Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict



Building a Better Dinosaur, or: Trying too Hard

I might be over enthusiastic about my entry ticket into the classroom. I could hold really simple and predictable lessons using the text book, work book and teacher’s guide book. Go from page to page, give homework from the workbook and play around everybody’s comfort zone.
It’s either I am a “broken new teacher” or the system is much more broken than I had thought. dino

I want to innovate. I am there to teach English as a foreign language, but I insist on teaching my students the language of learning. A language that forces them to work with a variety of tools. All these 12-13 year old kids who think they know it all if they have an Instagram account, but are having trouble composing an email, copying a URL, exercising log in. Am I trying too hard when I demand they use more than their notebooks to learn?

I know my fellow innovative teachers around the world might be wondering what is this all about. But the truth is, if these students get to middle school knowing only one kind of learning, and their parents know only one kind of learning, and most of the teachers in the middle school continue expertly in this one type of learning – then dragging my single class into “more than the text book” – is considered a harassment. An annoyance.

I need to ask myself am I trying too hard for my own good. If I only need to survive this year than I’d better stick with the simple tools. These lessons go very well. They are not confusing. They are not even boring. And I know I should master walking before starting to run, right? But, my main concern is that they don’t develop a learner. But perhaps this isn’t my job – to turn my students into learners. I am only expected and required to teach English.

I’ve been spending hours per week on maintaining a WIKI to support my ESL class. I add a class summary after every day I teach, and detailed homework assignments, with supporting links and files. Wouldn’t it be so much simpler to stick with the regular stuff?

I am also a great believer in the power of games in the classroom. Should I even bother with it? If all environment, including the students themselves and their parents, want to stick to the simple conventions, where is the place for innovation? Should I fight for the future of education, or let the past and present win?


Teachers: Innovate or Vegetate? (Or: Why teachers hold the key to society’s innovation)

On the road to innovation, success, evolution and generally doing good we have to go through the education systems. Where ever we are. Tomorrow’s innovators are being educated today. While Peter Thiel with his 20-under-20 Thiel Fellowship is doing a rescue operation to fish entrepreneurs out of the higher education system before it squashes their dreams and plans under frames and debts, I’m thinking that the only operation we can have for the younger students is recognizing that teachers today hold the key to innovation. I need to create a clear separation between innovation and entrepreneurship. There’s a factor of bravery, risk taking and daring in entrepreneurship that is not always present with pure innovation. Teachers can and must innovate all the time. They don’t have to assume the role of entrepreneurs. But it’s “innovate or vegetate” for them. Going out with my dear friend Miri to a bar the other night, we spoke about career choices. Miri loves being a teacher. It’s the only thing she has ever done and she’s one of the more innovative teachers I’ve had the pleasure to meet. Without innovation – how could she survive around 3 decades of teaching science to middle school students? Day in day out, year in year out, same curriculum approximately. But she’s a master in improvising. She knows how to read each unique group of students, as well as specific students, and how to raise the curiosity and tease their own inquisitive minds into the same thing she’s teaching. They keep surprising her, and she keeps surprising them. Yet, teachers’ professional development is extremely weak in Israel. To encourage it the government with the teachers unions created a framework that recognizes specific programs or institutions as an official supplier of professional development. Going through any of those a teacher is then compensated financially for the investment. This framework created a terrible situation in which most teachers limit their quest to develop professionally to only these programs or institutions that will “pay off”. There goes innovation. An enthusiastic participant at Twitter’s #edchat I’m learning so much about education and educators around the world. It’s a sheer joy even if I am just a listener and not participating. I am not a teacher, and nobody pays me to learn education. But all of the participants, who are teachers and educator by trade don’t spend that 1 hour (sometimes 2 hours) per week in a multi-national conversation about education because they are paid to do so. They do it because they are passionate about what they do and they want to innovate and grow. They don’t want to get tired and worn, they want to keep the enthusiasm going on in their lives and careers.

Why I think teachers hold the key to society’s innovation

Here’s innovation for you. These teachers are in fact cultivating tomorrow great entrepreneurs. When their students will grow up, I hope they can appreciate it. Because we hear so much about the successful entrepreneurs and their grand startups, but we rarely hear about those who showed then the way.

