Home » Archives for September 2014

Month: September 2014

BIF10 Highlights and A Random Act of Collision

I heard about the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) last year while attending the International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC) in Boulder, Colorado. A friend I met there, Matt Murrie, had attended BIF for a couple years and raved about this event where “innovation junkies” come together to share ideas and create space for random collisions to occur among attendees.

I have only attended education-specific conferences before and I looked forward to the potential to collaborate with other innovators across different fields. To me, what I created with ALC Mosaic isn’t just reinventing a school – it’s a shift in thinking about how to address life in general. A redefinition of what it means to be “successful” in this world. From the description I was given about BIF, I felt that I could have a real opportunity to learn from others redefining how to start and run businesses, as well as share about how I am doing that with this school.

Entering BIF on Tuesday, I was immediately humbled. I was younger than most of the attendees and, while I have done a lot in my 31 years, I felt much less experienced than those around me. I decided to sit back and just listen and learn, hoping that along the way I’d experience the random act of collision that BIF prides itself on. (I did, read on!)

IMG_2245 IMG_2246


A few speaker highlights 

Christopher Gergen, founder of Queen City Forward, told his perspective about the distinction between “Leading Others” and “Leading WITH Others.” Gergen also shared how the world tends to promote “learned helplessness” rather than “learned hopefulness.” One question he seeks to find the answer to is “How can we unleash the potential of next generation problem solvers?”  I was excited to hear from someone who’s line of work seems so fundamentally aligned with mine. It was interesting to go all the way to Rhode Island to learn about someone doing powerful work in the state where I live. Click here to see Gergen’s full talk.

Vala Ashafar described his incredible story leaving Iran in August of 1981 during a period of civil unrest to find refuge in the states. He left Iran as captain of the soccer team with many friends, to arrive in the United States having to readjust to being unpopular and last picked for sports games. However, through his moving story, he describes how there are times where it’s important to learn how to earn your right to be picked. Ashfar also said something that reminded me of a recent article with advice from the president of Harvard telling parents to “Make your children interesting!” if they want to get into Harvard (rather than putting focus on being valedictorian). Ashfar says in his talk, “If you’re interesting enough, people may find you interesting.” How I interpret this: if your focus is on getting good grades or meeting another person’s definition of success, you lose who you are along the process and are thus less in tune to who you are – making you less interesting to others.  Ashfar also talks about finding purpose through connectivity, saying “If you’re not helpful, you’re not influential,” and “The most fulfilling work may be the ability to help people discover their awesomeness.” I couldn’t agree with him more on that!  Click here to see Ashafar’s full talk.

Camille Beatty, a 14 year old Robotocist in Asheville, reconfirmed my belief that school is no longer needed. Beatty, her dad, and her sister learned how to build robots through watching Youtube videos. They do their hands-on building in their garage and make their robot parts from scratch. Their families operates on the belief that “if you can imagine it, then you can do it.” Last year they built two Mars Rover replicas for the New York Hall of Science, and then learned more about entrepreneurship as they built robots for other museum displays. With Beatty living so close to Charlotte, I hope one day some of our students could meet her and see the family garage!


Alexander Osterwalder’s talk started with a question that immediately grasped my attention: “Why I Want My Kids to Fail.” This is a topic near and dear to my heart since a huge part of Agile Learning Centers (ALC) is creating a space for children to develop a healthy relationship to failure. Osterwalder states, “The more you fail, the less you fear failure,” and tells a joke to reinforce how failure actually drives more learning, “Do you know what we call a failed entrepreneur in Silicon Valley? Experienced.” One reason I cannot teach in traditional schools is because of the unhealthy relationship children develop with failure since so much of what is important in school is to get an A, and if you aren’t getting the grades, something is wrong with you. I agree with Osterwalder when he states, “Fear of failure is holding us back from experimenting.” Sir Ken Robinson has a TED talk called “How Schools Kill Creativity” that drives this point home. If children are not taught how to use failure to stimulate and drive growth in a playful and exciting way, experimentation of ideas and creative thinking will be replaced with just trying to do things the way the teacher tells you to so you can get the grade. Click here to see Osterwalder’s full talk.


