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Month March 2013

Friday Link Fest…*

Friday Link Fest...* |



Beyond the Product: What We Should Be Teaching Young People ~ On asking questions & acting upon ideas…* via David Sengeh on LinkedIn, published March 26, 2013.

Empathy Equals Scary Vulnerability–And Is Totally Necessary For Success ~ via Fast Company, published March 22, 2013.

Don Norman on rethinking…* design thinking ~ via Core77, published March 19, 2013.

Children should be allowed to get bored so they can develop their innate ability to be creative ~ via BBC, published March 22, 2013.

Six Habits of Highly Empathic People ~ via Greater Good Science Center, published November 27, 2012.

Swedish Experimental Food Lab Erects Tiny Edible Cityscape ~ Atelier Food: exploring ways to rethink…* our food systems.  via Wired Design, published March 20, 2013

Here’s A Google Perk Any Company Can Imitate: Employee-To-Employee Learning ~ via Fast Company, published March 26, 2013

Why Organizations Are So Afraid to Simplify ~ Knowing when to stop is as important as starting. via Harvard Business Review, published March 20, 2013


Richard Turere: My invention that made peace with lions ~ via TED, published March 2013.

Design Thinking — Maximizing Your Students’ Creative Talent: Co Barry at TEDxDenverTeachers ~ via TEDx, published March 22, 2013.

Socrates (In The Form Of A 9-Year-Old) Shows Up In A Suburban Backyard In Washington ~ via NPR, published March 27, 2013.

What if a 10-year-old designed a city? ~ via GreenBiz, published March 26, 2013.


Federico Uribe Paints with Reused Electrical Cables ~ via This is Colossal, published March 20, 2013.

Self-Sufficient Green Dream Home is One With Surroundings ~ Isolée by Frank Tjepkema. via Dornob.

Time to Get Something On the Side: 30 Inspiring Passion Projects & Why You Should Have One ~ via FastCo.Create, published  March 20, 2013.

From Recycled Skateboards, Electric Guitars ~ via Design Taxi, published March 22, 2013.

Sculptures That Reveal The Hidden Beauty Of Regular StuffDaniel Eatock’s One + One series.  via FastCo.Design, published March 26, 2013.


Big Thinkers on Education ~ via Edutopia.

A Librarian’s Guide to Makerspaces: 16 Resources ~ via Open Education Database, published March 12, 2013.

Skillshare: Got an Art/Design Class You Want to Take… or Teach? ~ via Core77, published March 22, 2013.

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.

Placing Faith in Something Unknown & Finding One’s Creative Potential ~ Brady Sanders’ Something Unknown

Watch this beautiful performance by Brady Sanders set to the music of Arvo Pärt – “Spiegel im Spiegel” and excerpts from Sir Ken Robinson‘s TED Talks. So lovely and so true…* Delight and embrace your unique potential. Happy Tuesday!

“What does it mean to help students discover their passions, develop their aptitudes, and fulfill their potential? It means placing faith in something unknown; investing in our students’ unpredictable potential.”

Brady Sanders on YouTube, published March 13, 2013.

Choreographic Credits: Brady Sanders and Jamie Murphy and Renee Smith of Murphy/Smith Dance Collective

“You’re not going to know what you’ll draw until it’s done” ~ Robert Rodriguez On the Creative Process…*

"You’re not going to know what you’ll draw until it’s done" ~ Roberto Rodriguez On the Creative Process...*


“Naturally kids just create. But as they’ve gotten older, I’ve had to teach my kids how to be kids again, and it works wonders for them to hear it. As a kid, you don’t know anything–you don’t have to know anything. You just have to start. As you get older you start to think, What if I fail? What if I can’t do it? So you reteach them what they already know: You don’t have to do anything. Just show up. You’re not going to know what you’ll draw until it’s done. All you have to do is show up with a pen in your hand and a blank piece of paper. But unless you pick up the pen and start, it’s not going to come to you. You’re not going to just dream it up. You have to start the process.” – Robert Rodriguez

[Source] Robert Rodriguez On Creative Action: “You Don’t Have To Know Anything; You Just Have to Start. via FastCo.Create, published March 21, 2013.

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:

The Marshmallow Challenge

In his TED talk Build a Tower, Build a Team, Tom Wujec reports on his work with something called “the marshmallow challenge,” and how it forces people to collaborate quickly, revealing deep lessons about design and collaboration.

