SuperSoul Session 2…thank you, Oprah.

Saturday I went to Oprah’s SuperSoul Session #2 in Los Angeles – a day spent listening to various speakers. I left thinking, “That was cool, useful, entertaining…” but I’d expected to be BLOWN AWAY and “breakthrough-inspired.”

I didn’t feel blown away though, at least not by anyone other than Oprah herself. (She is amazing in a way I can’t put into words.)  And IMHO some of the speakers’ content was confusing, boring or just okay.

But now I’ve had the most loving, happy time with my kids and family, beyond my normal (relatively happy) experience. Yesterday, I went to the gym, drank coffee, looked for and found the tax papers, did errands, got tired, made dinner, watched a movie, had my daughter get upset – what happened wasn’t especially different or exciting to any other day!  But I worried a lot less, appreciated a lot more, judged myself a lot less, loved more. And it was an extraordinarily lovely, lovely day. The happy, contented state I’m still in feels different.

SuperSoul Session #2 didn’t feel like a breakthrough then, but it does now.

Here are the key messages that I noted down Saturday.

  1. See the broken child within the person – connection. (Shaka)
  2. Live like everything is figure-out-able (Marie Forleo)
  3. Be truthful with yourself stop lying to yourself. (Cheryl, Oprah)
  4. Change your dreams/definitions of success if they don’t serve you. (Cheryl)
  5. Don’t avoid the pain or negative emotions – own it, it’s telling you something. “Life without pain is a wolf in sheep’s clothes” (Oprah, India)
  6. The emotional wounds you carry cannot be filled by money, success, accomplishments. (India)
  7. Solve a problem for yourself…then share it with others (Kris, Caroline, Oprah, Shaka)
  8. You need to COMMIT to whatever you’re doing. Are you committed? (Oprah)
  9. All problems stem from dis-alignment with the source, being disconnected (Oprah)
  10. Staying connected is a DAILY PRACTICE, a moment by moment practice. It takes effort! (Oprah)
  11. We teach children to look outwards for significance rather than inwards. Parent-child relationships are the main reason children learn they are not enough. We want them to be happy, to succeed, to achieve, to fix them, so we can feel better, so we can be good parents. (Shefali)
  12. Inner stillness is the only way to lasting happiness (Eckhart)
  13. Stop trying to fix yourself and just start showing up (Kerry)

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So personally, to keep this wellbeing alive, I’m committing to:

I need to get a good dose of positivity, inspiration, inner purpose, connectedness. I KNOW how important it is to feed your brain good stuff and limit bad, but I haven’t really FELT how critical this is.  My daily practice will include meditation, writing, and also time spent remembering daily:

  • I am not inadequate. There is nothing wrong with me. I don’t need fixing.
  • I am amazing and loved
  • Everything is figure-out-able.
  • The universe is friendly.
  • Just show up today.

FACE SOME PAIN. I’m going to work through these  – doing Byron Katie’s Questions on these.

  • Look at my definition of success. Create a NEW definition, let go of society’s definition. Let go of my broken record that I have failed to achieve financial/career success and my life should look like someone else’s.
  • Look at my aspirations. Are they working for me? Boil it down to the essence of what I must do (outer purpose), then take action and let go of whether succeeds or fails.
  • Look at my money/finance relationship. It’s time to face the pain and break through, rather than avoiding it.

COMMIT to my next career/purpose step.

  • What is the heart of my education change commitment?
  • Am I committed to my website/parent idea?
  • If not, what am I committed to?
  • Time to stop struggling, being unsure, being wishywashy about this.

Oprah, thank you very much for your SuperSoul work. Attending Session 2 has impacted me in such a good way, and has sparked positive action in my life.

Device time for my kids…and for me

As a parent of elementary and middle schoolers, the device conundrum is hitting home! I think we’re too lax, and writing this out as a way to figure it out. I think the best place to start is on myself.  Monkey See, Monkey, Do, after all.

Thoughts on screen time for grownups.

I was going to say tablets/phones were about 12 years old – but I looked it up on Google and the first iPhone came out in June 2007- EIGHT AND A HALF YEARS AGO. Doesn’t that blow your mind, thinking about the shift that’s happened in this time period?

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I bring my laptop baby home every day, but rarely use it…after a solid work day on the PC I’ve had enough screentime!

I work in technology, and am on a computer myself for most of the day. I decided long ago I’d never have a tv in my bedroom…but like most people I expect, my cellphone lives next to my bed. Most nights I do a bit of browsing to wind down, once I get into bed. I don’t play video games. I know I’ll waste massive amounts of time on Candy Crush-type games, so I don’t have anything like it on my phone or computer.

