The Future of K-12 Education – show notes from Futurized podcast #28

Intro (00:00:01):

Futurized goes beneath the trends to track the underlying forces of disruption in tech, policy, business models, social dynamics, and the environment. I’m your host, Trond Arne Undheim, futurist and author. In episode 27 of the podcast, the topic is the future of K-12 education. Our guest is Jeff Wetzler, co-founder at Transcend Education, a nonprofit leading the way in holistic school design. We talk about learning science, the necessary leaps to make towards 21st century learning as well as the impact of COVID-19 and coping strategies, such as learning pods. We also discussed how to stay up to date on the top trends in K-12 education.



Trond Arne Undheim (00:00:49):

Jeff, how are you today?

Jeff Wetzler (00:00:50):

I’m good. Nice to talk with you,

Trond Arne Undheim (00:00:53):

Right, Jeff. So I am excited to talk about learning you. You have a very interesting background. Jeff, you’ve been involved in so many places where I’m assuming there is learning to be had. You’ve worked at teach for America. You worked at transcend education, which is, I guess, your current current company, but you’ve also worked for a monitor before it was Monitor Deloitte. So a lot of different places where people were were, were learning. Tell me about, you know, when you think about your career, what are the things, or where were the places where you learned the most?

Jeff Wetzler (00:01:30):

Well, I feel like there’s learning, there’s learning to be had everywhere. I would say, you know, you mentioned Monitor and one of the gurus that I had a chance to learn from and work alongside at monitor group was a fellow named Chris Argyris who is known for organizational learning. One of his, I think big areas of focus is how is it that so many smart people in organizations can prevent themselves from learning in the course of their interactions with other people, largely through, you know, what he would call defensive routines. So at Monitor, I was fascinated by the question of how is it that we, that we supposedly collaborate with people and have colleagues and bosses and others and, and clients and so on. And there’s so much learning that gets left on the table. And so spent a long time with him thinking about that question. And that was a deeply powerful experience for me.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:02:28):

So I want to stop at that a little bit because defensive routines, could you outline some of those defensive routines about prevent ourselves from learning? I mean, it sounds simple, but what are these defensive routines that are, are they conscious efforts or are they things that are just happening in our minds that lead to us putting up a defense?

Jeff Wetzler (00:02:49):

Yeah, so, one of the things that I learned from, from Chris is that we are all operating with two different kind of theories of how we, how we, how we engage in the world. One is what he calls an hour espoused theory. This is, this is almost our conscious theory. This is what we think we should be doing. What would we think we are doing things like, you know, I want to be open, I’m humble. I learned from others, et cetera. And then, and then we also have this other theory running in the background, which he calls our theory in use, which is our actual kind of ways of acting and behaving. And the theory in use for most of us leads us to be prioritizing winning and not losing, prioritizing being right, not wrong, prioritizing, saving face for ourselves and for other people, those are all things that we have been kind of deeply programmed to do in life and in society. And they serve a purpose, but they definitely get in the way of learning.

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Trond Arne Undheim (00:03:45):

And is this related to the do as I do not do, as I say, not as I do type of thing?

Jeff Wetzler (00:03:50):

Exactly. In fact, we think we do, as we say, but really we do as we do. And often that doing, as we do cuts off learning and that learning, you know, what Chris shared is that learning can be detrimental to organizations results to personal success and in fact to relationships as well.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:04:08):

Well, that brings us into a lot of the different domains, but just super quickly, what would that mean for the teacher in terms of being viewed as an example? I mean, do you have to practice what you preach to be a good teacher, and is that part of this kind of paradigm, or was he saying something more profound than that?

Jeff Wetzler (00:04:31):

So there’s a quote that I believe is by James Baldwin that says something to the effect of children may not listen to their elders, but they never fail to imitate them. And so to me that, you know, what that says is that you know, you could be a teacher and, and tell kids to do things and maybe they’ll listen to you, but what they are absolutely going to do is do what you do yourself. And I, you know, I find that in my own life with my own kids as well. And so I think that the more that teachers and people in institutions that are supposed to be about learning, whether that’s schools or universities, or other kinds of learning environments, the more that we act in ways that actually promote learning the better that is not just for ourselves, but absolutely for the kids and the learners.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:05:14):

Jeff, why is your life so full of learning? Cause a lot of us learn, some of us reflect around it. Some of us become teachers, but you actually are a kind of a teacher of teachers. There’s a lot of meta levels to that. And it’s a very specific role to take. Why did you go this path?

Jeff Wetzler (00:05:31):

That’s a good question. I, I have been obsessed with the question of learning really my whole life. I remember being in grade school, you know, and, and always thinking, and I was often bored in school. And so one of the places that my mind went to when I was bored was how could I make this better? How could I make this class better, more challenging, make the learning less, make the learning deeper, make the learning stickier. And so I would spend a lot of time with my mind thinking about those kinds of questions growing up. And that’s probably been the single theme throughout my entire career, which is just, how do we actually make the learning more meaningful and deeper and stickier? I don’t exactly know why that’s, you know, that’s the thing that motivates me. But I do believe that learning is one of the most special and sacred opportunities that we have as human beings. And one of the things that really differentiates us. And so it’s just something that I take very seriously and feel very motivated by

Trond Arne Undheim (00:06:30):

Because when all the rest of us were doodling, you were actually thinking on how to make learning better. You are the ideal student. Jeff, you are actually the student. We all wish we had.

Jeff Wetzler (00:06:39):

Yeah. Be careful what you wish for though. Cause then I have ideas for what to do differently after that.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:06:47):

Alright. We will get to that in a second. Do people like getting ideas on teaching?

Jeff Wetzler (00:06:53):

I mean, I think that teachers are in it because teachers care about their kids. And so most teachers are, I think, very hungry for ways to do their craft better. I think teachers, you know, teachers, as we know from how teachers engage with the internet on Pinterest and different things like that are constantly sharing what they’re doing and looking for ideas from others and stealing from others and innovating off others, et cetera. So I think they do there’s…we can have a whole conversation about the ways in which organizational system put teachers on the defensive don’t respect, teachers, et cetera. And that could lead people to draw certain conclusions about teachers. But I believe that most teachers are really in it for the kids and, and in it to do their craft as well as possible.

Learning Science

Trond Arne Undheim (00:07:40):

Let’s talk about learning science. I find that a fascinating term, it’s actually better than pedagogy, which is a term I only recently learned to say in English and I don’t know how they came up with that word because it’s so hard to say, but anyway, learning science, it seems to be an interdisciplinary field or maybe even pleura disciplinary or trans-disciplinary. You be my guide to this. What is this concept? What does it mean and how do you practice it?

Jeff Wetzler (00:08:08):

So it is a interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary field. It has a lot of psychology in it. It has a lot of brain science, cognitive science in it, et cetera. It’s been used you know, in a lot of different ways. But it, the way that, the way that I think about it in my organization, transcend things about it is really four major kind of bodies of research. One is the science of cognition. So how people process information and move it essentially from short term memory to long term memory and then retrieve it again and build mastery. And we can talk about some of the principles inside of that. Second is the science of motivation because learning requires that learners start something put in mental effort and persist and all of that requires motivation to stick with it and to do that.

