February 2013
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Month February 2013

Design Thinking for Educators Workshop: “Things are changing. Education needs to evolve.”

This past Tuesday, the rethinkED team attended the Design Thinking for Educators workshop at Riverdale. It was an action-packed day full of conversations, speakers, and activities surrounding using design thinking to reimagine education.

IDEO provided a useful overview of the design thinking ideology and process.  We then heard from a variety of speakers on their experiences with design thinking. The bulk of the conference was spent going through the process itself in small groups, attacking our own unique specific “how might we” using the DT4E process.

For me personally, it was a great opportunity to watch teachers use the design thinking process and very interesting to hear about the various problems and aspects of their experience that they wished to address. I worked with an elementary school teacher who was frustrated by the lack of communication and collaboration between the members of her team and between home-based teachers and specialists at her school. We spoke about the barriers to communication (e.g., scheduling constraints, school culture), and we came up with a variety of solutions, including creating an open-door culture and installing whiteboards outside of each classroom where teachers can write a short summary of what that class will be learning that day.

I think that the design thinking process is most valuable in that it gives teachers permission to explore, enact change, and fail. A great quote from the workshop, from Pam Moran, was, “We don’t need to teach children how to be design thinkers. They need to teach US how.” This iterative, creative process actually comes a lot more naturally for young children (I’ll talk more about the Marshmallow Challenge in a future post), and, in fact, many of the speakers stressed the paramount importance of including children in your design process both for feedback and ideation sessions.

I particularly enjoyed hearing from speakers such as Grant Wiggins. In his talk, he stressed the importance of using backwards design or “designing from the destination.” This destination is for students to, long-term, be able to use content effectively and independently in a variety of novel contexts (transfer). To get there, you should always keep the student in mind (design for the user), and recognize that teaching is just ONE piece of the design.  There are other important aspects of the learning experience such as materials, time, culture, and people. He also spoke of the conflict between goals and habits, stating that it is a lot harder to change habits than one would expect, even if you have the right goal in mind. This is something that was reiterated to me by many of the teachers present- they could envision what they’d potentially like their classroom or curriculum or teaching to look like, but faced both personal and institutional barriers based on tradition or habit.

Pam Moran – the superintendent of the Albemarle school district- spoke about her 26-school-wide project to create a better user experience in schools, relying heavily on student and overall community feedback.  Patrick Murray and Michael Schurr from Riverdale also spoke about user-based design, relying heavily on their students for feedback on rethinking the classroom space. They realized that students saw the classroom as “cold and hard” and desired a more “comfortable, personalized learning space.” They created a live prototype, enacting solutions such as cubby storage, lower magnetic whiteboards, carpeted spaces, and more mobile chairs. Some changes worked well and others, such as the whiteboards, did not turn out as expected. I would love to see how their classroom evolves as they iterate in the design process.

Another amazing aspect of the workshop was the reflection room created by Parsons school of Design. The room included a variety of conceptual diagrams of design, adjectives, and random objects for inspiration and we were encouraged to create dioramas embodying our experience and feelings about design thinking. It was a fun and creative experience.

Overall, it was a day of design thinking, meeting inspirational and passionate educators, and thinking about big problems in education. Thanks to Riverdale, IDEO, and Parson’s for all of your work!

Friday Link Fest…*

Friday Link Fest...* | rethinked.org




Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century ~ via U.S. Department of Education, published February 2013.

How to Profit From Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt in Your Life ~ Learn how to make yourself “anti-fragile”. via Bigthink, published February 14, 2013.

 ~ via Gigaom, published February 3, 2013.

How Free Play Can Define Kids’ Success ~ via MindShift , published February 15, 2013.

Company Hopes to Use Mosquitoes to Administer Vaccines ~ Biotechnology company Provita Pharmaceuticals, which is entirely staffed by under 18s, is working on a project to use mosquitoes as a ‘flying syringe’ to deliver vaccines. via PSFK, published February 20, 2013.


Start Your Startup with Free Stanford Courses and Lectures ~ via Openculture, published February 18, 2013.

Team looks to get kids eating healthier in just two days ~ A team from David Kelley’s Silicon Valley firm IDEO shows “60 Minutes” how, in just two days, they say they found new ways to get kids eating healthier. via CBS News, published February 19, 2013.

The Creative Process of Ansel Adams Revealed in 1958 Documentary ~ via Openculture, published February 20, 2013.

