On Connection, Devices, & Empathy

A recent New York Times article titled “Stop Googling. Lets Talk.” lays out a compelling case for greater intentionality in how and when we make use of our portable devices.

How can we purposefully create environments where children learn to make decisions about these tools and use them (or NOT!) for the good of themselves and others?

Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.

In schools and at home, how do we recommit ourselves to the priceless value of authentic human connection?

We’ve gotten used to being connected all the time, but we have found ways around conversation — at least from conversation that is open-ended and spontaneous, in which we play with ideas and allow ourselves to be fully present and vulnerable. But it is in this type of conversation — where we learn to make eye contact, to become aware of another person’s posture and tone, to comfort one another and respectfully challenge one another — that empathy and intimacy flourish. In these conversations, we learn who we are.

More than anything, our children and students need to know who they are and who those around them are. Without self-knowledge and awareness of others no meaningful or lasting difference can be made in the world.

What if we asked questions instead of setting goals?

As a faculty we’ve been exploring the idea of abandoning goal statements in favor of rephrasing them as thoughtful questions. This emphasizes the process rather than the product, invites the learning community into the conversation, and opens up the question-asker to a variety of possible answers that might otherwise have remained unexplored.

I encourage you to click through this engaging presentation that distills Warren Berger’s book A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas into a digestible fifteen-minutes.

Where is there space for questions in your work/life?

“Always the beautiful answer / who asks a more beautiful question.”

—e.e. cummings

The Innovation School

I had the opportunity to visit NuVu Studio: The Innovation School last week in Cambridge, MA. NuVu is doing a number of remarkable things in partnership with Beaver Country Day School, which sends approximately 30 high school students each trimester to the NuVu campus to spend 8 weeks deeply engaged in the innovation & design thinking process.

design thinkingEach session has a theme. The theme for this past winter session was “health”. Students engaged in 2-week-long projects that explored different problematic prompts. I had the opportunity to speak with Laurel and hear her share about an incredibly innovative product designed to promote health by servicing a need that people face when they are on the brink of death. backcountryIVLaurel and her group engaged in the complete design thinking process (as depicted in the above graphic) multiple times over to ultimately produce a functional and portable IV kit that attaches to a nalgene bottle and is able to filter, sterilize, and heat a water solution for combating hypothermia in backcountry or high altitude circumstances when emergency responders may be a long way off. I invite you to learn, through text and images, more about her group’s project by viewing their online portfolio.

While the product itself was captivating to me given my love of the outdoors and penchant for mountaineering, what was even more riveting was unique and transferable skill set these high school students had gained in a few short weeks (and those heavily interrupted by winter weather at that!). The NuVu students learned and practiced the skills of:

  • Asking thought provoking questions of each other and relevant experts.
  • Collaboratively approaching a problem, learning to leverage the strengths of each group member for the success of the team and the project.
  • Navigating obstacles, whether they be challenges in design, technology, group dynamics, or thought…persevering through the iterative process of design thinking to the resultant end of a workable prototype.
  • Increasing facility with a wide variety of different tools and skills that traditionally take full high school or college courses to master. Students did not enter the doors of NuVu with the ability to use 3D printers and its associated software, wield laser cutters, examine swaths of computer code for errors, complete wiring and electrical circuits, discuss medical diagnoses, and more. However they left with confidence and competence to use their resources to get the answers they need to continue moving the design thinking process forward.
  • Confidently advocating for their perspective and approach.
  • Communicating their thinking verbally, via a variety of multimedia tools, and in articulate text to convey process, possibilities, and product.

When given the time, the freedom, and the tools to focus on a single problem the ideas nuvugenerated by these young minds were unbelievably impressive. These students used high-level skills in all curriculum areas (mathematics, programming, writing, reading, science, history, communications, etc.) throughout their work.  It begs the question, how can we make this incredibly valuable, transformative, and applicable-to-the-future experience more broadly available in independent schools? What creativity is lost by requiring completion of a set course of study before students are presented with real-world dilemmas? What lives could be saved or bettered if children, who are often deep wells of empathy, were given meaningfully structured opportunities in their education to truly unleash the power of their intellect and creativity? What lessons does the NuVu Studio have for us that we can apply to ensure that our children are prepared for THEIR future…and not our past?