My husband is on his A LOT. As far as I can tell, tracking financial markets, reading articles on the economy or playing a civilization type game!

But we’re not all bad –

  1. We don’t allow devices on at mealtimes or when we eat out.
  2. We go camping and on day trips often, which are primarily device free.
  3. Over spring break (when we got back from camping) we put all devices away at 10 am including my husbands and mine, and then got them out again late afternoon.

First, I want to first figure out the difference between good screen time and bad screen time.

What is useful, rejuvenating, meaningful screen time for me?

Watching TedTalk videos. Playing Minecraft with my kids! Kindle books on education. Reading something inspiring. Writing something, working, shopping for stuff I need. Doing Chopra meditations. Email, sometimes Facebook. Watching a bunch of Ellen or Graham Norton video clips.

What is bad screen time for me?

I’d say Candy Crush games are the worst. I LOVE playing these games, will keep going and going until my 5 Lives run out and Candy Crush forces me to wait.The problem is I get NOTHING done, and don’t surface afterwards refreshed or happier. I’m feeling good while I play the game, so it feeds some sort of need, but it’s a complete productivity killer.

What we set in place for our kids has to be consistent with what we do.

Thoughts on screen time for my kids….

  1. PRO: There are fantastic ways online for real, natural learning to happen. I’m not talking about learning apps or gamified math games. I’m talking about when you are building a parcours in a MineCraft world, for example, and get stuck figuring out how to set up a particular obstacle, and can search, watch a YouTube video or two, learn something new, and work out how to create what you want. Real learning can happen through a YouTube video, a blog post, etc.
  2. PRO: The skills that kids will need for the ‘65% of jobs that don’t exist yet’ in their future include technology and screentime. They need to be able to find answers, analyze data, learn on demand. Not giving them time to develop these skills naturally is a bad idea.
  3. PRO: 10,000 hours, mastery, specialization. Work is more and more specialized, and why would you cut off your kids from developing digital skills early? My son is 13, already decided he wants to be a computer programmer.
  4. CON: There’s horrible stuff out there, and if your kid is on his/her own online, exploring even YouTube, he/she could be exposed to bad ideas, bad people, bad images, and come to harm.
  5. CON: Soft Skills that are vitally important for future work are endangered – schools aren’t set up to teach them, and the time spent face to face with family, friends, in social situations is decreasing, being replaced by screen time entertainment.

    2016-03-28 14.18.23
    Gotta leave time for climbing trees (and bickering with your siblings, eh)
  6. CON: Handing out screen time as a reward seems to me like allowing a kid to have dessert if they eat their vegetables. Expert advice (I read somewhere ages ago) says this makes the dessert seem more desirable and makes kids more likely to want it/eat it/crave it. It reinforces the idea that dessert is more valuable. Won’t a parent screen time regimen do the same thing?

Our family rules now:

  1. We had a family meeting before school started in September and all agreed:
    1. 6:30-7:30 pm on school nights – if homework is done, chores are done.
    2. Weekends screen time before breakfast OK, screen time 3pm – 5pm…
    3. No YouTube or videos or sites with swearing, or content that’s mean
    4. No chatting/skyping/emailing with strangers, people you’ve never met face to face. Even if it’s Minecraft and you’ve been on a shared server with them for ages.
  2. The reality: yes, screen time starts at 6:30 but ends when we kick them off.
  3. The reality: my 13 year old takes his cellphone into his room and watches YouTube videos in bed.
  4. The reality: somehow my son’s laptop is no longer in the family room, but in his room on his desk again. I had him out in the public area, and I need to get him out there again.
  5. The reality: my son is an introvert, and I want to enable him to develop his collaboration/teamwork and complex communication skills. Right now home time makes it easy for him to avoid these things.

Proposed Changes

I’m going to bring this up at dinner tonight, give reasons why, ask for contributions (every time the kids get to suggest tweaks/changes, etc. and have good reasoning, the improve on my plan and are also much more vested in following it).

THE WHY: I maintain that screen time needs to be limited so:

  • you spend time with real people and engaging with what’s happening in real life
  • you have space to get things done at home, for school, for yourself
  • you can develop your imagination, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skills in other ways. These are critical skills to practice
  • you spend time moving more to stay healthy

The current set up isn’t working as well as I’d like so I’m proposing changes.

