Milton Chen
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Milton Chen

Executive Director, The George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF); Senior Advisor, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy; Chair, Panasonic Foundation; Chair, Education Committee, National Park System Advisory Board; Trustee, Sesame Workshop

With his unique perspective on educational innovation, from director of research at Sesame Workshop in NYC to executive director at the George Lucas Educational Foundation in CA (edutopia.org), Milton Chen inspires audiences with films and stories of how children can learn more, earlier, than we thought.

Six Leading Edges of Innovation in Our Schools

Dr. Milton Chen, senior fellow and executive director, emeritus at The George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF), will discuss how school systems are reinventing themselves, focusing on their growing edges of innovation in districts, states, and nations. These Edges are redefining the nature of “school” as it was known in the 20th Century and include:

  1. the Thinking Edge
  2. the Curriculum Edge
  3. the Technology Edge
  4. the Time/Place Edge
  5. the Co-Teaching Edge
  6. the Youth Edge.

The Six Edges form the framework of his book, Education Nation, selected as one of the 10 best books of 2010 by the American School Board Journal.

The Edges address fundamental shifts to our thinking about schooling; ways in which technology is transforming when, where, and how students learn; and roles of teachers and students with teachers forming teaching teams with other experts and students taking on more responsibility for their own learning. Dr. Chen will show examples of these innovative practices from Edutopia.org, the Lucas Foundation’s multimedia Web site and its archive of documentaries, available for free download and embedding.

Educating the Whole Child: The Role of the Arts, Nature & Place-Based Learning

To educate all learners to higher levels, education must shift away from a narrow conception of curricula focused on language arts and mathematics. Experiences with the arts and in nature enable schools and other learning centers to expand engagement and success for students, building on their strengths and "multiple intelligences." Instead of an "achievement gap," we should address the "experience gap" and provide students with authentic, place-based learning in, for instance, school gardens and National Parks. These experiences enable them to learn not only about STEM, histories, and cultures in powerful ways, but also about themselves, their abilities, and their aspirations.

Weapons of Mass Instruction: Providing Every Child with Digital Tools for Modern Learning

Powerful digital devices are now affordable "weapons of mass instruction" for all learners. Providing them to every student, as well as teachers who know how to harness their power for learning, has become the civil rights–indeed, the human rights–issue of our time, since education is the key to violence reduction, health care, employment, and community-building. The next generation of digital tools will include wearable devices that enable students to track and improve their own behaviors. Dr. Milton Chen will present examples of projects that enable students to learn more, faster than in previous generations, enabled by hardware, software, rich Internet resources, and networks of mentors. He will show examples of these innovative practices from Edutopia.org, the Lucas Foundation’s multimedia Web site and its archive of documentaries, available for free download and embedding.

The Power of Inquiry and STEM Project-Based Learning

Dr. Milton Chen, senior fellow and executive director emeritus at The George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF), will present the rationale and examples for inquiry and project-based learning (PBL) in STEM. At a time when the U. S. is emphasizing STEM for college- and career-readiness, PBL now needs to become the curricular centerpiece for a national movement. GLEF's Edutopia.org website has documented many exemplary STEM projects during the past decade, using documentary film and supporting articles and interviews, from elementary grade students using GPS devices on farms to monitor endangered species to high school students designing schools of the future with architectural software.

PBL and STEM represent an important "edge of innovation" in our schools, as described in Chen's award-winning book, Education Nation. PBL curricula connect to other "edges of innovation," such as the role of technology is transforming when, where, and how students learn. New roles for teachers and students are being defined, as teachers form teaching teams with other experts and students take on more responsibility for their own learning. Dr. Chen will show examples of these practices from Edutopia.org. Its archive of documentaries is available for free download from iTunes U.

Arts Across the Curriculum

The visual and performing arts can support learning across the curriculum and enable students to use all of their "multiple intelligences" to succeed in school and life. Dr. Chen will present examples from the Edutopia.org archive of how the performing arts can improve reading and writing and how understanding of film "grammar" can support learning in literature and history. Rather than being regarded as a separate elective subject, the visual arts should be considered as a valid form of communication
alongside the verbal language arts. The digital arts now enable students to express their knowledge through imagery, music, sound, and graphics.

Our National Parks: America’s Best Outdoor Classrooms

As the U. S. grapples with educating its diverse students to higher levels, creative educators are taking them beyond the four walls of their classrooms. The “achievement gap” can be traced to an “experience gap.” Many of today’s students are growing up without the broad range of experiences to connect school life to real life and to propel their educations forward with purpose and passion.

In the title of filmmaker Ken Burns’ PBS series, the more than 400 National Park sites can be “America’s Best Idea” for education. These sites include the well-known, from Gettysburg to Yosemite to the Grand Canyon, as well as smaller parks, such as the Japanese-American internment camp of Manzanar to Frederick Douglass’s home outside of Washington, D.C.

Celebrating their Centennial Year in 2016, the National Parks emphasize place-based learning, where students can gain authentic experiences in restoring habitats, studying animal and plant behavior, and understanding how history connects to today’s events. The NPS website includes lesson plans as well as opportunities for virtual field trips and Ranger chats.

Milton Chen has been an education advisor to the Golden Gate National Parks in the Bay Area and the National Park Service. He will describe how National Parks are becoming an integral part of our nation’s new learning landscape and present examples of inspiring programs linking students to America’s most important places.

Meet Milton Chen

With his unique perspective on educational innovation, from director of research at Sesame Workshop in NYC to executive director at the George Lucas Educational Foundation in CA (edutopia.org), Milton Chen inspires audiences with films and stories of how children can learn more, earlier, than we thought.

Milton Chen’s career started at the “longest street in the world,” and travelled through “a galaxy long ago, and far, far away.” As director of research at Sesame Workshop, he helped develop the PBS children’s series, Sesame Street, The Electric Company on reading, and 3-2-1 Contact for science. As executive director of The George Lucas Educational Foundation, he led the creation of the Edutopia films, magazines, and website featuring innovative classrooms using technology and project-based learning.

His degrees from Harvard and Stanford might suggest a privileged background. Yet this education leader views himself as the “fortunate son” of Chinese immigrants who came to the U. S. for education after WWII and desired to return home, but were unable to after the Communist revolution of 1949. In his talks, Dr. Chen blends stories from his personal life and the major lesson from his early career at Sesame Workshop: children can learn more, earlier, than we think. Today’s digital devices and Internet resources enable all children to broaden their interests, connect globally, and pursue a life of passion-based learning. The key to “closing the achievement gap” is narrowing “the experience gap” and Dr. Chen shows films of how students come alive through relationships with mentors and in settings such as school gardens and National Parks.

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