Jeff Wetzler (00:09:01):

And so there’s a whole science to motivation as well. And people who are trying to foster learning can not ignore motivation. The third is sciences related to identity development because we, as learners are not just machines, we’re actually people with identities and with feelings and perspectives and backgrounds and, and all of that. And particularly when we think about schooling, the identities of learners matter tremendously and the ways in which those identities are affirmed and respected and cultivated makes a huge difference for learning. And then the last is a, an emerging science around individual variability and the ways in which people are unique from one another. And there is no such thing as the average learner. And so, you know, Todd Rose talks about this a lot as learners having jagged profiles and the ways in which learners are different.


And we see that a lot as well as in terms of the neurodiversity that, that people have around different ways of learning and learning differences and so on. So those four areas are the areas that we think a lot about in, in learning science. There’s a term that is being used more and more called learning engineering, which is essentially how do we engineer learning environments just the same way we might engineer mechanical devices or any other kinds of things by applying the science of learning to the design of learning environments. And then by collecting data out of what we design to grow our understanding of learning science in the first place. And so that’s a, that’s a practice that we think a lot about in our work.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:10:42):

That’s fascinating. It would seem to me that it has largely been anecdotal, right? And some of these pieces haven’t been put together, it’s fascinating the time if you put these four concepts of yours on a timeline, would, is it fair to say that the science of memory at least was the first one that you know, that was nailed, but of course each of these four is still evolving, but if we just pick one of them, which one would you say the most exciting work is going on and right now?

Jeff Wetzler (00:11:14):

That’s hard to say. I can say some exciting things about a few of them. I might, I might start with identity development. Cause as you said, there’s been a lot of good work happening in cognition for a long time. And cognition, you know, there, I think what’s with, I’ll just say what’s exciting about cognition is a lot of the brain research that’s happening, where the the cognitive models that have been historically developed are now getting a chance to intersect with what is brain research say around neuroplasticity and the ways in which the brain wiring actually changes when we do practice and when we retrieve things, et cetera. So there’s a whole body of exciting things there in the, in the, in the cognitive, on the cognition side of things. I think on the identity side of things, there is a lot of discussion at the moment, particularly at, you know, at this moment where we are in, you know, in our country around race relations and racial equity and identity, et cetera, around the importance of that for learning and for learners. And so for example do schools have curricula that are culturally affirming, the schools have curriculum that not only don’t harm students, but actually go out of their way to help students buffer their own identities from the threats that exist in society, around them as well. And so there’s, there’s, I think a lot of really important and, and exciting work happening at the boundary of research and practice in the space of identity development

Trond Arne Undheim (00:12:43):

Bror Saxberg seems to be one of the influencers in this field. Would you agree? What is it that it’s a, is inspiring about some of the thoughts that he is bringing to this table?

Jeff Wetzler (00:12:54):

Yeah, Bror I consider a spirit guide and mentor to me and to our organization. He was one of the founding board members of transcend actually. He personally has a fascinating background as a medical doctor you know, and a PhD and is really, I think, rigorously emphasizing the importance of evidence and learning. You know, lots of times people, you know, in medicine, things are often quite evidence-based and other forms of engineering things are often quite evidence-based. And I would say Bror’s central point. If, if there’s one thing to underscore is that we can bring that same level of rigor to the design of learning environment. There’s no reason to just say, Oh, learning, you know, everyone knows about learning. We all went to school, we have intuition about what works, et cetera. People have all kinds of misconceptions about what you know about how to do learning, right, when there’s a huge body of evidence. And so Bror would say, we actually should have, you know, every teacher should at some level be a learning engineer. I’m always understanding the science of learning and development, always testing it, always gathering data, et cetera. And you know, he, he has a vast depth of understanding of that, of the field of learning science and just a huge passion and skill set for how to apply that in designing learning environments.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:14:14):

There’s a lot of terms in this field of learning and some of them are being used fairly actively right now in the sort of K to 12 environment around COVID. But also generally, I mean, independent learning is one of them distance learning and kind of, you know, the reinventing schools paradigms, what, what, what are the most important of these concepts and which ones, you know, have real meaning and which ones are just kind of floating around and don’t really have a very specific kind of interesting history to them.

Jeff Wetzler (00:14:47):

Yeah, there are it’s true. There are all kinds of learnings we could throw in terms we could throw in more personalized learning, deeper learning, self directed learning, you know, all those kinds of things,

Trond Arne Undheim (00:14:57):

Active learning.

Jeff Wetzler (00:15:00):

And that is one of the things I think that makes the field challenging for people, because it’s hard to make sense of all the different terms. And unfortunately, a lot of the terms have gotten kind of co-opted or, or used in a very narrow way. So for example the term personalized learning, which is one that I think is an important term to be using originally really referred to how do we see each, each learner as a unique person and thinking about the full ways in which their humanity is being engaged, they’re being met, where they are, they’re driving their own learning, et cetera. That term now that term has, has, you know, in the last couple of years, often gotten associated with how do we just put kids on computers and have the computers, you know, working with them on a one to one kind of way.

Jeff Wetzler (00:15:51):

And so a lot of people have now said, Oh, personalized learning is terrible. It’s just a bunch of kids. So you get computers. So I unfortunately think there’s no single term that has not been distorted in some kind of way in our own organization. What we think about is we call them 10 leaps for learning, and these are the 10 most important shifts from the traditional industrial model of learning to learning that we think better prepares learners for the demands of the 21st century and the future and can, and can be far more equitable. And so just so I can give you a few examples.


Trond Arne Undheim (00:16:27):

So yeah. So just a quick question first, let’s jump into these 10 leaps, but I first would love if you could just explain how do you get to the notion that you need to produce 10 leaps? So in other words, how long did it take you and why did you sort of choose this very pedagogical learning science approach of saying there’s 10 steps? I mean, it’s a familiar number. It’s a, it’s a large number, right? You’ve got to remember 10 things, but, but anyway, it’s a kind of a mnemonic device to just say, well, there’s 10 things you’ve got to focus on. How did you guys get to those 10? And then let’s get into a couple of, you know, to a few of them that you consider interesting. I know, you know, that we can bring out, we could probably can’t really cover all 10 of them, but how did you even think of, of sort of saying what they’re going to be 10 different things.

Jeff Wetzler (00:17:18):

Really, they were really, it’s taken our organization about five years of research to develop this. I’m sure it will continue to evolve as you know, as our understanding grows, but there were several sources of input to this. One is really, you know, an area that you have tremendous expertise in, which is understanding where’s the future going? What are the kinds of dimensions of the world that learners need to navigate, and that need to inherit in order to both thrive in the world and contribute to changing the world. And so we spend a lot of time working with communities and thinking about different, different ways in which the world is changing. You know, things like it’s becoming more ambiguous things like, you know lots of things that humans needed to do before machines can do now. And so there’s a different level of cognitive function.

