Category Design

#RethinkHighSchool with XQ: The Super School Project

This month, the rethinkED team is getting excited about XQ: The Super School Project, Launched by Laurene Powell Jobs, this design challenge invites teams to reimagine the next American High School. Winners will receive support and $50 million to make their idea into a reality.

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Source: http://xqsuperschool.org/challenge

According to the XQ institute, XQ is the agile and flexible intelligence that prepares students for a more connected world, a rapidly changing future, and a lifetime of learning. It is a combination of IQ (cognitive capabilities) and EQ (emotional intelligence or how we learn in the world).

Soliciting “What If..”s from the world, the XQ project is a design thinking challenge operating on a massive scale. The challenge is broken into 4 phases: 1) Assemble a team, 2) Discover the landscape of education, 3) Design a super school for the community, and 4) Develop a formidable plan.

RethinkED is going to team up with other innovative and talented individuals for an intense day of dreaming and designing next week. As you’ve seen, we have a lot of ideas surround character education, interdisciplinary pedagogies, and community-focused learning, and we are excited to merge these into a coherent plan of action to #RethinkHighSchool.

P.S. The rethinkED team has recently grown! We have two new members, and we are super excited for you to meet them.

 

unleashing creativity with d.global…*

Hello, fellow rethinkers! I took a break this past summer from posting, but I am excited to be back and to share excited ideas about education with you.

This past weekend I participated in a d.global workshop, a design thinking challenge that the d.school at Stanford is taking around the world with the goal of unleashing the creative potential in all of us.nycinvite

In this seven-hour workshop, we went through a design thinking process to seek new insights and understandings towards large problems attendees were facing in their day-to-day lives. We began with three postures – short activities meant to establish a culture with specific norms and values. I discuss two below:

creative postures…*

Our first posture – “I am a tree”- brought everyone into the mindset of stepping forward and taking risks. This is an improv game where one person begins by standing as a tree in the center of the circle and states “I am a tree.” Next, another team member steps in and states what she is to complete the setting. For example, “I am a bird.” A third person then steps in and could say, “I am bird poop.” The first person steps out of the scene and chooses one person to remove as well, and then the game continues. Here’s a youtube video of an improv team performing “I am a tree,” since it is far easier to understand if you watch it happening.

After reflecting on risk-taking, we began our second posture – “Tada!” This game seeks to reframe failure. Teams of two play a variety of counting games where it is very easy to mess up. After reflecting on how our body language and demeanor was affected by these mess ups, we were instructed to instead shout “Tada!” each time our group failed, complete with a step forward and spirit fingers.

design challenges…*

In an ideation session, we developed questions pertinent to our own life goals and struggles. I focused on how to seek a work/life balance and how to better structure my days.IMG_7768

We then shared and synthesized these questions into more broad goals that groups of 5-6 could rally around. My group asked “How to design a life that has meaningful impact and is meaningful / life-giving to you?” Other questions are included in the photos below.IMG_7766IMG_7770

In a surprise twist, we were then tasked with seeking inspiration and ideas to solve another group’s problem, rather than our own. Our group was looking into the question “how to find passion and a reason to get out of bed in the morning” We spent time with the other group, building empathy and deeper understand of their question. We realized that the members of this group had diverse reasons for asking this question. Some were overwhelmed. Others lacked focus or drive. Generally, they all had issues around goal-setting and motivation. With this in mind, we began our three hour exploration of NYC, seeking inspiration and new perspectives to bring back with us.

how to life a motivated and passionate life...*

Our journey to seek empathy and new perspectives led us to talk to many people, and the conversations we had were wonderful and inspiring. A barista at a local coffee shop spoke of how his day job paid the bills while his passion was to become a theologian. He was slowly obtaining a Masters in Theology at night. He advised us to first focus on what has to get done, and then focus on what you’d like to get done. An employee at Old Navy worked two jobs during the day and found both to be fun and fulfilling. Outside of work, she was an aspiring dancer. Her advice to those who dread leaving bed in the morning was to be patient and to mix it up every once in a while.

