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Education as it should be – passion-based.

What Are You Doing to Inspire Your Learners’ Moonshot Thinking?

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Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people. — Seth Godin

From the video:

We are a species of moonshot thinking – People can set their minds to magical, seemingly impossible ideas and bring them to reality through innovation, science, and technology.  This sets others on fire.

Human progress has been a series of amazing, audacious things, Our ambitions are a glass ceiling in what we can accomplish. When you find your passion you are unstoppable. You can make amazing things happen. It has been true through history. I believe in the human spirit.

If we become afraid to take these risks, we stop inspiring people, we stop achieving things. The biggest nightmare scenario is that we won’t have what it takes to solve the really big challenges.

Moonshot thinking is actually an “invention” of Google’s Solve for X project. It’s general ideas and concepts, though, have application to being an educator and encouraging learners to engage in moonshot thinking.  Here are some of the general concepts and principles that have application across disciplines.

Moonshots live in the gray area between audacious projects and pure science fiction; they are 10x improvement, not 10%. That’s partly what makes them so exciting.

Moonshots can come from anywhere—people of all ages and places, companies, academia, inspired experts, enthusiastic newcomers, and often from accidental discoveries. (

Our society has many ways of telling us to play it safe: We say “walk before you run,” “slow and steady wins the race,” “under-promise and over-deliver.” In repeating these mantras we’re not training ourselves to think big. I’m a father to four kids, so it bothers me that even though our children think big naturally, our society systematically trains them out of thinking that way.

Not all moonshots have to be about technology. Gandhi’s Salt March or the struggle for civil rights in the United States are examples of social moonshots.

Why focus on moonshot thinking? Isn’t it enough to work harder to collectively solve problems to make the progress we need?  Actually, no, not really. Because we might be solving the wrong problems.  These moonshots aren’t just for the few experts in some moonshot inner circle.

What if we could replace all that effort on the wrong problem with the bravery to change the very question itself? (Also see Learners Should Be Developing Their Own Essential Questions). Often, if you step back and apply enough audacity and creativity, the new perspective you get makes doing the impossible, possible

These moonshots aren’t just for the few experts in some moonshot inner circle. All of us can come up with solutions for society’s most intractable issues. We can train ourselves to make moonshot thinking not an occasional thing but a habit of mind. No one really knew how to build an airplane when they decided to build the first airplane — but they kept going and achieved it. We can ask the same hard, slightly crazy questions of our own and declare our own moonshots as individuals and as groups. (

Being Epic

In my presentations, I always state that learning should be filled with epic wins.  The idea of moonshot thinking is directly related to epic learning, doing, and being.

Epic doesn’t rely upon a prefabricated blueprint (although it soaks up as much learning as it can from whatever blueprints are out there). Epic understands that it has to go someplace new, feeling its way through uncharted territory by the light of its own intuition.

Epic is an artist, bringing all of its values to work, pushing the extremes of personality, slapping a soulprint on the world.

Epic is about bringing it.

Epic is about showing unique value.

Epic is about provoking and illuminating and being insanely useful and reaching people emotionally and shifting the paradigm a lot or a little.

Epic is scary. It moves you outside your comfort zone. Instead of following a leader, you are the leader, and the only thing to follow is the voice at your core, your actions and mistakes and triumphs and feedback.

Marsha Ratzel, a National Board-certified teacher in the Blue Valley School District in Kansas, discusses the results of transforming her classroom into an epic learning journey.

My students are willing to take on hard tasks and don’t always want the easy way out. I just told one of my kids the other day: we are the kind of people who do the hard stuff now, and if we wanted it easy we would have looked it up in a book. Instead we have developed confidence in each other, and we want to discover the answers for ourselves. My students “get” that learning is a process. And while they may encounter moments where something doesn’t turn out the way they expected, they know how to change that into something positive. If students have a better idea than the one I present, they ask me to change things up. We co-create and co-learn with each other.

I feel that I’m a totally different teacher. This style of coaching learners allows me to find the Zone. You know — that place where you just “do” teaching. It’s probably not something I can explain very well if you haven’t experienced it. But maybe it’s happened to you in some situation where you took on a challenge — a sport, a hobby, even having a child. When you start out, just like in mountain biking, it’s all a technical undertaking. Small problems are magnified. Now, instead of being confounded by a narrow trail, rocks and too much sand, I have developed a natural sense of just how to take those trails. More importantly, my students know how to avoid spinouts as well. They’ve learned along with me.

Once you’ve tasted this kind of teaching — seen students learn so much more in your classes than they ever have learned before — then the fun of it, the reward of it, is so great that you strive to get back into this kind of flow every time you walk into the classroom. It changes the way you do lesson design. You look for the same content, but you’re imagining different approaches that make it student centered. Now it’s less about the teacher talking or showing how and more of the kiddos doing.

In the Classroom

Living is this time and age, we all have the potential, voice, and tools to create a world based our own ideas, dreams, and passions . . .  to be audacious and epic.

How do educators convey this message, promote this way of thinking, and teach learning how to learn skills to facilitate this way of being?  What follows are the beginnings of some questions I developed to initiate and encourage a dialogue (internally and/or with colleagues) about moonshot thinking and being epic.

  • Can you, as the educator, approach teaching open-ended, not with the end in mind, but open to all kinds of possibilities and outcomes?
  • How is innovation and disruption described and discussed with your learners?
  • What examples do you show learners about innovators and innovation?
  • Do you assist your learners in finding, seeking, exploring, and developing their passions?
  • Do you permit, encourage, and celebrate authentic efforts even when they fail?
  • How do you facilitate epic learning and wins in the classroom?
  • Finally (maybe most important) – what amazing and audacious ideas do you, as the educator, have to change the lives of your learners and education?  What actions have you taken to try out those ideas?

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 21, 2013 at 4:42 pm

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