The marshmallow problem is a team exercise where groups of 4 are given dry spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of yarn, and one marshmallow. They are challenged to build the tallest tower in 18 minutes. As shown below, the common design process that people will follow is 1) orient themselves, 2) plan, 3) build with the spaghetti yarn and tape for the bulk of the time, making an increasingly taller structure. Finally, at the very end, they 4) place the marshmallow on top, stand back, and… the tower often collapses, leaving the group with nothing to show for their efforts.

However, Wujec found that while recent graduates of business school, lawyers, and CEOs do fairly poorly with this task, recent kindergarten graduates perform very well, beaten only by engineers and architects and CEOs with their executive administrative teams.

This seems to happen because kindergarteners are much better at the iterative design process. While business students wait until the end to place the marshmallow, 5 year-olds make many successive prototypes, always keeping the marshmallow on top, and test them throughout the 18 minutes, ultimately ending up with more interesting and more successful designs. In many ways, the marshmallow challenge represents the hidden assumptions in a project. Every project has its own marshmallow, and you don’t want to encounter it at the very end of your 18 minutes.

For people interested in incorporating design thinking into education, it is ironic that our students may be naturally more inclined towards this sort of activity than we are. The capacity to test and prototype may not be natural for many of us, but it’s something we need to remember to do, and it is at the heart of design thinking. Business students are trained to find the single right plan, and this ends up being extremely debilitating to their design abilities.

Specialized skills and facilitation skills are also critical for success. Admin teams and those with background knowledge in structural soundness perform better than average. This is something to note when trying to develop a solution as well: include strong facilitators and experts on your team.

As a first grade afterschool teacher of robotics, I found this to be the perfect lesson to begin my unit on engineering and design. So I did the marshmallow challenge with 24 children divided into 6 groups. They laughed, they cheered, they cried a LOT, and they got spaghetti all over the classroom floor. But ultimately, I think the challenge provided valuable lessons both in teamwork and in the design process.

As observed by Wujec, almost every group of students placed the marshmallow on the top of a piece of spaghetti and built their structures with this already intact. This likely contributed to their successes; ultimately, 50% of our students created standing structures. After the activity we talked to them about what was hard and fun about designing a structure. I then gave them more supplies to iterate and build new creations, because I am trying to emphasize the iterative nature of design with my students.

While I was underwhelmed with their ability to work well together, I wonder if perhaps one reason that young children are more successful is that they are not spending valuable minutes tactfully negotiating the social dynamics of a group project in the way that adults are. In many of my groups, two separate structures were built with no regards for the limited resources available and then the most successful structure later became their final one. In the rest of the groups, a clear leader emerged from the get-go who dictated the entire process. Wujec did not mention this as a factor, and it is something that could definitely be looked into a bit more.

I’d suggest conducting this activity with your students, your coworkers, or even with your friends. It is both fun and challenging, while providing valuable insights into both our design process and the ways that we work on teams.

Tom Wujec: Build a Tower, Build a Team published on TED, FILMED FEB 2010 | POSTED APR 2010

Friday Link Fest…*

Friday Link Fest...* |



Design Is Both the Insanely Radical and the Passionately Incremental ~ via GigaOM, published  October 6, 2012.

At Google, a Place to Work and Play ~ rethinking…* work space and happiness. via The New York Times, published March 15, 2013.

Talent Isn’t Fixed and Other Mindsets That Lead to Greatness ~ Interview with Carol Dweck on how a “growth mindset” can impact creative achievement on a personal & professional level. via 99u.

What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success ~ via The Atlantic, published December 29, 2011.

Toyo Ito: the ‘dropout robot’ who never tires of reinventing himself ~ via The Guardian, published March 19, 2013.

The Stories That Bind Us ~ Fascinating concept connecting narration of family histories and reslience+happiness…* via The New York Times, published March 15, 2013.


Kidb ~ A short animation that raises important questions regarding the state of education today. via Darren Bartholomew on Vimeo, published January 2013.

Big History: David Christian Covers 13.7 Billion Years of History in 18 Minutes ~ via Open Culture, published March 19, 2013

Break + Make: Education – “How do we prepare students for tomorrow’s economy ~ via 92ndStreetY & IDEO, published March 20, 2013.

Eon Billings & Duncan Jackson on creating a tangible impact on the feel & character of an urban space ~ via PSFK, published March 20, 2013.


