Innovation School Reform Schooling

What if School Were Like an IPhone?

IPhone, Courtesy of IStockPhoto

I am a fairly new user of the iPhone.  Previously, I used a Blackberry as my device, but switched once I processed all the positive feedback I was hearing from colleagues and friends.  I now have a plethora of diverse and interesting apps that make my life a little more interesting and organized.  Can’t really believe I am saying this because while I consider myself to be technologically savvy, I also see myself as a throw back to a time when there were no gadgets to occupy my time or distract me.

I have come to rely on my iPhone for a variety of reasons.  First, I like to exercise, swim and run.  With the RunKeeper app, I can set running goals for the week or month, keep track of all the details of a run and pick from my playlists to select the music I listen to as I run.  If I go to the gym, I can coordinate a variety of workouts using the RunKeeper app.  Pandora is a wonderful app to build a library of radio stations that play my favorite music.  The Kindle or Nook apps are excellent tools for downloading and reading books or articles, annotating the book and searching through my notes.  Evernote, a fabulous tool that allows me to take written or audio notes, organize web resources by topic, synchronize with my MacBook and iPad, and much, much more, is an indispensable tool that helps me organize my inbox.

So what if school were like an iPhone?  Maybe I am playing with fire here or being somewhat radical about school reform.  However, those of you who are questioning where traditional schooling is taking us know exactly what I am feeling. Lots of data suggest that schools, while meeting the needs of some students, do not meet the needs of every student or fully prepare them with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st Century.  So what if we were to “disruptively innovate” our approach to school reform.  Think way outside the box and then reign in our thinking as we develop ideas for how to shift the mindset of what school is about for students and teachers.  Feel free to contribute to the question, so what if school were like an iPhone?

Apps, Courtesy of IStockPhoto

Here is some of my thinking on this question.

  • Among the 500,000 apps I could choose a menu of apps (courses or areas of study) that met my specific needs.  I could customize my learning from a wide variety of options not just the six courses from the six standard disciplines.
  • The menu of apps could be assembled to help me devise a learning plan–apps for creativity, critical thinking, collaboration with peers, organizing my learning, extending my learning in certain areas, etc.
  • Apps or areas of study could be things i work on at my own pace, not in 50 minute blocks. I could move between apps or ares of study at the point of a figure.
  • I could integrate my learning by using apps that allow me to develop ideas, move ideas around, share ideas, (somewhat like what Curio does as a tool)
  • Multitasking with my apps.  I don’t have to stay in one course, learning one way of thinking for a specific period of time.
  • School would always be on and at my disposal, it would not be 8 am to 3 pm experience.  I could access my school whenever and wherever I was (so long as I was not driving).
  • It would be colorful, multidimensional, and diverse–meeting my every need.
  • It would be a repository of all the information I needed to answer all kinds of questions.  I could communicate at will with teachers who were experts, facilitating my learning from close up or far away.
  • It would allow me to communicate with people from across the globe in real-time.
  • It would be a place to coordinate all my activities.  School would be the crossroads where all my activities were intersect.

You can probably contribute other good ideas to my metaphor, if school were like an iPhone.   My point in sharing this question and the exercise is to think outside the box of what schooling could be like for students.  How do we take the best of what traditional schooling has to offer, mostly it is about caring, passionate, knowledgeable and interesting teachers in relationship with students doing meaningful work, and marry it with innovative ideas that can transform how we teach and how students learn.

Here are some innovative ways to do school:

Tinkering School

High Tech High and the implementation of project-based learning

EdVisions Schools in Minnesota, Minnesota New Country School

Schools that invest in professional learning communities so that teachers can collaborate as they focus on student achievement.

Watch what The Westminster Schools Junior High School is doing to innovate its practice

There are certainly other examples of schools that are trying to break the mold, providing students with alternative ways to think and learn so they become self-reliant learners.  Share your ideas about my metaphor and examples of innovative schools or programs.

4 comments on “What if School Were Like an IPhone?

  1. Bob,

    This reminds me of that presentation that you and I did in February 2010. We compared 20th C Ed to a Walkman and 21st C Ed to an iPhone. Using the metaphor, school could become the versatile, flexible “hardware housing and iOS.” The apps could be the infinite varieties of “school” that a learner could download and organize with coaches and guides to help. Personalized, hybrid, blended learning will make this possible. It is possible. But, to borrow Biblical wisdom, we admin types will need to help ensure that we are not putting new wine into old wine skins. To do so may risk bursting as the new wine stretches the old structure to breaking. Our structures need to be innovating and adapting to allow for – nay, to facilitate – the apps becoming a systemic approach to learning.

    Thanks for the mental stretch this morning. I am interested in continuing this good thinking.


    • Bo:

      I have been reading the Innovators’ DNA, an interesting and enlightening piece on how to become and remain innovative. Trying to think about applying what the authors write about to schools. Also, they raise the point that thinking in terms of metaphors helps the brain to stretch and think of new possibilities. As I was reading, the idea of the iPhone came to me–it was good to have you refer back to the presentation we made. I guess we were on to something then. I liked what we tried to communicate then and think it is even more relevant for today. Thanks for sharing and let’s continue this conversation.

      By the way, I like the You Tube video a great deal. It outlines and presents the JHS work very well. Are you getting good feedback on it?



  2. I think Cooper created a very strong video. I love that it showcases Synergy so strongly, and I love thinking that seeing Synergy in this light, as well as in some other places, may mean that we are intentionally moving toward more Synergy-like designed courses. As the solo video on the landing page, I hope it tells a good portion of the whole JH story. I have not received any feedback on it, except for you and Jill. All of the speakers are Synergy folks – even Ted is a steady participant and sub for us; I am proud of their voices.


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