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Day 02/03/2013

Some Random Thoughts from the Last Month and Turning Thoughts into Actions

Over the last few month or so, I have:

– talked at a conference for experiential educators in Santa Barbara (ISEEN)
– twittered quite a bit, which is not easy to do well
– had some really difficult conversations with people
– thought about the future of a computer lab and my office
– helped run a conference on “Design Thinking for Educators” with IDEO and some other partners
– switched between the Android and iOS platform several times
– attended TEDActive 2013
– found a great new singer, Jake Bugg, through the recommendation of a family member
– been on a “Mediterranean” diet through the auspices of my wife, Kris
– coped with my dear cat, Benito’s, bout of skin cancer
– thought about a book that I am trying to write
– worn more blue clothing than I usually do, habitually dressing in black most of the time
– started using “Mailbox”, which has helped me with the scourge of email
– written in my journal
– wondered why I like food as much as I do, and what distinguishes really good food from just food that is nutritious
– thought what my “six word biography” would be
– asked some good questions and some lousy questions
– not had enough time to do what I wanted to and felt overwhelmed a few times
– woken up as early as 4:00 am and as late as 10:00 am
– run quite a bit in snow and sun
– started working significantly on the formation of the Character Lab, a new non-profit

Out of all of this several ideas and questions have come to the fore:
– what is wisdom and why is it so important?
– how can we appreciate the temporary as a way-station rather than a destination?
– better understanding the aesthetics of the West…what if our life was a “ranch”?
– black is my go-to color, but I love blue and red as well. Blue is making me very happy right now, it inspires aspiration, but also flexibility and uncertainty…
– learning is an act of construction, and as such it needs to be designed well
– many people are passive-aggressive and I hate it…get a god-damned life!
– are, as TED Prize 2013 winner Sugata Mitra stated, “school and knowing obsolete”
– asking good questions is really difficult and something I need to figure out how to do better and be able to teach more effectively
– how does one have great conversations?
– how provenance and contextualization are so very important…I was struck watching some of the TED talks and how the lack of provenance and context were disquieting
– what does the high school of the future look like…would it be possible to redesign the high school where we retain some of the great things of schools, and yet, innovate and make it better…perhaps we need to name is something different: a learning hub that is multi-generational, forward thinking, backward conserving and community minded
– how can I be even more nomadic…no office, no permanent space to call my own, nothing but ideas and conversation…real estate is such a drag
– thinking about the future of “rethinked…*” with Elsa Fridman and others
– remembering my conversation with Kevin Mattingly about “principles of learning” and how they should play out in teaching practices

Some of these ideas are interesting perhaps, but what I am intrigued by is turning these thoughts into actions. So these next weeks, I am going to:
– have some serious discussions with some folk on these questions and issues and record my thoughts on the conversations here
– experiment by not using my office as much and using public spaces at school to work. I am also going to be using a cart to work on in the cafeteria
– come up with a set of learning principles in version 3.0 that are clear and complete
– come up with a good sense of what “rethinked…*” can be and offer to people including
– focus on the founding of the Character Lab in this upcoming set of meetings
– develop a case study or two using design thinking to show longer-term use in the school and plan the next phase of the work with IDEO
– create several stories that represent my work and thoughts that can be translated into writing. I am interested in playing with Keynote presentations that could visualize some of my ideas and thinking.

I am looking forward to the next few months of work (& play)

Reflecting on TEDActive2013 / Education 2013

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Just returning from Palm Springs, CA and this year’s edition of TEDActive.

It was an interesting set of meetings, reunions and talks. The theme: the young, the wise and the undiscovered was fully investigated over the course of the four days, but I found the talks more inconsistent than in the past. There were amazing talks by Amanda Palmer, Beardyman, Bono, Sabastiao Salgado, Liu Bolin, and Rose George.

I found several themes interesting to see span several of the sessions: understanding animals more effectively and humans as animals, envisioning and living the next phase of the internet, finding the human in machines and the machines in humans, finding out who we are and how can we create value in the broadest sense.

This is my third TED, and I find it ambiguously one of the most positive moments of my intellectual year and also frustrating in its optimistic and decontextualized “spreading of ideas”. Nonetheless, it gets me thinking in ways that I have not encountered before and allows one to consider new ideas, connect ideas and relate ideas to one’s life and endeavors.

The TED Prize winner this year is Sugata Mitra, famous for his “hole in the wall” computer learning exercises in India. He envisions a different relationship between learners and teachers. I found his presentation incredibly interesting, but also incredibly provocative. I feel his dream to be in some ways simple and also simplistic. To state that “schools and knowing are obsolete” I feel is perhaps interestingly provocative, but not very helpful. I completely understand that he is making the point that for many people who are disenfranchised or have no access to schools or teachers, that learning can be and needs to be achieved, but I also don’t think it is as simple as providing a computer for a child and letting them go at it.

Right now the never-ending and rather depressing drumbeat of dissatisfaction with schools and teachers is so reductionist and rather inane. I completely agree that schools, teachers, universities and professors need to change systems and practices. At the same time, the quiet learning conversation between a teacher and a student, the note of appreciation on an essay that makes a student want to be a writer, even the stern challenge in a classroom discussion, all these and more are things that make teaching and learning noble pursuits.

I worry that the ever-increasing technocratic and positivistic movement in our culture will lead basically lead to a person sitting in front of a screen all day and not being prepared or even appreciating the joy of creation, of making something concrete and forging visceral ties with other human beings.

Is “knowing obsolete”? Perhaps the type of knowing that Mitra sees enforced in many traditional schools globally, where students are only really parroting back disconnected facts and ideas that they don’t really understand should indeed be obsolete and should be banned. But self-knowing, mastery knowing, understanding a complex subject deeply including all the knowledge that goes along with that-can these be obsolete?

I do worry that we are spending so much of our time bashing systems in order to build new systems. If we are to make lasting change, then I think that evolution makes more sense. We need to find ways to make our schools and teachers evolve. School, learning and teaching should be, as John Dewey and Maria Montessori, more experiential, connected more to our psyches and emotions, should be more self-organized; however, I think as John Maeda writes that we need to reform our “end-ups” rather than focusing always on “start-ups”.

That is what rethinked…* is all about. Thinking “inside the box” because we live and inhabit and appreciate the “box”.

Thanks to TED. Thanks to all the speakers. It was, as ever, an enlightening, thought-provoking and rich moment in my year.

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