Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Worth Reading

Sharing a few highlights from the past couple of weeks with a particular emphasis on how some schools are challenging established educational structures.

1. Introduction to Designing Spaces for LearningEwan McIntosh introduces the Designing Spaces for Learning subject as part of the CSU Knowledge Networks course. In this clip, he shares a rationale for the three key areas of the subject - design, space and learning - and gives some advice for sharing thinking informally with the larger design/spaces for learning community.

2. Five Tips for Working With Works of Art (Moma)- this came out of a three day institute I attended about arts integrated curricula

3. Made With Code (Google)- showing how things we love are made with code

4. Zaana Howard on Design Thinking at Lean UX 14- podcast about the use of design thinking to bring people together to create and share

5. Will Computers Ever Replace Teachers (Reich)- pushes the reader to think about educating or preparing students to do things that computers cannot do

We use machine learning in a limited way for grading essays on tests, but for the most part those tests are dominated by assessment methods—multiple choice and quantitative input—in which computers can quickly compare student responses to an answer bank. We’re pretty good at testing the kinds of things that intelligent tutors can teach, but we’re not nearly as good at testing the kinds of things that the labor market increasingly rewards. In “Dancing with Robots,” an excellent paper on contempotary education, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane argue that the pressing challenge of the educational system is to “educate many more young people for the jobs computers cannot do.” Schooling that trains students to efficiently conduct routine tasks is training students for jobs that pay minimum wage—or jobs that simply no longer exist.

Fancy a career in design? When I made that choice 30 years ago, the options were limited. You either got an engineering degree and then went to design school, or you went to art school and studied graphic design, architecture, or industrial design, like I did.  Today, things are very different. Thanks to the still-booming Silicon Valley, interaction and user-experience designers have been added to the mix, but those aren’t the only opportunities for design thinkers. Even graduates of non-traditional programs can embark on exciting design careers. To wit, here are five disciplines that didn’t even exist at IDEO a few years ago.
People don't start learning when they enter a school building or stop when they exit. Learning is natural. Everyone learns all the time. PSII recognizes this truth, supporting learners in the pursuit of their personal passions wherever and whenever that learning needs to take place. The school is a gathering place where ideas can be shared and where strong face-to-face relationships become the foundation for truly personalized learning.
8. What Happens When School Design Looks Like Game Design (Shapiro)- insight into the Quest to Learn School which design curriculum from the approach of a video game perspective.
Quest To Learn shows us what happens when the old “factory model” of organization is replaced with a systems-based game-like paradigm. They call it games, systems, or design. That’s code for understanding content in context — and for seeing the interconnectedness between elements.
“We need to do a better job at giving children and young people opportunities to rise, which means developing systems that enable that rise — that enable them to move across networks and to engage in really hard problems with relevant resources. Games are all about creating spaces of possibility, where players feel they can do anything,”
9. How One Designer Bridged the Gap Between Play and Learning (Summers)- speaks to connection between play and learning with Margaret Middleton; an exhibiter at the Boston Children's Museum
“Play is naturally conducive to learning. It’s one of the best ways to learn: learning by doing, learning by playing and experiencing things. That’s what experimentation is all about. Play and science have a lot in common that way. The boring parts about it I guess, is that I have to be thinking about making sure that it’s safe and that everything that we’re making is going to be durable. It gets touched by thousands of hands every day. That’s more the practical side of things.”
10. A School That's All About Play (Barseghian)- Imagine a school where the students’ day revolves around playing games, all day long. Video games, live action role-playing games, board games, building games. At the PlayMaker School in Los Angeles, the school day takes kids from one game activity to the next, as they explore any number of different subjects and ideas, from the physics of flight to ancient Mesopotamian culture

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Finding the Heart of Nonfiction

Sharing a few highlights from Finding the Heart of Nonfiction.

If students are writing a "research report" or any informative writing, they must figure out how to transfer knowledge so readers can grasp, understand, and even experience the information (Heart).

The passions of the writer must come through to support the wonder and awe of the reader (Heart). 

Humanity and warmth are the essence of good nonfiction.  Do the words sound like they were written by an author?  Does the text have a voice?  Do the words invite the reader in?  do they make the reader feel passionate about or interested in a topic that she didn't care about before? (Heart)

Find the best writers in the fields that interest you and read their work aloud.  Get their voice and their taster into your ear- their attitude toward language (Heart).

Similarly, when I write nonfiction I try to communicate ideas, information, and facts by painting images with words- scenes that the reader can see in his mind, scenes that show rather than tell information (Heart).

