Learning Creative Learning

I am taking my first ever MOOC! That’s a Massively Open Online Course. And the course I’m taking is MIT’s Learning Creative Learning. I am a huge fan of Mitch Resnick and Scratch, so when this course was advertised and I saw it was offered by the MIT Media Lab, it was a quick and easy decision to participate. Plus I wanted to experience participating in a MOOC.

The course has begun, and I am going to post my written responses here. (Other responses will be Scratch programs, so the best I’ll be able to do is provide a link to them.) Below is my post to the lcl-417 Google Group – my smaller group of some 12 folks, carved out of the massive course group of a few thousand.

In preparation for the second session, we were asked to read several articles, view a video, and then comment on them. My comments relate to Joi Ito’s blog posts (Formal vs Informal Education, Reading the Dictionary, Dubai and Learning about the Unknowable) and his keynote (Keynote to Open Educational Resources meeting).

This Week in LCL: Particularly enjoyed reading Joi Ito’s blog posts.

Months prior to this MOOC, I had watched a video of Joi speaking and had read about his appointment to the Media Lab. What fascinated me then, as with now, was his background, and his approach to formal education. He did what worked best for him, yet it turns out that approach may very well be a good path for a multitude of students just setting out from high school.

I think of the spiral path to formal education that my husband, my two sons, and I have each taken. Long ago I concluded that the straight arrow from high school to college, a process which was the norm when I was a kid, is not necessarily the best path to learning.

Joi may first strike folks as being particularly unusual or creative or self-motivated. And indeed, not everyone following a similar path is going to wind up in an equivalent position! However, pursuing a path that makes sense for the individual may likely lead to a position of creative and productive  satisfaction. And that, I believe, is the whole point.


Time for a change

It’s 2:03 in the morning. Not exactly my regular blogging time, but then I haven’t been blogging regularly for the past year.

If it’s time for sleeping, but I’m not able to sleep, it may as well be time for changing the look of my blog. And time for asking Posterous for backups of my Posterous blogs.

There will definitely be a bit of fine-tuning needed to synch this look with text descriptions that are no longer accurate, and that will happen gradually over the next few weeks. Okay, maybe over the next few months. (I’m trying to be realistic!)

For now, I’ve been up for a solid 90 minutes and counting, and it’s time to head back to bed!

Maker Faire 2012 or how I spent Saturday

Saturday my husband and I tooled over to Queens, near CitiField, and spent the day walking around Maker Faire 2012. We’ve known about Maker Faires, but this was our first time seeing one up close, and we had a blast! There were all sorts of home made inventions and contraptions, and almost everywhere you looked there were 3D printers or objects that had been made via a 3D printer. The Faire was family friendly, indeed it was designed to inspire kids to create.

We also attended two talks, one by Seth Godin and the other a conversation with Chris Anderson, editor of Wired Magazine, and Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot.

Seth Godin lives in Westchester, a New Yorker born and bred (so I’ve been told). He’s a marketer and author, a summarizer and explainer of and guide to new media and trends, and a highly entertaining and spot-on speaker who does not mince his words. 

Chris Anderson is an author, and editor of Wired Magazine and you can read his article about how The New MakerBot Replicator Might Just Change Your World. And Bre Pettis is the face behind the MakerBot company. Here he is introducing the Replicator 2

The themes of their talks were similar and made an impression on me, especially in my new role as LS STEAM Integrator.

Godin talked about how kids doing science labs in school are not really doing science. Rather, they are kids following instructions that someone else crafted years ago. To truly be a lab, students should be making and innovating. Bre Pettis said that the “criteria for a good project” is “you don’t know what’s going to happen in the end but you try anyway.”

As Godin said: IF it might not work, THEN you are doing something important BECAUSE it is risky and someone can say you are wrong or they don’t like it. From there, you iterate, you try again, you take another risk, you start a conversation.

Of course, this all got me thinking about my Environmental Ed classes, which begin tomorrow. I don’t separate out Environmental Ed from STEAM, but my job is described with these two specific responsibilities. In any case, my take home from Seth, Chris and Bre is a reminder that rather than hand my 3rd graders step-by-step directions, my job is to provide a place for them to explore, experiment, ask questions and figure things out by doing, talking, thinking, sharing, crafting…

For instance, I could tell the kids how water winds up in our homes, I could show them pictures, or I could ask them to ask their parents. But how much better if I provide each class with some crafts items and a large reservoir of water, and ask them to figure out how to get the water from the reservoir to the buildings.

If anyone has thoughts about Seth’s, Chris’s and Bre’s comments or my take-away, please feel free to leave a comment below!

Blogging Mentor

Not too long ago I came upon this post by Sue Waters. She was looking for folks who were involved in education who might be interested in mentoring new student bloggers. Something about her post called out to me. Sue has taken a different approach from QuadBlogging, which seeks to facilitate commenting on school or class blogs by grouping schools from around the world in fours, or quads (hence the term quadblogging).

Sue’s approach is to match individual students with individual educators. Typically between 20 and 30 students are matched to one adult who serves as a mentor to those students. The students create their own blogs and Sue provides a series of challenges for them to respond to over a period of ten weeks. The mentor is tasked with visiting each student’s blog at least three times over the course of the ten weeks, commenting on posts and returning to continue the conversations, and reminding the students of the various challenges.

