Syfr Learning began as a company developing conferences for superintendents and their cabinets around 21st century issues that we felt superintendents were not anticipating.

Past Topics

Many of these topics go back almost twenty years for Syfr Learning but they provide some sense of our ability to anticipate challenges to our schools. Today most of Syfr’s work is in STEM, STEAM, school transformation, ethics education and the art and science of learning. Regardless of the focus, Syfr’s themes focus on how to help students learn to communicate, think rationally, design their own learning and accomplish it, and collaborate.

Syfr Learning’s most recent conferences revolve around the learning sciences, STEM education, and ethics for educators. Recently Syfr designed a series of annual STEM conferences to accentuate both STEM and the city of Houston. The STEM topics focused around energy, space, medicine and how to make any school a STEM school.

Vocational education would return under a different name to secondary education and the skills needed would extend beyond technology skills in the traditional sense.

Charter schools would be supported by both political parties and there were very definite risks for public education as we know it.

Accountability for everyone and everything would become a major reform focus and in many cases would miss the boat in terms of focus.

Technology had the potential to close learning gaps and raise the bar but our focus as educators was missing the lessons from the private sector, where technology implementation was leading the way. The result would be that learning gaps were unlikely to close much based on technology applications, even though they could.

Immigration would influence public education way beyond the simple test comparisons with other countries popular at the time. First, immigrants would flood our schools and second, our competition with foreign born students would begin in our colleges. They would recruit the best and brightest and many of those would come from overseas and take seats in STEM disciplines. The challenges in K-12 would likely revolve more around values problems than anything else like ESL.

Gender identification would become a values issue that would eventually reach our schools.

Hollowing out the middle class will create challenges for K-12 education that remain poorly understood. The lower wage scale service jobs will grow but there are few career opportunities from there. Students in this category will need to still understand how to create their own learning to get out of that wage category at some point. The upper wage scale jobs requiring communication, analytical and quantitative reasoning skills, cross disciplinary thinking, an ability to design and continue learning and collaboration or excellent technical skills in specialized areas (like welding as one example) will also grow. Routine work, even reasonably creative routine work, will be shipped overseas or replaced with technology – the second being more prevalent. The challenge for K-12 is to graduate more students at what we currently consider A level performance and modify what we expect from students to a more nuanced form of output.

STEM and STEAM education would both grow but the demands for them would not be discipline specific but generalized skill specific with skills like communications or analytical and quantitative reasoning.

The science of learning has somehow gotten lost in the 21st century reform movements. Science is evolving and we are beginning to prove why certain conclusions about learning drawn as long ago as 150 years turn out to be correct. There are also new discoveries about learning. The science does not appear to be making its way into our reform discussions about 21st century education, which we find an irony in an age focusing on STEM.

Past Speakers Include:

We draw heavily from a wide variety of speakers depending on the topic. They include the following:

  • Alan Krueger – Chief Economic Advisor to President Obama
  • Ray Marshall – Secretary of Labor, President Carter
  • Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein – authors of Sparks of Genius
  • David Galenson – Economist, University of Chicago, author of Young Geniuses or Old Masters
  • Cecilia Rouse – Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University
  • David Autor – Political scientist and economist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
  • Ton Vander Ark – Initiative Director, Gates Learning Foundation
  • Henry Roediger, III – Cognitive psychologist, University of Washington, St. Louis, co-author of Make It Stick

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