Tag Archives: imagination

Revisiting the 2002 National Educator Workshop

In the Summer of 2002 I participated in The Lincoln Center institute for the arts National Educator Workshop: Introduction to Aesthetic Education. Several years later, in March 2008, I blogged twice about the workshop – Imagination: Maxine Greene and Lincoln Center institute for the arts in education.

Everything we have done in the past helps to craft who we are in the present. My yoga teacher Deb often reminds us that everything we have done in the past makes us who we are at this moment on the mat. With that in mind, this morning I reread my Response Essay to the workshop, written in July 2002.

What brought me to reread the essay was a desire to refunctionalize my myriad book shelves at 8:30 last night. For years I have kept my favorite fiction, poetry and reference books in the same room as my desk, on two shelves built into the wall. A portion of my desk was allocated to books about the brain. And my yoga books were relegated to a laundry bin stored under a bench in our bedroom.

My life is changing, by choice, and it is time to purge those books I no longer cherish, and bring my yoga books to the fore. And in the process of looking through folders I smiled to revisit this essay. Not wanting to lose portions of it, and not wanting to keep the papers, I am copying part of it here for my reference. For anyone who happens to read it, if you have comments, please feel free to post them. I’d be delighted to have a conversation.

Oh, and I still do not have room for all the books I’d like to have at my fingertips. Hmm…


Response Essay – National Educator Workshop – Summer Session 2002/July 8-12

An article in the October 3, 2001 Metro section of The New York Times piqued my interest in Maxine Greene. I had never heard of her beforehand yet the ideas she espoused about education gave direction to thoughts about which I had been ruminating. This prompted me to read her book Releasing the Imagination which in turn led me to John Dewey’s Experience & Education. And all of that pointed me to the National Educator Workshop. [Ed Note: part of the Lincoln Center institute] My expectation for the workshop was to give my imagination some much needed prodding and help me look at what I do through a different perspective. With that in mind, the most significant ideas embraced during the workshop include:

  • The aesthetic approach is one of self-discovery which can be guided through a series of carefully crafted questions and activities.
  • This self-discovery is a process, and that process should tap into what people can do and help them expand their thought repertoire.
  • Collaboration, questioning, and experiential learning (all part of the process) help to make learning intrinsic and give it meaning within the context of the student’s life.

To borrow from others (Maxine Greene and Apple Computer): With aesthetic education we are “releasing the imagination” and enhancing our perspective to “think different”. Imagination is an entry point into something that might otherwise be ordinary.

My perception of the work of art seen/heard twice changed substantially over the course of the workshop. In both cases, viewing and listening to the art without any prior knowledge of the artist or piece was very satisfying. This let me form my own response to the art, modified a little by the comments of my workshop mates. In the case of Poulenc’s music, I listened “hard” the first time as I concentrated on what was being played; this was not listening for pleasure! The Chuck Close portrait interested me for it size and colors. The subject of the portrait intrigued me and I wanted to know more about him.

The early hands-on activities were enjoyable to do but I did not yet make connections between those activities and how I felt about the art of Poulenc and Close. The collaborative brainstorming (of questions we would like to ask about the artists/works of art) was highly satisfying. Indeed, it almost did not matter to me if the questions were ever answered. The very act of collaborative discussion and questioning was exhilarating, cementing ideas and possibilities for me to ponder. It was the satisfaction of thinking and the interaction with others concerned with the same topic.

The research was icing on the cake.

[Ed Note: There is more about my research along with a response to a talk, but I am editing out much of it to keep this post from being even longer!]

Conversation with Catherine (colleague from my school who also participated in the workshop) after the first music workshop yielded these observations:

  • Everyone did something and was able to do something.
  • There was no “wrong” or “right” approach or answer.
  • Using our imagination it is possible to create something out of nothing, in this case just using our voices and bodies to make music.

Five days into the workshop I heard Tenesh [workshop co-leader] say that we are developing skills to focus, and that we try to go to the core of what the thing is all about. Being able to unleash our imaginations to focus in a multitude of ways and thereby get to the core of what we are learning…wow, very powerful ideas which this workshop modeled and helped me experience.

On the last day of the workshop I wrote these notes in my journal. I don’t recall whose words they were but they sum up my feelings about this workshop experience, and the goal I have for my students:

There is excitement in experiencing something intrinsically. This experience makes you the expert – it empowers you and draws out your imagination. The result is self-confidence and a depth of knowledge.

[Ed Note: The works of art were Chuck Close‘s portrait of Lucas, and a musical piece by Poulenc, title of which I did not note. I chose to research Close, which included: Chuck Close, Up Close by Greenberg and Jordan (Dorling Kindersley, 1998) and the May 13, 2002 Fortune article Overcoming Dyslexia.]

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!

The Games of Life

I just finished reading Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. There is a reason her book resonated with me, but that reason will have to wait till another post. Meantime, below is the list of games that Jane describes throughout her book. Do any resonate with you? Which ones? Why? (At the end of this post is Jane’s TED Talk, where she describes why game playing makes sense to her.)

[UPDATE June 26, 2011 – McGonigal’s newest game, Find the Future, receives a positive review in the NYT article Putting the Library on Your Smartphone.]

Bounce is designed to help jump start conversations between people of different generations, specifically, between you and people old enough to be your grandparents. You have likely heard of doing random acts of kindnessCruel 2 B Kind takes that idea one step further and turns those random acts into game play. And maybe you just want to make someone feel good? PlusOneMe(+1 me) “helps you acknowledge people’s strengths.” Or maybe you know someone who is not feeling very well, and needs help with recuperating and recovery? Try the game SuperBetter. Here is Jane McGonigal’s six minute Ignite talk describing SuperBetter. 

Chore Wars is the perfect way to get anyone, from a kid to an adult, to do those niggly yet necessary house chores.

Anyone out there who loves to fly? Congratulations if you answered “yes”. Most people I know are reluctant airplane passengers, and if you fall into that category (or even if you love to fly :-), The Day in the Cloud Challenge, created by Google and Virgin America to make your in-flight time more enjoyable, is an “online scavenger hunt played simultaneously in the air”. Another game for flyers is jetset, designed to be played on your mobile phone while in the airport.

Looking for game simulations that will help you make a difference in the future of our world? Try Evoke, “a crash course in changing the world.” Another game along these lines is Lost Joules, a way to get you thinking about your use of electric power. Superstruct was a future-forecasting game designed to get people thinking about problems humanity will face in the future, and brainstorm ways to cope with, solve or maybe even prevent those problems from manifesting. This game was created by the Institute for the Future. One more game is World Without Oil, “a massively collaborative imagining of the first 32 weeks of a global oil crisis.” What better way to figure out potential solutions to future problems than to harness people power!

Simply want to volunteer but are dulled by the “same old” types of ideas? Check out sparked, “the microvolunteering network.” You can read more about this idea on the sparked blog.

Back in the days when he lived at home, my older son loaned some of his home computer processing power to SETI@home. Several science departments at the University of Washington have a similar plan for solving science puzzles requiring lots of computing power, in particular the folding of proteins.

Want be less of a home-body? foursquare is designed to get you up and out and socializing. Similarly, if you like to dance or would like to like to dance (!), Top Secret Dance-Off is designed to help you get over your shyness hump when it comes to dancing.

Increase your vocabulary and help donate rice to hungry folks through the World Food Programme with Free Rice.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum commissioned a clever alternate reality (ARG) game, Ghosts of a Chance, to help museum goers have an immersive experience with the museum.

For the 2008 Summer Olympics, McDonald’s, AKQA, the International Olympic Committee and Jane McGonigal teamed up to create The Lost Ring as a way to give non-Olympians a way to participate more fully in the feel of the games. There is a video and case study of this project available here.

Many of you have probably heard of the marriage of Nike running shoes and an iPod or iPhone to not only provide music while you exercise, but also track your performance. Surely you realized it’s a game!

My younger son would be tickled to know that a game he plays, spore, was included in Jane McGonigal’s list. And why not? It’s all about creating a universe populated by creatures of your own crafting.

If you like playing games, or are just plain curious, the Come Out & Play festival “is an annual festival of street games that turns New York City [or perhaps other cities, as well] into a giant playground.” I haven’t attended this festival, but at a quick glance it reminds me of flash mob games such as The Sound of Music at the Central Station in Antwerp, Belgium or those organized by Improv Everywhere. A company that organizes games in this genre is slingshot, a British-based company that creates “games for people and cities.” Another company that crafts games of this type is Citizen Logistics, makers of Groundcrew. And yet another, this one based in the United Kingdom, is Hide & Seek.

Speaking of the UK, one of the more intriguing games is Investigate your MP’s expenses, a game designed by the Guardian [a newspaper] to garner citizen assistance in wading through thousands of pages of scanned documents released by Parliament. Apparently, a number of British MPs had rather high expenses that were not exactly legal… This is an example of how crowdsourcing can be used to enhance citizen participation.

Believe it or not, there is at least one school, Quest to Learn, that translates “the underlying forms of games into a powerful pedagogical model for its 6-12th graders.” You can read more about Q2L in their Overview. If anyone knows of other schools like this, please add them in a comment below. Thanks!

Here is McGonigal’s 2010 TED Talk: Gaming can make a better world.

“I Remember Better When I Paint”

The creative arts bypass the limitations and they simply go to the strengths. People still have imaginations intact all the way to the very end of their progressive disease.

Thanks to Julia, who left a comment on my previous post, I found out about the documentary I Remember Better When I Paint. (The quote above comes from the trailer.) Rather than translate to my words, here is the description of the film from the About section of the film’s site:

“I Remember Better When I Paint”, narrated by Olivia de Havilland, is the first international documentary about the positive impact of art and other creative therapies on people with Alzheimer’s and how these approaches can change the way we look at the disease. A film by Eric Ellena and Berna Huebner, presented by French Connection Films and the Hilgos Foundation. Among those who are featured are noted doctors and Yasmin Aga Khan, president of ALzheimer’s Disease International and daughter of Rita Hayworth, who had Alzheimer’s.

I am eager to see this film, and suspect it will add to the eye- and mind-opening ideas that I’ve been exposed to in the past few years regarding care of those with Alzheimer’s. Indeed, if you live in the New York metropolitan area, there is a screening of the film planned for March 10, 2011, on Melville, Long Island. You can read more about the film, and see a trailer at the film’s site, which is a wordpress blog (just like Neurons Firing 🙂

If any of you knows anyone with Alzheimer’s or dementia who is participating in an arts program, and if you feel comfortable sharing the experiences, I would greatly appreciate your adding a comment to this post. Thanks!

Any Finnish Readers?

My husband has been telling me about the Finnish education system. He heard about it on Twitter. And this morning I followed a tweet back to the blog of the Head of Poughkeepsie Day School in New York. Scrolling through the posts, I came upon this video.

Every once in awhile a system of education is touted for one reason or another. I began my teaching in the 1980s at St Ann’s School in Brooklyn, New York, and have long since touted it for

  • its use of anecdotal reports (there are no grades, and that seems to go over just fine with colleges)
  • informality between teachers and students (teacher choice if they would like to be called by their first name, and most make that choice, as did I) which seemed to spur collegial learning among teachers and students
  • lack of autocratic rules (such as hall passes, late passes, detentions, dress codes – as a teacher I wore jeans!) which seemed to introduce the institution as a place of learning rather than a place of rules and punishments
  • spontaneity of ideas which manifested itself in a celebration of the arts and sciences, where if you (“you” being a teacher or a student) had an idea, you were encouraged to “go for it”, meaning we were not beholden to the schedule or the syllabus

There are a number of schools that I’ve discovered because someone either at the school or a visitor to the school has touted publicly. Each of these sounds like places that celebrate learning. Or maybe they sound interesting to me because they are different; they break out of the mold of my childhood public school education – a public school education that has not changed all that much in 50 years.

So are there any Finnish readers out there? Any teachers or students from any of the schools listed above? If so, please share your thoughts about your schools. What are the highlights for you? What would you improve upon? Any suggestions for other schools to add to my list above?

Summer Houses

I know this house inside and out, almost as surely as if I’ve lived in it. Yet it does not exist. Well, that’s not entirely accurate.

The house exists, but only in the digital world. This house is one of a collection of fantasy buildings designed and crafted by my husband using SketchUp. I’ve been thinking about this house, and others he has created, as we spend portions of our summer vacation renting other people’s summer homes.

We tend to wind up in cozy homes within walking distance of the ocean. Last summer we stayed in an old windmill on a cliff (see pic below) in Orleans, overlooking Pleasant Bay on Cape Cod. Last week we stayed in this cottage (see pic at right) in the woods of Gay Head, on Martha’s Vineyard, where the sound of the waves from Philbin Beach lullabyed us to sleep each evening. (Though we didn’t need much of a lullabye, having used all our energy body surfing, swimming and kayaking, when we weren’t watching the FIFA World Cup games!)

A favorite of mine is this acorn house, one of Fred’s early designs inspired by the plethora of acorns in our neighborhood. I had serious fun imagining us playing tag inside and poking our heads out the different windows, yelling “Yoo hoo, I’m over here!”

And on a languid summer’s day, in need of a bit of cool,
With Seussian playmates, we plunk into a pool.

Imagination. 🙂

Think Different and then some

Two posts ago I mentioned a Harvard Business Review article The Innovator’s DNA. The brief overview provided on Harvard’s site was sufficiently interesting that I wound up reading the entire article. (The article is available for purchase but educators can also fill out a form to request free access.) In the process I also found Reverse Engineering Google’s Innovation Machine by Bala Iyer and Thomas H. Davenport.