Bicycles Made from Recycled Cars ~ Creative Agency Lola Madrid uses old cars are to make Bicycled Bikes, a truly eco-friendly mode of transportation. via PSFK, published February 15, 2013.

Iconic Artists at Work: Watch Rare Videos of Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, Renoir, Monet and More ~ via Openculture, published February 21, 2013.

Go on a Thinking Safari…* or The Physicality of Reflection

This is the second post in a series of articles synthesizing my insights gathered over the past three months, which I spent attempting to assimilate integrative thinking into my everyday life for the rethinked*annex project. I had a different post prepared for today, but as an experience I had earlier this week helped me rethink and broaden some of the connections between these insights, I decided to write about this experience instead. Nimble and adaptive, rethinked…* style!

Go on a Thinking Safari…* or The Physicality of Reflection


This past Tuesday I was delighted to attend the design thinking for educators {DT4E} workshop led by IDEO and the Riverdale Country School on their beautiful campus in the Bronx. The workshop was deeply informative and helped me continue to refine my thinking about design thinking and its wide applicability, but what I would like to focus on today is the Reflection Studio that Lisa Grocott of Parsons The New School for Design and her students in the transdisciplinary design program had prepared for the workshop. The Reflection Studio provided a physical and mental space where participants could remove themselves from the frenzy of the design thinking process and reflect on the experience as the workshop was in progress.


Go on a Thinking Safari…* or The Physicality of Reflection


In a welcoming, sun drenched room off to the side of the cafeteria where the workshop was being held, the Parsons folks set up a self-guided, reflective journey, which the workshop’s participants were encouraged to visit at their convenience throughout the day. The room was filled with materials and artifacts such as Playmobils, books (which I later found out were fictitious and had been designed by the Parsons students), Scrabble tiles, Post-its, various diagrams and plenty of Sharpies along with blank pages, which were loosely grouped around a series of written prompts spread out across the room. The prompts, which were meant to aid the reflection process, ranged from “What does design thinking look like to you?” to “Choose your design thinking spirit animal.” Participants were encouraged to select and create various props to curate a tangible physical frame of their reflections on the design thinking workshop.



What instantly stood out upon entering the Reflection Studio was the degree of physicality around which the reflection process had been structured. The room was filled with materials, diagrams and objects awaiting manipulation and tinkering. The physicality of the experience was pushed even further as the various physical elements meant to guide the reflection process were placed in such a way as to promote physical movement around the room. The process was dynamic; we were encouraged to move physically along with our thinking.

Going around the room, I felt incredibly engaged and also, incredibly outside of my comfort zone. Reflecting is something that I generally do sitting down, alone, with pen and paper and after having given myself ample “digestion” time to process the newly experienced stimuli. I have always understood the act of reflection as an intensely personal and intimate moment. I feel as if, to some degree, it is a part of my being that is up for consideration when I reflect on things. The act of reflection is similar to cutting and editing in film. It is a moment when the subject goes through the whole of an experience and parcels it into digestible bits that are rearranged into a coherent narrative for the self. It is in these moments of mental restructuring that our complexity is most tangible, it is then that our assumptions rear their pesky heads most forcefully and it made me feel incredibly vulnerable to reflect extemporaneously and display the results of this on the spot reflection publicly.

At the same time, I was very intrigued by this notion of a reflection/thinking safari. I loved having the opportunity to move physically along with my thinking and I could see the value of apprehending reflection as a hybrid intellectual and physical act. It made me wonder how I might go about creating and curating thinking artifacts for myself, which like the ones devised by the Parsons students would enable me to engage more fully and dynamically with my ideas and thinking processes. The key it seemed was to focus on inherently ‘tinkerable’ artifacts, objects that would be defined enough to push thinking in a certain direction while fluid and adaptive enough to allow for a wide range of interpretations.

Go on a Thinking Safari…* or The Physicality of Reflection

Go on a Thinking Safari…* or The Physicality of Reflection


THE SENSORIAL ELEMENT OF IDEAS & THINKING PROCESSESGo on a Thinking Safari…* or The Physicality of Reflection

One of the reflection prompts that I found particularly interesting was being asked to reflect on how the design thinking process made me feel. Anytime I have had the opportunity to discuss design thinking with designers, I have always been struck by how aware they are of how various modes of thinking, trigger different feelings. I appreciated how the Reflection Studio brought back this critical element of design thinking, this expression of empathy, which is so crucial to design and its primary focus on human-centered solutions, into the process of reflecting about design thinking. The fact that different modes and processes of thinking trigger different emotions is something that I can understand on a superficial level, but when I am actually engaging in various thinking processes I am rarely, if ever, aware that the feelings I may be experiencing at the time are related to the nature of the cognitive process in which I am engaged. This seems a crucial element to the idea of embodied curiosity, to feel in the body the vibrations and rhythm of the mind and it is something that I want to think about more as I continue iterating different versions of embodied curiosity in the everyday.



