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Month October 2014

David Shrigley on Trusting the Process, Experiencing Flow, & Showing Up To Do the Work No Matter What…*

Read a great interview with artist David Shrigley on Dazed yesterday and thought I’d share my favorite bits on the blog as they relate to several key ideas we’ve been exploring in our work and writing these past two years.

enjoy & rethink …*

FLOW – 

I think when there’s somebody who is going to come and take the drawings away on Monday and you still have 20 drawings to do that does tend to hinder the enjoyment of it – and that’s the situation I’m in right now! But, in essence, the moment when I’m working is still the moment when I feel most free in the eye of the storm that is around me. I feel very at peace when I’m working, it’s a very meditative and cathartic thing for me.

TRUST THE PROCESS – 

I tend to write lists of things that I’d quite like to make but I’ve no idea how they’ll resolve themselves. They’re usually a list of very banal things: for example, two things on my list today are the words “pissing” and “human heart”. I will interpret those two instructions as I see fit. Something will happen eventually but a lot of it gets discarded so I try not to put any pressure on one particular image. If you’re making something and you know that there’s a high probability that it’ll get thrown away, it gives you the ability to make something that isn’t contrived. Well, that’s the strategy.

* 

SHOW UP & DO THE WORK –

I have more successful days and less successful days but I don’t allow myself to have creative blocks because I don’t stop creating. Sometimes I make things that aren’t very good but my rules dictate that I make it anyway and just having that attitude seems to work. I still make the work even if I don’t want to. Somehow eventually something happens.

*

Source: David Shrigley: ‘I’m quite happy being a ponce!’ via Dazed, published October 24, 2014

[ Literacy ] through Educational Technology?

I recently read a cyberpunk novel called The Diamond Age (highly recommended), and it delves deeply into issues of education and social class.The main plot line concerns the development of a new technology, a book called the A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. This is an infinitely adaptive interactive book that bonds and grows with the young girl it is first given to. It speaks natural language, teaches through allegory and elements of the learner’s environment, and consistently provides just-in-time information. It’s higher goals are humanist in that it aims to make the learner a strong, independent thinker. Along the way, the primer teachers various characters many different skills including how to read, problem solve, self defense, and computer programming.

Diamond Age is fiction, and we are FAR away from developing anything of this caliber, if it is even remotely possible. Yet the books presents an interesting model of education, and I was delighted to see an article recently about teaching literacy through technology from Sesame WorkshopThey have recently signed a two-year grant to explore how conversational technology (with toys such as Elmo or Grover) can teach preschool early literacy.

The success of this idea hinges firmly on two things: 1) technology capabilities and 2) the ways in which children will interact with a toy versus a human. Speech recognition software is good right now, but is it good enough to understand a toddler who is just learning to make sounds? I will love to see how this project progresses. The other aspect is how children interact with toys. Speech theories often suggest that children begin to use language around the same time as they develop “theory of mind” or an understanding that there are other people in the world with their own minds, who are experiencing the world from another perspective. Once you recognize this, you realize the need to communicate with them. Yet in today’s world, children communicate with technology all the time – sometimes as a means to speak to another person (e.g., Skype, FaceTime) and other times just with a screen (e.g., Blue’s Clues). Children also develop rich narratives, often aloud, when they play with toys or as they go to sleep at night.

Are we taking one step closed to A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer?

And the bigger question… how is educational technology good and bad for rethinking education?

[ Ed Tech – The Bigger Picture ]

A larger theme of my studies is thinking about and discussing technology’s role in the education world. This is something that everyone you meet will have an opinion about, and these opinions can often be very polarized.

My standard response is that I do research in order to better understand what technology is good for and what it is not good for. I am the first to admit that there are many current uses of technology in our classrooms and education systems that are under-researched and therefore poorly executed. Yet in this digital age there is such a need to integrate technology more seamlessly into education that I know there are spaces where Ed Tech could help teacher teach, help students learn, and provide experience with new forms of learning that are vital for functioning in today’s society.

[ What are the hurdles to successful Educational Technology?? ]

Umang Gupta wrote an article in edsurge last month explaining some of the issues surrounding integrating Ed Tech in schools. Currently, we spend only 1% of education funds on technology, compared with the approximate spending of 10% of GDP in the wider economy. Obstacles for technology in the education world include 1) worries that the tech world is going to replace teachers with laptops, and brick-and-mortar schools with services such as MOOCS (massive open online courses), and 3) a highly fragmented, high regulated, and highly bureaucratic industry.

