Synergy: Complexity~Simplicity, Collaboration & Brainstorming

Our Synergy team is at the halfway mark, time wise, of the semester.  For the past 9 weeks we have been recording images, questions, and thoughts in our observation journals.  We use a common space, a Posterous group, to communicate, collaborate, and connect ideas.

The challenge now upon us…What data mining strategies should we employ to uncover community issues that, as a team, we want to study, investigate, problem-find and problem-solve?  We have over 300 posts.  It seems daunting, almost overwhelming to sift through our data.

Via his talk at TEDGlobal 2010, “How complexity leads to simplicity,” Eric Berlow was our “guest expert” to help us think about and learn that “complex doesn’t always equal complicated.”

A couple of key insights that stuck with us include:

[Use] the simple power of good visualization tools to help untangle complexity to just encourage you to ask questions you didn’t think of before.


The more you step back, embrace complexity, the better chance you have of finding simple answers and it is often different than the answer that you started with.

Here is a quick trailer and then approximately 4 minutes of video from Monday’s Synergy learning experience to show one of our attempts to find simplicity on the other side of our complex task of data mining for new projects.

  • If you facilitate project-based learning, how do you empower students to determine the team projects?
  • What other methods would you recommend to us for putting students in “that driver’s seat?”
  • How does assessment for learning change when immersed in PBL?
  • How would you assess the various learning demonstrated in the video?

We would love your feedback.

[Cross-posted at Experiments in Learning by Doing]

LOOK! Crackers, an iPhone and FSBL

FSBL – “Father Son Based Learning.” An actual and experimental/metaphorical journey – time with my son and time to examine place-based inquiry learning.

On Friday, April 22, from 10:30 a.m. until about 4:30 p.m., my four-year-old son and I embarked on an Atlanta adventure. I had just come home from reading and writing at a coffee house, after I had dropped my older son at school around 7:40 a.m. JT, or Jbird (he has two nicknames), and I decided on a whim to go get on a MARTA train and see where we ended up. JT loves trains, so trains seemed a good hook to begin the adventure. Getting on a train was the only real decision I made for Jackson.

I took two packages of Captains Waffers and my iPhone and wallet. Those were our supplies. With my iPhone, I would take notes and pictures/videos and post to “Posterous” – an email-based blog system that is as easy as easy can be. I have my Posterous set up to auto-post to Twitter, too, so I get a “two-fer.” On my first post, I failed to include the # symbol, so it will not show up in a Twitter hashtag search. But here is the post that launched the adventure: The other posts can be found on Twitter, using the #FSBL hashtag, or one could simply browse backwards through my 4-22-11 Posterous posts. [There is a link to my Posterous blog on the right column of this It’s About Learning blog – it’s called “Bo’s Links – Bo’s Observation Journal.”]

First and foremost, JT and I had an AMAZING day! We rarely get time for just the two of us, and the time on Friday was magical. We had a blast! But I also got another two-fer…

Secondly, though, I felt I was continuing my investigation of place-based learning possibilities. At Westminster, we enjoy a 180-acre campus. But I am not at all certain that we maximize our use of this incredible resource – our space around us. What if we mildly guided students to explore campus with a package of Captains Waffers and an iPhone-like device? What images and questions might they capture about Nancy Creek or other features of our campus? As teams explored our surrounds and posted to a Posterous observation journal, the other teams could keep track of other explorers via Twitter. What connections might be discovered? Project possibilities might arise from such a day, or even just a period, of exploration. Someone might get interested in the water quality and biology of Nancy Creek. All of a sudden science and writing and history and math might become integrated as field studies led to persuasive letters to Atlanta City Council about cleaning up Nancy Creek – a battle place during the Civil War. