Where did you get the name Birdhouse Learning Labs?

To get a free copy of the concept paper, “Toward a new Era of Educational Research and Development, sign up for the League of Extraordinary Educators Mailing List. When you sign up, the welcome email at the very end of the process will include a link to the download.

In 2014, while preparing for an upcoming keynote presentation, I was experimenting with different metaphors and illustrations to help people recognize the limitations of our current education system. How could I illustrate how the dominant systems and practices in modern education are not only separate for the core mission…they are often inhibiting us in unhelpful and unnecessary ways?

Looking out the back window of my home office in Wisconsin, I noticed an old, white birdhouse. The birdhouse was unused, but next to it was some sort of pail or can that a bird turned into its home. That gave me an idea.

I started searching for examples of unconventional birdhouses. Soon I had a collection of at least a dozen: an old boot with a hole drilled in it; beautiful blown glass birdhouses; another made of discarded license plates; and still others made of stone, sticks, and what others might have tossed out as garbage.

It led me to a simple question that I typed on a PowerPoint slide. What does it take to build a birdhouse? When I arrived for the keynote, after sharing a few opening remarks, I brought up the slide with that simple question, inviting the crowd for responses, and they offered answers.


“a hammer and nails”

“a drill”

“a saw”

“a plan”

“knowledge of how to build a birdhouse”

Without stating anything other than my simple question, most of the people in the room conjured a traditional image of a birdhouse in their minds. They imagined that typical, square, wooden box with a hole in the front.

Then I brought them to the next slide. At the top they read the same question. “What does it take to build a birdhouse?” This time, below the question, I included a collage of those wildly different birdhouses that I mentioned before. Primed with a broader sense of the possibilities, the answers to my question broadened as well.

I explained that many of us in education are focused upon the conventional idea of how to design a school, classroom, or lesson. Sometimes we get creative, but usually within a narrow set of constraints, some that we see as beyond our immediate influence or control.

“Yet, this is the challenge with the modern education system,” I explained. We’ve limited ourselves by the narrow and standard scope of materials that we consider. It allows us to scale and mass produce education quickly, but it also holds us back from the incredible, inspiring, and rich diversity of possibilities available to us and to learners.

That is the inspiration behind the “word” birdhouse. It is an invitation for us to broaden our sense of what is possible, to seriously re-consider the raw materials that we use to design schools, classrooms, and lessons. Instead of the standard wood and nails of the industrial era, what if we drew from our greatest myths as well as our best current research to design rich learning experiences that tap into some of the most powerful human yearnings and sensations, raw materials like curiosity, adventure, wonder, and epiphany?

Now what about the “learning labs” part of the name? That one came from several years of studying and learning from different models of “research and development” units across sectors and industries. In addition, I have longstanding intrigue with designers and inventors throughout history, and BLL is partly a vision of creating the Menlo Park Labs of education, but with a strong community and education arm to it.

If you are interested in more information about this concept of education R&D, consider signing up to the League of Extraordinary Educators Mailing List and receive a free copy of the concept paper, “Toward a New Era of Educational Research and Development.” When you sign up, the welcome email at the end of the process will include a link to the download.