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?

Do you Doodle?

Visual-NotetakingOne of the speakers at the NAIS Annual Conference was Sunni Brown, champion of doodling as a valued form of thinking – both process thinking and representative thinking. She spoke about visual literacy.  As a long-time doodler myself (literally decades of fostering…and sometimes hiding or resisting…this habit) I wanted to scream and jump and applaud her for shedding light on how important visual representation is. Think about your students who doodle and consider thinking innovatively about how to channel their need to put pen to paper and produce a picture towards learning…instead of trying to shut them down. Can joy around visual representation produce greater focus, investment, and engagement in learning? I believe it can! Enjoy these thought-provoking resources from Sunni:

Sunni Brown’s Website

New York Times: Uncovering an Enigma Wrapped in a Doodle

TED Talk: Doodlers, Unite!

Book: The Doodle Revolution: Unlocking the Power to Think Differently

Book: Gamestorming: A Playbook For Innovators, Rule Breakers, & Game Changers

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

Imagination & ADHD

Cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman is doing some fascinating brain-based research on the processes of imagination and creativity….and finding that there are striking similarities between the brain function of those in “imagination mode” and individuals diagnosed with ADHD. From the article The Innovative and Creative Power of ADHD:

“Where does innovation, invention, or creativity come from? The brain’s default mode network, which controls cognitive processes like perspective taking, daydreaming, and mind wandering, is most active when mind is resting…and this part of the brain is more active in people diagnosed with ADHD…In a way, you can actually conceptualize that people with ADHD have an overactive imagination as opposed to a learning disability…Based on the research available, Kaufman says that the way our educational psychiatric systems view ADHD may be seriously flawed…recent studies show that behavior educators identify as “disruptive” and “creative” often overlap.”

How can we create learning environments, both in and out of school, that proactively value and foster imagination and creativity? How do we need to change our perspective as adults so that we see the behavior of children (with ADHD or not) as complex and multi-faceted, always telling a richer story than labeling can often tell? Can we change our perspective to see ADHD as an asset, rather than a hindrance, to a learner’s development? In Kaufman’s words:

“You could conceptualize people with the ADHD label as explorers—imagine being an explorer trapped in an educational classroom where the teacher is saying, ‘Pay attention to me and don’t explore,’” he says. “It drives them nuts.”

For THEIR Future

“We need to prepare students for their future, not our past.” – Daniel Pink

Daniel Pink’s oft-repeated words serve as a constant reminder of our work as educators and parents. This video states:

“We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist…using technologies that haven’t been invented in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”

It is our role to provide children with skill sets that go beyond information – skill sets that are transferable and can be relied on for whatever challenges, problems, and careers lie ahead in their future. As parents and educators partner in this quest – here are a couple useful resources. The first is a small booklet titled 101.3 Ways to Build Creativity. Within you’ll find numerous creativity, construction-based, collaboration-requiring activities that may prove useful in your work with students. Some samples:

  • Place a yardstick across six people’s index fingers parallel to the floor. Try and lower the stick to the floor, you will be surprised how difficult it is!
  • Create a tabletop game for two people using a pin pong ball, paper clips, and tape. Define the rules and scoring and how to wine the game.
  • Make a device that can place a penny in a cup without allowing any team member to be within 30 inches of the cup. You may use popsicle sticks, paper cups, string, tape, straws, spaghetti, and marshmallows in your solution. See how many pennies can be put in the cup in two minutes.
  • And 98.3 more!

The second resource is an article from the latest issue of Independent School magazine titled Education for Innovation: Teaching Children How to Change the World. The authors write,

“Students need to feel empowered to go out into the world and solve its problems. In essence, we want to figure out how to produce future innovators.”

The article highlights some key qualities that characterize innovation. Qualities of innovation are nurtured not just through STEAM activities, but throughout the large and small moments of children’s days and in many of the things you do with your students/children. Innovation is a habit of mind, not a discrete set of facts that can be memorized. It is a muscle, and as such must be worked and practiced to be strengthened and honed for the work that lies in both the near and long term. The article references Google Vice President Susan Wojciciki’s eight pillars of innovation, the conditions which need to be present for innovation to flourish and thrive:
Have a mission that matters: “If we want our students to not only have big ideas but also to learn how to run with those ideas, we need to start talking about things that matter.”
Think big, but start small: “By seeking volunteers and not issuing a top-down mandate, we assembled a team who were not only interested in integrating creative problem solving into their lesson plans, but who also wanted to re-envision our campus culture.”
Strive for continual innovation, not instant perfection: “If we want our students to become innovators, we have to inspire them to continuously improve upon their work. That’s hard to do when so many young people are programmed to work for the highest grade possible, achieve it, and move on to the next assignment.”
Look for ideas everywhere: “If we really believe that good ideas can come from anywhere, we’ve got to be open to listening to even the smallest voices.”
Share everything: “Our goal is for the way we teach innovation to affect our entire community.”
Spark with imagination, fuel with data: “We want our students to learn to listen to their hearts and their heads in equal measure.”
Be an open platform: “Rather than protect our intellectual property, let’s layer our ideas on top of each other and see if we can produce a generation of innovators who make breakthroughs that matter.”

 

Making School Look Like Real Life

Read this thoughtful blog post by educator & innovator Bo Adams who asks and begins to answer, “If school is supposed to prepare students for real life, then why doesn’t school look more like real life?”

Click here for a classroom teacher’s review of Tony Wagner’s book, Creating Innovators