Friday, October 31, 2008

Creativity: The Rise of the Creative Class

Another vocal segment of the business sector are those concerned about the findings of economist Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class. To summarize, Florida says that the quality of a community's cultural opportunities and night life increase the capacity of companies located in those communities to attract talented, educated young workers—including workers in shortage areas, such as engineering. So communities and regions—with businesses taking the lead—are working together on projects like arts districts, public art, new exhibition and performance spaces, events that celebrate creativity, and other attempts to "brand" their cities as friendly to creatives.

Florida proposes a different view of what it means to be a creative worker. While businesses typically refer to those who strengthen their brands or create innovative content as "creatives," Florida includes many other jobs—from engineers and software developers to hairdressers to accountants—as creative. He estimates that the "creative class" comprises about a third of our workforce.

Florida does not call for schools to teach creativity and I have not seen any urgent call for schools to teach this from the so-called "creative industries." I think perhaps the talent pool for architects, designers of all kinds, commercial artists, and others whose main value added comes from their ideas is large enough at this point. Similarly, the civic and business groups at the local and regional level that are advocating for the arts as a way to attract talented young workers and the companies that recruit them seem mainly focused on the short term. I believe that initiatives to strengthen the cultural environment of an area should always advocate for arts in the schools, as well as participate in arts education. What kind of an arts community will you have if the local people do not learn to appreciate the arts and if the schools do not produce new artists?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Journalists & Geeks: A Lesson for Educators?

Amy Gaharan, who blogs about online journalism for the Poynter Institute, had a post this week that relates to my questions regarding what industry is really asking for when they say they need creative, innovative thinkers. Here's a brief segment:
Right now, it's becoming obvious to many journalists that our field sorely needs lots of top-notch, creative technologists. Developers for whom software is a medium, and an art form. Developers with a deep passion for information, credibility, fairness, usefulness, and free speech.
Once more, we see creativity and technology combined.

A comment on Amy's post by Rich Gordon on the PBS MediaShift Idea Lab also got me thinking:
Too many journalists don't respect technology development as a creative activity -- they think developers should just build stuff they want. Too many technologists don't respect journalism as an intellectual activity -- they think journalists just pump out content for their algorithms to process. Too many journalists really don't like technology change; they blame it for hurting media businesses, threatening their livelihoods and diminishing the quality of news available in local communities. Too many technologists think it's not their job to worry about the negative impact of technology innovation on media companies and journalism . . . .
Do we see a similar dynamic emerging between teachers and those who create technology?

Go to to read the whole post by Amy Gaharan. (Go to the post by Rich Gordon too.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Creativity: What High Tech Business Means

American industries need creativity and innovation to maintain a competitive edge. A review of government and industry reports, best-selling books, and op ed pieces shows that to be a major theme in assessments of the global economy.

But is everyone talking about the same thing?

Let's start with defining creativity and innovation through the lens of big American industries like IT, aerospace and defense, automotive, and others that depend on the most advanced technologies for their competitive edge. Those industries and the public and private entities that support them have been the most vocal in calling for schools to produce more creative thinkers and innovators.

That group seems to be focused on the kinds of scientific and technological breakthroughs that create new industries, ensure that America is #1 in key global markets, and maintain U.S. national security (which more and more includes energy independence).

Their statements about education benchmarks suggest an emphasis on greater participation and rigor in math and science education. The report Innovation is America's Heartbeat, a 2006 report issued by the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation, presents benchmarks for assessing America's current and future competitive edge. Among those listed under education are math and science literacy among high school students, numbers of science and technology graduates, emphasis on STEM courses among undergraduates, and the showing of American students on the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest. In other words, these participants in the "innovation conversation" tend to see their role in K-12 education as promoting high standards in math and science and supporting high-quality math and science teaching (which may mean incentives for teachers). I have seen other recommendations from big industry consortia and agencies supporting programs that increase collaboration between math and science classrooms and the real world of STEM professionals, innovative use of technology in schools, and competitions that encourage students to invent or engineer.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"Teaching" Creativity: Some Background

I have followed the literature on creativity and innovation in education, science and technology, and business for years because it fascinates me, but lately I've been immersing myself more than usual because I see a movement growing. Earlier this year, I wrote in Links & Threads (a newsletter about arts education) about a poll of likely voters by Lake Research Partners that has led to a movement called "the imagine nation." Briefly:
  • 73% of voters agreed that building capacities of the imagination is just as important as the “so called” basics for all students in public schools.

