From NYC classrooms to the hallowed TED stage (Where LaMontagne is a Senior Fellow), Juliette LaMontagne has shown dedication to creating new, innovative learning opportunities. As the Founder and Director of Project Breaker, LaMontagne brings a collaborative 12-week program to interdisciplinary teams of young people who work together to create "product solutions" to a wide variety of the world’s most pressing problems. From reimagining "The Future of the Book" to "Urban Agriculture" and most recently "The Future of Stuff," the program allows young people to experience an immersive, real-world opportunity to learn that could be called the apprenticeship of the future.

In addition to creating new, unique learning opportunities, LaMontagne has brought many years experience helping develop curriculum as an instructor at Teachers College, Columbia University (Where she received her Ed.D.) and as a consultant with both Student Press Initiative and the Asia Society’s International Studies School Network, where she is an EdTech Innovations Facilitator. Regardless of where she is working, or what organization she is partnered with, LaMontagne is helping us to break with past learning traditions and help us to fix the current model of higher education and pre-career training that becomes more and more broken as student loan debt and unemployment continue to grow. Let’s hope LaMontagne "Breaks" more soon.


Question: How did your educational trajectory (background) affect your current work?
Answer:My TC mentor and advisor, Ruth Vinz, strongly encouraged research in practice. So approaching my professional work like an anthropologist looking to make meaning of it was second nature to me. This perspective, grounded in qualitative research, left me predisposed to design thinking with its emphasis on empathy and ethnography. Real-world challenges already laid the foundation of my teaching practice; designing real things for real people only increased the potential for impact.

Question: What professional experiences have been most formative to your current work?
Answer: I began my career as a high school English teacher in the New York City public school system. After starting an after school program that fused art, literacy, and activism, I learned that the real impact of my teaching was not in the state mandated curriculum, but in the project work occurring in the after school hours - attracting kids’ voluntary participation, igniting curiosities, and engaging the communities in which they lived. We created collaborative works of art that found audiences at museums like The Whitney Museum of American Art. The program became the subject of my doctoral dissertation and project-based learning the focal point of the courses I taught in the pre-service teaching program at Teachers College, Columbia University where I also served as a Coordinator of the MA program. I later began consulting for an affiliated organization called the Student Press Initiative – a project-based, audience-driven model – until I left Columbia in 2008 to work with the Asia Society’s International Studies School Network as a Leadership Coach and EdTech Innovations Facilitator promoting use of new media technologies in teaching and learning. My three-year tenure as a TED Senior Fellow introduced me to design thinking and social enterprise – among other things. And my latest initiative, Breaker, applies both to project-based learning to create a hybrid model. Breaker drives alternative learning and social innovation by mobilizing interdisciplinary teams of young creative collaborators to design product solutions to global challenges.

Question: What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
Answer: The "unbundling" of learning. Modularity that allows for customization: individualized learning pathways that combine free and paid content, on and offline, experiential learning, mentoring, etc. Pick and Choose. Breaker would be one module for some young people. There’s no single solution for all. "The internet of things" – environments saturated with smart objects.

Question: What are you currently working on & what is your next big project?
Answer: A collaboration with the at Stanford to build a hybrid Breaker course that will join teams in NYC, Detroit, and an online team distributed globally.

Photo: Courtesy Juliette LaMontagne