QUESTION:  What is good screentime and what is bad screentime, do you think? What is it for you? (I’ll give example of how I see it)


  1. NetNanny on all devices to control daily time limits, so parents don’t have monitor and remember to kick them off and/or deliver consequences.
  2. NetNanny on all devices to protect us all from landing on bad content by mistake!
  3. NetNanny on all devices so we have visibility on how they are spending their time.
  4. Rules/Contract  – to discuss, but I say “do not Skype or chat or email with strangers, people you have never met in person. Do not post/talk badly about anyone online. Do not watch anything that is mean or has swearwords.”
  5. Tablets, Laptops, Phones to be used in Family or Living rooms, not in bedrooms.
  6. Projects. If you have a specific goal, project, creation and have run out of time, come talk to us. (i.e. schoolwork, Skype call with Karla, making a video,  researching R2D2 robot steps, working on or flowlab games, getting to Kahn Academy next level, etc.)

Will let you know how it goes!

Cognitive Computing Age – think beyond school, Part 2

Continuing from Part 1


So let’s assume you don’t have access to a modern learning Charter school, or the money to pay for a modern learning private school: the GOOD NEWS is that this amazing age we’re in that has this skills gap, also has given us pretty much free access to solutions to the problem. [As Pavan from IBM Watson described several months ago, knowledge is no longer scarce and difficult to access; in fact, it’s growing at a massive rate and a commodity…]

I’ve found dozens of amazing people who’ve thought about this very issue way more than me, and can leverage their experience and ideas, and build on them.  So here are my ideas for you as to what to do.


I think you’ll want to assess each child individually – what traits, habits, academic achievements, interests do they have that you want to encourage, and what skills do you want them to start developing? Have they worked out what they’re interested in? [Though this SOUNDS obvious…have you ever sat down and done this? I hadn’t…here’s more ideas on it.]

I have one daughter who’s a people pleaser, and I see my job as helping her know what SHE wants, and develop internal motivation, not just make her teachers happy or me happy.

My other daughter DEFINITELY knows her own mind, and needs more chances to work with others, develop empathy, see other’s points of view.

I figure it’s a balance between focusing on their strengths, and developing at least a foundation in other areas (a la StrengthsFinder).


Once you know what it would be good for your child to learn or experience, just start looking for groups, activities, books, videos, etc.  There’s an insane amount of resources online, hundreds of people providing options.  The Secular Homeschooler is one of my favorite books with ideas and strategies for ‘modern skills’ learning, whether you homeschool or not.   There are fantastic Ted talks on modern education, and a kids channel too that can inspire.  20 mins of kahn academy, a tinker crate project every month, etc.


Project-based learning is fantastic for teaching some of these modern skills, having fun, and learning without it being a slog. This photo is from the makersfaire in San Mateo two years ago – Clara my daughter fell in love with R2D2, and we are now starting to build a full size R2D2 – there’s no kit; but there are a heap of passionate people sharing information and selling some of the parts online, documenting their progress. You could enter your family or friends as a team at the Goleta Lemon Festival and build a lemon launcher! We also do Girl Scouts and the Bronze, Silver, Gold Awards are great for project based learning. [If you don’t know what kind of project to do, check out teacher Kevin Brookhouser’s ‘bad-idea factory’ method of sparking inspiration.]


I suggest you pick afterschool activities based on what you want your kids to learn – my older son is an introvert, I couldn’t get him interested in Boy Scouts, but I found this great teen leadership program at the YMCA called PILOTS where they get the group to choose and organize community projects, and do a lot of fun team building  – he ran for president, got tons of significance from it, and is getting tons of experience actually communicating and collaborating.  You can also create activities yourself – I’ve been helping Caroline a friend of mine set up a Girls Who Code club afterschool at Goleta Valley Jr High – she researched options, pitched it to a principal who was very happy to see it happen, and there’s now 25 girls coding every Monday after school….


And most people are really happy to help a kid pursue their interests – my sister lives in Seattle and has friends that work at Xbox and other computer game software companies. This summer I’m sending my son (he’s 13 now) to stay with her for a week and he’s going to visit Xbox and shadow them, find out what it’s like. If your son wants to be a doctor, a marine biologist, an entrepreneur, a café owner – connect them NOW with grown ups actually doing this, get them excited. Reach out.


Look for signs of these modern skills in your schools, encourage them support them, and talk to teachers about Ken Robinson’s take on creativity, Will Richardson’s take on what we should be teaching, or project based learning. If you’re in a private school, check and see if they’re just doing old school with higher standards and better technology? Or are they adopting project based learning, are they starting to see teachers as facilitators, do they know what self organized learning entities are, flipped classrooms, PBL…for example.  If you’re in a public school, find out how much influence students have on projects they work on, what kind of group work is going on, etc.


