The key to education reform? Make Geeks cool.

A recent article written by Daniel Roth and published in Wiredmagazine presents an interesting strategy for education reform, embrace a “digital culture” and make earning A’s really cool.  Alex Grudd, former teacher, explains, “The driving force in the life of a child, starting much earlier than it used to be, is to be cool, to fit in…  The best schools are able to make learning cool, so the cool kids are the ones who get As. That’s an art.”

Two “case studies” are highlighted in the article; the first being the reputable High Tech High and the second is Roxbury Prep.  From these model schools, several key strategies are shared:

  • Integrate a curriculum that challenges students to create.  Creation forces students to “…embrace their inner geek by pushing them to create.”  And, make their creations visible to the entire school (posting them on walls, desks, ceilings) and have students present their work to real adults from within the community.
  • Group work builds shared enthusiasm.  “Get two kids excited about something and it’s harder for a third to poke fun at them.” 
  • Surround students by adults.  Tom Vander Ark, former head of education investments for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a onetime school superintendent, states “A big chunk of the school experience is having them hang out with the adults they could imagine becoming.  A big high school has a youth-owned culture.  You’ve got to break that.”

The results speak loudly.  Both schools’ student performance data is impressive.  As Larry Rosenstock, founding principal of High Tech High, explains, “Geeks get things done. They’re possessed. They can’t help themselves.”