#edchat: Teach Digital Literacy?

I do my best to join or at least follow one #edchat per week on twitter, using my own twitter account @lemino. It has become one of the best sources of learning about education innovation, about the ins and outs of education systems, and about the shakers and movers in this field. It’s actually very exciting when you try to follow a conversation on a single topic with dozens of educators from around the world talking together.

Sadly I missed this week’s edchat. 7PM here (noon eastern time) is a tricky hour. But it was such a great topic I had to browse through the chat. Fantastic chat. So I decided to bring some of the excitement here, with small modifications (of abbreviations) and the #edchat hashtag removed from all the updates. Note the twitter names and follow these education leaders. The opening statement by Jerry Blumengarten (Cybraryman1), the host of this session, is the topic of the chat:

Cybraryman1: If all educators will be required to teach digital literacy – what do they need to know in order to be digitally literate?

MadameWells: Teachers need to know what digital literacy means. Many don’t know the meaning of the word.

Cybraryman1: What is digital literacy?

EarthEcho: Difficult task but needs to happen before we begin teaching (define digital literacy).

Shyj: @MadameWells I don’t think it has a common definition. Need to be on the same page.

Jdferries: Digital literacy is so broad! Let’s start with information sourcing, the role of human filtering, coping with infowhelm & echochambers.

DrDougGreen: They need to know that their learning never stops and should be a daily affair.

Bobloch: Educators need to know how online tools make many current practices obsolete. How to adapt, stop thinking of curriculum in linear fashion.

Aceedu: @bobloch Exactly. Educators have to make changes in the way curriculum is taught/learned

MaxScholarLLC: Ability to effectively and critically find, evaluate and create information using technology.

Cybraryman1: @DrDougGreen @sdroyer That is true for all types of learning. Important to be a constant learner.

Sjunkins: Literacy was once the ability to read and write. Today it’s about making sense of and engaging in so much more.

Katie_M_Ritter: Digital literacy: how to navigate & evaluate the internet, familiar with social media and digital technologies, can create content online.

Cybraryman1: Digital literacy is the ability to find, understand, evaluate, create and communicate digital information.

Aceedu: @sjunkins Digital literacy was not something we thought about a decade ago. It changes everything.

ScholasticTeach: What say you? Should schools teach social media skills?

Tkraz: @sjunkins It’s still the ability to read and write, but I’d add view. Same core but wider spectrum of choices.

4bettereducatio: Digital Literacy means creating empathy, understanding of bias, opportunities to create, curation techniques and context for info posted online.

Shyj: Locating, sorting through, analyzing, using and creating information. So much more than what it used to be.

DrDougGreen: Key skills are finding & evaluating information, blogging, multimedia production/editing and writing skills.

EarthEcho: Educators also need to understand the power and permanence of internet in tech in education.

Shyj: Even the term digital literacy has morphed: information literacy, media literacy etc.

Jdferries: I think it is also using digital tools to leverage info in general: using multimedia to persuade, analyzing competing claims.

DrDougGreen: They need to understand how to stay out of trouble with social media themselves. Some teachers don’t.

Sjunkins: Modern literacy means being able to read, write AND use various forms of media.

Katie_M_Ritter: I like the emphasis on “modern” RT @sjunkins : Modern literacy means being able to read, write AND use various forms of media.

4bettereducatio: @Katie_M_Ritter Yes, I think creating the content and getting past consumption is a huge area of Digital Literacy need.

Cybraryman1: What types of professional learning is necessary to help educators learn about being digitally literate?

ITDean: @cybraryman1 very much along the similar lines of pre and post testing. Teachers also need to see a reason. Why learn it otherwise?

Tkraz: Digital literacy requires the same basic read/write skills but also requires more independence in finding and evaluating.

Shyj: Yes, locating and searching for info – all a part of digital literacy as well as using info to create.

Shyj: with emphasis on creating as well. Think the create part had changed a lot over the years.

Tkraz: @shyj creation tools have changed and evolved expanding the options and possibilities.

Shyj: and attached to that are the copyrights, staying safe etc. So when do teachers have time to teach all of this?

