Tag complexity

“Why do we need to know this?” [Connecting the classroom to the real world]

This past week the rethinkED team participated in a day-long think tank on how to re-invent the American High School, in an effort to develop a proposal for the XQ Super School Project. While I am excited to share some of the ideas we had, today I thought I’d start by thinking about one really powerful idea that kept me thinking long after our session ended:

“Why do we need to know this?”

^ This question is one that often pops up in the classroom. Quite frankly, students often do not see a connection between the abstract and tedious work done in classroom and their lives outside of school, both future and present. This lack of connection is problematic for a number of reasons:

  1. Without this vital connection, we often encounter the “inert knowledge” problem; students learn something but they don’t know how to use it. This relates more broadly to issues of transfer: how can we help students to use something they have learned in one context, at one time, or on one type of task in a different context, time, or on a different task? I am currently taking a course about Transfer of Learning. While transfer is arguably a main goal of education, research has generally found weak support for transfer. Students often do not learn content in ways that facilitate applying knowledge later in life or in different situations (I hope to talk about this more in upcoming weeks!).
  2. A second issue is the lack of value assigned to content learned in school. Without understanding potential applications of a skill, students see little value in learning it in the first place. If I don’t value what I am learning, I am less motivated and engaged.

Connecting classroom and community through project and problem based learning…*

With this in mind, I loved hearing this TED talk by Cesar Harada: How I teach kids to love science. He connects science to real community problems, both local and abroad. From developing an invention to estimate plastic in polluted oceans to analyzing seabed radioactivity near the Fukushima nuclear power plant that was damaged in 2011, Harada’s students work on real and relevant work problems in their science classroom. This sort of problem and project-based experiential learning can help students see the relevance of science education. Furthermore, Harada is cultivating a generation of innovators and problem solvers. His classroom is a workshop. Through rapid prototyping with tools, his students have become scientists and inventors. As he says,

“So citizen scientists, makers, dreamers — we must prepare the next generation that cares about the environment and people, and that can actually do something about it.”

THE POWER OF CONNECTION

By connecting science skills to real-world issues, we can increase the relevance of school education and give our students much needed experience in using skills in a meaningful way. As illustrated by Cesar Harada, connecting schoolwork to real life problems has benefits beyond increasing value and transfer; we can empower students to be innovators and problem solvers.

This process of embedding learning in the community and in real, complex problems is something that we hope to include in our XQ proposal. By providing students with a variety of contexts in which their knowing can be directly applied, we can create a more engaging and useful education that has applicability far beyond the classroom…*

 

{ Bless the Mess } The Dangers of Oversimplifying the Complexity of Self & Life Into A Single Narrative …*

{ Bless the Mess } The Dangers of Oversimplifying the Complexity of Self & Life Into A Single Narrative ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

Storytelling has been identified as the unit of human understanding. It occupies a central place in early development and learning about the world, oneself, and one’s place in it. A critical function of the dominant left hemisphere of the brain is to continually make up stories about why things are the way they are, which becomes our understanding of the world. Stories are a way of putting disparate pieces of information into a unified context. As we grow, the drama of stories enliven us and the narrative structure tells us something about how things are and how things should be, whether we are listening to Big Bird’s take on life or Garrison Keillor’s tales of Lake Wobegon.

Stories remain central to understanding well after childhood. When people make judgments about right and wrong, even in politics or the jury box, they often do so as a result of a story that they construct about events that have happened. […] It’s just human nature.

-Stuart Brown in Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

I’ve been thinking a lot about stories lately–those we tell, those we remember, those we believe, and those we feel compelled to challenge and rewrite. As Stuart Brown highlights above, stories are the key unit of understanding in human life. We look up at the sky and feel compelled to connect the stars with imaginary lines. Yet, the dangers of becoming too wrapped up in a single story are very real. If we are only able to view human identity–our own and that of others–through a single lens, we run the risk of falling prey to essentialism and a complete breakdown of any opportunity for empathy and true human connection.

