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Month October 2012

NuVu: Students and Cutting Edge Design

In a recent conversation with a designer friend at NYU, she said, speaking of her and her peers, “It’s hard to explain, but now that we all realized we can imagine a design and actually make it a reality, we want to teach others to do it too.” This moment of discovering one’s own potential to use a process to imagine and create is at the crux of educational agency. At its heart, education is about enabling others to be creative and discover the wonder of building things and understanding.

Our conversation continued to the ways technology has changed the classroom and learning experience. She praised how technology has allowed students to do more, to be more self-directed, to more quickly access tools that put them in a feedback loop with different experts. Her concern was how students know what to work on. For her, as a graduate student, figuring out what to work on is one of the hardest things to do. It’s true that sometimes you need to work through pre-established projects for building skills and finding yourself. For other students, its not a matter of knowing what projects to do, but a matter of having the resources and skill set to build the projects. It would be amazing, we thought, if there was a place built around helping students to understand and work through design projects at an earlier age so they could be more prepared to see ideas through to fruition in college and beyond.

There is such a place, right in Central Square. The NuVu design lab for high schools has not only an incredible location but also a spacious and light-filled design space: a critical part of the formula because it provides a sense of openness, possibility and free reign.  Director Saeed Arida, or Chief Excitement Officer, Saba Ghole, or Chief Creative Officer, and David Wang who oversees all of the technology aspects at NuVu. They have created a studio where innovative education practices for the future play out. The lab provides public and private school students in the Cambridge/ Boston area with state-of-the-art cutting edge tools and works from the assumption that high school students can used advanced computer programing software, can learn to build robots akin to the ones being built at MIT, can essentially take on and manipulate the same tools the most advanced specialists are using.

NuVu describes itself in the following words:
“NuVu is a full-time magnet innovation center for middle and high school students and a professional development program for teachers and educators. NuVu’s pedagogy is based on the architectural studio model and geared around multi-disciplinary, collaborative projects. Established in the Fall of 2010 in Cambridge, MA, NuVu provides students the opportunity to work collaboratively with experts, PhDs and alumni from MIT and Harvard as well as working professionals, to solve real-world problems in an intensive and fun studio environment. For teachers and educators, NuVu provides training on how to bring innovative practices to students’ learning using project-based methods. NuVu nurtures creative problem solving, team collaboration across networks, communication and presentation skills, systems thinking, adaptability, risk-taking and imagination, all critical for student success.”

In a recent visit to the studio, I discovered high school students hunched over desks, computers, and mechanical parts, hard at work with all of the tools and experts at their fingertips–Saeed and Saba work to contact the top professionals in the field to provide guidance. For example, students on the flight simulator project had opportunities to hear from leaders at NASA. NuVu’s in house tools include laser cutters, 3D printers, and a full tool shop for construction. The high schoolers were one week into a two-week workshop of building a flight simulator. What they had created by the end of week one was incredible: an electronically moving seat on a pulley system that a passenger mounted while wearing goggles that projected a programmed simulation experience. Another group of students in an adjoining room were designing futuristic outfits to go along with the future simulator theme which went on to be displayed at the Boston Fashion Week guiding by fashion design experts. Click here to read more about the designs. The energy and enthusiasm and deep sense of focus were palpable as I watched the team of high schoolers at work, trying ideas, sharing solutions, working either together or alone on portions of the project.


The idea for the design lab came from Saeed’s dissertation at MIT and David Wang who is finishing his PhD at MIT in Artificial Intelligence and Aero-space. Saeed and David received  seed money from the Beaver School to start NuVu, and all Beaver students are required to do the workshop as part of their school experience. Originally working with private school students, the lab works with publics, privates, and charters and maintains that access to the studio for all students is central to its mission.

Saeed, David and Saba are inspirations who have thought through an extremely successful model for how to have a unique project based learning experience where students are designing incredibly complex inventions in short periods of time using state-of-the-art software and tools. The lab work focuses not just on the engineering and design of the projects, but also on the character skills and teamwork needed to work intensely as a team everyday for two weeks to create a design.

