Freedom Cheteni
Jun 26, 2018 · 11 min read

Moonshots with Freedom Cheteni: 42 the world’s first self-driving classroom and school

What is a moonshot classroom? Can that classroom be fully self-driving? On July 20th, 2018 we will be celebrating the 49th anniversary of the Apollo landing, a space moonshot. The world is also celebrating the founding of Moonshots in Education by global education icon and change maker Esther Wojcicki (Woj). Woj is undoubtedly the most influential educator in this century considering her role in bringing edtech into today’s classrooms and shaping the future of education. A native of Stanford University and distinguished Stanford MediaX scholar, previously awarded to Maestro Andrea Bocelli, Woj was recently honored as the recipient of the international award, the Osseratoriao Permanente Giovani Award in Italy for the “Woj Way”. The acclaimed Global Educator Award winner coined and acted on the idea of moonshots in education, a framework that has truly transformed the education landscape in Silicon Valley and beyond.

Woj Stanford Fellow Elvis Zhang (left), Dr. Esther Wojcicki (Moonshots Founder), Freedom Cheteni (Moonshots Creative Director) and Woj Stanford Fellow Miriam Haart (Right). The Esther Wojcicki Moonshot Fellows are both starting undergraduate studies this fall at Stanford University.

Many consider the Silicon Valley icon’s moonshots as miraculous and agical and she is often asked about how anyone could implement “The Woj Way”. The good news is that the moonshots framework, now recognized everywhere as Moonshots in Education: The Woj Way is spreading in schools globally and teachers and education leaders are rapidly adopting Woj’s trust framework. When one observes Woj’s classes, they can’t help it, but be struck with admiration and only imagine what school could be if every teacher was given the tools and training to empower teachers globally. Which is why she founded the Journalistic Learning Initiative at the University of Oregon and now focusing on creating a network of “Woj Schools” which will use the private public partnership model in her book and the Google moonshot model.

Woj, an education pioneer has spent over 30 years building an outstanding, award winning high school journalism program at Palo Alto High School, the largest in the United States. Her transformative framework which has been used by educators in schools like Palo Alto and Design Tech @Oracle is summarized in her book, “Moonshots in Education: Blended Learning in the Classroom,.” The book has become a staple in the transformative education movement and an important resource for every educator commited to increasing access and equity for all. The moonshots global education movement is devoted to radically improve teaching and learning around the world with a particular emphasis on extreme personalization and mastery learning.

Woj engaging with Moonshot Fellow Fia Jones and Design Tech @Oracle parents in a Moonshot Design Sprint. This is a Moonshot Thinking design lab designed and co-taught by Woj Fellows Omid Mahdavi and Farrukh Malik on Imagine Virtual Reality.

When Woj is not in a moonshot classroom somewhere in the world, she is empowering students, educators, academic institutions and communities all over the world in person, online or virtually to design solutions that advance human potential. Her students are not just teachers and high school students, but also middle school students and her own highly accomplished moonshot thinking children, Dr. Janet Wojcicki, a Fullbright Scholar and UCSF Professor of Pediatrics, Anne Wojcicki, CEO of 23andMe and Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO. This year on teacher appreciation week, Susan Woj tweeted about Woj as her first teacher and mom.

Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO tweets to her mom on #TeacherAppreciationWeek

Moonshots Design Lab @Oracle: In the first moonshot design lab and intersession at dtech, one of the founding students, Nicholas Dal Porto, a moonshot graduate was critical in the design of the Oracle campus before dtechs’ vision was realized. What is remarkable about Dal Porto is that he was given the trust, respect, independence, collaboration and kindness to literally design the Oracle campus and engage authentically with an authentic audience, a critical tenet of the Woj Way called TRICK. Nick Dal Porto spoke and broke the ground of the new Oracle Campus, and Woj describes this moonshot concept as student agency. In addition to sharing his ideas with his peers at Oracle Open World, Nick collaborated with other moonshot fellows witnessed the ribbon cutting ceremony and the school will forever be his legacy as a member of the founding class. Woj attended the official opening of dtech @Oracle to show students and staff that a moonshot school is really a place where we honor ideas. The support Woj has for dtech student ideas and the resources she has provided are immense. It is heartwarming to see moonshot graduates internalize concepts they learned and are creating their own public private partnerships in ther legacy projects. One of the dtech @Oracle founding class legacy moonshots is a VR autonomous school design by Omid and Farrukh.

