The 2018 CoSN (Consortium for School Networking) @CoSN conference in Washington DC was organized around the theme of designing learning in the 4th industrial revolution and many sessions examined the rise of machine learning. That said, at a time when computers can do more and more low-level work, presenters continuously returned to their work empowering students with the agency to thrive in this new era. I was impressed by the high quality of the sessions and the level of discourse among all participants. Here are the eight big themes that I’ll carry back to my work.

Student Agency & Authentic Experiences


Tom Vander Ark @tvanderark summed up the rise of project-based learning (PBL) by noting that it is easy to implement, but hard to implement well. He pointed to New Tech and other organizations that focus on PBL and long challenges as stand out examples. Such environments help students develop teamwork and project management skills. Tom Vander Ark sees similar strengths emerge through participation in the fine arts. He calls for every student to develop their resume and/or LinkedIn account throughout their school years so they graduate with marketable skills and noted that the work being done to develop diploma networks is moving us closer to more authentic school careers. - Slidedeck -  - -

In an even more dramatic call for deeper student-driven learning, Ted Dintersmith @dintersmith declared, “When standardization comes in the front door of a school district, learning goes out the back.” The Most Likely to Succeed creator spoke at length about the damaging impact of designing curriculum around testing requirements and advocated for real-world experiences. - - - - MIT graduates cannot power a light bulb


Dr. Darryl Adams @TheEdutainor prioritizes student agency by involving student voice in every district decision, including what students learn and how they want to learn it. He knows students are empowered in a district when they have compelling answers to the question of why they are learning something in class. The efficiency and access we gain through technology use should empower students to make their community and world a better place.

Milton Chen @miltonchen2 talked about the importance of all of Gardner’s multiple intelligences. He noted that all learning now involves technology and his examples drove home the point that students discover their passion for learning when that technology is paired with authentic experiences such as backyard gardens, wilderness experiences and playspace learning. - - - National Geographic Bioblitz



If Jonathan Rochelle’s @jrochelle team at Google could measure one thing in new employees it would be skills in teamwork. He added that the 4C’s transform technology from a tool into a powerful driver of learning.

Speaker after speaker illustrated ways that the 4C’s remain impactful and persistent. One even declared, “We used to focus on integrating the 4C’s into the curriculum, now I understand that the 4C’s should be the curriculum.”

(Rochelle it the co-founder of Google Docs and Drive. He also works with the GoogleEdu team on Classroom and Jamboard.)


Planning for the future is prioritizing equity. The Beaverton, Oregon School District won this year’s CoSN equity award. They noted that Innovation, when implemented with an equity lens, can bridge rather than widen inequalities. Indeed, only when we bring an equity focus to every decision we discuss, do we have a shot at making our schools great. In addition to provide wifi access, Beaverton holds regular collaborative lunches to identify systemic inequalities in their system and discuss solutions. Ted Dintersmith added, “The real gap in education is that we spend twice as much educating rich kids in this country as we do educating poor kids.”


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Speakers and participants alike argued for disruptive school leadership that builds up educators who are innovating while eliminating outdated programs and approaches that are less effective. Putting design thinking into action, professional development must model the kinds of deeper thinking experiences we want for our students. Additionally, leaders must build the public’s will for change and see it in context of broader community and district initiatives. Neil Pasricha noted, "it's called change because you don't see it coming. When you see it coming, it's called planning."

Empower groups of teachers whenever possible. It is a lot easier for ten teachers in a school to innovate than one, and easier for five schools to innovate than one. Schools must promote coherence over siloed work and leaders must bring everyone from students and teachers to principals and school board members into the discussion about how to best innovative. My own “Lead. Manage. Coach.” focused on strategies to best advance this work.

Lead. Manage. Coach. - The Future of Skills - Employment in 2030

Dr. Sonny Magana @sonnymagana has collaborated and consulted with Marzano and Hattie. He has leveraged their work to develop his own T3 (Translational, Transformational, Transcendent) framework of innovation in education. In his session and subsequent conversations, he described how his model provides proven methods that leverage technology to take teachers and students from low level automation and consumption at the translational level, through transformational production and contribution and onto transcendent inquiry design and social entrepreneurship. He claims 1.4 point gains on Hattie’s scale. I look forward to reading his book to learn more.

Book - Disruptive Classroom Technologies - - -


The conference closed with Neil Pasricha’s @NeilPasricha inspiring message that if we train ourselves to be happy we will be more creative, more successful and more action oriented. He left us with five research proven ways to increase happiness and urged each of us to pick at least one to put into practice in our own lives. Doing one or more of these for 20 days will develop a potentially life-changing pattern of behavior. They are:

  1. Take at least three brisk 20 minute nature walks per week.

  2. Journal a 20 minute story that was a highlight of your day.

  3. Perform five  random acts of kindness for others over the course of the week

  4. Meditate for 10 minutes per day

  5. Write down or say 5 gratitudes at the end of every week - - Apollos Hester



While in DC, I visited Capital Hill where I had conversations with Senator Amy Klobuchar and Senator Tina Smith. It was an honor to meet with each of them. We discussed school safety, education funding and other policy work that impacts Minnesota’s schools.


Devices, Products, Advice & Insight

Conversations with vendors and other edtech leaders left me with many ideas. Among them:

  • Hold a staff viewing party for Ted Dintersmith’s film, Most Likely to Succeed ( and connect with him when he is in Minnesota later this spring.

  • Check out as a tool to measure student participation and work throughout the process rather than simply the end product.

  • Consider extending the life of our desktop replacement to 5 years.

  • District 191 is in year two of their Acer flip 11 deployment. They are hoping that the majority of the 1:1 devices will last 4 years. 9-12 deployment?

  • Move back to cases over ADP next school year for 1:1 devices. Offer one accidental repair for free to families who buy a case.

  • Blended learning experiences have to center around extended learning opportunities and big projects.

  • Schedule 20-30 minute bi-weekly check-ins with all direct reports.

  • Performance doubles every 2 years. In 10 years, a new cell phone will be 32 times more powerful - In 20 years over 1,000 times more powerful.

  • Encourage children to do interesting things that matter to them, rather than simply competing for test scores. Those who follow that path are so much happier!

  • Creativity triples when you show up to work happy.