Using An Educational Crisis to Sow a Resilient Future 


What are parents to do when the school system can’t adequately do it’s job?  This is certainly not the fault of the teachers or parents, who have been left scrambling to figure out the best solution to the world we all of a sudden find ourselves in.  


In the current moment, we’re all reaching for the closest and next-best available resources to ‘make it work’.  Rudimentary online learning has been taking place for years now, but never with this much reliance or necessity for it.  The same can be said for video based communication.  Zoom and its predecessors have been since the late 90’s, but only lately was the whole world relying on it to keep the operations of corporations and institutions functioning when face to face communication shut down. 


The problem is, those online learning platforms were mostly designed to be additive, not a replacement.  Zoom was to be used in small bits by adults who could better operate with video communication, already having the social skills developed to still be able to thrive with that medium.  Face-to-face interaction is critical for proper development, so we hope that Zoom isn’t going to be the sole future of teaching our kids effectively.


With both of those failing to meet the urgent needs of today’s students, it is creating uncertainty for many parents, whom at the end of the day, just want to most effectively educate their children in the best way possible.  


Sending students into inconsistent learning environments that hyperfocus on sterilization and safety (thus fear) is a recipe for stifling confidence, progress and resiliency at very critical ages.  


To counter these concerns, Pandemic Pods are popping up nationwide.  By keeping kids in small groups, they can still properly socialize and learn in a COVID mindful way. Pods seem like a natural evolution, or even return to learning and living among smaller groups, i.e. tribes.


But those Pods are mostly still relying on Zoom and the same curriculum that was mostly failing our kids in the first place.  For the last number of years, our kids have been taught to be successful at taking standardized tests.  That may have worked in a world that was built around standardization – all down to the wardrobe of the factory employee.  But like just about everything else these days, that is no longer the world we are living in.


An education system that teaches to standardization instead of customization was already losing its utility for students entering the real world. Add to that the issues around COIVD, parents working from home more often, and we’re also headed towards a decentralization of learning, away from the grip of the Department of Education and traditional K-12 book publishers.


The rise of Pod learning has education entrepreneurs’ attention, and is about to open up all kinds of new alternatives for parents. 


A decentralized education system is akin to customized homeschooling for the masses.  When a mass markets such as this opens up, the ideas and services will soon follow.


In the same way that there is an ever-increasing amount of choice and mobility over the last decades with globalization, the same is underway with K-12 education.  So what the means is, just on the other side of this chaos, is the opportunity for education to revolutionize itself.


K-12 Learning in an Evolving Environment

Project-Based Learning Meets Future of Project-Based Careers 


Many readily assume that learning via digital content will be the future of K-12 learning.  It makes sense at first thought.  Future education software will use increasingly complex artificial intelligence to adapt to the learner in ways that a paper book would never be able to.  We can all imagine a future where each child has their learning style acknowledged and incorporated into their personal education, and that we can all agree is a good thing.


But just because something is new, doesn’t make everything else irrelevant.  In fact, in most cases, technology is merely used to enhance what humans have always done – communicate, build & explore. 


Computers can be used to help us understand complex environments, but they themselves are not overly complex in how we can interact with it.  Speaking and pushing buttons as the main form of feedback interaction has its limitations on development. For example, we all know sitting in front of a computer all day is not just limiting physically, it can actually be degenerative. 


Computer environments are not real environments.  There is a cognitive disconnect between seeing interactions on a screen and truly feeling its real-world consequences.  


Like almost all things in life, the proper balance is somewhere in the middle.  We want to understand evolving and complex environments through effective and efficient teaching.  But those concepts take on a different level of understanding if we experience them in the real world.  


Adaptive learning is what machines through artificial intelligence can do, but it’s also what we should be teaching our kids to do.  We’re already asking them to adapt to an unorthodox learning environment, but it’s just not a particularly useful adaptation. 


A more useful way to apply this learning on a practical level is to use digital content in conjunction with hands-on projects.  Being able to learn in one form, and apply it in another in real-time is an adaptive strategy that us adults have been using to self-educate on YouTube, whether it be for a leaky sink or an engine repair. 


Being able to absorb digital content and adapt it to real-life projects is not just the future of education, it’s the future (and now) of employment. 


20 years ago we would have agreed that the norm was working our way up the corporate ladder and collecting a good pension for retirement. Now being an ‘independent contractor’ has become the new norm.  With smaller freelance gigs becoming the preferred way to accomplish business tasks, combined with the freedom to provide services digitally, the leveraging of digital and real world skills across a variety of areas is becoming the desired skill set of future generations.


A Digital + Dirt STEM Education 


One’s ability to leverage technology with human ingenuity is becoming increasingly the domain where future generations will be most needed.  Whether that be creating crisper animations from improved algorithms, or medical cures from the analysis of better data, etc.  


The integration, not the abandonment, of hands-on skills with technology is the educational mix that allows for an experiential learning that supersedes digital content alone.  Understanding the consequences of a delicate environment in real-time develops personal responsibility and consistency in-tandem with a STEM education.


This next evolution of K-12 learning is a mix of increased decentralization (homeschool/pods), digitization and interactivity.  Interactive systems building in real-time, leveraged by technology.


The methods we choose to teach K-12 STEM concepts have a big impact on a students understanding of the world around them. Because of that, teaching through environmental ecosystems through agriculture is the method we are using to create a deep learning experience. 


Showing how from a single seed, we can create an entire ecosystem of wildlife, or support a community, or even start a business. Through micro experiments, we show how science, technology, engineering and mathematics are all fundamental to how we choose to impact the world around us.  We explore the consequences of changes to our environment through the building of a microfarm


When every student has the opportunity to create, build and experiment through their own living laboratory, we open up a world for exploration and discovery way beyond the classroom. 


With a living laboratory, the student will come to understand the environmental factors that created the world around them, and the things humans have done, and can do to build a sustainable infrastructure. 


As the days and weeks pass, we build the frameworks to understand the systems they’ll be building.  Oue project based learning through agriculture comes with invaluable lessons in responsibility, consistency and patience. As the weeks turn into seasons, the student will build a resilient and regenerative ecosystem that aims to go way beyond just STEM. 


A STEM Foundation for Community Based Education & Entrepreneurship 


The ‘old’ school model trained students for factory and corporate settings.  There were many problems with that system, but it largely gave the system what it asked for. The system is now asking for something different, in many ways.


From COVID and the gig economy affecting what careers look like, to adaptive & distant learning, the system is now requiring a rapid evolution.  


The decentralization of education is providing an opportunity to create a STEM education that integrates factors more important than standardized testing.  


But knowing we still have to operate within a  system and mindset that is there for us to shape and evolve. 


We first have to put the power of education into the hands of parents, and then through the program, give students the power to educate and explore for themselves. Providing teachers with the tools to provide an education that shows us how we can turn 1 seed into thousands of plants.  With mindfulness, attention and patience, we show how 1 seed can sow unlimited opportunities.


Teaching STEM at the core, but through the backdoor, develop the skill to see and understand opportunity using a mix of science, business frameworks and community outreach.


This is the next generation of education.  In addition to the decentralization and digitization, there follows with it a customization and empowerment to create educational experiences that create a better future not just after graduation, but integrated into the lesson plan.



Brandon Youst

Founder, Urban Farm Academy & Bootstrap Farmer