Design Lab@ Oracle taught by Omid Mahdavi, Farrukh Malik and Woj

Dtech moonshots design lab and Stanford Innovation Lab interns, Nick Dal Porto, Thomas Weese and Amit Harlev also worked with Woj and Stanford Professor John Willinsky in designing what is now the Designership Press, a global peer review journal publication for high school students which follows Woj’s award winning journalism program. Nicholas Dal Porto and Thomas Weese along with the Stanford Peace Innovation Lab attended the moonshot recognition of the Advanced Authentic Research Program at the Media Arts Center which exists today because of Woj and her family. The first high school peer review journals open to students all over the world were launched at the Media Arts Center and continue to empower students and communities to share ideas. Dal Porto and Harlev also are part of the dtech robotics founding team and were both accepted into their top choices, WPI and Harvey Mudd starting in August 2018. We are proud and excited for their next moonshots.

When Woj came to support dtech many times, she always advised that when educators adopt a powerful, new mindset, anything is truly possible. Moonshots is fundamentally about empowering students and communities and grounded on the belief that every child deserves to be taught in a way that enriches their minds, unlocks their true potential, and provides them with lifelong skills to really flourish in today’s world. We experienced this in our Moonshots Design Lab. Jaya Reddy, a moonshot graduate took the Virtual Reality Design Moonshots lab and out of that class founded the design tech virtual reality program. An article in wired, described the Moonshot class as an “incubator-style.” Wired specifically wrote about moonshots and used the Woj framework to describe the moonshots design lab in an article titled: This Silicon Valley High School is the Ultimate Incubator. The article describes moonshot projects including blockchain technology were students designed code for their own cryptocurrency, the educoin as well as programs that increased literacy and moved the mastery learning process forward. With each moonshot, Woj always makes sure there is a celebration. Moonshots is about being Kind.

Miriam Haart and Esther Wojcicki in the Moonshot Lab Celebrating Miriam’s acceptance into Stanford

“Reddy helped create a VR lab from the ground up. “It was a like a ­puzzle, really easy and really fun,” she says. Last year she made an Oculus Rift–­connected contraption that dispenses whiffs of banana and strawberry while the user plays Fruit Ninja. Now Reddy is interested in using VR technology to create outdoor-simulating experiences — hiking, scuba diving — for people with physical disabilities.” Wired

The last two years, Design Tech ( at Oracle had the unusual privilege of having Woj empower teachers and students in implementing the Design Thinking framework in the moonshot design labs. Students built computer hardware and virtual reality applications in these two week intersessions. Woj still thinks there will always be room to improve and is now looking at ways to get more schools to implement project based frameworks and not teach to the test. She believes that with the growing moonshot movement, we will see more colleges and universities make it test optional to apply to college. In her talk: Creating schools that work, five years ago. Woj was hopeful that universities like Stanford, University of Chicago, Colorado College among others would adopt test optional admissions frameworks. She was right.

Esther Wojcicki Ted Talk: Creating schools that work

Graduates of the Moonshots Design Lab are now designing and teaching their own design labs in their schools. For example, some of the resulting freshman design lab classes at Oracle this year are derivatives of the moonshots framework in which juniors teach freshman prototyping classes. Thomas Weese,’s first elected student representative, a moonshot on it’s own is a moonshot graduate himself. Most recently, he was my teaching assistant in the Design as Discovery: Moonshots Thinking course at Stanford University with Woj and 23andMe. Thomas is now teaching a freshman design lab and empowering other students to do the same. Thomas has described this methodology as a peer to peer framework were both students and teachers learn from each other. His moonshot idea is that freshman can learn design thinking and realize their moonshots when exposed to the Woj Framework of Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration and Kindness early on.

42 is an autonomous classroom and that is a moonshot, Woj says. Woj spent an entire day at 42 in France and served as an advisor as this autonomous classroom rolled out here in Silicon Valley. Unlike the semi-supervised moonshots framework where the teacher is not being the sage on the stage, but a guide on the side. At 42, there are no teachers, no professors, no intersessions and no Moonshots labs. However, nothing says these can’t exist by design. Woj wondered about the 6600 Dumbarton Circle, Fremont location as students have to go through the bridge and recommended an area like Mountain View, however, this does not seem to stop the Pisciners from spending at least 70 hours per week designing and compiling human centered code. They are all working on big, audacious goals. No Pisciner talks a small game and that is perhaps what makes 42 special. The radical school in Silicon Valley on Dumbarton Circle has rapidly gained popularity and it is everyone’s goal to be a cadet at the end of the Piscine. In Moonshots, it is an expectation that engagement is a worthy goal in any educational institution and at 42, there is always engagement and you are absolutely in control. Esther Wojcicki believes that students deserve to be in charge of their own learning and 42 is doing that in the “extreme.” Woj believes there needs to be some guidance and her talk on student as CEO of their learning suggests a semi-supervised autonomous classroom might be best (basically the 20% –80% moonshot ratio whenever schools and programs attempt to implement something radical).