The insistence, if only implicitly, on a choiceless singularity of human identity not only diminishes us all, it also makes  the world much more flammable. The alternative to the divisiveness of one preeminent categorization is not any unreal claim that we are all much the same. That we are not. Rather, the main hope of harmony in our troubled world lies in the plurality of our identities, which cut across each other and work against sharp divisions around one single hardened line of vehement division that allegedly cannot be resisted. Our shared humanity gets savagely challenged when our differences are narrowed into one devised system of uniquely powerful categorization.

Perhaps the worst impairment comes from the neglect–and denial–of the role of reasoning and choice, which follows from the recognition of our plural identities. 

– Amartya Sen in Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (Issues of Our Time)

How do we go beyond the single story or the first story that we create about ourselves and those around us? A few weeks ago, I wrote about the power of simply asking strangers and friends about their hearts and their stories. But I really am curious, how do you think we might go about getting a better sense of the plurality and fullness of each other’s identities? As I wait for your answers, here is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 2009 TED talk, in which she poignantly addresses the perils of limiting ourselves to a single story.

So that is how to create a single story: show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again and that is what they become.
. . . *
The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.
. . . * 
I have always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of their dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult, it emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.
. . . *
Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and
to malign but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people but stories can also repair that broken dignity.
. . . *
When we reject the single story, when we realize that there’s never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.
– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story 

Alberto Giacometti on Being In the World As A Rethinker …*

Alberto Giacometti on Being In the World As A Rethinker ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

Naples, 2014 – Artist Unknown …*

 

I’ve been trying to get up earlier recently and to motivate myself to get out of bed before sunrise, I have made the first hour of my day all about play and reflection. I read books that are just for pleasure, I journal, I drink my coffee unhurriedly, I look out into the darkness and listen to the birds begin to stir while my cat purrs besides me. It’s splendid.

This morning I was reading some interviews with Alberto Giacometti, and found the following passage to express splendidly so many aspects of what it means to be in the world as a rethinker …* From being able to live comfortably with the unknown (and the unknowable); being willing to reconstruct anew one’s understanding each day; questioning one’s assumptions daily without letting ego or fear get in the way; not letting one’s ideas and work become too precious; to being able to appreciate the intrinsic joy and inherent rewards of the process. Hope you will be as inspired by this glimpse into Giacometti’s experience as I am 

I do not work to create beautiful paintings or sculpture. Art is only a means of seeing. No matter what I look at, it all surprises and eludes me, and I’m not too sure of what I see. It is too complex. So, we must try to copy simply in order to begin to realize what we are seeing. It’s as if reality were continually behind curtains that one tears away… but there is always another …always one more. But I have the feeling, or the hope, that I am making progress each day. That is what makes me work, compelled to understand the core of life. And to carry on, knowing that the closer one gets to the goal, the further it retreats. The distance between the model and myself tends to increase continually; the closer I get, the further away it moves. It’s an endless search. Every time I work I am prepared to undo without the slightest hesitation the work done the day before, as each day I feel I am seeing further. Basically I now only work for the sensation I get during the process. And if I am then able to see better, if as I leave I see reality slightly differently, deep down, even if the picture doesn’t make much sense or is ruined, in any event I have won. I have won a new sensation, a sensation I had never experienced before. 

Source: Why Am I A Sculptor? – An Interview with André Parinaud

. . . *

{ MAKE ME THINK } Sometimes, Harder Is Worth It – The Link Between Difficulty, Intention & Enjoyment …*

{ MAKE ME THINK } Sometimes, Harder Is Worth It - The Link Between Difficulty, Intention & Enjoyment ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

“I love my camera. I love it even though I took terrible pictures with it for a month. I love it even though I have to adjust the aperture, worry about depth of field and annoy my family while I twiddle with its metal knobs. I love it because it makes me think: about light, colour, composition. I take fewer pictures with it than I take with my phone, but much better ones. And I’m not alone in my love for my camera. While sales of point and shoot technology continue to decline, the market for fiddly manual cameras is growing nicely.” -Brian Millar

I read a thoughtful article on The Guardian the other day, in which its author, Brian Millar, makes an important point about the need to retain some degree of complexity and difficulty in certain realms of existence in an age permeated by “a kind of religious belief summed up in the mantra: don’t make me think.”