9 Crazy Skyscrapers That Will Shape The Skylines Of The Future ~ via FastCo.Exist, published March 18, 2013.

Ergonomic Chair for School Kids Encourages Good Posture ~ ‘Ray’ by Simon Dennehy. via PSFK, published March 21, 2013.

Google now allows you to visit Mt. Everest, Kilimanjaro & other breathtaking locations ~ via TreeHugger, published March 19, 2013

Musical Swings by Daily Tous Les Jours for EmpathiCITY exhibition ~ via Designboom, published March 20, 2013.


Explore the future of education: The Power of Digital Education Collection ~ MIT Technology Review.

An Online Course in How to Listen to Orchestras ~ via S4MU, published March 9, 2013.

A Master List of 700 Free Courses From Great Universities ~ via Open Culture, published March 5, 2013.

Loss Aversion and Schools

Traditional economic models hold that we, being the rational beings we are, love getting things just as much as we hate losing them. Not actually the case, as Daniel Kahneman (Thinking, Fast and Slow) and others have pointed out. We are far more sensitive to actual and perceived losses than we are to gains.

What does this mean in practice? Well, it means all kinds of things, and in Kahneman’s words, “The concept of loss aversion is certainly the most significant contribution of psychology to behavioral economics” (300). If you compare the goodness (i.e., utility) of gaining two dollars with the badness (i.e., disutility) of losing two dollars, losing two dollars carries greater weight in our minds because we are more loss averse. We feel the pain of loss more deeply than we celebrate gains. Some might react to tax cuts with a smile and relief, but they might then react to tax hikes with pitchforks and protests (tax cuts being seen as a gain, tax hikes as a loss) . It’s an interesting asymmetry, with many consequences.

This loss aversion works at deep levels of our consciousness. Kahneman cites a study of golf putts by Devin Pope and Maurice Schweitzer at the University of Pennsylvania. They compared the success rates of golfers putting for a birdie with those of golfers putting to avoid a bogey. If you look at a birdie as a “gain” and a bogey as a “loss” (with par seen as breaking even), then you can see loss aversion at work here. After analyzing 2.5 million putts (!), Pope and Schweitzer found that golfers putting for par (i.e., avoiding the “loss” of a bogey) were 3.6% more successful than those putting or a birdie. Though it might seem small, that’s an enormous difference of more than 90,000 successful putts. It’s also one of the clearest, most interesting, most powerful illustrations of loss aversion that I’ve read.

How can the idea of loss aversion affect educational practice? One general way lies just in rethinking how we frame and conceive of things. Let’s say, for example, that your school has mandatory study hall, which students can liberate themselves from after one term of good grades. In that way, liberation from the study hall might be seen as a gain of more free time–a motivating incentive, right? But loss aversion would suggest that students might be more motivated to escape study hall in the first place (i.e., avoid losing their free time to study hall). Let’s say that only students with low grades after the first few weeks have to attend study hall, and you publicize that fact quite clearly. Research suggests that in this framework students will work much harder and seek more extra help to avoid the loss of free time that study hall represents.

I’ve also been playing around with how assessment practices could incorporate loss aversion. In such a framework assessment might end up looking something like scoring golf. First, we’d need clear rubrics for every type of assignment we give. Students would have to know exactly what the minimum expectations for an assignment should be, and the bar should be set high. Think of it as “par” for every assignment. If students meet all expectations, their grade stays the same. If they exceed expectations, their grade goes up one or two points. But if they fail to meet expectations, their grade decreases a bit, depending on how many standards they failed to meet.

In order for this to work, however, all students have to start with some grade that they can work to defend against loss. It’s up to the teacher, of course, what that number should be. In my mind I’ve been playing around with the number 90 (on a 0-100 scale), but maybe that just shows that I’m the product of a grade-inflated generation. Maybe it should be 85. Or lower. I don’t know–it’s open for discussion. It needs to be high enough for students to want to preserve it, but not so high that everyone walks away with A’s just for meeting expectations.

If the theory of loss aversion holds true, then such a grading system should be a powerful motivator for students. Students who need to get an A+ on everything have a way to aim high. Students who often struggle start the term with a high grade and a high incentive to keep working hard. This is not a fully formed idea, I concede, but I think it has some potential. I also recognize that this idea resides within a fairly traditional school framework, with grades, teacher-generated rubrics, etc. As with all my ideas, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that many other people have already thought of it. If so, I’d love to hear about other people who might be doing something similar.

Works Cited

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux.


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.

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