DrDougGreen: @cybraryman1 professional development needs to be small bites daily and individualized. Each teacher needs to be responsible for own plan.

Defstef98: I think we have to go back to heightening students’ awareness of genres- within the digital genre there are sub genres

Fishtree_edu: @defstef98 Digital literacy is a broad topic and it needs to be divided into sub topics to make it easier to teach

MadameWells: It’s important to be able to search, evaluate and create, knowing what is legal to use and what is not.

MaxScholarLLC: @ MadameWells also, how to identify a fake website and inaccurate information.

Shyj: @ MadameWells Ugh. You mean… copyright? (runs out of room screaming…)

MaxScholarLLC: Teachers need to be able to explore, understand and use digital technologies to find, create, and share information

Iatlearning: @ MadameWells Digital is becoming a huge part of the student’s world. Bringing it into the classroom will help to connect with them.

Tkraz: with emphasis on creating as well. Think the create part had changed a lot over the years.

Sjunkins: Literacy is a curriculum fundamental but being literate today requires much more than the traditional literacy of yesterday.

4bettereducatio: @tkraz @sjunkins and possibly add evaluate? Same skills but a much larger range of information and perspectives.

Katie_M_Ritter: educators need to be connected and engage online. Can’t teach digital literacy if you’re not engaged with it yourself. Bloom

CecileMcVittie: @cybraryman1 Perhaps “transliteracies“ implying movement across all literacies are what educators need?

Cybraryman1: @DrDougGreen Thanks to wonderful #eduvue now say Professional Learning rather than Professional Development

Shyj: Have we even mentioned staying safe online as part of digital literacy?

Aceedu: @MaxScholarLLC Yes, it’s not simply knowing the basics. We need to be able to take it further and make it effective.

Itechbob: Becoming digitally literate should not be an option. The days of I don’t do technology should be over.

Sjunkins: Forget the 21st century, literacy is an every century skill.

Madamewells: I am trying very hard to be a connected educator. I am helping teachers here build a PLN (Professional Learning Network).

Itechbob: getting people started with a PLN seems like a great way to learn digital literacy. Hands-on learning at its digital best.

Isminc: Do your teachers collaborate for homework assignments?

MadameWells: @ismin elementary teachers do, but the high school teachers do not.

Fishtree_edu: is digital literacy a skill or a mindset?

Defstef98: @fishtree_edu I vote for the second option

Fishtree_edu: @defstef98 @shyj Digital literacy is a skill to learn, re-learn and un-learn which comes from the (learning) mindset

MadameWells: Connected Ed is a key to digital literacy. We learn from others and then teach it to more.

Cybraryman1: what type of professional learning is necessary to help educators learn about being digital literate?

AdamGoldberg1: @cybraryman1 Teachers need to learn what kids already do online to exchange in meaningful conversation about responsibility

DrDougGreen: @itechbob ever since the school got internet in 1996 I only hired tech savvy teachers. Today I ask to see their blog.

Earthecho: @ DrDougGreen completely agree! Educators need to find the way to use tech to empower themselves and their students.

Katie_M_Ritter: you can read and you can write but can you collaborate with others effectively online? (projects, email, google docs)

Shyj: @MaxScholarLLC When are teachers building their digital literacy skills? What role should that play in the classroom?

CurtisChandler6: In this century there is likely to be a difference between those who are literate and those who are fully, functionally literate.

DigitalJLearn: @cybraryman1 content creation VS content curation and the importance of doing both.

CurtisChandler6: Reading, writing, listening and speaking are great starts. I also think that empathy could be added.

Sjunkins: New forms of media bring about new forms of literacy.

CurtisChandler6: @sjunkins new literacies often evolve faster than our ability to examine them; therefore the ability to evolve is a crucial skill.

Fishtree_edu: @ MadameWells teachers can start by looking into what students are using. Kids these days can be smarter than adults 

MadameWells: @cybraryman1 I think they need to know they can find all the answers they need through a PLN

Shyj: Have we even mentioned staying safe online as part of digital literacy?

Aceedu: @shyj Great point! That’s a HUGE part of digital literacy and shouldn’t be overlooked or assumed to be known.

