A Practical Navigator for the Internet Economy

A"Flight School" for Allowing Teachers to Reframe Their Teaching by Enabling Learning

Almost a year and half ago John Seely Brown told me about his interest in "designing systems of action for attacking wicked problems." Agreeing with JSB's premise about the criticality of doing something about the miserable state of public education in the United States, I eventually reached out to one the person I knew who was likely to have been able to make a significant accomplishment here - Ferdi Serim.  Twenty years ago Ferdi was undertaking the most creative approach to use of the internet of anyone in public education. This issue follows the unfolding of Ferdi's process - one that has been twenty years in the making.  It starts with of an  interview on May 19  - one that  captures the evolution of his thinking and the resources he has in place through the spring of 2012.  I followed up the first conversation in late June and again in early July as his process -- long in the making -- has picked up more rapid speed ever since then (although a large part depend on his jn 2012 book and a remarkable data base 20 years in the making).  The evolution has been in the definition of the service he offers

Ferdi Serim has designed what he calls a "flight school" for enabling the teachers to reframe their teaching in such a way that they use digital tools to develop lesson plans, class modules or what ever you choose to call them, so that they prepare the students for the Common Core and/or the NETS standards such that both teachers and students can demonstrate the expected proficiency. Use of the process, roadmap, and tools, provided all involved understand what they are doing and why, will enable them to demonstrate to outsiders their accomplishments. Employers in STEM have been getting credentialed applicants without adequate skill. The standards have been put in place to stop that.

Therefore, what this issue describes is the process that Ferdi has built to enable schools to use digital tools that enable teachers as facilitators and mentors to guide their students through a learning process such that they can meet the goals for 2014 and, over the next five to seven years, transform public education so that it rests on certified accomplishments and achievement that demonstrate the attainment of proficiency in areas having real world demand.  

Ferdi shows how to build a platform founded on a culture of learning.  The objective is learning not teaching because information in the digital universe grows too fast to be taught.  We have an environment where the students can be given permission to embrace their enthusiasm and once this happens, everyone better begin to get out of the way. Because in our current school system the barriers to change are formidable, Ferdi’s process works as a flanking movement aimed at creating the culture of rather than confronting, head on, the process of the school as the factory module that is still entrenched more than a century after it was initiated.

I have watched with some amazement as his ideas since our first conversation in mid May have become airborne and cohesively shaped around a premise of self help - appropriate for an era based on resilient local communities each effectively on their own.`  Over the past 20 years Ferdi has built a collective of educational leaders that will launch in September an end run designed to blend the environment of a learning based approach to looming standards that will teach the teachers how to help themselves and each other; and will team-build and apply the design of Ferdi’s collective or “flight school” in a way that “Insources” professional development to small groups of networked schools where teachers and student and educational leaders and families work together to create a collaborative learning infrastructure for each community.

This two month COOK Report is the result of my being the first non professional educator ever to ask Ferdi to describe what he was doing so that I could learn and understand his process in order to describe it for others.  It is in an Introduction, three Parts and an Appendix.  The introduction describes the process and the tool set he has built for giving the teachers a roadmap by which they can take charge of determining their own fate.  Part One is largely devoted to the May 19th interview covers the  formation of Ferdi's approach and the philosophy underlying it over the past 20 years.  Part Two explains the convergence of the standards and tool sets and team members in the spring and summer of 2012.  Part Three explains the program he will launch for the 2013 school year.  THE APPENDIX SHOWS HIS DATA BASE which serves as a source of guidance and a wiki for the collective as it shows interested teachers how to build like-minded autonomous groups.

For quite a while it has been almost a cliche to say that our public schools are like factories.  Training our children in rote memorization when very different skills were needed.  While he was in his 20s Ferdi looking to grow the next generation of listeners became a music teacher in the Newark NJ schools.  He was a musician and later a software engineer. By the early 80s he had taught his students to play the charts of Dizzy Gillespie.  When they could play them well Dizzy would come to town and rehearse them and they would give public concerts.  The chance to work with Dizzy was a huge motivator for Ferdi’s students. The same is true for Ferdi who credits Dizzy with giving him courage to keep going.

