Going Big–Iowa BIG–with Trace Pickering
March 30, 2021
student-driven learning

The traditional educational paradigm is filled with obsolete concepts. How can we expect our young learners to thrive by gathering information, but not knowledge? How can we shift teachers to a learner-centered paradigm that offers context to the content?

On today’s podcast, I’m talking with Trace Pickering, co-founder and Executive Director of Iowa BIG. His program offers students an opportunity to explore their passions and interests through project-based learning.

Listen in as Trace reminds us that sometimes the greatest opportunities for growth come from the greatest challenges, creating knowledge is not the same as gathering information, and student engagement increases when content has context.

About Trace Pickering:

Dr. Trace Pickering is the co-founder and executive director of Iowa BIG, a learner-centered educational program in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Trace is a life-long advocate for transforming education, as opposed to simply reforming what we have now. Trace lives with his wife, Kim, and dog, Stella, and has two grown daughters.

To learn more about Trace follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn or visit his website.

Jump Through the Conversation

  • [1:43] Mentors and extracurriculars are what kids connect to in school
  • [4:33] Projects as a vehicle for learning
  • [14:55] Contextualizing learning to make it sticky
  • [19:06] Shifting teachers to a learner-centered paradigm and the failure of fake work 
  • [35:40] Trace’s Magic Wand: To move from standardized, standards-based teaching to student-centered exploration and learning
  • [37:33] Maureen’s Take-Aways

Links and Resources:

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Transcription:

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
Hello fellow parents and educators. Thank you for joining me at education evolution, where we are disrupting the status quo in today’s learning models. We talk about present day education, what’s broken, who’s fixing it and how. I’m Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your host and founder of education, evolution and the micro school coalition, where we are fiercely Committed to changing the narrative to reimagining the education landscape, and creating learning that serves all children and prepares them to thrive. If you are new, welcome to the podcast. Please subscribe on our website to get it delivered to your inbox weekly. If you’ve been around a while, have you left a review?

Hi, Trace, it’s great to have you with us.

Trace Pickering
Thanks, Maureen. Good to be here.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
And listeners. Today I’m chatting with Dr. Trace Pickering, co founder and executive director of Iowa Big, a learner centered educational program in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I got to hear Trey speak about the student driven powerful learning happening at Iowa big and couldn’t wait to have him share with you all. Trace, where did this story of school transformation begin for you?

Trace Pickering
Wow, this will show my age. But I started teaching in the late 80s. And my initial interest was being a division one basketball coach. And it quick, I quickly realized I couldn’t articulate it this way back then. But I noticed that from eight, eight to 330, I was staring at kids who were bored, disinterested, didn’t want to do the work. And honestly, I probably have to admit I was kind of bored with it myself. And then a huge transformation. these very same kids out on the practice field or on the stage or wherever were full of passion and energy and focus. And they weren’t afraid to try and fail and keep trying. And that began my journey. Oh, there’s something wrong if the majority of our day is boredom, and tedious and so forth. So that led me on a path to try to explore what what’s possible, what, what’s wrong with the system, I had the very good fortune of connecting with some amazing mentors early in my career, people who were thinking very different about education. One of them was an associate of Dr. Bill Spady, who’s kind of the father of outcome based education. He was real big during that time. And I got to know him and travel around and learn about paradigm shifts, and the industrial model of education and all that. So that set me off on the journey. And it took about 25 more years before I the opportunity arose where I could actually create a school or program that would meet what I believe needed to happen.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
Wow, I love that. And I completely agree with you, I get kind of frustrated parents when they look at our microscope and say, Oh, it’s perfect, but I want my kid to have the high school experience I had. And that false nostalgia that you and I both talked about before. It was never about oh my gosh, I want my kid to sit through hours of biology. And I want my kid to know the difference between cosine and tangent. It was like, No, I want my kid to be in the drama club or to be in the debate club or be on the volleyball team. It was never about exactly. So if they could separate the two out and say yes, let’s change that stuff that was boring back when I was a teenager and deadly and didn’t apply to my life and wasted my time. And now is resulting in mental health issues. Let’s change that. And I still want my kid to have all these cool relational extras. So to meet you that you got that early on, I wish we could get our parents to get that now and demand that education be what you have worked so hard to create. So tell us a little that what have you created.