When everything around us is designed to be simple, it stops us thinking and takes away the fulfilment and satisfaction that come from mastery

I’m not suggesting that everything should be designed to be more difficult to use. Toilets have a perfectly good user interface, except in Japan (why do Japanese toilets have a remote control? Where else are you going to be when you flush them?). It’s one of the miracles of the modern age that we are able to wield extraordinarily powerful tools without having even to read manuals. However, sometimes designers have a duty to make us think about that power. When we do, we’ll use things better and enjoy them more.

Source: Why We Should Design Things to Be Difficult to Use

Millar highlights an important point about the seemingly inverse relationship between efficiency and intent. As more and more aspects of our daily life become simplified or downright automated, it does seem increasingly important to be intentional about designing prompts for awareness and well, intention, throughout our day. Besides, one of the key components of reaching a flow state (and reaping its numerous emotional and cognitive benefits) is finding that sweet spot where a task challenges us to stretch a bit past our current skill level.

. . . *

“I want to create a mystery, not to solve it” – Making the Ordinary Unknown to Enhance Creativity, Learning & Innovation …*

“I want to create a mystery, not to solve it” - Making the Ordinary Unknown to Enhance Creativity, Learning & Innovation ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

“Fear of the unexplainable has not only impoverished our inner lives, but also diminished relations between people; these have been dragged, so to speak, from the river of infinite possibilities and stuck on the dry bank where nothing happens. For it is not only sluggishness that makes human relations so unspeakably monotonous, it is the aversion to any new, unforeseen experience we are not sure we can handle.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

This quote from Rilke, which I found on Brain Pickings, captures this week’s theme and a core principle of our team: the need to embrace and practice making the ordinary unknown.

Over on The Guardian, Charlie Skelton makes an intriguing point about René Magritte’s art sharing structural similarities to comedy, in that both hinge on making the ordinary unknown:

Magritte once said: “I want to create a mystery, not to solve it.” Still, without trying to “solve” these compositions, we can at least examine their construction. It’s noticeable that many of the techniques Magritte uses for creating his mysterious images are to be found in comedy writing. His pictures are frequently structured like jokes.

[…]

A good comic can take something mundane and familiar and make you see it an unexpected way, whether it’s Dave Chappelle talking about “grape drink”, or Louis CK ranting about his four-year-old daughter. Magritte will do the same by sticking a silk mask on an apple. Or having a cloud enter a room by a door. Magritte “transformed the everyday” says Professor Elza Adamowicz of Queen Mary University, London. He “created a world of irrational juxtapositions, which shake us out of our comfortable expectations”. These irrational juxapositions have the stripped-down clarity of a one-liner. “His style is neutral in a way,” says Camu. “He wanted to make surreal propositions without distracting the viewer with style or painterly surfaces.”

[…]

For Magritte, all the world’s a stage, and existence is throughly absurd. His aim is to make us see the absurdity, to jolt us out of dumb acceptance – “to make us think and imagine outside the box”, as Adamowicz puts it. To stop seeing the world as one uncomplicated thing. With Magritte, everything is something else as well. Owls are plants. Balustrades are people. Shoes are feet. And paintings are jokes. Knock knock. Who’s there? A cloud.

This focus on shifting our frame of reference and its ties to comedy reminded me of Tina Seelig, who has often mentioned jokes as a fun and effective way to practice reframing one’s perspective to enhance creativity and innovation capacities:

There are some entertaining ways to practice changing your perspective. One of my favorites is to analyze jokes. Most are funny because they change the frame of the story when we least expect it. Here is an example:

Two men are playing golf on a lovely day. As the first man is about to tee off, a funeral procession goes by in the cemetery next door. He stops, takes off his hat, and bows his head.
The second man says, “Wow, you are incredibly thoughtful.”
The first man says, “It’s the least I could do. She and I were married for 25 years.”

