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Day 09/11/2012

What Do We Assume About School and Learning?

One of the trickiest things about coming up with creative solutions is the tendency to pass over things we assume to be true. Those hidden, taken-for-granted views that might offer opportunities for rethinking and reinventing our practice, if we just recognized them and contemplated them. Personally, I find that  uncovering my assumptions is the most challenging aspect of the Design Thinking and Integrative Thinking models. The world is a busy place, and we can’t always be thinking about all the information coming our way. That’s why we create assumptions. They make our everyday life more manageable because they make our thinking less effortful. But assumptions also limit our thinking by closing off opportunities for deeper reflection.

To aid our own rethinking, the rethinkED team has compiled a list of assumptions about school and asked others to contribute as well.

Readers, please add your own assumptions–or assumptions you know others have–to the comments section! Our hope is that articulating assumptions will cause us to question them and offer opportunities to reframe our thinking. What aspects of school and learning do you never really think about and just accept as the way things are? What things do all schools have in common simply because they are all schools? What do we reward in education? What do we punish? What assumptions can you uncover? We’d love to hear them.

DISCLAIMER: These assumptions are not necessarily held by the members of the rethinkED team. Many of these assumptions are simply widely held beliefs that we know other people hold or assumptions that we solicited from others. All assumptions deserve attention if we are really committed to rethinking…*

  • Students should be compared to each other.
  • Kids need grades.
  • Tests should last a whole period.
  • Kids need tests, quizzes, and sometimes “quests.”
  • Schools need departments for distinct areas of learning.
  • All students should be graded on the same criteria.
  • Learning at school requires a specific set of tools: pens, notebooks, books, rulers, calculators, protractors, etc.
  • School learning occurs separately from “real-life” (homework, “summer” reading, etc.).
  • Learning occurs within contained spaces (i.e. the classroom).
  • There are “good” students and “bad” students.
  • Schools are not equal–there are “good” schools and “bad” schools. (But is that determined by the perception of schools’ curricula or the perception of the students who attend them?)
  • Students need expert teachers to impart knowledge to them.
  • Education is content-oriented and content-organized.
  • Learning is quantifiable through grades and test scores.
  • Some things are more worth learning than others.
  • Students who cannot perform at the expected level should be “remediated” or medicated.
  • A student who can work or learn more quickly is a better student than those who work or learn more slowly.
  • Routine is conducive to learning (schedules, periods, semesters, etc.).
  • Learning needs to occur within hierarchies (first grade, middle school, high school, college, grad school, etc.).
  • Students need to sit during classes.
  • Lectures are an efficient way of getting students to learn.
  • Organization, accountability, and attention to detail matter more than creativity.
  • Students are consumers.
  • Education level is often confused with intelligence.
  • Schools teach social interactions.
  • Education needs to be reformed.
  • School is really screwed up.
  • School is boring.
  • School is like Las Vegas–what happens in school, stays in school.
  • Education is based on the factory system of the Industrial Revolution.
  • Grades are the biggest motivator for kids.
  • Boys are naturally better at some classes and girls are naturally better at some classes.
  • Grades don’t matter until freshman year, and especially junior year and senior fall.
  • Junior year is the hardest year of high school.
  • If you screw up in high school it “ruins your life.”
  • The smartest students get the best grades.
  • Where you go to college is a reflection of your intelligence.
  • Incorporating technology into the curriculum will help our students learn.
  • Rigorous courses require lots of homework.
  • Private schools do a better job of educating students.
  • If a student isn’t learning, it’s the teacher’s fault.
  • If a student isn’t learning, it’s the student’s fault.
  • School should primarily be about academics.
  • Desks and chairs in a classroom are the best furniture for a learning environment.
  • Students benefit from a class where questions are asked and there is a rapid fire session of answers. (i.e., silence represents a learning vacuum)
  • Staff members are not required to intervene in conversations, regardless of what is said, where small groups of kids are standing at lockers, in between classes. Kids need time to just be kids and figure it out.
  • Decisions by committee take longer and are not necessarily better.
  • Calculators and other technology are distracting and do not further learning.
  • Kids need feedback in the form of grades; they don’t pay attention to written comments.
  • Middle School teachers are not qualified to teach High School. Lower school teachers are not qualified to teach in middle/upper divisions.
  • Homework at the middle level should be appropriate 30-45 minutes per subject.
  • Parents are meddlesome; they create more work.
  • New students struggling with adjustment need to give it time and work harder.
  • Teachers who have experience do not need to mentoring. Teachers who are brand new will need sufficient amounts of mentoring.
  • The best classroom management approach is to be kind but firm.
  • A disciplined environment produces more respectful students.
  • Standards have fallen since I went to school.
  • Those who can’t do, teach.
  • Students retain information when they can connect it to prior knowledge.
  • Everybody at school cares about kids.
  • Everyone in a school community is a person of good will.
  • Students have too much homework today.
  • Socialization is as important as curriculum in the early years.
  • Students don’t like to learn new things.
  • Students don’t use free time well.
  • Students don’t like school.

