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Milton Chen    

Former Executive Director of the George Lucas Education Foundation; Author of "Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in Our Schools"

Milton Chen, PhD, is senior fellow and executive director, emeritus at the George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF), a nonprofit operating foundation in the San Francisco Bay Area that utilizes its multimedia website,, and documentary films to communicate a new vision for twenty-first-century schools. Dr. Chen has served as executive director of GLEF for twelve years. During his tenure, GLEF and Edutopia greatly expanded their 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.

Dr. Chen’s career has spanned four decades at the intersection of pre-K–12 education, media, and technology. Prior to joining GLEF in 1998, he served for ten years as the founding director of the KQED Center for Education (PBS) 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. From 1985 to 1987, Dr. Chen was an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education where he taught and conducted research on educational technology. During 2007–08, he was one of thirty-five Fulbright New Century Scholars conducting research on access and diversity issues in higher education and K–12.

Dr. Chen chairs the advisory council for the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania and has been appointed to the National Park System advisory board. 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.

Dr. Chen’s work has been honored with the Elmo Award from Sesame Workshop and the Fred Rogers Award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and by the Congressional Black Caucus and two science centers in the Bay Area—the Exploratorium and the Lawrence Hall of Science. He is the author of more than thirty books, chapters, and articles on educational media. Dr. Chen’s book, Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in Our Schools (Jossey-Bass, 2010), is based on his work at Edutopia.

Dr. Chen received an AB degree in social studies from Harvard College. He also holds MA and PhD degrees in communication research from Stanford University.

Speech Topics

Learning From the Outside In: National Parks, America’s Best Outdoor Classrooms

As the U. S. grapples with educating its diverse students to higher levels, creative educators are taking them beyond the four walls of their classrooms. Beginning in “nature nearby” such as school gardens and city parks and extending to more than 400 national parks, students come alive in outdoor classrooms, studying air and water quality, climate change, endangered species, and habitat restoration. They often learn alongside scientists and naturalists of all ages, in experiences ranging from single-day field trips to immersive week-long classes. Schools such as the Teton Science Schools or the Minnesota “Zoo School” use the outdoors on a regular basis.

With its Centennial in 2016, the National Parks gained greater visibility for their role as America’s best outdoor classrooms, where students learn valuable STEM lessons, but also gain front-row seats to connect American history to today’s events. These parks include the well known, from Gettysburg to Yosemite to the Grand Canyon, as well as smaller sites, such as the Japanese-American internment camp at Manzanar and Frederick Douglass’s home outside of Washington, D. C.

Technology supports these place-based experiences. The National Park Service website contains a wide range of lesson plans across grade levels as well as opportunities for virtual field trips and Ranger chats. Online platforms, such as iNaturalist, enable students to record, verify, and deepen understanding of plants and animals they encounter. Games, apps, and even virtual reality enable students to engage with National Park sites. Experiential learning can lead students to deeper reflection on their own lives, resilience, and passions.

Milton Chen has been an education advisor to the Golden Gate National Parks in the Bay Area and the National Park Service. He will describe how National Parks and other public lands are becoming an integral part of our nation’s new learning landscape and present examples of inspiring programs linking students to America’s most important places.

The Common Core of the Child: Arts Across the Curriculum

As states implement the Common Core Standards, it's also worth asking: "What about the Common Core of the child?" What do children bring to their learning and what do they need? A deeper understanding of children's multiple intelligences and the social aspects of learning would lead to placing visual and performing arts at the core. Throughout history, the arts have been intimately connected to the language arts, mathematics, history, and STEM. Rather than being regarded as separate subjects, the visual and performing arts should be considered as valid forms of communication alongside the traditional language arts. George Lucas has long been an advocate for this view. Websites, such as Pixar in a Box and Google Arts & Culture, are helping us rediscover these connections.

The digital arts now enable students to express their talents through photography, film, animation, music, and other forms. Dr. Chen will present examples from of how the performing arts can improve reading and writing and how exploring the "grammar" of significant films can support learning in literature and history.

The Power of Inquiry and STEM Project-Based Learning (PBL)

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 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.

Weapons of Mass Instruction: Every Child with Digital Tools for Modern Learning

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.

Educating the Whole Child: The Role of the Arts, Nature, & Place-Based 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.

Six Leading Edges of Innovation in Our Schools

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.

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Afterschool: Eliminating the Final Bell for Learning

The nation’s steady progress as an economy and as a society will end unless we profoundly change our thinking and policies about when, where, and how children learn and develop. In this presentation, Chen explores the importance of afterschool as a creative learning time that should be implemented into a larger, comprehensive year-round learning system.

Advocating the benefits of providing students with a seamless learning experience, Chen believes we need to avoid placing all responsibility for teaching on a short school day. Without a broader view of learning, all American school-age children will be denied access to experiences that will help them be successful lifelong learners.

Digital Tools

The astonishing array of digital tools is bringing a new world of learning into focus, where information is available 24/7/365 on tablets, laptops and smart phones. The Internet is now maturing as an educational platform, where subjects, from chemistry to Mandarin to art history, are now making curricula more engaging and affordable for learners at increasingly younger ages. Online learning platforms now enable students and teachers to track and reflect upon progress on a daily basis. We know that digital learning can occur any time and any place, but can it migrate through any path, any pace?

This speech explores how digital learning should change everything about how we think about the learner, the teacher and the school. Dr. Chen will show examples of these innovative practices from, the Lucas Foundation’s multimedia Web site and its archive of documentaries, available for free download and embedding, with foreign language captions from Google Translate.

Edges of Innovation in Our Schools

This presentation looks at how school systems are reinventing themselves, focusing on their growing edges of innovation. Dr. Chen explains that these Edges are moving to the center and redefining the nature of “school” as it was known in the 20th Century and include 1) the Thinking Edge, 2) the Curriculum Edge, 3) the Technology Edge, 4) the Time/Place Edge, 5) the Co-Teaching Edge and 6) the Youth Edge. 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 form teaching teams with other experts and students take on more responsibility for their own learning.

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