Author Dominic Randolph

{Inspired} by IDEO…*

I visited with IDEO San Francisco last week in order to work on two new projects with them. As always, it was great to be in their offices and meet various team members. I am really excited to be working with them again. As you may remember, we developed the Design Thinking Toolkit for Educators with them a few years ago.Even though the work is inspiring and interesting, the most interesting thing of working with them are the “meta-lessons” I take away from experiencing their way of working and thinking about things. Here are a few of my inspirations provoked by my recent visit:

  • permission…permission to think creatively, permission to act naturally and be oneself, permission to dream…
  • creativity…they are willing to let down the barriers and just be creative…I think about how many of our workplaces, schools and homes are not supportive of creativity, and yet, developing creative people is one of the greatest challenges we face…”Yes, and…”-the core of improvisation is at the core of the spirit at IDEO
  • optimism…cynicism, irony, unpleasantness are jus too present in our lives. I work in a school because the optimism of young people is contagious…it makes you want to get up every morning and work. This is the spirit of IDEO and positive psychology-frame thing optimistically-you will not only be happier, but you will handle decisions, work and life better…
  • wicked problems…no problem is too big to be taken on…world hunger, creating great schools, improving the lives of older people…we should all take on challenges and turn them into “How might we…?” challenges…
  • design thinking…when I first learned about design thinking, I thought it was a methodology, a set of steps one uses to solve problems. Now I think of it much more as a mindset, a way of thinking and living…of course, one has to learn about design thinking to practice it well, but one also has to “bend” one’s mind to design thinking…
  • openness to learning…a lot of us think that learning stops with school or university…we need to be lifelong learners and places like IDEO support that idea of bringing a “beginner’s mind” to everything that we do. It is not that expertise is not important, but intellectual humility is just as important…
  • innovation…I sometimes think that we conceptualize innovation as something grand, something complex and sophisticated, and yet, it can be simple, elegant and modest…read/listen to this inspiring story that is a great metaphor for this idea…

IDEO is a worthy example of a place, a space that we should emulate. It is more than a firm or a design company. It is an experience and mindset. Lots of people want to work there, but the most important lesson is how to take the spirit of IDEO and apply it to our working, to our thinking and to our living.

designing my Δ…*

I have recently been thinking about “change over time” (Δ) and how we perceive and note change in ourselves and in others. It is surprising to me how consistency is so vaunted. Yes, it is indeed important to show people that you are stable, that you are dependable, and yet, the most surprising experiences in my life have all been marked by change and adaptability. What would it look like if we focused more on recovery from mistakes than just success? How would we coach people and give them feedback that takes them from the moment of a mistake to coping with the consequences and making the best of the situation?

I have been asking people recently about “moments of change”. Have you had an experience, small or significant, that changed your life, your opinions and/or the trajectory of your development? People really get into thinking about this question and appreciate sharing those moments when a mentor patted them on the back, or a friend asked a really good question, or they showed more courage than they thought they could summon in a particularly challenging situation. It is so inspiring. So what moment changed you? What capacities did you use to spur on that change? Is there a moment or experience that you would like to share in commenting to this post. I hope you will do so.

I am also thinking that I should be asking people more about their best “recovery” or “save”. Can you point to a mistake or a challenge that you recovered well from or “saved” from disaster? What allowed you to make something change from being a problem situation to a positive experience? Feel free to share as well in your comments.

What is interesting about this is that we should be able to foster intentionally and more comprehensively moments of transformation and recovery in each other. We should be able to design our “change over time” (our own Δ). I want to design my Δ, and I think we should be having more discussions about how we need to change, how people and the world around us are changing, and how we are reacting or anticipating these changes. Our measures of change, our mΔps (“delta maps”) are fairly rudimentary. Wouldn’t it be great if we could develop a tracker for our personal development. It is great now that we can track our personal fitness, but we should be tracking in more nuanced ways our personal development and our capacity building.

I do know that there are many people working on finding ways to build capacities such as grit, optimism and how to “credential” our development (For example, Pathbrite, the Character Lab, Linked In, the McArthur Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, the new Reporter app…and the list can go on and on); however, how can we summon our forces to make this a central aspect of our lives that rather than tracking our social interactions on Facebook, we are tracking, charting and reflecting on our personal and communal Δ? Let’s commit to finding ways to do this humanly, authentically and organically so that all the narrow and reductionist measures that currently attempt to represent some aspect of our human wholeness such as transcripts, 360° evaluations, test scores, trails of social media comments are replaced by systems that are much better at representing the adaptive nature of what it means to be human.