Trace Pickering
So I owe a big is a we so much want to be a school but you just you take what you can get but we’re a we’re a half day program shared by four school districts that allows students to be in a learner centered environment where learning is driven by their passions and interests. It’s driven by authentic real projects out in the community with business Government nonprofit. And it’s we’re developing an ecosystem in our community, right? Because I’ve always saw the irony in school districts being named community school districts, and they were never connected to the community, right? The only connection was sports or whatever. And so we do those three, passion projects community. And we, we engage kids and we, we help validate and teach them the, the core Common Core Standards through that. But our while that’s important, more important to us are those universal constructs those 21st century skills, the skills that really separate out people who can be successful with those who can’t. So that’s a little what about what big is.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
I love it. And I share your frustration that districts might allow a school within a school, but then you have to go back to the regular day and get this in this. Or big picture learning does a lot of cool stuff. And it’s like one little alternative within a district, and they can’t keep their their seats filled. It makes me crazy, that your pocket of brilliance, and other pockets of excellence and brilliance are kind of like tolerated. Exceptions instead of going wow, these kids, it’s relevant. And it’s preparing them for the rest of their lives. And they have a sense of purpose, and they’re giving back and they’re becoming better humans. And mental health is better. We see when kids are engaged. And when they find it meaningful, the anxiety and depression decreased. So it’s like, Hello, this disconnect makes me crazy. And I want to make it up the ante a little bit. Tell us a story of one of the projects that you’ve done, because what you guys are doing is so amazing.

Trace Pickering
Yeah. I always struggle with this question, because I want to, I’m going to share a project that got a lot of press and publicity. But I also asked that this projects do not have to be like this to be successful. Maybe I can share one of those. But yes, please. Yeah, we had a, we had a terrible storm. This fall, they called duration, which is essentially an inland hurricane, that about 80 minutes of sustained winds over 120 miles an hour, literally wiped out our town 65% of our tree canopy gone, some people with or without power for two weeks. And so a school group of students came to us and said, we have a project idea. We, this destruction depresses us and it’s horrible. And how can we take it and turn it into something beautiful, something hopeful? And so we brainstorm with them. And they were riffing on some ideas. And they’re like, how do we take these tree trunks, these huge trees that are getting cut down and pulled off the streets and turn them into something beautiful. And they saw Well, there’s chainsaw artists, chainsaw artists make really cool.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
Yes.

Trace Pickering
What if we, what if we got chainsaw artists who work with us to create chainsaw art? And then we could auction that off and give the money to trees forever? Who is a local group that’s trying to help us going to help reforest our city? All right, cool. That’s a great project get going. And so basically, what they did is they they got in touch with a chainsaw artist and said, here’s what we’re trying to do. And he’s like, this is cool. I’ve got three chainsaw friends who I think would would love to do this. They, they they got so they got those guys online. Then they had to work with the city of Marion. Like, where are we going to have this and so they had to work with the mayor and the City Council and fill out all the paperwork and make sure that legal forms and insurance and all of that was okay, so that they could have these chainsaw artists make art in the city park for an entire week. They had to design the marketing the outreach, they had to work with trees forever. They had to negotiate with the chainsaw artists as to what the split would be. And they decided 60% trees forever. 40% of the proceeds would go back to the chance to artists. They had to set up an online auction site. And they did all of this and held it in the week before Thanksgiving break. And just a beautiful thing. They’re they’re on the radio, they’re on television. They’re figuring out the auction. They’re trying to figure out well, when the auction is over, how do we get? How do we let the people up? How do we protect the stuff? How do we get the trees to the location, the trunks to the location. They’re doing all of this stuff. And when the event kicked off, it was a week long event that changed. The artists work from eight to five every day out in the public square. Thankfully, we had a pretty good one Whether, and we had community members, lots of retired folks that would bring lawn chairs, and socially distances sit around, and just watch these chainsaw artists work, not the kids, His goal was $10,000 to raise $10,000. The online auction lasted a week. And within the first three hours, they were at $12,000. Really, my gosh, they ended up raising 25,000. Right. And so you think about that, you can think about the marketing and the communications and the pieces of government, they had to learn about how to how do you navigate and find advocate, city government to get this going, right, getting a city to allow a chainsaw artists are fairly dangerous thing to happen on their property?That’s not something to do you know so? So that’s a that’s an example of a what an i a big project might look like.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
And I love that. It just reminds us when there’s purpose and when kids, you know, whenever we get to choose what we’re about, and there’s a purpose for it. I mean, talk about tax returns, like, Oh, I have to fill out paperwork, we all dread it. But they’re like, yeah, I’ve got to fill this out so I can get this in the park. So textbooks when kids are saying, When will I ever use this? Why do I need to memorize this? And you don’t have an answer for them. That’s really sad. But they’re they’re experiencing, here’s why I need this. And, oh, I’ve got to work on communication, because I have to be able to sell this to the city council. And so that real world learning around something they initiated talk about agency, we keep saying agency, but then at best, it’s usually a project that a teacher designs and kids have a voice and maybe how they complete the project that the teacher assigned. So you’re so far beyond project based learning into student driven learning. Tell me the example that’s maybe on a smaller scale.