Last Thursday, in my first post on the series about integrative thinking, I wrote about piecing together and working out a process to creaGo on a Thinking Safari…* or The Physicality of Reflection te a frame or entry point through which to explore integrative thinking. This frame was: How Might I Create a Framework for Embodied Curiosity in my Everyday Life? The Parsons reflection room helped me broaden my understanding of embodied curiosity by drastically opening up the landscape of reflection–what it is, what it could be, how it feels, etc. Being confronted and able to engage with such a drastically different framing of the act of reflection than the one that I have used my entire life, provided me with an exciting, new and broader platform for inquiry regarding the notion of embodied curiosity.


Go on a Thinking Safari…* or The Physicality of Reflection Go on a Thinking Safari…* or The Physicality of Reflection Go on a Thinking Safari…* or The Physicality of Reflection Go on a Thinking Safari…* or The Physicality of Reflection Go on a Thinking Safari…* or The Physicality of Reflection Go on a Thinking Safari…* or The Physicality of Reflection Go on a Thinking Safari…* or The Physicality of Reflection Go on a Thinking Safari…* or The Physicality of Reflection


Gamification: Using game-like elements to redesign our classrooms

What is gamification?

There’s been a pretty big hype lately about “gamification” in both the business and education spheres. Gamification is a fancy term for the use of game design, mechanics, and frameworks in non-game applications and settings to get individuals to change behavior, learn skills, or engage in a particular topic. For example, Foursquare is a gamified platform, using game elements such as a leaderboard and competition. Educators are increasingly borrowing game frameworks for their classrooms. For instance, this recent article suggests using sandbox video games (open gameplay worlds) as a template for curriculum design.

Importantly, gamification is NOT about playing video games in the classroom or using games for learning (although I’m an advocate of these things in moderation as well!).  That conversation is for another blog post. Gamification IS changing the atmosphere of the classroom to make it more game-like, which can affect greater student engagement and promote a variety of critical learning skills and values.  I’ve been working on a gamified learning project recently, and in this post I hope to better explain the potential of gamification and how it can be incorporated in the redesigning of education.

Advocates of gamification see a huge potential for increasing student motivation; adding game-like elements to a paradigm can potentially make even the most tedious tasks rewarding and engaging. Motivating and engaging students is a constant struggle in our education system, but gamers devote hours to solving problems and honing skills within game contexts (Lee & Hammer, 2011; Gee, 2007). Games promote values that are vital for 21st century education, such as persistence, creativity, collaboration, and resilience.

There is definitely a time and a place for the applications of game elements- it won’t work for everything or everyone. However, I believe that the incorporation of fundamental game mechanics to make learning more motivating and engaging has the potential to make a huge impact in the way teachers teach and students learn.

How do you “gamify” learning and what would it look like?

Many make the valid argue that our education system is already a very gamified place. Student’s receive points for completing projects and “badges” for specific achievements; test scores are very similar to leaderboards; and grades, scores, or academic tracks are very similar to game levels that quantify academic success. However, gamification is more than mapping game elements on to existing classroom elements. It should offer real ways to engage students, to create a world of play within the school environment rather than be simply a stream of extrinsic motivators. You can do this by experimenting with the rules, emotions, and social roles of the classroom. One of the most important factors for a gamified system is making in playful. Gamification systems that elicit playfulness and enjoyment provide intrinsic motivation for learning.

Many teachers are already doing these things to make their lessons more motivating and engaging and to help their students learn. For example, one way to gamify is to incorporate levels, creating personal learning environments tailored to children’s’ unique pacing with quantifiable ways to increase one’s level. Another way is to give students multiple solutions and route to achievement, allowing them more freedom to subgoal. This freedom can elicit more engagement and motivation as well (Lee & Hammer, 2011). Applying these mechanics to the classroom, students can choose from multiple clear subgoals with immediate results, and the reward for accomplishing one goal can be a slightly more difficult challenge.