I hope we can continue the dialogue and thoughts on this…rethink it…*

Library Redesign and Project Based Learning

It is April 30th and the second day of the Riverdale Lower School 5th Grade library redesign project. At the end of day one, students reflected on the day of design thinking and commented they found the process incredibly liberating. “It is so wonderful not to feel judged!” one student remarked. Students relished in generating out-of-the-box wild ideas within the design thinking framework where accountability for one’s ideas is of high value.

“The why question is essential,” one student said referring to IDEO’s ‘how might we question’ that is an early step of design thinking. Design thinking is a process that has its roots in the design and engineering world. IDEO, a for profit design firm, is most famous for using the method to develop human centered design solutions to problems, or challenges, such as the Keep the Change program for Bank of America or solutions for Acumen Clean Water Fund. The process’s great strength is that it systematically spurs the generation of creative ideas which are then rapidly developed into prototypes, or temporary models, that can be refined, discarded, and reimagined into a final product or solution. The rapid prototyping has built in feedback from colleagues, users and experts before going through all the energy and time of creating a final, perfect product. The brainstorming part of the process is called ideation. The different phases are:


“ UNDERSTAND Understanding is the first phase of the design thinking process. During this phase, students immerse themselves in learning. They talk to experts and conduct research. The goal is to develop background knowledge through these experiences. They use their developing understandings as a springboard as they begin to address design challenges.

OBSERVE Students become keen people watchers in the observation phase of the design thinking process. They watch how people behave and interact and they observe physical spaces and places. They talk to people about what they are doing, ask questions and reflect on what they see. The understanding and observation phases of design thinking help students develop a sense of empathy.

DEFINE In this phase of design thinking, students the focus is on becoming aware of peoples’ needs and developing insights. The phrase “How might we….” is often used to define a point of view, which is a statement of the: user + need + insight This statement ends with a suggestion about how to make changes that will have an impact on peoples’ experiences.

IDEATE Ideating is a critical component of design thinking. Students are challenged to brainstorm a myriad of ideas and to suspend judgment. No idea is to far-fetched and no one’s ideas are rejected. Ideating is all about creativity and fun. In the ideation phase, quantity is encouraged. Students may be asked to generate a hundred ideas in a single session. They become silly, savvy, risk takers, wishful thinkers and dreamers of the impossible…and the possible.

PROTOTYPE Prototyping is a rough and rapid portion of the design process. A prototype can be a sketch, model, or a cardboard box. It is a way to convey an idea quickly. Students learn that it is better to fail early and often as they create prototypes.

TEST Testing is part of an iterative process that provides students with feedback. The purpose of testing is to learn what works and what doesn’t, and then iterate. This means going back to your prototype and modifying it based on feedback. Testing ensures that students learn what works and what doesn’t work for their users.”

Jenna Marks, rethinkED team member, interviewed Duane Bray from IDEO (interview forthcoming). In her discussion he highlighted the flexibility of the design thinking process. Bray said, “There is overlap and sometimes these phases are not sequential.” He does highlights the first phase of research as being essential. The first phase is the understanding or discovery phase as outlined in the diagram above.

In February, IDEO and Riverdale, with the support of Teachers College and KIPP partnered up to host an all day IDEO workshop with over 300 faculty participants from around the world. During this workshop faculty focused are redesigning different parts of schools, such as spaces and curriculum.

Now, the 5th grade students have risen to a design thinking challenge during the a one week project based learning week the Riverdale lower school is piloting to allow teachers to create experiential based learning lessons unfettered by the normal schedule. Students kicked off the week by running through a mini design challenge of redesigning their morning breakfast to become familiar with the design process. By the beginning of day two, the students had already created different areas of change to consider in the library, such as furniture, lighting, space/ appearances, technology/ tools. Then the students were broken up by their interests into different groups to discuss specifically “how might we’s” for each of the given topics. The debates were lively and the students were aided by design thinking experts to help guide their thinking.

Leading up to the week students had done their own spatial discovery to prep themselves for the week. The students went out in search of environments that are analogous to libraries such as parks, playgrounds, coffee shops, libraries, museums, hospitals and the Apple store. They took notes and pictures of the space, environment, lighting, noise, traffic level, people. In those different spaces, the students were prompted to ask: How do people use the space? Who uses this space? What is the noise level? What is the lighting like? The students were also encouraged to look back to their memory and think about how they have used their spaces.

As part of the first day, the students interviewed different library users, i.e. their peers in other grades, to understand the ways people use library spaces. A theme running through the week was think of more and more ways to design and think differently. The student relished in their failure, seeing it as a badge of risk taking and resilience. The rethinkED team was thrilled to be a part of the planning and organization of the week and to join on the library visit trip. We are all excited to see what the 5th graders have designed!

rethinkED Project Summary

In our initial year, the rethinkED team has attempted to tackle a wide range of education projects. Please continue below for a brief synopsis of our previous and current work.

