Monday, July 30, 2012

Worth Sharing...

Sharing a few thought-provoking posts I came across in recent weeks.

1. Creation Requires Your Influence (Couros)- comments on the importance of working side-by-side with students and taking part in the learning as well.

Having a dad work side-by-side with his daughter to help her learn and do something that she is interested in while helping her develop skills that she will need in her life.  She might not know how to make and edit a video right now, but she will be able to sooner than many kids because of an adult (her dad) taking the time by not only modelling his learning, but, as Chris Kennedy has said, going “elbows deep into learning” with his daughter.

2. What Will the Ed Tech Revolution Look Like (Brady/Fast Company)- prediction for what will transpire in the Ed Tech Revolution over the next 5-15 years.  I jsut wonder if we can wait 15 years for some of these changes to occur.

After a decade more of fiscal pressure at school and many of the changes discussed above, we will finally see widespread changes to our public school model. Schools will move toward one of a handful of models that better support the needs of individual students and reflect the fiscal realities of today.

3. A To-Be List (Maiers)-  what kind of leader do you want to be?

Be A Question Asker.  I have been teaching and writing about the importance of asking great questions for a long time.  Great questions are the best way to have a meaningful conversation, the best way to rope in a mentor AND the best way to look like a star performer.  Make it a priority to listen to people asking great questions. Be in charge of the questions you ask and keep a list of the best questions you hear.  Use this to create a question toolbox you use and can apply to every conversation and interaction you have.

4. A Passion For Learning Is Hard to Quantify-  9th grade student questions how mandatory one size fits all testing is a true measurement of growth and learning.

Tests are important, but are not the only way to find out what kids can do. I know I am not the best test taker, so multiple choice tests aren’t always the best way to show my abilities. And I wouldn't want to just learn how to score better on them.

5.  The Global Transformation in Education- The Global Transformation in Education" addresses the forces of change that are causing educators globally to rethink what education for today's students should involve. Teaching kids how to learn and what it means to be a life long learner.

6. Nike Find Your Greatness- what can we do to create spaces for greatness to occur?

Friday, July 27, 2012


Sharing highlights from Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers.  We are considering sharing excerpts with 9th grade students this year along with selections from Imagine (Lehrer), The Power of Pull / New Culture of Learning (Brown), Change by Design (Brown) and the Jobs biography (Isaacson).  A possible shifting paradigm on the type of books our kids read.

“It’s just like sports,” Dhuey said. “We do ability grouping early on in childhood. We have advanced reading groups and advanced math groups. So, early on, if we look at young kids, in kindergarten and first grade, the teachers are confusing maturity with ability. And they put the older kids in the advanced stream, where they learn better skills; and the next year, because they are in the higher groups, they do even better; and the next year, the same thing happens, and they do even better again

Because we so profoundly personalize success, we miss opportunities to lift others onto the top rung. We make rules that frustrate achievement. We prematurely write off people as failures. We are too much in awe of those who succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail.

Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.

These are stories, instead, about people who were given a special opportunity to work really hard and seized it, and who happened to come of age at a time when that extraordinary effort was rewarded by the rest of society. Their success was not just of their own making. It was a product of the world in which they grew up.

The sense of possibility so necessary for success comes not just from inside us or from our parents. It comes from our time: from the particular opportunities that our particular place in history presents us with.   

Those three things—autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward—are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying. It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It’s whether our work fulfills us.

Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning. Once it does, it becomes the kind of thing that makes you grab your wife around the waist and dance a jig.

Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.   

Monday, July 23, 2012

Make Space Part I

I am making my way through Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration by Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft.  It has stimulated conversations about the use of space in our schools.  I am sharing below some highlights from what I have been able to get through.

With a boss or a professor standing at the head of the room, it feels like a "sage on stage"- people are reluctant to share their ideas.  Reconfiguring the physical relationship is a powerful signal that participation is truly welcome.  The result is that you get better ideas out in the open, where they can grow.

We want our teams to work collaboratively instead of individually, so we have generous collaboration spaces, and "bare essential" individual spaces.  We want our teams to get up and try stuff, not sit around and talk in long meetings, so we make seating uncomfortable and tables too small.

Design with alternate uses in mind.

The act of "building"- whether that means cutting wood & building cabinets or selecting materials and furniture - connects you with the space as an invested owner rather than an entitled user.

Space is the "body language" or an organization.  This suggests that a space designer is simultaneously a cultural translator and a builder.

Whether your mobile technology is a camera or sketchbook, capture images and thoughts as you cover your bases... Then surround yourself with evidence of the inspiration by saturating your project room or office with the visuals and notes.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bold Is Better than Bland

A couple of friends of mine went into the city last night to hear authors Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft, and book designer Scott Stowell discuss their new book Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration.  Doorley and Witthoft are Co-Directors of the Environments Collaborative at the Stanford d. school.  Make Space is about creative spaces and about creating spaces that invite participation and foster cooperation.  There are more than 100 mini-entries in the book about ways to make existing space more collaborative.

Scattered throughout the book are short vignettes and thought-provoking phrases.  Theses phrases such as, "Align with your intent" or "Allow the space and the people to continue to adapt and grow,"  serve as messages for would be designers.  One of these messages contained in the book offered the following about the impact of presenting contrast:

Contrast is perhaps the greatest design tool.  It emphasizes or deemphasizes via difference.  It is a full moon in the sky.  It was Arnold Schoenberg in 1923 and the Ramones in 1976.  It is the difference between a meeting in which you actually do something and most any office meeting.

I see this idea about contrast serving as a guiding principle for rethinking spaces in our school.  As mentioned in a prior post, I am working with several other educators to build an introductory activity for 9th graders around the work of Sol LeWitt.  Initially, using LeWitt's work was about reinforcing process for students.  In recreating a "Wall Drawing" key learning outcomes established for the 9th grade such as collaboration, problem-solving and critical thinking would be privileged from the opening of school.  While this is still a motivating factor, a collection of LeWitt inspired wall drawings would provide a strong contrast against cinder block walls and monochromatic classrooms.  It would also empower learners to assume ownership over the space they work in or would rather work in and who knows, possibly inspire others to do the same.

Finding ways to provide design contrasts in schools subtly impacts the learning environment.  For a minute to a look at this meeting space from the Green School in Bali or this High Tech High classroom. Both spaces, through their distinct design initiatives, invite collaboration and transparency.  Think of the difference in creating classrooms that replace glass with cement walls. The contrast between cement and glass in fostering collaboration, promoting transparent learning and ultimately building a sense of community is a significant decision.

The physical design of schools and classrooms is a topic that often fails to be discussed during debates ed reform deabtes.  This is a mistake that has profound consequences.  Vanderbilt Graduate student Ben Shapiro (@BenrydalShapiro ) makes a strong point when he talks about the partnership being formed between his university and a college in Melbourne, Australia.  Mr. Shapiro shared the following about the connection between physical space and learning:

“You have the architectural languages and the educational languages, and they don’t really overlap, but here there are professors in education and architecture who are working together and talking about how space relates to pedagogy.” 

Taking a cue from Ben and from Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft, we need to consider how the design of our spaces fosters creative, inventive thinking and cooperation between stakeholders.  A goal should be how do we conceive of new creative spaces for teachers and students to do work in.