Another aspect of games that can be brought into the classroom is the development of new identities. Scholarly or powerful leadership roles can be transformative for students who don’t see themselves as “good at school” or who are more shy (Lee & Hammer, 2011). And while the competition of games can be paramount to learning, gamified classrooms also promote collaboration and interaction. Adding peer validation elements to promote scholastic achievement (such as upvotes, likes, and other symbols of popularity) can be one of the strongest driving forces of long-term engagement and community building (Kelly, 2012).

While game mechanics have been incorporated in small ways to make classrooms, some educators are testing the potential to completely transform pedagogy based on gamification principles. For example, Quest to Learn, a charter school in NYC, “uses the underlying design principles of games to create a highly immersive game-like learning experience” to promote twenty-first century thinking skills such as systems thinking, creative problem-solving, collaboration, time management, and identity formation (q2l.org; instituteofplay.org).

Games give permission to fail.

At their core, games involve experimentation and failure. The way to learn how to play a game is to fail repeatedly, learn from failure, and eventually succeed. Importantly, failure in games is low-risk and feedback cycles are immediate with “just-in-time” feedback so that players are motivated to try again and again until they succeed (Lee & Hammer, 2011; Gershenfeld, 2011). In contrast, failure in school is often high-risk with real repercussions, and feedback on tests or papers is often delayed. Under these conditions, it is unsurprising that students are anxious about trying, afraid to fail, and often unwilling to try again (Lee & Hammer, 2011). This “permission to fail” framework is a large part of the design process and something that rethinkED believes is very important to promote both innovative teaching and innovative learning.

I ultimately believe that while a gamified classroom is a promising way to motivate and engage students, there is still a lot of space for further research into how, when, and why it should be applied before we can ensure that it would be effective.  While it has the potential to be widespread, no single gamification framework will work in all educational settings. As Lee and Hammer (2011) conclude, gamification is “not a universal panacea.” Gamification can successfully engage and motivate learners, but as educators, game designers, and researchers, we have a long way to go in making this a pervasive reality.

Friday Link Fest…*


Relax! You’ll Be More Productive ~ via The New York Times, published February 9, 2013.

In praise of failure: The key ingredient to children’s success, experts say, is not success ~ On grit as a key component of success. via National Post, published February 2, 2013.

Social Emotional Learning Core Competencies ~ Rethinking…* the definition of academic success. via Q.E.D. Foundation, published February 11, 2013.

How to Save Science: Education, the Gender Gap, and the Next Generation of Creative Thinkers ~ via Brainpickings, published February 12, 2013

Arbonauts: of trees, data, and teens ~ The challenges & rewards of rapid prototyping as pedagogy. via Harvard’s MetaLab, published February 6, 2013.

Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper: A Low-Cost, High-Impact Approach ~ Rethinking…* the way that we do development. via Project for Public Spaces.

How Malawi is improving a terrible maternal mortality rate through good design ~ via TED News, published January 30, 2013

Tina Seelig On Unleashing Your Creative Potential ~ via 99u.

Why Even Radiologists Can Miss A Gorilla Hiding In Plain Sight ~ Rethinking…* the instructions we give to professionals to account for the fact that what we’re thinking about — what we’re focused on — filters the world around us so aggressively that it literally shapes what we see. via NPR, published February 11, 2013


Artist Can Only Draw in his Sleep ~ via PSFK, published February 13, 2013.

Landscape artworks at Hogpen Hill Farms open house ~ photographs by Fredrick K.Orkin of Edward Tufte’s Hogpen Hill Farms LLC, his 242-acre tree and sculpture farm in northwest Connecticut. via EdwardTufte.com.

Four Amazing Mini Libraries That Will Inspire You to Read ~ More accessible to a larger population than a classic library, the Pop-Up Library preserves the intimacy and experience of the book. via GOOD, published February 13, 2013.

In Photo Series, When Math Meets Art ~ Nikki Graziano’s photo series, ‘Found Functions’, defies the commonly-thought notion of the boring and geeky subject. via Design Taxi, published February 9, 2013.

A Floating School That Won’t Flood ~ On cultivating a new type of urbanism on water in African cities. via FastCo.Exist, published February 8, 2013.

Pixar Artist Designs New Facebook Emoticons ~ Matt Jones is creating a set of digital images that reflect more complex or subtle emotions. via PSFK, published February 11, 2013.


David Kelley on Making ~ via General Assembly, published February 2012.

