Tag Archives: TED Talks

Opening Faculty Meetings: Intro to Simulations

Embracing Diversity in Learning and Teaching
[all the posts about the opening session program: 1 2 3 4 5]

For this second day of opening faculty meetings we wanted to set the tone for what would follow, which was two sets of 45 minute workshops. Keeping in mind that just about everyone was still in a summer mindset, gradually making the transition from summer mode to a fixed schedule, with far less time for being active, and we knew what we had to do. Engagement was the name of the game!

Screen shot 2009-09-28 at 7.17.11 PMAs folks entered the auditorium they were greeted with upbeat music and a continuously looping slide show displaying some 40 people – many of them well known, including students at our school – who have learning differences. We could detect definite “I didn’t know…” comments in response to seeing some of the better known faces on the screen.

Below are our introductory remarks. I invite you to pick up a pencil and piece of paper, and join along!


Good morning and Welcome back!

You will now need a piece of paper and a pencil. If you do not have one, please raise a hand. Screen shot 2009-09-28 at 7.30.53 PM

We are going to take a moment and do a little sketching. Please turn to look at a colleague sitting next to you. You will have 30 seconds to draw each other. Begin now! [If you click the image of the person’s face, you will be taken to Tim Brown’s TED Talk on creativity and play, from where the drawing idea was taken.]

[30 seconds later…] Okay, pencils down! Hear that laughter? That is the sound of serotonin and dopamine being released in your brains, two of the “feel good” neurotransmitters, which are generated in your affective network and prime you to pay attention. You remember those three neural networks we talked about yesterday – the recognition or sensory network, the affective aka emotional network, and the strategic network, the all-important executive functioning area of your brain that some say is more important than IQ.

3 networks

By the way, please hold on to the paper and pencil, as you will be using them again.

As a community we read Kristi’s book this summer, and it was part of our inspiration for yesterday’s and today’s activities. As Candy and I met regularly with Kristi throughout the last school year, we couldn’t help but think about the variety of learners amongst us, both the students AND the adults.

Robert Fulghum, the very author who wrote “All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”, summed it up quite nicely when he wrote the following [which comes from It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It]:

brain pic 2image comes from Jill Bolte Taylor’s Stroke of Insight TED Talk

[the brain] I have one of these things between my ears. It is made up entirely of raw meat at the moment. It is fueled by yesterday’s baloney sandwich, potato chips, and chocolate milk. And everything I am doing at the moment-everything I have ever done or will do-passes through this lump. I made it; I own it. And it is the most mysterious thing on earth. Now I can kind of understand the mechanical work of the brain – stimulating breathing, moving blood, directing protein traffic. It’s all about chemistry and electricity. A motor. I know about motors.

But this three-pound raw-meat motor also contains all the limericks I know, a recipe for how to cook a turkey, the remembered smell of my junior high locker room, all my sorrows, the ability to double clutch a pickup truck, the face of my wife when she was young, the formulas for E=MC squared, and A2 + B2 = C2, the prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the sound of the first cry of my firstborn son, the cure for hiccups, the words to the fight song of St. Olaf’s College, fifty years worth of dreams, how to tie my shoes, the taste of cod-liver oil, an image of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and a working understanding of the Dewey Decimal System. It’s all there in the MEAT.

One cubic centimeter of brain contains ten billion bits of information and it processes five thousand bits a second. And somehow it evolved over a zillion years from a molten ball of rock, Earth. ….The Mystery of Mysteries is present and it includes us.

The single most powerful statement to come out of brain research in the last 25 years is this: We are as different from one another on the inside of our heads as we appear to be different from one another on the outside of our heads.

Look around and see the infinite variety of human heads – skin, hair, age, ethnic characteristics, size, color and shape. And know that on the inside such differences are even greater – what we know, how we learn, how we process information, what we remember and forget, our strategies for functioning and coping.

Add to that the understanding that the “world out there” is as much a projection from inside our heads as it is a perception, and pretty soon you are up against the realization that it is a miracle that we communicate at all.

It is almost unbelievable that we are dealing with the same reality. We operate on a kind of loose consensus about existence, at best.

From a practical point of view, day by day, this kind of information makes me a little more patient with the people I live with. I am less inclined to protest “Why don’t you see it the way I do?” and more inclined to say “You see it that way? Holy cow, how amazing!”

Our goal for this morning is for all of us to look deeply into the learning process for our own sake and for the sake of the people with whom we work. As learners, we are all on a continuum, intelligence is not fixed. Science has proved that intelligence is incremental and the more you learn beyond your formal schooling, the healthier your brain will be later in life. Armed with this understanding, our affective networks become willing partners in the learning process. Carol Dweck is going to expand upon this.

Each of us has strengths and struggles that are unique to ourselves. When we acknowledge that in ourselves and others, we can move forward to collaboratively help each other be the best that we can be. We are going to take a few minutes now and do some simulations to get us thinking about a few types of struggles that learners – be they kids OR adults – can have.