Trace Pickering
Yeah, so a lot of times people will look at a project and go well, that’s, that’s stupid. There’s no learning there. That’s silly. We have lots of projects that fail. And they fail, sure, two weeks a month, six weeks, but that’s life, right? We have so many projects, I’ve had so many projects that I had high hopes for the failed. Honestly, a lot of times the learning is is richer and deeper for those kids than the successful ones. And it’s hard to help kids understand that you don’t have to be as outwardly successful like the splinters team to be successful. So a quick example. This year, we had a young lady who picked up a project with the local youth youth detention center was looking looking to hire employees and you know, people to be overnight with these kids who are incarcerated. And it started out as we just really want a simple poster to advertise what it what it means to work here. And you know, why it’s important. And so she met with them. And she just started working on posters, we got her connected with somebody who really understood illustrator, taught her some techniques, here’s how you should think about poster design and attracting folks. And week after week, she’d make adjustments, take it to the group, and they would give her suggestions and ideas. And so she probably iterated on the poster 20 times. And

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
Wow, that alone getting kids to redo and, and re edit that is a huge victory.

Trace Pickering
Yeah. And so it ended up where she had to present to the board and has a beautiful flyer that they’re accepting. And now they’re talking about, well, you know, how can you make a video a promo video for us? Right? And so people look at that and go, well, shoot, we asked kids to make posters in school all the time. Well, this is not that right? This is this young lady knew that this poster was going to be splashed all over it was going to represent the detention center how important that was. She learned things that seems silly but aren’t like how do you set up zoom meetings? And how do you build you know, how do you communicate with folks and get get on their calendar? And how do you not waste their time? And how do you talk to them professionally? And how do you deal with being told I don’t like I don’t like your design? Go back to Yes. So there’s that that’s the big thing at big I think that separates our our ideas of projects from others is the project isn’t the assessment project isn’t the culminating performance. Assessment is purely a vehicle for learning. This sounds crass er than it is but we don’t care if the project successful. We really we don’t we love it when they are. We’re just interested in giving these kids the skillset and the experience they need to understand how to learn for themselves. right that’s that’s the game. How do you know how to learn? That’s really all we’re trying to do.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
Yes. So Trace, I hear parents like oh, but you’re not doing the hours of homework. In the textbooks, and my kids going to go to college, that’s what the college is going to be. So I love what you’re doing. And I think it’s important, but I want to prepare my kid for college. And they think that that means my kid has to have hours of suffering over textbooks and homework, to be ready for college. You’ve had kids graduate from your program, and go on to college and talk to me about their level of preparation.

Trace Pickering
Yeah, we have we have two big students in Ivy League schools. So I mean, clearly, we haven’t harmed them. If I did have them on board. Yeah, that’s always a tough conversation. Because in that is, it’s wrapped up this, what I see in a lot of parents, and honestly, as a parent of two daughters, myself, I really had to fight against this urge myself is living vicariously through them. Right? If, if my kids aren’t, valedictorians are 4.0, as it reflects on me, and, and I understand that feeling. And thankfully, I was I was able, I think to, to suppress that and understand how silly and ridiculous that is, let my kids be, who they need to be and want to be. So that’s, that’s all wrapped up in that. But the other. The other thing is, I think so many people assume they learned all this stuff in high school. And the The irony is, most most college professors don’t believe kids learn anything in high school. So they’re just going to teach the same thing again, right? Yes, it was two at once doesn’t mean you’re going to, it’s going to make more sense the next time you hear it, you know, so we will ask things like, Well, do you? Do you know what the Pythagorean theorem is? And most parents like, no. So why why did why is it important for your kid to know it? Unless they’re going to be a carpenter or an engineer or something that they actually need to know what that is? You know, polynomials? and all those kinds of things we are you really are you’re really more interested them and memorizing things are not going to ever use? Are you more interested in them developing a skill set that’s going to allow them to learn anything they need to learn when they need to learn?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
Absolutely,I completely agree. We need skills. And we know that we know that we’re graduating kids into a future that is going to have careers we’ve never heard of. So why would we want them to memorize stuff that people were memorizing 100 years ago and haven’t used like you said, I know, a squared plus b squared equals c squared. And I can picture a triangle, but I can’t remember. So what?