Jeff Wetzler (00:18:06):

That’s going to be valued. Things like the kinds of problems in the world that people are gonna need to solve becoming far more complexity, you know wicked and so on. So one, one lens was where’s the world going, because when we think about what matters for learning, we need to be asking ourselves to what end. And so that’s, yeah, that’s one dimension. The second dimension is learning science. And so, you know, what does the science of learning suggest matters about, about the nature of, of learning experiences? And then the third is that, you know, we work with hundreds and hundreds of communities across the country and we listened to them and we’d say, what matters to you when you think about what you care about for your learners and the kinds of experiences that they have? One of the core beliefs of our organization is that learning environments and schooling should be shaped by the voices of local communities. And so listening to the trends and patterns in those local communities also really helped to save this.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:18:56):

Okay. And we’re gonna get into those in a second, but just quickly listening to parents, that’s that’s difficult because they have a lot of opinions. I just know this because I’m a parent with opinions.

Jeff Wetzler (00:19:08):

You have a lot of opinions and, you know, I think as we’re seeing, even right now in the COVID moment, they’re not all the same opinions. Either parents can have very different opinions from one another. And those opinions are often grounded in their own experiences. And yet it’s,

Trond Arne Undheim (00:19:23):

I mean, we have been in school, right. And we think we know, or at least we are very, very, very interested in not repeating the mistakes that we made on behalf of our children. It’s one of the things that drives the parent is, is, you know, I’m going to make my kid’s life better. So we are still motivated by, by trying to make it better. Do we make it better ultimately though? I mean, how, how should a parent actually approach this issue? Because it’s learning these days, something that you almost should leave to experts and sort of just say you know, let them handle it, or are actually this process of taking input from parents, as frustrating as it is you consider it fundamental to the prosecutor.

Jeff Wetzler (00:20:05):

We consider it fundamental. And while parents may not be trained in the theories and findings of learning science they are deeply expert in at least one thing, which is they know their kids better than anyone else. And so learning environments need to be a product of, you know, how does learning work in general and then who are the specific learners that we’re, that we’re trying to serve here. And so if nothing else, parents know their kids better than anyone else, parents love their kids, parents have their kids’ best interests at heart and parents have a right to help shape the trajectory of their kid that their kids are on. And so for all of those reasons while it may not be easy to listen to a diverse set of opinions from parents and know which ones to prioritize value and all that kind of thing, it’s super important. And we have a whole kind of approach in our work called community driven R and D which prioritizes the voices, not just the parents, but of students, themselves, of teachers and other community members,

Trond Arne Undheim (00:21:03):

Community driven R&D how do you become a scientist in that lab?

Jeff Wetzler (00:21:11):

We are, we are learning it as we go. Honestly, there’s not a, there’s not a a single methodology that is you know, a single science that, that, but there’s a lot of there’s a lot to take from design thinking on that, which spends a lot of time prioritizing listening to users. And in this case, users are not just students, but are also parents and teachers themselves. There’s a lot to take from fields like participatory action research, which think about how you design inclusive processes. There’s even things to take from community organizing as well. How do you build a coalition? And so we’re trying to take the best of all of that and more and bring it into a methodology that essentially supports communities to self determine how they build the kinds of learning environments that will help their kids realize their greatest dreams. But do it in ways that have some structure and rigor and are infused by science as well.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:22:07):

So now I’m going to test you. This is not something I would do because I would never have 10 steps because I might mess up the 10 steps, but here we go. What are Transcend’s 10 steps for an equitable 21st century?

Jeff Wetzler (00:22:21):

I’ll say, first thing is, they’re not they’re not, they’re not sequential steps. We, can we talk about the 10 leaps and one of the things that’s important. And I knew, I knew by the way, you might test me. So I have them pulled up on my screen here just in case, Oh,

Trond Arne Undheim (00:22:36):

You agree with me that 10 is actually too much to just rattle off. Right? It’s a lot,

Jeff Wetzler (00:22:41):

Few people could even rattle off the 10 commandments. And so I don’t expect people to be able to rattle off.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:22:47):

Okay, well, now I’m starting to feel a little better cause you were going to embarrass me if you could just rattle off even your own 10 points.

Jeff Wetzler (00:22:54):

So there’s a design tool and there’s no need to memorize them to use them that way, but at one of the things that’s most important to us about them is that they’re all grounded in the nature of experiences that learners have. And from our perspective, the experiences of learners are the single most important determinant of learning outcomes. So we tried not to develop this as a framework of design choices that a school could make or, structural levers that someone could pull or even learning goals. We really try to zero them in on what’s the nature of experiences that that learners have. And we tried to contrast the kinds of experiences that are typically had in what is often called the industrial model of school or the factory model of school which really came about over a century ago and had the two primary purposes.

Jeff Wetzler (00:23:51):

One was to sort of mass produce, lots of kids who are educated get, just get lots and lots of kids through an education system. And two is to create some kind of like standardized base of knowledge and skills that everybody in a society had. The industrial model is very good at doing those two things. And unfortunately it does it with tremendous inequities in outcomes and those inequities were baked in right in the first place. So we’re trying to contrast against that. I won’t read off all 10, but I’ll just name a couple that I think are, are particularly important. You know, one is the one is the breadth of the focus of the experiences that kids have. So in the industrial model, the focus is really around a slice of cognition and what’s the knowledge that I can memorize and spit back.

Jeff Wetzler (00:24:38):

What’s the, you know, what are the math skills that, you know, a very small set of things. It turns out that many of those kinds of things that the industrial model focused on are things that machines are getting better and better at doing themselves. And that don’t touch on the full breadth of humanity of people. As opposed to in this, you know, in this model of the 10 leaps, a whole child focus, a focus that thinks about the totality of imagination of creativity, of generosity, of spirit, the, the range of things that make us human, which I actually think turned out that that’s, what’s going to be even just from an economic perspective, an important differentiator for what people can actually draw on to do things that machines alone cannot do because they take so how so, how can we create experiences that develop the full breadth of humanity is one of the leaks.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:25:29):

So from a narrow to a whole child focus, but, but you’re kind of dissing the the cognitive dimension here historically as being very narrowly focused. I mean, art, isn’t what you’re saying that cognition needs to encompass more rather than it’s going to be a move away from cognition because cognition, you know, that there are trends in cognition that are talking about bodily learning and embodied learning, which is another buzz word. But I think it’s an important one, right? So what you’re saying here is it’s a different type of cognition that takes into account a much wider plethora of, of inputs, I guess, you know, in computer science, they would be inputs that we have missed.

Jeff Wetzler (00:26:09):

Exactly. I don’t mean to say that whole child learning is, is separate from cognition. When I talk about a narrow focus, it’s really a narrow slice of cognition in the traditional model, right.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:26:20):

Because they’re because ideally there could be cognitions or science theories developed around this whole child focus that are equally right.