Friday Link Fest {November 2-9, 2012}


What Does It Mean to Be Simple? ~ All designers say simplicity is important, but what does it really mean to make something simple? Most of the time we think it means less, that by removing stuff we achieve simplicity. We think by keeping content above the fold we’re helping people focus, or by using bullets instead of paragraphs more people will read it, or by cutting text in half it becomes more clear. But simple doesn’t mean “less”. A better definition would be “just enough”. via 52 Weeks UX, published December 22, 2011.

How to recognize Design Thinkers ~ Since Roger Martin and others hijacked the term ‘designthinking’, there is an ongoing dispute. Two thought worlds exist and possibly these can be united by laying bare the essential characteristics of a ‘design thinker’. via Team Cognition, published October 30, 2012.

Given Tablets but No Teachers, Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves ~ via MIT Tech Review, published October 29, 2012.

Pinterest’s Founding Designer Shares His Dead-Simple Design Philosophy ~ Sahil Lavingia on why design shouldn’t be designated a specific function or industry. The discipline is just as fundamental as technology and profit are to a business that it doesn’t need to be isolated to a single role. It should be considered part of every role. via FastCo.Design, published March 7, 2012.

Design Firms Go Beyond Gadgets As Portfolios Expand~ On the rise and ubiquity of design thinking: Bay Area design firms behind iconic technology products like the mouse and the Macintosh computer are broadening their portfolios. Health-care companies, nonprofits and industrial giants are among those tapping these and other designers to conceive not just gadgets but new software, business strategies and even school systems. The expansion has happened gradually but is accelerating as firms seek to connect with design-savvy customers. via The Wall Street Journal, published October 31, 2012.

The High Line Effect: Top 10 Urban Transformation Projects ~ When it comes to urban transformation, size does not matter, per se. The subtleties of thoughtful urban projects shine through at every level, and sometime outperform their more ostentatious contemporaries. The Architizer Plus: Urban Transformation Award will reward the best architectural project that spurs new occupation and lively places. via Good, published October 31, 2012.

Design Thinking Starts At The Top ~ Even though design thinking requires participation from many different sectors of a business, there is no question that this is an initiative that has to be led and implemented from the very top by a management committed to the process. Unless there is a strong figure there to properly determine what shape design thinking will ultimate take, there will be no firm direction and there will be no significant follow-through. via Fast Company, published November 2, 2012.

Learning to Bounce Back ~ via The New York Times, published November 2, 2012.

Van Bo Le-Mentzel: Rethinking Everything ~ “It was like my reset button had been pressed,” Le-Mentzel said of his childhood. “Other kids had parents who were doctors, teachers, grocers or lawyers to follow, and I was starting at zero. No one told me what to be – and that turned out to be an advantage. via Smart Planet, published November 1, 2012.



Watch A Great Short Film On The Future Of Technology And Education ~ We’re still teaching our kids using a 20th-century paradigm, but many visionaries–like the ones in this video–have plans to take our advances in computing and technology and use them to explode the idea of what education can be. via FastCo.Exist, published October 22, 2012.


Open Source Architecture Manifesto Movie ~ Istanbul Design Biennial 2012: this movie shows how a custom printer continually updates a copy of the Open Source Architecture Manifesto Wikipedia entry, written on a wall in the entrance to the Adhocracy exhibition at the Istanbul Design Biennial. via Dezeen, published November 7, 2012.


A 3-D Printed House That Grows Like Human Bone ~ London design studio Softkill paints a far-out picture of what 3-D printed architecture could eventually look like. At last week’s 3D Printshow, the team of Architectural Association grads presented a concept called ProtoHouse, which imagines a radical new mode of construction based on the strengths of 3-D printing. Their design is in stark contrast to other 3-D printed home schemes, which are either markedly utilitarian or oddly traditional. via FastCo.Design, published November 2, 2012.

(Softkill Algorithm from Sophia Tang on Vimeo.)


Design the New Business ~ Design and business can no longer be thought of as distinct activities with individual goals. Design the New Business is a film dedicated to investigating how designers and businesspeople are working together in new ways to solve the wicked problems facing business today. The short documentary examines how they are joining forces by bringing together an international collection of design service providers, education experts and businesses that have incorporated design as a part of their core approach. Design the New Business features inspiring case studies and insightful discussions, helping to illustrate the state of the relationship and how it needs to continue evolving to meet tomorrow’s challenges.via  dthenewb on Vimeo, published November 2011.

(Design the New Business – English subtitles from dthenewb on Vimeo.)