Everything in Moderation

Since the proliferation of screens (big and small) began to sky rocket, health and science professionals have been trying to get a handle on the impacts of screen time on the health, wellness, and development of children and adults. As screens take hold in classrooms as well, being abreast of the most recent research and up-to-date findings (positive and negative) regarding screen time is necessary. Best parenting and teaching practices are constantly evolving – and though rules or recommended restrictions may shift in small and large ways…the take away should really be quality over quantity and everything in moderation.

An Update on Screen Time – NPR

“Zero to Three, a nonprofit research organization focused on infants, toddlers and their families, published Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight. The report summarized existing research and encouraged child-adult interactions. Screen time is most effective when adults and children use electronic devices together, it said…There is no definitive set of rules — the research and our perception is evolving.”

Common Sense, Science-based Advice on Toddler Screen Time
Small Screens Mess With Children’s Sleep, Study Finds

“The issue seems to be that children with screens (large or small) present in the bedroom go to bed later than those without. The children all woke up at the same time to go to school. The study doesn’t go as far as figuring out what specifically about the screens kept the the children from sleeping. NPR explains: This study wasn’t designed in a way that could figure out what was causing the sleep loss and tiredness — whether the kids were actually using the devices thus exposing themselves to light and stimulating content, say, or whether getting calls or alerts during the night interrupted sleep”

 

 

Believe in Possibilities, Get Happy, & Slow Down

There’s nothing like the impending New Year to send the web into a fierce storm of retrospectives and Top Ten (or any other number) lists reflecting on the highlights of 2014. So, I’m jumping on the bandwagon. Here are some (six, if you’re counting) of my favorite things worth noodling on as we hit the “refresh” button for another year.

2014: The Year in Ideas – An 8 minute recap of the most watched, most powerful, most moving TED talks of 2014. Prepare to have your curiosity piqued and your excitement ignited for the ideas ahead in 2015.

NASA Emails Working Wrench to Space Station – Wait, what?! This is just too cool. 3-D printers are being used to manufacture tools to suit the need-of-the-minute for astronauts troubleshooting in space. Need a tool? No problem – have that to you in an e-jiffy. Another reason to think carefully and innovatively about the future we are preparing our children/students for.

What Believing in the Possibilities can Do for Teaching & Learning – Meaningful, connected relationships and positive, authentic beliefs matter. Growth mindset. Growth mindset. Growth mindset.

TED Talk: The Surprising Science of Happiness – Whoa….a person can be happy when they don’t get what they want? Equally happy? EVEN MORE HAPPY?! Amazing stuff about the power you have to define and actualize your own happiness.

Women In Science Illustrations – An incredible look at one artist’s representation of key female figures in the history of science. Graphic design + inspiring women advancing the field of science = even more reasons to go forth into the new year ready to meet what comes.

Why We Need to Slow Down – Pause. Read it. Go slower.

Do you have what it takes to be hired?

When our students/children begin their post-schooling job search it will without a doubt look/feel differently than it does today. The landscape of types of careers, companies hiring, and qualifications needed will have changed (multiple times over, even). It is difficult to predict, and thus imperative that we prepare children who are versatile, creative, and confident thinkers, collaborators, and communicators. An article published by Forbes earlier this year, How Google Picks New Employees (Hint: It’s Not About Your Degree), highlights the changing nature of career paths and the nature of skills we deem most “employable.” The article references How To Get a Job at Google written by Thomas L. Friedman in the New York Times. In order of least to greatest importance the currently most employable qualities according to Google (and transferably to other cutting edge companies) are:

5. Expertise: However, Google executives have found expertise pales in comparison to the other attributes below.

“Experts are more likely to simply default to the tried-and-true…there’s a much higher likelihood that they will strongly defend their existing point of view when questioned, rather than being curious…their identity is all too often wrapped up in being the authority, vs. finding a better solution.”