Check out some of the modern learning models that are growing nearby.  There are many schools popping up, mainly private and charter, who DO see the need to develop these future skills and take advantage of our knowledge age in school – these are three – a fantastic teacher friend of mine and I are working to visit them soon and evaluate whether we can start a new school here in town or influence an existing school to change.


While schools are starting to change, it won’t happen fast enough for my kids, so I’m taking action to ensure they AND I HOPE, many OTHER STUDENTS, end up ready for the future of work and with the tools they need for success and satisfying lives.

Cognitive Computing Age – think beyond school PART 1


Thanks to Bruce Dixon of Pecha Kucha Santa Barbara for choosing me to be a presenter at the February event, which happend last night! It was a difficult-but-very-useful-and-rewarding exercise to pare down my ‘big idea’ to 20 slides, 6 minutes 40 seconds (Pecha Kucha is 20×20= 20 slides, 20 secs per slide). I got some good feedback afterwards, which was encouraging as well. Here is part 1 of my slides, along with notes.


3 months ago at a work conference, I heard Pavan Arora, Director of Content at IBM WATSON spend an hour describing the cognitive computing era we’re entering, knowledge as a commodity, and the amazing ways technology is going to change the world – helping cancer researchers find DNA markers in days/months, rather than years, for example.  As example upon example stacked up, it became clear to me that there’s going to be an even bigger divide between low skilled, high substitute jobs (think retail), and highly paid, high skilled jobs.


My next thought was what about my kids? I see my job as a parent is to help them develop skills and qualities that will contribute to a happy, productive life. I was already feeling rather dissatisfied about their schooling, and questioning it. How can I help them get the skills that they’ll need in 10 years, 20 years to thrive? So this talk is about what I see as the problem, the future skills needed, and how to provide kids chances to acquire them.


I started doing a lot of research online, in books etc. and found some decent data, forecasting that yes, some high skilled jobs are at risk of computerization, which is rather new – technology has ALWAYS replaced human labor, first manual labor when we all moved off the farm 100 years ago, more recently we’ve seen outsourcing, automation in middle skilled jobs, but high pay, high skilled jobs aren’t a sure bet either now.


While the average salary of a college grad is higher than those who DON’T go to college, does anyone still think a degree all you need for success as a grown up?

Teri put it this way (in her book, The Secular Homeschooler: A Nonreligious Guide for Helping Kids Build Competence, Independence and Ethics Outside of a School Environment), after she graduated with multiple degrees, the ability to do GREAT in school and at university, but no idea how to apply her knowledge in the real world. College is just a starting point now, costs a lot and is losing value as a signal of one’s capabilities.


McKinsey Global Institute says that by 2020, there will be a shortage of 45 million skilled workers worldwide- even though many highly skilled jobs will be computerized, we’re still missing people with skills that organizations need. I think I’d like to have my kids perhaps look at these missing skills, and make sure they have them! Why not be at the high end of value rather than the low end?

CORRECTION: re-reading the article, I realized it actually predicts GREATER SKILLED LABOR SHORTAGE than I show on the slide – 40 Mil highly skilled, 45 Mil medium skilled…


There are heaps of studies/conclusions about the skills needed and this is my take on what it boils down to: data analysis – being able to access, assess and implement knowledge on demand, rather than memorizing facts, is the way we’ll tap into big data and solve problems. Problem solving, coming up with new ideas, being self directed, working with others in collaborative environments.

All of these are pretty key to the future of work.

“The jobs are there, but kids applying for jobs don’t have the kinds of skills they need.” Madeline Levine, author of Teach Your Children Well

National Skills Coalition
True Education Reform: Addressing America’s Growing Skills Gap


Image attribution:  Flickr

So when you think of school, do you think of those skills at all? Data Analysis, being self directed, solving problems? Knowledge used to be locked up in textbooks and teachers heads, and had to be transferred to kids, but now you can find the answer to a question or look up a fact in a minute or two online.

“We’re operating on a 200- year-old paradigm in a world that needs an entirely different skill set.”   Madeline Levine, author of Teach Your Children Well

The education system still is set up to teach facts, and have kids regurgitate them on tests (to show how much you’ve managed to stuff into your brain). Computers are better at this than us, and they’re doing it for us right now!


At his recent talk here in town, Sal Kahn of the Khan Academy pointed out that classes by age/grade, everyone forced to learn at the same pace, grades, teachers telling everyone what to do when – none of this actually helps learning and we don’t need it any more, now that personalized learning is possible. In the past, it wasn’t possible for each student to have their own tutor, work at their own pace, but now you can.