A not so random collision

After every break, I made a point to change my seat in hopes of meeting someone new and making a meaningful connection. As I said earlier, I felt like a young novice in this crowd – someone who had not yet “arrived” like so many of the other speakers, and I was slightly intimidated about how I could connect with others who might be interested in hear about the work I’m doing ALCs.

After the last break, I decided to sit closer to the front to get a different view of the stage. The man I sat next to started a conversation with me, first with small talk, then with growing interest as he discovered I started a school in Charlotte. Lo and behold, this random seat choice ended up being the spark to a very incredible collision for me. I was sitting next to Dennis Littky, the co-founder of Big Picture Schools and The Met School in Providence, RI.

Dennis and I grabbed what conversation we could during and in-between each speaker. We ended the day exchanging cell phone numbers on our business cards with a date to have him pick me and my ALC partner, Tomis Parker, up in the morning so we could tour The Met School before catching the rest of the afternoon speakers at BIF10.

The next morning Tomis and I had a thorough tour of the Met campus and got to spend a good bit of time asking Littky questions. I am still blown away at Littky’s generosity of time – picking us up and taking ample time to answer our questions and tell us his story. I enjoyed Littky’s spunk, he seemed like a cut-to-the-chase, down-to-earth, passionate individual determined to create an educational alternative that works – and he doesn’t let anything get in his way! Littky shared his failures and lessons along the way, including how he’s been fired a lot before and how, at one point, he stopped what he was doing to move to the mountains for 3 years.

One could easily say that Littky has “arrived” or has “made it,” after all, he was given 25 million dollars by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. You would think that at this time in his life, he would have hired others to run his school and projects. Yet, talking to Littky, it is clear that his work is not done and he is still in the trenches, working with students daily to show them that school can be about following your passions and interests. He knew the high school students and spoke to them as equals as we toured the campus, and then at night, he works with adults with a his new initiative, College Unbound.

I am so grateful for the time Littky gave to me and for the important reminder he gave me: None of us have “arrived” when it comes to the work of changing the education paradigm, and I am no lesser of a contributor in this work than he is. I’ve lived less years on this earth, and certainly have many more lessons to learn as I experience my own successes and failures through my journey, but I am creating valid and needed change with the individual students, educators, and parents I come in contact with. I’m always going to be journeying and working with children, while challenging parents and educators to look outside the box of traditional education. I hope that when I’m Littky’s age, I will still be interacting with the people I serve daily as he is. I hope that the educational paradigm will have shifted and changed quite a bit by that time, but I never hope to be down working with children!

Final thoughts

BIF prides itself on delivering an experience involving inspiring stories and random acts of collisions that bring innovative people together. I found both, and the latter without even expecting it. I guess that’s truly random, but I don’t believe that. I have to say it was a divine universal intervention that led me to meet the one person at this conference that has dedicated their life to a cause so similar to mine! BIF was the catalyst of that experience, and so generously gave me a scholarship to attend. I’m greatly appreciative of their inclusiveness to support early entrepreneurs like myself to bump shoulders and learn from those who have being in the game longer.

Musings From Week 4 of School

I can’t believe we just finished our 4th full week of school! It’s incredible how much things have shifted for us in just a month. We had a just a short summer break – 2 weeks long, with 2 weeks of summer camp for most of our kids thrown in there. I thought that the transition back to the school year would be smoother, but it’s taken some time for us to find our flow!

The biggest shift we have seen in our school is the general school culture. I’ve been writing about our Change Up Meetings and our Culture Committee in a forum in our ALC Website called Culture @ ALC Mosaic.

The other thing I’m slowly noticing is how there are kids that are now creating their own routines in the day. We do our scrum every morning where kids and staff can plan our days, but patterns are emerging. The kids who want some consistency in their day are creating that for themselves.