This winter they are unveiling a NuVu workshop space in India that they are hoping their partner school high school students will also travel to. They also hope to open a workspace in New York in the fall of 2013.

Bruce Chatwin on Walking & Religion…*

“I haven’t got any special religion this morning. My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other God.”

-In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin

And I never planned this, I just did it. ~ Jack Kerouac on Productivity & the Magic of Wonderful Interludes…*

 

And now, despite all, or perhaps because of all, of course, to finish the work of the novel once and for all. Got a letter from Neal, had an urge to answer right away, but would end up losing a day’s work on a fresh-beginning Monday, so will wait. Worked, slept, walked, worked grudgingly—then, in the middle of the night, a wonderful interlude for myself:—spaghetti with the blood-red sauce and meatballs, Parmesan, grated cheddar, chicken cuts, with red Italian wine and chocolate ice cream, black demitasse coffee, and a 28 cent Corona cigar; and the life of Goethe (and loves),—all in the kitchen. And I never planned this, I just did it. Then I went back to work at 2:00 A.M. Spent night correcting 50 pages of ancient manuscript and rewriting parts, now a 30-page chapter, to be typed. Went to bed at 7 A.M.

-Jack Kerouac, August 2, 1948

 

Source: Carpenter, Teresa, ed. New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009. New York: Modern Library, 2012. Print.

 

Friday Link Fest {October 19-26, 2012}

ARTICLES

Getting Energy From the Ocean Floor ~ A consortium of companies, including Eaton Corporation, Triton, and others, are in the process of building the first-ever collection system designed to harvest energy from the currents found in the depths of Earth’s oceans. via BigThink, published October 17, 2012.

Twitter Turns #SignsYoSonIsGay Hashtag Into Warm and Fuzzy Support Group ~ On the people of Twitter being awesome and the power of social media to create supportive communities. via Gawker, published October 20, 2012.

Why Focus Groups Kill Innovation, From The Designer Behind Swiffer ~ Design Thinking in action: The Aeron Chair, the Swiffer, and the Reebok Pump–none of these breakthrough products would have gotten high marks from a focus group. Here Continuum’s Gianfranco Zaccai lists four steps to take before introducing a design to the masses. via FastCo.Design, published October 18, 2012.

What Both MBAs And MFAs Get Wrong About Solving Business Problems ~ Numbers and bullet points aren’t the only things driving executive decision making. And pretty pictures won’t get you there either. Both Designers and MBAs have a lot to learn. via FastCo.Design, published April 26, 2012

Urban ExperimentsTake to the Streets~ “a living laboratory” of two dozen imaginative inventions for transforming public space being showcased at the Urban Prototyping Festival, a free, 10-hour event in downtown San Francisco held last Sartuday. via San Francisco Gate, published October 19, 2012.

TALKS

New York Times Data Artist Jer Thorp on Humanized Data at the Intersection of Science, Art and Design ~ In a talk given at TEDxVancouver, Jer Thorp takes us on a sweeping tour of his work and ethos, living at the intersection of science, art, and design. via Brainpickings, published March 1, 2012.

YouTube Announces The Next 10 Gurus Of Education ~ After more than 1,000 entries, YouTube has chosen the next 10 Gurus of Education. The search started last month when YouTube teamed up with Khan Academy to find a few folks who could generate useful content and resources for the YouTube EDU channels (1,000 channels exist so far). via Edudemic, published October 17, 2012.

How Popcorn Maker Adds a New Layer of Information to a TED Talk~ TED goes transmedia: TEDTalk as you have never seen a TEDTalk before — with a clickable layer of information that anyone can add to, edit or remix. via TED Blog, published October 19, 2012

John Maeda on The New Tao of Leadership ~ “when creative people become The Man, it’s quite awkward.” via Big Think, published October October 12, 2012

Education in the Age of Innovation Panel ~ The most significant trend today is the shift away from a world where power is concentrated in the hands of an elite few, and success for everyone else depends on their ability to perform repetitive function work. Instead, in our world now defined by accelerating change, success depends on our individual and collective ability to innovate. During this plenary panel, four of the nation’s premier education thought leaders and practitioners offered their vision for education in the age of innovation. via Ashoka, published Aug 22, 2012.