Last, we spoke with a highly regarded trainer at a luxury fitness enter. He spoke of setting a combination of short and long-term goals and holding yourself accountable by writing things down and telling your friends or family about your goals.

Our final task as a group was to create a gift for the group we were designing for, based on our experiences that day. We decided to combine all of the nuggets of wisdom we noted throughout our exploration into a “choose your own adventure” poster, shown below:

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HOW TO LIVE A MEANINGFUL AND LIFE-GIVING LIFE…*

The group designing for us gifted us with a line from the poem Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson shown below. This line is a beautiful representation of the desire to do good in the world that our group was struggling with.

I felt invigorated by the exploration of my city and inspired by the wonderful minds I spent the day designing with. This year, I hope to bring a similar experience to the Riverdale community.

Thank you, d.global, for a tremendous experience!

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{ virtual reality & empathy }: using technology to enhance the human experience

Earlier this year in a series of posts called “On Being A Cyborg“, I wrote about various technologies that enrich and assist us in living our lives. The defining quality of these technologies is that rather than pulling us away from the core human experience, I argued that they actually help make us more human.

Today I’d like to add to this list. After watching Chris Milk’s TED2015 talk – How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine – I believe that virtual reality technology could be a solution to getting us to care, specifically about the people living in realities so far removed from ours that they are hard to imagine.

Milk wondered if there was a way that he could “use modern and developing technologies to tell stories in different ways and tell different kinds of stories that maybe [we] couldn’t tell using the traditional tools of filmmaking that we’ve been using for 100 years?” As he explains, “What I was trying to do was to build the ultimate empathy machine.

One such experiment in empathy machines is the interactive short film entitled Wilderness Downtown, a project with Arcade Fire that has an avatar running down a street, that you quickly realize is the one you grew up on. I actually used this little bit of virtual reality a few years back when he made it, and myself was delighted by the results. You can try this one using the link above.

His next attempt was an art installation – The Treachery of Sanctuary. In this piece, people were given the power to transform themselves into birds and bring them into flight using triptych technology.

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http://jamesgeorge.org/Treachery-of-Sanctuary

Perhaps most impressing is the film Clouds over Sidra. In this United Nations sponsored work, he uses virtual reality to create empathy for those living in a refugee camp in Jordan – placing them in three dimensional spaces while a 12-year-old refugee named Sidra tells the story of her life. As Milk explains

…when you’re sitting there in her room, watching her, you’re not watching it through a television screen, you’re not watching it through a window, you’re sitting there with her. When you look down, you’re sitting on the same ground that she’s sitting on. And because of that, you feel her humanity in a deeper way. You empathize with her in a deeper way.

Milk’s team is now making more of these films – currently shooting one in Liberia. And these films are now being shown to the people at the United Nations who can change the lives of those inside these virtual reality worlds.

The power of this medium to enhance human empathy is incredible. I’ve spoken before about multimedia literacy and about the problem with our society’s primacy of text over other modes of communication. Milk’s work is demonstrative of the power of other mediums beyond text to communicate things such as empathy – something that can be communicated in a written story, but may be communicated better in a virtual reality world.

As Mlik explains,

It’s not a video game peripheral. It connects humans to other humans in a profound way that I’ve never seen before in any other form of media. And it can change people’s perception of each other.And that’s how I think virtual reality has the potential to actually change the world.

So, it’s a machine, but through this machine we become more compassionate, we become more empathetic, and we become more connected.And ultimately, we become more human.

I would love to view one of his virtual reality films. Wouldn’t you?

{ Design Based Research } for better and more efficient educational impact

One of the symposiums I attended at last week’s 2015 AERA conference was on DBR or Design Based Research. According to Wang and Hannafin (2005), DBR is:

a systematic but flexible methodology aimed to improve educational practices through iterative analysis, design, development, and implementation, based on collaboration among researchers and practitioners in real-world settings, and leading to contextually-sensitive design principles and theories (p. 6)

In my opinion, DBR is just the fancy name for design thinking in the education research realm! This is an important methodology because it bridges the gap between research and practice.