[stay tuned for the simulations in the upcoming posts]


Point of View

Sir Ken Robinson has come up several times in my writing. His 2006 TED Talk impressed me hugely, enough to share it with my upper school Flash class. (This is the second TED Talk I’ve shared with them, the first being Larry Lessig’s talk on ‘How creativity is being strangled by the law”, which you can watch at the bottom of this post.) Robinson will be speaking at the annual NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) conference, which will take place in New York at the end of February. (I wish individual tickets were available just for his talk!)

Each of the three times (Creativity, August 2007; Creativity, October 2007; and Creative Footsteps.2, December 2007) I’ve written about Robinson, it has been in connection with creativity. His contention is that “schools educate people out of their creative capacities”.

In his talk, Robinson said: If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. In terms of how the brain deals with creativity, Robinson believes that creativity entails “the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things”.

It is often useful to look at issues through multiple lenses, both to clarify as well as make sure all possibilities are considered. arvind grover and Alex Ragone, two independent school technologists, host EdTechTalk: 21st Century Learning. In March of this year they interviewed June Ahn, a PhD student looking at urban education. In their discussion they touched upon Ken Robinson and his TED Talk. You can listen to their talk (scroll to talk #35) or read June’s blog entry, where she does a little dismantling of Robinson’s talk.

And as promised, here is Larry Lessig’s TED Talk:
How creativity is being strangled by the law


download10.jpgTo create means to me that something is made. By that definition, we all create, probably multiple times over. According to my computer’s dictionary widget, the verb create means to “bring (something) into existence” or to “cause (something) to happen as the result of one’s actions”.

Creativity also entails the act of creating, specifically creating from scratch, making use of “imagination or original ideas”. The widget uses a number of adjectives to help flesh out what it means to be creative: original, imaginative, inventive (“the practical side of imaginative”), resourceful, ingenious, and clever.wallofcolor.jpg

I am in accord with Sir Ken Robinson and Garr Reynolds, both skilled at making presentations within their respective fields, in their assessments of creativity. In the beginning we are all creative, but to summarize Sir Ken’s words, that sparkle of creativity is educated out of us by our educational systems. Why? – because we teach children to not make mistakes. Yet, children make mistakes because they do not know they should not make mistakes, and it is their comfort with making mistakes that nurtures their ability to be creative. “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.

nude2.jpgSir Ken shares some humorous, to–the–point anecdotes in his 2006 TED Talk about creativity. Referenced here previously, I steer you to it again if you have yet to watch his entertaining and thought-provoking presentation. He believes that creativity entails the “interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things”.

downloadc.jpgIn a different talk, this one to our faculty at opening meetings, Robert Greenleaf, stated that “Creativity is more parietal lobe and the optimal functioning of both hemispheres.” I conjured up a picture of neurons firing all over my brain, lighting up from my cerebral cortex all the way deep down to my amygdala, and I thought of how satisfied and exhilarated I felt with the completion of the Professional Development activity I created.

swirlingcolors.jpgGarr Reynolds, on his Presentation Zen blog, writes about The creativity imperative: nurturing what is our nature. He begins outright with “You are a naturally and supremely creative being – why do you think you are not?” Presentation Zen is about presentation design, and creativity has a very definite role in the design and carrying out of presentations. Garr’s point, similar to Sir Ken’s, is that as we get older, creativity takes a back seat or – even sadder – creativity is no longer even riding along with us. Yet, as he continues, “…the real irony is that our true nature is to be creative – it is who we are …”.

wirytoy.jpgI have long felt that nourishing a teacher’s creativity is one of the primary roles of professional development, and you can be sure that this theme will reemerge in my posts! (Images from Fred’s Abstract Art and SketchUp Models collections.)


There are those who believe that within the walls of schools we teach creativity out of children. Sir Ken Robinson musses about this very possibility in his February 2006 TED Talk. To quote one review, “If you have not yet seen Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk, please stop whatever you’re doing and watch it now.” I watch this video every so often in order to revitalize my teacher-spirit. It’s one of the few I’ve bothered to download to my computer.

Sir Ken notes three themes that pervaded the 2006 TED Talks. The first is the range and variety of creativity displayed by people. The second is that nobody really knows what the future is going to be like, even though our schools are teaching to the future. And the third is the marvel of children’s capacities for innovation. He continues,

If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.

As Robinson sees it, the problem is we “educate people out of their creative capacities”.

This isn’t just an issue in education. As part of Stanford University’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leader Speaker Series, Robert I. Sutton tries to define creativity and discusses its importance in business. In particular, he talks about

the importance of being able to fail in order to create, and in order for that to happen the process of creativity necessitates stepping outside the traditional boundaries of following the rules.

The question I grapple with is how to promote creativity, both in schools but also for people who have moved beyond the realm of formal education, and I am not the only one grappling. For instance, there are college courses devoted to The Psychology of Creativity, such as the one at California State University, Northridge, and Creativity: find it, promote it is part of the National Curriculum in Action site, sponsored by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in London, England.

I am looking forward to this Fall’s Learning & the Brain conference with the expectation of seeing how current brain research chimes in on the issue of creativity.