Here’s what I wrote when signing up to be a mentor:


I’ve been teaching kids and adults about and with computers for many years, and this year will be a lower school STEAM Integrator at a school in Riverdale, NY. I LOVE to swim freestyle outdoors in the summer, practice yoga, kayak and walk. And I am excited about teaching Lego robotics using the NXT language, and Scratch and WeDo sensors!

I’ve been blogging since April 2007 athttps://neurons.wordpress.com/

Would like to mentor ages 8-11 (grades 3-5 or 6).

Cheers, Laurie

The students I am mentoring are 12 year olds in 7th grade. Blogging is a new experience for many of the students, and they have constraints such as time (like most of us!) and unfamiliarity with either the process of blogging or the platform they are using, or both. I am eager to see how they develop as bloggers over these coming weeks.

Well, I have planning to do for tomorrow, so will return in a day or so to finish updating this post with links to the remaining 11 student blogs!

The Teenage Brain

I have not yet finished watching this conversation, but the teen brain has long intrigued me, and I appreciate the relaxed format of the conversation.

As per the youtube page: Vassar alums Lisa Kudrow ’85 and Abby Baird ’91 have a conversation about Baird’s research on the teenage brain and its implications for parenting strategies. Filmed before a live audience in the Alumnae house Pub on the Vassar campus.

The dope on Dopamine

I just finished reading Kelly McGonigal‘s The Willpower InstinctIt is a fascinating look at the psychology and physiology behind our ability to control our actions. In the book talk below, McGonigal discusses some of the research covered in her book.

But it isn’t willpower I want to write about; it’s what I learned about DOPAMINE. Dopamine is the culprit behind folks with Parkinson’s Disease having movement and balance issues. More precisely, it is the lack of dopamine that poses the problem. Back in  May, 2007, when I first began blogging about the brain in order to learn about how it functions, I wrote a post about dopamine.

McGonigal has added to my understanding of dopamine. She describes the neurotransmitter as kicking in in anticipation of a reward. That reward can be anything that makes you feel good.

Dopamine tells the rest of the brain what to pay attention to and what to get our greedy little hands on. A dopamine rush doesn’t create happiness itself–the feeling is more like arousal. We feel alert, awake, and captivated. We recognize the possibility of feeling good and are willing to work for that feeling.

When there is insufficient dopamine, besides impacting movement and balance, the brain’s natural reward system feels a sense of apathy, according to McGonigal. She goes on to say that in Parkinson’s patients, while this state may pass for peacefulness, it is actually depression.

What further fascinated me was her explanation of the potential negative effects of dopamine drug therapy on people with Parkinson’s.

The standard treatment for Parkinson’s disease is a two-drug combo: L-dopa, which helps the brain make dopamine, and a dopamine agonist, which stimulates dopamine receptors in the brain to mimic the action of dopamine. When patients begin drug therapy, their brains are flooded with way more dopamine than they’ve seen in a long time. This relieves the main symptoms of the disease, but also creates new problems that no one expected.

Medical journals are full of case studies documenting the unintended side effects of these drugs.

McGonigal then describes one person who “developed insatiable [food] cravings”, another person who “developed a daily gambling habit”, and yet another who “all of sudden found himself afflicted with an increased appetite, a taste for alcohol, and what his wife called ‘an excessive sex urge’…All of these cases were completely resolved by taking the patients off the dopamine-enhancing drug.”

Essentially, it seems that as with much in life, there needs to be a balance in the amount of dopamine your brain processes.

For more on Parkinson’s and dopamine, see my previous posts:

How Elders Will Save the World

With age, comes wisdom.

Attribute to that line whatever you like. I choose to attribute it to the wisdom that comes from having lived a long enough time to be considered living in elderhood, that stage of life following adulthood. William Thomas, author of What are Old People For? How Elders Will Save the World, believes in and advocates for elderhood living environments intentionally designed to promote a sanctuary where elders thrive. These are not merely places where elders survive, but places where they can remain vibrant participants in their own lives and the lives of others, regardless of their physical or cognitive capabilities.

Thomas denotes several “Principles for Elderhood’s Sanctuary”:

  • Warm – radiating human warmth and developing “the practice of doing good deeds without the expectation of return”
  • Small – keep the scale small
  • Flat – keep the hierarchy flat
  • Rooted – have a “deeply rooted belief system”
  • Smart – use of technologies that support the well-being of elders and their care takers
  • Green – sustainable places that provide a “connection with the living world” through gardens

With the above principles in mind, Thomas developed The Green House Project, with implementation support from ncb Capital Impact and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Below is a “documentary short” about the project.

John Zeisel is another author who has created a nursing home alternative. I have read his book, I’m Still Here, and blogged about him a few times, so was pleasantly surprised to see he was referenced by Thomas as a resource when Thomas was researching design possibilities for The Green House Project.

William Thomas goes on to paint a picture of elderhood where each person is able to give and receive loving care. He behooves us to reconsider the lives of the oldest of the old as another developmental phase in the life of a human being:

…to see old age as part of the ongoing miracle of human development. It offers a perspective that connects all elements of the human life span from birth to death.

Mostly what Thomas advocates for is a reenvisioning of the last phase of our lives with a return to respect for old age and the wonders it has to offer, and an acknowledgment that how we craft this last stage (including, but not limited to, physical buildings, guiding principles for care, opportunities for participation, equal respect for the care takers and the cared for) will make all the difference in how it is lived.