And if that’s too anecdotal and vague for you, there is some decent research saying K-12 isn’t working as well as it used to – surveys of college professors and surveys of employers say fewer students/grades have the skills needed – and guess which skills are on the list? Critical thinking, written communications, work habits, problem solving and research (which touches on data)).


So that’s why I’m not planning to depend on school to develop the skills and learning that my kids need. And I wouldn’t think you’d want to either.  What kids need to learn, as well as how and when they learn, needs an overhaul. And while change is underway and gaining momentum, and schools may very well catch up, it won’t happen in time for my kids.

NEXT POST: the Good News – solutions are there.

Takeaways from Sal Kahn’s talk – Education Reimagined

Teri Moore, author of The Secular Homeschooler– a Nonreligious Guide for Helping Kids Build Competence, Independence and Ethics Outside of a School Environment (and a personal source of insights for me on how to engender real, outside-the-box learning), asked me to tell her about the recent talk I went to – Sal Kahn from the Kahn Academy: Education Reimagined.


Dear Teri,

Sal Kahn’s talk yesterday had some great content. Here are notes for you. The talented and well-spoken Amir Abo-­Shaeer, who is the head of the local Engineering Academy at Dos Pueblos High School, led a Q & A with Sal. He was great; asked very good questions and had some fantastic insights of his own.

They started out going over how Kahn Academy came about, and a lot of what he said you can easily find in his Ted Talk/speeches online, so I won’t go over that. Here are some thoughts/ideas on the rest:

a. Kahn Academy is a marvelous modern way to learn, starting to help schools move toward flipped classrooms, aka go through KA videos on your own, come to class to discuss/apply it work on projects. This idea was mentioned several times. Teachers are sending feedback more and more often that they are using Kahn Academy content with great success.

If I look at what Will Richardson writes in “Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information are Everywhere”, he notes that WHAT we teach, HOW we teach, and WHEN we teach all need to change. I’d say that Kahn Academy is at the forefront of the HOW and WHEN.  It’s focused on helping students where they struggle with existing content, which makes sense as this is how Sal started, tutoring his cousins! Kahn Academy has a little bit of new “WHAT” – growth mindset, how to coach students (for parents), how to learn.

(But I don’t see anything addressing soft skills, ideation, goal setting. I’d like to see them have some courses on what skills are important as technology replaces human labor for a growing number of repetitive manual AND cognitive tasks…And maybe something like which our HS District students start in 9th grade, to think beyond college, to think about what kind of life they want post education, and plan for that.)

b. Going to college seems to be end goal, didn’t hear anything about disruption in higher education and alternatives to college. However, they did discuss credentialing and wanting new signals/credentials other than a associate/bachelors etc, something that more accurately reflects learning and abilities.

c. Kahn Academy has worked with the College Board and is part of the new SAT – they have study courses for it. Sal sees the PSAT, SAT as changing so instead of being a static signal, you’d take a test and then work on areas where you want to improve, take again.

d. Common Core – they did have to change courses and probably updated about 1000 courses to align with common core. Common core standards are good, Sal likes them, as it does represent a deeper understanding.

e. He said he tried to figure out why we do school subjects in one hour, or two hour blocks, and figures it’s due to a) cost/resources required to get people together and b) how often most people need to go to the bathroom. ha ha never thought about it.

f. He pointed out that 100 years ago, it wasn’t possible or economical to have personalized learning – no way you could get each student an individual tutor, right? So children organized by age blocks, education segmented into topics, and moving kids along even if they haven’t mastered subjects (e.g., a C grade = means they have missed 20-30% of content which can get tougher and tougher) made sense as a way to scale and deliver learning as efficiently as possible with the tools at hand (when knowledge was locked up in books and teacher’s heads). But now that knowledge is freely available for anyone with online access, we can focus on actual learning and discard some of the now-outdated ways students learn.

g. I’m very interested in WHAT students need to learn to thrive in the technological context we’re seeing, so what Sal said at the very end in response to a question from an audience member resonated the most for me. A HS student asked him what Kahn Academy looks at for hiring. He said unfortunately we do still look at credentials/degrees, but the first thing he does is click on any links to see what that person has created – software, writings, etc.