Jeff Wetzler (00:26:28):

Yeah. And many of the skills that are broader than what the factory model traditionally prioritizes absolutely require cognition. Even when you’re doing teamwork and collaboration, I mean, there’s, there’s all kinds of cognition and that is activated in that. So that would be one example. A second example would be that, you know, the shift from passive compliance to active self-direction. And so in the, you know, in the traditional model, one of the things that really gets prioritized is following directions. You know, the, the teacher gives the assignment, the student completes the assignment, the teacher makes the rules, the student follow the rules and people who are rewarded as good, you know, good students are often ones who follow the directions to complete the assignments on time, et cetera. It is not often rewarded to question the assignments or to say, I have an idea for a different assignment or a better assignment or an assignment that best fits me, or that will help me achieve my goals, et cetera. And

Trond Arne Undheim (00:27:36):

I love how you call it active self-direction when I was in school or wherever I was it wasn’t called that it was like you are being disruptive or like what you’re saying, it doesn’t fit what we’re doing right now, please park that in the corner and, you know, get on with doing what we should be doing. I think I was one of those learners. I didn’t, well, anyway, I mean, there’s not going to be a story about me, but I I’ve had like 19 years of very unsuccessful schooling you know, threaded down on me. I don’t know why I continued for so long, but, and I also didn’t doodle much. But I spent my time just thinking on my, about my own things.

Jeff Wetzler (00:28:13):

I think the point that you were making right, is that not only is active, self-direction not encouraged in a traditional model of schooling, it’s often punished. And so we essentially train it out of people or we beat it out of people by punishing students for doing things that might fit their goals or their interests better. I was giving a talk I think a year or two ago at Google, and we were talking about this leap and someone raised their hand and said, but you know, it’s also true that even at Google, we still need to follow directions when we’re given an assignment, we need to have, you know, we need to do the assignment. And so we shouldn’t totally disregard compliance cause that’s an important skill. And then someone else said raised, raised their hand and said, it’s true. You have to do our seventh, but actually often we’re rewarded more for questioning those assignments and coming up with a better assignment in the first place. And I think that is the that’s, that’s the spirit of active self-direction,

Trond Arne Undheim (00:29:12):

But what does it take for an institution to actively encourage and deal with active self-direction because well let me share some observations on when that doesn’t happen. So I have I have many friends that are, that are very smart, but here’s one particular friend and his, a teacher once gave his parents and him, I think in a, in a, in a conversation they gave him this feedback. It seems like, you know, X experiences boredom as physical pain. So if you don’t respond to this, the consequences can be really harsh for the individual. I mean and I have experienced tremendous boredom in school and boredom then leads to people kind of sometimes either acting out or just zoning out. And as we said, you know, you could zone out in a positive way. Like I think you did, but, but what does it really take for an institution to really take onboard active self-direction as a principal? What would you have to change as a institution or as an individual teacher to say that, okay, check that off. I can deal with more than one in a classroom of these self directed learners.

Jeff Wetzler (00:30:24):

Well, I think the first thing is probably a mindset, which is to shift from seeing that as a problem I have to deal with to that is my job, which is to cultivate that act of self direction. And that, you know, the more I see that the more I actually I’m feeling successful, the kinds of practices that institutions and learning environments engage in, when they’re trying to foster active self-direction experiences include things like creating explicit space for students to ask the question, what do I care about and what are my goals? Traditional schools operate almost irrespective to the individual goals that students have. They say, here’s our goals for you. This is what it means to get an a, this is what you have to cover. When you, prior to the extra self direction, you ask a student, what do you care about?

Jeff Wetzler (00:31:14):

And what’s your goal, but it’s not enough to just ask that you then actually have to create the room for them to go after their goals and to take a little bit of control over how do they spend their time? You know, a very simple thing that a lot of schools are starting to do right now is they have things called genius hours or genius days where students really get to do whatever they want during that time, as long as it’s pursuing a learning goal that they have. And that’s an example of, you know, helping them to take on active self-direction and build that muscle. My daughter had an experience a couple years ago when she was in fifth grade where she was in a class where every day when she came to school, she had to make her own schedule. So she knew what her goals were and she had to, you know, at the start of the day, share with her teacher, here’s how I’m going to spend my time in order to reach my goals and the, the kinds of what they call executive function, muscles that, that builds to be able to say, what’s my goal and how am I going to spend my time to get there are just tremendously important for fostering active self-direction.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:32:22):

Right, right. So let me share with you. I was just listening to an interview with Elon Musk. I think it was a couple of years old, but he was talking about how he has created his own school for his his kids. And I think some friends, kids so don’t know exactly what the status is right now, that school, but he met mentioned two principles. He says, number one, center, the education around kind of matching abilities of, of the individuals that was kind of his principle, number one. And he one of the ways to implement that, that was that he didn’t, he doesn’t believe in kind of a cohort. So he puts just people of different ages. And I don’t know exactly if they teach different subjects at different times, but definitely he has this principle of matching the abilities more than matching the ages.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:33:10):

So the students let’s comment on that for a second. How is that implementable? And is that something where you really just have to create a new school to, to cater to that sort of principle of matching abilities rather than just because if you put people in a group you’re always grouping based on some principles. So age historically in the industrial model was the principal, but you’re saying let’s move away from the industrial model. This principle number one that he has here centering around abilities. How do you see that fruitfully implemented in some of the places you’ve seen or, or, or is that a principle you don’t, that doesn’t fit with kind of with you with your 10

Jeff Wetzler (00:33:49):

To the body of research in learning science, around individual variability? One of the things that that would imply is that just because, you know, 10 kids are all 10 years old, that doesn’t mean that they all are the same in every dimension in terms of what they’re doing in math and what, how they can read and what they focus on in science, et cetera. So the idea that we would question age based groupings, I think is supported by learning science, not just individual wearability, but also even cognition. People have different things in their longterm memories, et cetera. So I think it’s well supported, B it is it is often referred to as either competency based learning or mastery based learning, or sometimes performance based systems in the field of education. I think it is a a very positive shift from the industrial model.

Jeff Wetzler (00:34:44):

I’ll give you an example. There’s a, there’s a district in California called Lindsey Unified school district in the Central Valley of California, a beautiful, beautiful place, incredible people great, great district. And they have been on a journey for almost a decade of shifting from this age based system of education, to this competency based system of education. And you can get to you know, they’ve gotten to a place now where if you ask the kids kind of where they are, most kids would say, I’m a second grader, or I’m a fourth grader, or I’m a fifth grader, et cetera. They don’t, that’s not the primary way that their, that their students identify. In fact, they don’t even call them students. They call them learners. Their learners would say I’m 10 years old. Here’s my level in math. Here’s my goal. And here’s why I’m gonna read it, et cetera.