The Scared Is Scared: A Child’s Wisdom for Starting New Chapters (Creative or Otherwise) in Life ~ Delightful meditation on embracing uncertainty. via Openculture, published February 11, 2013

Michael Jordan on Failure ~ via Nike, published August 25, 2006.

Color Me____ by Andy J. Miller & Andrew Neyer ~ via joustwebdesign, published October 23, 2012. (h/t Swissmiss.)

Tiny Sugar-Covered Bandaid Could Replace Needles For Vaccinations ~ Rethinking…* vaccines ~Scientists at King’s College London have developed a new way to administer vaccines, using a pain-free microneedle array. via PSFK, published February 12, 2013.


25 Mini-Adventures in the Library ~ via Project for Public Spaces, published 

Want to Start a Makerspace at School? Tips to Get Started ~ via MindShiftKQED, published February 12, 2013

HMI Create a Framework for Embodied Curiosity in my Everyday Life? {rethinked * annex | Integrative Thinking}

Those of you who kept up with my rethinked*annex project in the fall, in which I attempted to translate the tools, processes and frames of reference of design thinking to my everyday life, might have been wondering what happened to the next phase of the project: integrative thinking. I had originally intended to post each week of the challenge (December-March) about various thought experiments that I would do in an attempt to assimilate the cognitive discipline into my daily life. I soon found out however, that the nature of integrative thinking did not lend itself to quick reflection, so I rethought…* my original plan, and decided instead to steep in integrative thinking, think/work it out for myself and allow some time for ‘digestion’ before trying to organize my thoughts about the experience. This is the first article in a series of posts synthesizing my insights and observations from these past three months spent attempting to assimilate integrative thinking into my everyday life.

The problem when one attempts to think about one’s own thinking, let alone try to change that thinking, is that one runs into myriad cognitive hurdles designed and implemented to keep us from questioning the equilibrium and understanding that we create for ourselves in our daily lives. I’m not talking about politics or culture but about the core ontological constraints of being human: our inability to process the constant influx of reality and our perceptual and cognitive need to parcel it into salient bits, which we craft into overarching frameworks and models through which to experience our subjectivity and every day encounters. Because of the infinite malleability of our appraisal of reality, we have the ability and the need to fashion our own understanding of it. The issue with this is that, as Roger Martin put it in his terrific book, The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking,

“this tendency makes it difficult to know what to do with opposing and seemingly incommensurable models. Our first impulse is to determine which one represents reality and which one is unreal and wrong, and then we campaign against the idea we reject. But in rejecting one model as unreal, we miss out on all the value that can be realized by holding in mind two opposing models at the same time.” (55)

Integrative thinking is an effective method for countering this human tendency to simplify and reduce our understanding of reality to opposing binaries. Martin offers the following working definition of integrative thinking: “The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each.” (15) Integrative thinking, according to Martin, stems from our inherent capacity to simultaneously hold two opposing ideas in mind, a concept he explores through the metaphor of the ‘opposable mind’, which:

“we can use to hold two conflicting ideas in constructive tension. We can use that tension to think our way through to a new and superior idea. Were we able to hold only one thought or idea in our heads at a time, we wouldn’t have access to the insights that the opposable mind can produce. And just as we can develop and refine the skills with which we employ our opposable thumbs to perform tasks that once seemed impossible, I’m convinced we can also, with patient practice, develop the ability to use our opposable minds to unlock solutions to problems that seem to resist every effort to solve them.” (7)

After rereading Martin’s book, which is filled with keen observations and insights on the mental patterns of effective integrative thinkers, I decided that the first step in my attempt to practice integrative thinking on a daily basis should be to take an honest and in-depth look at my personal knowledge.


Martin defines personal knowledge as a tripartite coalition of stance, which “is your most broad-based knowledge domain in which you define who you are in your world and what you are trying to accomplish in it.” (93); tools, which, “range from formal theories to established processes to rules of thumb.” (97) And experiences that “form your most practical and tangible knowledge. The experiences you accumulate are the product of your stance and tools, which guide you toward some experiences and away from others.” (99) A thoughtful balance of the three elements of this cognitive coalition is key to effective integrative thinking.

“Operating at their best, the three elements of the personal knowledge system will reinforce each other to produce an ever-increasing capacity for integrative thinking. By the same token, though, stance, tools, and experience can conspire to trap perfectly intelligent and capable people in a world where problems seem too hard to solve and mere survival is the only goal.” (104)

Before I could start thinking about integrating components of conflicting models or ideas with my own, I had to gain a solid understanding of what my model was. But how to break past the blind spots and recognize my own assumptions to take an honest look at my stance, tools and experiences?