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As discussed by the closing speaker, Alan Collins, DBR has four critical aspects:

  1. Iterative refinements based on real-world trials
  2. Partnerships between researchers and participants
  3. Wide variety of measures/observations: outcomes, climates, system effects
  4. Working to improve both theory and practice

As a huge proponent of design thinking and its use in everyday life, I of course am drawn to these sort of methods. One of the more interesting debates during the symposium was about the myriad of methods and ways in which DBR is used. One attendee questioned, Does the fact that there is no linear path to DBR devalue it as a method? In a highly systematic research world, the ill-defined nature of DBR makes people uncomfortable. However, anyone who works in schools knows that there is no one way to educate and that the contextual factors of any given situation will lead to wild fluctuations in our approaches and methods to teaching. I think that the fact that there are so many ways to do this is promising and exciting. It redefines what it means to develop educational practice and intervention in a meaningful and efficient way. All too often, research is silo-ed from practice and the products of research and completely infeasible in the classroom setting. DBR saves researchers the waste of time and money early on.

I view DBR as a continuum in the space between high-controlled laboratory research and un-empirical practice in the classroom. In my own work at Teachers College, I am designing computer software through DBR methods that fall towards the research side of this system. We have three rounds of iteration and are constantly bringing our prototype product into schools to user-test and get valuable feedback from students and teachers. While our ultimate goal is a proof-of-concept scale up of a discovery-based learning task, we demand that this task is actually usable by students in real contexts.

Additionally, in many ways, the work that rethinkED has done at RCDS falls on the other side of the continuum. Working with teachers to identify problems and using design thinking and relevant literature to develop solutions, we too have merged theory and practice in a meaningful way.

Hearing about the exciting work done in this area, I am hopeful that the research world can increase its relevance for educational practice and I am excited about the potential for teams like rethinkED to contribute to this new and useful methodology…*

 

 

{ whimsical urban spaces } for fostering play

live from AERA…*

I am currently attending the 2015 AERA (American Educational Research Association) conference in Chicago, and I have been attending and participating in a variety of exciting presentations, roundtables, and poster sessions about the many types of interesting research around education and its unique challenges. I am still making sense out of all I learned, and I hope to share some of the interesting talks with you in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, today I want to talk about this amazing playground I spotted here in downtown Chicago.

Fostering Play…*

Last week Elsa wrote about the importance of play in our ever-changing world, reminding us of the essential nature of play. Perhaps this was on my mind because during my free afternoon this weekend I was walking near Millennium Park and couldn’t help but stop to admire this incredible play space.

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Photo Eric X. via Yelp

Maggie Daley park is a $60 million, newly opened 20 acre recreational space, opened in 2014. It was designed by architect Michael Van Valkenburgh as “a counterpoint to the symmetry and formality of Grant Park… with..  curvilinear forms, dramatic topography, and many whimsical elements.” As described in this article, there is a 3-acre play garden designed in the spirit of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” which is the piece of the park I stumbled upon . I was immediately enchanted by the surrealist, cartoon-like environment. Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated that the play garden “will allow kids to challenge themselves and do things they didn’t know they could do“.

In a world where I worry about childhoods lived behind a screen and enacted through highly constrained, scripted environments, I am so excited by this notion of fostering unstructured play. The rich narrative and creative potential of places like this is endless, and I find myself envious of the young children who will be enjoying the play garden this spring.

More pictures of this play space below. I will report back on my more academic experience at this conference next Monday!

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Children loved running up and down the rubbery foam hills, rather than using the stairs.

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A giant bridge connecting two towers. When I crossed, three young boys were working together to shake the bridge, excited at the prospect of making me fall (I remained upright, to their extreme disapointment).

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My colleague from Teachers College taking a turn on one of the slides.

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A web made of wires and ropes, where young boys created a clubhouse to call home.

