November 2012
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Day 27/11/2012

rethinkED moving forward



We are not just any dispatched squad. We are a team committed to affirming permission to fail, harnessing creativity, and building character. We work with teachers by coming to them, building solutions out of their ideas and our shared brainstorming. We draw on philosophy, design science, engineering, technology, and–oh yes–the elusive imagination.

Why the need for the team?

In an age of standardized testing, the burgeoning sense of failure, and the need to control teachers instead of enabling them and the creative insight of their work, we are a cross boundary relief squad, parachuted in to unify, stabilize, and re-invigorate.


The pace of change today is momentous. Between Wolfram Alpha and Aurasma, NoTosh and Nueva School, the models and possibilities are limitless–from high-touch to high-tech, from start-ups in high school to robotics in kindergarten. Building long-term memory, using iPads for world languages, incorporating e-portfolios, metacognition through self-evaluation, seeing character as the foundation for education reform, implementing visual thinking strategies–we draw on design thinking, integrative thinking, mindset research, and character development, to name just a few of the tool kits we pull from. The landscape is changing, the mountain of discovery looms vast and high, and yet we show the footholds are the same. We need to trust ourselves, breathe deep, and embrace the multiplicity.

Why the journey terms?

Education is a journey of discovery. And our compasses as educators guide us as we find new tools to instruct and teach our students. The rethinkED team is part-explorer, pioneering the edges of the abyss, part-Bernese Mountain Dog, helping others along with us. We are boundary crossers, a mountain rescue team on a mission to find, reinvigorate and sustain human learning in its most robust forms. Along the way we draw on tools, unearth the research to back them, the ability to manipulate them, and the time to play and lead the way.


The rethinkED team is a pilot, a first year model, i.e. we’re getting down, dirty, messy, testing the waters, experimenting. Coupled with that, we hold ourselves to a high level of accountability to the teachers we work with to finish a job, make it a job well done, and present all promised deliverables into re-usable finished products. Why? The rethinkED team is in the build-out phase of a public-private model that brings together top-tier education research institutions with surrounding public and private schools through a mobile team. For the long term: create reusable case studies, road maps, resource sites, dialogue platforms, and spaces for experimentation that cross disciplines and boundaries to catalyze educators into the future.

Who are we?

We are graduate students in one of the top-ranked schools of education in the world. We are people going deep, very deep, into a field of study, who have experience teaching and advising students as well as teaching teachers. We work across languages, and our backgrounds cross international waters. We are, as Tim Brown termed it, T people: we go deep into specialties and wide across disciplines. We are not engineers, scientists, designers, business executives, or economists. We are educators. But our expertise and understanding runs far and wide and we are able to access the knowledge bases of these many sectors, and leverage, as educators, the knowledge to create. something. great.


rethinked, rethought.

join us.

Twitter, Functional Fixedness, and MacGyver

In December 2009 I swore off social media. In a blaze of quasi-Luddite glory I defriended all my Facebook friends, untagged every photo, deleted all my information, and deactivated my account. I didn’t just leave–I left nothing to return to. I was free from Facebook, and my achievement was met with approving nods and impressed gasps of disbelief from family and friends who just couldn’t pull the plugs on their own accounts, even if they really wanted to.

Facebook was the only social media I had been on at the time. I knew of Twitter, but I’d never used it. I knew that people used it to give AIM-esque status updates–boring sentences describing the basic events of their day. I dismissed Twitter as frivolous, and I continued to stay off social media for about three years afterwards.

Last June I opened a Twitter account (@jshurd4). I’m not sure exactly why, but I think that joining the rethinkED team was the main motivator. I started by following the same people that @rethinkedteam was following, and eventually began thinking of others to follow. Friends, companies, and figures who I thought might guide me to great articles. Today, I find the best articles I read by looking on Twitter. I’ll read anything that education writer Daniel Willingham (@DTWillingham) posts, anything that Annie Murphy Paul (@anniemurphypaul) writes, anything that Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) blogs about. Twitter might make me a bit less discerning about some things, but it’s certainly made me better informed about education, politics, and lots of other stuff going on around the world.

But this post isn’t meant to be an encomium of Twitter. I don’t think the service needs my endorsement (I only have 60 followers, after all). My point here is that I had for a long time dismissed Twitter, not because of what it was so much as because of how I thought people used it. I never stopped and asked myself, “What is Twitter? What could it enable me to do?” Instead, I just thought that it was a frivolous way to keep others updated about the minutiae of your daily life. That’s what I’d heard, and that was my judgment.

So often we miss things that are staring us right in the face because we never really look very closely or think very hard about what we encounter. Our expectations cloud our perception, and we develop what psychologists call “functional fixedness.” If we want to see new uses for things and create new ways of seeing the world, we have to look at things for what they are, see the component parts, and not pass a fixed judgment on all the little details we uncover. Tony McCaffrey, of UMass – Amherst, has developed a “generic-parts technique” to help people overcome functional fixedness when solving problems. For example, if we call the string in a candle a “wick,” we are giving it a fixed function. If, however, we see it as “string,” then we might see uses for it that we would otherwise have passed right over. You know one guy who always rose above functional fixedness? MacGyver.

When we’re in a rush to solve a problem, the last thing we might want to do is take extra time to stop, slow down our minds, and take in all the little details one by one. But isn’t that worth it if it helps us reach a better solution? This all goes back to my current interest in uncovering assumptions. There’s always value in asking ourselves what we might be missing. If a solution seems too easy, then it probably is, and there’s probably a better one to be found.

Oh, yeah. And I haven’t gone crawling back to Facebook. At least not yet.

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