The first few weeks of December, I created all sorts of disruptive thought experiments for myself, which I hoped would allow me to experience the ordinary, common sensical and taken for granted dimensions of my life as unknown. I decided to write down 100 assumptions I had. I walked up and down my street taking pictures of each building from various angles. I went on a scavenger hunt around my apartment looking for ‘unexpected typographies.’ I tried to photograph and catalog every color and shade I could find in my home. I attempted to count how many different logos were scattered in my immediate surroundings. I was looking for a way to disrupt my perceptual routine.

Many of these little exercises proved to be fun and engaging, and the results were at times astonishing. Noticing the discrepancy between what I think I see and what I actually notice (and the vast amounts of things I don’t) was, forgive the dreadful pun, eye-opening. But at the end of the day, I found that all of these exercises provided little more than isolated disruptions and I was left frustrated, unable to understand how to take this to the next level.

If I was to assimilate integrative thinking into my everyday, I needed to find a hypodermic way of creating ongoing disruptions in my noticing and thinking practices. Tools and exercises would not be enough, what I needed was a paradigm shift. To go beyond isolated disruptions to a sustainable, adaptive and iterative process of integrative thinking, I would have to approach this challenge as a design project and consider the wider landscape of interrelated terms and concepts within which integrative thinking is embedded.


Any time we talk about a paradigm shift, what we are really talking about is a moment in time and thought, in which ideas and concepts open up, become tangibly more malleable, and beg for new connections and definitions. Before I could move forward, I had to formulate in my own terms a synthesis of the drives and assumptions underlying the discipline, to refine my understanding of what it was I was after when seeking to ‘do’ integrative thinking. I had identified the constraints, which could all be summed up as ‘being human’—need for order and meaning, inability to process reality as is, uncomfortable with ambiguity, etc. Now I needed to identify the frame through which I would explore integrative thinking and make it mine.

Integrative thinking is the ability to suspend your framework—the core model through which you make sense of the world and your place within it—and to willingly place yourself in a space of unknowing, ambiguity and uncertainty. It is the ability to separate yourself from your ideas and the organizing narrative of your life, the willingness to look at all the things you have explained to yourself and admit that perhaps none of them are true. Of course, this is not the goal of integrative thinking. In its ideal form, integrative thinking is not about subtraction or substitution, it’s about remix and enhancement. But being able to entertain the notion that your model of reality is ‘wrong’ (not in an absolute sense, but in terms of it not being optimized to your life and practice) is an essential prerequisite to integrative thinking. If your ideas are too precious to you, and if you are unwilling to “kill your darlings” you will never be able to practice integrative thinking effectively.

Integrative thinking stems from our capacity for cognitive empathy, the ability to place yourself in someone else’s mental framework and view the world from their perspective. In my understanding of it, empathy starts with curiosity. The goal of my integrative design challenge, therefore, was to move past creating isolated events to creating a process by which to induce, nurture and maintain a cognitive state of hyperawareness and receptivity or ‘beginner’s mind’ in myself.


Martin alludes to the powerful possibilities of beginner’s mind and the hyperawareness it creates:

“When we learn something new, we’re acutely aware of features that more experienced practitioners take for granted. Think of your self-consciousness when you learned a new sport or took your first driving lesson. This hyperawareness of yourself and the skills you’re learning does not last long. Over time, practice transforms conscious acts into automatic habits characteristic of mastery. Think of your anxiety at stoplights when you first learned to drive using a standard shift, and the unthinking ease with which you now put the car into first and drive off. The better we get, the faster we forget about what we are doing. Our awareness of what we are doing and how we are accomplishing it quickly becomes as intuitive and inaccessible as the knowledge we use to tie our shoes or ride a bike.” (100)

Famed Zen teacher, Shunryu Suzuki, summed this up beautifully with the remark, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.” Shoshin is a Zen Buddhist term, which translates to beginner’s mind and is characterized by a very open attitude, free of preconceptions and fueled by genuine curiosity and eagerness. Shoshin does not describe a temporal event (the first time one does something) but rather an emotional and cognitive state of openness, optimism, creativity, curiosity and zeal. Shoshin can (and should) be achieved at all levels of practice.