Trace Pickering
You know what’s interesting about that examples, a few years ago, we had a group of kids who had to go out and part of their project was to the map out of 80 foot by 40 foot spot where they were going to help create a handicap accessible garden and outdoor area. Kids and they went out these are seniors who had taken all the math, and they went out and pounded a stake in the ground measured 80 feet pounded another stake in the ground measured 40 feet pounded the stake in the ground. And then they said, Hey, we got it. And then teachers like, how do you know it’s square? Well, we went at 40 at 40. It’s got to be square. He’s like, really? They’re like, well, maybe, maybe it isn’t, how do we? How do we figure that out? And he’s like, well, you ever heard of Sager and theorem? They’re like, Oh, yeah, a squared plus b squared equals c squared. And he’s like, so they’re like, Oh, my God, that, or, you know, they, they had just memorized something, they had no idea why the hell they needed to know it. All of a sudden, in a real context, it was super important to them. Because if they if it wasn’t square, everything they design was going to be all right. So it’s just those if you don’t contextualize all the things, you’re trying to teach kids that it’s not sticky.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
Right? We’re trying to make us contextualize to make it sticky. I love that. So what do you consider your biggest struggles or roadblocks? You’re You’re so into this, you’re not a new program? What continues to keep this? I guess my bigger question is, why the heck isn’t this on fire? And like a full day program and waiting lists?

Trace Pickering
Yeah, you know, we have about 8000 kids in our community, and you know, we’re serving 250. And we can easily fill that. And we have supportive administration. But I think it’s a lot of things we talked about, parents fear that if their kids get off the AP track, they’re not going to get that scholarship or get into that school. You know, some internal pushback, because the vast majority of educators that I run into are not in a learner centered paradigm. They’re still they’re still kind of trying In this current belief system about school, so they’re just busy making the current school system a little bit better. And it’s, it’s not gonna work. And so I don’t know, it doesn’t make sense to me, I think, I think to the existing system gets a pass on everything they can’t do, and that they do poorly. And programs like ours, new programs, get no passes. Well, we don’t like your assessment, your assessment is, is loosey goosey. And you still have kids who are not doing well. And so it’s like they, they expect us to be perfect before they’ll accept anything we do. And we like we want to say, well look in the mirror, you have massive failure, you have massive amounts of kids bored out of their mind. Right? They you Yes, this stuff and don’t. But the current system just gets a pass on that. And so it’s, that’s been our biggest struggle. Is it help? How do we help people see that? We, none of these programs are going to be perfect. We’re never going to be perfect. We do lots of stuff wrong, and lots of stuff that we need to improve on. But if you if you stop us, because we’re not perfect, we’re never gonna get where we where we want to go.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
Yeah, and that goes back to what you said earlier that sometimes kids fail at their projects. I learned so much from failure. toddlers learn so much from touching the hot stove. You know, a lot of life lessons come like oh, not gonna do that again? Or how Why did that work? Oh my gosh, my communication stunk. I didn’t explain it clearly. What do I need to improve? So next time. So failure is such a good teacher, where mediocrity is just like you said, passing moving through the assembly line board. Okay, got a 65% move on. That means 35% wasn’t mastered. And it was probably memorization anyhow. Yeah, exactly.