To respond to issue #1, I maintain that real life teachers and brick-and-mortar schools are here to stay. The social aspect of school is important and motivating in and of itself, and I doubt we will see technology in my lifetime that can rival a really good teacher working one-on-one with a student. Yet good teachers are a limited commodity, so the idea with technology is to supplement that teacher’s abilities. If a computer program can teach and manage some of the more basic aspects of a lesson, the teacher is free to move about the room and provide individual help with other aspects. The research project I am working on currently exists entirely under the rationale that we’ve discovered a great pedagogy but the current teacher to student ratio is too high (about 1:4) for it to be feasibly introduced into classrooms. With a software to guide students, the ratio can go down.

In terms of online education, I’m definitely wary of any education that is completed entirely from a screen. Yet blended learning has a tremendous future and value to students, creating multimodal, asynchronous learning opportunities for students to connect across time and space and to learn in more authentic spaces in the world.

The bureaucratic red tape is definitely another huge issue, especially when combined with the time constraints of school. In addition to some of the issues Gupta brings up in his article, simply finding a school to pilot test or conduct research in is extremely difficult (if anyone has a middle school in the NYC area let me know!), and once you have a product, the general rule of thumb is allowing up to 6 months of professional development to teach the teachers how to use the software before beginning to integrate that software into classrooms. When this lag doesn’t happen, teachers tend to just ignore the new piece of technology. When the lag DOES happen, a better piece of technology is often already in development.

Ultimately, I am excited to be a part of the education world, specifically in the technology realm, and I think that we will see huge transformations in the ways in which technology supplements traditional modes of education over the course of the next few decades.

The Wisdom of 6.5-Year-Olds: What Cannibalistic Cocoons & Jumping Through Fire Can Teach Us About Change & Empathy …*

The Wisdom of 6.5-Year-Olds: What Cannibalistic Cocoons & Jumping Through Fire Can Teach Us About Change & Empathy ...* | rethinked.org

Hola rethinkers* Elsa here, back from my camino! Had a truly splendid time and made it all the way to Santiago. Walking 800 km has given me plenty of time to think (a really really good combination and ancient tradition this walking and thinking business). I’m excited to share with you some of the insights and discoveries I made on my trip but as I’ve only just got back and barely had time to digest my experience, I’m going to write about something completely unrelated which happened this past weekend: I got to hang out with a six-year-old—correction, a six-and-a-half-year-old— and I was struck by how much adults, especially those interested in challenging the status quo and developing their capacity for empathy, stand to learn from young children.

MEET MY NEW FRIEND MATHIEU & HIS LEGO HERO FACTORY TOYS–BULK & STORMER

I met Mathieu at his parents’ house where I was having a long Sunday lunch. He sat at the table with us to eat a bit and then disappeared around the garden to play. When dessert was served, Mathieu came back for some ice cream, holding in his hand a Christmas catalogue. I asked him if he had started making his list for Santa and if he’d show me what it was he wanted. We went over the catalogue together and he explained the various delights of each toy he had circled. I then asked him what was the one toy he most hoped Santa would bring him, to which he answered Lego’s Hero Factory before disappearing to his room to bring back two specimens.

I spent over an hour talking with Mathieu about his Lego Hero Factory toys and playing with him. I could hardly say which of us had the most fun. But the reason I wanted to write about my encounter with Mathieu, goes beyond wanting to brag about my awesome new tiny friend or my love of all things Lego. Having no children of my own, I rarely get the chance to hang out with the six-and-a-half-year-old crowd and that’s a real shame. I’m passionate about storytelling, empathy and the architecture of change and as my time with Mathieu showed me, we (the part of the population who no longer values half years in our age) have much to learn in all three of these interrelated domains from children.
STORYTELLING 101 – WHY THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A CANNIBALISTIC JUMPER & CANNIBALISTIC COCOON MATTERS
 
What quickly became apparent to me as Mathieu and I played with Bulk and Stormer is that the toys were artifacts from an incredibly rich imaginary world, one which Mathieu inhabits very comfortably. Mathieu painstakingly explained the origin story of the Hero Factory world, the main hero, (Evo, for the uninitiated) the good guys and the bad. When I tried to rephrase what he had said to make sure I had understood, I confused the cocoons and the planters several times and each time, Mathieu patiently corrected me. Once I had gotten the full back story, we started playing and caught up in the excitement of the game, I started making what can best be described as attack noises – “Grrrrrrrrr,” “pooowww,” “watch out!” Mathieu looked at me a bit embarrassed and then said, as nicely as he could, “It’s a machine, it doesn’t talk.”