Chinese Language Reinforcement Project

The rethinkED team has worked with Betty Li and Lu Li, two Mandarin Chinese faculty members at Riverdale, to expand student exposure to Chinese language and culture throughout New York City. The project sought to meld language study, technology, and the diverse resources offered by the city’s boroughs and communities. The project began with several one-on-one meetings and on-site class visits. Our collaboration led to the creation of an interactive map, which students used to document their individual and group efforts to practice Mandarin and engage in Chinese culture beyond the Riverdale campus. The rethinkED team spearheaded off-campus engagement by organizing an outing for Riverdale students to interact with native Chinese speakers attending Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Alternative Assessments in Elementary Grades

Throughout the course of the year, the rethinkED team has supported fifth grade Riverdale faculty member, Meg Krause, in her efforts to forgo teacher-dictated grading and incorporate student-driven feedback as a guide in her classroom assessment. Project tasks have included weekly classroom visits, the exchange of relevant resources, and group brainstorming (ideation) sessions. The collaboration has resulted in opposite-page reflection sections in the students’ math notebooks as well as the use of exit tickets as a measure of student self-evaluation. Exit tickets require each student to select and explain the central piece of learning they received during the class session. Students can also identify a point of confusion from the day’s lesson. RethinkED is currently working with Meg to develop metacognitive prompt cards for her use during lessons, in order to help her easily integrate reflection in her lessons.

Student Engagement in Math through Project Based Learning

Several members of the Riverdale math faculty, across grade divisions, identified an interest in increasing student interest and ownership of their math development. As a mini-experiment, the rethinkED team collaborated with a team of teachers to investigate how project based learning (PBL) and meta-cognitive skills could lead to improved student learning. At the start, the rethinkED team conducted several in-person and phone interviews along with class visits to engage and learn more about the specific goals of individual teachers. Several but not all the projects focused on computer technology and software applications. The rethinkED team shared resources including academic articles, websites showcasing success technology products, and literature supporting the importance of real world based problem solving. The collaboration culminated in an on-site Riverdale workshop that provided an opportunity for faculty members to collaborate with colleagues across grade levels while also learning and discussing ways to implement technology and real world complexity in their respective coursework.

Project Based Learning and STEAM in Elementary Grades

The rethinkED team is currently working with members of Riverdale’s lower school faculty in preparation for this spring’s weeklong Project Based Learning initiative, centered around integrative STEAM education. STEAM is an educational push to incorporate the multidisciplinary teaching of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics in place of siloed teaching practices. To facilitate a common understanding across the school, we developed a handout which summarized STEAM and PBL along with examples of how these techniques have been used in classroom setting. We are in the process of conducting interviews and ideation sessions with teachers to gain a better understanding of their needs and to help develop themes, objectives, and activities from rudimentary ideas.

Project Booster Day

Most recently on April 11, The rethinkED team built off the momentum created by an IDEO workshop on Design Thinking. The rethinkED follow up session provide faculty with an opportunity implement and practice the five-step Design Thinking process detailed in the IDEO presentation. After preparing their goals and “How Might We?” statements beforehand, the faculty participants delved into ways that they can redesign a lesson plan or unit. Workshop members collaborated with members of the rethinkED team and the Riverdale Technology staff to prototype solutions to their specific projects.

Modeling Leads to Remodeling

“Spewing up food exactly as you have swallowed it is evidence of a failure to digest and assimilate it; the stomach has not done its job if, during concoction, it fails to change the substance and the form of what it is given.” These words from Michel de Montaigne’s essay On Educating Children rang in my ear in the midst of my conversation with my friend, a college guidance counselor. Though many of his students had already heard back from colleges that offered rolling or early admission decisions, a majority of his students would be hearing a mixture of happy and disappointing news over the coming weeks. As an educator, I routinely try to reflect and assess whether I have done my part to adequately prepare my students for the challenges ahead. Yet milestone moments, such as students solidifying their next plans after commencement, always refocus my attention.

Montaigne’s words speak to the potential shortcomings of an education based solely on memory and regurgitation. I deeply believe that a proper education prepares a student to be a master of manipulation, as demonstrated by the ability to fluidly handle and wrestle with the subject matter and become a highly self-aware learner. Struggling to make sense of and applying personal meanings to ideas previously presented by others should be staples of good education. Properly done, this leads to the development of a student’s metacognitive skills because a student can judge their progress and attain enough self-enlightened flexibility to drive their learning.

