Monthly Archives: March 2019

Who Gets a Larger Slice of the Pie

I am sharing a guest blog today by my friend and colleague, Bruce Knox, Secondary School Director at International College, in Beirut Lebanon.  Bruce gets the whole “Learning by Doing” thing and is an educator who leads by doing as well.  He has been an inspiration to me and impacted my thinking on education and instructional practice in profound ways.  This recent post on his blog, “What Did I Learn Today” (, is a great, practical follow up to my last post.  Enjoy, and add Bruce’s blog to your regular reading routine, he will definitely stimulate your thinking.


Who gets the larger slice of the pie?

We have been speaking about “engagement” for some time at the school I lead. I have, many times, urged all teachers to consider this critical aspect of teaching and learning and have observed many excellent examples of students fully engaged in their learning. At the same time, I have observed classes where students have not been engaged in the learning the teacher is attempting to lead the students through.

One question I am often asked is, “how can you tell?”.

The answer is never a straightforward one. What may be very engaging for one student may not be so for another. While this may be the case, there are times when it is very clear that students are not engaged. One very simple question I always ask myself when I am visiting a classroom is, “who is DOING?” Is the teacher doing or are the students doing? What is the ratio of teacher-doing to student-doing? If I was to represent the different “doings” in a pie chart, what would it look like? Who would have the biggest slice of the pie?

And upon examining “who” is doing, WHAT are they doing? If we all agree that learning by doing is one of the best ways of learning, then these are very important questions to ask!

It is also extremely important to know that “listening” is not doing! Listening is what comes before doing. Listening happens during doing. Listening, by itself, is not doing!

Talking IS doing!

When we talk about something, we immediately engage our thinking. We choose what to say, how to say it, when to say it, who to say it and so on. It has been said many times before – we learn when we speak. I have also repeated many times, “we cannot write about something if we cannot speak about it” – in that order! Speak first. Write second!

Considering a pie chart of who is talking is extremely informative! If the largest slice of the who-is-talking pie is the teacher, then it is fair to assume the teacher is doing most of the learning! Obviously, we want students to learn more than the teacher, so it should follow that the students are talking about the skills, concepts and understandings MORE THAN the teacher!

A most critical element to take note of is that the “doing” and the “talking” must be about the learning –  focused on the desired outcomes of the lesson, directly linked to the objectives or standards, considering or manipulating the skills, concepts and understandings of that lesson. The pie charts we produce should ONLY be built around the doing and the talking related to the learning!

So, consider your own teaching. Choose a lesson you taught today, or last week. If you created two pie charts to represent “who is doing?” and “who is talking?”, what would they look like? Would the slices be one big and one small? Would they be fairly equal – half a pie each? Who is doing most of the talking?

The students, not only because they are hungry teenagers, but also because they are the learners, should have the larger slice of the pie. Are you serving it to them?

Bruce Knox


Learning by Doing in the Age of Robots

“According to UNESCO, the number of people gaining formal educational qualifications in the next 30 years will exceed the gross total since the beginning of history. As a result the market value of degrees is tumbling. Something more is needed to edge ahead of the crowd” (Robinson, 2001-2011).

For years now, the U.S. education system has doubled down on the idea that the “Something more” students needed was more standardized content, more standardized curriculum, more standardized instruction, and more standardized assessment and accountability.  But this is not the “Something more” students need in order to succeed in a future where an increasingly global economy is shaped by an increasingly educated workforce and increasing automation, including artificial intelligence.  In a very short time, we have moved from worrying about automation such as assembly line robots to the realization that technology’s potential to replace human jobs is not limited to routine labor, but now extends to conceptual arenas once considered immune from automation. Simply educating more people is not enough, we have to rethink the whole idea of what that education looks like, and what goals we are striving to attain.

It is projected that by 2025, the earth’s population will total eight billion people, each with human ambitions, intelligence, and the need to both contribute to the collective good and to provide for their own needs. The global labor supply continues to rise while the net number of high-paying, high-productivity jobs may be on the decline. Our planet will be more connected and more competitive than the one we know today.  Massive stresses on a global scale, from climate change, to social and economic inequality, to resource scarcity will provide both challenges and opportunities.  Simply having a college degree or mastering a predetermined body of knowledge & set of skills will not prepare our students to turn these challenges into opportunities.  This is not the “Something more” our students need.

To turn these challenges into opportunities, our students need to be both equipped with a base of knowledge & skills, and be able to creatively apply these in the context of new, and complex situations.  We must provide students more chances to learn by doing, to develop a creative mindset, nurture mental elasticity and perseverance, and to invent or produce things that society values or that have intrinsic value in making the world a better place.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun’s book, Robot Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, advocates for the need to train the next generation of creators, rather than laborers, by enhancing skills that are innately, and uniquely, human.   When schools provide students the ability to collaborate and apply academics as much as possible in the context of real work environments, internships, and project-based learning applied to real issues, these students begin to experience the “Something more” they will need to succeed and thrive.

Humans come equipped with curiosity, and, as Sir Ken Robinson notes, schools often educate it out of them. In progressive schools today, we see success in the reawakening of that passion and thirst for learning.  Success is observable in our students as we see them eager to come to school so they can join with their peers and teachers in the pursuit of learning and creating.  Success is seeing these students demonstrate continual growth in their ability to think critically and creatively and collaborate effectively as they tackle real issues.  It is each student becoming more and more mature and able to understand the world around them and communicate clearly as a contributing member of society.  We won’t get there with a business as usual attitude.  It’s time to re-imagine schools, and create places where our kids learn by doing.  This is the “Something more” our students need and deserve from their schools.  This is the “Something more” that will prepare our students for the future.


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