Esther Wojcicki, recipient of the 2016 Global Educator Award, shares her vision for a Moonshot Movement in Education.
“I changed the pedagogy of education giving kids control of their learning.” - Esther Wojcicki
STUDENT: I would go to Woj for any problem. Sometimes I'm just having a bad day, I
like come find her in the Mac and then she'll just tell me a story of her youth
while we eat Nutella together and then I'll feel better.
JEREMY [STUDENT]: Woj is absolutely
wild! [laughs] She's a crazy one. I don't get how she does all the things
that she does but, I mean, when you see the passion and the energy that she
brings, it's truly inspiring.
ESTHER WOJCICKI: My name is Esther Wojcicki and I'm the author of this book, Moonshots in
Education, Launching Blended Learning in the Classroom. And I'm happy to say that
it has done pretty well and I'm hoping that it will continue to do well and
impact lots of teachers and students and parents, nationwide and worldwide.
STUDENT: Woj is so unexpected, that's what it is. Like she knows anyone in every field. She
will help you with any problem. She'll come in and just the randomest things
like: she had because of her book Moonshots in Education, one time we
walk in and there's this huge astronaut in front of her classroom.
ESTHER: This statue was given to me by my daughter because it represents my moonshot, you know? and
look at he's off to the moon. In 1961 President Kennedy said we're going to
the moon. And he said we're going to the moon, not because, it's easy but because
it's hard. And it's going to take a community and a lot of hard work to get
there. And we did it. We got to the moon by the
end of the 60s. And so "Moon Shots in Education" is the same concept: it is
really tough to change the culture of society. And tough to change the way
we've been teaching for 500 years. And we're doing it because it's hard--but
it's going to make a difference. At the beginning part of the 20th century we
wanted people to follow directions because they were working in factories.
Today we want people to think because they are working in an industry where it
demands creativity and innovation.
The philosophy encapsulated in this little
acronym I created for the book I wrote is TRICK. TRICK stands for trust, respect,
independence, collaboration and kindness And actually number one, you can't do
anything without trust. If you believe in them, they believe in themselves.
It's like one day a week give kids 20% time in school
where they get to work on a project of their choice. And you can apply TRICK:
give them some trust let them come up with something that they care about.
STUDENT: I'm majoring in journalism at NYU next year because of her class and
her teaching style. You really get a sense of what journalism is like in the
ESTHER: Oh yes! So I first came to teach Palo Alto High
School in 1984, and when I first came there were 19 kids in the program. I had
as equipment a typewriter, razor blades to cut out all the stories after the
kids type their stories, and a waxer, or hot waxer, and then a light table. Three years
after the program started with me the enrollment had basically tripled and
the question was like, what--what happened? and the answer to that question is I had
changed the pedagogy and I was giving kids control of their learning. I was
walking through a shopping mall in Los Altos ... and I saw in the
store this strange-looking device and it had said hello as I went into the store
and it was a Mac. And so I thought, oh my god I need this for my class. I said to
my kids--I don't know what I'm doing.
Sorry, I've got all these things in the back of my room and do you guys want to help?
help me set them up? and it's really for you but I don't know how to do it
and that was the beginning of this teaching methodology I have. I realized I
shouldn't be the sage on the stage, that I should be more a coach on the side.
has a group of students that, she oversees them as they teach us. We're learning
from our peers. She's really nice, she's really sweet, she's really caring and I
just really love her.
ESTHER: Oh, thank you!
STUDENT: Yeah well I think she really provides the foundation. As an advisor, part of her
role is to actually know when to step back and that's actually very important
because when you have a student-run publication that is really trying to
express the views of the students you don't want someone who is really
attempting to impart their own views upon the publication.
MILTON CHEN (Author/Educator): So especially when
students have some choice over their curriculum, what they're going to learn
in the media, or it's topics that they're going to create a newspaper about, or a
video about--that is an important ingredient in powering their learning.
What you want now are students not to just sit and receive curriculum but
essentially create their own kind of curriculum. So these students who are
staying late, they're working on projects that they're passionate about. They're
excited to work with each other in a more collaborative way. Everybody wants
to stay after school. Just look at the magazines that I have. Look at the
publications. And for the first time ever our school won four crown awards from
STUDENT: And just from sophomore year to this year I can't even put
into words how much of a difference C mag is. And how much has changed and how much
better it is and how much we've worked on it and developed it. And I think to
have been such a part of it is really like the feeling of being in a start-up
and to to start something and be so involved and like it's totally my baby,
it's everything. I love C mag! and so I think she kind of showed me that that's
what I want to do with the rest of my life like I want to start things and I
want to be there and I want to watch things grow.
MILTON: Esther is a pioneer of
course. She has pioneered this work for more than 30 years and I just think that
speaks to her commitment to the practice. 600 students here involved in different
aspects of journalism, print, visual. She just strikes me someone who's been very
persistent in her pursuit of this dream. ESTHER: So I started writing moonshots in
education in 2013 and the goal is to spread the pedagogy--the mindset of the
teachers and the mindset of the community that has to change. The parents
also need to learn that you learn the best when you are engaged and when you own
the learning. I use this method on my own daughters.
[EXCERPT FOLLOWS] SUSAN WOJCICKI [CEO Youtube]: I think it'd be really useful
for other people to know about your parenting style and in particular you
have three daughters. And both Anne and I are CEOs of companies in the tech area
--and there aren't a lot of women CEOs of tech companies--and then our third
sister is an epidemiologist at UCSF. So I want to know like what did you, what did
you feed us for breakfast mom? what happened? ESTHER: I gave you a ton of freedom.
I gave you a lot of opportunity to pick all kinds of things in your life.
think the number one thing is giving empowerment to your children by giving
them some independence?
ESTHER: Yes. So I think today, in today's world, parents don't
give kids enough independence. You're not going to solve the climate problems,
you're not going to solve all the terrorism and war problems, you're not
going to solve any of these problems as long as everybody is telling kids what
to do. We need them to be creative, critical thinkers. We need them to come
up with solutions. They can actually do it. You just give them the opportunity. I
mean just look at my student James Franco. I mean he can do anything he sets
his mind to do.
JAMESFRANCO [Actor]: Woj, you're my hero! you were my teacher my junior and senior
year in high school. You ran the paper. And you did it in such a way that you
gave all the agency and control to the students or student editors, student
writers, assistant editors. And not only did we write the stories, we got to come
up with the stories, and we did layout of the paper and then we put it out!
And the student body would read it. And that was really a model that had a huge
impact on me and I didn't realize it till later. But now that I'm a teacher
at graduate film schools and also now back at Palo Alto High School as well, I
use that model. I in hindsight realized that was given to me by you. So, thank you
and I'm so glad that we're now, we're teaching together, and to be
working with you again.
ESTHER: In the introduction to the book, he says
basically, he believed in himself because I believed in him. And you need somebody,
everybody needs a champion. Parents, teachers, the whole society has to
realize that, if you give kids some control in the classroom,
they will have all the creativity, critical thinking, communication skills
that you want. That is the key to making a difference.
For More Information
Story about Esther on MY HERO