Wojcicki’s Classroom and Book Encourage Shooting for the Moon

With four publications on deadline, 150 Palo Alto High School students were hard at work after hours. Esther Wojcicki was the only teacher on site while the other two were in a meeting, but she was eating dinner in the kitchen. The high school juniors and seniors were on task, well organized and didn’t require adult supervision to produce world class products.

The Campanile is the campus newspaper. Nine issues are printed throughout the academic school year. It is composed of three, eight-paged sections: news, lifestyle and sports.

Verde Magazine, an award winning 70 page print magazine in its 15th year. Published every six weeks during the academic year, it includes a dozen long features and a dozen short commentaries. Long pieces take on tough social issues including homelessness, gender identity and college affordability. Editorials attack problems with course schedules, homework, and bullying.


Voice is the student website that is updated daily and sometimes multiple times a day. InFocus is Paly’s daily broadcast program. Viking is a sports magazine. Madrono is Paly’s yearbook.

When two young ladies approached Wojcicki a few years ago about another magazine, she worried about the sustainability of another publication. The students agreed to sell advertising to cover the cost of the glossy magazine modeled after the NY Times Magazine. C Magazine, an arts and entertainment was launched by a team of students that, as Wojcicki recounts had  an, “Opportunity to be creative, to fail, to recover, to learn communication, language and tech skills as well as to be passionate about a project.”

For most of 30 years, Wojcicki taught journalism classes in a portable building at Palo Alto High School. This year Esther and her colleagues teach in a beautiful Media Arts Center. Support for the new facility seemed to grow after hundreds of students took the program from Wojcicki and her colleagues over the years and recommended the program to their friends. It became one of the fastest growing programs in the district. The community and all five members of the school board enthusiastically supported the building of the new Media Arts Center which opened in August 2014. Art work from actor and Paly alum James Franco decorates many of the hallways.




Wojcicki stays late two nights a week to allow student teams time to work on publications.  Three times a month, when three publications are on deadline, parents come in and serve students dinner.

Moonshot thinking. Students in what I’ve called the nation’s biggest and best journalism program learn valuable skills. Perhaps even more important is a mindset that they, with a team, can accomplish extraordinary things. As an author and advocate, Wojcicki is sharing strategies that will help other teachers develop the sort of entrepreneurial mindset now common on the Paly campus.

“Moonshots involve goals that are difficult to achieve, perhaps seemingly impossible.”

Wojcicki’s new book, Moonshots in Education, encourages teachers to “shoot for the moon.”

“Today we are preparing kids for a world we cannot even conceptualize,” said Wojcicki, “They need to think, not follow directions. We need to move forward, take a risk; we have the tools and the skills to change the classroom and make learning exciting and relevant for all students.”

Moonshots aims high but is full of tips and practical advice for teachers about apps and classroom strategies. The book, and Esther’s classrooms, exhibit her core belief that, “Students will achieve at levels far beyond what is expected if you give them the opportunity.”

For more on student blogging, check out:

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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