Shyj: @Aceedu yes assumed for teachers and students… just because we can “FB” doesn’t mean we have digital literacy skills.

Aceedu: @Shyj Exactly! Especially students. Just because they were born into it doesn’t mean they know how to use is effectively.

Itechbob: Educators don’t need to know everything. Digital change happens too fast. Evaluation skills become highly important.

DrDougGreen: as educators we no longer own the information. Any student can know things their teacher doesn’t.

Cybraryman1: we have to be constant learners and model this for our students

Sjunkins: our students should be able to actively create rather than just passively consume media. That’s today’s digital literacy.

TomWhitby: Have you ever tried to figure out what percentage of your school faculty was digitally literate?

Gooru: digital literacy=knowing not only how to use the digital tools but also how to find the ones that best fit your or your students’ needs

Defstef98: It’s in the collaboration that probably digital literacy and or transliteracy are achieved.

Shyj: @deftef98 @Katie_M_Ritter Yes, real application and situations when skills are needed

DrDougGreen: Every student should publish their best work on a regular basis.

Cybraryman1: @ DrDougGreen @sjunkins All students should also blog

MaxScholarLLC: @sjunkins and we should encourage them to evaluate their work throughout the process of creating it and not the final result

TomWhitby: Has digital literacy become a standard requirement for hiring new teachers yet?

DigitalJlearn: @CYbraryman1 They need to know that being digitally literate is as much about a culture of innovation and exploration as it is about tech.

Mamacita: Too many teachers view tech as one more burden when in fact tech relieves many burdens. Tech is no longer an extra. It’s a fact of life.

Sjunkins: having students create their own digital content gives them a whole new perspective on the power of media

QuinnEng8: Any ideas for differentiating digital literacy instruction in classrooms where some kids can program and others only see computers at school.

This is not all of the chat. Only about a third or half of the one hour stream. But I hope you have had the chance to learn from it as much as we did, and that you also got the urge to check out the #edchat stream next Tuesday at noon EST.

Are Skills Based Standards the Solution, or a New Problem?

I’m confused, I admit.

Just recently spent a week with educators at the SXSWedu in Austin, TX (a very cool event by the way), where CCS (Common Core Standards) were the talk of the day, if not the talk of the conference.

Tried to dive in to better understand what it is and spoke to many educators and education entrepreneurs – and what I got is a lot of question marks. A few educators admitted that they are not sure what to do with the CCS, how to decipher the code encrypted in them and transfer it to a clear and relevant work plan in the classroom. Some simply found it “out of sync” with their work (here’s a good example –

I took a look: – read sample items and thought about it. 10-04-2013 10-20-29

I thought that defining the school curriculum through skills we want to achieve rather then through a specific content one has to go through, is a pretty cool idea and I would love for it to happen here too (I live in Israel), and all over the world. Awarding kids with skills is really “teaching them how to fish”.

However, I do believe, after reading some of the items, that they are not clear enough to become solid grounds for a school curriculum. They can be interpreted in many ways, and also – it could prove difficult to make sure the kids actually acquire these skills, in other words, would you test the kids in order to assess if they got those skills? How can you test for skills level in a way that won’t harm learners?

There were several very interesting discussions about the Common Core Standards I came across on various teachers networks. On Firesidelearning Mike posted this on 2009

Cindy posted this on May 2012  and this one on September 2012  and there are more mentions of the CCS if you search for it.

But even after reading all these discussions I fail to understand the shortlist of the pros and cons, and was wondering if you can help me summarize it and answer the following questions:

1) Are the common core standards needed?

2) What would you change in them?

3) What do the CCS mean for the choice of contents in classrooms?

4) In one of his talks I heard Jesse Schell describe standardization as the enemy of creativity. Is this true for the CCS in their current form too, or do they actually enable personalizing education to the student’s needs and abilities?

Schoolyear: A Good Start

Two whole months into the school year and I must say something. So here it comes. I have two boys in school this year, as my daughter has graduated high school last year. Now I have one son who has started high school this year (9th grade), and my youngest son, who is now in 5th grade.

The new high school is so different from the one I encountered with my daughter! There are some obvious reasons, but some are really a matter of choice. A management choice.

