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Sir Ken Robinson and Dr. Derek Cabrera Headline Education Conference

An educational conference dedicated our Vision-Mission to Engage, Educate and Empower 7 Billion Thinkers


Sir Ken Robinson and Dr. Derek Cabrera (see Dr. Cabrera's talk transcript here) will be keynoting the E³ Conference in Ithaca, NY on Wednesday, July 30, 2014 from 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM (Eastern Time). The E³ concept was developed a decade ago by Cornell faculty Derek and Laura Cabrera, founders of Cabrera Research Lab, and has since been adopted by districts, schools and teachers around the country, including Dr. Luvelle Brown, Superintendent of the Ithaca City School District (ICSD) , and host of the E³ conference.

In 2012, ICSD began training teachers to develop meta-thinking skills in students across the district and Superintendent Brown and the ICSD Board adopted the Cabrera Research Vision-Mission: Engage, Educate, and Empower 6000 Thinkers. Based on this work, Dr. Brown received the 2014 eSchool News Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award, was recognized by the National School Boards Association as a “20-to-Watch” in 2014, was featured in the New York School Boards Association’s On Board Magazine, and is working with Secretary Duncan and others to organize the 1st-ever Connected Superintendent’s conference to be held in Fall 2014. ICSD recently became the first small city school district to receive a supermajority “Yes” vote on its budget while also experiencing a record percentage of voter participation (20%). During his 3 1/2 year tenure at ICSD, the graduation rate climbed to 90% (from 78%) and above state and national average standardized test scores which Brown attributes to the clarity and cultural alignment that comes from the ICSD Vision-Mission and the classroom transformations that have occurred around teaching meta-thinking. The E³ Conference is a great opportunity for board members, superintendents, principals, and teachers alike to see best practices in action.

The E³ Conference boasts an array of influential speakers including: Diane Levitt, Jim Warford, Cheryl Dobbertin, Shelia Webster and Cal Walker. Break out sessions for leaders and educators explore the the central role thinking plays in the engagement, education, and empowerment of youth. Break-out sessions and book signings give educators a chance to share what their classrooms and schools have looked like this year, including: implementation of thinking practices into the ICSD classrooms, the development of model classroom spaces, and generating a set of Thinking and Learning Best Practices. The E³ Conference brings together the finest minds in education and an impressive list of sponsors including Cornell University, Ithaca City School District, Imagine Learning, IPEI, BOCES, and ParentLink. You can register for the conference here.

For superintendents and principles who want more information on adopting the Vision-Mission in your district or school, click here.

The story behind E³
Concerned that their Ivy League students could "do school" but lacked basic meta-thinking skills like problem solving, creativity, emotional intelligence, and grit, Drs. Derek & Laura Cabrera decided to take their research out from the tower-and into-the-trenches. They started doing talks around the country to anyone who would listen, and their talks hit a nerve. Their concern about their students was (and still is) shared among business, educational and political leaders, and parents, teachers, and students... Energized by the overwhelming response, the Cabreras founded an innovation and research lab with an audacious Vision-Mission: to Engage, Educate, and Empower 7 Billion Thinkers. Their message is simple: when you understand how you think, you will learn, lead, and live better.

Then it happened. What the Cabrera's thought would be an innovation and research lab with an audacious Vision-Mission and research-based training and tools, became something much more: an educational revolution. A Principal named Christina Dickens from Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia approached the Cabreras with a novel request. "Can we, um, steal your Vision and Mission?" she asked. The Cabreras said, "Sure," without realizing that this simple question was the birth of an E³ thinking revolution in education. Today, districts, schools, and teachers across the USA are "adopting" the Cabrera Research Lab's Vision-Mission, to Engage, Educate, and Empower 7 Billion Thinkers. Ten years later, the movement that the Cabreras started is changing people, schools, and organizations across the US and internationally. Cabrera Research Lab has since developed an integrated, educational cloud-based platform, called CabreraCloud, to support districts in implementing transformational change from student to superintendent. Like ICSD is committed to Engaging, Educating, and Empowering 6000 of the 7 Billion Thinkers the world needs, many other districts, principals, and individual teachers have taken responsibility for developing thinkers in their community with significant qualitative and quantitative results.