{Inspired} by IDEO…*

I visited with IDEO San Francisco last week in order to work on two new projects with them. As always, it was great to be in their offices and meet various team members. I am really excited to be working with them again. As you may remember, we developed the Design Thinking Toolkit for Educators with them a few years ago.Even though the work is inspiring and interesting, the most interesting thing of working with them are the “meta-lessons” I take away from experiencing their way of working and thinking about things. Here are a few of my inspirations provoked by my recent visit:

  • permission…permission to think creatively, permission to act naturally and be oneself, permission to dream…
  • creativity…they are willing to let down the barriers and just be creative…I think about how many of our workplaces, schools and homes are not supportive of creativity, and yet, developing creative people is one of the greatest challenges we face…”Yes, and…”-the core of improvisation is at the core of the spirit at IDEO
  • optimism…cynicism, irony, unpleasantness are jus too present in our lives. I work in a school because the optimism of young people is contagious…it makes you want to get up every morning and work. This is the spirit of IDEO and positive psychology-frame thing optimistically-you will not only be happier, but you will handle decisions, work and life better…
  • wicked problems…no problem is too big to be taken on…world hunger, creating great schools, improving the lives of older people…we should all take on challenges and turn them into “How might we…?” challenges…
  • design thinking…when I first learned about design thinking, I thought it was a methodology, a set of steps one uses to solve problems. Now I think of it much more as a mindset, a way of thinking and living…of course, one has to learn about design thinking to practice it well, but one also has to “bend” one’s mind to design thinking…
  • openness to learning…a lot of us think that learning stops with school or university…we need to be lifelong learners and places like IDEO support that idea of bringing a “beginner’s mind” to everything that we do. It is not that expertise is not important, but intellectual humility is just as important…
  • innovation…I sometimes think that we conceptualize innovation as something grand, something complex and sophisticated, and yet, it can be simple, elegant and modest…read/listen to this inspiring story that is a great metaphor for this idea…

IDEO is a worthy example of a place, a space that we should emulate. It is more than a firm or a design company. It is an experience and mindset. Lots of people want to work there, but the most important lesson is how to take the spirit of IDEO and apply it to our working, to our thinking and to our living.

How do you make toast? {The design world and visual problem solving…*}

One of my courses this semester is called Visual Thinking, and we are studying how visual representations facilitate communication and thought. I am excited to share more with you as the course progresses, but when I found this TED talk last week, I thought it the perfect segue between design thinking (something we love here at rethinkED…*) and the power of visual explanations

Tom Wujec is a designer who specializes in visualization. In his new TED talk – Got a wicked problem? First, tell me how you make toast – he discusses the “design thinking way” of confronting a challenge: making your ideas visible, tangible, and consequential. 

How do you make toast…* ??

He explains his theory by starting off with a simple problem-solving exercise. How do you make toast? He has asked thousands of people and teams to draw their toast-making methods for him.

[All images from www.drawtoast.com/gallery ]

Systems Models Thinking…*

While the drawings demonstrate differences in the processes and focus of the act, one thing they all have in common is their structure; almost all of the drawings have nodes, representing tangible objects, and links, forming the connections between them. These combinations create the systems models that make our mental models of “how something works” visible. You can measure the complexity of a mental model by the number of nodes, and Wujec has found that most have between 5 and 13 nodes to be visually effective.

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What these systems models illustrate is that we intuitively all know how to break down complex things into simple things.

The power of sticky notes and groups…*

Interestingly, Wujec has found that variants of the draw toast exercise can create better outcomes. For instance providing movable cards or sticky notes leads to better systems. People tend to develop nodes and then rearrange them like lego blocks. The malleability of the nodes facilitates rapid iteration of expressing and reflecting. In essence, it’s the design process.

Additionally, in a group, it gets REALLY messy for a while, but ultimately people build on each other ideas and the final model integrates a diversity of viewpoints, with branches and parallel patterns to represent different paths to the solution.