As you can see, the frame shifts in the last line. At first the golfer appears thoughtful, but he instantly turns into a jerk when you learn that the deceased person was his wife.

Another classic example comes from one of the Pink Panther movies:

Inspector Clouseau: Does your dog bite? 
Hotel clerk: No. 
Clouseau: [bowing down to pet the dog] Nice doggie. [he dog bites Clouseau’s hand.]
Clouseau: I thought you said you dog did not bite!
Hotel Clerk: That is not my dog.

Again, the frame shifts at the end of the joke when you realize they are talking about two different dogs. Take a careful look at jokes, and you will find that the creativity and humor usually come from shifting the frame.

Reframing problems takes effort, attention, and practice, and allows you to see the world around you in a brand-new light. You can practice reframing by physically or mentally changing your point of view, by seeing the world from others’ perspectives, and by asking questions that begin with “why.” Together, these approaches enhance your ability to generate imaginative responses to the problems that come your way.

Source: How Reframing A Problem Unlocks Innovation 

Speaking of Seelig, over on Boston.comSanjay Salomon has an article about “failure resumes” where he highlights some pointers given to him in a phone interview by Seelig.

A “failure resume” is not a document of personal missteps that you send to potential employers or post on your LinkedIn profile. Instead, it’s a private exercise is meant to make students, job-seekers, employees, and others confront, acknowledge, and learn from their mistakes in order be wiser when the next challenge arises.

Seelig requires each of her students to complete a failure resume to help them “realize that viewing their experiences through the lens of failure forces them to come to terms with the mistakes they have made along the way and to extract important lessons from them.”

My students have to look at their mistakes from different angles, and to prepare for next time they face a similar challenge,” said Seelig. “It’s important to mine your failure in order to learn.”

In her blog “CreativityRulz,” Seelig explains that items listed on a failure resume can include professional, personal, or even social blunders. Students are supposed to outline what they learned from the experience in order “to extract important lessons from them.” Seelig told Boston.com the failure resume is a helpful way to get students out of their comfort zones.

“Students are used to looking at their lives through the lens of success,” said Seelig. “But if you’re only looking at your success, then you’re missing an opportunity to learn from your failures. You’re also being disingenuous, since the road to success is riddled with failure.”

Source: Can a Failure Resume Help You Succeed?

Is this something you’ve tried? I’m rather intrigued by the idea and I’m hoping to carve out some time this weekend to get started on my own failure resume.

reframe, learn, create & innovate …*

Toni Morrison On Constructing Books As What Ifs …*

Toni Morrison On Constructing Books As What Ifs ...*  | rethinked.org

I always start out with an idea, even a boring idea, that becomes a question I don’t have any answers to.

[ … ] 

No, I know how I feel. My feelings are the result of prejudices and convictions like everybody else’s. But I am interested in the complexity, the vulnerability of an idea. It is not “this is what I believe,” because that would not be a book, just a tract. A book is “this may be what I believe, but suppose I am wrong . . . what could it be?” Or, “I don’t know what it is, but I am interested in finding out what it might mean to me, as well as to other people.” – Toni Morrison

Source: Toni Morrison, The Art of Fiction No. 134 via The Paris Review, published

Friday Link Fest…*

READ

How Drucker Thought About Complexity ~ The pace of change is accelerating and the degree of uncertainty increasing. Perhaps a new rationale will be required to drive institutional success in the future. Perhaps we need to move from a rationale of scalable efficiency to one of scalable learning — designing institutions and architectures of relationships across institutions that help all participants to learn faster as more participants join. via Harvard Business Review, published June 25, 2013.

Innovation: The History of a Buzzword ~ The word innovation might be mantra of business leaders but the irony behind the king of buzzwords is that, originally, “innovation” wasn’t a compliment. It was an accusation. via The Atlantic, published June 20, 2013.

