Returning to Puerto Rico

Echar Pa’lante Conference

Day 1. I always think I must be the only person awake until I get to the airport! Boarding in 15 or so. I am SO excited!! I have put together a team made of (as ADM Thad Allen would put it) “dawgs who can hunt.” Christine Boyer is an amazing colleague and friend who volunteered to come along, even before I asked her and confessed that I needed a voice for K-8. Rob Bolt teaches (facilitates?) at DTech High School (CA) which has an 8-week classroom/ 2-week Design Project intersession rhythm to their year. I am SO jealous. He and his champion DT (design thinking) student Jose Obregon created the opportunity for an awesome exchange of ideas, challenges, students and faculty…a January visit to FMC in Bayamon was met with wild enthusiasm and return in March equally so. A partnership and a foundation was born—El Pueblo Unido Foundation…to create future student-student/teacher-teacher partnerships. They HAD to be on my team.

Echar Pa’lante is a leadership/innovation/entrepreneurship mindset training group of business, gov’t and now education leaders. It is organized and funded by Banco Popular, the main financial organization in PR. Gloria Viscasillas, the project Director, is a force of nature. She is warm and enthusiastic, even by PR standards, as well as practicing the best of an optimistic, yes we can attitude. Over the past few years, they have begun training gov’t officials and business leaders, and they have put together a coalition of those in the private sector ready to help support schools as they shift to using design thinking to solve 15 “Grand Challenges” facing PR. The 15 challenges form the basis of a challenge-based curriculum (they are calling it PBL, “project-based-learning”). This approach connects at least logically with the Department of Education’s goals. The DE had begin this shift, offering some teacher training and threatening to evaluate teachers based on this beginning this year. The two parallel tracks have not merged until now, at this conference. We are here to help, and to teach the leaders to trust the design process and mindsets. Let it grow. Include teachers and students in the creation of schooling. Enable them to teach each other. Let them and the real needs of those around them shape both the challenges and the assessments.

Some background: Design Thinking is a little different from PBL. Both are important philosophically because they are student-driven and discovery-oriented rather than the “student as bucket to be filled and poured out on tests” method which kills internal motivation, creativity and deep learning. Design thinking includes many of the same mindsets and behavioral predispositions that PBL does, and then some. They would like us here to “take PBL to the next level.”

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