So the advice he’d give is: do well in school and enjoy it as much as you can – but if you have to choose between an A- and a B+, with the B+ giving you time to do projects or other learning you love, go for the B+. He said go out and create something – build something or write something but have a portfolio of some sort that shows what you’re about. (He mentioned that an engineer of theirs CREATED jquery…and they hired him without ever looking at his degrees/grades.)

g. He didn’t mention it but I looked through the actual KA jobs list last week – very cool in that they ask for more than cover letter/CV – for example a course content role had a link to an economics article and instructed applicant to spend no more than 2 hrs writing up a course outline based on it.  So essentially a WORK SAMPLE is what they wanted for this knowledge worker job.

h. Amir asked Sal if they are envisioning new learning methods or technology, aka 3-D courses. What do you think Kahn Academy will be like in 20 years? Sal said they are experimenting and trying things out, but didn’t say anything on specifics.

i. In response to an audience member’s question asking how to help, Amir’s answer stuck with me – he said that to do anything innovative in the current system is unbelievably difficult, you have no idea. He said that getting community support (i.e., for the Engineering Academy they have volunteer working professionals who come in to help with soldering circuit boards, and local tech companies like Flir and Raytheon support them) gives them clout and helps him make things happen. So he encouraged people to help in this way.

(The last point is a big reason why public education is so behind, don’t you think? Innovation needs flexibility and by its very nature has to break the rules.





Human Skills for the Machine Age

One aspect of the way one learns and researches in ‘Modern Times’ is that it’s disjointed and non-linear…and sometimes old school?  Today, for example, sitting on the shelf in the GEM office, was the 2014 book “The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a time of Brilliant Technologies,” by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. I was meandering, waiting for the coffee to finish, and spied it. The book’s on EXACTLY what I’ve been learning about and searching for, for the past 2 months. I grabbed it and skipped to the bit about impact on humans.

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In Recommendation for Individuals, Chapter 12:

Our recommendations about how people can remain valuable knowledge workers in the new machine age are straightforward: work to improve the skills of ideation, large-frame pattern recognition, and complex communication instead of just the 3 R’s. And whenever possible, take advantage of self-organizing learning environments which have a track record of developing these skills in people.

The chapter goes on to discuss how schools are still focused on rote learning and the 3 R’s (which I think everyone knows is reading, writing and arithmetic). The future-value skills they suggest are best learned in SELF-ORGANIZING LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS, aka Montessori style, as demonstrated by Sugata Mitra, who demonstrated that children don’t need a teacher lecturing in order to learn – they can teach themselves.

I’m going to take it home and read the rest now!


Do you know your child’s ability gaps, and what are you doing to help?

I’ve been diving into the current and future skills gap and what I need to do as a parent outside of formal schooling to supplement my kids’ learning. There’s no way I’m counting on public education to provide the skills, learning and character traits they’ll need to thrive as the Cognitive Era advances.

What about you?  If you’re a parent of a child under 16, have you thought about this?  Even if you’re sending your children to a great private school (or great public school in a wealthy neighborhood), I wouldn’t assume school will take care of it.

Here are the three simple steps I’m taking to answer the question “what can I do to ensure my kids learn the core skills needed for the Cognitive Era?”

  1. Determine skills you think are needed (see my previous posts on this!) which for me boils down to:
    1. 3 Rs – reading, writing, arithmetic
    2. 4 Cs – critical thinking/problem solving, creativity, collaboration, communication
    3. Specific tech skills – coding, data analysis at a minimum
    4. Specific life skills – independence, honesty, emotional resilience, self confidence, leadership
  2. Do an assessment on each of my kids – strengths and areas for growth, get input from family, friends, teachers…(See below)
  3. Pinpoint the areas where growth is needed and set up opportunities for my child to learn these skills/habits/traits. (See below.)

I have to thank to Teri P. Moore – her book The Secular Homeschooler has a great section on how to do an assessment, with lots of examples and also ideas for activities/programs/practices.

secular homeschooler

Instead of filling up their day with random activities so they’re busy, first you really need to sit down and create a “Whole Child List” – consider each individual child in terms of  what will serve him/her well in life, and in terms of what would hold him/her back. THEN you can look at what learning opportunities you might want to find or create. To quote  Teri and give her credit:

whole child list.jpg

So her suggestion is to first list out your child’s positive points, aka “what will help him/her become an independent, ethical, capable and wise adult.” Look for talents, skills, personality traits, habits, academic strengths, athletics, etc.  Then list out any points about your child which worry you, which you think might hold your child back as an adult- any areas of ‘immaturity’, or areas where growth would be needed for them to thrive later on in life.

Seem so simple! But I wonder how many parents actually sit down together and do this?  I haven’t done it formally before now.

Here’s my first list:

  • Loves Minecraft, anything computers. Good at it, creative and resourceful and focused.
  • Sees himself already as a geek, wants to do computer programming – clear on his direction
  • Loves to be silly
  • Great with young children, high empathy/kindness for others
  • Fully commits when playing volleyball; doesn’t hold back when in the game
  • Loved the YMCA Pilots program (teen leadership) last year – clearly found significance from it, felt he was doing something important. Ran for President (got VP).
  • Wants to be independent
  • Proposals – able to communicate what he wants and present an argument/trade.
  • Has entrepreneurial ideas – sold candy for a profit at school, t-shirt biz idea, cafe idea, etc.
  • Pretty good at school, rarely stuck with concepts.