The Visual Revolution…*

Wujec states that he has been seeing a visual revolution in business – people are beginning to pick up on this trend and collaboratively draw out their challenges and problems. Through this process of iterative refinement of nodes and links, organizations find clarity. While the final models are important, the conversations around the models are important too.

Wujec’s ideas have much in common with the design thinking process of Design Thinking for Educators (more about this in a blog post here), which places an emphasis on iteration, collaboration, and the power of the sticky note.

However, the idea of creating a systems model for your problems is a new and useful one. It is easy to be overwhelmed when faced with a daunting challenge. Breaking it up into small manageable pieces, and using the “sticky note” method to keep these fluid and iterate on one’s ideas can result in surmountable steps to solutions. Wujec invites us to try this method with his website drawtoast.com and concludes, so the seemingly trivial design exercise of drawing toast helps us get clear, engaged and aligned. 

Watch the video below:

 

On being a cyborg: Self Control Technology …*

Willpower is an important thing to have…*

Willpower and self control are important skills. In Walter Mischel’s famous marshmallow experiment, he put hundred of 4-year olds in a room alone with a marshmallow, and promised them two marshmallows if they could just wait until he came back.

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Children varied on their self-control, and when Mischel’s team followed up with the children through high school, he found that children who delayed gratification or exhibited greater willpower got along better with peers and had higher SAT scores. Those who eat their marshmallow immediately had behavioral problems and did poorly in school.

While the results of this study are controversial (perhaps a post for another week), their are definitive links between wellbeing and willpower. Moreover, it is a skill you can cultivate, and there are a variety of strategies one can use to increase self-control. In the marshmallow study, the most successful participants used ways to remove the temptation such as turning around, covering their eyes, or putting the marshmallow on the far corner of the table, out of reach.

Technology for Self-Control…*

Which brings me to this week’s installment of On being a cyborg. There exist a variety of great technological tools that can help us with self-control. Some of these directly concern our safety such as 1) GPS systems that refuse to let you enter an address when the car is moving, 2) in-car breathalyzers to curb drunk driving, or 3) Apps that utilize GPS and Airplane mode to prevent you from texting while driving (when your phone is moving at greater than 10mph).

Others simply prevent us from making decisions we might regret later. College students might use Don’t Dial! – an iphone app to temporarily block phone numbers from your contacts.  If you are one of those people who just can’t help but go back for seconds (and thirds, and fourths) of a batch of freshly baked cookies, a new technology tool Kitchen Safe can lock various items inside itself for a specified time. It can also be used to lock up phones during dinnertime or video game controllers when you should be getting your homework done.

Perhaps the most relevant apps are ones that can facilitate focus for studying or learning, boosting productivity. SelfControl is an app that blocks distracting websites for a set period of time. If you have a paper to write, block Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the next 5 hours to prevent yourself from falling down a Facebook rabbit hole for an hour and a half. Other apps such as FocusWriter, Anti-Social, and StayFocused have similar functions – helping eliminate distractions so that you can work productively. For those of us who glue ourselves to a task for hours on end until we lose perspective on the big picture – Time Out allows you to set intervals where to break for 5-10 minutes to relax and take a step back from your work.

THE PROS AND CONs of “willpower tech”…*

While I love the idea of offloading some of the stress of maintaining willpower, I do worry that relying on technology for self-control can backfire if that technology is not readily available. Can the use of these help us to develop habits that will transfer to other contexts? For the example of placing phones in a Kitchen Safe during dinner, I could see the potential to get used to not having a phone at dinner and therefore developing a habit of not looking at one’s phone at the table. I have not yet seen studies on whether or not these types of technology help us to develop long-lasting habits, or if our willpower simply is gone when the tech is removed.

Additionally, to cultivate willpower, we should ensure that we are teaching children to use these apps themselves, rather than enforcing them. A 13 year old self-regulating her study time with the aid of an app is very different from a 13 year old who’s study time is regulated by her parents’ enforcement of an app.

Do you use any sorts of technology to aid you with self-control?