Trace Pickering
Like Someone once told me. You don’t learn much from your successes, because you already you did it? Well, you already know how to do it. Clearly. Failure is really the only way you learn. And And honestly, that’s one of the first things we have to disassemble in kids who come to us who had 1012 years of, of traditional education is they are terrified of failure. Because they don’t want to see that big fat F on their paper or the zero or, oh, no, my GPA is gonna drop point six points, right. It’s just this they’re laden with fear about failure. And so the first thing we do is like, honestly, we want them to suffer a little failure, whether managing their time and their calendar or being on a project that doesn’t go somewhere, building a building some kind of poster for a partner that they say they don’t want. And once once we get kids kind of over that threshold, things start to change quickly. They start realizing, hey, wow, you didn’t you didn’t tell me I’m terrible. You didn’t give me a zero. This isn’t an F. We don’t give paths or points or any of that crap. You just want me to stand back up and try again? Yep. That’s what we want. You know, nice.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
Yeah. And we know, we want our kids to have resilience. How in the world do we ever learn to bounce back if we never have anything to bounce back from? So it’s like, wait a minute. The corollary I see a lot of times with new students coming into our school is they don’t know how to think. Right? Wait, what do you mean, you’re not going to tell me how many words this has to be? Well, no, who’s your audience? And you’re going to know how many words it takes to express what you need to your audience. How would I know how many words it’s going to take? And they are flomax? The teacher isn’t telling them how many words what the margins look like the font. It’s crazy. The kids don’t get to learn how to think when it’s teacher centered. And I can’t believe parents and teachers aren’t saying enough of this. We need thinkers to go out and solve the crazy world, we the issues that are present in the world, our generation didn’t get it. So we have to do it differently. So their generation can fix stuff.

Trace Pickering
Absolutely. Yeah, that we see that a lot. We have kids that come to us and their primary questions are, is this good enough? And am I done yet? And that’s school builds in them and we’re like, those are the two questions that are gonna get you fired. And you’re right. We want them to if they enter asking, am I done yet? We want them exiting with what’s next for me. Where do I go? What can I do? Right. And that was I think one of the most important things when we set up our our system is we wanted kids to do real projects. One of one of the people that helped us community members who helped us design big. We sent a bunch of community members back to high school for database students. And they came back to see what you know, to help us design it. And one of the one of the participants, has anyone ever actually acknowledged that 99% of the work kids are asked to do in school is fake. And I’m like, What? It’s fake work. It’s assignment for one teacher for some kind of point or grade or to check off something so I can be done with it. Why would you ever think that the vast majority of students would try their best because they know as soon as that assignments done, it’s thrown in the basket, or you move on. And so as soon as you put kids in real projects, where the partner is the mayor of the city, and they want that, that change the art to go well, and make their city look good, it changes everything. Kids are all of a sudden not too worried about is this. Is this good enough? Am I done yet? Because they know they’re doing. They’re doing something not just for their own learning, but that’s going to make a difference for somebody. And that is a huge, huge difference.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
Yes, yes. So Tracy, I know you keep upping the bar. And I’m just curious, what’s next for you and your mission? Is there anything percolating?

Trace Pickering
Yes, because you and I’ve talked early on, I was heavily engaged at the national scene trying to help advocate for this, and I’m really motivated to get back into that group. Because this, this is still such a fragile thing that could die so easily. Because when it comes to when budgets get tight, it’s you know, and the school has to decide between that other that next kindergarten teacher or I will be, we still will lose, they’re going to keep funding the traditional and not so I want to re engage with that locally. For us, it is continuing to hone our model, and to shore up the things that people are quick to criticize us about, and that help us help the kids get better. I’m excited are the one of the districts that are in Iowa big is interested in developing a high school magnet school. And yes, I have a big model is going to be at the core of that magnet school. So my, my dream of going from a program to a school may actually happen in the next few years.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
Oh, my gosh, we’ll end with you right there. They’d be crazy not to take you up on your leadership to help make that school a success.

Trace Pickering
Yeah, and I think to the, and I’m sure you’ve experienced this in your work, you can’t be a prophet in your own land. Yeah, people are way more excited about AI with big outside of my community than in it. And they’ll point to other programs that do amazing things like big picture and others and go out. That’s what we need here in Cedar Rapids, like, well, so it’s kinda like healthy. If I need. I need people to understand what we’re doing. They’re gonna listen to you, from Seattle a heck of a lot more. They’re gonna listen to me, which is weird, but I guess I guess that’s how the world works.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
I know. It’s unfortunate, though. I am going to shift I want before we do our big wrap up question. I just want to get to know you the person a little better and have our listeners get to know you. So I’m just going to do some turbo time questions for you. First one is last book you read.

