We’re starting a new “school”

(originally published April 8, 2015 by Eric Nelson)

I’ll be leaving the school classroom I love to focus more on our Fantasy Geopolitics “classroom” after this school year.

We’ll be starting a new “school” called FANschool and will remain obsessed with helping teachers turn students into fans, managers, and owners of learning.

And we’ll continue pursuing answers to the following questions (given our assumptions) about school problems:

+ What do students need to become more like players?
(The best kind of learning is self-motivated and self-directed)

Most students are passive participants in their own education, especially when it comes to developing daily habits that promote global competence.

+ What do parents need to become more like cheerleaders?
(The best fans ride the emotional rollercoaster with their team and show up to cheer them on every time.)

Most parents often seem like armchair quarterbacks because school as we know it was designed for them to be able to go to their jobs.

+ What do teachers need to become more like managers?
(The best teachers act more like guides, designers, coaches, and game-makers)

Someone once told me that “teaching” is a mystery to be lived: It shouldn’t be.

+ What do we all need to feel more like owners?
(The American system and “Dream” is all about ownership)

Many Americans feel powerless at school because they don’t know how to impact it.

+ What does “school” need to become synonymous with “education”?
(If the cure is in the curiosity, the answers might be in the questions.)

School and education usually don’t mean the same thing. If they did, we’d be just as focused on improving COMMUNITY and CULTURE as we are on CONTENT.

It seems like we have all the tools we need for “achieving” — grade books, attendance taking, mandatory state reporting, etc…. But it’s like we’re missing an entire half of school, the “becoming” half.

What we become is just as important as what we achieve!

How do we help students develop better habits?

How do we help students love learning outside our classrooms?

How do we help students showcase their growth and keep them curious?

Why can’t school learning be more authentic?

I’m grateful and glad to have played for my school team the last six years, even though it might have been the worst timing in American history to become a Teacher.

I’m really proud of all we’ve become and accomplished the last six years, in spite of all that recent history, and will continue to do everything I can to keep our school’s potential exploding, especially with programs like this I designed and helped develop.

Here are my four takeaways from the last six years of schooling:

1) See the Problem-Own the Problem: There’s too much blame-throwing, complaining, and do-nothing response-contamination to problems at school. We wonder why we feel like crabs in a bucket, doing the same things over and over again expecting different results (this is the definition of insanity).

We need more brain-storming and problem-solving if we want the potential of our school cultures to explode. Our individual mindsets about that need to grow up at the same time too.

“Not my problem” then fades and starts to sound more like “maybe”, “yet”, and “Yes and . . . ,” which becomes a much more powerful way of becoming a team at school and communicating “you matter” to all community members on a daily basis.

As my favorite television coach and “Early Edition” news-reader once said, “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose”.

2) The Importance of Ownership: Ownership has always been the core of the American Dream. We often forget, however, that if we want to produce more productive young Americans, we have to re-learn and re-teach how to own and learn from our failures and mistakes. Big Learning happens outside our comfort zones and we have to travel through mistakes to get there. We haven’t been very good examples lately.

We also need to design experiences and spaces where students can own this kind of learning for themselves. This student maybe said it best: “Kids can be full of aspiring aspirations and hopeful thinking . . . it is imperative to create opportunities for children so we can grow up to blow you away”.

She sounds a lot like Jane Addams in 1893:
“We have in America a fast-growing number of cultivated young people who have no recognized outlet for their active faculties. They hear constantly of the great social maladjustment, but no way is provided for them to change it, and their uselessness hangs about them heavily. Huxley declares that the sense of uselessness is the severest shock which the human system can sustain, and that if persistently sustained, it results in atrophy of function . . . It is only the stronger young people, however, who formulate this . . . It is not philanthropy nor benevolence, but a thing fuller and wider than either of these” (The Subjective Necessity for Social Settlements).

Or Randolph Bourne in 1913:
“How impossible for a youth who is really young to plan his life consciously! Youth sees with almost passionate despair its plans and dreams and enthusiasms, that it knows so well to be right and true and noble, brushed calmly aside, not because of any sincere searching into their practicability, but because of the timidity and laziness of the old, who sit in the saddle and ride mankind. It sees in it an all-inclusive attempt to give the world character, and excuse the older generation for the mistakes and failures which it has made. Old age lives in the delusion that it has improved and rationalized its youthful ideas by experience and stored-up wisdom, when all it has done is to damage them more or less — usually more. And the tragedy of life is that the world is run by these damaged ideals. That is why our ideas are always a generation behind our actual social conditions” (Youth and Life).

When we listen to our 21st Century students talk about problems, we start to realize they sound too much like our 20th Century students… What if we could improve learning for them (and with them) faster?

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We probably don’t need another American Revolution, but we do need some serious American Reimagining about how to promote more ownership in, around, and outside American Schools.

3) Program or Be Programmed: As Douglas Rushkoff taught me, especially in the context of using education technology in the classroom, “we tend to think less about how to integrate new tools into our lives than about how simply to keep up . . . We feel proud that we’re willing to do or spend whatever it takes to use this stuff — with little regard to how it actually improves our lives.” #readthistoo

4) Share the Secrets: We need to share the secrets of success with each other more, and especially with our young people!

See and read the secrets of Top 20 Teens, Parents, and Teachers.

Read about the secret benefits of asking “WHAT IF” at school.

See the secrets about the BIG power of small changes.

Read about the secrets the world’s most successful people see.

Hear the secrets about the role of gratitude in everyday life.

These are just a few of my takeways from being a high school social studies teacher and I’ve realized that maybe the secret to being a good teacher is simply becoming a better learner, then sharing what we’re learning when the opportunity presents itself. This shouldn’t be a mystery.

Here’s where FANschool plans on going next year and beyond:

+ Imagine a U.S. edition of Fantasy Geopolitics, enabling young people to “vote,” predict outcomes, and learn about our American election system more.

+ Imagine a platform that showcases the school content + current events knowledge, habits, and competencies for 5–12thgrade students and teachers in more fun, fulfilling ways.

+ Imagine a community that elevates and amplifies (and maybe endorses) Teachers as the Pros they are.

We can learn a lot about the United States and the world through our games. So, Let’s Play!

I’m rage-fully optimistic this won’t just be a fantasy . . .

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Founded by teachers and technologists, we turn students into FANs of learning with fantasy sports-like games for school content + current events.

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