 

On being a cyborg: Augmented Reality in Education…*

augmented reality technology*

Augmented reality is a live view of the real world where elements are supplemented by computer-generated input.Augmented Reality allows educators and students view layers of digital information superimposed on the physical world, often through an Android or iOS device. Perhaps the most popular recent example of augmented reality technology is Google Glass – a  product that was withdrawn from the market just a few days ago. As can be seen in the video below, Google glass was intended to augment ones reality with a variety of data, including directions, phone numbers, and text messages.

educational potential*

However, there are still a ton of augmented reality applications and tools out there that have been demonstrated to be effective, both for daily life and for education. For example, Google sky map is a FREE educational astronomy app that uses the camera on your smartphone. When you hold it up to the sky, the app identifies stars and constellations.

Sky-Map

Science seems like a particularly fruitful content area for AR functionality. Other apps such as Elements 4D and Anatomy 4D by Daqri help students to better understand chemistry and human biology.

Another app with huge educational potential is Aurasma – an open source tool to augment your surroundings in a variety of ways. For example, teachers can provide AR guidance attached to homework pages, or students can assign book review audio recordings to the covers of specific books. Some uses can be seen in the video below.

 

Rethinking education with AR …*

I like AR tools because the technology affords new ways to interact with the world, but still leaves space for the educator to design and determine how to use it. For example, a history teacher could use Aurasma to develop an interactive world map in the classroom, where students attach “auras” of articles and facts about different locations. A teacher could also use Aurasma on a timeline in similar ways. This allows visuals in a classroom to provide information at a variety of depth levels and mapping information in this way could help students to establish better organized mental models.

Additionally, many uses of AR are student-centered, enabling students as co-creators of knowledge and more active participants in their own learning processes, something I find vital to education (and have blogged about before here and here).

How would you use this technology in your classroom? Have you used AR before?

On being a cyborg: Fitness Trackers & Education…*

activity trackers…*

For my first installation of On Being a Cyborg, I want to talk about a piece of technology that I’ve been using for a year now. Activity trackers are a popular type of wearable technology that can measure steps taken or general movement throughout the day. See this recent NY Times article for a guide to some of the newest ones. Combined with user data, these trackers calculate distance walked, calories burned, floors climbed, and activity duration and intensity. They pair with apps or websites to deliver you lots of data about your daily activity.

I personally use the Fitbit Flex, a bracelet that calculates my steps each day, tells me how many calories I’ve burned, and even my sleep patterns. With the accompanying app, I’ve been able to log workouts, calorie inIMG_5296take, and water intake to assess my own health on a broad-scale basis. I’ve also used the sleep tracker to recognize that I generally get an hour less sleep than time I’ve been sleeping, due to “restlessness” that the tracker picks up.

Fitbit and similar technology use gamification techniques to encourage us to be more aware of our fitness levels and active throughout the day. These technologies allow us to set our own goals and develop self-efficacy around fitness by enabling us to reach them. Constant feedback on progress and rewards push users to move more. I’ve set my goal “steps” to 10,000 each day, and my band has 5 lights that light up as I reach incremental goals throughout the day. Just seeing that I have 4,000 steps left to my goal will give me that extra push to walk home from school instead of taking the subway, and I’ve been known to pace around my apartment at 11:50pm to finish getting all of my steps before midnight.

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increased awareness of our bodies and our place in the world…*

So how does this really relate to rethinked..* ? As Kate Hartman explains in The art of wearable communication, wearable devices focus on the ways in which we relate to ourselves. They enable an increased awareness of our bodies and our relationship to the world around us. As Hartman explains:

“…we’re in this era of communications and device proliferation, and it’s really tremendous and exciting and sexy, but I think what’s really important is thinking about how we can simultaneously maintain a sense of wonder and a sense of criticality about the tools that we use and the ways in which we relate to the world.”

Again, this brings the story back to the idea that the best kinds of technology will help us to be more human. Activity trackers can help us better understand ourselves, and in that, they help us to be better versions of ourselves. Do you use any sort of wearable technology? How has it impacted your life?

 

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