Dr. Milton Chen is senior fellow and executive director, emeritus at The George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF), a non-profit operating foundation in the San Francisco Bay Area that utilizes its multimedia website, Edutopia.org, and documentary films to communicate a new vision for 21st Century education. He served as executive director of GLEF for 12 years from 1998 to 2010. During his tenure, GLEF and its media brand, Edutopia, greatly expanded their editorial publishing efforts, including the award-winning Edutopia magazine. Edutopia.org is known as a destination Web site for educators and others interested in educational innovation and has won numerous honors, including the 2009 Webby People's Voice Award for best education website. Edutopia.org's web traffic averages more than 1 million unique visitors per month.
Dr. Chen's career has spanned four decades at the intersection of preK-12 education, media, and technology. Prior to joining GLEF, he served for 10 years as the founding director of the KQED Center for Education (PBS) in San Francisco. In the 1970s, he was a director of research at Sesame Workshop in New York, helping develop Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and 3-2-1 Contact. Dr. Chen has been an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and, during 2007-08, was one of 35 Fulbright New Century Scholars conducting research on access and diversity issues in schools and universities. He received an A. B. in social studies from Harvard College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in communication from Stanford.
Dr. Chen serves as chairman of the Panasonic Foundation in New Jersey, which supports superintendent leadership and district improvement, and is a member of the board of directors for Sesame Workshop, the California Emerging Technology Fund, and ConnectEd: The California Center for College and Career. He chairs the Games and Learning Publishing Council for the Joan Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a Gates Foundation-supported activity. He is also a member of the National Park System Advisory Board, appointed by Interior Secretaries Salazar and Jewell to advance the agency's work in STEM and history/multicultural education. During 2013, he served as a Fellow for Good at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto. He has been a consultant to groups designing new learning spaces and programs for youth, including the Carson City (NV) Public Library and the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.
Dr. Chen's career has been honored by the Elmo Award from Sesame Workshop, Fred Rogers Award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Robin Winks Award for Enhancing Public Understanding of the National Parks. He has also received honors from the Congressional Black Caucus for educational technology, Association of Educational Service Agencies for educational publishing, and two science centers in the Bay Area, The Exploratorium and the Lawrence Hall of Science. His 2010 book, Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools, was named one of the year's 10 best education books by the American School Board Journal. He is a frequent speaker at education conferences in the U. S. and abroad. Since 2010, he has presented more than 100 keynote addresses in 41 states and 10 countries.
Dr. Chen lives in San Francisco with his wife, Dr. Ruth Cox, a botanical artist, author and actress. Their daughter, Maggie, is a medical student at UCLA.
Perhaps most importantly, on his 50th birthday, Dr. Chen was named a Jedi Master by George Lucas!
Dr. Milton Chen, senior fellow and executive director, emeritus at The George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF), discusses 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) Technology Edge, 4) Time/Place Edge, 5) Co-Teaching Edge, and 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 as teachers collaborate with other educators and experts and students take more responsibility for their own learning.
To educate all learners to higher levels, education must shift away from curricula narrowly focused on language arts and mathematics. Experiences with the arts and nature enable schools and informal learning centers to expand engagement and success for all students, building on their strengths and “multiple intelligences.” The arts and nature enable students to “come to their senses” in their learning, using their minds, bodies, hearts, and hands.
Instead of an “achievement gap,” Dr. Chen reframes the discussion to the “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. Authentic place-based learning provides these experiences, gained through working in school gardens and visiting workplaces, historic sites, and public lands. These experiences enable them to learn not only about STEM, history, and cultures in powerful ways, but also lead them to think more deeply about themselves, their abilities, and their aspirations.
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, has become one of the most significant civil rights issues of our time. Dr. Chen discusses how education holds the key to other societal goals, such as violence reduction, health care, employment, and community-building and how education is undergoing a Renaissance of how, when, and where it happens. The next generation of personalized tools will enable students to track and improve their own learning and behaviors. MIT’s Dr. Seymour Papert famously said that technology offers students “wheel for the mind.” Today’s students can learn more, faster, than in previous generations, powered by mobile devices, rich Internet resources, apps, games, and simulations, and networks of mentors.
At a time when the U. S. and other nations are 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 for nearly two decades, from elementary students designing playgrounds to high school students building hybrid cars.
STEM-based PBL represents an important “edge of innovation” in schools, as described in Dr. Chen’s award-winning book, Education Nation. PBL curricula connect to other “edges of innovation,” such as the role of technology and co-teaching and learning, as students work in teams to accomplish ambitious projects. Dr. Chen will also highlight work by Lucas Education Research, a second unit within the Lucas Educational Foundation, conducting rigorous research on the outcomes of PBL in elementary and secondary schools.