yourself up–learn from the year. Put it under your belt and say, “I’ve got this next year.” Because, I’ll let you in on a secret, many of my most successful friends have failed at some time in their lives. It’s part of the process–just don’t make it a habit. Learn. Go. Be great. 

Please check this blog from time to time throughout the summer–I think I’m going to keep it up over the break. Additionally, feel free to send in guest posts. I’m going to initiate them for next year. 

Finally: DON’T FORGET TO TAKE THIS SURVEY!!!  I need the information to craft next year. No, I don’t know what I’m teaching, but I need your help to make sure I do it well.