Jeff Wetzler (00:35:31):

And it’s, and it’s, and they’ve disconnected their identity from an age based cohort grouping. And what’s powerful about it is that it really can unleash a tremendous amount of motivation in students because in the traditional age based model, it kind of doesn’t matter how hard you work in terms of how fast you progress, because you know, you’re going to be there with everybody else. Who’s your same age all year long. And then, you know, whether you’re ahead or behind or whatever, versus when, when the progress that you make as a learner is tied to your effort all of a sudden it, you know, you know, that you’re, you can be in charge of it. And so they’ve seen tremendous about a progress based on that. I haven’t, yeah, I can go ahead.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:36:12):

That’s interesting. Well, let’s just stay with that particular example for one second. Another element, I guess that’s possible when you group people differently, is that isn’t it another important aspect of learning is, are you able to teach it to someone else? So if you are in a group with everyone’s your peer or supposedly your peer, it becomes kind of challenging to ask your neighbor to help you with something, because it’s like very, very you’re being benchmarked with that person, but in a setting where, I mean, I get taught things by my kids every day, and I don’t really have a big problem with that. So it’s not like, you know, if the age is different than you feel more like, it’s okay to be explained something by someone who’s not your age, whether they’re bigger, you know, whether they’re older or younger than you. And, and isn’t explaining something to another person. Yeah, totally. That’s some salary.

Jeff Wetzler (00:37:10):

And it, it fosters a different level of collaboration when you’re able to work with people who are, you know, on a level at a similar level of learning targets as you are. And to your question about how does it relate to the leaps? I think it absolutely relates to the active self-direction leap because when you know that your effort drives how fast you move, then all of a sudden you’re in charge, as opposed to, you’re just kind of following along by age. It also relates to a leap that we have not talked about as much yet, which is around the shift from inflexible systems to customization. Because when you’re in a cohort that matches where you are in terms of your ability level, all of a sudden your learning experiences can be far more customized for what you, for where you are and what you need.

Jeff Wetzler (00:37:54):

There’s there’s, yeah, that’s a really important part because when you’re sitting in class and you, and something’s way above your head, it’s not customized for you, and you’re going to be frustrated, or you’re not going to learn it. Similarly, if you’re sitting in class and something is far behind what you’ve already mastered, you’re going to be bored. And so this customization is really an essential experience. I was just going to say, there are other dimensions of, there are other ways that people group as well, besides based on competency or knowledge level or by age level, and another interesting one that I have come across, which I think I’d like to see more people try is one that I first saw at the Khan lab school, which is associated with Sal Khan and Khan Academy where they don’t bait group based on age or based on ability level, but they group based on readiness for autonomy.

Jeff Wetzler (00:38:48):

And so you could have kids of different ages and even different knowledge, mastery levels. But what they have in common is how independent they can be in their learning. And some kids need more structure and support and other kids can really fly. And what, what it, the more they move up in autonomy level, the more freedom that they have essentially to drive their own learning to do this kind of active self direction. And I think it’s motivational because it taps into an innate desire that people have for more autonomy. And it fosters experiences in them that, that, that ask them to demonstrate their readiness for it. And so I find that to be a really interesting one too.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:39:31):

Can I ask you a little about one of the other principles which is going from irrelevance to relevance? And the reason I’m asking about that is I, I recently recorded a podcast episode. That’s gonna come on soon about the processes going on now in engineering education to, to reshape that. And I’m actually interviewing the guy who runs the program at MIT for, to, to reshape engineering education. And one of the interesting things that comes up in that podcast is there was this very longstanding idea among engineering education schools, even, you know, top schools that science had to be very rigorous and therefore a little bit boring because it just had to be hard. You have to challenge people. And also there’s an enormous body of evidence obviously, and, you know, in engineering at the MIT level, but then that was sort of countered by saying it is extremely important to foster the curiosity, even of people who are of whom there’s going to be expected a lot, like, you know, the rockets shouldn’t burn up.



Trond Arne Undheim (00:40:36):

So, you know, there’s certain things you need to know–what is that balance there? Because you could sort of say teach to the problems, not as tools. Again, I’m just using Elon Musk as an example, this is his number two principle, not, not a big surprise, right. But his he’s in favor of problem based learning. So that would go to your relevance point, right? You’re you just teach stuff that’s relevant, but on the other hand, isn’t, there also, there’s a lot of platforms, you know, basic knowledge that you need to know. So, so, so here’s his example. If you were going to teach about tools. So here’s, you know, a hammer, you know, here are more advanced tools. Don’t start with this as a hammer, it can be used for a thousand different things, and then explore what those thousand things are in the abstract.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:41:19):

He says, in my school, we take, you know, how does the engine work? And then they start taking it apart. And then he says, well, you know, here’s how we were able to take it apart. And here’s how we’re going to put it together. And that’s what the screwdriver and the wrench, you know, that’s what those tools are for now. That seems like a simple example, if anybody else said it, but you know that as soon as those kids get to an age where they can hold a range, or maybe even before that is going to be how his school is going to teach the kids about tools, but is that an overly simplified way that you can do it about an engine? And I guess if you’re a mechanic, but that’s kind of how you were always taught. So is that like a lowering Lee simple example of something that is very visible anyway, I’m in an engine. So if you have a clear physical engine, it’s pretty obvious that you can take it apart. And if you need tools in that process, I do get the point, but it didn’t immediately convince me that that’s the same point for a lot of more complicated phenomenons out there. Like if you’re going to study democracy, I mean, how do you apply that? Well, pull it apart. How do you apply these to an enormous amount of very abstract domains that we still have to teach our students?

Jeff Wetzler (00:42:39):

First of all, just to connect the relevance point back to the science for a second. It connects I was talking earlier about the science of motivation. And one of the biggest findings in motivation, probably not surprisingly is that people are more motivated to work hard to learn something that they value. And so that’s where relevance comes in. If something we’ve all heard students say, why do I need to know this? Why, you know, why, what, how am I going to ever use this, et cetera. That’s one of the biggest ways to kill motivation is when the, when the relevance to something that they care about is not there. And so that’s, that’s why the principle of relevance matters so much just from our kind of learning science perspective. It also matters because the, the amount of knowledge in the world that we could ask students to, to engage with is far more vast than what anyone has time to engage with these days. And so much of what, you know, what, what is now known can be looked up at any point as well. So it really raises the question for those who are designing education, what is most relevant for people to know? I think it’s good,

Trond Arne Undheim (00:43:43):

But, Jeff this flies in the face of the idea of common core or of even of a canon that you have to know, right? So where is the balance? Because if you say, well, let’s take some of my kids right now, right. You know, they’re into what computer games, right? So you say, unless it can be related to computer games or gaming PCs, how’s my son going to learn anything. Do do the teachers just totally have to adapt everything to that one paradigm that your kid happens to be interested in at that moment. Is it really that simple and that difficult? And they can’t basically, are you saying it’s impossible to teach kids? That’s something that’s outside of their immediate also is relevant to them. I’m surely there’s a little bit of a sliding scale where you can kind of, I mean, in Vygotskian theory, for instance, right, let’s bring in another, a kind of pedagogy here.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:44:42):

He talks about this proximal zone of development, which is you can’t just always operate within this safe zone, which I think some of this relevance speak sometimes goes too far into, right. You’re like, well, it’s, unless it’s in front of my eyes, I’m not going to care about it. Well, Vygotskij, I don’t know what you think of Vygotskij. You know, he was this Russian learning scholar. And his idea was just to put it just a little bit outside of where your comfort zone is, because that’s where they’re learning happens. If you go all the way out, you’re learning nothing because you can’t relate it to anything. You’re not going to find it relevant. But if you just challenged that you find that particular little zone that’s just outside. Yeah,

Jeff Wetzler (00:45:22):

Absolutely. I think the zone of proximal development is a very powerful concept in some ways, it, it I’ve always understood it to be more around what’s the zone of proximal development as it relates to your mastery level, how do you take how you stretch one, you know, one or two steps beyond your current mastery level and that’s where you can build new knowledge and skill. And that in some ways could be an independent question of what feels more and less relevant for you, but I totally agree that there has to be a balance. And, you know, the question of the Canon and the question of what is common and what everyone needs to know, I think is a, is a super important question. It’s loaded with lots of political dimensions and values based dimensions and all kinds of things that I think are important to talk about as well.