And my second:

  • Very picky eater
  • meanders when he  verbally tells a story/communicates to a group
  • sedentary – would be on devices all day if we let him
  • wants more friends – has a few good ones but rarely connects in person
  • gets bored when off the computer!
  • when frustrated, tends to walk off/give up/withdraw
  • disorganized – will lose points at school simply because he didn’t turn in homework assignments
  • doesn’t do his best work in school – gets As, B’s, C’s
  • tends to not finish projects/give up if doesn’t go the way he envisioned right off the bat- i.e. Youtube Channel, Minecraft server
  • Lack of persistence/determination
  • wants to blend in (i.e. he doesn’t want a spectacular, clever, creative Halloween costume (which I’m always dead keen to brainstorm/make) – he went for the grey ghoul cloak/mask – appropriate, not too juvenile.)

My initial plan:

  • PILOTS YMCA team leadership – a no-brainer to sign up for 2016.
  • Stop giving him rides to school! Time to bicycle again.
  • Learning to Code Meetup – Tuesday nights (coding not offered at his school!)  This could provide structure, be social, let him meet actual programmers, so he’ll spend some time now doing it.
  • Organize visits to high schools in January, to find out out which has best computer science track – have my son take lead, ask questions, review courses, contribute to decision.
  • Volleyball league – instead of waiting for USYVL to start in April, will take him Monday to Blenders Boy’s league Monday/Wed nights.
  • T-shirt business – I’m organizing meeting with him, his aunt who’s a graphic designer, myself, to explore what would be required to set this up. Hoping he’s interested – if so, then have him put together a basic business proposal.
  • Toastmasters? Debate Club? Some sort of public speaking opportunity where he can learn how to communicate his ideas more clearly.

Looking at these items against the Skills list at the top:  I see they touch on  communication, writing, coding, leadership, collaboration/social, independence, self confidence.

I’m also going to mull over what I could do to develop persistence/determination, in a positive way.

I sat down with my son about a week ago and talked through most of these activities. I HAVEN’T sat down and shown him the two lists though. Maybe I should, in a very carefully worded way? Perhaps I need to assess myself, and share that with him at the same time!

I’ll let you know how it all goes in a few months.

What Should We Teach Our Kids, Now that Knowledge is Obsolete? Part 2

To follow on this initial post, as well as this one and this one, I’m getting somewhere when it comes to understanding the skills that are mission-critical for the Cognitive Era. It is rather like drinking from a firehose, going out and searching online, following a million breadcrumbs in various directions!

A lot of what I’ve found is simply telling me I’ve been oblivious to a massive body of work around “21st Century Skills.” For what it’s worth (and to start taking a stab at honing in on what I want to ensure my kids learn), here are several takes on modern skills needed, from various sources:

NCTE – National Council of Teachers of English writes in its statement on 21st Century Literacies (thanks to Will Richardson‘s brilliant book Why School?  which led me to it):

Active, successful participants in this 21st century global society must be able to

    • Develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology;
    • Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought;
    • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes;
    • Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information;
    • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts;
    • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments. the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, has this framework, based on the 4 C’s and the 3Rs. You should know the three R’s, but here are the 4 Cs:

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving,
  2. Communication,
  3. Collaboration and
  4. Creativity and innovation


And recently  I found this Manifesto 15 – item 10 touches on skills needed:

The future belongs to nerds, geeks, makers, dreamers, and knowmads. While not everybody will or should become an entrepreneur, those who do not develop entrepreneurial skills are at a great disadvantage. Our education systems should focus on the development of entreprenerds: individuals who leverage their specialized knowledge to dream, create, make, explore, learn and promote entrepreneurial, cultural, or social endeavors, taking risks and enjoying the process as much as the final outcome, without fearing the potential failures or mistakes that the journey includes.

Lastly, I found this through an image search that led me to and “The Learning Curve” 2014 global report by Pearson. (Calm down; yes, I said Pearson…)


What Matters is What You Can Do with What You Know. (modern skills)



If you follow any thought leader on the topic of modern learning and education, I suggest Will Richardson.   Here’s an excerpt from his recent article on (you’ll have to set up a free account to read the full article).