No matter what the subgenre, a nonfiction writer's goal is to help the reader experience what he is describing.  Rick Bragg, a journalist for the New york Times, gives his advice to young writers:  "I tell people to always be looking.  I know that sounds a little absurd, but you just keep your eyes open, soak in how something smells or tastes or sounds (Heart)."

The doorway into a writer's experience is through the physical world.  Nonfiction writers use sensory and descriptive words that can make the reader see, touch, hear, smell and even taste (Heart). 

Creativity Inc.

Sharing a few highlights from Ed Catmull's Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration .

What makes Pixar special is that we acknowledge we will always have problems, many of them hidden from our view; that we work hard to uncover these problems, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable; and that, when we come across a problem, we marshal all of our energies to solve it.

Always take a chance on better, even if it seems threatening.

Several phrases would later be coined to describe these revolutionary approaches—phrases like “just-in-time manufacturing” or “total quality control”—but the essence was this: The responsibility for finding and fixing problems should be assigned to every employee, from the most senior manager to the lowliest person on the production line. If anyone at any level spotted a problem in the manufacturing process, Deming believed, they should be encouraged (and expected) to stop the assembly line. Japanese companies that implemented Deming’s ideas made it easy for workers to do so: They installed a cord that anyone could pull in order to bring production to a halt. Before long, Japanese companies were enjoying unheard-of levels of quality, productivity, and market share.

We realized that our purpose was not merely to build a studio that made hit films but to foster a creative culture that would continually ask questions.

Figuring out how to build a sustainable creative culture—one that didn’t just pay lip service to the importance of things like honesty, excellence, communication, originality, and self-assessment but really committed to them, no matter how uncomfortable that became—wasn’t a singular assignment.

Because too many of us think of ideas as being singular, as if they float in the ether, fully formed and independent of the people who wrestle with them. Ideas, though, are not singular. They are forged through tens of thousands of decisions, often made by dozens of people.

Find, develop, and support good people, and they in turn will find, develop, and own good ideas

We dare to attempt these stories, but we don’t get them right on the first pass. And this is as it should be. Creativity has to start somewhere, and we are true believers in the power of bracing, candid feedback and the iterative process—reworking, reworking, and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its throughline or a hollow character finds its soul.

Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil. They aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new (and, as such, should be seen as valuable; without them, we’d have no originality). And yet, even as I say that embracing failure is an important part of learning, I also acknowledge that acknowledging this truth is not enough. That’s because failure is painful, and our feelings about this pain tend to screw up our understanding of its worth. To disentangle the good and the bad parts of failure, we have to recognize both the reality of the pain and the benefit of the resulting growth

Experiments are fact-finding missions that, over time, inch scientists toward greater understanding. That means any outcome is a good outcome, because it yields new information. If your experiment proved your initial theory wrong, better to know it sooner rather than later. Armed with new facts, you can then reframe whatever question you’re asking

While experimentation is scary to many, I would argue that we should be far more terrified of the opposite approach. Being too risk-averse causes many companies to stop innovating and to reject new ideas, which is the first step on the path to irrelevance.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fostering Creativity

I came across three videos which call into question whether we are fostering  spaces in our schools where creativity can flourish. In the first two videos both students raise concerns about public education and whether the traditional structure, which still governs how students progress through a K-12 system, stifles creativity and never truly embraces individual interests.  The third video talks to the idea of following a personal passion.  The joy with which Clark Little talks about his passion for shooting waves is infectious.  I often wonder about what the outcomes would be if the focus were more on helping students pursue a passion.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Idea For Next Year

Yesterday was the last day of school for students and teachers until September.  Before teachers walked out the door I shared the following post with K-5 teachers from Fast Company on how making connections fosters creative thinking.

"that knowledge alone is not useful unless we can make connections between what we know. Whether you use the terms “knowledge” and “experience” to explain the difference or not, the concept itself is sound.
Lots of great writers, artists and scientists have talked about the importance of collecting ideas and bits of knowledge from the world around us, and making connections between those dots to fuel creative thinking and new ideas."
Over the past year, K-5 teachers have started to reflect on the elementary school experience and begin to wonder whether what else could occasion for students.  A common thread amongst elementary school teachers is trying to cultivate interdisciplinary learning environments.  To an extent, the departmentalization of subjects exists in our K-5 classrooms.  Teachers would like to explore how to break down barriers between subjects and fuse disciplines together.  I thought the article from Fast Company spoke to the need to develop integrated experiences for students and shared it to further reflection over the summer months.
Last night I received the following response from a 1st grade teacher.
I loved this. Here's an  idea for the elementary principals per this article: Distribute small spiral flip notebooks and shiny new pencils to all staff members at the first faculty meeting to encourage the practice of recording ideas. Have staff members share their ideas  at the beginning of staff meetings.
As much as I push for the use of technology as  vehicle to exchange ideas between colleagues, I appreciate the simplicity of providing teachers with a blank notebook and inspiring the idea within our staff to record what one observes/dreams/thinks and more so what one wonders.  It would be intriguing to have a significant mass of teachers and administrators commit to journaling next year and to periodically share random or not so random thoughts with one another. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


