Esther Wojcicki | Moonshots in Education | Singularity Hub

Esther Wojcicki | Moonshots in Education | Singularity Hub


(music) – Welcome back everyone,
I’m Alison Berman. Right now I’m here with Esther Wojcicki. Esther is revolutionizing education. She is a founder of the
Palo Alto High Media Center as well as a distinguished
scholar at Stanford’s mediaX. She’s also a California
teacher of the year and MacArthur fellow and recently, a Singularity University faculty. Esther, welcome. – Oh, thank you so much,
I’m so happy to be here. – It’s great to be here,
we’re talking about a super important subject matter. – Yes, education is my passion. – It’s a huge passion of mine as well. So, you wrote a book about
moonshots in education, can you explain to me, what
is a moonshot in education? – A moonshot is something
that is really hard to do, but very important, and we have to do it. And so, just like the
moonshot in 1961 with JFK, was tough to get to the moon, but we did it, and it was important. We have to do a moonshot in
education because we have to change the way education is delivered, and it’s important, it’s hard
to do, but we’re gonna do it. – And is there a moonshot in education that you’re currently working towards? – Yes, the moonshot in
education I’m working towards is to change the teacher’s
view of their role in the classroom. So, how teachers see
themselves in the classroom, and to change the community’s view of the role of the teacher. So, I’d like the teacher to
see themselves as a coach part of the time, not all of the time but at least part of the time, and I’d like the community to
support teachers that do that. That’s very important for the
community to be supportive of teachers and appreciate them. – Absolutely. And teacher as a coach, what
unique value does this add? – So, what this adds
primarily is when a student is working on a project,
or working on something that is real and connected
to the real world, then the teacher coaches
them, they support them. They allow them to work on this project. So, for example, in social
studies for example, they could be doing
some kind of a newspaper or magazine about how
the historical period they’re studying relates
to the world today. And then they can easily
make a magazine on that, and then learn collaborative
skills at the same time, learn how to write at the same time, get recognition from the public as well, and it’s a great opportunity. They can post it on this
website called Issuu, I-S-S-U-U, for free, it
doesn’t cost anything. Actually, Issuu’s even gonna assign, have a special section for schools, magazines, and publications. So, that’s one way that social studies, science can do something like that, they can write up the science ideas that they’re writing, talking about. In math, they can create an app. And with the app inventors on
the MIT website, it’s free. So, I think that kids
need to be empowered, and the way they’re empowered
is by working in groups, feeling good about
themselves, and doing things. Not just listening to
somebody tell them about it. Actually doing it. – Learning by doing and
experiential learning. – Experiential learning,
personalized experiential learning, and so, the personalization
is they take the whole world, they get the whole world to figure out what they’re interested in doing. And not just what we consider
today personalized learning, which is, you know, personalized
means you get to pick between story A, B, C,
or D, and you get to pick the grade level, whether it’s, you know, third grade, sixth grade,
ninth grade, 12th grade, personalized means you actually get to, your pallette is the world, you get to pick what’s
interesting to you to do. – And I’ve heard you say that
you are driven by the idea of inspiring students to
create their own futures, and empower them to
build their own futures. Can you talk to me more about this idea and how we can help realize this? – So, you know, it’s kind of interesting, by the time they’re in
the ninth or 10th grade, kids lose a lot of their creativity because the main thing
they’re worried about is getting an A. – Yeah. – And so, they wanna conform
because that’s what the system teaches them to do, is to conform, and they get rewarded
for getting that A grade, and then they think they’re
gonna get into the college of their choice. So, creativity comes when
you are doing something that you actually think of,
and it doesn’t necessarily have to get an A grade, in other words, it’s a project you think about, and that leads to, when you
think about what you wanna do, that leads to your passion. Your passion could be, you
know, researching gorillas, or it could be like, the
impact of tattoos on your body, or it can, I don’t, you
know, I don’t really care what they do, I just want them
to do what the care about. – And have that creativity ignited. – That creativity ignites
the passion and the interest, and then they have that forever, they have that for the
rest of their lives, because then they know what
they really care about. And maybe, you know, it
could be art, could be music, could be decorating,
I mean, really, every, just think about little kids. You never have to ask them
what their passion is, they just do it. – They do everything. – They don’t, grades? They never heard about
it, what’s that, you know? – Right. – And they only get, in
middle, in elementary school, they gradually get pushed into the box, and then they worry about
making sure it’s right. – And how do you think we can
stop making the classrooms a place that kills creativity? We know we have to foster
creativity in the classroom, but the system keeps
encouraging creativity to be killed in the classroom. – Well, I think one way that we can do it is to set this culture
in American schools, or maybe worldwide
schools, where at least 20% of every class should
be devoted to a project. Every class. And if their school wants
to do it for a whole day, that’s one thing, or if the
teacher wants to regulate it, it’s okay, but their teachers
have to be supportive in this effort. And the main thing that
anybody, any adult remembers about a class they had in
elementary school, high school, they really don’t remember
what they learned. Sometimes they go back and it’s like, God, what did I do in that class? But what they always remember is how that teacher made them feel. – [Alison] Absolutely. – And so, you want the kids to
feel empowered in your class. They wanna remember it
as a positive feeling where they can do it, whatever it is. And you might forget the math you learned, but you can always go back and look it up if you feel empowered and happy about it. – Yeah, when you leave students empowered, I think they’re able to take risks, and they’re able to also feel
empowered to take initiative, and initiative in their own learning, I think maybe that’s really the goal, that you wants students
feeling empowered to be a leader in their own learning. – Yes, you want students
to take the initiative. So, I can give you an example. – I’d love that.
– You want one? – Yeah.
– So, just a few weeks ago, I worked with a guy named
Freedom Cheteni at Stanford, he is an instructor there, and there’s a course on computer science and design thinking. So, I came in on day one
to give a talk to the kids, he invited me, and what was
interesting is I gave this talk, and I talked to the kid
about my philosophy, and how they should be empowered, and do stuff that they care about, and you know, work on
projects they care about, and then Freedom supported that. He’s like, you can do a moonshot project, do whatever you want. Anyway, the kids loved it. And on day one, they were
like, so excited about this, and they decided that they
wanted to do a magazine. And I was like, oh, that
sounds like a good idea, and then they’re like, I think we wanna publish the magazine. So, like, well, we only have like, not a very short, long
time, so I was like, well, how about if we just
publish the magazine online. And so, just to make a long story short, ’cause I can take up
a long time with this, in three weeks, these kids
who never knew each other, from 25, 25 kids from
different places in the world, created a beautiful magazine, it’s online, website, it’s also online. And
they put themselves together, they did it themselves in
groups, and created apps which they are now selling
on the Google Play store. – That is incredible. – In three weeks, and this was just because they all felt empowered. – Yes. – And I basically said to
them, if it doesn’t work, well, we’ll just do it again, you know? Or, if you do something,
you don’t like it, well, let’s try another attack, but it doesn’t matter, you know? You can, so they felt
completely empowered. – Yeah. – And that’s why they
did all these things, and needless to say,
I’m very proud of them. – You should be. – I gave a talk in Idaho and
I used them as an example. I mean, it was pretty incredible. And now we’re in touch
on the WhatsApp app. – That’s great. (chuckling) I think it’s amazing what
students can accomplish when they really feel a connection to it. I was working on a journalistic project with high school students, and at first, I was teaching them, how do
you do an interview like this, and the students were like,
that is the most awkward thing, there’s no way I can
interview, you want me to talk to a stranger, ask them about their life, and then by the end the
students were like, no, no, I’ve got this one, and they wanted to, and they wanted to be photographing them, and they were coming
alive in a new discipline. – Right. So, one of the hardest things
for kids to do, all kids, is to interview someone else. And so, you wanna teach
them that, let them do it. And that’s what I teach
in the journalism program, and my colleagues do the same thing. So, our first assignment that
the kids do are interviews. They have to interview
30 other people, 30, that they don’t know, about a question that they compose themselves. So, first they have to
think of the question, then they have to do these interviews. I can tell you, at the
end of 30 interviews, they can do it, they can talk to anyone. – [Alison] I am sure. – They’re great. But nobody ever asks them to do that. – [Alison] Right. – You know, in your typical English class, or social studies, or math class, you’re just sitting there,
listening to a lecture, taking notes, reading the
book, and then taking the test. – Yeah. – And so, where it is that,
where do the important skills for the 21st century come in? – Yeah. – And so, that’s why I suggest, you know, having a project in those
