Thinking like a child – it may be exactly what we adults need! #21C

So, I just watched a newly posted TED talk by Alison Gopnik: What do babies think?

Throughout the talk, I was fascinated by the experimentation that she implemented in order to test her hypotheses about baby cognition. Looking at the totality of her results, Gopnik posits that babies can decipher what others are thinking, that babies think more like a lantern than a spotlight, and that babies naturally experiment and hypothesize and prototype to test their understanding of the world.

Listening to Gopnik, I found connection with her talk and Tom Wujec’s Marshmallow Challenge – the key to building better things is experimenting, failing, and prototyping improvements. It turns out that kindergarteners are really quite good at this reiterative learning.

Additionally, I was reminded of Steven Johnson’s The Innovator’s Cookbook, in which he encourages us to “get a little lost” and “play each other’s instruments.” By placing ourselves in novel situations, we can deliberately disorient ourselves and return to our “baby brains.” When we are young, we are all artists, inventors, astronauts, and aliens! Unfortunately, too many of us unlearn these perceptions about ourselves.

We have a great many transitions and transformations to make in school and the ways in which school is structured. I believe our world demands us to re-imagine “school.” Just today, one of the student-learners in Synergy 8 posted this pondering on our group Posterous:

How much in school has changed since the 1800’s?

Posted by  josephka to Synergy-8-2011-12-S1
Even with computers and smart boards not much has changed since the 19th centruy, but why not? the world has changed so much. People don’t have tha same jobs that they would have had 200 years ago. Maybe the system should be changed.

Another Synergy 8 team member commented back:

sumterf just commented on the post “How much in school has changed since the 1800’s?” on Synergy-8-2011-12-S1

I think if someone came to the future from the 1800s, they would recognize that our science, math, english, and language classes are school, but they probably would not recognize Synergy class as school.

And even if you don’t believe that school could stand a makeover, then perhaps you could allow that school should at least be re-examined…re-explored. To stand still is to grow stagnant and to ignore current research and learning from emerging best practices. Let’s employ the scientific method to our own structure…let’s play with ideas and possibilities like a child plays and integrates imagination with future possibility for reality. Let’s tap the butterflys that are our children and learn to flutter from their capacities and potential for creation and reiterative examination of enhancing prototypes. Let’s DO DIFFERENT…to discover and improve our current attempts.

Here’s to playing, to thinking more like a lantern, to trying another’s instrument, to disorienting ourselves, to wanting to know what others might be thinking. Here’s to not yet knowing that math, science, English, and history will be taught separately and from the vantage point of a individual desk and chair.

It’s not about convenience nor convention. It’s about learning!

Synergy 8 Beginnings – Day 1 and Day 2 Recap

As a student for many years, I can remember the general trend of the first day of classes. As a whole, most of my teachers distributed a handout with numerous rules and expectations. We were told what kind of notebook to carry, how to organize it, how much quizzes and tests counted in our averages, what not to do in class, etc.

As a counselor at Camp Sea Gull, we learned that first impressions are powerful. Captain Lloyd used to say that it takes only minutes to form a first impression but days and weeks to change or alter that first impression.


In Synergy, Jill Gough and I wanted to facilitate a careful and thoughtful first impression of what the course would be focused on. Our first class period is only 15 minutes long because of the orientation design of our first days of school. In that quarter hour, we hoped to inspire our 24 teammates – all 8th graders – to know that Synergy was about empowering us to be the change we wish to see in the world. So…we began with Kiran Bir Sethi’s 9 minute TED talk:

In the minutes that remained, we asked the student learners to reflect on why we would begin the course with such a video “act 1.” Several piped up and said, “Because we can do things to make a difference.” “This class is about applying our subjects to making a difference in the world.” “We are just kids, but we can act to change things that we see need changing.”

A successful beginning!


On day 2, we began with the Marshmallow Challenge (see Tom Wujec TED talk). Shortly after the class, we cut this 5 minute video:

The student learners wrote some responses in a mediated journal, and the focus centered on the importance of prototyping and engaging in an iterative process of trial, error, success, improvement, revision, retrial.

Next, we explained that our team would engage in a common practice and habit of observation journaling. To kick off this tool-explanation session, we employed Jonathan Klein’s TED talk:

Students briefly reacted to the power of visual imagery and using images (text, sketch, or picture images) to drum up awareness, reaction, and discussion. This was our jumping off point for beginning the powerful habit of recording our observations in a kind of regular diary about what we see and what causes us to question.

Jill and I then demonstrated a method that we both use to keep our observation journals – a great e-mail based blogging system called Posterous. Jill “postered” an observation journal of me postering” an observation journal:

Finally, before we had to depart, we provided the students with the private access code to our class Schoology site – our primary means of digital communication and archiving for the Synergy community.

From my seat, it was a great beginning with a team of 26 people full of the “I Can” bug…ready to engage the iterative process of prototyping…so that we can take charge and use our images and voices to make a difference in this world. I still don’t know what kind of binder we should use, but that seems relatively insignificant. And we have weeks to overcome that first impression about notebooks and binders!