  • 82% of voters want to build imagination and creative skills in schools.

  • 91% of voters indicated that arts are essential to building capacities of the imagination.
The imagine nation Web site cites statements by education and business leaders supporting this poll and highlights creativity initiatives in Ohio, Dallas Texas, and Oklahoma. Ohio's initiative is led by the Committee for Arts and Innovative Thinking (CAIT), a group of leaders from education and cultural organizations led by the Ohio Department of Education. Oklahoma's initiative to brand itself as the State of Creativity has lots of support from business and young people in creative professions. The Dallas Arts Learning Initiative is a partnership among the Dallas Schools and its arts partners that is striving to "make imagination a part of everyday learning."

The Lake poll, along with books like Tough Choices Or Tough Times (a report from the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce), Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat, and Dan Pink's A Whole New Mind, suggest that educators will soon be expected to "teach" creativity. The conversation about this emerging idea will be fascinating. I hope it will mean new opportunities for arts education rather than another round of "Our nation is at risk and it's all the fault of schools." (Why didn't they teach creativity while they were preparing students for mind-numbing standardized tests and fearing punishment for not hitting arbitrary targets?)

I have ventured into a discussion on Classroom 2.0 about this and started a group on ArtSnacks hoping to get a sense of what is happening.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Can Creativity Be Taught? Different Views

In yesterday's post, I cited an article in which the author suggested that creativity and innovation are not taught but can be killed. I have asked questions about teaching and measuring creativity of creative people in a variety of fields. One was Marc Millis, a NASA physicist who investigates breakthrough concepts for interstellar propulsion, and he cautioned against the idea of using a "cookbook approach" to teach kids to think creatively. At an arts education summit in Cleveland, I asked actor/author/NYU professor Anna Deavere Smith and other panelists whether creativity should be part of state standards and assessments and they were horrified at the thought.

On the other hand, John Kao, author of Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity and Innovation Nation (and an amateur jazz pianist), says people can learn to be creative: "Like jazz," he says, "creativity is a process, not a thing; and therefore you can observe, analyze, understand, replicate, teach, and even manage it.” He includes in his conception of creativity "the entire process by which ideas are generated, developed, and transformed into value." He says creativity "encompasses what people commonly mean by innovation and entrepreneurship. . . . both the art of giving birth to new ideas and the discipline of shaping and developing those ideas to the stage of realized value. (Jamming, 1996).

I think both views are right. I believe there is a component to creativity that just happens—the forces of an individual's unique make-up and experiences interacting with some type of spiritual source that might be called God, a higher power, nature, the collective unconscious, or the zeitgeist. Kao's definition of creativity—geared to business—might be broader or perhaps more purely intellectual or perhaps more instrumental than how those in the arts conceive of creativity. And I believe this is the kind of creativity that people think of as add it to the list of 21st century skills. And maybe this is why I have seen some hesitation among artists about getting too involved in this conversation.

I remember attending an event last year in which a businessman addressed teaching artists about a creativity initiative that was spearheaded by business people. The first artist I asked for a reaction had a very negative reaction and I saw uneasiness among others as well. It was interesting to me that these people who are trying to make a living with their art do not seem to be seeing this interest in creativity as a golden opportunity. There may be deep meaning in that reaction.

Friday, October 24, 2008

"Teaching" Creativity?

