PROCESS POST: Curiosity is the tap root of innovation and deep learning.

So you never know where curiosity-based research will lead…. Robert Full: The secrets of nature’s grossest creatures channeled into robots.

Observe. Question. Experiment. Associate. Network. (from Innovator’s DNA)

Is your school interested, even peripherally, in nurturing innovators? If so, then have you studied and analyzed how exactly your programs and your people make space and opportunity for your learners to originate their studies and pursuits from their own curiosities?

On balance, are your student learners pursuing more questions posed and originated by the adults and the teachers, by way of the curriculum? What degree of a student’s time (day, week, month, year) is “arranged” by what that student finds curious — and from a point of origin of his or her own initiated observing and questioning? Do you actually examine such statistics about yourself?

Today, when I got home, my wife and partner Anne-Brown told me a story of our boys creating home-made pizzas this afternoon using tortillas, tomato sauce, and some cheese from the fridge. At first it did not taste so great to them, so they added some additional spices and stuff. JT declared, “This is the best pizza I’ve ever tasted.”

Then, the boys proceeded to create a restaurant and menu from their cooking and dining experience. A-B says Jackson wrote out menu items for over half an hour. The boys created a name and a motto and a basic visual feel for their eatery. As she retold the story, she noted, “If I had started by asking Jackson to write for 30 minutes, he would have likely wailed and gnashed teeth. But he wrote for a sold half hour on his menu ideas.”

And I said, “You just summarized in a couple of sentences what my career has been about for the last 10-15 years.” This anecdote showcases a fair amount of what I mean when I ponder school looking more like “real life.”

“You never know where curiosity-based research will lead.”

From observation and questioning, Robert Full’s robotics lab experimented with some pretty amazing robust systems turned mechanical. By associating insect movement specs with robotic possibilities, and by networking with other inquiring seekers, Full may just discover a major breakthrough that uncovers an insight that did not exist before and makes possible a significant impact in prosthetics, transportation, or some other field.

And it likely started with curiosity. Not necessarily an already neatened assignment in a single-domain subject area.

Hmmm. Gotta be a school lesson there, right?!


[Cross-posted on Inquire Within]

What narrative do we hope school-age students share about “school?” #WhatIfWeekly

Summer is the time of adventures, exploring what is out in the world that you really enjoy. Then you come back to the fall with a good basic foundation to start the school year ready for action. It is almost like the true beginning of the year is the summer because it is when you really start learning and preparing for the next year. – High School (Rising) Sophomore, from her blog

It’s an interesting narrative, isn’t it? Worthy of much reflection and inquiry. Is it the narrative we educators really want school students to have? That summer is the time of adventures – the seasonal time in our annual cycle to explore in the world that which “you really enjoy?”

What if school-age students perceived school to be the time of adventures and the time to explore that which we really enjoy? What if we reverse engineered from that desired outcome? What if we backwards designed from that narrative? What if the content, competencies, and motivations (HT @DrTonyWagner) that we know to constitute deeper, lifelong learning and citizenship formed the bedrock of formalized schooling? What if play, passion, and purpose (HT #2 to @DrTonyWagner) were more deliberately woven into the tapestry of what we call the academic year? What if summer were not the sole domain of adventure and exploring “the world that you really enjoy?”

PROCESS POST: Why Over How or The Why:How Ratio

Here’s a challenge, or experiment, for us school people to try. As we teach, administrate, facilitate learning, etc., for the next week or so, keep a tally of how much we are focused on the WHY versus the HOW.

For example, in math class, as we instruct on the lessons of linear inequality or side-angle-side geometry, are we more focused on HOW to do the math or WHY we are doing such math?

In an upper-grades course or elementary-classroom topic like history, perhaps it helps to switch the HOW to WHAT, and play out the same basic experiment. Are we more focused on WHAT happened, or are we spending as much time on the SO WHAT?

During a faculty meeting, perhaps we should be spending more minutes discussing and activating implementation around such things as WHY we assess, in addition to working on HOW we assess.

In recently reviewing a syllabus of a highly respected colleague, I marveled at a section of norms and philosophies that influence how this teacher – this learning facilitator – approaches the learning and teaching moments.

Why Over How – I heard it said once the, “The people who know how will always work for the people who know why.” I hope to equip students with the tools to understand why to use a particular font, cut here in a video, or design a menu in this way. In the age of technological accessibility knowing how is important, but the pursuit of why is the greater challenge that I hope to teach.