Now, as the authors of the study suggest, we need to understand that:

  • The shelf-life of information is unstable – Our “knowledge” of the world changes rapidly and, in some case, radically on a daily basis.
  • The interconnection of information resources is non-linear – The hyperlinked Web environment we live in renders much traditional thinking about research and reading almost useless.
  • Access to information is uncontrollable – The gatekeepers are by and large disappearing.
  • Creation of information is uncontrollable and global – Technologies and apps make writing (in all its diverse forms) and publishing to global audiences powerful and easy.
  • The source of true differentiation between people now lies in figuring things out as opposed to finding things out – As author Tony Wagner says, “It no longer matters what you know. What matters is what you can do with what you know.”

Very few of these new realities are currently a part of our context for education and schooling. We still have a library mentality when it comes to knowledge, that it has a spot in a traditional taxonomy, that we can read it and learn it page by page, chapter by chapter, that we have to go to some place to find it, and that “knowing” is more important than doing something with it. (Look at our assessment regimes regarding that last part.) Our contexts for our decision making do not acknowledge that with a connection to the Internet, we can now learn anytime we want, anywhere that we are, with whomever we can connect to from around the world at that moment. We now curate and write our own texts. We form our own classrooms. We direct our own curriculums. We assess our own learning. And we no longer simply consume; we create and share with the world.

The ‘shelf-life’ of information – I love that! I recently heard someone from IBM Watson say that if you start at at university in a Science half of what you learned will be obsolete by the end of four years. I’m sure there are many other references/studies/stats here (with varying shelf lives left), but the idea is the same – in the ‘old days’ you got your degree in engineering/english/teaching/medicine etc and then executed for the rest of your career – with on the job learning and professional assoc./conferences perhaps providing access to new knowledge, depending on the domain.

How long today would you expect to apply the knowledge you’ve gained from a college degree?  It’ll serve as a foundation, but with the explosion of sources, creators, access as Will describes…not long. A shift, I’d say.

Education to Employment – the skills gap vs high youth unemployment

Pavan Arora, Director of Content at IBM Watson,  kindly pointed me to this McKinsey Report – Education to Employment. It’s a global study, looking at the following:

Around the world, governments and businesses face a conundrum: high levels of youth unemployment and a shortage of job seekers with critical skills. How can a country successfully move its young people from education to employment? What are the problems? Which interventions work? How can these be scaled up? These are the crucial questions.

Here are three excerpts that I find relevant:

The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that by 2020 there will be a global shortfall of 85 million high- and middle-skilled workers

There is no comprehensive data on the skills required for employment or on the performance of specific education providers in delivering those skills.

This analysis is central to the way we came to understand the issue, and it represents a new way of thinking about how to address the twin crises of joblessness and the skills shortage.

I have kids in elementary and middle school right now – as a parent I’m researching everything about the current and future skills gap. I want to ensure my kids a) know their interests and strengths, b) don’t blindly pursue a degree and discover later on it doesn’t have any value in the real world and c) develop key skills that the future will need, so they can thrive as adults .

I think anyone who’s looked at the number of college-degree holders with crazy debt and poor prospects, the rate of change in the kinds of jobs available [or the growing test opt-out, homeschooling and charter school movements]  knows a disruption in education is needed and happening already. But – schooling and education isn’t going to change fast enough to help my kids; let’s be real – Common Core took a decade to take hold, and seems to be creating more problems than it solves. Thus my interest. Right now I’m just trying to work out what the high level skills ARE…

SO, back to the McKinsey Report: here are some of the skills needed that are important to employers:  teamwork, problem solving, creativity, written communications, leadership.

mckinsey education to employment skills chart

The chart above also shows the difference between employers and providers (educators) POV as to what skills are important and also how competent new hires are.

Anyone have other sources with their own take on what skills are needed and not addressed by K-12 schooling? Please send me a link! (I hope some teachers will answer.)

I don’t expect there IS one definitive, set-in-stone list of skills, do you? But I figure I’ll go through a bunch of ideas and see if I can come up with something. You can’t start enhancing your kid’s learning if you don’t know where it needs to go.

Pavan’s Tedx Talk touches on “Collaboration, Creativity, and Problem Solving”  as skills that are very much needed.

I also pulled out my copy of “The Education of Millionaires – everything you won’t learn in college to be successful“, by Michael Ellsberg. Michael is a BIG critic of university degrees, and their lack of relevance. He lists out seven skills which include – finding meaning in work, having mentors/teachers/network, marketing yourself, cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset (not an employee mindset). His book applies more to Bachelor of Arts than science degrees, BTW…I’d better dig back into that book and post a separate column, I’d say.

I’m collecting all my possible source materials using Pocket ( and now curating some of it on Pinterest (yes!) so it’s available to anyone who wants to browse it.