It seemed that no matter how I went about trying to break down integrative thinking for myself, I kept zeroing in and coming back to this concept of ‘embodied curiosity.’ A term that, at this stage, was little more than a vague contour overflowing with possibility. I had finally found my entry point into integrative thinking. And so, the formulation of the challenge went from the general and unhelpful “how might I practice integrative thinking” to the more focused: How Might I create a framework for embodied curiosity in my everyday life?


Look for part II next Thursday.

Rethinking the formula for happiness and success

“It’s not the reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.”

I listened to a TED talk by Shawn Achor on my walk to Riverdale this morning, and his ideas have stuck with me throughout the day. In his talk, entitled The Happy Secret to Better Work, Shawn suggests that we should reverse the paradigm for happiness from “we work hard to become happy” to “we become happy in order to do work”. Shawn Achor is a positive psychologist, and I have to admit I’ve always found positive psychology to be a little new-agey, having come from a pretty science-oriented cognitive psych background. However, what he was saying made sense and really resonated with me on both my research-oriented and real-life levels of experience.

Shawn Achor is the CEO of Good Think Inc., and considered an expert on human potential. He began his talk by criticizing the way that social science disregards outliers in data – the “weirdos” – by removing them from analyses, in order to better represent the average. He finds this detrimental to bettering our society because if we only study what is average, we will remain average. By examining outliers, specifically those who are performing above average, we can find potential ways to bring the average up.

He then goes on to elaborate on the quote I began this post with- the need to change the lens with which we view the world in order to change our reality. This “rose-colored glasses” metaphor has been long-established, but Shawn explains that our society is currently set up backwards. Schools follow the formula that one should work harder to become more successful to become happier. This formula is broken because it eternally pushes happiness over the horizon, leaving people unsatisfied and discontent.

And, critically, it is important for people to be happy because happy people succeed in all definitions of the word. Only 25% of job success is predicted by intelligence. The other 75% is determined by factors such as optimism, social support, and seeing stress as a challenge.

Therefore, we want to focus on becoming positive in the present. Positive brains perform better on a multitude of outcomes. We need to reverse the formula by giving people the happiness advantage to succeed in schools. Shawn goes on to propose a few ways you can rewire your brain to be more positive, including many things I’ve heard before, such as three daily gratitudes, journaling, exercising, meditation, and performing random acts of kindness.

This TED talk relates to our work at rethinkED in a few ways. It fits perfectly into the paradigm of character education that Dominic Randolph has been championing at Riverdale; current research increasingly suggests that success is a lot more about aspects of one’s character and a lot less about academic test scores. This new conceptualization of what a “good” student is has important implications for the classroom and for teaching. From Shawn’s perspective, perhaps instilling positive thinking should be a priority for educators- giving our students the “happiness advantage” that he speaks of in his talk.

Additionally, we can apply this positive psychology logic not only to our students but to ourselves. I’m going to try to practice some of his suggested brain rewiring techniques this week, and to remind myself that successes won’t make me necessarily happier, but being happier will lead to greater successes.

Furthermore, Shawns talk presents an example of what it means to question the status quo, to reject an established formula and rethink how we relate happiness and success. Questioning what exists, seeking a better solution, and reconceptualizing a paradigm are fundamental pieces of design thinking for educators. If you have 12 minutes to spare, I’d suggest watching this inspirational (and rather hilarious) talk.

TEDxTalks on YouTube, published February 1, 2012



During the rethinkMath workshop with teachers of mathematics at the Riverdale Country School one interesting topic came up in our discovery phase — a problem that most teachers face but are not sure how to approach: “How do I get students to retain information over winter, spring, summer break?”  This issue seems particularly significant to the teaching of mathematics as the subject is cumulative and without the ability to count, estimate, or conceive of a long list of principles, it is nearly impossible to move onto other more complex topics.

While pondering this issue, and contemplating how the rethinkED team might be able to support teachers in tackling this retention issue in a real way, I came across a small article about some research being conducted by Laura Overdeck, the founder of Bedtime Math. Overdeck’s approach to helping children gain mathematics skills is different, and her hypothesis is quite compelling. Laura studies astrophysics, and as a mother she recognized that in her bedtime routine with her young children literacy was paramount (every child loves a great story), but that mathematics and problem solving were missing. She began developing short questions that sparked her children’s interests and were fairly short mental math exercises; she discovered that the questions successfully reduced inhibitions toward math.