While most discussions of 21st century skills cite creativity and innovative thinking as essential—in fact the crux of America's future economic competitiveness—the discussion has not yet begun in earnest about how schools will meet this need. In a February 2008 article in The School Administrator (American Association of School Administrators), Yong Zhao lays the groundwork. As director of the U.S.-China Center for Research on Educational Excellence at Michigan State University, he ties the creativity gap between American and Chinese schools to culture:

"To be creative is to be different," he says. "Creative people have ideas, behaviors, beliefs and lifestyles that deviate from the norm and tradition. How deviant people and divergent ideas are treated by others has a defining effect on creativity. Research has found that, in general, tolerance of deviation from tradition and the norm resulted in more creativity."

Clearly, China has a long way to go in this respect, but they are working on it, as are Singapore and other contenders in the global economy.

"Creativity cannot be taught, but it can be killed," he says. "It is clear how Asian education systems kill creativity more effectively than the American system. The creativity gap exists between Americans and Asians not because American schools teach creativity more or better than their Asian counterparts. They just do not kill it as much as the Asians."

American educators' concern with "making AYP" (Adequate Yearly Progress as defined in the federal No Child Left Behind law) may be jeopardizing the creativity of America's future workers, he says. "Instead of becoming more like others who are eager to be more like Americans," he says, "American education needs to be more American — to preserve flexibility, protect individuality and promote multiple intelligences."

As an alternate way gain understanding and a powerful form of expression, learning in and through the arts certainly play a role in preserving flexibility and protecting individuality. For some students, arts experiences mean stretching—thinking in an unfamiliar way. For those whose dominant intelligences are spatial, musical, or kinesthetic, the arts are an opportunity to excel. And for some of the those students, the integration of arts learning with learning in other subject areas is a way to transcend barriers that impede their efforts to explore ideas and exhibit knowledge. Yet the concern over the narrow measures required to make AYP has drained time and resources away from the arts. NCLB calls the arts a core subject, but like other core subjects outside the AYP realm, the arts are being marginalized.

Yong Zhao also stresses the need for American schools to "adopt a global perspective, add foreign languages and cultures and advocate global citizenship." The arts are an excellent vehicle for understanding and appreciating other cultures and finding commonalities.

(Read the whole article)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Innovation in Disadvantaged Schools

In his comment on my contention that new technology strategies are needed for gathering and organizing evidence of student progress, Danny asks for ideas about how to deal with the "digital divide" still present in many urban areas. It is a valuable question because it recognizes current reality. Many kids in poverty have very limited time with computers and the Web. They don't have access at home and have a small window of time to use library computers because of extracurricular activities (which, of course, are also important).

What I would suggest first is to advocate for greater school-based and community-based access to computers. For example, could the school be opened on weekends so students could use computers? Might local organizations, such as churches, libraries, and rec centers, work with the school to start some Internet cafes around the community?

I also would learn to write grants and be on the lookout for technology grants that could support the above ideas and/or provide funds for inexpensive laptops that could be issued to students. A local business partner might also be cultivated for this purpose.

Another idea for dealing with limited access might be to structure learning experiences that take this into account. I am old enough to remember when knowledge workers didn't have their own PCs. When I taught writing classes in the early 80s, I had to use a computer in a central lab to do all my handouts. When I started working as a writer at NASA in the late 80s, we also didn't have our own PCs, believe it or not. Our group worked in what we called the "PC pit" and there were always one or two people waiting to use a computer. This was far from ideal, but it did instill some time management and organizational skills.

