Field Notes
Hacktivation Nation

The K12 Lab Network and IDEO launched School Retool in 2015 to support school leaders to build toward deeper learning in their schools through small, scrappy experiments called “hacks.” Deeper learning practices help students acquire essential cognitive, interpersonal, and intrapersonal skills needed to solve the novel, complex problems they will encounter in the world. By the spring of 2017, nearly 280 school leaders from 18 School Retool regional cohorts had been introduced to hacking toward deeper learning. As this network grew, the School Retool team heard feedback from school leaders who wanted more:

  • I need another workshop day, a follow up or refresher experience

  • I want my team to experience this work

  • I really value the opportunity to connect with other leaders

  • I’m hacking in my school, but I want more input on deeper learning

  • I need more support for deeper learning practices, in the workshops and after the workshops

Given these reactions, we asked: How might School Retool support this growing network of school leaders to accelerate their progress toward bringing deeper learning to their students?


We explored this question by bringing the emerging network together: fellows from across the country; team members from their schools; deeper learning expert practitioners; local collaborators; and School Retool coaches. We called it Hacktivation Nation—a pit stop on your deeper learning journey. As we designed the experience, we met with each school leader to discuss their team selection, their deeper learning progress, and their learning goals for the weekend.

By the Numbers

129 Attendees

31 School Leaders

31 Coaches and Local Collaborators

67 Team Members

15/18 Cohorts Represented

Key Insights

Time and Space with Teams Allows for Deeper Engagement and Reflection

In the business of the school year, time and space for collaborating and reflecting with colleagues can be in short supply. At Hacktivation Nation, leaders and their teams owned their spaces and used them for active prototyping and deep reflection. For some teams, this meant really focusing on shaping their shared aspirations for student learning. For others, it was about working together in a new way. Carving out time and space provided opportunity for meaningful engagement with changing their craft as educators, and the teams returned to their schools with a shared experience and language for moving forward.


Partner-Led Sessions Help Teams Go Deeper

Expert practitioners from deeper learning schools and organizations like the Buck Institute for Education, Envision Learning Partners, High Tech High, Latitude 37.8 High School, and New Tech Network engaged teams in workshops about advisory, project-based learning, portfolio defense, and student exhibition, and how to consider equity, scaling, and professional learning in their work. When the teams later designed their hacks, the hacks showed a strong link to those deeper learning practices, and teams left ready to implement them in their schools.


Collaborating and Learning with School Leaders from Across the Country is Inspiring

Throughout the weekend, school leaders shared their struggles, brainstormed ideas, gave feedback, and celebrated learning. They saw value in getting to know and work with other leaders who share their commitment to deeper learning for all students.
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A Hacking Story

The insights from Hacktivation Nation are pushing us to experiment and explore how we can continue to understand and support our network of fellows in accelerating their deeper learning. We’ll prototype regionally and nationally as we work together toward deeper learning for all students.

One immediate question we’re asking is, how does the work from Hacktivation Nation show up as more deeper learning in schools? We’re asking school leaders to share with us how they are implementing their hack plans as they go back to school. Here’s one story.


Morgan and Jeff are the principal and assistant principal of ASCEND, a transitional kindergarten–8th grade School in Oakland, CA. They both participated in School Retool in 2017 and brought a team to Hacktivation Nation. Their aspiration for students to be change agents in the community led them to explore how they might hack the frequency and depth of project-based learning in their school. Working with a team of teachers, they designed and tested hacks like “Boomeranging Design,” “Who Matters,” and “Community Asset Map & Walk.” A few weeks later, they reported back that they were already using these hacks with adults to cultivate a hacking mindset to set the stage for them to do this work with kids.

We took a hack of community asset mapping and ended our week having our entire staff go out into our community (by feet and wheels)... to deepen our community relationships. And we had students as consultants and co-designers of their projects before the year started!
— Jeff, CA

Learning from Hacktivation Nation

Moving forward, School Retool is exploring how the insights from this experiment can expand our understanding of pathways to deeper learning change in schools, and allow us to support leaders in getting there. Specifically:

  • How might we better support school leaders across the network in using their time and space during the school year to bring their teams into the work of hacking toward deeper learning?

  • How might we support leaders to build on the relationships with this network and encourage them to continue to support one another at the regional level?

  • How might we continue to make connections between school leaders and deeper learning experts and resources that take into account their context and specific needs?
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For more information about School Retool, including applications for upcoming cohorts, visit or contact us at You can also follow us on Twitter @schoolretool.

Team Members

Coeylen Barry

Ariel Raz

Susie Wise

Devon Young



Jen Goldstein

Kaori Sato

Peter Worth