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Month April 2015

{ Grow In Peace } The Banality of Transformation …*

{ Grow In Peace } The Banality of Transformation ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

A few months ago, I shared a list of the top five things that walking 500 miles helped me understand in a deeper or different way. Here is a bit more context around the fifth lesson: Grow In Peace – Transformation, it turns out, is astonishingly banal.

If you ever decide to walk the Camino, you will soon discover that everyone you tell knows someone else who did it. Apparently, all these friends of friends found it a fantastically transformative experience. They all felt something grand, spiritual, almost supernatural upon reaching Santiago. When I arrived, it was raining and I was battling a mighty cold. To reach Santiago, you have to bypass the airport and then walk for a few hours through the sprawling suburbs that have grown around the historical center. The predominant feelings I remember were disappointment and annoyance having to tread through a torrential downpour through this urban wasteland. A feeling akin to trying to get on the NYC 1 train during rush hour. Nothing grand about it.

When I returned everyone’s first question was, “So, are you transformed? Did you feel it?” I’m still not sure what that ‘it’ was supposed to be. I felt lots of things. I felt cold and sweaty, tired and elated, grumpy and excited, awed and overheated, achy, curious, lost, optimistic, jealous and delighted–the whole gamut of human emotions from the petty to the exalting. As for noticeable transformations, other than my feet which became freakishly swollen halfway through the walk and went up (permanently, I have now found out) one full shoe size, there were none to speak of. But now, over six months since I have returned, I am beginning to discern the transformative effects of this experience. I have changed in subtle but important ways–I feel more urgently the need to align my beliefs with my behaviors and I feel more confident and optimistic about my capacity to do that. This is not a new observation, I didn’t get to Santiago and just realize that I am feeling off center because I’m not committing hard enough to the things that break and delight my heart; what changed is my determination to do something about it.

. . . *

When I arrived in Santiago, I went to the cathedral and decided to light a candle to Saint Anthony of Padua, my mother’s favorite saint. I walked around the cathedral a few times unable to find him and finally asked a security guard.

“Excuse me, do you know where I can find Saint Anthony?”

“I don’t know, did someone tell you he was here?”

“No, but I was hoping you might help me find him.”

“Let me check. No, sorry, he’s not here.”

I didn’t find Saint Anthony, but when I stopped looking for him, I walked around the cathedral again and took in all its treasures, finally seeing the other saints sitting impassively in their richly carved nooks and corners. I think that’s a good metaphor for transformational moments. We sometimes invest these moments with so much expectation that we ignore the smaller changes we undergo. Static is an illusion, it is in our nature and our biology to be constantly changing, if only just through the unavoidable pull of entropy. My father’s family motto is ‘Change or Decay’. Whether on pilgrimage or on the 1 train, we are constantly in motion. Change is inevitable, we can choose to be intentional about the direction of this change or we can just let our experiences change us mindlessly. I think that’s the power of transformational moments, they rarely transform us into a brand new person (subjectivity doesn’t work that way, we need some sort of continuity in our sense of self), but they give us the perspective and hopefully the courage to be intentional about our growth and evolution.

On one of the last pages of the journal that I brought with me on the walk, I recently rediscovered this note I had scribbled to myself:

“No groundbreaking epiphanies, no blazing revelations–mainly just an increased awareness of what’s already known and the mental space to see how much this awareness/knowledge needs to be transformed into action.”

. . . *

The Thing Is to Become a Master & In Your Old Age to Acquire the Courage to Do What Children Did When They Knew Nothing …*

The Thing Is to Become a Master & In Your Old Age to Acquire the Courage to Do What Children Did When They Knew nothing ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

I have been reading Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life-a treasure-trove of meditations on the creative life culled from Tharp’s long career as one of the world’s most acclaimed choreographers. Each chapter relates to a different aspect of creativity–think: Skill, Ruts and Grooves, Rituals of Preparation– and is accompanied by a handful of exercises to practice flexing your own creative muscles. It’s a quick, lovely and insightful read, which I highly recommend.

I’d like to highlight Tharp’s insights on one of the fundamental paradoxes faced by artists and rethinkers everywhere–that of finding the fragile equilibrium between seeking expertise and cultivating a beginner’s mind.