IMAGES

A Very Unusual Camera That Emphasizes Time Over Space ~ Jay Mark Johnson—an architect, painter, political activist, cinematic special-effects designer, and student of cognitive sciences—probably would not have come up with the idea, himself, were it not for a chance discovery. He had purchased a $85,000 rotating slit-scan camera for high-resolution panoramas. (The camera records vast landscapes sliver by sliver.) Finding the accidental effects of motion in front of the camera strangely poetic, he experimented with stopping the rotation and honing in on one tiny area. These images are the result. via Slate.com, published Oct. 15, 2012.

Temporary Pavilion by Shigeru Ban in Moscow’s Gorky Park ~ On October 20th, 2012 Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture is opening the temporary pavilion by Shigeru Ban, a new venue for exhibitions, lectures, workshops, film screenings, concerts and kids’ activities, with cafe and book store. Ban’s design for the Garage’s new temporary space–situated by Gorky Park’s Pionersky Pond–uses locally produced paper tubes to create an oval wall at 6 meters high with the total area of the pavilion measuring 2,400 square meters. via DesignBoom, published October 20, 2012.

The Must-Have EdTech Cheat Sheet ~ Infographic from Boundless on the whole galaxy of terminology that you should know about when it comes to education technology. via Edudemic, published July 26, 2012.

50 Alternate American Flags, Each A Secret Infographic ~ Rethinking…* the American Flag ~ Design Studio MGMT hides telling data points inside their reimagined variations of the stars and stripes. via FastCoDesign, published October 19, 2012.

Full-Size Museum Replicas from a Makerbot ~ These pieces were printed on a Makerbot Replicator 2 3D printer, by artist Cosmo Wenman, who printed them in several pieces and then assembled them. via BoingBoing.net, published October 20, 2012.

An Inside Look At Art-School Studios Around The World ~ Photographer Leonora Hamill has traveled the world capturing quiet moments at art schools for her Art in Progress series. Creative environments are in clear focus, but it’s chemistry–implicit between teacher and student, materials and limitations, assignment and epiphany–that makes these images so striking and alive. via FastCoDesign, published October 19th, 2012.

The Best Graphics That Make You Realize You Don’t Know How Big Anything Actually Is~ Admit it. You have no real feeling for the size of the solar system. That’s O.K. Nobody else does either. Even knowing the numbers doesn’t help much. If I tell you the Earth is about 8,000 miles in diameter and 93,000,000 miles from the Sun, does that give you any sense of the distances involved? No, because the numbers are too big. Things that are so far removed from our daily experience — like quarks, and dinosaurs, and Kim Kardashian — are inherently hard to understand. via Smithsonian.com, published October 22, 2012.

RESOURCES

47 Mind-Blowing Psychological Facts You Should Know About Yourself ~ Humans: An Evolving Reference. Via Business Insider War Room, published Nov. 22, 2010.

DIY.org ~ Terrific website for kids & adults: Earn Skills, Become a Maker: Build. Make. Hack. Grow.

27 Ways to Learn Programming Online ~ via The Next Web, published October 21, 2012.

Get a Liberal Arts Education For Free on the Internet ~ Just getting a job in this economy is difficult enough. Getting one with a liberal arts degree is simply masochistic. Don’t spend half a decade and thousands of dollars only to join the rest of the English majors busking in a subway. Instead, educate yourself with these valuable, respectable, and totally free online resources. via Gizmodo, published October 20, 2012.

DT4E: Design Thinking for Educators

This post was originally published on the Carney, Sandoe & Associates blog. Click here to read the blog.

Joy Hurd is a student at the Klingenstein Center at Columbia University Teachers College and a member of the rethinkED team at Riverdale Country School.  The Carney, Sandoe & Associates Placement Team was fortunate to hear a presentation on Design Thinking by Joy.  What follows is his explanation of Design Thinking and some real-life ways he and his team have applied this model in independent education.