Reframe How You Think About Failure by Changing Its Definition ~ You’re fallible and you don’t have all the answers. Knowing how to accept and process failures, screw-ups, and unknowns will help you use them to your advantage. Recognizing them as normal and often necessary to success is key. via LifeHacker, published June 27, 2013.

Five Hypotheses About Learning That Suggest Self-Directed Learning ~ In contrast to pedagogy, which focuses on the efficient delivery of instruction and content, heutagogy focuses instead on the process of learning itself–how to learn rather than what to learn. via Teach Thought, published June 24, 2013.

What Is Design If Not Human-Centered? ~ The explosive growth of interest in human-centered design raises bigger questions about traditional design education, training, and practice. via Stanford Social Innovation Review, published June 25, 2013.

LOOK

Insightful Portraits Of Fourth-Graders Around The World ~ Photographer Judy Gelles traveled around the United States, China and India, taking portraits of children and asking them three questions: Who do you live with? What do you wish for? What do you worry about? via Design Taxi, published June 28, 2013.

Disrupt NSA Surveillance With This Typeface ~ The ZXX typeface, created by Sang Mun, is embedded with disruptive designs that are meant to combat optical character recognition processes. ” ZXX is a call to action, both practically and symbolically, to raise questions about privacy, But it represents a broader urgency: How can design be used politically and socially for the codification and de-codification of people’s thoughts? What is a graphic design that is inherently secretive? How can graphic design reinforce privacy? And, really, how can the process of design engender a proactive attitude towards the future — and our present for that matter?” via Hyperallergic, published June 27, 2013.

WATCH

Poetry Bombing by Augustina Woodgate ~ Augustina Woodgate targets lonely thrift stores and gives the well-worn clothing new life by sewing poems into them. via Lost At E Minor, published June 27, 2013.

Crowdsourced Open Air Street Art Galleries Reclaim Public Space ~ Wallpeople is an urban art collective based in Barcelona that brings people together to make street art on empty walls. The movement aims to create a unique work that is made by all, in order to return art to the streets and reclaim public spaces. via PSFK, published June 27, 2013.

What Do Most Philosophers Believe? A Wide-Ranging Survey Project Gives Us Some Idea ~ Two contemporary philosophers, David Chalmers and David Bourget, decided to find out where their colleagues stood on 30 different philosophical issues by constructing a rigorous survey that ended up accounting for the views of over 3,000 professors, graduate students, and independent thinkers. via Open Culture, published June 26, 2013.

Friday Link Fest…*

Friday Link Fest...* | rethinked.org

READ

Embodied Cognition and Design: A New Approach and Vocabulary ~ via Big Think, published May 10, 2013.

The pioneering thinking of Chris Argyris ~ Roger Martin on why businesses and business schools can accomplish a great deal if they seek actionable knowledge, help smart people to overcome their natural learning challenges, and challenge the premises of problems, rather than the effectiveness of solutions. via Financial Times, published May 12, 2013.

Turning Wicked Problems Into Wicked Opportunities ~ We need to foster an entire generation that has a positive relationship with our world of volatile change if we want to intentionally seize the unlimited opportunities that are just waiting to emerge from the fertile environment of increasing complexity.  via FastCoExist, published May 15, 2013.

How Can They Charge That? (And Other Questions) ~ Prof finds that requiring students to ask everyday questions is an effective way to teach economics concepts ~ via New York Times, published May 11, 2013.

Creating Modern-Day Movements: Filmmakers And Social Entrepreneurs Share What It Takes To Spread An Idea ~ via Forbes, published May 13, 2013.

What The WSJ’s Portrait Artist Can Teach You About Innovation ~ Kevin Sprouls’ hedcut engages the imagination by limiting information. via FastCoDesign, published May 13, 2013.

How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times ~ Reframing disaster. via Greater Good Science Center, published May 13, 2013.