Jeff Wetzler (00:46:02):

But suffice it to say, I think that it’s incumbent on every educator and every designer of a learning environment to say, how, if there’s something that that’s important for a learner to know, we’ve got to find a way to make it relevant and to help them see the relevance I have yet to come across something that I don’t think we could find a way to make relevant. You know, you were talking about the concept of democracy you know, how there’s, you know, every learning environment has a community and every community has questions of choices and fairness and all that kinds of things. And so I think that’s one of the, you know, one of the great joys and challenges of, of, of education is to help students see that. And as you pointed out from the Elon Musk example, project based learning can be a great way to help people see the relevance of what they’re doing too.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:46:50):

Yeah. I didn’t pick democracy at random. Actually. I think it’s one of the quite contested concepts actually going forward. And it’s, I find it pretty interesting because 10 years ago, nobody would question it. Right. In fact, there were books written about the end of history where people were arguing, you know, the argument has been settled. It’s the perfect system. What more can we teach our kids? What more can we teach our adults, you know, citizens of the world. Everybody knows it’s a winning concept. Turns out it’s maybe not the winning concept. So it’s an interesting it’s an interesting thing, and it’s not a neutral concept all, and it is very amorphous and it doesn’t fall neatly into a structure that I wish it wasn’t

Jeff Wetzler (00:47:36):

Exactly implicated in a lot of ways.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:47:41):

Yeah. All right. So stories about learning, how how can you give us some concrete examples about the path you’re on with transcend? Let’s say that you’re a school that wants to, or a school system that really wants to upgrade itself and wants to be up on, on what’s happening. They obviously have some constraints. What are some of the things in, in concrete terms that, how do you engage on these 10 principles, I guess, and, and what are some of the case studies or what, what then happens to those who engage.

Jeff Wetzler (00:48:14):

So one of the first things that we encourage the community to do, whether it’s a school community or school system is to develop a portrait of a graduate. So in the spirit of designing backwards from the end in mind what do we actually want our graduates to know, be able to do? What kind of people do we want them to be, et cetera. It turns out that’s not an easy question. It’s an important question for a community to engage on. And if a community is not aligned about that question, they will end up not producing the kinds of results that they want. So we have a set of processes that we work with this as part of the community driven R&D, where communities will come to conclusions. Like, yes, we want our students to be academically ready. We also want them to be innovators because we know that they’re going to actually go into jobs that don’t exist right now. And many of them are going to have to create their own jobs. What does it mean to be innovate, et cetera. So that’s the first step, right. Did you want to jump in? It looked like you were going to say something.

Trond Arne Undheim (00:49:17):

No, I’m, just agreeing. The only thing I wanted to say is it would seem that at an abstract level, it’s easy to sort of say, I want a balance. I want them to have some useful education and I want them to be innovative. And earlier generations would just simply say, I want them to be creative, because that was a buzzword, you know, a while back now, we say innovative and largely, I guess we kind of mean the same thing, but how do you then translate that for, for these school systems? Let’s just say the outcome of a consultation is I want my kids to be innovative, but there are certain skills that my school system still needs to, to, you know, to cater to how do you then translate it and translate.

Jeff Wetzler (00:50:00):

Would say, okay, once we’ve defined, whether it’s innovative or in some cases, I want them to be a good, able to work in a team, or I want them to be able to live and lead across lines of difference, or I want them to be anti racist or any number of things. We, we encourage people to not skip over what does the research or the science say about how such things get developed? Because many of these, many of these skills, there’s actually good research around. How do you actually foster creativity? How do you foster interdependence? How do you foster collaboration, et cetera. So for the design team, that’s working on this, we spend a bunch of time exposing them both to get to what does the research say, and then to what are learning environments that are doing this really well. And then they face a really important choice both macro and micro, which is, do we want to build it ourselves, or do we want to adapt from other places that have already built it?

Jeff Wetzler (00:50:52):

And generally speaking, we it’s, it’s, you know, it’s, it’s usually a blend, but we encourage people to say, why reinvent the wheel? There are learning environments out there that truly foster creativity, there are learning environments out there that truly foster teamwork, et cetera. So let’s start to assemble what are the kinds of experiences that, you know, that have been built that, that exists and then let’s tune them for your environment, and then let’s pilot different pieces of that in your environment as well. So just to take a few examples you know, there’s a, there’s an, there’s a learning environment that we have been working with the New York city department of education on, I called the Brooklyn steam center. And it’s really questioning the idea that K-12 education has to be separate from workplace learning. And so in the Brooklyn steam center, students from eight other schools come together for a half of their 11th and 12th grade years to work on skills like design and skill like media and so on and skills like coding that can not only give them credentials to graduate, but will actually allow them to graduate and make good money while they’re in school, in college, beyond college, et cetera and allow them to actually make the academic that they’re learning far more relevant.

Jeff Wetzler (00:52:07):

So that’s an example of something that you know, initially needed to be designed, but now it can be adopted by other places as well. On the totally opposite end of the spectrum, you know, that’s for high schoolers for elementary schoolers, there’s a school that we’ve been with in Washington, D C as part of the Washington DC public schools called that thinks very, very deeply about what happens when students come to school, carrying tremendous amount of personal trauma from their life. And how do we design learning environments that can help students to move from their survival brain, which is what’s trauma puts students in, into their executive brain, which is what allows them to be ready for learning and have designed everything from how are students greeted at the door to how to students, where the students eat to what are the mindfulness practices and skills that students develop to what are the skills that students develop to understand not only their own emotional experience, but also their friend’s emotional experiences as well, to help put them in a space that’s better and ready for learning. And so that’s, you know, that’s an example of something that then that’s developed over the last four plus years has codified to a point now where other schools in Washington D C and around the country are able to adopt some of those pieces as well. So it really is kind of a, a learning engineering process of define the goal, understand what science says, figure it out, what we can try and pilot bring it in, tune it, collect it, it collect data and continue to evolve it over time.