Even with all these other positives one of the greatest advantages to this type of training may be the ability to transfer their skills in self-analysis to the analysis of others given students’ extensive exposure to their surroundings. The ability to evaluate the argument and intentions of other individuals is an important step in being able to work effectively in groups. A self-aware person who cannot relate or work with others cannot succeed in a society that demands constant interaction.

But then the question remains how do you develop self-driven learners who can appreciate and engage the thought processes of others? I believe it is important to create situations where students are given the opportunity to build their metacognitive skills. I also believe it is important to place students in environments where they have to work and learn the value of understanding the reasoning of their peers. Yet as Ted and Nancy Sizer speak to in their book “The Students Are Watching,” adolescents are constantly internalizing life lessons by watching the actions of teachers. All the effort put into creating well-designed lesson plans may serve little use if kids see their teachers contradicting these lessons in everyday life. I definitely support the idea that one of the most valuable ways of imparting these important lessons is to model the desired behavior. If understanding self-learning and understanding the logic of others are important life skills than teachers need to constantly practice and exhibit their importance to our students.

Spring Demo: A Night of Ideas at EdLab

Last Thursday I attended Teachers College’s Ed Lab Spring Demo Night. It was high energy with a focused discussion and well thought out ideas.  One of the presenters demoed TuVa labs, an online platform to support students learning through their interests. They posed the questions: How do we get kids to learn from what they are already interested in? Is it the Miami Heat’s winning streak? Italian food? From here, students would pick up a subject and learn about it through something that really fascinates them. TuVa Labs focuses on the subject of math, since, as the presenter stated, math is the subject our nation struggles with the most.

The concept of connecting learning with student’s interests in a rigorous way seems to be a winning start, but of course the challenge is keeping the program tailored and rigorous for each student. Another group that presented was called Chalkable. Chalkable selects the finest technology apps out there and brings them on to one hub where students can pick and choose programs and teachers can track student results.


The follow-up questions from the audience were quite insightful for TuVa Labs. One person asked about how reflection was incorporated into the online lessons to helps students be metacognitive about their learning. It’s not. Yet. But the question does represent a major challenge in online learning.


The other question was about how the program helps students who get stuck. It doesn’t. Which isn’t a bad thing necessarily. It means there is a firm place for the teacher in the room.


Teacherly was the last group to present. Teacherly also addresses math learning, but it focuses on students who struggle. It supports differentiated learning through a video game. It mimics, at the lower age level, manipulatives needed for counting. The program draws on multiple ways a child might add and subtract–tallies, number line, coins–so that a child can use whatever way he or she is most comfortable counting to learn. Providing multiple options for counting strategies is very innovative and is something I found useful when teaching Kindergarten and 1st Grade.

These three programs are still in the early stages. Teacherly aims to tailor their programs to students learning through their own interests and passions and create environments that feel intuitive to the student.


I look forward to more demo nights at Teachers College’s Ed Lab and to exploring the landscape of new education startups. It’s good to support and help these groups prototype their ideas into final products.

The Future of Books

I came across the conversation on the future of the print book several years ago, when publishers, educators, writers and readers began to seriously wonder: what will the be the future of books? The question centers around the changing landscape of technology, which makes portable technology an affordable platform to distribute multiple books to readers.


The following video humoriously depicts how the printed book transformed the context of the Middle Ages: Middle Ages Tech Support

The iPad, e-readers, mobile phones and other allied technologies are playing a major role in expanding the idea of how and what a good book is made of.


Once we were only capable of considering the information individually distributed through printed  books, we now live in a world with gadgets reminiscent of the Jetsons with increased multimedia content including embedded audio, video, commenting from readers to communicate with authors, and haptic interactions that make text and physical interactions possible. Our vision of the future of books is rapidly changing and will likely go far beyond what we once imagined as a good book.


I recently came across an interesting Kickstarter project led by an author attempting to do two things that interrupt traditional models of the book. I find the efforts of Anna Vital, the author of Becoming an Entrepreneur, interesting, for the nature of her project has the possibility of expanding our ideas of the textbook. Vital’s project is an infographic book that provides a visual guide to persons interested in developing a startup company. In a sense this project reminds me of great workshops that were placed in print, for example The Artist Way.


Vital’s work poses questions like: How can we think about sharing knowledge and teaching readers to make connections? and How to make the reading experience reflective with the techniques of design? The interface plays an important role just as the actual facts and exposition. Further, as Vital explains in an interview on the project published by Women 2.0, her personal experiences as a student with dyslexia inspired and informed her to make the project multimodal — aesthetic, interactive and dynamic.