In the mid 80s Ferdi went into programing and after about six years, he found that although he could hire plenty of good coders he could not find candidates who could “think with their computer” that is analyze the meaning of what they were doing outside of their narrow computing silo.  Consequently, he went back to teaching this time as a computer teacher in 1990 in West Windsor New Jersey.  When I met him in the winter of 1992 1993 he had made a national reputation for himself as one of the first, if not the first middle school teachers to bring he internet into the classroom.  My first article about him tracked his move from west windsor to princeton in the spring of 1993.  He understood immediately that it was not the Technology that was important but the understand of the teacher of how to use the technology effectively..  In the first round of NTIA grants in 1993-1994 he lost out but went on to get funding by a different division from NSF.

He became editor of multimedia schools magazine while still in princeton and not surprisingly when he moved to New Mexico stayed on the technology side of things.  The various positions he had generally involved he use of technology at the state of district level as well as the administration of programs involving emerging standards and teacher professional development.  He sought out and teamed up with other reformers such as Russell Quaglia and Dave Master who were emphasizing not teaching so much as student experience based learning.  The internet by 2000 was clearly producing a generation of kids that took to the tech tools more readily than their teachers.  One of the biggest requirements ,since roughly 2005, has been for the teachers to understand the new dynamics, mesh them with standards requirements and stand back and get out of the way of the kids.

Here is how Ferdi put it.   What we are proposing is:

“meaningful engagement with the wider community, in exploring the mutual interdependence of application of academic skills to real world tasks (as defined by employers) and preparation of the next generation to be equipped to deal with our current and foreseeable challenges.

Dave's "triangle" expresses this weli.

We are also proposing that schools "insource" their PD rather than shifting responsibility to "outside experts" who will fly in, dispense their wisdom, and then move on to other gigs. We are proposing that communities demand that their schools invest in the professional talent they retain in their teachers. Naturally, we start with their best educators and spread from there

Finally, we propose that the learners take charge of their learning, whether they are kindergartners, any other K12 students, teachers, administrators, parents, employers, retirees -- that is to say anyone can identify themselves as a learner and use our process. It is even more powerful if diverse groups "self-identify" in these ways and then figure out their roles.”

Integrate Schools and Community

For the past eight years Ferdi has been working on the book Digital Learning: Strengthening and Assessing 21st Century Skills.  One designed  to show teachers how to incorporate the Common Core skills and the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) skills of ISTE into lesson plans that will involve use of the internet as a means to research civic and technical issues impacting the communities in which they live.  Over a period of five years the schools can become well integrated with the families of the students and with the professionals in the community - that is the businesses and their employees to develop a system of apprenticeship and mentoring.  They can become a local seed-bed of social cohesion that will be much needed in the uncertain times ahead.

John Seely Brown has challenged us to develop a  New Culture of Learning.  This is going on be it surfers in Hawaii or second graders with iPhone or iPod touch demonstrating to their own classmates show the environment is influenced by human actions.  This new culture must scale.  It seems likely that Ferdi may provide the answer to this as well.

He writes: “the needs of the learning community we seek to build and sustain are top in our minds. The seven key lessons so far are:

1) The learner does the learning. Therefore, connect the learner to all she or he needs to accomplish personalized learning goals
2) Learning is social. Therefore, help the learner join teams of people united by shared purpose.
3) Learning is immediate. Put the power in the hands of the learner (including tools and access).
4) Build on prior knowledge. Help the learner identify and leverage existing intellectual capital, but most importantly honor what they know and show them how to take their next steps.
5) "Insource" professional development. Build local capacity and human capital to connect learning with real life, through blended model coaching and mentoring
6) Validate the learning. Create opportunities for people to apply what they're learning in ways that make a difference in real life.
7) Create learning laboratories. Provide a way for "thought leaders" in education to see how dedicated educators are implementing their vision, and support them in doing so effectively.

Education consists of people, processes and products. The "education industry" has organized itself for the benefit of "providers" by bundling information and services so that we reflexively think of "courses" or "textbooks" or "programs" that require the learner to navigate what often seems like an obstacle course, just to get to the "good stuff". What if we "disaggregated" the content and experiences so that they could be tailored to individual readiness levels, as well as individual purposes and goals? What if one could examine the learning trajectories of other people with similar learning profiles and similar goals to select activities and resources that had been successful for them?

