Never Let Schooling Interfere with Your Education.

Ariel Norling here. I write about education, technology, and my adventures in entrepreneurship- i.e. everything that I've learned outside of a classroom's walls. I am often sarcastic, sometimes serious, but always infinitely curious.

About Me   @ariel_n   Linkedin


A compilation of my favorite teacher/school related posts

I am now obsessed with the astronomy poster.

I love when educators demonstrate their personality and humor with their students. I doubt I was ever that cool as a teacher… except for maybe that one time I rapped about healthcare.

Thinking about Career Planning


Is this really the best that we can do for career planning, especially at the high school level? Just thinking or talking about it? That’s about as effective as being an entrepreneur who never builds anything, or asks any good questions of customers. [For the record, the “Get experience” is about job shadowing, which I argue is exposure over experience]

The last time someone asked me “What do you want to be when you grow up?” before writing my college application essays was in the fifth grade. Yet we sort kids based on their perceived aptitude and limited career musings.

With the exception of my Architecture class, the subjects I have been most interested in as an adult were miserable to me in high school- for a variety of reasons: teachers, assignments, etc. I’m lucky that I maintained my curiosity, otherwise those fields would have been forever tarnished.

We’re making kids choose careers at 17/18 based on limited course catalogs, experience, and exposure to what’s out there. Not to mention that hardly anyone admits the nonlinearity and indefinite nature of career trajectories, beyond letting kids know it’s okay to change college majors. That’s a problem even when we’re ignoring that jobs are invented and destroyed all the time, and that there are ways for people to combine their passions in ways that can’t be described by any O*Net profile.

We can do better for career education. Just think about it.

Let’s Skip the Professional Development: Because No One Says “Let’s Create Lifelong Students”

This week, I’ve been writing my Statement of Purpose for a graduate school application- with a theme about learners versus students- and having conversations around teacher feedback for education technology company product development. So it seems fitting that I should stumble across this today: 

 I find there are still learners and students.  The learners search for information on how to use the tools, play around with them and experiment in the classroom.  The students wait for a training session or workshop, attend them, complete assignments but there is not a significant change in the use of the tools.

One conversation I had recently was with a teacher-turned-entrepreneur about getting teachers more meaningfully engaged in education technology feedback. In our conversation one thing that really stood out was her assertion that we need to give teachers professional development so that they can learn how to give useful feedback to companies. That assumption rubbed me the wrong way.

Professional development seems to be the go-to for doing new things in the field of education. It never really seems to get questioned more than “Does #edchat do a better job?” It’s telling of the system’s attitude towards learning. It screams “you can only learn if you’re being taught.” It’s a horrible tone for a system that has recently become much more reflective on creating lifelong learners.

Fortunately, some teachers are learners, not just students. They’re already experimenting and giving their feedback, whether you teach them or not.

Dear Current Me,

I got my #10MonthsLater email from General Assembly today, and it was kind of depressing. It read:image

It’s 10 months later, and I still want the same things. Simply for the reason that I haven’t made much progress towards my goals. I still beat myself up for falling asleep after reading a couple of pages, or just getting bored and closing the book. I still give up after running half a mile, and then feel so bad about it (or “get preoccupied”) so I don’t keep up a regimen. I have pages of copies and sketches outlining a design for my website, and even hundreds of lines of code, but I keep changing it and cutting pieces. Plus, I’ve only applied to one job and got no response.

The last one really trips me up. My gut instinct to reading it was “I haven’t even come close.” But then I stop and think about the last 10 months. In the last 10 months, I started a new blog about minimalism just for myself, got back into education (which I’ve always heard makes my eyes light up when I talk about it), went on a leave of absence from grad school, and started a new company which very quickly grew out of being a side project. I should feel proud, right? 

I’m not sure that I do. I still want the same things, which makes it feel like I didn’t really accomplish any of it. I don’t know if it’s because I want change for the sake of change, have ADD creativity, can’t find satisfaction in my accomplishments, or just haven’t found the right thing. Maybe all of the above?

Even after all of this time in startups, I’m still learning that expectation versus reality doesn’t have to be a dichotomy. Reality doesn’t have to be disparagingly different compared to expectation. They’re just different. 

Dear Current Me,
It’s time to achieve your 2013 goals… again.
Really accomplish them. Take pride in accomplishing them.


The Training Wheels Coming Off: Alternatively Titled “Why I’m Ignoring My Mother”

The past week hasn’t been going so well for me. In the midst of a crazy schedule (launch and finals week do not mix very well), I’ve also been getting periodic phone calls from my mother. This isn’t abnormal, since we are relatively close, but each phone call has revealed my mother becoming increasingly despondent at the reality of me leaving school. The last one ended up in a crying, yelling fit (which never happens) about how I’m “ruining my life” and “not ready for the responsibility.” 

Honestly, I don’t know if I’m ruining my life or if I’m ready for the responsibility that comes with jumping into a startup full-time with no safety net. But I do know that there’s only one way to find out. I wouldn’t be making the leap if I didn’t feel like it was worth it, that I learned a lot from YouShouldDate.Me, or that I didn’t know that school was wrong for me (because I can’t guarantee that this is right for me). 

Read More »

Closing One Chapter

A few weeks ago, I opened my company email and my heart pounded. It doesn’t really make any sense to me why that was: I proposed the idea. Well, technically, four options:
1. I leave and do my own thing
2. We pivot
3. We stick it out and make a concerted effort to push through
4. We call it quits.

But it didn’t make it any easier to read: “… it’s probably time to call it quits.”

In the three weeks since the team came to that conclusion, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with myself and the company. It turns out that the timing couldn’t have been any better to open myself to experiences and options. So now I can finally announce:

YouShouldDate.Me is closing up shop. I’m co-founding a new company, going on a leave of absence from graduate school, and moving to a new city [TBD]. 

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks, which have left me with little time or room to synthesize all of the events. I’ll be gathering my thoughts this week and posting about the changes and things I’ve learned shortly.

1. [Turing tape] You need an idea notebook.

2. [Open-minded] Do not aim to solve some specific problem.

3. [Proliferate and select] You may need 10 to 100 ideas before you find a good one.

4. [Aloof] Avoid feeling part of any specific academic community.

5. [Be the boss] Avoid working for anyone, and that includes a granting agency.

6. [Data] Don’t publish without data.

7. [Sloth] Avoid all but the simplest experiments, and avoid building complex tools.

Mark Changizi, author of Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man, on the 7 requirements for all effective scientists. (via explore-blog)

Turns out being an effective scientist and beginner entrepreneur aren’t that different.

Challenge, Failing, and Learning

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’ve been thinking about dropping out of graduate school.

I’ve hesitated about talking about it here for many reasons, including but not limited to: the irony of an education activist talking about the irrelevance of my education, the potential for the institution to take my remarks the wrong way, and embarrassment for getting into this situation.

And then I stumbled upon this article about failure by famed education pundit Alfie Kohn. This really struck a chord with me:

Challenge — which carries with it a risk of failure — is a part of learning. That’s not something we’d want to eliminate. But when students who are tripped up by challenges respond by tuning out, acting out, or dropping out, they sometimes do so not because of a deficiency in their makeup (lack of stick-to-itiveness) but because those challenges — what they were asked to do — aren’t particularly engaging or relevant. 

While I disagree about his conclusions and some points in particular (like denying the ability to give zeros, based on my personal teaching experience), I think he’s indirectly said something really important about failure and learning.

Read More »

Entrepreneurs & Money »

Nick Bilton’s post Sunday was the perfect catalyst to put together some thoughts that I’ve had since I decided to take investment money, not drop out of graduate school, and work on recruiting students into the Information Technology, Design, and Startups minor. A lot of the things that I’ve touched on there are part of the reason why I’ve been wrestling with wanting (again) to drop out of school, feeling stuck, and worrying about my impact.

Not a Single Story: Is every single subject taught in high school a mistake? »


In Why Kids hate school - subject by subject, scientist Roger C. Shank provides a point by point takedown of most of the subjects we learn in high school. Shank notes that “every single subject taught in high school is a mistake.” The post is worth reading in full but here are some excerpts:

Chemistry: A complete waste of time.

Because Tumblr isn’t built for real long form blogging I’ll summarize what opebukola said: students should learn things that don’t matter to them because it teaches them the ability to learn, have grit, get the job done, and not just do what we want to do.

I think that all of those can be taught without making kids go through subjects they have no interest in. Ever heard the quote “Find what you love and let it kill you”? It’s something I have seriously related to every time I really dedicated myself to anything I was interested in from an independent research paper to launching a website. One was on affirmative action, the other on online dating. Both were things I became interested in through my own exploration, learned independently from school, and did with no prompting and little supervision.

I think people are inherently curious about lots of things, so students not knowing exactly what they want is going to make them more, not less, likely to explore subjects. If you compound this with enabling students to explore their interests freely, then students will have to be able to teach themselves and find their own interest in learning because there will be no teacher with enough expertise or time to closely manage and guide every single student. I think there is much more value in having teachers be facilitators and mentors than teachers in high school. Instead of just saying they want students to become self-reliant, responsible, and developing depth in their interests, high school teachers should actually follow through.

The best times I’ve ever had in terms of personal learning were whenever teachers stepped back and gave me the freedom to do something more on my own terms, or whenever they weren’t involved until the final review. It gave me the ability to explore my interests without having to worry about finding the right answers. It took grit to teach myself things and to actually figure out what it was that I was going to be learning. It took countless sleepless nights, reading more than I’ve ever had to for class in high school or college, and many yells of “What am I doing?!”. They were more “real world” to me than and of the desk jobs I’ve had.

Furthermore, I think our society has this unhealthy obsession with making people go through undesirable experiences for personal growth. As if doing what you want is always a walk in the park. There’s always a bit of something that you don’t want to do with something that you want to do. But we’d rather have students be miserable for the sake of being falsely well-rounded and “developing character.”