Every artist faces this paradox. Experience–the faith in your ability and the memory that you have done this before–is what gets you through the door. But experience also closes the door. You tend to rely on that memory and stick with what has worked before. You don’t try anything new. Inexperience is innocence, naïveté, and humility. It is a powerful ignorance that is summed up for me in an obituary I read of the All-American football player Ellis Jones. Jones, who died at age eighty in 2002, lost his right arm in an accident when he was eleven years old. But that didn’t stop him from playing guard offense and linebacker on defense in the 1940s at the University of Tulsa and later in the fledgling National Football League. “I played football before I got hurt,” said Jones of the accident that cost him his right arm. “It never occurred to me that I couldn’t keep playing. I guess I was too dumb to think I could not do it.” Inexperience provides us with a childlike fearlessness that is the polar opposite of the alleged wisdom that age confers on us, the “wisdom” telling us some goals are foolish, a waste of time, invitations to disaster. In its purest form, inexperience erases fear. You do not know what is and is not possible and therefore everything is possible.

It is that perfect moment of equipoise between knowing it all and knowing nothing that Hemingway was straining for when he said, “The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.” You cannot manufacture inexperience, but you can maintain it and protect what you have.

This balancing act–between confidence and humility, knowing and not knowing, fear and courage–is intimately tied to the concept of mastery.

Mastery is an elusive concept. You never know when you achieve it absolutely–and it may not help you to feel you’ve attained it. (Alexander the Great wept when he had no more worlds to conquer.) We can recognize it more readily in others than we can in ourselves. We all have to discover our own definition of it. 

I particularly love Tharp’s definition of mastery–mastery as courage and optimism to face the unknown and faith in your own capacity to transform your discovery into something of value.

More than anything, I associate mastery with optimism. It’s the feeling at the start of a project when I believe that my whole career has been preparation for this moment and I am saying, “Okay, let’s begin. Now I am ready.” Of course, you’re never one hundred percent ready, but that’s a part of mastery, too. It masks the insecurities and the gaps in technique and lets you believe that you are capable of anything.

Mastery then, in the creative realm at least, is more mindset than benchmark, like that of the child at the edge of the forest, excited and a little nervous to get lost in the woods but confident to face and transform what she will find.

Source: Tharp, Twyla. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print.

{ Delightful Visual Resource To Engage More Deeply With Ancient History } Panoply: Animating the Ancient World …*

Shout out to the ever fantastic Open Culture, where I discovered the delightful Panoply project which focuses on animating ancient pottery.

Panoply is run by Steve K. Simons and Sonya Nevin, combining Steve’s animation skills with Sonya’s expertise in ancient Greek culture.

We make animations from real ancient Greek vases. This site puts them together with a wealth of resources that give you reliable info on ancient culture and fresh ideas for teaching sessions on classical civilisation, art, and creative writing.

Panoply, like all good chance encounters aims to help us take another, deeper look at that which we might all too easily overlook. By creating stunning animations, Panoply gives us an opportunity to stop and really look and engage with fragments of ancient vases that we might have otherwise missed in the endless treasures of large museums. They have an entire page on their website dedicated to ideas for how you can use the animations to liven up discussions about ancient Greece and as a springboard into creative activities:

You can use these animations to spark all sorts of teaching and learning activities. They’re particularly good for sessions on classical civilisation, art, and creative writing. They can be used with learners of all ages and levels, from primary through to higher education as well as community, home-school, and lifelong learning. If you don’t have a group to teach, do the activities yourself or with your friends.  

From storyboarding, to writing, to film and animations studies, Panoply provides a wealth of resources to help you and your students engage with ancient civilizations and the craft of animation. Head over to their website to explore all their resources and blog which features discussions of vases and iconography as well as interviews with leading academics, and of course to watch their brilliant animations.

Watch the interview below to hear Dr. Sonya Nevin talk about how the project started and how it has been used as a teaching aid in schools.

. . . *

On a somewhat related note, I just read a fascinating origin legend about the beginnings of art related to Ancient Greece as told by Victoria Finlay in her book, Color: A Natural History of the Palette (which I previously mentioned in a post about cultivating a craftsman mindset). As recorded by Pliny the Elder in Natural History, the origins of painting came from a young Corinthian woman, who while embracing her lover good-bye before he set out on a long voyage, saw his shadow cast on the wall and decided to outline it in charcoal to hold on to his image while he was away:

According to one Western classical legend, the first paint was black and the first artist female. When Pliny the Elder was writing his Natural History–a summary of everything available in the Roman Marketplace and quite a few other things besides–he told a story of how the origin of art was found in epic love. After all, what better inspiration for art is there than passion? According to Pliny one of the first artists was a young woman in the town of Corinth in Greece who one evening was weepily saying good-bye to her lover before he set out on a long journey. Suddenly, between impassioned embraces, she noticed his shadow on the wall, cast by the light of a candle. So, spontaneously, she reached out for a piece of charcoal from the fire and filled in the pattern. 