Good design is an easy thing to miss. It’s easy to recognize the beauty of an Apple product, but only rarely do I stop and think about the clever old design of my whistling tea kettle. Bad design is almost impossible to overlook–just think about your last trip through airport security. Everything we use was designed by someone and designed–we hope–with us in mind.

Design Thinking (DT) is a way of creating possibility through innovation and collaboration. It’s been developed by educators at Stanford and by the Palo Alto-based design firm IDEO to design products and services with users in mind. Think of objects like the computer mouse and services like Bank of America’s Keep the Change program: these are allIDEO’s work, made possible through DT’s five phases of Discovery, Interpretation, Ideation, Experimentation, and Evolution.

The collaborative, problem-solving nature of DT has led a growing number of educators to incorporate this philosophy into K-12 and higher education. Stanford’s d.school has helped other Stanford schools implement DT in their curricula, and other universities, such as Harvard, have followed suit. It’s a versatile approach to innovation and problem-solving that requires students to be empathetic, optimistic, collaborative designers. Perhaps most importantly, it forces them to be resilient, to see early failures not as defeats but as steps necessary for success.

Design Thinking is catching on in K-12 education as well. Some schools, such as The School at Columbia, have built curricula around DT so that students can design and create to learn more deeply. Others, such as Riverdale Country School, have sought to help teachers think like designers, which, of course, they are by nature. Teachers design every day, planning their lessons, designing courses, and constructing their classroom spaces.

But do teachers recognize themselves as designers, and do they feel empowered to innovate? Do schools offer a “culture of permission,” in which teachers feel that they can run with their ideas? Do teachers take time to consider their students’ everyday learning experiences, instead of just how much material they have to cover by June? Do schools offer teachers and students the permission to fail that breeds resilience and grit?

These are some of the questions that Dominic Randolph, headmaster of Riverdale Country School, sought to answer as he learned more about DT. He partnered with IDEO to create the Design Thinking for Educators (DT4E) toolkit, which has been downloaded nearly 20,000 times.  With funding support from the E.E. Ford Foundation, DT4E offered a two-day workshop at Riverdale last June and a free online course developed in partnership with Edutopia.

DT4E has also created a team to help teachers rethink their practice and try new ideas. This rethinkED team is like a SWAT team, swooping in and working on projects generated by teachers. The team is made up of educators who know that it’s not easy to imagine and implement new ideas when there are emails to answer, phone calls to return, teams to coach, and papers to grade. At Riverdale, the rethinkED team is working with teachers to foster innovation.

So far this year, the team has worked with the Riverdale Chinese teachers to give students more opportunities to use their language skills outside the classroom. On October 5th we hosted an event at Teachers College, Columbia University, for Riverdale Chinese students to chat over lunch with native Chinese speakers studying at TC. To encourage the students to seek out and record personal interactions in Chinese, the team developed collaborative Google maps for each class, where students can mark their interactions geographically and record the experiences through journal entries, photos, or videos.

We’re also working with a teacher on the implementation of ePortfolios, which can allow students to reflect on their own work without relying solely on teacher and parent approval. Over the course of the year we’ll be working with math teachers who would like to enhance student engagement. As the year goes on, we look forward to working with more teachers who have ideas but want support to develop and implement them.

We believe that this model is replicable, that other schools can create “cultures of permission” in which teachers have the encouragement and resources to innovate and take risks. All teachers are designers, and we seek to support them as they design their students’ educational experiences.

 

 

Translating Drawings into Musical Sequences ~ Dyskograf: A Graphic Disk Reader

Last week, I highlighted German artist Bartholomäus Traubeck’ (2011) Years, a ‘record player that plays slices of wood’ by translating year ring data into music. Today’s Rethinked….* daily features a coproduction between French VJ (video jockey) Jesse Lucas, Erwan Raguenes & Yro—Dyskograf, a different if equally whimsical and delightful take on the rethinked…* record player–a ‘graphic disk reader’.