Nine Key Characteristics of Knowmads In Society 3.0 ~ via Education Futures, published January 12, 2012

Bill Gates, designer? Yes. Public Interest Design honors 100 global thinkers who are designing social good ~ Good design has the power to improve lives. Yesterday, Public Interest Design — a group dedicated to design for social good — released the Global Public Interest Design 100, a list of 100 “designers” (including some people you really might not expect) who are designing for the good of all. 100 architects, designers, policymakers, visualizers, funders and educators who — even if they have no design training — are changing the world with great design thinking. via TED, published May 15, 2013.

LOOK

A Grown-Up Library, With A Built-In Slide For Kids ~ Panorama House by Moon Hoon: autonomous fun zone & a grown-up library with a built-In slide for kids. via FastCoDesign, published May 10, 2013.

The Handwritten Outlines Of Famous Literary Works By Their Authors ~ via Design Taxi, published May 15, 2013.

40 Inspiring Workspaces Of The Famously Creative ~ via Buzzfeed, published April 15, 2013.

10 Brilliant Examples Of Sketch Notes: Notetaking For The 21st Century ~ don’t just capture ideas, tell a story. via Teach Thought, published May 8, 2013.

WATCH

The Art of Data Visualization: How to Tell Complex Stories Through Smart Design ~ via Open Culture, published May 15, 2013.

A House Powered By Exercise Will Keep You In Shape While You Keep The Lights On ~ The JF-Kit House by the Spanish design firm Elii is an experiment in “domestic fitness,” rendering “the image of a possible future where citizens produce part of their domestic energy requirements with their own physical activities.” via FastCoExist, published May 13, 2013.

Roger Martin on leveraging design in business ~ At Design Indaba Conference 2007, Roger Martin discusses the difference between a design view of business and a business view of design. via Design Indaba, published May 14, 2013.

Student Schools Teacher: Make Learning Exciting! ~ via Big Think, published May 11, 2013

Five-Minute Film Festival: Ten Videos on Kindness, Empathy, and Connection ~ via Edutopia, published May 10, 2013.

Connected Learning: A Learning Approach Designed for Our Times  ~ The 4th R: Relevance ~ “It’s important for me, and for my future, to take charge of my learning” – Charles Raben, a 14-year-old aspiring photographer from a public school in New York City, Quest to Learn, that is using connected learning principles. via Huff Post Impact, published May 14, 2013.

On Poetry & Business: Integrative Thinking, Creativity & Empathy

 

Not that I need an excuse to read poetry, but an article published yesterday in the Harvard Business Review, entitled The Benefits of Poetry for Professionals by John Coleman provides a welcome reminder of how ‘useful’ and beneficial reading and writing poems can be. Coleman highlights four virtues related to engaging with poetry:

-poetry teaches us to wrestle with and simplify complexity.

-Poetry can also help users develop a more acute sense of empathy.

-Reading and writing poetry also develops creativity.

-poetry can teach us to infuse life with beauty and meaning

Coleman concludes that “to those open to it, reading and writing poetry can be a valuable component of leadership development”. So without further ado, get your fix of empathy, creativity, beauty and meaning with this glorious poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti:

CONSTANTLY RISKING ABSURDITY (1958) via PoetryFoundation.org

Constantly risking absurdity
                                             and death
            whenever he performs
                                        above the heads
                                                            of his audience
   the poet like an acrobat
                                 climbs on rime
                                          to a high wire of his own making
and balancing on eyebeams
                                     above a sea of faces
             paces his way
                               to the other side of day
    performing entrechats
                               and sleight-of-foot tricks
and other high theatrics
                               and all without mistaking
                     any thing
                               for what it may not be

 

       For he’s the super realist
                                     who must perforce perceive
                   taut truth
                                 before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
                                  toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
                                     with gravity
                                                to start her death-defying leap

 

      And he
             a little charleychaplin man
                                           who may or may not catch
               her fair eternal form
                                     spreadeagled in the empty air
                  of existence

 

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