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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Armed & Dangerously Awesome

"When you give students the proper tools, it is amazing what they can build"


Over the past year I have been absolutely honored to be in the presence of brilliance and innovation.  I have watched people interview 75 veterans from World War II, the Vietnam War, and Korean War.  They recorded these interviews, edited the videos into stories, and gave DVD's to the respective families to honor those who fought for our country.  I, then, watched this group of people organize, set-up, run, and emcee a "Veterans Event" which had about 300 people in attendance.  The event was well ran and well organized.  The program brought about laughter and brought about tears.

I watched a group of people, certain they could change the world, organize, design, fund raise, plan, and begin building a 48-foot long "hoop house" that will eventually become a sustainable Aquaponic STEM Learning Center (the best in the nation according to this group).  They will provide educational tours while raising fish and growing vegetables 12-months a year for the community to enjoy.

I watched these people become enthusiastically engaged in the presidential election.  They raised awareness and spread the word about the importance of voting by holding signs on street corners, talking on radio stations, and on television stations.  I saw this group design, write, organize, and create a public website,, which explained the history and relevance of the issues concerning the debates and election.  This was all done by doing research and working hard to create an unbiased and nonpartisan message that would simply educate voters on the issues and allow them to make their own decisions.  The website generated over 27,000 views.

I watched this group speak to elementary and middle school student, win grants that they wrote, work together with community partners to learn more about sustainability, implement innovative vermicomposting systems, work endless hours to execute a creative fundraiser for autism that raised awareness and money, execute a great clothing drive and a successful food drive.  I saw students design and carry out a creative "1 for 5" campaign which raised money for people without proper nutrition.  I saw this group speak in front of large groups of community members, on panels with college professors, in front of school board members, with administrators, and more.  I saw this group test the local water quality for factors such as pH, DO, turbidity, nitrates, and phosphates in order to identify any problems.  

I saw this group of people do all of these things, and much, much, much more over the past year.  The most amazing part is that this group of people was composed of 14, 15, and 16 year old students.  These students learned all of their social studies, science, literacy, and leadership content through authentic projects with authentic audiences.  They worked with community members, businesses, and organizations within the community, in order to make the community a better place.

21st Century Skills

During this time I saw an amazing amount of growth with regards to knowledge, its application, 21st century skills, and the desire to make a difference.  This was not by random luck, however.  It took a culture change that only the students could decide to change and it took a lot of intentional instruction on 21st Century Skills.  We read books by Dale Carnegie, watched TED Talks, read articles, followed the news, etc...  Another important factor was the well thought out, easy to apply, straightforward teaching of 21st Century Skills.  This was done using the most wonderful educational resource that I have ever seen in my teaching career (and I have read a plethora of books).  The first day I saw this book I opened it up to skim a few pages and IMMEDIATELY fell in love.  I will always remember page "6" as the page that changed the way I view education and life.  After that there were a ton of other pages that had an equal impact.  They not only outlined all of the necessary 21st Century Skills (including collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creative thinking), but the book did so in a very easy-to-understand, relevant, and applicable manner.

Since that day, I have told many, many, many teachers about this book.  Some ask how I can afford to waste time teaching these skills when there is so much content we have to teach.  Every time that I hear this, I cringe.  My response is that they "we can't afford not to teach these skills to our students" as they are the foundation of learning.  Once you use this book it all becomes clear.  You realize that students are not only learning for a test or quiz so that they can forget about it a week later, but they are learning for the sake of making a positive difference in the world.  Instantly learning become RELEVANT.  Instantly learning becomes AUTHENTIC.  Instantly learning becomes FUN.  Instantly learning becomes EASIER. 

In order to teach our students to "Learn how to Learn" order to prepare our students for a world in which all of the technology, most of the jobs, and much of the information will be different 10 years from order to help our students reach their order to empower our students and allow them to take ownership of their order to help our students change the world......we owe it to them to teach these skills using this book.

This book is titled INQUIRE which was written by Rob King and Thoughtful Learning and published by Zaner-Bloser.  It is the best book and most valuable resource that I have ever seen in my life and the reason I am more optimistic about the future of education.  I strongly believe that every student, parent, teacher, administrator, business, person on this planet should read it from cover to cover and benefit from the important message and immense knowledge that it delivers.  
I am so happy to be speaking in St. Louis about this book tomorrow, and in Minneapolis in November.  I am not speaking because it is an opportunity for me to make any money or to serve some selfish purpose.  I am excited to speak about this book because it STUDENTS ACROSS THE WORLD deserve to have this book in their hands.  I believe that this book will be one of the catalysts in educational reform and will be a driving force behind creating some ready-for-action and altruistic generations of people that will have the necessary tools to face the issues of tomorrow.  This is a mission that I have dedicated my life to.

I love this book.  Honestly.  I love it.

Equip your students with the necessary tools to succeed, clear obstacles from their path, get out of their way, push them to innovate, pick them up when they fall, and be there to celebrate when they change the world.

Throw away the worksheets.  Create assessments that allow students to use technology.  Convince students to ask "why" as if they were two years old again.  Help them understand they can change the world.  Give them constant feedback.  Believe!


Oliver Schinkten
Co-founder of Communities at ONHS
and Compassion-Based Learning

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