From Stanford 2025 Project:


Stanford also revolutionized the transcript, an obsolete, retrospective, and metadata-poor record of time spent, rather than skill or knowledge acquired. 

It was replaced by the “skill-print,” a unique, living artifact of competencies that became a coveted tool for employers to assess the potential of a candidate. Stanford students were aggressively recruited for their versatility and their ability to learn and adapt as rapidly as their companies and organizations evolved. 

Though many students continued to work within existing organizations, the majority began charting new career paths and defining new roles that did not exist when they entered their undergraduate experience.

The rallying cry upon the inception of this paradigm shift was “Get off your axis!” AXIS FLIP: It’s not what you know. It’s how you use it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Worth Reading...

Passing along a few interesting posts.  

1. Looking at Student Work With MathMistakes.org (Reich)- Harvard ed professor talks about cultivating in future teachers a desire to examine and talk about student work.  This is more than just glancing at student work but developing a meaningful professional conversation around student product.

In my Introduction to Education class, one of my goals is for students to get a sense of the value of looking at student work. Not just glancing at it, reading it, or grading it, but really trying to understand what we can learn about students' thinking by examining their performances. 

2. Pace Final- a final exam from an AP Lit teacher.  I appreciate the reflective presence embedded into this final exam.

Create a product of your choosing that demonstrates what you've learned about yourself, about how learning/understanding/education works, and about others this year in PACE. Apply vocabulary from this year into your final product and create something worthy of being displayed and discussed. Additionally, complete the graphic organizers based on the reading choices provided to you and be prepared to participate in a graded class discussion of your projects, the readings, and the year in review.

3. Greater Possibilities (Richardson)- continuing on the theme of making class a place where students get to work on things that matter.

As usual, Gary is spot on here. Last week during my Australia visit, I was asked on a panel how we prevent kids from being disruptive or off task when every one of them has a device in the classroom. I think the questioner was almost shocked when I started my answer by channelling Gary, saying “I don’t think we give kids enough credit in their ability to stay focused when they’re doing work that matters.”

4. You Can Always Add.  You Can't Subtract (Meyer)- providing space for students to ask questions and to define a problem themselves as opposed to having a text book or an adult do it for them.

In sum, much of the problem has been pre-formulated, which is a pity, seeing as how mathematicians and cognitive psychologists and education researchers agree that formulating the problem leads to success and interest in solving the problem.
So again I have to remind myself to be less helpful and be more thoughtful instead.

5. Catholic Prep Chain Helps Detroit's Minority Students Go On To College (Guerra)- approach taken to provide high school students with meaningful internships.

Four days a week, Idalis Longoria does what pretty much all high school juniors do. She goes to school, takes notes in class, hangs out in the cafeteria with her friends - but on the fifth day of the week - well that's when Longoria trades in her Catholic school uniform for a pair of light blue scrubs.

6. Schools Fight To Skip Standardized Tests, But Keep Learning Standards High (Kamnetz)- how one school district in Kentucky is by-passing standardized exams in favor of homegrown authentic performance-based assessments.  Please watch the case of the hungry hound...
One assignment in particular captured Swann’s attention. “The teacher asked the students to design an amusement park ride. They had all the math in there, and physics, and it just really sparked something in me: That math doesn’t have to be this boring class with lectures and standardized tests. I said, ‘Let’s take this back to Danville.’”

7. The Fire Hydrant Gets Its First Major Redesign in 100 Years- great little piece about striving to amke something better
Today's hydrants break, leak, and freeze, sometimes costing people their lives. The tamper-proof and incredibly durable Sigelock Spartan, designed by a former New York firefighter, is intended to work when people need them.

8. Amazing Perspective in GoPro Videos (Fryer)- "I have seen the GoPro camera and been a little more aware of it because how our church videographers have used one in the past few months to create some pretty stunning perspective videos about individuals. This video from GoPro, however, takes the idea of first person perspective to a whole different level."