Education alums learn tips for making learning fun

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Teaching should be joyful. Classrooms should be happy.

Chen 1Milton Chen has devoted much of his career to doing just that — making learning fun.

Through his work at Sesame Workshop and his current role as senior fellow and executive director emeritus at the George Lucas Educational Foundation, Chen has been a pioneer in innovative approaches to education and in promoting “joyful” learning.

Chen shared his experience and ideas about the future of education June 27 at the College of Education’s first Summer Alumni Summit, a networking and professional development event for education alumni.

“Classrooms should be joyful places,” said Chen. “Students need to use their entire bodies in the learning process. We don’t merely educate from the neck up. It’s whole-body learning. Sesame Street taught us that we can use music, humor, art, entertainment and puppets to make learning fun.”

He noted that the strength in American school systems are relationships between the school and the community.

“This is a new day for learning,” he said. “We learn 24/7/365. It is a blending of formal and informal learning through schools, universities, media, museums, libraries, businesses, churches, youth groups and parks and recreation facilities among others.”

Chen told the audience of educators about six “leading edges of innovation” in schools today. These include the areas of thinking, curriculum and assessment, technology, youth and time and place.

“These are the areas we have to think differently about as educators,” said Chen, who has an A.B. in social studies from Harvard University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in communication research from Stanford University. “We need a new vocabulary for education. We have youth who are digital learners who learn in more joyful, collaborative ways than ever before. Instead of just thinking about education in terms of any time, any place we think in terms of any path, any pace.”

The 21st century has seen the “end of the solo practitioner and the rise of team collaboration,” he said. Chen also believes viewing students and team members and scholars and teachers as team leaders and scholars helps foster a more productive, “joyful” modern learning culture.

Chen 2In 1998, Chen joined the George Lucas Educational Foundation, a nonprofit foundation that utilizes its multimedia website and documentary films to communicate a new vision for 21st century schools.  During his 12-year tenure as executive director, Chen led GLEF and its media brand, Edutopia, and greatly expanded its editorial publishing efforts, including the award-winning Edutopia magazine. is known as a destination website 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.

Chen’s career has spanned four decades at the intersection of preK-12 education, media and technology. Prior to joining GLEF, Chen served for 10 years as founding director of the KQED Center for Education in San Francisco. In the 1970s, he was director of research at Sesame Workshop in New York, helping develop “Sesame Street,” “The Electric Company” and “3-2-1 Contact.” Chen has been an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and, during 2007 and 2008, was one of 35 Fulbright New Century Scholars conducting research on access and diversity issues in higher education and K-12.

In addition, Chen chairs the advisory council for the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania and is a trustee of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to environmental conservation, education and stewardship. He has chaired NHK’s Japan Prize jury for educational TV and co-chaired the U.S. Department of Education’s Technology Expert Panel. He currently serves on the board of directors of the Panasonic Foundation in New Jersey, ConnectEd: The California Center for College and Career and the San Francisco School Alliance.

His work has been honored by the Elmo Award from Sesame Workshop, the Fred Rogers Award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Congressional Black Caucus and by two science centers in the bay area—The Exploratorium and the Lawrence Hall of Science. His new book, “Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools,” based on his work at Edutopia, was published by Jossey-Bass in 2013.

Summer Alumni Summit attendees also participated in breakout sessions on a variety of topics including “#Connected: Plugging into Today’s Digital World,” “Integrating Literacy in Today’s Classrooms,” “Advocacy in Education Today,” “Common Core Standards: What Do I Need to Know?,” “21st Century Leadership: Skills Everyone Needs” and “Leading as Your Best Self” among others.

Candice McQueen, senior vice president and dean of the College of Education, hopes the alumni summit will become an annual event.

“You know the reputation of a place by the people who graduate from it and claim it,” said McQueen. “This is the first time we have offered a program like this to bring our alumni back to campus. We want this to be a continuing opportunity for our alumni who are in education to come together, share best practices, learn from experts and network.”

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