 

I think the fact that Mathieu corrected me each time I confused the cocoons and the jumpers or when I got carried away with battle sounds was critically important. He sensed my genuine interest in entering the Lego Hero Factory world and took it upon himself to guide me in. Each imaginary world operates according to a specific set of rules (so while vegetal cocoons attack robots in the Hero Factory world, machines do not speak or make battle calls) and it is these shared laws that keep the world bounded together and allow it to be a shared imaginary space. Creating these rules and then exploring the possibilities of the worlds created within them is what fiction writers, dreamers, and rethinkers * of all type do. It is no secret that soft skills are becoming increasingly important as the pace of change accelerates and the collective problems we face become increasingly wicked. We need people who can craft solid, inhabitable alternatives–“what ifs” that offer better, more sustainable futures for more people. And that starts with storytelling and storytellers. We need to cultivate and amplify children’s natural capacity for creating imaginary worlds and we need to learn from them how we ourselves might regain that wonderful and critical ability to ask “what if?” and run with it.

 

EMPATHY & PLAY – JUMPING THROUGH FIRE REGULARLY WILL HELP KEEP YOU NIMBLE IN YOUR ABILITY TO ENTER OTHERS’ INTERNAL WORLDS
Not only are children naturally adept storytellers, they are also able to grasp with ease the nuances of others’ stories (I think the proper buzzword to describe this aptitude, these days, would be creative listeners). In many ways, each of us, carries and inhabits his or her own world. Our reality is constantly mediated by our perception; our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to others is shaped by a mix of past experiences, character traits, hopes, neuroses, tensions and dreams. In essence, empathy is about being able to experience what an exterior situation might feel like when viewed from the particular lens of another (an Other’s internal world). Children do this extremely often when they are at play, seemingly without any effort. Just a few weeks ago, I was having a drink with a friend on a rather deserted village town square while two little girls played nearby. The girls were running around and jumping, taking turns yelling, “now water, now fire.” Evidently, they were on an epic journey through the elements and shared a common imaginary space, worlds away from the physical environment, that had them running around panting with excitement. They were able to take turns designing the world and could seamlessly go from their own internal reality to that of their friend’s, experiencing with equal ease and immediacy what was in their friend’s mind’s eye as what was inside their own.

 

It’s interesting to note this link between play and empathy, how they seem to go hand in hand naturally. Perhaps it is because we try to stamp out our own playfulness as we age that we become more and more stuck within our own world and less able (or willing?) to enter into those of others. My advice? Go play with a tiny human.
play & rethink …*

[ Re ] Thinking Character & Opportunity…* New Series of Essays

Rethinkers delight, the Brookings Institution has just published a new series of essays, put together by Richard Reeves, which explores the philosophical, empirical and practical issues raised by a focus on character, and in particular its relationship to questions of opportunity.

This essay collection contains contributions from leading scholars in the fields of economics, psychology, social science, and philosophy. It provides a kaleidoscope of views on the issues raised by a policy focus on the formation of character, and its relationship to questions of opportunity. Can ‘performance’ character be separated from ‘moral’ character? Should we seek to promote character strengths? If so, how?

The series feature a contribution, Schools of Character, from our own Dominic Randolph, which explains why character outcomes must become part of our entire educational system; As well as an essay, Free Will: The Missing Link Between Character and Opportunity, by rethinked * favorite Martin Seligman, which explores the need for character and opportunity to be accompanied by optimism and hope, the bulwarks of a robust future-mindedness. Head over to the Brookings Institution to browse and read all seventeen essays of the collection.

read, question & rethink …*

{ Multimodality } and Literacy in the 21st century

I’m currently taking a course in Culture Media and Education and something we’ve been talking about a lot is the idea of 21st century literacy, and what it means to be literate in today’s world. While text is still regarded as a more lofty, intellectual form of communication, other forms of communication such as image, audio, video, simulation, and educational games are increasingly being integrated into the educational landscape.

This idea of multimodality – the use of multiple modes of communication – is not new. A textbook with bolded key terms is already using multiple modes to convey meaning. Perhaps more obvious, the use of words and images together has been used in everywhere from children’s books to science textbooks, and research demonstrates that the use of two modalities can add meaning and increase learning.

Something I’ve been thinking about more recently is how certain modalities lend themselves to certain types of communication. A photograph or video can be more compelling emotionally, spoken word can convey nuance more clearly than written word, and a short documentary is often easier to digest for a wider audience than is a newspaper article.

One suggestion for the educational sphere is to continue to promote and use these various types of media. Rather than privileging text, we should think about what the educational aim is and then decide which mode can best suit that aim. Furthermore, to be literate in multimodal learning, students must learn how to shuttle between different modes. Some research suggests that when presented with text and images in science textbooks, students will barely read the text and instead focus solely on the image, which can lead to incorrect and incomplete understandings. Teaching students how to combine and integrate information from multiple sources is vital as we introduce a variety of modes into our educational system.

Last, literacy is not only about consumption. Students must also be producers of knowledge in more modes than the written essay. Teaching verbal communication and use of media and technology are critical for this “youtube” generation, and developing media in multiple modes can lead to new learning opportunities and help students express themselves in ways they may not be able to do when limited to text.