My 14 year old son is going to Thelma Yellin High National School of the Arts. By the looks of it you could not suspect that this is one of the most lucrative schools in Israel, or that it is private. It’s an old building with crumbling trailers as classrooms. But who cares? Certainly not the people who go there. The creative atmosphere is strongly felt through sounds and sights. But it’s also felt through the teachers, staff and management attitude.

The grading system is different. Grades will go up, for instance. Not something you see every day when they’re all doing average. “We want the students to be happy”, said to me one of the consultants, not a slogan. Really meant it. For a change I don’t feel like I am forced into a combat for my kid’s survival or dignity. It’s built into the system. There’s still a long way to go. I know. But at least it’s a good start.

My youngest is into his second year at the Waldorf Education school. It’s 5th grade and I am terribly impressed by the way they chose to introduce one of the more important learning skills. They have started this year with stories the teacher is telling from the mythologies of India, Persia & Babylon. He has been telling the story and the kids are to write the story in their notebooks and decorate them with illustrations. They can add descriptions and scenes that they come up with to enrich the stories, if they wish. But they have to listen, memorize, summarize, write and visualize. Not easy or simple. But the skill is so valuable and so well developed through these tasks.

Now to end this hard work the class has went on a 3 days field trip. Slept in tents, walked tens of kilometers, met with elders who shared their stories about the history of the country and the region. Learned discipline, nature, history and fraternity. Aren’t these skills as important to any child’s future?

The Linkerview: The Path to Publishing

A couple of days ago Shelly Terrell, my friend from Texas, posted a link to an article titled “A Self-Published Author’s $2 Million Cinderella Story” .

Shelly is a teacher trainer and founder of #edchat, a weekly online international chat about education, happening weekly on twitter.

Why did you post the link to this article?
“A friend shared it with me because I am a writer, too. My projects are self-published and I am very keen on the topic of self-publishing. My self-published book, which I distribute online through my blog, got over 7,000 views/downloads in less than 3 years. My book is for educators and I am told in this category if you sell more than 1,000 you’re considered a best seller. It is now going to be published in print. So I guess the story of this self-published author, Amanda Hocking, was particularly relevant to me and I thought others may find it interesting, too.”

Why did you choose the self-publishing route?
“I am a writer and I have always written, starting as a child. I wrote poetry, too. I heard it was really difficult to get published by a publisher. Authors get rejected often. Amanda Hocking also says this in her story. One of my favorite authors, John Kennedy Toole, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, “A Confederacy of Dunces,” committed suicide at the age of 31. One reason he did this was he suffered depression and I read somewhere that rejections of his writings were a part of it and that he couldn’t handle it. His book was published after his death due to the efforts of his mother. Writers are emotional by definition and some may take all these rejections personally. I decided when I first began wanting to share my writings with the public that I wouldn’t be able to cope with so many rejections, so I didn’t even try to contact publishers and decided to publish on my own work.”

How did you do it?
“Through my blog. I like the connection with the public, so I started to blog a series of posts, which turned into an e-book. I edited it and created an e-book that can be downloaded from my blog. I travel around the world through my work and give talks so I got to speak about the e-book, too. I didn’t expect it to happen, but yes, there are over 7,000 views/downloads of the e-book so far. It is a free e-book, so more people are likely to check out something that is free. When you do go to publishers you have to make an argument to justify publishing your book. Showing that it is popular online is a good argument.”

Do you think that the future of publishing will have to go through online publishing tools?
“I am not sure this is a must, but I think all writers should be familiar with online publishing tools. In poetry only 11% of the thousands of poets out there can actually make a living of it. When the statistics are that low you are right to ask yourself what is the likelihood of being the next huge writer? It does take a lot of luck and also a lot of persistence. Hocking points to that, too.
“I think in the future more people will share their passion for writing online. Maybe not all will make so much money like she did but many will be able to make some sort of an income from it.
I am just happy I did my book the way I did it because for me it was more about getting my word around than making a career out of writing. I feel I have accomplished something.”

Is there something we can all learn from this story?
“That if you love something and you are passionate about doing it – you should do it. Don’t let the rejections and setbacks along the way slow you down. Each of us is making a personal journey. I realized my capacity for handling rejection so I chose my path. You should choose yours. Whether luck played a part in it shouldn’t make a difference”.