Some consistent activities I’m seeing:

  • Language practice for the first hour of every day
  • Science with Dan in the morning
  • Choreography practice from 11-12 most days

After a pretty rocky first week and a half of school, the dust has settled and we have ourselves a school where self-directed learners can come to pursue their passions and interests – while in a community of other individuals.  I thought with such a short summer break and 2 weeks of summer camp that the transition would be smoother, but we definitely needed time to get used to the space and how to be together in it. I’m happy to now see the kids self-organizing around things they are excited about and the ALFs around to support them as well as create opportunities for new offerings.

Some celebrations from the week I’d love to share: 

  • Gabe passionately pursuing his blog – the kid picked up wordpress so fast and helped Charlotte with hers too. We hope he can help us get the other kids create shareable value on their blogs.
  • New entrepreneurial ventures, Charlotte is supporting kids who want to start a dog-walking business. They’ve made business cards and a website.
  • A fundraising jar! Many of our kids here are natural entrepreneurs. They love to sell things – and have now started a fundraising jar where they can collect money they make for school field trips.
  • Caleb leading our end of day group sharing, with more buy-in and participation from the group than when it was led by adults!
  • The beginning of movie script writing for a “In the Wild” Warrior Cat movie. I showed kids my video editing software on my old computer and now we have producers in the midst.
  • The girls supporting our youngest student in learning how to participate productively with a group! It’s hard being the only 5 year old at the school, and it’s heart warming to see the girls include him in their movie cast 🙂
  • Ayan calling forth a Solar Pyrographist. Who knew this existed? The ALFs are convinced Ayan called his passion into being.
  • We actually did build on the measuring the hallway activity with our feet, leaps, jumps, etc. It was pretty fun (read previous math blog for more there).


Oh…and there’s so much more. My hope is for Charlotte, Luc, Dan, Felicia and Dean to create their own blogs so they can share what they see happening in their experiences. I stay inside a lot, sticking to art/language/writing/reading/computer activities, and I miss what’s going with the outside adventures!

This week I’m only here Monday and Tuesday before I take off to the Business Innovation Factory’s 10th Annual Conference in Providence, RI. I’ll be there Wed & Thurs, and then I’ll head to NYC to see the ALC NYC on Friday. I’ll get to see how they implement their Friday group reflection time (You can see our weekly sprint schedule and compare it to the weekly sprint schedule in NYC), I’ll be blogging from NYC with them and will share about what I learn on my travels!

Sept 3, 2014 – Math Club

Yesterday I proposed a “Math Club” at ALC Mosaic. Last year, we had a bunch of kids working on Algebra with me and I thought there would be interest.

…but only Charlotte came!

So what did we do? We decided to hold coherence for math at ALC Mosaic anyway. And it turned out pretty incredible.

First @Charlotte and I went through my old John Van de Walle book from college and practiced some activities from chapter 12, “Whole-Number Place-Value Development.” In college, I had a very progressive math instructor that used this text with our class – and started my love for math and math education. As many of you might know, at the last school I taught in, my area of focus was math and how to bring math to children in a way that is more developmentally appropriate. Most kids actually can think mathematically but have their logic and problem solving skills stripped away from them as they go to school and learn to do math “how my teacher showed me.”

In my experience, kids love engaging with numeracy. They love money. They are little entrepreneurs. They compare each other’s ages. They count objects. They play games that involve numeracy all the time. They want to tell time. Why do we feel the need to sit them down and “do” math in a way that teaches them that you put numbers in a magical arrangement, “carry” the one and like magic, an answer appears?

In my opinion, children needs lots of time to play with place value. They should never be taught algorithms until they have had time to invent their own ways of solving problems.

Ideally, kids could work together solving a problem that’s fun and challenging, and then share with one another how they solved their problem and compare strategies. When I’ve done this with kids, I’ve been blown away by how their invented strategies make so much logical sense and mirror the logic of traditional algorithms. It’s after kids have invented their own strategies and understand them that they can be shown other algorithms, and when they see them, it makes sense!