My major assignment for this semester is to develop media that matters, or a short multimedia piece that provides a call to action for a social issue that matters to me. While I begin to explore my option, I’ve been viewing these incredible short videos from the Media That Matters Film Festival. I encourage you to view some of these clips, and while watching these videos to think about how the medium conveys meaning beyond what a compelling text piece could do.

 

 

{ Re Experiencing } NYC Through New Eyes

This week I’ve offered up my couch to a backpacker (actually, my air mattress), and it’s been wonderful to re-experience NYC through a foreigner’s eyes. An Australian I met in Portugal this summer asked if his buddy could crash at my place while visiting NYC, and I happily obliged. So last Tuesday night, Lulu arrived at my doorstep for his first experience of the USA.

This experience provided me with an opportunity to really think deeply about what I felt represented NYC, and what somebody should do if they only have one week here. We went to a lot of the main tourist attractions — Times Square, the Staten Island Ferry, Empire State Building, High Line, Central Park, WTC memorial — to name a few. This was actually fun and interesting because I grew up in New York and had never even been inside the Empire State Building before. I also got to explain the events of 9/11 as somebody who was here, to somebody who was halfway across the world.

We ate iconic and delicious food, including real New York pizza, bagels (everything with scallion cream cheese, tomato, and lox), burgers (chipotle, Jackson Hole, Umami), and Chipotle.

View from the Staten Island Ferry

View from the Staten Island Ferry

Umami Burger

Umami Burger

 

I also let him see slices of my everyday life. We commuted up to Columbia and walked through the campus. We went to an arcade bar on the Lower East Side and drank PBR and played Miss Pac-man. We met up with my friends for nachos and craft beer. I got to experience my own day-to-day through the eyes of a person who up until this week had never been in a building with more than 6 stories. I re-appreciated the wonders of 1am Chinese food delivery from Seamless, 24/7 public transportation, amazingly tall sky scrapers and unbeatable waterfront sunsets. He heightened my sensitivity to things I had never noticed about my own life, like how it almost always smells like delicious food everywhere in Manhattan or how random strangers can shout super rude things at you (it barely registers to me).

View from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building

View from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building

Ultimately, I think the experience cultivated reflection about my own life and gratefulness for this dynamic, crazy place I call home. This speaks to the importance of changing perspectives, re-experiencing something with fresh eyes, and appreciation of what is all around us. Is there something in your own daily practice that could use a fresh perspective?

{ Mindfulness Meditation }

I first was introduced to mindfulness meditation while interning in an in-patient psychiatric facility with schizophrenic and bipolar patients. One of my jobs there was to help my boss do a literature review on mindfulness for a pilot intervention study she was conducting to see how mindfulness meditation could improve the well-being of her patients.

While I did not stay at the internship long enough to see through her study, I’d expect that she’d find positive results. Mindfulness – or the “nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment” has been demonstrated to increase feelings of well being and help with psychiatric issues. Research has suggested it does this through attention regulation, body awareness, emotion regulation, and changes in perspective of self (Holzel et. al, 2011). Further studies have shown that this type of meditation can decrease stress, improve working memory and test scores, and help veterans deal with symptoms of PTSD, among many other positive health outcomes.

How does it work? Coming from the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness meditation involves cultivating a relaxed focused mind. It can be extremely difficult at first, but those who practice mindfulness meditation tell me that it gets easier over time. Personally, whenever I try to sit and meditate, my experience tends to be a lot like this:

My mind is either wandering or I am falling asleep.

…*

However, in an inspirational TED talk, Andy Puddicombe urges us all to take 10 minutes out of each day to practice mindfulness meditation. When is the last time you took 10 minutes to do absolutely nothing? Andy explains that in the “go-go-go” world we live in, we do not take the time to care for our minds. A Harvard study suggests that we spend on average 47% of each day mind wandering, which is actually linked to unhappiness. We are not living in the present moment. Mindfulness meditation helps us to get back into the here and now.

He says that at first meditation can feel a lot like having a wobbly tooth – you know it’s wobbly and it hurts but you can’t resist poking it with your tongue. Eventually, you learn to have focused relaxation, where you allow thoughts to come and go without getting agitated or stuck on them. You begin to see patterns in your own cognitions and are able to untangle them.

Ultimately, meditation offers the opportunity and potential to step back and get a different perspective on your thought processes. As Andy reminds us, “we can’t change everything that happens but we can change our experience of it.”

After listening to his talk, I am inspired to try mindfulness meditation again. I also imagine that teaching students mindfulness in the classroom could have major beneficial effects on their stress levels and attentional skills. Could you take 10 minutes out of your day to meditate? Could you take 10 minutes out of your school day to meditate with your students?

I’ll let you know how my little mindfulness meditation experiment goes this week. Let me know if any of you try it yourself.

Namaste.

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