Rethinked’s…* Dominic Randolph on Design Thinking for Educators: Short Documentary on His Collaboration with Ideo ~ Dominic Randolphrethinker…* extraordinaire and Head of Riverdale Country School, won a grant in 2012 from the E. Ford Foundation to teach Design Thinking to Educators and to spread its adaption and implementation across the country. This seven-minute film documents Dominic’s collaboration with legendary design firm, Ideo. via Rethinked, published November 8, 2012. (Video Design Thinking for Educators – Dominic Randolph from paul dewey onVimeo, published November 6, 2012.)


Urbanus: Argitecture / Archiculture – Future Cities, Beijing ~ Wang Hui of Urbanus presents his recent works which are dealing with the development of the urban landscape in China. Understanding that eliminating farmland in favor of high rise structures is not a sustainable model, Hui presents a new system which brings together the two worlds instead of isolating them. By taking the words ‘architecture’ and ‘agriculture’ and hybridizing them to spell the terms ‘agritecture’ and ‘archiculture’ new meanings are created and from that dynamic proposals can be established.via Design Boom, published November 7, 2012.



Invisible Street Art by Cayetano Ferrer ~ Los Angeles-based video, photography and sculptural/installation artist Cayetano Ferrer has re-interpreted the discipline of graffiti through his artistic interrogation of urban objects. Through his projects ‘City of Chicago‘ and ‘Western Imports‘ he camouflages street signs and ordinary cardboard boxes to mimic the surrounding scenery – rendering them ‘invisible street art’. Ferrer creates the work by pasting high-quality photographs reflecting the relevant environment printed onto stickers and fixing them to various urban debris around the city. By photographing these pieces in situ, the resulting images articulate an illusion of transparency, prompting the viewer to look twice. via Design Boom, published November 2, 2012.

Flying Houses, Spotted In Paris ~ Paris-based art director-turn-photographer Laurent Chéhère has created a series of whimsical photographs featuring buildings that appear to be flying. via Design Taxi, published October 30, 2012.

Brilliant 3D pencil drawings by Nagai Hideyuki ~ Who knew that pencil art could be so multi-dimensional and layered? These incredible illustrations by young Japanese artist Nagai Hideyuki are created using the projection technique, Anamorphosis, which gives the images a three-dimensional appearance when viewed from certain angles. via Lost At E Minor, published July 19, 2012.

How Children Learn: Portraits of Classrooms Around the World ~ A revealing lens on a system-phenomenon both global in reach and strikingly local in degree of diversity. via Brainpickings, published August 20, 2012.

Disruptive wonder from French artist Rero ~The artist simply known as “Rero” works exceedingly simply – but all the better to get his point across. Recently, he has been making challenging through contradiction, posting fliers with phrases like “I hate graffiti” and “I don’t really like people who stick bills on walls,” as well as questioning our perception of public art. via Beautiful Decay, published August 10, 2010.

Rain-Activated Street Art ~ Poland-born, US-based mixed media artist Adam Niklewicz has created a stunning water mural on a red brick wall of a historical building in Hartford, Connecticut. Only appearing when rain falls on it or if water is sprayed on it, this public art project features an image of Charles DeWolf Brownell’s “The Charter Oak”, a reference to American freedom and independence.via Design Taxi, published November 5, 2012.

Our Differences Unite Us ~Just last week, 10-year-old Sophia Bailey-Klugh wrote and illustrated an endearing letter to U. S. President Barack Obama and, as the daughter of a gay couple, thanked him for supporting same-sex marriage. She then asked for advice on how to respond to those who saw such a thing as “gross and weird.” Her letter, and the reply she soon received, can be seen here. via Letters of Note, published November 6, 2012.


Top 7 Websites for Creating the Future City ~ seven websites that harness the power, wisdom and knowledge of the crowds to cultivate smarter future cities. via Goodnet, published September 26, 2012.

The History of Western Architecture in 39 Free Video Lectures ~  The History of Architecture, a free course that recently debuted on iTunes. Taught by Jacqueline Gargus at Ohio State, the course features 39 video lectures that collectively offer a classic survey of Western architecture. via Open Culture, published November 8, 2012.

Ways to help affected communities after Hurricane Sandy ~ via Architizer, published November 2, 2012.

16 Free Lectures by “The Great Courses” (in a Sea of Free Courses) ~ You have got to hand it to The Great Courses (previously called The Teaching Company). Based in Chantilly, VA, the company has traveled across America, recording professors lecturing on great topics. They have roughly 390 courses in their catalog, market them aggressively with millions of print materials and emails, and generate $110 million in annual sales (as of 2010).And it just so happens that we’ve dug up 16 free lectures sponsored by the company. (Most are individual lectures taken from longer courses available for purchase online.) via Open Culture, published November 2, 2012.

Take First-Class Philosophy Lectures Anywhere with Free Oxford Podcasts ~ Conveniently podcast lecture courses from the University of Oxford. via open Culture, published November 6, 2012.

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