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.

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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…)


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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.

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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.

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“1.0 Schools cannot teach 3.0 Kids”

Found a Tedx by John Moravec, all about the future of work, learning. Worth a watch!  The best quote:

1.0 Schools cannot teach 3.0 Kids.

Love what he’s doing to help schools adjust to the digital age, and Cognitive Era…

Here are some notes on his talk:

1.0 Old World: we took data, turned into information, hierarchical structures, specific roles: your job was your work, and what you had to do was pretty clear.  Education system was set up to prepare people for these pre-designed jobs,  There was value, but we can do better.

2.0 World: knowledge society – taking information and transforming it into “personal knowledge” which has two forms:

  • explicit = reading book
  • tacit = learning by doing, experiencing

Idea of a career has changed: we have many jobs, float among many careers. Innovation is valuable. Knowledge is no longer constrained or organized by organizational structures.

3.0 World: Change happening so fast (hard to say ‘A caused B which caused C’ and then execute solution.) Knowledge centered, innovation centered workers = Knowmads. Individuals are no longer going to be tied to one company, or working one job. They collaborate, share, learn, unlearn, adapt, thrive in non hierarchial environments and not afraid of failure.

Idea of a career is depreciated concept! We all will be evolving our work as individuals. Jobs and “work” are different – Job is a gig,

Schools need to change. “1.0 Schools cannot teach 3.0 kids.”  Move to a social process, contextually reinvented, technology. Not hierarchical.  Teaching now is not just teacher to student, but student to teacher, we can all co-teach each other. Learning experiences can happen ANYWHERE.

Speaking of learning anywhere – my daughter did a science project and researched chocolate! On top of research she did online, we visited Chocolate Maya, a wonderful chocolate shop, and met Maya the owner and chocolatier. Maya showed my daughter videos, gave her a dried cocoa pod and beans!

Maya showing what cacao pods look like, how they are dried, etc.

Maya showing what cacao pods look like, how they are dried, etc.

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Here are the costumes my girls had for Halloween this year! A big bag of Jelly Bellies, and a Toy Chica – from the online game Five Nights at Freddy’s 2…(This one seemed much easier to make than others like Foxy! Went with good old paper mache on a giant balloon…)

The girls were so happy. Jelly Bellies got tons of admiring stares and compliments. While Toy Chica didn’t get so many, it was pretty impressive even to those who had no idea what it was, and …those ‘in the know’, meaning kids who play 5 Nights at Freddy’s, loved it! One college student even asked to take a selfie with Toy Chica!

Toy Chica (from Five Nights at Freddy's computer game)

Toy Chica (from Five Nights at Freddy’s computer game)

We had a good, interactive time on the costumes – it made Halloween somehow more satisfying than buying them. I know a lot of parents can’t stand this kind of project, but I love them! That’s probably why I love the Makerspace idea, took the family up to the big Maker Faire in San Mateo a couple of years ago….It doesn’t feel like work, and I’d rather do craft/jerry rigging costumes than clean the living room or make dinner…

If I ever get around to making a costume for myself, I want to make a massive Totoro costume that glows, with the big toothy grin.

something like this one

Or just a simple cupcake car; love those

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What should we teach our kids now that Knowledge is Obsolete? Part 1 – the Questions

OK, I was inspired by Pavan Arora, Director of Content at IBM Watson a few weeks ago when he spoke at the Information Development World Conference in San Jose.  He went way beyond the (rather creepy) IBM Watson video he showed, and put some reason and life into their concept of the new Cognitive Era that’s emerging.

  1. He said that the amount of knowledge in the world is doubling every two years. And this will accelerate as cognitive computing allows us to tap into all the unstructured data/information out there that was previously inaccessible. (I’m going to ignore what ‘knowledge’ actually means, and take this at face value for now.)
  2. There is more knowledge being created/uncovered in the world than any human being can absorb or understand or keep up with.  For example, even if doctors spend all their time reading the latest clinical research, they still couldn’t get through it all, let alone meet with patients and apply it. I expect this has been true for quite a while, but with the acceleration of information creation, it’s getting way beyond coping stages.
  3. Example 1: doctors can’t know all possible diseases, symptoms, etc. But they can query IBM Watson which can provide the most likely diagnoses to a certain set of symptoms, and provide the doctor with the information he needs to start with, so he can help the patient. 
  4. Example 2: have a look at this video showing how engineers can be walked through how to assemble technical gear. Amazing, wonderful…but hey, the engineer doesn’t need quite the skills or knowledge he had before. Turns this job into a picker in a warehouse job, really – need accuracy, speed, focus, but not an engineering or technical degree?
  5. Computers will surely take over many existing jobs – including knowledge worker jobs –  and we probably will see an even bigger income divide. Not due to exploitation or discrimination (like the mainstream narrative likes to insist), but due to the specialized skills needed, which will be in short supply, so those who have developed them will be paid more.

So what do kids need to know and learn to be successful and what skills will they need as the Cognitive Era comes about?

  • Memorizing facts and mastering a subject is not where it’s at, clearly.
  • What are the skills I need to be sure my kids learn outside of school? It’s a bit ridiculous to count on public K-12 schooling to take care of it – new approaches to learning would take decades to make their way around.
  • What resources and extra-curricular activities exist online or physically, that are worth exploring?

I’m working on Part 2: skills they need and Part 3: What do do as a parent.  With kids in 5th grade and 8th grade, I really want to do whatever I can outside of school for their learning.

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