Citizen Scholars – Expeditionary Learning National Conference 2012

I’m in Denver this week at the Expeditionary Learning National Conference. Expeditionary Learning (EL) is a national network of high-performing schools serving approximately 50,000 students nationwide and internationally. EL schools are exploratory, inquiry-based, experiential schools that utilize “design principles” for student engagement and rigorous academic achievement.

The theme for this year’s conference is Citizen Scholars. The keynote speaker yesterday was Steven Seidel, professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education who has been working on the “Digital Museum of Student Work”  in collaboration with Expeditionary Learning. The Digital Museum of Student Work (DMSW) is an online, open resource of exemplary EL student work. To say the keynote was inspirational is an understatement.

“EL Principles model what is possible in learning and teaching,” said Seidel. He spoke of his use of EL student work archives in his graduate class last year for teacher educators and the exemplary work of EL students. He then charged the educators present with the following challenges:

  • How do you rekindle your own passion for learning?
  • Why are the educational principles I believe in, like the EL Design Principles, so marginalized in today’s education?
  • What could it mean to be a citizen scholar today as a young person or as an adult and why isn’t this the purpose of education?
  • Why isn’t “Getting Smart To Do Good” not written above every classroom’s door in every school?

Throughout his keynote, Dr. Seidel elaborated on these challenges while referring to the autobiography of famous American, Frederick Douglass. Dr. Seidel spoke of the level of risk-taking this American hero undertook to achieve his own education.  He spoke of Douglass’ spirit, his burning desire to learn, and his compassion to give back. He spoke of the inspiration we derive from heroes such as Douglass as children and as adults and he reminded us that ideas for inspiration can come from anywhere. He concluded his keynote by stating that imagination and creativity are keys to inspiration and to learning.

Dr. Seidel stated, “Inspiration and creativity are understudied.” As elements of the imagination and of learning, how are you sparking inspiration, creativity and imagination in your organization? In your school? In yourself? Are you innovating learning in your organization? In your school?

“Imagination is the only thing that will save us from ourselves.” Moises Kaufmann. Indeed.

For more information on EL schools, go to the El website at http://www.elschools.org

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