I loved this little story and thought you might too.

look, create & rethink …*

{ 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.

bridging_the_gap

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…*

 

 

{ The Potential of Virtual Reality to Create the Ultimate Empathy Machine } Chris Milk: VR Is A Machine That Makes Us More Human …*

“[Virtual Reality is] 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. 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.” – Chris Milk

I’ve been getting very excited over the last few years witnessing the growing trend of filmmakers who are actively thinking about and engaging the potential of their chosen medium to foster and advance an empathy revolution. (Rethinked favorite, Tiffany Shlain, who has been pioneering a new form of collaborative filmmaking“Cloud Filmmaking,” just recently gave a TED talk on empathy.) The connection between storytelling and empathy is an ancient one but with advances in technology and neurobiology, we are getting a better understanding of how stories engage our emotions as well as being able to push the boundaries of how these stories are told. In this captivating TED talk, filmmaker and self-described ‘maker of stuff’, Chris Milk explores the potential of Virtual Reality to help us become more human and empathetic by transporting us more viscerally into the emotional worlds of others.

Film is an incredible medium but essentially it’s the same now as it was then. It’s a group of rectangles that are played in a sequence. And we’ve done incredible things with those rectangles. But I started thinking about, is there a way that I could use modern and developing technologies to tell stories in different ways, and tell different kinds of stories that maybe I couldn’t tell using the traditional tools of filmmaking that we’ve been using for a hundred years. So I started experimenting, and what I was trying to do was to build the ultimate empathy machine. 

But then I started thinking about frames, and what do they represent. And a frame is just a window. I mean, all the media that we watch–television, cinema–they’re these windows into these other worlds. And I thought, well great, I got you in a frame but I don’t want you in the frame, I don’t want you in the window. I want you through the window, I want you on the other side, in the world, inhabiting the world. So that leads me back to Virtual Reality. Let’s talk about Virtual Reality. […] It’s difficult to explain because it’s a very experiential medium–you feel your way inside of it, it’s a machine, but inside of it, it feels like real life, it feels like truth. And you feel present in the world that you’re inside of and you feel present with the people that you’re inside of it with.

Watch Milk’s TED talk below to see how he’s been harnessing the power of Virtual Reality to get his audience out of the frame and into the world of his subjects.

imagine, feel & rethink …*

Can Learning About the Science of Happiness Actually Make You Happier?

Can Learning About the Science of Happiness Actually Make You Happier? | rethinked.org

Six cartoon faces created by Pixar artist Matt Jones to convey fear, enthusiasm, anger, affection, sadness, and amusement – source: Greater Good Science Center

 

In an article published yesterday on Greater Good Science Center, Emiliana Simon-Thomas and Dacher Keltner, co-instructors for a MOOC on the scientific principles and everyday behaviors that predict happiness, GG101x: The Science of Happiness, shared some preliminary findings into the effects that taking their ten-week course had on participants. They wanted to find out whether taking an online course about the science of happiness actually makes one happier. Turns out, it does.

Of course, happiness is a notoriously difficult concept to define, which makes the issue of measuring it and capturing its changes in quality and intensity over time a complex endeavor to say the least. For their purpose Simon-Thomas and Keltner set out the following definition of happiness :

There is no perfect consensus definition, though most people have an intuitive sense for how it feels, and research suggests that there are systematic qualities and characteristics of those who fit the description of “very happy people.” Key insights that arise from this work, taking multiple methods and perspectives into account, is that happiness hinges upon the strength and authenticity of a person’s social connections, their aptitude for human kindness, and their constructive role in meaningful community.

Based on this definition, Simon-Thomas and Keltner monitored various self-reported metrics related to happiness of the 5000 participants who completed the course, before, during and four months after they had completed the course. What they found makes a pretty compelling argument for learning about the science of happiness–the participants’ happiness levels went up over the ten weeks in which they were taking the course and was still up from their starting level four months after completing the course.

Every week, we checked in with our students to see how they were feeling. We showed them a sequence of six cartoon faces created by Pixar artist Matt Jones to convey fear, enthusiasm, anger, affection, sadness, and amusement. Under each, we asked them to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, how much each face matched how they’d been feeling lately.  Then we transformed their collective weekly ratings into a single score.

The result? For students who responded at least 8 out of 10 times—suggesting that they were fully participating in the course—positive feelings went up, and up, and up. They felt progressively less sadness, anger, and fear, while at the same time experiencing more and more amusement, enthusiasm, and affection.

We also invited students to fill out a brief battery of research-validated questionnaires that are regularly used to assess feelings like happiness, stress, flourishing, or satisfaction with life. They did this three times, just before, right after, and three to four months after completing the course. Again, we found evidence that participating in our Science of Happiness course improved people’s lives.

