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Author, innovator shares vision

Teri Vance
tvance@nevadaappeal.com
Teri Vance/Nevada Appeal Author and innovator Milton Chen speaks at the Carson Nugget on Monday. He challenged city leaders and educators to change the way the view the role of education.
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While preparing for his presentation at the Carson Nugget, author and education innovator Milton Chen realized the podium there was not equipped with the technology to be able to see his slides at the same time he was showing them to the audience.

He voiced his concern to Carson High School sophomore Stefan Murray.

“Stefan downloaded an app on his iPhone, which allowed me do that,” Chen told the audience. “If you want to get something done, ask a high school student.”

That exchange, he said, is at the heart of his message in “Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools,” where students no longer learn from just the teacher but from one another as well as others in the community.

He shared his vision for the future with a select group of Carson City’s leaders and educators Monday in a presentation sponsored by the Mae Adams Trust and the Carson City Library Foundation.

A leader in education innovation, former executive director of the George Lucas Educational Foundation and former director of research at Sesame Workshop, Chen said America needs to reprioritize.

He repeated his mantra from the book: “‘Imagine an Education Nation,’ a learning society where the education of children and adults is the highest national priority, on par with a strong economy, high employment and national security.”

He pointed to the proposed Knowledge and Discovery Center in downtown Carson City as a good example of embracing lifelong learning, what he calls “K to gray.”

“Some of the best, most innovative things happen in smaller places,” Chen said. “I give you credit. It takes all of you working together to envision what the future of education can be.”

He outlined the six tenets of the education revolution proposed in his book, which he calls a “curation” of the ideas presented at Edutopia.org.

Chen said the most important element is a change in thinking.

“The hardest part of innovation,” he said, “is getting started. Thinking bravely. We have kids here who need to see a bigger world.”

He encouraged project-based learning, where students can see the relevance of what they’re learning to their lives outside of school.

“I’m encouraged that kids, if they’re given something they’re engaged with, they take it quite seriously and will carry it forward,” he said.

Using the Internet and other mobile devices, Chen said, can enable students to learn with more ease while making their work more visible as well.

He cited an example where he recently accompanied a group of students in Rosewood, Calif., while chatting on Skype with students in Pakistan.

“Immediately, they were able to share across a deep cultural and geographical chasm,” he said. “You couldn’t learn that from a textbook. It’s amazing what technology can do.”

By using those mobile devices, students can continue learning after the school day and year has ended, he said, and the traditional model of one teacher with 30 students evolves into an environment where students are constantly learning.

To make that transformation, Chen said, it is key to involve the students themselves.

“A lot of students are sitting in schools being bored,” he said. “That means schools aren’t doing their jobs.”

He said he is encouraged by smaller communities like Carson City, where it is possible to cut through the bureaucracy and work together.

“I’m so pleased to be part of your conversation.”

For more information about Milton Chen, go to Edutopia.org.