I wonder if limited computer access might be turned into an opportunity for students to develop resourcefulness, time management, and a more thoughtful approach to using information technology. Having that space separating the knowledge they are acquiring and managing and the knowledge technology could lead to the development of analytical skills (e.g., When I get my hour on the computer today, how am I going to organize this information? What are the goals of my Web search and how will I organize my search results? What do I want this presentation or Web page I am designing to look like? How can our group collaborate to make sure each of us uses the available resources optimally?) Many students with unlimited computer access spend a lot of time playing around whether it's trying every font when they should be writing or following interesting but not immediately relevant information trails in the search for the specific information needed to complete the task at hand. (The latter is something I tend to do). Many good Web designers will tell you that it's better to sketch out the site on paper before going to the computer. How many creative design ideas have been lost because of access to an array of pre-designed templates? The digital "have nots" just might turn out to be the best problem-solvers.

Again, I think time to play and experiment is valuable. Those open-ended searches have helped me. And socioeconomic status should not limit access to vital learning tools. But learning to be strategic in the use of resources and thinking more intensively about how knowledge can be represented just might be the up side of this dilemma while teachers wait for greater equity in access to technology.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Wagner's Question #4: Motivating Curiosity and Imagination

What do we need to do in our schools to motivate students to be curious and imaginative and to enjoy learning for its own sake?

It just occurred to me that this is a rather strange question. I have not yet seen a young child who is not curious. And while some have wilder imaginations than others, few need to be motivated to pretend and fantasize, to explore and experiment and invent. I agree with Sir Ken Robinson who says: "We are educating children out of their creative capacities" and that we need to "radically rethink the fundamental principles by which we are educating our children." At the 2008 Apple Education Leadership Summit, Robinson said that the current curriculum is "siloed to an extraordinary extent, which stills the connections between the disciplines, which are the heartbeat of a properly conceived form of creative education."

The video below is from The video of the Apple speech is at Edutopia.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Where is this blog going???

The purpose of this blog is to report and comment on the growing national awareness that education for the 21st century requires the development of creativity and innovation with an emphasis on how education in the arts belongs in the picture. This weekend while visiting the Adirondack Mountains, I arrived at the one-month mark of writing this blog. The new vista inspires me to step back and take stock—a practice I think I will do each month.

How well have I stuck to my stated purpose? Well, I think that the arts have not been brought into the conversation nearly enough. But maybe I need to establish the context first. The kinds of conversations that are going on about educational reform and the economy are relevant to my purpose.

What has been accomplished? Blogging just about every day for a month is a major accomplishment. I am getting into a rhythm. Also, I was thrilled to find that some people actually read some of this blog and to have the opportunity to interact with some members of social networks in education!

What has happened this month? Of course the election and the economic chaos are the big stories in the news. I am an Obama supporter for many reasons, but the ones relevant to this blog are that I think he is more willing and able to look to the future, he recognizes that we need transformation rather than changes here and there, and he seems to see the complexity of the issues we face and the need to broaden our repertoire of strategies instead of always falling back on fire power.

What next? Next month, I hope to spend more time on the state of arts education and why it should play a central role in educational renewal. Wagner's Question #4 (which I will address in my next post) is a perfect opportunity to do this: What do we need to do in our schools to motivate students to be curious and imaginative and to enjoy learning for its own sake?

Photo Credit: Photograph taken by Jared C. Benedict on 01 July 2004. Distributed under a Gnu Free Documentation License.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Wagner's Question #3: Assessment 2

"What are the best ways to know that students have mastered the skills that matter most? How do we create a better assessment and accountability system that gives us the information we need to ensure that all students are learning essential skills?"

First, thanks to Danny, a young teacher who commented on my October 16 post. It is good to see a reflective practitioner in the making. As a writer who supports education reform, I have the privilege of writing about the way things should be. I see the challenges teachers encounter when they try to bring new ideas into the complex environment of classrooms and am always in awe of those who innovate in the midst of those challenges. Like you, however, I see that "the same old way" of assessment has not yet lost its hold. One reason is that state accountability systems reward preparation for one-shot standardized testing, the primary purposes of which are
sorting students and judging teachers. But classroom-level barriers to implementing a variety of rich assessments, I think, also are a factor.