“Each disc is created by visitors to the installation by way of felt tip pens provided for their use. The mechanism then reads the disk, translating the drawing into a musical sequence.”

“The numeric world is a world of binary choice. The object of DYSKOGRAF is to give room again for accidents in numeric creation, accidents that often favour creativity.”

Dyskograf from Jesse Lucas on Vimeo.

Doris Lessing on Writing, Questions, Creativity & The Moments In Between

Celebrate author and 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature recipient Doris Lessing, who turns 93 today, with these quotes taken from a 1988 interview conducted by Thomas Frick for the Paris Review:

“I became a writer because of frustration, the way I think many writers do.”

“I think people are always looking for gurus. It’s the easiest thing in the world to become a guru. It’s quite terrifying. I once saw something fascinating here in New York. It must have been in the early seventies—guru time. A man used to go and sit in Central Park, wearing elaborate golden robes. He never once opened his mouth, he just sat. He’d appear at lunchtime. People appeared from everywhere, because he was obviously a holy man, and this went on for months. They just sat around him in reverent silence. Eventually he got fed up with it and left. Yes. It’s as easy as that.”

“If you write in bits, you lose some kind of very valuable continuity of form. It is an invisible inner continuity. Sometimes you only discover it is there if you are trying to reshape.”

“I see every book as a problem that you have to solve. That is what dictates the form you use. It’s not that you say, “I want to write a science fiction book.” You start from the other end, and what you have to say dictates the form of it.”

“Actually, I think I write much better if I’m flowing. You start something off, and at first it’s a bit jagged, awkward, but then there’s a point where there’s a click and you suddenly become quite fluent. That’s when I think I’m writing well. I don’t write well when I’m sitting there sweating about every single phrase.”

“It’s amazing what you find out about yourself when you write in the first person about someone very different from you.”

“I think a writer’s job is to provoke questions. I like to think that if someone’s read a book of mine, they’ve had—I don’t know what—the literary equivalent of a shower. Something that would start them thinking in a slightly different way perhaps. That’s what I think writers are for. This is what our function is. We spend all our time thinking about how things work, why things happen, which means that we are more sensitive to what’s going on.”

“I said to them, “Look, I want to do what I always do. I’ll read the story and then I’ll take questions.” They said, the way academics always do, “Oh you can’t expect our students to ask questions.” I said, “Look, just let me handle this, because I know how.””

Read the Interview in full over on The Paris Review ~ Doris Lessing, The Art of Fiction No. 102

 

Rethinking…* the Green Screen ~ Filip Sterckx Shoots Willow’s ‘Sweater’ In-Studio by Projecting Images on a Floor & 2 Walls

Instead of placing the subject in front of the traditional green screen and adding the images digitally, filmmaker Filip Sterckx and crew shot Willow’s entire ‘Sweater’ music video in-studio with three beamers projecting on a floor and two walls, all in real time. The result is whimsical and definitely Rethinked…* worthy!

Willow’s ‘Sweater’ Music Video

Willow – Sweater from Filip Sterckx on Vimeo.

 

 Willow’s Sweater Music Video~ Behind the Scenes

Behind the scenes of Willow’s Sweater from Filip Sterckx on Vimeo.

Friday Link Fest {October 12-19, 2012}

ARTICLES

Worries Over Defense Department Money For “Hackespaces” ~ This fall, 16 high schools in California started experimental workshops, billed as a kind of “shop class for the 21st century,” that were financed by the federal government. And over the next three years, the $10 million program plans to expand to 1,000 high schools, modeled on the growing phenomenon of “hackerspaces” — community clubhouses where hackers gather to build, invent or take things apart in their spare time. But the money has stirred some controversy. The financing for the schools program is one of several recent grants that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, has made to build closer ties to hackers. via The New York Times, published October 5, 2012.

Einstein At the Beach: The Hidden Relationship Between Risk and Creativity~ Simply put, in an effort to save our own butts, the brain’s pattern recognition system starts hunting through every possible database to hunt up a solution. Risk, therefore, causes the mind to stretch its muscles. It creates mandatory conditions for innovation. It trains the brain to think in unusual ways. It trains the brain to be more creative. via Forbes, published October 11, 2012.

A Reliable Environment Fosters Child’s Capacity for Self-Control ~ Rethinking…* the marshmallow test. With the trust issues uncovered by this new study, Kidd said there’s no point in parents trying to do the marshmallow test on their kids. “Don’t do the marshmallow test on your kitchen table and conclude something about your child. It especially would not work with a parent, because your child has all sorts of strong expectations about what a person who loves them very much is likely to do,” she said. Via The Globe and Mail, published Oct. 14 2012.

Worker-Owned Cooperatives Offer A Vision Of A Different Kind Of Capitalism ~ a lot of people are very concerned about high unemployment and growing inequality and are looking around to see if maybe there are better business models. One of them that we have come across is the worker-owned and -run business model. It’s one in which you as a worker buy into a business, have a stake and a say in what happens in the business. These types of businesses are not nearly as likely to move overseas or change location because the people who work there actually own it and are making business decisions. via FastCo.Exist, published October 12, 2012.

Writer Andy Greenberg Takes Us Into the Hidden World of “Wikileakers, Cypherpunks & Hacktivists” In New BookForbes reporter Andy Greenberg went looking for a story and nailed it. This Machine Kills Secrets: How Wikileakers, Cypherpunks and Hacktivists Aim to Free the World’s Information is a globe trotting exploration into the heart of the contentious world of brilliant, eccentric and erratic game changers who have taken the tools at hand and turned them into powerful weapons that can — and have in some cases — altered the course of history. Julian Assange, Anonymous, Blacknet, Cryptome.org, Openwatch, Lulzsec are just some of the players in this book, essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the thinking of some of the most important (and least known) people making news today. We talked with the author about his new book, his thoughts on Julian Assange and why he thinks Wikileaks has done more good than harm. via PaperMag, published October 17, 2012.

Maker Movement Inspires Students and Teachers ~ For all the hand-wringing that Americans have done over education, much of the concern especially for middle and high school students comes down to this: How do you help kids build the skills they will need to solve real problems? Via San Francisco Gate, published May 6, 2012.

From Pop Music to Blogging, Everyone’s a Curator ~ At a private salon event at the Museum of Modern Art this past Monday night, Paola Antonelli, a famed design curator and MoMA’s newly named director of research and development, convened an interdisciplinary panel to discuss the present and future of that much-debated term in the art world and beyond, “curator.” via Hyperallergic, published October 17, 2012.

TALKS & VIDEOS

John Kao Discusses the Deep Structure of Jazz in Davos ~ This clip is drawn from a presentation at the World Economic Forum annual meeting on 1/28/2012 on how jazz can help us understand innovation and mastery. John explains that jazz, playing new notes freely in the moment, at the same time depends on discipline and the fundamental acoustic properties of sound. via John Kao on Vimeo, published 8 months ago.

The Onion Spoofs TED Talks in Hilarious New Video Series ~ For a few years, we all sat around in awe of TED Talks, forwarding the videos to our friends and just generally worshiping the smart people who took the time to entertain us with their ingenious, outside-the-box ideas. But the backlash is definitely on, with a slew of recent articles taking a closer look at the conference, its limitations, and its ambiguous effects on American culture. So it’s about time for The Onion stepped in to draw out the absurdity inherent in TED and events like it. Their new weekly video series is called Onion Talks, and the first episode — “Compost-Fueled Cars: Wouldn’t That Be Great?” — takes aim at the lack of practicality and specificity in many of these free-thinking speeches. via Flavorwire, published October 17, 2012.

Nina Simone Sings of Social Injustice in a 1965 Dutch Television Broadcast ~ The Dutch program reveals Simone as an artist of deep feeling who challenged audiences to think. Via OpenCulture, published October 17th, 2012.

