Available September 13 Find New View EDU on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, and many other podcast apps. What if Elon Musk approached you one day and asked you to create a school? How would you approach the design of a radically different educational environment founded in the shadow of SpaceX and intended to provide deeper learning for the children of some of the most innovative thinkers in the world? That was the starting point for Josh Dahn. Josh is the founder and executive director of Astra Nova School, an experimental school for ages 10-14 headquartered in Los Angeles, CA. Astra Nova focuses on collaborative problem solving, creative thinking, and developing the student voice. Josh has extensive education experience, including time spent teaching at the Mirman School for Highly Gifted Children in California. Recently, he founded Synthesis, an online learning and enrichment program for ages 8-14 with a mission to nurture future innovators. Starting from the place of “looking for truly kind kids,” Josh rejects the idea that an innovative educational experience needs to focus on rigorous classwork or seeking gifted minds. Instead, the Astra Nova and Synthesis programs aim to develop a generation of “super collaborators”—people who will learn from an early age how to work well with others, how to seek and incorporate feedback, and how to grow in their own agency. In a wide-ranging conversation with host Tim Fish, Josh challenges educators to consider what they truly believe is the best and highest use of students’ time during the school day. Is it taking a specific, prescribed sequence of math classes? Is it following a planned course of study that was created for them? Or is it offering opportunities for the pursuit of personal passions and growth areas, and allowing students to construct a school day that’s meaningful and exciting to them? He urges adults to be honest with themselves about when and why they are making decisions for students, and to seek opportunities to put the decision-making back into students’ hands. Josh also delves into his team’s quest to create an educational experience that has a far-reaching impact, beyond the small group of students enrolled in his school at any given time. To that end, a key part of creating a generation of super collaborators who will carry their experiences into the world and do good work is helping shape their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Josh talks about his foray into game design through his online series of “Conundrums,” and how asking students to take an active role in both designing and solving conundrums can be used to help them increase their capacity for higher-level thinking and complex problem solving. Astra Nova is not, by Josh’s own admission, a scalable opportunity that will work for everyone, everywhere. But he urges educators to adopt the transparency, honesty, accountability, and openness to new ideas that will allow every school to move beyond creating “carbon copies” of what education has been, and instead create new and exciting models of what education can become. Key Questions Some of the key questions Tim and Josh explore in this episode include: When you start from a blank slate with designing an educational experience, how do you decide what to add and what not to add to the school day? How do you attract students to this very nontraditional model of education? What is the interest like, how do you conduct admissions, and what, if any, are the tradeoffs? In creating a culture of “super collaboration,” what happens to traditional age-based distinctions? What value do students of different ages bring to the table as collaborators? What hope do you have for the future of education? Episode Highlights “Kindness is actually the word that we lead with. We are always looking for just kind kids. …We really want to ground it in kindness and your ability to work well with others. I mean, the phrase we use in Synthesis is super collaborators. That's really the thing that we've always been looking for. Someone who is, yeah, there's your own individual path, but you make other people better and are interested in other people and want to bring out their voices, not just your own.” (11:03) “I have to say, I'm not always disciplined on this message because sometimes I get carried away when you start thinking about, really, a bad time that a lot of kids have in school in the name of things that frankly, I don't think in the light of day, you can justify. Like how we spend time with kids. I think there are some things that are absolutely unacceptable.” (28:43) “The north star is how does this help us create a generation or cultivate a generation of super collaborators? How can we imbue in these kids something that we ourselves did not get and probably still now do not have, which is the ability to sort of surrender yourself to a team and to be authentic in who you are, and vulnerable, but also strong in what you believe? And I think part of that is through reflection, and it's a really hard thing to do.” (34:26) “When it comes to education, I think a lot of people tend to want the same thing. I don't think that many people thinking about their education that they went through are like, ‘I want a carbon copy of that thing.’ Whether that's the horrors of middle school or the long days of geometry or whatever that is. I think that we all are sort of predisposed to openness, to something a bit different. … I mean, we've done a class at Astra Nova over the years in magic. Oh, not because I think this is Hogwarts, but because I think it's interesting to question the assumption that because a class is called, I don't know, chemistry, that therefore, that thing is inherently more valuable than some other experience for the development of a child.” (39:10) Resource List Learn more about Astra Nova School Check out Josh’s work with Synthesis Listen to Josh talk more in depth about his work on the Beyond High Street Podcast Watch Josh’s interview with South Park Commons on challenging conventional education Full Transcript Read the full transcript here. About Our Guest Josh Dahn is the head of Astra Nova School, an independent school in Los Angeles that he co-founded with Elon Musk. Astra Nova School is an experimental school for gifted learners between the ages of 10 and 14 years old. The school focuses on collaborative problem solving, creative thinking, and developing the student voice. Dahn has extensive specialist education experience, including time spent teaching at the Mirman School for Highly Gifted Children in California. He has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and American studies from Miami University and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Recently, he founded Synthesis, an online learning and enrichment program for ages 8-14 with a mission to nurture future innovators.