Bedtime Math has since become a non-profit with programs that offer questions and ideas for activating mathematical thinking in a casual way for children of different ages — lunchtime, bedtime, cartime. The problems are engaging and rich with content about history, science, and life in general. http://bedtimemath.org

Some other interesting approaches attempting to change the culture of keeping math in the classroom and to these concepts  into our daily conversations with kids:


Friday Link Fest…*


A creative future for education ~ Tim Brown on the essential role of creativity in education. via World Economic Forum, published February 6, 2013

Learning From Failure ~ via The New York Times, published February 1, 2013

Adaptive Innovation: Create, Learn, Repeat ~ via Change Observer, published February 6, 2013

Think Deep, Work Lean: Blending design thinking with lean start-startup methods ~ via PSFK, published February 3, 2013

Why Innovators Love Constraints ~ via Harvard Business Review, published February 4, 2013

You Are Therefore I Am: How Empathy Education Can Create Social Change ~ via Oxfam, published July 2008

How Mark Changizi conquered colorblindness with glasses ~ via io9, published February 6, 2013


The World’s Tweets Light Up the Globe in Stunning Live Visualization ~ Tweetping by Franck Ernewein. via Wired Design, published February 2, 2013

The Year’s Most Outstanding Science Visualizations ~ via Smithsonian Magazine, published February 5, 2013

Kids Collaborate to Create Awesome Spaceships ~ via JunkCulture, published February 1, 2013


Barry Schwartz on Our Loss of Wisdom ~ via TED-Ed, published February 2, 2013

A Delightful Surprise Light Performance At New York’s Grand Central Station via Design Taxi, published February 6, 2013

Seventh grade girl builds rocket, sends Hello Kitty into the upper atmosphere ~ via io9, published February 5, 2013

Synchronized Porta-Potties Create Music When In Use ~ via PSFK, published February 7, 2013

HMW Rethink…* the Classroom for the Imagination Age? Hint: Design Projects, Autonomy, Salience, Imagination & Play

“The future is not a multiple-choice test, it’s a design challenge. So let’s teach our children to think like designers and prepare them to meet the challenges of designing the future.”


Our current educational model was founded upon the increasingly antiquated industrial economy, with the sole purpose of teaching our children to be efficient workers. That this model is no longer tenable in the “conceptual age”, as Daniel Pink has labeled the emerging contours of our new economy—shaped by the forces of automation, outsourcing and abundance—is a popular trope of the education reform movement. Understanding how to move past producing students who are highly skilled at rote memorization and picking between multiple choice answers, to teaching them, instead, how to make wild leaps of imagination, recognize patterns, cross boundaries between various fields and disciplines to uncover new connections and solutions, is of crucial importance—for them, for us and for future generations. How might we rethink…* our educational models, practices and metaphors to better prepare our students for this new world-order characterized by ambiguity, uncertainty, and the ever changing nature of our technologies?

In this short talk from TEDxCreativeCoast, Drew Davies and educator, Jaime McGrath, echo the growing notion (one that we embrace wholeheartedly within our own team) that design thinking provides a meaningful way to prepare our children for the increasingly complex and messy reality that is the 21st century. According to Davies and McGrath, the classroom of, what they term, the “Imagination Age,” will be based on design projects, which, inherently “accommodate all learning styles. By definition, they integrate projects across the curriculum and they’re inherently differentiated for individual student needs, abilities, and interests.” This twelve-minute talk will walk you through the importance of play, design and creative space in preparing our children for a more nuanced and messy reality, while highlighting a series of delightful and intriguing student design projects.

TEDxTalks on YouTube, published June 1, 2012



You see, when you teach young children, you have the opportunity, every day, to draw back the curtain and reveal to them the workings of the world—those gears turning beneath the surface. You see, children are often well versed in the surfaces of things but they’re unaware of their creative origins. And I want to move my students from passive users of things to becoming active creators.

We don’t need students who are highly skilled at picking A, B, C, or D. See, we moved from that industrial age, through the information age and now into the imagination age.

We learn through acts of imagination.

Building, designing, creating—the idea that learning is playing; to create something is to learn something—and that’s why we think that the classroom of the future isn’t going to teach our kids how to memorize, it’s going to teach them how to think creatively, critically, and playfully.

Design and education complement all the best practices in education today. Design projects accommodate all learning styles. By definition, they integrate projects across the curriculum and they’re inherently differentiated for individual student needs, abilities, and interests.

Design projects can happen every day, in every subject, right here, right now.

 Video: “The Future Will Not Be Multiple Choice” {MindShift KQED}

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