The impact of COVID-19 on K-12 education

Trond Arne Undheim (00:53:38):

Talking about trauma. I wanted to segue to the impact of COVID-19 you think

Trond Arne Undheim (00:53:47):

I ask you an open ended question? What is the impact of COVID-19 on it?

Jeff Wetzler (00:53:51):

I think the story is still being written, first of all. So we don’t, we don’t totally know what the total impact will be. We know for sure that it has been probably the most disruptive event in education, in the greatest number of communities that we have seen in decades, at least for some students, it has been a positive because there are some students for whom being at school was either emotionally very difficult or was boring or any number of things. And this freed them from having those kinds of even traumatic experiences inside of school. I know I have relatives in my own family for home school was very difficult, and this was actually a relief and anxiety came down when they didn’t have to go to school every day and be in difficult social situations, for example. But for many, many students particularly this past spring was just super hard.

Jeff Wetzler (00:54:48):

It’s, you know, when, when schools have not made the kinds of leaps that we’ve been talking about when they haven’t actually fostered the skills and muscles of self direction, when they haven’t figured out how students can be working on what they need to be working on, when relationships are not strong, this strain that COVID put on the system really exposed the problems with not having made those leaps. And for lots of students, they were not engaged. They were not, they were bored. They were so many were not showing up. And despite the fact that many teachers were doing heroic things, which did help a lot of students, it was just a very, very difficult situation for, you know, for a lot of students and correspondingly for a lot of parents, as well, particularly students who may learn differently, students who have fewer resources like technology at home, students who are homeless, et cetera, all of the challenges that people bring to school got both exposed. And in many ways, deepened during COVID

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Trond Arne Undheim (00:56:49):

What has changed in terms of the questions, a potential client or someone who comes to you and gets the device? What is the first question pre-COVID? What’s the first question in the middle of COVID?

Jeff Wetzler (00:57:00)

So this is where I think it becomes an opportunity as well, because a pre-COVID, you know, there were a lot of people who are innovators or who considered themselves innovators, but there were a lot more people who said, I don’t have time for innovation. I don’t have time to think differently. I don’t have time to redesign. I just have to be practical. And that was a barrier to innovation. So they came to you to solve the problem. They’re like the parents, or we have a community, even the ones with the trauma, they were like, we want to solve the problem with trauma, fix it for us.

Jeff Wetzler (00:57:29):

Right. Versus, yeah, but they didn’t come to you saying, well, what do they come to you now saying, what exactly is the question? Well, so now, you know, also in the past there were people who just wouldn’t come because they would say, we just have to do school. I know what to do, et cetera. Now, every single person has it asking the question, how do I design for the reality of this moment? And the reality of this moment is one where learning has to be any time anywhere, which is another one of the leaps as well. The reality of the moment is one where we can’t just rely on traditional schedules where schools have to be far more agile because they may, buildings may shut down at a moment’s notice. And I think that people are starting to see, we need to actually create situations where students can drive their own learning, where relationships can be stronger.

Jeff Wetzler (00:58:14):

So that students aren’t just motivated by a teacher standing over them. And how do we actually do that? The very near term questions that most people are asking, not surprisingly are you know, how do we just design remotely? How do we make sure that from a physical health and safety perspective, learning can happen in some form. But people are also now starting to ask questions, how do we make it equitable? So that students who don’t have the same devices can still get good learning where students who are who learn differently can still have positive experiences, et cetera. This is the, this is the end of the phase that we might call recovery. But we think that this recovery is so important because it can sow the seeds for reinvention. And we’re starting to see that now, when we see a lot of these out of system learning opportunities popping up as well, where parents are saying, I don’t trust that my kids are going to be safe in school.

Jeff Wetzler (00:59:07):

How can we form a pod? And those positives now asking the question, where can we get learning experiences from some, it can be from teachers, but some can be from online time can be from project, et cetera. And so this idea of how, whereas historically we’ve asked schools to do everything, to be childcare, to be educators, to deal with mental health, to feed students. And so many other things all in one system. And it’s really strange that system, people are starting to question, what might it look like to unbundle some of that stuff? What could a school be really good at, but how can we get food in a different way? And how can we get deep learning in a different way, et cetera, and how can it all be a lot more customized? How can parents have a lot more agency in it? And students have a lot more agency, so we’ll see how the story unfolds. But these are some of the sparks that I think are opening up new possibilities,

Trond Arne Undheim (00:59:54):

Unpack this for me. So there’s a scholar. I, I love his, his work because it’s so simple and kind of just points out. So this guy Hirschman, and he wrote this article on the three basic choices, you really have a, you know, he was thinking in terms of politics, but the concepts are the same for COVID because I’m going to ask you this. So there’s basically three choices parents have, right? Just exit, voice and loyalty. You can either exit the system because you say, this is never going to be the way I want it. And I have it short, you know, and I have a choice of private school or, or homeschooling, or you can say voice, I want to go in and I want to be that parent voice. And I think we can change the system for the better we’ll work with it. And then you have loyalty, which is essentially, I’m not going to really question anything. They work with what they have, and this is public school and it is what it is. And I’m just gonna kind of camp along, which one of these three do you think is the most appropriate choice or are they just going to have to be individual choices that parents make in connection with, you know, what their kids individual situation,

Jeff Wetzler (01:00:57):

It’s probably worth saying that whether to exit exert voice or apply loyalty is it is tied up in the level of privilege that parents have as well and privileges unevenly distributed right now. And so many parents have. Oh, I agree with that. I think I just want to say that, I think that’s part of the backdrop at this point.

Trond Arne Undheim (01:01:23):

Yeah, no, exactly. So that, that is very important to say. I, and I, I don’t imply that everybody truly has that choice, but let’s just assume that some people have that choice. And let’s just, let’s just talk for a minute about the privilege part of the population who do have that choice, what are the things that should go into their decisions as they are thinking about it? Because I am slightly concerned at this moment that this choice is possible for a large enough number, at least in America, right? A large enough number of people that it could affect the public school systems future. Yeah.

Jeff Wetzler (01:02:00):

I mean, I think it’s an opportunity to affect the public school system’s future. So to me, that’s a good thing because of the public school system is not working for too many kids right now. I would say that if a parent has the choice unless the school system is working really well for them, there, there’s no reason to be loyal to it. And so therefore either exerting their voice to to make it work better or saying, I’m going to use my privilege to find different kinds of learning opportunities seems like you know, two important options that people should be considering. And then I think the other thing that I would hope and we can have a whole, another conversation about democracy in America is that people are also saying, how do I make it work? Not just for my own kid, but for kids who may not have the same privileges as well. So, so if it’s working for me

Trond Arne Undheim (01:02:55):

Yeah. And that was kind of implied. I think in my question, I, wasn’t trying to say everybody has these three choices. I was trying to say, is there a responsibility on part of the, on the part of those who actually have these three choices? I think there is think beyond themselves for their kids. The, the answer is actually pretty obvious, and I’m not, we’re not going to sugar coat it. The people who have the option should take a private school with very few students that can be physically sequestered from this horrible thing. That is COVID. I mean, there’s no, there’s no going around it, but I’m just thinking long term. That’s not a good thing because the system could break down. If all the kids with resourceful you know, backgrounds make that choice. Then now you’re actually constraining the choice of those who have to remain

Jeff Wetzler (01:03:47):

Exactly a hundred percent. And so that’s where I think we need parents to be saying, how can I do, what’s not only good for my kid, but for good for the whole as well. And I think that’s where voice plays an important part in those three of those three options that you mentioned. But I also think we’re starting to see, and this is a place where I think school systems are also asking the question, how do we not force people to exit from the system as well? How can we evolve, innovate, innovate our systems so that people who have the fullest set of choices, see that this is not only a good thing for other kids, but it’s a good thing for their own kids as well. And to me, that’s the potential opportunity that we have for COVID to be a spur, both for innovation and for greater equity.