When I recently asked Warren Dale how he saw the field developing, he responded, "The greatest component of 21st century survival is collaboration to solve problems. Democracy is based on people working together. Finding a person or group with similar ideas and visions is paramount to further development in our world.

Our world has evolved to the highest point that we are aware of in man's history. If we are to go further we need to find a way for like minds to work together to move our world forward. We are now faced with the reality that we need to link the extraordinary (and rare) minds together from around the world to solve problems and work new ideas forward.”



Executive Summary                              p.5

Integrate Schools and Community                                p. 8



An Internet Based Roadmap for the Rebuilding

of Education                                              p.10

Applying All We Know to Get REAL                        p.12
Ferdi Likens This to a Flight School:                        p.15
The Function of the Database as a Flight Plan                p.16

Part One:  The Formation of the


Understanding the Past in Order to Grasp the Future          p.18
Focus on the Leaning and not on a Legacy Model for
Teaching – the Blended Model                            p.20
Identifying Learning -- From a Sudbury School to
Standards Based Performance                            p.22
No One Size Fits All                                    p.24
Schools Are Run for the Benefit of the Adults
– Not the Students                                    p.25
Los Alamos and a Different Approach                            p. 27
Mentorship –Substantive Change as a Five to Seven
Year Process                                            p.28
Everyone Gets Individualized Plan                         p.30
Requirements: Common Core Standards by 2014            p.34
How to Spread What is Needed –
Kids Working Online in Teams                            p.37
Program’s Origins in 2003 – Wanted Positive Help            p.38
Aspirations -- Collaborating to
Understand What Works                                p.40
Creativity                                            p.44
Growth Helped by Ripples and Spirals                    p 46

Interlude - Insight from an Innovative Pioneer

Why Dave Master is Perhaps the Critical Cornerstone
of the Reform                                        p.50
Dave Responds to Me                                    p.51
Growing the Process and Gaining Volitional Acceptance    p.54

Part Two:  How it Works -- Next Practices

Student Aspirations                                    p.60

An End Run                                            p.61
Privatization                                            p.62
A Three to Seven Year Plan                                p.63
Creating a Community of Practice                            p.64
Follow up Support for All Schools after the Boot Camp              p.65
The Role of Digital Learning - Bringing Sanity into
the Origins of the Common Core                        p.69

Part Three: On Behalf of a Systemic Approach                                         p.74

The ICP Protocol as the Fulcrum to Move the System        p.76
Thinking About Approaches to Acquiring New Skills --
FlightSchool                                            p.76
Why an End Run Around the System is the Only Answer      p.78
Use of the Back Channel                                p.80

Whither Education                                    p.80

Entrapped by Rules without Connection to the Real World    p.81
Identify the Fulcrum to Use for Change                    p.87

Interlude: Insights from Other Innovative Pioneers                                      p. 94

Viewpoint from Warren Dale: Teaching at the
Speed of Learning                                    p. 95
Middle School Coaches Work with 3rd Graders        p. 98
Viewpoint from Sara Armstrong: the Transformative
Power of Project-Based Learning                    p.100
Viewpoint from Celia Einhorn: Coaching for
the Marathon of Lifelong Learning                    p.101
Viewpoint from Barbara Bray: Personalized Learning
in Communities of Practice                             p.101
Viewpoint from Kathleen McClaskey: Universal
Design For Learning                                p.103
Viewpoint from Lee Francis                            p.104

Conclusion: From Vision to Practice

-- Plans for 2012-13                        p.107

The Action Plan for the 2012-2013 School
Year                                                p.108
Calendar and Milestones                            p.110
Common Core Flight School -- Why We Believe
This Will Work                                      p.111
What Students, Teachers and School Leaders Will Do    p.112

Appendix                                     p.114

The Database: Phase One of LEVERS                        p. 114
Teacher use of the Database                                p. 116
Coach Use of the database                                p. 117
Student Use of the database                                p. 117

Annotated Selection of Screen Shots                        p. 118-34