What would you ask Amanda Hocking, the 27 year old author, if you had met her?
“I’d like to ask her about her encounter with her audience, about an author connecting with those who read their books and finding out what touched them. This should be pretty special.”

Toying with Words: Education, Learn, Teach, Hanukkah

A few months ago a young entrepreneur, as passionate as I am about education, approached me with an idea to create a TEDx conference or similar, dedicated to the education revolution, in Israel. I had just started to think of an education-revolution conference myself, but I didn’t think of doing it in Israel only. I want to create an event happening simultaneously around the world, in as many countries as possible. A revolution in education must happen globally and simultaneously to succeed. My friend had followed the TEDx education revolution conference in London. There were plenty of ideas worth spreading there, as usual, but not enough call for action in her view. I started to think of the “ignite” concept for our conference, since we want to ignite a change and let in many voices. But what is it that we want to change?

What the Words are Actually Saying

Being a professional namer I started to think about the words, the vocabulary of education. I don’t like the word “education”. I much prefer “learning”. Looking at it from the student’s point of view, education is something pushed to the students, while learning is something the students pull. With education students are passive, while in learning they are active. A mix is probably what we should be aiming at.

However, it is education we are referring to when we relate to the required “revolution”. These are “education systems” that are being criticized all over the world, and that are attempting reform one by one.
From Wikipedia: “Etymologically, the word education is derived from the Latin ēducātiō (“a breeding, a bringing up, a rearing) from ēdūcō (“I educate, I train”) which is related to the homonym ēdūcō (“I lead forth, I take out; I raise up, I erect”) from ē- (“from, out of”) and dūcō (“I lead, I conduct”).”

Looking at it from today’s perspective – education is only a part of what schooling should be about. Yes, it is about transferring accumulated knowledge from older generations to younger generations but that’s not all; it is about taking the younger generations from the place of not knowing and leading them to a new knowledgeable place. But that’s not enough. Certainly not when education systems are actually clogging the natural learning abilities of younger generations. Schooling should aim at enhancing natural curiosity and learning abilities with accumulated knowledge of the society. Enhancing. Aggregating. Developing. And doing it all with the students, and their natural resources. Rather than take them “from” one point to another, build on what the students are, what they bring with them, including their natural learning skills. I feel like a new word should be coined: “coducation”? Etymologically combining “cum” (with) and “dūcō” (I lead, I conduct). One problem with this new word is that “ed” has become a short for “education”.

If education is about teaching and learning, let’s see what “learning” can tell us. From about the 13th till the 19th century the verb “learn” was used for “teach” as well. That’s a curious thing. In Hebrew “teach” is “LAMED” and “learn” is “LEMAD”, and they share the same root. Note that “education” isn’t related (grammatically) to neither, in Hebrew too. The word “education” translates to “HINUKH” in Hebrew, which derives from the root of “to initiate”, or “renew” or “rededicate”. What do you know? The holiday we’re celebrating now is called “Hanukkah”. It commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple (the 2nd temple) during the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. Do we want our kids “re”-anything? I don’t.

Into researching “learn” I ran across a wonderful word, cun, coming from the Old English word “cunnian”, which means “to learn to know, inquire into” and is said to belong to the same root as the word “can”. The word “can”, how wonderful, comes from the word “cunnan” in Old English, meaning “know, have power to, be able”. OH! Yes We Can!! That’s it! That’s what education is all about: Being Able. Now I feel like the new word should be “educan”. Etymology: education, learn, know, be able. What’s your new word for it?

The Future of Education is Rooted in The Past

My youngest son, who is now in 4th grade, joined a Waldorf Education school this year, after 3 years of suffering in a regular school. We just received the first school’s newsletter with updates and descriptions of the activity in the school and I wanted to share it. But I should probably start with how we went through these first 3 months.

For a 9 year old he started the schoolyear very skeptic. “There’s no school that can fit me”, he said. For such a young kid to passionately hate the idea of school – despite his many friendships there – is pretty shocking. So it took a while, the full 3 months, to be exact, and we got it! Last week he came home from school and for the first time ever when I asked him how his day was he said “Great”. I even teased him a bit, wanted to make sure I am hearing right, and he confirmed that he had a great day at school. Do you have any idea how it made me feel?

