Friday, May 13, 2011

Between Sessions at TEDxGR

I was lucky enough to get an invite and attend TEDxGR this week. It was my first TED experience and was definitely the best conference I have ever been to. I would highly recommend attending any TED conference that you have an opportunity to, but especially here in Grand Rapids.
by TEDxGrandRapids
One of the best parts for me was talking to one of the speakers Mickey McManus of MAYA between sessions. He presented on human centered design as a new literacy (more on that in another post).

He told myself and a few other attendees several stories but what struck me most was the interview questions of new hires that he shared. He said that at Maya they have two core interview questions:
1. Tell us about a time you failed.

If  the person being interviewed has to think way back to college or the beginning of their career, Maya is not interested in hiring them. If they use the pronoun "we" a lot and do not take personal responsibility for the failure they are not interested.

If the person tells a story of failure from the past couple of weeks or months and they use the pronoun "I" taking personal responsibility for the failure then Maya is very interested in hiring that person.

In design they use the mantra fail often, fail early. That way when the time comes that it matters you will succeed.

2. Tell us about when you did the impossible.

This question matters because past results are best indicator of future performance. Failing alone is not enough if it does not ultimately lead to success. He said that it doesn’t matter if the task was really impossible because of course it wasn’t since they completed it. What matters is that they thought it was impossible and achieved it.

I think there are huge implications for education in these questions. We need to give teachers and students permission to experiment and fail often. Worksheets and test prep will not get this done. Students need to create their own solutions to authentic problems and test them over and over. Students need to feel safe and encouraged to take chances with creative solutions and they need to understand that failing is not a permanent state but a step in the direction of finding a working solution. Then students will develop the quality of resilience, which Mickey pointed out is one of the back bones of what has made our country great in the face of challenges and tragedy. 

Secondly how often do we give students the opportunity to solve impossible problems? Too often they are given worksheets or assignments that they know the answers are in an answer key somewhere. Students need to be challenged with legitimate questions that the teacher does not know the answer to and have multiple solutions waiting to be discovered. Students need the chance to confront things like poverty, clean water, war, genocide, starvation, and the environment. If we challenged students to do the impossible I believe we would see an increase in both motivation and achievement as students rose to the task.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Narcissus in the Garden of Malcontent

My church had this piece in it today by Corey Van Duinen called "Narcissus in the Garden of Malcontent." It was an entry in art prize last year. It is made of different kinds of wood. Notice his footwear and what he is listening to. I wish I could copy hear what Corey wrote describing the piece about how technology can be used to connect but often leaves us alone and ignoring our beautiful surroundings. He was not condemning tech but showing the tension between how it makes our lives better vs. how it isolates us and causes us to miss out on things.

I thought it was interesting how he used ancient Greek mythology to speak about a modern ethical issue. This juxtaposition demonstrates a complex understanding of both the current tension of technological change and the meaning of the original story. I would gladly accept this as a final project in a social studies class. We need more art in all classes and we need to look beyond bubble sheets for a demonstration of students' knowledge of content.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Off topic today

I really missed the classroom today. I was sitting in the first day of three days of Project Based Learning training. It was good training and I have been looking forward to it, but the death of Osama Bin Laden was what I longed to be discussing. I saw a tweet about a guy who unknowingly live-tweeted the attack. I was fascinated by this story and was reading his timeline when the instructor asked us to focus by closing our laptops. It was really hard for me to oblige. It was also hard for me to concentrate on the topics all day.

What I really wanted to do today was discuss the history behind Osama and terrorism. I wanted to set aside lesson plans and talk about the results of this event in the U.S. but more particularly abroad. I would have loved to talk to students about what they think the reactions will be in the Middle East, the role of Pakistan in all of this, and the decision to bury Osama at sea. I wanted to show students how to use social media to track what is going on in other parts of the world and how they can learn from the primary sources themselves.

Today was a social studies teacher's dream. Students automatically coming to class wanting to talk about your subject (its like a weatherman during a giant storm) These opportunities don't happen everyday and don't last. I missed the classroom today, but I can't wait until next year!

But it always comes back to students for me. How many times is the lesson that we have prepared not what students need for that day? Maybe because of personal issues at home their mind is elsewhere or maybe they are really interested in learning something different. We rarely give students options to steer their learning. The least we can do is to be flexible to give space to discuss current events.