 

4. Ownership: This means individuals who are proactive and navigate obstacles innovatively and confidently go beyond a mindset of “Just tell me what to do.”

“They look for people who take responsibility for solving problems and moving the enterprise forward – who feel passionate about making things work…it’s a huge disadvantage to have employees who are passive doers of tasks and order-takers.  You need people who are internally motivated to figure out how to make things better.”

 

3. Humility:

“You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time…when someone has both these qualities – a fierce drive to make things better combined with a welcoming attitude, an assumption that others have as much to offer, or more – that person tends to be both enormously effective individually and a wonderfully useful member of any team.”

2. Leadership: At every level and in both small everyday and larger significant ways.

1. Ability to Learn:

“Pure learning ability – the ability to pick up new things, to learn on the fly, to find patterns in disparate pieces of information and take the next step – is the number one thing hiring managers at Google have learned to look for in candidates. In the very wise and prescient words of Ari De Geus (he said this in the mid 90s): “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”

To be clear, I don’t want jobs at Google for all, or even most, of our students/children. Google is representative of an innovative company that has successfully navigated the tricky waters of a changing global market and community. There will be many such innovative companies in the near and distant future.

I want our students/children to be as prepared as possible for the future that awaits them. I want our students/children to have the opportunity to choose a career (or maybe many over their working years) that inspires them and is fulfilling. I want them to have the freedom as highly skilled learners & doers to walk through a variety of doors that are open to them, rather than being restricted as specialists to permanently walk a narrowly defined path. These hopes & dreams I have for the future of our students includes looking at how innovative companies are approaching hiring NOW, and trying to predict how that will shift in the coming years…adjusting what we value and how we instill excellence of knowledge, character, and habits in our current student population. It means becoming more skilled learners and generalists ourselves as adults

Skimming vs. Absorbing Meaning & 3 new Rs

It was not THAT long ago that smart phones were a rare luxury found in the hands of high-powered entrepreneurs and financiers. Today they fall out of the half-zipped backpacks of young children and are left forgetfully behind by over-scheduled adults. We touch them within minutes of waking up, and turn screens off just moments before falling asleep. We fear missing out. We fear a great catastrophe if we aren’t instantly accessible….but didn’t nearly everyone who can read this post grow up in an era where if you left your house, you weren’t reachable until you returned?

It begs the question: what are we teaching our children and students about meaningful living and learning?

Two articles related to this question (links and excerpts shared below) recently caught my attention. As per usual, the most balanced perspectives on digital tools and media at all levels of education and in daily living are those that advocate for wisdom, moderation, and well-informed intentionality in the lives of both children and adults. If research shows that meaningful living and learning happen in the context of relationships, resilience, and reflection…how are we cultivating THOSE 3 Rs? It behooves us all to think carefully about what we are modeling for children about balance, presence, and self-care.

New York Times: A Conversation With Goucher’s New President

“Transparency improves learning. If you tell students that what they’re doing is critical thinking, they retain it more than if you don’t name it. We know a lot about what works. For example, using a highlighter when you read doesn’t increase student learning; what does is reading the chapter, then taking out an index card and putting it in your own words. We talk about the three Rs: relationships, resilience and reflection. If you increase those things, students will learn more, and teaching content becomes less important. We don’t have to teach you the periodic table because there’s a guy online who teaches it. But those guys online don’t know the names of their students. And there’s hard evidence that students learn more when they feel you know and care about them.” – Dr. José Antonio Bowen

Washington Post: Are You Really Here? Or Are You Skimming?

“It is hard to be okay with letting things drop: being late, or messy or uncomfortable or letting little ones feel impatient. It is hard to feel that you cannot help them all or do it all. It is a hard truth borne from a slowly evolving realization that doing less can, in fact, mean more…As we increasingly read on screens, our reading habits have adapted to skim text rather than really absorb the meaning…Do you know this feeling? It is the difference between sitting at the table versus being at it, or putting them to bed versus tucking them in. It is the difference between eating your food versus tasting it or raising your kids versus enjoying them.” – Jennifer Meer