At this point I don’t particularly care about the academic results this school produces. Not that I doubt them. But the only result that really matters is that my boy is open to the possibilities now. He is awake. He is back. There are many misconceptions about Waldorf Education, when in fact there are many variations in a little over 1000 Waldorf schools around the world. Our school is located at the center of the city. It is unlike another Waldorf school in Israel, which is located in a rural environment in the Galilee. It embraces the city and city people. What I like about our school is that while its roots are in that 100 years old philosophy, it is in full sync with our environment and times.

Indeed, the first misconception about Waldorf education derives from the fact that the first Waldorf school was founded in 1919 to serve the children of employees at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany 93 years ago.

If you have been following me you probably know that I am very passionate about the future of education. Having three extra-ordinary kids forced me into thinking deeply and widely about the state of education and learning and where we are heading. I got really excited by Greg Whitby’s “we have got to change the DNA of education” and by the famous TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson who stressed the same idea and explained we need a “revolution and not just evolution” in education. And while I totally agree with the spirit of change and futuristic ideas and would LOVE to break the walls of the classroom, here I am, equally ecstatic by this old method of education and the way it works.

Does innovation lie in the past after all?? Well this is the basis of the Waldorf Education: “Learning is interdisciplinary, integrating practical, artistic, and conceptual elements. The approach emphasizes the role of the imagination in learning, developing thinking that includes a creative as well as an analytic component. The educational philosophy’s overarching goals are to provide young people the basis on which to develop into free, morally responsible and integrated individuals, and to help every child fulfill his or her unique destiny… Schools and teachers are given considerable freedom to define curricula within collegial structures.” Wait, this seems to correspond perfectly with one famous 21st century education revolutionist’s words, Sir Ken Robinson. Did you check out his TED talk “Do schools kill creativity?”. My son’s school doesn’t kill creativity. Through creativity it has re kindled his curiosity and learning. And surprise surprise, now he even enjoys the experience. The only question remains: what is so complicated in this method that prevents other schools from applying similar principles?

Back to the school’s newsletter, here’s a brief report of what various classes have been doing over the first 3 months since school year opened: 5thgrade finished a geography period. The geography period was dedicated to knowing our country and learning the map of the country. Obviously the period opened with a 3 day field trip, with lots of walking and climbing, amazing views and encounters with wildlife. Another weekend trip in a different area concluded the period with the students’ families.

1st graders are doing their first steps in creative. They made a bag, and prepared needles for knitting.

2nd graders are knitting animal dolls and preparing a knitted bag for their recorders (sort of a wooden flute). 3rd graders finished working with two needles and are doing a one-needle knitting work now. 4th graders are doing embroidery with Xs. 5th graders are knitting socks with 5 needles. 6th graders are stitching dolls and 7thgraders are learning how to work with a sewing machine. They will be making patch quilts later this year.

In class, 1stgraders have been drawing colored drawings leading up to forming letters. They are chanting, singing and ending each week with a short nature trail.6thgraders started the year with geometry period, creating drawings of various mandalas. The second period is “Rome” and they are concentrating on the foundations of the Roman Empire and laws. They also started the Bat Mitzvah-Bar Mitzvah two-year program.9thgraders already had 3 field trips since the beginning of the school year. They have concluded 3 periods: history, physics and civics. The “high school” compound, which is a brand new addition to the school, has a kitchenette and sofas to enable staying late for social activities and meeting with “interesting people” who visit often take place. There’s plenty of artistic work too, right now – ceramics.Most of the school kids are playing various musical instruments, in addition to the recorder which is built in the regular music lessons. Right now kids are playing violin, viola, cello, trumpet, clarinet, saxophone, guitar and harmonica.Music is built in the curriculum. For example: 7thgraders are doing the maps and discoveries period now. So they heard and learned music related to ships, shipping and wandering. They are also learning songs in new languages such as Spanish and Swedish and getting to hear musical styles from around the world.