Although the Innovator’s DNA has an accompanying website that is definitely geared to businesses and entrepreneurship, there are a number of ideas in both HBR articles that can be applied to education. As you can see from the tag cloud on the right (you’ll probably have to scroll down a bit), I have written many posts on the topics of professional development and adult learning, creativity and imagination, and it’s probably no surprise that a post tagged with one is often tagged with at least one of the others. From my perspective, teaching, professional development, and innovation are all entwined.

The Innovator’s DNA, according to Jeffrey Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton Christensen, contains five actions that help individuals foster their creativity, and all of them can be improved upon by the simple act of practice. (The words in color are direct quotes from the full length article; I used bold to make the five actions stand out.)

  • Ask questions that both impose and eliminate constraints; this will help you see a problem or opportunity from a different angle. [It’s not just a matter of teachers asking students questions; it’s teachers asking themselves questions about their own practice and about their students’ learning.]
  • Sharpen your own observational skills…spend an entire day carefully observing… [Teachers need to go beyond their own classrooms and observe colleagues in the same building and at other schools.]
  • To strengthen experimentation…attend seminars or…education courses on topics outside your area of expertise [Multiple times I’ve written about the benefits of trying something new to stimulate your brain and maintain cognitive health.]
  • To improve your networking skills, contact the five most creative people you know and ask them to share what they do to stimulate creative thinking. [The education equivalent is building PLNs, Personal Learning Networks, which is a fancy way of saying get out there and talk with others to increase your own learning and understanding.]
  • Associating [which] is triggered by new knowledge that is acquired through questioning, observing, experimenting and networking. [Hmm, isn’t that what we, as teachers, hope for our students, to be able to make new associations based on active learning. We teachers should truly be modeling this for our students!]

Commentary on the Google article will comprise my next post.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone!

NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) just held its annual conference and, thanks to a large number of folks, many of the sessions were live blogged and there are a slew of related blog posts and tweets. One that caught my attention is Jonathan Martin’s post about Tina Seelig’s presentation on Innovation as an Extreme Sport.

Martin’s post adds his commentary to Tina’s remarks; for a more thorough recap of Tina’s talk he points readers to this post on the NAIS site.

Tina is the Executive Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. You can view a number of videos from her Stanford talk on Teaching Entrepreneurship and Innovation or listen to the full podcast. If you only have 2 minutes and 45 seconds, catch the highlight here or enjoy the big words below!

All problems are opportunities.

The bigger the problem, the bigger the opportunity.

How do you learn to turn problems into opportunities? How do you teach creativity?

You get people out of their comfort zone.

You need to be able to take risks to do things you haven’t done before to take on problems that no one knows the answer to.

There are plenty of implications in this for professional development among faculty! It’s better for our brains and our long term health if we can get ourselves out of our comfort zones as we age. It’s better for our students if we can mix things up. It’s better for all of us if we can learn how to innovate.

Think Different & Act Different to Innovate & Create

This brief movie preview comes from the Brigham Young University article Innovators practice 5 skills the rest of us don’t, says BYU, INSEAD and Harvard B-school study (with thanks to Alex Ragone for tweeting it!)

According to the study, which took place over the span of six years and included surveys of 3,000 executives and 500 entrepreneurs, plus close analysis of the behaviours of 25 folks deemed “innovative entrepreneurs” (I would love to see the list of who all of these people are), there are five specific skills that when employed together, help spur innovation and creativity. You can read more about this study in The Innovator’s DNA, written by Jeffrey Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton Christensen, as published in the December 2009 issue of The Harvard Business Review. (To read the full article, you will need to spend less than ten dollars to purchase the pdf, which I have not yet done but probably will do.)

As noted in the BYU article, the five “discovery skills” include:

• Questioning
• Observing
• Experiment
• Networking
• Associating

The one that struck me the most was Experiment because the description of it meshes so strongly with my view of professional development.

Seek training outside your expertise. Take apart a product or process just to see how it works.

Back in November, 2007, I wrote:

A true professional development implementation provides a range of experiences that meet the needs of the individuals while also challenging and stimulating them to go beyond their immediate needs.

Thus the experiences provided permit people to choose from skills support to pedagogy, while insisting they also visit areas outside their teaching domain, as well as areas that feed their creativity regardless of domain.

And these ideas stemmed from  thoughts I had earlier in 2005:

…faculty would take workshops of personal interest, workshops outside of their comfort level and zone of expertise, and workshops that complemented what they teach.

Hmm, time for me to hop back over to the HBR page and purchase that pdf!