Rich assessment tasks call for systems to support new approaches to documentation of student learning. Providing teachers with time for gathering and analyzing evidence of learning is vital. Also, the power of technology needs to be tapped. With all of the innovations we have seen in computing, communications, and connectivity among devices, it is time for an intelligent device that teachers can use to collect and sort evidence of learning in its many forms, especially the learning that is displayed in the process of producing that final artifact that now is the sole focus of assessment in many classrooms.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wagner's Question #3: Assessment 1

"What are the best ways to know that students have mastered the skills that matter most? How do we create a better assessment and accountability system that gives us the information we need to ensure that all students are learning essential skills?"

I believe that assessment in skills such as creative thinking, critical thinking, and collaboration must be radically different. As yesterday's post about the Education Week article "States Press Ahead on '21st-Century Skills" (October 13) suggests, we have much more work to do on the context, culture, or environment surrounding student learning before reaching the point where state testing would tell us anything meaningful about students' thinking or collaborative skills.

I think the best use of state resources for promoting assessment of soft skills is investment in locally developed classroom-based assessments and in the "assessment for learning" model proposed by Richard Stiggins. In a November 2006 Kappan article (available at Assessment Training Institute Web site) he says: " . . . assessments must evolve from being isolated events to becoming events that happen in an ongoing, interconnected series so that patterns in student learning will be revealed. In this way, both the learner and the teacher will be able to discern not only the student’s current level of achievement, but also how much the student’s capabilities have improved, which is a powerful booster for confidence and motivation."

This will require intensive support for teacher learning, including time to develop the tasks/projects/contexts for such student work and measurement instruments. It will require many schools to change the culture surrounding assessment and I think that must occur apart from the pressures of artificial accountability. And it will require new tools and better use of technology. That is step one.

Standards and Soft Skills: Where are the Arts?

Building on the Education Week article discussed in yesterday's post:

Where are the arts? I think we should consider the possibility that high-quality instruction in the arts is a good way in itself to develop 21st century skills or at least that state standards for the fine arts are a good starting point for thinking about how to ensure that students develop their creative and critical thinking skills. Sure, making and performing art is not the only way to develop creativity and may even be ineffective with some students—but certainly, the arts are one of the most promising avenues to developing innovative thinkers and globally aware citizens. My view is that learning to practice an art is a form of literacy like learning to read and write. The arts are a way to acquire and convey information and ideas.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Standards and Creativity

On her Academy for Early Learning blog, Lois Feibus called attention to an article in Education Week about states responding to the call for 21st century skills like critical thinking, collaboration, and technological and global literacy. I was saddened to see that no state has connected to a rich resource that is already in place—their own fine arts standards or the national standards for the fine arts. Wisconsin's standards for art and design, for example, include such categories as ability to think, skill in communication, and cultural and aesthetic understanding. I hope Wisconsin is finding those standards to be a treasure house of ideas with myriad interdisciplinary possibilities. In my experience, most policy makers see that the arts provide rich ways of knowing and expression but are not making the connection to this important discussion of "future readiness."

Also, before assessment in 21st century skills becomes a state priority, I think a serious inquiry about the school environment is needed. Learn from the creative disciplines, including arts providers, the world of industrial design, journalists, and technology originators like Google about such questions as:
  • What kind of environment fosters creativity and innovation?
  • What are organizational barriers to creativity?
  • How do leaders promote good ideas among their staff members?
  • What are some roles in a creative organization?
  • What are some outside interactions that ensure good thinking?
Then start by implementing the answers in schools so that teachers will be able to model these 21st century skills. I think 21st century skills are already second nature to good teachers, but the system stifles those skills. It seems to me that assessment of critical thinking in the current system is like a company migrating critical functions to a new computer system before it trains its employees who will be using the new system.