classes so kids are learning to collaborate, to think critically, to communicate effectively, and to have… – And these are some of
the most important skills of the 21st century, right? – This is, everybody wants kids that can do all those things, be creative, they’re called the
three C’s, the four C’s. So, the more they can do these things, the happier lives they’ll lead, the more productive lives they’ll lead, and it’s just more useful
for society as a whole. – Absolutely. – Anyway, that’s my goal. (chuckling) – It’s a very incredible
goal, and in your own life, did you have a specific
experience that inspired you to go after this goal, maybe a teacher, or reading something that inspired you? What clicked this drive? – Well, I think the main
thing that ignited this drive is that my parents were, are immigrants, and they didn’t speak English very well, and so I grew up very poor,
my father was an artist. And so, we had some very
difficult times without enough, I mean, I guess we probably
would be classified as food stamp people
now, but they didn’t have food stamp people then. And I just decided at the
age of 10 that I was going to live a different life. I did not want to live like this. And the only way that I
thought I could get out of this was education, and I don’t know who gave me that idea, but then I realized that people that had degrees
seemed to earn more money, you know, I was just a little kid. And so, I became, I’m like,
I’m gonna go to college. And even though I didn’t have any, I had no resources to go to college, but I said, I’m gonna go to college, and fortunately, I got a scholarship, which was very helpful, and then also, I worked at some jobs, I worked while I was going to college. I actually worked as a
journalist, as a reporter, I was paid very little,
but it worth it to me, I was paid three cents a
word, if you can believe that. – Wow, that is hard to believe. – Great, I was writing a lot
of stuff, you can imagine. And, but that was, you
know, I was motivated, and then it paid off. – Yeah. – Because you know, then,
well, I graduated from college, actually, early, in three
years, ’cause I was so, I wanted to get out because I
had to earn money, I was poor. – Yeah. – And it worked really well,
and then I got a job, you know? And then I didn’t have
to live the poor life. – It’s interesting when
you say that you, you know, ’cause I’ve heard you say on
stage that you wanna inspire and empower students to
create their own futures, and that’s what you did, so. – That’s what I did, right. And it worked for me, and
I wanna help other students do the same thing, not just, I mean, they can all do it, and
they all have the ability, it’s just a very rare
individual that can’t do it. You don’t necessarily
have to go to college if you go to some kind
of a vocational school, you can go to a tech school,
you can learn to code, you know, there’s so many
things, but do something you care about, you know, maybe
it’s landscaping, you know? Or being a forester, forest ranger, or you know, whatever
you wanna do, I think, is what you should do. You should be empowered to do that. And so, I have a lot of
students that have succeeded in many areas, and some of
them didn’t become journalists, as a matter of fact, most of them didn’t. One of my, probably my most
famous student was James Franco, the movie, the actor. He is amazing, and he’s
been empowered to do what is important to him. – Right. – And that means, you
know, it can be an actor, he’s a director, he also is an artist, I don’t know if you know that. – I didn’t know that. – Yeah, he painted some amazing canvases for Palo Alto high
School Media Arts Center, they’re beautiful canvases,
yeah, you would never know he’s a great artist. But I think one thing that’s great is that he’s doing something he is happy about. – [Alison] Right. – And you know, I have other
students that are doing a lot of things that, you know, they might be entrepreneurs,
or venture capitalists, or teachers, or doctors, but what matters is that they wanna do it. – [Alison] Yes. – And that, you know, they
know what it takes to do that, and they are doing it. And, because teaching, for me, it’s hard. It’s a lot of work. And I could easily have retired years ago, as you probably could guess,
but I’m still doing it because it’s so exciting for
me to be with these students. – It speaks from you. – It’s, right, it’s just,
every time I go to school, I mean, I get happy. And it’s really, it’s nice
to be with students who are, they’re exciting to be with. And then I like my colleagues, I like, I think the faculty at Palo
Alto High School is great, and I feel lucky to have,
you know, this experience. I don’t think there’s
anything more rewarding than having a positive
impact on someone’s life. – I don’t think so either. – And so, that’s what it
is when you’re a teacher and you really care. – That’s wonderful, well, I hope that from this conversation, anyone
viewing who has considered going into education, this
gives you a bit more inspiration to go down that path.
(electronic music) Esther, thank you so much.

2 thoughts on “Esther Wojcicki | Moonshots in Education | Singularity Hub

  1. Esther is right about the Moonshot for education, teachers as coaches and about experiential learning. Great talk, great direction. Thank you.

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