What is the right context for beginning this process?
Mark Sonnemann

Right now, we exist in an unhealthy learning culture. Learning in an unhealthy learning culture is hard. So is trying to enable other people to learn. We can do it, but it takes a lot of energy and effort.

The reason why islands of healthy practice/culture usually don’t survive when we try to scale them is because it takes careful design and constant maintenance to keep an island going while it’s immersed in an unhealthy learning culture. If we try to replicate an island or expand it without fully understanding its design and the maintenance required, it’ll break apart.

Obviously, in the long run, we need to create a healthy learning culture in place of the unhealthy one we have now. Some people believe the existing culture will inevitably be disrupted by technology and the democratization of education—and that there’s nothing we can do until that happens.

I don’t really know of anyone who is actively trying to create cultures of powerful ideas in schools or classrooms. I ran some experiments in my own classroom with students and in my role as curriculum specialist with teachers. If it’s something you’re thinking of trying, I’d suggest starting at a scale where you can act as lead learner. Just creating a small community of active or sense-making learners will be very impactful. Once people become independent learners, they’ll be able to continue developing powerful ideas on their own without the support of the island. And someone will be ready to step up as lead learner once they become a strategic learner.

The subtitle of Mindstorms is Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas. Both Mitch Resnick and Alan Kay pointed out that everyone is ignoring the role of powerful ideas in that equation. The only person I’ve heard focusing on powerful ideas is Alan Kay—and he is more focused on ultimately creating a global culture of powerful ideas by adding more materials to the landscape than in creating islands of culture as lead learner. I’m planning to reach out to Alan Kay at some point, but I’m not sure who else is out there.

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