Trace Pickering
Oh, goodness, I’m halfway through a whole bunch of them. I think the the one that comes to mind is the second mountain by David Brooks. I had my team read it. And it’s just at this point, my life had a big impact, just just about how to think about your life’s journey. And you spend most of your early life on the first mountain trying to build up your bank account and get network correctly. And all those kind of things in the second mountain is so much more fulfilling. It’s like, Who do you want to be as a human being and how are you contributing to the lives of others and that so that that’d be the book.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
I’ve got read it That sounds great. To inspirational folks, you’d love to meet.

Trace Pickering
The one I wish I would have while he was still alive had the chance. A guy named Russell a cough. He is a social he was a social system scientist. I’ve read all this stuff. He had such an impact on thinking, my thinking about how you organize systems made up of human beings and he would be he would be fun. I would love to be in Boston be able to sit down and have coffee with Martin Luther King? Yes. Find out. Especially if he could come forward in time. And in these times, talk to me about what, what he sees going on. And that would just be incredibly fascinating.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
Cool concept. Yes. Where’s your favorite place to travel?

Trace Pickering
Oh, goodness, a bunch of them. Our youngest daughter went to Colorado State. That was the first time I’d ever been to Colorado other than just flying in and out. And so I’ve fallen in love with Rocky Mountain National Park and hiking and just kind of the hippie vibe of so many of those those cities.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
Nice. What’s one TED talk that inspires you?

Trace Pickering
To go to the classic Sir Ken Robinson, one with where they do the artwork on the whiteboard. As he’s talking. That’s just fantastic.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
I completely agree. Yes, he has left us an amazing legacy. I just hope people will start acting on his words and not listening to him, but also acting on it, just saying, What’s the biggest thing you wish folks knew about? context based authentic learning?

Trace Pickering
Yeah, I wish people would, would understand that the game is no longer about learning and remembering content. I mean, are the thing that we hold in our hand every day, our phone has, has all the information that we need. And so we’re information rich and knowledge poor, right. And so understanding that content just doesn’t matter very much, until it’s put in a context. And as soon as you contextualize it, content becomes important. And you know what content is important. And we can’t possibly equip people with all the content they need in the event they need it.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
I love it. And your example earlier, that doesn’t matter that kids have the Pythagorean Theorem memorized if they don’t know when and how to use it. Right, right. Case in point. What’s a pet peeve of yours?

Trace Pickering
I think my biggest pet peeve is when I hear somebody say, because we’ve always done it that way. As soon as I hear that, I’m okay. We’re, we’ve stopped thinking. I just hate that.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
Yep. Yep. One passion that you bring to Iowa big.

Trace Pickering
I think my, my passion for systems thinking. And in wanting to be wanting to be a model of leadership for my team, because I view my team of teachers as my learners. I’m not creating a learner centered system for them, how can they possibly create one for the kids?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
I love it that you’re walking your talk, and you’re looking at your system, as well. And that’s a part of the whole Iowa big system, all of these layers of system. What is your favorite thing about Iowa?

Trace Pickering
Favorite thing about Iowa? It’s not January and February, I will tell you that. You I think I think my favorite thing about Iowa is the changing seasons. I don’t I don’t think people realize just how beautiful Iowa is. from April to October. I mean, you could experience every shade of green every shade of blue every shade of gold and orange through the season. That’s that’s just really, really a beautiful thing.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
You paint a pretty picture. What’s one positive thing that has come out of this COVID time?

Trace Pickering
You know, for me personally, it’s a stronger connection with my kids and my family. Kids are 20 something and you know, if if the whole world was open to them, they would be doing what I would have done when I’m 20 and traveling and spending time with friends and they still do that but this time has given all of us more time together. So we usually get to see them every weekend and and cook meals together and go on many little trips and that’s I’m not saying they wouldn’t have done that in the past but the frequency with which we get to do that during COVID has been really nice.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
priceless. Last turbo question What’s something maybe people don’t know about your choice?

Trace Pickering
Oh, goodness. I guess some quirky thing is I really Enjoy classic music, classic rock and roll. And I gotten into refurbishing high end stereos from the 1970s when they were kind of the golden era of stereos just kind of, actually my youngest daughter got me into that because she was like, I really want one of those old stereos and speakers also cool. So got her got her set, and had that kind of got me excited about it, too.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
I love it. And Isn’t it crazy that our kids are into vinyl?

Trace Pickering
Yeah, yeah.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
I love that, too. So my final question is our magic wand moment. So if you had a magic wand, trace, and you could transform what the high school model design looks like in the United States, what would our high schools look like?