What also worries me about a potential rush to state assessments is the possibility of unintended consequences. These "soft skills" cannot be quantified on a per student basis. Creativity and innovative thinking occur because a problem needs solved or something important needs to be said—not for extrinsic motivators.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Talk Summary and Comments: Stephen Heppell & Fundamental Change

I attended an online keynote speech by Professor Stephen Heppell, a professor at Bournemouth University in England. Called Europe's leading online education expert, Professor Heppell titled his talk “It Simply Isn’t the 20th Century Any More Is It?: So Why Would We Teach as Though It Was?” The video can be viewed at

Here are a couple of highlights I thought were especially powerful:
  • Now that technology can "do jolly well what we want," the challenge is not ‘what can we make the technology do?’ The challenge is ‘what do we want?’

  • He asserts that education as we know it—the factory model and the emphasis on productivity over community—needs to be completely replaced or schools will disintegrate. He says the signs are there and points to the indicators that preceded both the current financial crisis and the current trends in online learning.

  • He called attention to the big, BIG picture context of new technology and media: We are seeing fundamental change, which he says can be described as the end of oligarchy or, more simply, as the end of "they" and the beginning of "us." He linked this to the dominant paradigms of prehistory and more "primitive" civilizations, which were/are "not locked in a world of narrative linearity and ownership of knowledge."

  • He says we are witnessing "the death of education and the birth of learning."

As someone who spent much of the 90s writing about technological revolution, I was thinking about how that revolution was just the tip of the iceberg. So much attention was focused on that while all the structures of our society and how we think were being reconfigured.

I began to think about the ideas of the scientist Ilya Prigogine who many may remember was cited in Margaret J. Wheatley's Leadership and the New Science: Learning About Organization from an Orderly Universe (1992, Berrett-Koehler). I pulled out my copy and read that while it makes sense to stabilize machines and structures as a way to prevent deterioration, living systems (organizations) need non-equilibrium to change and grow because they exchange energy with their environments. Prigogine said living systems are "dissipative structures." In Wheatley's words, they "dissipate their energy in order to recreate themselves into new forms of organizations" (88).

In ecosystems, for example, external fluctuations in the environment exert great pressure on the system and the system uses its energy very inefficiently, but "as the ecosystem matures, it develops an internal stability, a resiliency to the environment that, in turn, creates conditions that support more efficient use of energy and protection from environmental demands"(92).

Wheatley applies these ideas to organizations. In the factory model, she says, "managers watched for departures from the norm so they could "make corrections and preserve the system at its current levels of activity"(78). Systems that are organized around core competencies but open to information from outside are less vulnerable to environmental disturbances. Their more fluid structure ultimately leads to an internal stability. As expressed by one scientist she quotes (Jantsch), "the more freedom in self-organization, the more order."

On other words, there is much more happening in education than a change in tools. Trying to impose the old factory model using new tools will not work. Openness, creativity and freedom to innovate are the system of learning that is being born as the old system of education dies.

Belousov-Zhabotinsky Reaction: A chemical reaction caused by changes in temperature and mix (disequilibrium)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Tag Cloud for Artful Innovation

I have been intrigued with tag clouds as not only great visuals for a Web site or blog but also good tools for editing my writing. I often cut and paste text I have written into a tag cloud generator (I like TagCrowd) It gives me an immediate look at how effectively I have used repetition of important words for emphasis (as well as whether I have been redundant in my use of language.) For this blog, I think it may help me see how well I am sticking to my stated purpose. (I know I am not doing so well in that respect yet but hope to improve.)

I have decided to add a tag cloud to the Artful Innovation blog. (It's at the bottom). It is based on all the text in entries up to the accompanying date. (I set it at 4 repetitions and the top 75 words total.) I will update it from time and am looking at doing a weekly version for the side column.

Here is one based on this week (2 repetitions, 25 words):

created at

Social Networking: My Experiences

I am beginning to see great possibilities for social networking in education. I have participated in various online groups for years but have never seen the commitment and collaborative spirit that I see at work on sites such as Classroom 2.0 and Fireside Learning.

