Trying Something New (Chapter 2)

This chapter is part of a fictional series on the future of learning. Read Ch 1.

“Let’s go. Vamonos. Everybody find a chair.” The teacher is talking fast. She is rushing through commands. She is visibly excited.

I stand motionless. Find a chair.The problem is that I don’t see any chairs, at least not the standard chairs and desks I am used to. I see kids emerging from what looks like a large closet. Some have beanbags. Some have pillows. A few have large circular balls. I have never seen such things.

My eyes follow one girl. She is confident and easy going. She grabs a large foldable blanket and marches straight to the front. She sits a few feet from the board. Attached to the blanket is a Fling.

A young bearded teacher taps my shoulder, “Jamaal right?”


Beside the scruffy teacher is an older girl. She smiles naturally. “Welcome. This is Concha. She is one of our Peer Admins of the Week. Don’t worry, you’ll take a turn or two at being a PAW soon. She will help you get settled.”

“Follow me. We’ll grab a chair.”

A thousand thoughts race through my head. When I am stuck in thought, I don’t like to talk. I trail Concha in a quiet rumination.

Few ‘chairs’ are left in the closet. I reach for one of those ball thingees and Concha shakes her head, “nice choice”. We sit near the closet door, quite a ways from the board. “Grab your Fling and login. Have you ever used one before?

“Of course.” I lie out of embarrassment. The only technology we had at my old school were the P-boxes. I hated those things. We would show up everyday and login. Each P-box was a different color. It would light up and change colors when we passed a ‘module’. This was supposed to motivate us to catch up to grade level. I thought it was stupid and humiliating. One time I got really mad when my box turned red. P-boxes turned red when we ‘didn’t try hard enough’. I was trying. I just hated my new personalized module. It was about buying a new car. My family could never afford a new car. I threw my juice at the P-box.

“Coo. Many of the new students haven’t.”

My Fling is at the end of a short string attached to the ball. I reach for it and gently unfold it. I reveal my screen and headphones. I put the headphones in my ears and the Fling loads a home screen. Welcome Jamaal. Here are the pitches scheduled for today.

Bin — Philosophy and Math

Timony — Science of Wind Surfing

Destiny — Power Welding

Kiarra — Improvisation

Jamie — Smart Fashion

Kevin — Diaspora

The first person unplugs his Fling and walks nervously to the board. He introduces himself. “Hello fellow learners. My name is Bin. I love Math. I also like Philosophy. I’ve read a few books. I’ve read how math is more than numbers and formulas. Math can be about ideas, arguments, and proofs. Math can be about creating shapes and debating the abstract. My basic pitch question is “How can we rethink the way we learn math?” Anyway, click on my FlingCast and follow along with me. ”

I click on Bin’s name and see a profile. On the left side of the profile I see Bin’s favorite things. By looking briefly at Bin’s Flingcast you see what interests him, what inspires him. Even though some of his favorite things are not related to the pitch, I feel like I know him. I can tell he is a passionate guy. I also see some of his notes, scribbles, and further questions under each favorite thing. It is a mixture of handwriting, pictures, and web links. On the right hand side of his profile, I see a stream of names. People are already chatting about his pitch.

Each pitch is supposed to be four minutes, but they all go long. I take turns watching the chats, peeking at presentations, and day-dreaming about things I would want to study. I really want to see Kevin’s pitch. Even though the others are interesting, I feel a special connection to Kevin.

Kevin starts his pitch with one picture. Well, maybe it’s not a picture. All I see is black. The black gets smaller and smaller until it disappears. Now all I see is white. Kevin stands there confident and silent. Finally, he breaks his poised muteness. “Not everything is black and white. Every complicated, complex issue takes on shades of gray.” His board turns gray. “I want to explore the messy, complicated issues of Diasporas. Click on the ‘Diaspora’ link on my FlingCast.” I follow his command. A blur of pictures floods my screen followed by a definition of Diaspora. He walks away leaving a question on the board, ‘How do you unify a diaspora while still valuing regional differences?’

Our Flings shut down. We are instructed to pair up. Concha turns to me and I nod my head. The teacher, the one with the beard, gives us instructions. We are to talk about the plusses and minuses, the potential of each pitch. I am surprised by how everyone seems to be on task. Concha makes me talk about the pitches. I give her one or two word responses. I want to shout out “Pick Kevin’s”. We move into groups of six. People debate the merits of each pitch. People get really excited and start to yell. The students really have opinions.

Finally, we return to our seats and have a public discussion. Just about everyone offers an opinion, a thought, a point of feedback. Concha tells me this is the Democracy Circle. What a lame name. I try to stay skeptical, but I admit to myself this is pretty coo.

“We will vote after recess!” screams a new teacher.

Where am I?

(You can keep the story going. Respond with Chapter 3. Here’s one version)