More specifically, the course’s participants found that:

1. Well-being went up and stayed up

During the course, subjective happiness, life satisfaction, and flourishing increased by about five percent—and this boost remained even four months after the course was completed, suggesting that the impact of GG101x is sustained.

2. Stress and loneliness went down, and stayed down

Students reported feeling significantly less stress and loneliness in their lives, both issues that present substantial barriers to health and happiness. This also continued to be true four months after the course ended.

3. A sense of common humanity went up, and stayed up

It turns out that GG101x helped people to think of themselves as having a stronger connection to the rest of humanity, no matter how similar or different. This more open-minded perspective may be a key to boosting happiness on wider, more collective levels.

Source: Can an Online Course Boost Happiness?

{ Drawing As A Fundamental Instrument For Understanding …* } “When children are prevented from drawing, their brains don’t develop fully.”

“For me, drawing has always been the most fundamental way of engaging the world. I’m convinced that it is only through drawing that I actually look at things carefully and the act of drawing makes me conscious of what I’m looking at. If I wasn’t drawing, I sense that I would not be seeing. ” – Milton Glaser

If you’re looking for a mid-week pick me up, I highly recommend this short video of Milton Glaser drawing Shakespeare while reflecting on the role of drawing in his understanding of life and capacity to engage with the world around him.

“For me, drawing has always been an absolutely primary way of encountering reality. I’m astonished by drawing. I always think of every drawing as a kind of miraculous occurrence.”

MILTON GLASER DRAWS & LECTURES from TEAMVVORK on Vimeo.

draw, [re]think & understand …*

Hat Tip: Milton Glaser Draws Shakespeare & Explains Why Drawing is the Key to Understanding Life

{ #IWishMyTeacherKnew } Empathy In Action In the Classroom …*

{ #IWishMyTeacherKnew } Empathy In Action In the Classroom ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Kyle Schwartz’s Twitter Timeline

 

A few months ago, I quoted a poignant observation found in an article written by Joshua Freedman who was reflecting on his own mistakes, notably his failures of empathy, in dealing with his son’s constant procrastination when it came to doing his homework.

Hopefully, tomorrow I’ll remember to take that all-important pause and ask myself: I wonder what’s really going on for him right now? That moment of curiosity is the doorway to empathy, and it’s a game changer.

Freedman’s article was published on Start Empathy, which is the blog of an Ashoka initiative dedicated to building a future in which every child masters empathy. Empathy is a critical component of thriving relationships and in an increasingly volatile environment of accelerating change, it is especially urgent that we help our children understand and activate their capacity for empathy. One of the most impactful ways to help children understand empathy is to model it ourselves in our interactions with them. It starts with listening and a genuine curiosity and openness to understanding each child’s point of view and experience. Which is exactly what Colorado teacher Kyle Schwartz does in her third grade classroom. Schwartz has been asking her students to finish the phrase, “I wish my teacher knew….” and after recently joining Twitter, she has been posting photographs of her students responses. The hashtag #IWishMyTeacherKnew is now being used by teachers everywhere. Here is a wonderful example of how easy and accessible it is to model and infuse empathy in the classroom. Bravo, Ms. Schwartz!

Source: What Poor Students Wished Their Teachers Knew About Them 

{ #IWishMyTeacherKnew } Empathy In Action In the Classroom ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Kyle Schwartz’s Twitter Timeline

{ #IWishMyTeacherKnew } Empathy In Action In the Classroom ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Kyle Schwartz’s Twitter Timeline

{ 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.

maggie-daley-2

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.

IMG_5728

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).

IMG_5727

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.

{ Play Is Our Adaptive Wild Card } In Order to Adapt Successfully to a Changing World, We Need to Play …*

Bonobos, like humans, love to play throughout their entire lives. Play is not just child’s games. For us and them, play is foundational for bonding relationships and fostering tolerance. It’s where we learn to trust and where we learn about the rules of the game. Play increases creativity and resilience and it’s all about the generation of diversity —diversity of interactions, diversity of behaviors and diversity of connections. And when you watch Bonobos play you’re seeing the very evolutionary roots of human laughter, dance and ritual. Play is the glue that binds us together.” – Isabel Behncke Izquierdo

In this short and delightful TED talk, primatologist Isabel Behncke Izquierdo highlights some of the ways in which the highly playful Bonobos can teach us about successfully naviating “a future where we need to adapt to an increasingly challenging world through greater creativity and greater cooperation. The secret is that play is the key to these capacities. In other words, play is our adaptive wild card. In order to adapt successfully to a changing world, we need to play.” As you kick off the weekend, remember , “Play is not frivolous. Play is essential.”

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