IMAGES

Shigeru Ban: Onagawa Temporary Container Housing & Community Center ~ Following the earthquake in March 2011, Japanese practice Shigeru Ban Architects conceived and implemented ‘Onagawa Temporary Container Housing’ along with a community center and atelier within the town of Onagawa in the Miyagi prefecture of Japan. Offering families privacy during the recovery, the firm initially embarked upon installing 1800 units of their 2 meter x 2 meter emergency partition system within 50 evacuation facilities. During the process, they learned about the state of the town of Onagawa and their difficulties to provide temporary shelter due to the lack of flat land. Via Design Boom, published September 27, 2012.

Artist Finds and Develops Ancient Photo Paper, Some Older Than a Century ~ For her project “Lost and Found”, Alison Rossiter collected hundreds of sheets of expired photo paper from decades past — some more than 100 years older than the expiration date found on their packages — and then developed them to uncover abstract images. via PetaPixel, published Oct 11, 2012.

A Restaurant Made Entirely Out Of Cardboard ~ True to its name, everything in ‘Carton’ restaurant in Taichung City, Taiwan is made from corrugated cardboard—from its furnishing to its plates. Designed to illustrate the power and potential of paper and cardboard, all the elements of the restaurant can be easily recycled when they break or are damaged. via DesignTaxi, published October 11, 2012.

Brooklyn Installation Transforms Blaring Traffic Noise Into Animated Light Art ~ Using a local nuisance for good, artists turn the din of cars into a set of arches that illuminate based on the volume of the highway above them. via PSFK, published October 12, 2012.

Artistic Robots Solve the Travelling Salesman’s Problem ~ The Travelling Salesman’s Problem describes trying to find the shortest route possible to a given destination. Nature’s top solvers of said problem are bees, who always manage to take the shortest route from flower to flower in their pursuit of nectar. Based on these flight patterns, artist Mattias Jones and psychologist Dr. Tom Stafford have teamed up with computer coder and Berlin-based record producer Tom Whiston to create a mathematical formula that will allow two robots to behave in the same way for the Mind Out project. via Design Week, published October 11, 2012.

An Art Table Designed For A Family Of Creatives ~ Called the ‘Growth Table’, it features a tiered seating arrangement that encourages the entire family to draw or study together. When the form of the Table is multiplied or expanded, it creates a community scaled [art-palette] or transforms a public interior into a literal ‘drawing room’.  Via DesignTaxi, published October 12, 2012.

 

Learning the Ropes: Crew Not Passengers

“This is impossible” I thought or maybe even said out loud. I saw instructor Dave far out beyond me on the other end of what seemed like an interminably long and narrow log, the penultimate leg of the rope course. I began to walk, worried about the direction of my feet, feeling cold and sweating at the same time as I thought of the distance below. Suddenly I focused on my breathing, deep audible inhales, long slow exhales. And I started walking. The world fell away around me, and all there was was the log and Dave’s beckoning hand. I breathed deeper, and deeper, my chest rising and falling visibly, dramatically. My mind suddenly still and calm.  The world pulled away from the rich auburn log like a receding tide and suddenly it was me, the earth, and the beckoning companionship of a fellow spirit.

–          Carmen James, OB Journal, North Carolina 2012

The overarching question both today and a hundred years ago is “What are the aims of education?” It has become increasingly obvious that the aim is not merely knowledge acquisition. It is not merely learning to perform well on tests or even make connections between ideas and information. It is is not even just to think critically, per se, but more than this, to think in a philosophical sense. And by being able “to think,” I mean to be able to map out the course of one’s actions and ideas in the community of others. I mean being able to see new solutions in the face of obstacles, to identify and follow one’s own curiosity. To be thoughtful, empathetic, and persistent with ideas.