Classroom 2.0 and School 2.0 were founded by Steve Hargadon, the director of the K12 Open Technologies Initiative at the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

Fireside Learning
: Conversations About Education, was started by Connie Weber, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher in Ann Arbor Michigan.
Another one that intrigues me is FieldFindr: Connecting Teachers to Global Citizens. David Truss, an educator in Vancouver, started this site as a way for teachers to connect to experts in various fields.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Wondering About Einstein

"When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge."
- Albert Einstein

I am intrigued by the fact that Albert Einstein attributed his groundbreaking scientific theories to both mathematics and imagination, that he played his violin every day, and that he once said “I often think in music.”

I wonder:

Did Einstein's love of music and his interest in so many divergent streams of 20th century life play a role in his amazing ability to perform thought experiments about the mysteries of time, space, light, and energy?

We'll never know. But few would discount the value of imagination and intuition in Einstein's work. And shouldn't we at least consider the possibility that his genius was somehow interwoven with his music?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ways of Knowing

A book called Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger discusses how our ways of organizing knowledge have changed due to hyperlinking capabilities. Knowledge is not longer a "thing" that we store in one place. This reduces the primacy of hierarchy.

I think this is true, and it is exciting, but we may be ignoring other realities. Using my old pre-Internet hyperlinking system (memory + pulling a book off the shelf) plus the synchronicity between our thoughts and what grabs our attention led to these three connections:

1) I remembered Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan's famous quote "The medium is the message," reflected a concern with the new medium of television. He meant to call attention to the idea that the media we use have their own effects on perception and consciousness that are independent of content.

2) I remembered Bill McKibben. In The Age of Missing Information, McKibben reports what he "learned" from a full day of watching television in contrast to what he learned during a day spent outdoors—and asserts that we are becoming ignorant about information that has meant the survival of our species.

3) I was reading philosopher/poet John O'Donohue and this passage jumped out at me:
"We were once enwombed in the earth and the silence of the body remembers that dark, inner longing. Fashioned from clay, we carry the memory of the earth. Ancient, forgotten things stir within our hearts, memories from the time before the mind was born. Within us are depths that keep watch. These are depths that no words can trawl or light unriddle. Our neon times have neglected and evaded the depth-kingdoms of interiority in favor of the ghost realms of cyberspace. We have unlearned the patience and attention of lingering at the thresholds where the unknown awaits us. We have become haunted pilgrims addicted to distraction and driven by the speed and colour of images" (pages 33-34 in Beauty: The Invisible Embrace).

The Brain Revolution

Interesting Discussion. Here are some highlights:

Paul Nussbaum, Neuroscientist, University of Pittsburgh: Neuroplasticity—the brain can grow and generate new cellular connections in an enriched environment. School systems represent brain health centers. Curriculum is a prescription. The brain receives information through all five sensory pathways. Integration of different forms of information creates a new type of intelligence that, if applied in ways that are unpredictable to the learner, leads to the most sophisticated types of learning. Good teachers understand how to stimulate the brain to realize its potential and how to integrate with other areas. In 2050, there will be gadgets that work with the brain.

Marc Prensky, Author of Digital Game-based Learning: Today’s students think and process information in fundamentally different ways. They are more comfortable with multitasking. Doing is very motivating. They like the interactivity and rapid change of games. School is where we keep kids safe while their parents work. Education is learning, which often happens after school as they use technology, play games. Good teachers will do more than just teach. They will have multiple roles. The right thing to do, how to do it, and how to get it done skills. Interacting with other people, technology, machinery. Interact on a world level. Creativity will be a big factor going forward. In 2050, text will be an artifact. Audio and video, even making art, will be more common than putting squiggles on a page.

Eric Grant, KnowledgeWorks Foundation: Why not pick the learning style in the age of learning that fits the learner best? A good teacher will be someone who knows how to identify the most effective learning styles of individuals and then connect them with people and resources. Schools in 2050 will need to be participatory, personalized, post-national.