Woj at UC Berkeley: The student as CEO of their life and learning.

A moonshot classroom is a fundamental shift to give students more autonomy and agency in the classroom and entrusts them with greater ownership of their learning outcomes. While teachers still play an integral role, their core purpose has evolved from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘master coach’ of each student’s development. Woj always encourages Moonshot teachers to use design and empathize. Some of the moonshot teachers are now in the Piscine. It is definitely a self-driving class. Somehow, it seems to be working. The class is open 24 hours a day and there is nothing like it. However, what is clear is that the school works and that there is Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration and Kindness (TRICK).

Moonshot Design Research Team: Moonshot Thinking what the world’s first self-driving classroom and school, the Piscine might uncover

42 is the worlds first self-driving school and since we have not seen anything like it before, we will use our learnings from autonomous vehicles to make sense of what this might be like. However, in two weeks, some of our moonshot educators will be completing the Piscine and we will be able to have a comprehensive report on this self-driving class. Renowned autonomous agents research professor Wendy Ju , founder of Stanford University’s Journal of Design in her book, the Design of Implicit Interactions avers that in the age of automation and artificial intelligence, “many have suggested that more sophisticated artificial intelligence or elaborate networks of sensors may be the solution to the problem of obnoxious and overbearing machines.” Dr. Ju, less than five years ago was not even sure if we would have as many autonomous vehicles on the road today. This short interview on “Theater of the Car”might help give some context.

While Dr. Ju is clear that the need for engineers could not be greater, it also means that humans must exercise radical collaboration to make it, something that the Piscine models beautifully. At 42, everything is provided including dorms and showers, for free. There are moonshot thinkers like Woj who invested hundreds of millions to this self-driving classroom and school model. The results…radical.

In her research at Stanford and Cornell Tech, Dr. Ju found that it is the norm today that human beings “rely on implicit interaction in their everyday interactions with one another to exchange queries, offers, responses, and feedback without explicit communication.” This powerful finding continues to impact the design of autonomous systems today and in the Silicon Valley design community, we now know this as the Implicit Interaction Framework. The gist of this theory is that “implicit patterns of interaction with one another drive our expectations of how we should interact with devices.”

At 42, this is live and well. In fact, it is all there is. It is Artificial Intelligence and human beings working together in a cohesive manner and everyone must cooperate. At 42, we talk of the AI as if it were a person and the decisions made by AI are not negotiable. What it builds is resilience, excellence and a very strong respect for deadlines. By analyzing everyday implicit interactions for patterns and tactics in this self-driving school, we are now beginning to understand how to design interactions that work or to remedy interactions that fail at 42. We have learned to collaborate and we are creating a new framework in computer science education called Code Design because of 42. Code Design will use the moonshots framework to assist students who are thinking of being in a truly self-driving class. Just like Woj, there are three elements that are of importance in Code Design to beat Ai grading. The three moonshot ideas at 42 are correctness, style and design. All of this is happening and it is the intelligent social agents that are shaping student behavior and creating excellence in the work product.

At 42, you work at your own pace, show up anytime and the only thing you are responsible for are the deadlines. In fact, if you really really really know Woj, the only thing that she will tell you she is in charge of are deadlines? We wonder if 42 is in any indication a vision of the future self-driving school in which the only attributes that encourage students to rely on implicit interactions in their everyday or every-night interactions with one another to exchange queries, offers, responses, and feedback without explicit communication is Ai (names will be revealed in the next issue).

It is fitting that this year on the moonshots 49th anniversary and Woj’s 50th anniversary teaching, we are beginning to see the results of her work including the Mastery Transcript Consortium to abolishing a grading system that does not fully measure student readiness. On June 14th, 2018, the world rejoiced when University of Chicago launched the UChicago Empower Initiative which effectively makes the standardized tests (SATs and ACTs) optional for college admissions. This is no doubt a Moonshot and a reason to honor someone who has dedicated a lifetime towards making education work for everyone. It is also fitting that as this moonshot is happening, 42 is rising up and disrupting engineering education. Is the self-driving unsupervised classroom the next moonshot in education? Perhaps we can learn from self-driving cars since they have a little more experience.

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