The Outward Bound curriculum transcends the mountain experience. As Josh Miner wrote in the book Outward Bound USA: Crew not Passengers, on Outward Bound participants learn not about the mountains but through the mountains, a pedagogy of being impelled into experience that founder Kurt Hahn believed to be critically important.  One learns outdoor skills, but in learning those skills, one also learns teamwork and self-reliance in the higher aim of learning to overcome adversity. The course is designed in such a way that you must actively participate, you must face physical, emotional, and interpersonal challenges, you must remain mentally calm and alert to operate effectively, and you must learn to care for yourself and others in order to function.

A compelling and important concept to remember is Outward Bound’s model of challenge by choice.[1] That is, students meet challenges in a caring and supportive environment. Students develop the capacity to express themselves and their emotional state, for example, by talking about comfort, stretch, and panic zones. The design of the course involves direct instruction in the first third of the course, supervision in the second, and then by the third part of the course the students are running the show, discovering and feeling their own self-reliance and potential, both individually and as a group.

The Outward Bound for Educators course began by driving to a remote location, meeting instructors, and packing up backpacks. It was based out of the Table Rock base camp in Asheville, North Carolina, and the breathtaking views on the drive up were nothing compared to the views we were to achieve on our on hikes. At the trailhead, we played ice-breaker and team-building games before the challenge: forging a stream with our backpacks on to reach our camp site. The process of setting up camp, improvising a kitchen, and performing all the ritual tasks of initiating an Outward Bound course, such as daily readings, job distributions, dinner circle, meant we had our latest night of the trip. Dinner was not until after midnight.

Over the course of the next few days, we developed the strengths and capacities to survive in the outdoors. We gained physical strength as we hiked and scaled rock faces with backpacks and all. Over the course of eight days, our group built bonds at what seemed an unimaginably quick pace. We developed mental strength in the form of self-reliance, patience and calmness in the face of unpredictable conditions and challenges.

 

The experience was personally and professionally transformative. And it was meant to be that way. I learned the impact a curriculum can have when an overarching philosophical vision streams through it.  The mountain setting, craftsmanship of building tents and tying knots, mapping and communication lessons became secondary to the fact that the instructors, working within the larger Outward Bound curriculum, were able to teach practical skills and life philosophy in an integrated way, so that individual participants were able to use those skills and philosophy in their own lives in the short span of eight days.
As teachers, we were fascinated to experience what it felt like to be truly in the unknown, on the other side of the lesson plan, feeling at times as if not everything made sense or that things were hard because we weren’t given enough guidance (the lack of guidance was intentional). Being a student helped us as educators to develop empathy as we discussed what it must be like for some of our own students in our classes.

The Outward Bound for Educators course ended with a reflection and workshop for participants that marked the beginning of the year-long workshop. The workshop allows the educators to synthesize their experience and think about applications for their school communities.

Since the course, I have read and reflect on implications for this course today, at Riverdale and in public and private schools in the United States. When Hahn visited Philips Academy, he said “Phillips Academy is like a ship on a first-class voyage through education, but without a member of the crew in sight”(p 65, Outward Bound USA: Crew not Passengers). He meant, as Miner goes on to write, “students, in his thinking the most visible part of the crew, were only passengers on this cruise”(65). The educational aim is to make students active crew members in the process of their learning. This means developing critical thinking and a deeper understanding of the nature and purpose of schooling.
Outward Bound principles and course design offer ways of thinking of meaningful projects or experiences that RCS students could have in the community that would build lasting ties.


In his design of Gordonstoun, the school he founded in the UK in the 1930s, Kurt Hahn was adamant that students of all socio-economic backgrounds be part of the school community. He called for such representation not only because a diversity of experiences benefited the school, but also because if we are committed to a just vision of the world, to a belief in core democratic ideals, and to the idea that school initiates students into that world, then we have no other choice but to create that world in our schools.

Outward Bound is not just about building a community within a team or within school walls. It’s about empathy, responsibility, and action outside the school walls and in the larger community.

This is a key point to reflect on in the Bronx community and with Riverdale’s partner schools in the surrounding communities and the vast economic divide in the Bronx. A program that emphasizes facing adversity, team-building, relying on oneself, and realizing everyone’s fullest potential would by hugely beneficial to public, private, and charter schools.

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