E³ in Depth: what does it mean to Engage, Educate, and Empower?
E³ is more than a catchy logo and a memorable catch phrase for this conference. E³ is a deep and meaningful construct that is the basis for transformative changes in education, from student to superintendent.

E³'s engage means authentic student engagement. This can best be understood by making a critical distinction among authentic engagement and its counterparts: strategic and ritual compliance, rebellion, and retreatism.

Thinking lies at the root of authentic engagement. We know that students build knowledge by thinking (creating meaning) about Information. Thinking acts upon information and causes students to build Knowledge and it is also the root action of true engagement. Engagement simply means that students are thinking about the topic of the lesson. We often think that the A students are engaged and F students are not, its important to note that is not always true. It's not as simple as that, and here's why: authentic engagement is distinctly different from strategic or ritual compliance, rebellion, or retreatism.

Strategic and/or ritual compliance is a form of faux-engagement where learners are engaged in some OTHER extrinsic or intrinsically motivated thing. For example, they may be motivated by grades and choose strategies to maximize their grade that simultaneously lessen their learning. As is often the case, it is quite possible that our "top students" are not authentically engaged but are instead strategically compliant; they have learned how to "do school" but are not developing a deep understanding of the topics of study. These compliance behaviors should be redirected toward authentic engagement by engaging kids through their thinking about the topic at hand. Strategically compliant students are thinking about how to game the system to get the grade whereas authentically engaged students are thinking about their learning.

Rebellion is a form of misdirected faux-engagement. Rather than punishing or controlling rebellious behavior, we should redirect its energy toward authentic engagement. Rebellion is often seen as dis-engagement, but, it is actually a sign of the desire to engage coupled with the need for help in how to do it. Retreatist behavior is of great concern--it means the person has given up, shut down, or disengaged entirely. It is the opposite of engagement and should be taken seriously. The existence of any of these behaviors (compliance, rebellion, and/or retreatism) is an important feedback mechanism we must attend to, because indicates that something about the school or classroom culture is disincentivizing authentic engagement.

Again, E³'s educate means that we must move beyond the dictionary definition to build a deeper, shared common model of what educate means. The most frequent definition is simply to teach (someone), such that learning occurs. So, to understand educate, we must define learning. Learning is commonly thought of as the acquisition of, or a change in, Knowledge ( L=∆K). And as mentioned above, students build Knowledge by giving meaning to Information (I) by structuring it through the process of Thinking (T). Our research identifies the four universal patterns of thinking: making identity-other distinctions, organizing part-whole systems, recognizing action-reaction relationships, and taking multiple point-view perspectives. We use the acronym "dsrp" for these four patterns. Our commitment to learning is exemplified by an important (or fundamental) question of teaching and learning: How are my learners building their ideas?

Of equal importance is the recognition that learners can get information but they cannot "get" knowledge. They must build it through the process of thinking - so we need to teach them how they think (dsrp) while they are learning information (content and curricula). In addition, unlike computers, humans cannot simply learn "ungrounded" ideas. The reason humans can make meaningful knowledge where computers cannot is that they "ground" their learning in real-world experiences. So, in order to learn, we must think (build mental models) and ground (based on experience). As a result, to educate means that we must also use multiple techniques to ground abstract concepts for our students in collaborative projects, real-world problems and in-depth inquiry. And, we must use classroom tools that engage all of their senses (visual, tactile, kinesthetic) to engage and educate them through their thinking processes.

The best way to deeply understand what is meant by empowering students is to distinguish it from what is meant when we engage and educate students. To engage is to think. To educate is to get students building (thinking) and grounding (experiencing). To empower is simply to transfer, over time, the role of teacher to the student. This might sound slightly technical but think about it for a moment. If we take all the things that a teacher does for a student on a daily basis and think of these contributions not as a person (a teacher) but as a role (a set of behaviors) then it makes sense that if the student had the capacity to play the role of teacher to themselves, they would be empowered to become a life-long learner. That is, the student becomes their own best teacher. The student becomes the master of their own learning. That's empowerment, in a nutshell.

Empowerment then, has to do with transferring the ROLE of teacher from the teacher to the student. That means that empowerment is fundamentally metacognitive. It means that if the student understands how they build knowledge (DSRP and K=IxT) and how they ground knowledge to make it meaningful, this is the surest path toward empowerment and lifelong learning.