Trace Pickering
You know, I think they would look like I have a big like big picture learning, like the micro schools you you work to develop. It would be it wouldn’t be standardized, right? And we have to, we have to get past this idea that without standards, that means we’re just lowering expectations for everyone. It would be a system where kids would get to explore and learn the things they care about, and schools would be there to help them figure out, do you want so you want to be an engineer, you want to be a carpenter, you want to be an entrepreneur, that’s what we’re gonna support. And if that means, you know, if I’m going to be a, if I want to be a historian, that’s what we’re going to help you become, and we’re not going to force you to take algebra two is you don’t need algebra two. Right?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
Wow. learner centered. And getting rid of the whole idea that standards somehow mean, quality of experience, we have such a false connection there. Tracy, thank you for all that you are doing to serve our youth to change the outdated model. But to get beyond reform, as I’ve heard you say, into transforming our schools and and thank you for joining us today.

Trace Pickering
Yes, it’s been a pleasure, marine appreciate you having me.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy
I could riff off of traces ideas all day long. He and I are definitely kindred spirits with many parallels. Isn’t it interesting that the mentor relationships and the extracurriculars or what anybody values and remembers about high school as years go by, we get locked into thinking that the whole High School model of yesterday is amazing. But it has very little to do with the teacher lectures, and textbooks being of interest. It’s the other parts that we remember and value. Crazy that we accept the whole package of yesterday’s High School model as a culture that so needs to change. Change would mean parents looking at their whole child, including mental health and engagement in school in life, schools could be addressing the whole human and be human centered. If we let go of the content and teacher driven model, teachers would need training and resources and no standardized tests driving memorization to get us to this ideal human centered place. Tracy and I have both studied systems systems are more than the structure or the sum of their parts. He mentioned the system’s thinking pioneer Russell Ackoff, I have to unpack three Ackoff quotes that are relevant to this conversation. The first is the objective of education is learning, not teaching. Hello. This is not what’s happening in so many classrooms. And it’s so simple and so obvious and so difficult to do. So good on him for framing it that clearly. Second, he says, it is far better to do the right thing wrong than to do the wrong thing, right. So I really appreciate the educational innovators that are doing the right thing, and it’s sometimes it’s crappy, or sometimes it takes multiple iterations, or sometimes the kids fail or something doesn’t work out, but they’re doing the right thing. the wrong thing is to keep cramming content into kids to memorize and later forget, and call that an education that’s preparing them for the rest of their lives. His third quote is is a problem never exists in isolation. It is surrounded by other problems in space and time. The more of the context of a problem that a scientist can comprehend, the greater are his chances of finding a truly adequate solution. And I can’t think of anything that’s more complex than our teens. So as we look at the problem of our teens, and their anxiety and depression and not being engaged, we need to look at as much of the context as possible to truly solve this dilemma. Schools are a huge part of teens daily life. So if we don’t look at schools as a corporate, and with a determination to provide our teams with a human centered learning system, we’re never going to dramatically improve the plight of our teens and young adults. Just by using projects as a vehicle for learning, we can begin to contextualize the learning to, as Trey says, make it sticky. This shift from content delivered by a teacher to context created by the student, as they work on a problem that they care about is the solution. We have to put content in context. We don’t want our students to be like our cell phones, content rich and knowledge poor. My hope is that parents and educators will begin to demand this shift at the local level. And we will come together to create the momentum needed to get rid of the obsolete High School model that we have, and replace it with real world student driven learning that aligns with students passions and purpose, and prepares them to be thriving and contributing members of the adult world. listeners. Thank you for being a part of this vital education, evolution.

I know how challenging it is to make changes inside your own school or community. I’ve spent years working with schools around the world on creating learner centered programs. And it always struck me how much schools were able to get done with the right tools and guidance. If you’re ready to make changes like this in your own school, let’s talk and put together an action plan. Visit education evolution.org backslash consult for a free 15 minute call. And let’s see if we’re a good fit for more work together.

Education evolution listeners, you are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen, heard, valued and thriving. We need you. Let’s go out and reach every student today.

I’d be so grateful if you’d head over to your podcast app to give a great rating and review if you found this episode valuable. Don’t wait. Please do it right now before you forget. I really appreciate it.

Thank you for listening, signing off. I am Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your partner in boldly reimagining education.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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