As an educator, I am very interested in following the design and development of new texts and learning tools. I will be following this project closely to learn about how the digital version of Becoming an Entrepreneur varies from the print version. I’d love to observe how readers understand the content in these two contexts (print and digital). Which one–print or digital–offers more affordances to readers who are more visual or gravitate toward making nonlinear connections to ideas and information. The future of the book offers so many possibilities. Here is one book to watch, read more about the Becoming an Entrepreneur book project:

Wrapping up NuVu: Reflections on Technology, Design and Project based Learning

This winter, I travelled to Cambridge, MA to co-run a two week design lab course out of Nuvu with highschoolers. This post focuses on the second week of the studio. For the overview of the first week of the studio, please click here.  For an overview of NuVu, please click here. The two weeks at the NuVu studio closed with electronically blossoming flowers and augmented reality videos overlayed on to real time objects. It was hard to believe it had all pulled together so rapidly. The headmaster of the Beaver School, which requires NuVu studio courses as part of its curriculum, along with other experts in the field, were all present at the event.


The workshop, despite all planning, and the seemingly long hours of 9-3 PM, unfolded at a rapid pace requiring constant reworking of the day’s game plan at the beginning and middle of each day. The students’ engagement moved through periods of listening, periods of making, and the hardest part of all, periods of drawing on their own insight and creativity. The necessity of having a vision to guide one’s work became apparent once the task of buckling down and getting to work commenced and the questions began–what should I do? what should I do next?

Mapping_our_cityIn anticipation of this, the workshop was designed to begin top heavy on reading, reflective writing on the multi-layered experience of being, walking and living in a city and ways of mapping and portraying that experience. The workshop pushed the students to pick a theme to focus their city explorations–the theme could be as broad as the narrative of one’s memory through space to as specific as quiet places in Central Square. The student’s blog posts became a wonderful way of tracking their musing that cumulated in their end of studio project–a collaged map and augmented reality videos overlayed on city sites using the iphone and ipad app Aurasma. The second week was a week of intensive self directed work. The students first storyboarded and then created videos. These videos were then overlayed over the real life object using aurasma. Aurasma has a wonderful Ted talk, which can be viewed here, that gives a sense of how this app works and what its implications are for school.

The activity and energy of the students while doing this work was quite thrilling. It was clear that for some the self directed project based work was easier and more effortless and for others harder and less clear. The studio model clearly taps into other forms of learning and knowledge creation.

I have continued over the weeks since then to reflect on the studio model as one that is greatly important for the future. It has led me to some different readings and to look for the support of the idea of studio based learning in other sectors.

The new TED book, Tell Them I Built This: Transforming Schools, Communities, and Lives with Design-Based Education, by Emily Pilloton explores the power of project based learning and construction paired with creativity in high schools.

The TED blog describes:

“Through the eyes of her students, Pilloton tells the story of the group’s hopes, failures and triumphs. According to Pilloton, we can dramatically revamp vocational education and build the change we wish to see in the world. And she should know: ultimately her students were given the key to the city by their mayor for initiating, designing, and building three public chicken coops and a 2000-square-foot public farmer’s market structure. In Tell Them I Built This, Pilloton offers tools for building change in communities, tips for turning a vision into meaningful work, and clear and inspiring directions on how to get it done. Tell Them I Built This dramatically shows how creativity, critical thinking, citizenship and dirt-under-your-fingernails construction can radically transform both high school education and the local community where the students live.”

The book seems to wonderfully capture the necessity of letting student’s make something as part of their educational experience. It gives them a sense of what it means to do something beginning to end. It also allows them to draw on their own ideas and imagination and create something tangible. Lastly, it requires the students to work in teams and communicate effectively to bring plans into fruition.

An article that came out recently in the New York Times, highlights why the project based, studio education could be particularly good for boys education:

“Aviation High School, and students there spend roughly half the day disassembling engines, fiddling with planes, etc. They seem to get very good results, and their website indicates that graduates go on to everything from immediate jobs to the military to average colleges to MIT, Brown, and the like. The specialized focus seems very effective at engaging students.”

The idea of rethinking classrooms to address different kinds of interest, abilities and levels of self control is compelling. The mission of Aviation High school not only connects to the rethinkED team’s work but also is part of a growing trend.  Obama in his commencement speech states states:

“Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job. Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.”

It seems there is a push to educate for applicable skills that require collaboration and creation. I look forward to seeing how the rethinkED team can continue to rethink the classroom and incorporate these outcomes and, when also hold onto to the merits of solitude and individual work–a topic for an upcoming post.

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


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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