Back to our Math Club – Charlotte and I decided to investigate together some of the activities in Van de Walle’s book to educate ourselves on how we can introduce numeracy activities to the kids. We did a couple of number games that led us to some fun ideas of how we can naturally include math at school without a formal math club! Dean joined us at this time as well and here is a Math Jam brainstorm list we made:

  • In our small groups, ask the kids to figure out how many eyes are in the room (for younger kids, counting by 2′s)
  • We then thought of other silly challenges we could pose to our small groups – like how many teeth there were in the room! Charlotte and I have 57 teeth together, by the way.
  • Challenge our kids to measure items in their own hands and feet. Charlotte, Dean, and I then measured our hallway in our feet and strides. We found out some cool things during this activity – for example, Charlotte has smaller feet than I do (duh!), but she took fewer strides than I did. We realized that she has a super long stride, (probably why she kicked my butt hiking Grandfather Mountain this weekend, she walks really fast!) This then led us to a mini lesson on the history of measurement!
  • @Dean said he’d love to start a “Discovery Book” where kids could record cool discoveries like these and challenge others to new challenges and discovery making!

So, Math Club wasn’t a flop after all!

August 28, 2014 – “Alone, Together”

This week I had one kiddo in my small group announce that he wanted to be a leader. When our small group discussed what that meant to him, at first the idea was to tell people when to do things. For example, when to eat lunch, when to read books, when to come to our end of day meeting, etc. I let his description sit with the other kids and refrained from chiming in, “Uh…that sounds kinda bossy.”

After a small bit of silence, one of our group members (our group is called the Fire Falcons, by the way), chimed in, “Well, I’m okay with those ideas, but I really don’t want to be told when to eat my lunch.” We then talked about leadership for just a little bit, and about gentle leadership.

Our conclusion came to this: the budding new leader in our school would initiate a time to read books in the library with other kids the next day, as well as start inviting kids to our end of day meeting by saying, “Come on, Fire Falcons, it’s time for our meeting!”

The next day (today), my intention was to support this child in having this reading time. Hearing his desire to tell others in the school to do things made me think that what he really wanted was a set time where other kids would do something with him that he wanted to do: read. This told me that it was hard for him to motivate himself to read quietly on his own without peers. I decided to find him peers that would read with him at any cost! I hunted down kids that I felt I had a strong relationship with and asked them, “When ____ comes to ask you to read, will you please go in the library and support him?” I got 5 girls together, and Book Reading Together (BRT) time was a go!


Interestingly, during this first BRT, (while I got read myself), I ended up reading chapter 13 of Blake Boles’ new book, “The Art of Self-Directed Learning.” The title of this chapter is “Alone, Together.” I’ll include a little excerpt from this chapter:

“Self-directed learners often find themselves facing solitary challenges, simply because they’re not doing the same thing as everyone else. Then they give themselves a hard time for not feeling motivated.

But self-directed learning isn’t about doing everything by yourself. Putting yourself in the right atmosphere, with people who share your interests, and with the right amount of structure, can make all the difference.”

As I read this, I looked up at this student who initiated the BRT and realized that he was craving time to be “Alone, Together.” In a school where the kids are not made to do everything at the same time, he was craving a little more of a school-like feel. Perhaps he missed those times in traditional school where kids just sat still and did something all together at the same time.

And guess what? We can actually give this type of experience to kids who want that in our Agile Learning setting. This is the role of the facilitators. See the children. Know them. Support them. And ask kids to support each other.

Next I looked over at another student who joined our school last spring, a lifelong unschooler that joined us because she wanted friends to learn with. She’s an avid writer and the chapter I just read was about a writing camp where teens go to write together. I stopped and read the chapter to her and proposed an idea to her.

The idea was born yesterday in a brainstorm session between me and the only teen we have our school. We decided we would promote and offer a class for homeschooled teens for FREE in Charlotte. This would help get more older kids in here to interact with our only teen.

My idea after reading this chapter is to offer a free “Writing Together” time for homeschooled teens (and maybe pre-teens) to come here in our library and just have time to write together each week. It can be anything, but the point is to have space with others write.

I’m imagining some social time too, they are kids, lol!

We could run the time in an Agile way – have the kids come, announce their intentions for their writing time, do a solid 45 minutes of independent writing, then we could go outside and talk, hangout, and potentially share our writing with one another.

I think it’s worth a try!