Trond Arne Undheim (01:04:24):

All right. So let’s call that the fourth way. How do you do that? And for instance, explain these pods, not everybody understands even the concept of a pod, what is a pod and w and how do you, by the way, I need to ask you, we were going a little over here. Do you still have a few moments? Can we still talk?

Jeff Wetzler (01:04:43):

Yeah, I can go for a couple more minutes. Yes.

Trond Arne Undheim (01:04:45):

Yeah. So let’s knock for a few more minutes and then we’ll round it off just this concept of a pod, because that is part of this fourth wave. One of the things that has been frustrating in our, so at school system is that the school hasn’t released the full plans yet. So we don’t want to create pods that are kind of going over and beyond the kind of current organizational structure that the school puts in place, because you would then put your kid exposed to a pod. That’s kind of orthogonal to the pods that already are in school. So that could be good for learning, but it could be really bad for spreading COVID. So tell me, what is a, what is a pod and how are they best org?

Jeff Wetzler (01:05:28):

So the idea of a pod in some ways as a new, and in some ways it’s not new parents who have been doing some version of homeschooling for decades would sort of smile at this whole quote, pod craze, because they would say, yeah, we we’ve been doing this for a long time. We’ve had three families that have gotten together, and we brought our kids together and different ones of us have taught different things that we’ve brought in a teacher, et cetera. And so parents, you know, parents know a lot about doing that at some level. And I think at the same time, it is new and it’s going to keep evolving as we go. But I think the basic concept of it is how can a group of students come together who have something in common. It could be that they are of a similar age.

Jeff Wetzler (01:06:09):

It could be that they’re of a similar level, et cetera, and spend some chunk or all of the school day learning together in a physical environment that is separated enough from the rest of a school that there’s some level of kind of health barrier to, you know, to prevent that with a common level of risk tolerance around COVID. A pod can be structured around a single teacher where one teacher is essentially the teacher of that group of let’s say, six to 10 kids and is doing the range of different things. Or a pod could have a couple of different teachers or a teacher and a parent, et cetera, working together. The pod could either be one where everyone in the pods follows the same schedule all day long or it could be one where kids have level of flexibility. Some of the pods are fully in person pods.

Jeff Wetzler (01:06:57):

Some of the pods are fully remote pods. Some of the pods are driven by what’s happening with the kids and the teachers are say they want, and other pods are saying, we’re going to buy a subscription to these two classes at out school. And these two, you know, we’re going to use Khan Academy for this, et cetera. So there’s a whole, there’s a lot of different permutations, but the basic concept is we’re going to kind of separate out a group of kids and create a different kind of learning environment for them. That that feels more communal.

Trond Arne Undheim (01:07:26):

Yeah. And I think that is, that is like you said, it’s a powerful shift. Not because it hasn’t existed before, but because of the masses of people that presumably are now considering this, or as they listen to us, so as they get into school and discover that the fall is going to be very different from anything anybody has ever seen, we’ll have to consider it just because their kids are going crazy. Right. I mean, this is not something that, you know, it previously was a concept you did maybe out of desperation, but I mean, you know, desperation in a, on an, in an individual sense, like my kid isn’t fitting, you know, it doesn’t fit the system. Now it’s a systemic response. That is a rational response to, to an external, I guess, threat to the system. Look, I have so many more questions on the future learning.

Trond Arne Undheim (01:08:18):

It strikes me that I’m going to have to invite you, but only question I, yeah, I think we need to continue, the only very brief question I’d like you to address, which I ask all of my guests, this is obviously an emerging topic it’s complicated and I will link up transcended education and you have a tremendous set of resources just there. But how does one as a parent, as an educator stay up to date on learning science on trends on pods, what are a couple of the tools that you use influencers, places to go at this very moment to track even on a day to day basis? What are the opportunities to get ahead?

Jeff Wetzler (01:09:02):

Yeah, that’s a great question. It is a very fragmented field. So I wish I could say, you know, there is just, you know, go to this clearing house or that kind of thing. I think, you know, there’s the national parents union that has a tremendous amount of resources for parents as well. I think it depends on the topic. There is a great book by Ulrich Boser that translates learning science into very user friendly lay terms that I would strongly recommend. There is you know, on this topic that we’ve, that we’ve been touching on throughout the podcast of equity. There are tremendous resources that I think are emerging books, like how to be an anti racist or podcast, like night, nice white parents, et cetera to be thinking about those types of resources as well. And you know, and then our website does try to share a lot as well, that has, that translate the science into practical terms.

Trond Arne Undheim (01:10:01):

Got it. And I think one of the things we’ll, we’ll have to come back to is, I’m very, very curious about all this software, all these EdTech startups, there’s a whole, there’s a whole discussion that we meant to talk about, but I think we’re going to save that for, for another time. I just thank you so much for this very enriching discussion for me. And I think we might discover that this is something other people are thinking about, and I’m sure you have discovered that independently, but I’m very excited to be sharing this podcast. In fact, I’m going to think about ways to sort of accelerate this and get it out there. So thank you so much for your time today, Jeff,

Jeff Wetzler (01:10:39):

You, it’s wonderful to talk with you. Thank you. Appreciate the conversation and look forward to seeing where it goes.

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Outro (01:12:06):

You have just listened to episode 27 of the Futurized podcast with host Trond Arne Undheim, futurist and author. The topic was the future of K-12 education. Our guest was Jeff Wetzler, co-founder at Transcend Education, a nonprofit leading the way in holistic school design. We talked about learning science, the necessary steps to make towards 21st century learning as well as the impact of COVID-19 and coping strategies such as learning pods. We also discussed how to stay up to date on the top trends in K through 12 education.

My takeaway is that K-12 education has never been more crucial. What happens over the next six months will determine whether public school transforms to become a key positive determinant of kids’ destinies or whether it will descend further into an already outdated paradigm, which is neither capable of preparing kids for the future nor able to function as a place for socialization into a role in today’s society. The factors that come into play could be influenced by EdTech, but need to be guided by the right learning principles and have to happen in dialogue with local community needs.

Thanks for listening. If you’d like to show, subscribe at or in your preferred podcast player and rate us with five stars. Futurized–preparing you to deal with disruption.