Todd Rose, Keynote speaker at EdRev, AT&T Giants Ballpark

EdRev’s second keynote speaker on April 13, 2013 in San Francisco was Todd Rose, co-founder and president of Project Variability, This organization is dedicated to providing leadership around the emerging new science of the individual and its implications for education, the workforce, and society.  Todd is also a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education teaching Educational Neuroscience.

Todd Rose’s presentation was built around a premise of the need for society to change a belief, one that gives credit to the myth of the average person. Our education system is build on averages rather than supporting the different needs of the individual.

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Todd knows whereof he speaks. He was a high school dropout.  His education did not support his learning differences.  When he discovered that boredom, not laziness was the issue, ideas and the drive to create a different life emerged.

A high school dropout he accepted that he needed an education.  Perseverance at night school resulted in obtaining his GED.  A teacher in a community college gave him the encouragement and support and with hard work on his behalf  he graduated cum laude. He was accepted at Harvard. His initial experience at this institution gave him the feeling that Harvard’s process of education and his ADHD were at odds.  A Harvard professor challenged him, commenting that it wasn’t Todd it was the education system that was the problem.  Harvard did not nurture individual talent.  This gave him the drive to challenge Harvard. He began to focus on designing a new approach, away from the concept that our education is about a science of averages. His study promoted the need to find a way to evaluate individual talents, rather than comparing one individual to another individual.

Todd along with others have initiated Project Variability which focuses on the science of the individual, creating flexible environments. Its sole purpose is to bring to the public an awareness and new approaches to ensure a means of learning that lives up to our capabilities.

Todd offered the EdRev audience a challenge: start shifting.  The change is about a mindshift.  He asked this PEN membership who knows there is a problem with the education system to become a part of creating the solution.

He offered a first step involving one week of effort.

When there is a behavior, be it your child’s or your own, that needs correction find a context for making that change. Begin by asking yourself what is your default habit. State it and see what change you need to make. The goal is to allow your or your child’s true potential to emerge?  Consider:

  • What environment do you or he/she need?
  • What relationships are important?
  • Spell the information out for yourself or your child and put it into action.
  • Ask yourself what do you need to do to be ready for this change
  • How can you contribute to this?
  • Discover the first step.

Remember we can build technologies.  Ultimately, however, it’s not the technologies but individuals, parents and educators who need to take the responsibility to make this shift.  PEN membership knows there is a problem and that when solutions start to exist more will come.

Todd Rose has written a must successful book, Square Peg.

Todd Rose at EdRev, April 16, 2011

The San Francisco Giants Ball Park stadium and field was the home on Saturday, April 16th, 2011, of EdRev, (Education Revolution) celebration. With the theme Stand Up, Speak Out this day-long event produced by Parents Education Network (PEN)  brought together the largest national gathering of students who learn differently. Their families, educators and professionals joined to support them and together they educated themselves on a variety of learning differences.  

With the Giants playing field as the backdrop, at the mid-morning point, the large number of attendees gathered in the bleachers to hear Dr. L. Todd Rose, a young and successful faculty member at Harvard. What made him unique to this learning challenged gathering was the fact that his schooling process and his learning difference, ADHD, had so hampered his ability to learn that he was a high school drop. By nineteen he had gone through twenty minimum-wage jobs, become married and fathered a son. Then eureka happened.  One day his father-in-law said to him: “You are lazy.”That statement confused Todd.  He knew he wasn’t lazy.  Something else was going on.  He decided to make notes every time he was fired.  This step brought him an important insight. The reason he got fired generated from his boredom.  As soon as he had learned the skills of the job, such as a checker at the check-out stand in the grocery store, he became bored.  Then he began acting out.  

One night he shared his insight with his father: “I know why I have trouble keeping a job.  I get bored so easily.  I need a job where everything keeps changing.”His father commented:  “Those jobs exist but you have to have an education.”  

This was the impetus Todd needed. Now, he had the drive to get his GED (high school graduation). Working fulltime, he continued taking college night courses and graduated at the top of his class with a 3.97 GPA. Next he was accepted into the doctoral program at Harvard University, followed by a post-doctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Todd is now Co-Chair of the Mind, Brain and Education Institute at Harvard University as well as being a research scientist with CAST, a non-profit organization focusing on creating next–generation learning environments that will work for everyone.  And, he is in his thirties! Todd’s personal story gave him the insight into his passion for his professional life. He remembers well how much he hated school where he was not learning anything.  Now, he has  become an outspoken advocate and scientist developing the next steps for the educational process.  

He claims there is good news!  A learning revolution is taking place in the science milieu.  At the moment it’s silent. These explorers have developed a simple equation to define their task.                                                  variability x context = outcome.   

At first I was mystified when he presented this.  What did he mean?  Here’s the answer.   

Learners today include a variety of learning differences (ADHD, dyslexia, hyperlexia, aspergers as well as learners who can digest new information as taught using the current education system.)   These differences with their special variations/characteristics define the Variability of the equation.  Context refers to what is happening in the environment in which one learns.  For Todd, he knew he was working very hard in school but his school environment was not addressing his learning needs.   

Predictable. Todd’s outcome was predictable:  boredom and then failure. With this equation as the basis of his presentation, Todd turned his attention to the students in this large crowd encouraging them to accept the fact that they can be in control by being an advocate for what the need.  How do you do it?  You have to know your own variability. Begin to document your patterns. As you start to know your variability you have control.  Then, you can find a way to put yourself in better contexts.   

And, Todd empathized:  I know there are many of you like me, smart, but unable to access the information. You need to say what you need to learn. You need to state your problem for the current education system is outdated.  And, ask the question:  Does your learning environment value curiosity as you take responsibility for shaping your behavior?    To the parents in the audience he said that he and his colleagues know now there is scientific proof that all sorts of variables exist in the brain which support the statement that learning challenged learners require different solutions.  Leave the space open for your child to discover his or her variables and value their judgments about their needs.  My colleagues and I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as “you having knowledge”. “We know absolutely for sure that we can vary what you know based on what context (environment) we provide for you in which to learn.”  

His parting comment to the students was: “ There aren’t easy answers.  However, you may have more control than you can possibly imagine.”  

Todd Rose contact info: (

Prior to the KeyNote address, the opening feature was a video welcome from Andres Torres, the San Francisco Giants Center-Fielder. In 2002 Andres was diagnosed with ADHD.  At the time he was struggling in the minors to become a major league baseball player. In 2007 he sought treatment, began taking medication, and learned to develop strategies and support systems to help him become a key player. Torres’ struggle to triumph was an important example to those present in the grandstand.  Torres made it clear that through struggle came the desired result.