8th graders had a “revolutions” period. They learned spirituals and studied how music can be a driving force calling for liberation. They studied the hymn on the French revolution and poetry from the 60s calling for freedom and equality. They also discussed Jazz standards, rooted back in slavery… 8th graders took their revolutions studies one step further into the present when they visited the tents of the social protesters in Tel-Aviv (kind of the US “occupy”).  They studied about other revolutions too like the American revolution and the industrial revolution.
Our own 4th graders finished a calculus period and a bible period and are now into Nordic mythology, where they learn of stories parallel to those on our own Genesis book. They also had a fantastic 2-day field trip, spending the night in the gym of one kibbutz, walking almost 20 miles in the Jerusalem Mountains in two days.
Is this DNA so wrong for today’s kids? I suddenly have my doubts. From checking around it seems this school’s graduates are better equipped with learning abilities then their peers from other schools around. Since the teacher of the class goes with it from 1st grade till 8th grade – the teacher is learning with the students, while teaching them. Perhaps it is already a different DNA. But what’s preventing regular schools from applying such an approach?
For details about Waldorf Education, or the Anthroposophy, if you want to know more go to Wikipedia as a starting point: You can read this post and discuss in on Firesidelearning too: Join the conversation.

Needed: A Goal for Ongoing Revolution

I sit on my chair, in my study and I scratch my head. I feel like I have a mystery to crack. The mystery concerns the future of education, or rather the mysterious revolution in education. I hear great people (which I would love to meet in person) say “We need to change the DNA of education” – Greg Whitby and “Every education system in the world is being reformed at the moment, and it’s not enough. Reform is no use any more. Because that’s simply improving a broken model. What we need is not evolution, but a revolution in education” – Sir Ken Robinson.

But the ground is not shaking. It’s not even purring. Nothing. A year goes out and a year goes in and I ask myself how to crack this mystery. What would make a revolution in education? What does it take? Where to start?? And where are we heading?

Can you imagine the French Revolution or any other for that matter being a success without a clear goal?? An #edchat has just ended on twitter, on the topic “What should be the single focus of education if we could agree on only one goal?” . There was no clear agreement. Just a lot of similar opinions, wants, aspirations and – OK, some common goals.

We are having a revolution. Yet, in most cases, around the world, kids are still sitting in rows, facing a blackboard (or white) and the teacher, writing in (paper) notebooks and reading (paper) books. Hard to feel a big revolution this way. And indeed – this is no revolution. Even those schools who try to modify, add and change are not really “in the revolution”.

Yet a revolution is happening.

Like a good Kafka book – it seems there’s an oppressed mass rebelling against a mysterious ruler, only the ruler is an unclear one, and the rebels go in different directions.

One group of rebels go towards technology. Let’s put some more of this to get us what we want. Another thinks creativity is the key. Other think personal values, global citizenship, preparation for employment. Those are all very nice targets – but can they define a revolution??

None of the above, sorry. Or all of them – depends on your perspective. But the true goal of the Education Revolution, or Education Reform Movement is to alter the goal of education totally.

Let’s start with the name: no more EDUCATION.
It’s about time we start talking about LEARNING.

That’s the first change in perspective.

While education is defined in the dictionary first as “the act or process of educating or being educated” and second as “the knowledge or skill obtained or developed by a learning process”, learning is defined first as “The act, process or experience of gaining knowledge or skill”.

It doesn’t seem like a grand difference – but here’s what I see. Education is given, it’s all in passive – while learning is a take type of action, all active.

While education is something determined by the state and forced upon students, learning is what the students are actually taking with them.

Some students don’t’ get the education they require – because they don’t get to be heard. Their personal desire or interest in a topic has no place in a totalitarian regiment of education. Curiosity is often turned off in school, as it is all about getting through some oiled machine, with pre-defined targets. And not about true development which would often change targets and adjust to modifying reality.

I mean, does it make sense to decide in 2010 that in 2022 today’s first graders will have to finish school by passing exams in Math, English, History, Literature, Bible and perhaps 1-2 more topics? Can you really say that this is education?? Can this really help future generations get a job? Or be happy?

But if the 2022 graduates will finish school knowing how to learn whatever interests them, and starving for more knowledge, then I can say that future generations are safe.
Well, at least safer then they are today.

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