Certainly, the thinking above has great influence on why I feel so strongly about transdisciplinary education, contextual pedagogy, design thinking, #Synergy, and other threads of the tapestry blurring lines between “school” and “real life.”

For in capital-P PBL (Project-based learning, and, for me, the overarching organizer of the approaches in the previous paragraph), the WHY drives the voyage and motivates the journey. The HOW comes as the need-to-knows reveal themselves from the intrinsic lurches compelled by the WHYs.

If you conduct such an experiment and count your moments of focus on the WHY versus the HOW, then I’d love to read feedback on your WHY:HOW ratio.

PROCESS POST: Contemplating innovation, homework, practice…and their intersections. An Example. Iteration Three.

A Peek Into Contrasting Homework Assignments

Homework, Option 1

  • In your algebra book, in chapter 7, section 4, do the odd problems. Be sure to show your work. If the assignment takes you longer than 45 minutes of singularly concentrated effort, stop where you are at three-quarters of an hour of working.
  • For social studies, read chapter 12, section 3, and respond to the three “Thought Questions” on page 192.
  • [more like this from your subject-organized classes]

Homework, option 2

[Underlying assumption: the below example is more scaffolded due to the type of academic and school environment that the student learners are used to, and because of the timing of where we are (in the hypothetical scenario) in the traditional school year – early in the cycle. As capacity builds, learners would be less directed and more self-sufficient.]

  • EQ: What is beauty?
  • Observe: As you go through the next 10 days, record in your observation journal instances of your thinking related to our current priority essential question. If appropriate and responsible, take pictures of things you find beautiful and make some notes about why. Ask others what they think, too. Because we are near the beginning of this experience together, I can suggest that the VTR (visible thinking routine) “See, Think, Wonder” might be one way to frame your ethnography notes. Of course, you can devise your own strategy (and you’ll be asked to do this more and more as you practice your Innovators DNA skills); if I, or some other mentor/peer, can help with your observation-strategy plan, let me/them know. Ask questions. We’ll share and review our “Game Plans” and “Gantt Charts” in two days, so we can see various strategies and plans.
  • Question:
    • Record the questions that arise for you as you detail your observations. I don’t want to overly constrain your thinking by suggesting specifics now, but let someone know if you feel yourself in some unresolved struggle about “What kinds of questions should be arising for me?”
    • In relation to your subject-organized classes, tag at least some of your questions by the department name(s) for which those questions seem particularly connected. For example, “What percentage of the population finds this painting beautiful?” might suggest a “Math” tag for a statistics portion of your emerging project.
  • Experiment:
    • Of course, you’ll be experimenting with your observation-strategy plan.
    • Also, use your observation notes to scan for trends and patterns. What hypotheses on beauty seem to emerge for you? Begin to outline – in big-picture terms – the experimental methods you might use to test your hypotheses. If it helps, pretend you are on staff with Myth Busters, like we’ve talked about during our f2f time together.
  • Network & Associate:
    • Suggestion 1 (if needed) – read and comment on the observation-journal entries posted by some of the others in this learning cohort.
    • Suggestion 2 (if needed) – find connections in your independent reading and link to nodes in your learning web on this EQ.
    • Suggestion 3 (if needed) – explore the playlist “6 TED Talks on beauty” and/or listen to the TED Radio Hour episode “What is beauty?
    • What are your suggestions regarding networking and associating with this EQ?

What are your thoughts, reader?


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Related Posts in This Thinking Path:

PROCESS POST: Contemplating innovation, homework, practice…and their intersections. +Awe. Iteration Two.

We have a responsibility to awe.

What if the molten foundations of K12 “homework” – if we must give it – were poured into and formed by the molds and casts of the Innovator’s DNA verbs?

  • Observe
  • Question
  • Experiment
  • Network
  • Associate

How might we better nurture our learners’ responsibility to awe? Our own responsibility to awe?

[Hat tip to David Cannon for the video!]

What’s our balance like, as educators…as schools, for utilizing homework to “go through the motions” vs. “inspire awe” at our condition as humans? How might we rebalance our scales?


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PROCESS POST: Contemplating innovation, homework, practice…and their intersections. Iteration One.

The Balance (mini)Series