George Siemens, Learning Technologies Center in Manitoba: Educators need to do the unlearning. They need to think about what we need education to be. We don’t yet understand the problem. Schools need to educate students for complex systems—problems that have not yet been answered.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Wagner's Question 2: Academic Rigor

How might our definition of academic rigor need to change in the age of the information explosion?

Today’s test- and text-book driven rigor is built upon a foundation of basic literacy and mathematical skills but is primarily content-focused. I think it creates the illusion that hierarchical classification of information is the heart of acquiring knowledge. It is based on what David Perkins of Harvard’s Project Zero calls an “export paradigm.” Students are gaining knowledge and skills for use in the future. In a society where few adults are able to delay gratification for very long, children are asked to labor over math problems so that they might some day be able to do something useful for themselves or someone else. In contrast, an import paradigm uses knowledge now in "serious endeavors."

The academic rigor we need consists of challenging, complex, interesting questions and problems that require students to use the full range of their intellectual abilities. Often these challenges will be interdisciplinary and open-ended, allowing for differences in students’ abilities, thinking styles, and interests. Such challenges will motivate students to read, write, and think mathematically because students will care about the problem and desired outcome and will be invested. But students who struggle in those areas will still be able to learn and express ideas in alternative ways as a scaffold for broader literacy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Scenario Building: Useful in Education?

In The Art of the Long View, Peter Schwartz discusses the use of scenarios as business tools. He defines a scenario as "a tool for ordering one's perceptions about alternative future environments in which one's decisions might be played out." Scenarios are not predictions but rather tools for helping people learn. They use today's trends, opportunities and challenges as the basis for alternative narratives about the future. Schwartz, who used scenarios at Royal Dutch Shell (oil) and other large corporations, says they help "make significant elements of the world scene stand out boldly" and help managers develop "a knowledgeable sense of risk and reward." They can be helpful in developing alternative perspective and identifying assumptions that are limiting progress.

Briefly, the scenario process is as follows:
  • Isolate the decision you want to make.

  • Analyze key factors that would affect the decisions: both predetermined elements and more uncertain ones.

  • Try out different plots and rehearsing the implications for your decision.

  • Develop a range of two or three potential futures and discuss them.

Documentation Fuels Imagination

Arnold Aprill, founding and creative director of the Chicago Arts Partnership in Education, spoke to a group of Ohio Arts Council teaching artists in Columbus to encourage more documentation of their residencies in schools. "Too much important work just disappears," he says. "People oppose our work because they can't imagine what we are talking about."

Aprill demonstrated how teachers and teaching artists can use a digital camera to capture images and video throughout the process. Simply walking around and taking photos of the work and switching to video mode and asking students to talk about what they have learned is easy and can be a powerful start.

Aprill also urged artists and teachers to commit to more writing and publications about their work and to make the work public. He talked about a solar-powered model of the neighborhood created by students in one school. The little houses, which were the product of an interdisciplinary design process that included participation by parents, were installed outside the school. One resident of the neighborhood said that she had never before seen art on display.

A Day with Teaching Artists

As editor of Links & Threads, an Ohio Arts Council publication for school leaders and their arts partners, I have many opportunities to visit and talk with people about exemplary arts education programs. One of my favorite experiences is an annual meeting of teaching artists who spend anywhere from one day to two weeks working with teachers and students in Ohio's schools. This group is inspiring for a number of reasons:
  • Though they are passionate about their work as artists, their residencies are clearly about the kids. They share their skills with students but they also think deeply about the meaning of the students' creative work.
  • They are genuinely interested in each other's work and ideas.
  • They bring their artistic sensibility even to non-arts areas. When a speaker gave an update about budget cuts and urged the group to write letters, they started to think about new possibilities. One artist suggested that everyone use their art to make a statement to share with the Governor.
We need more thinking like this in every area of life.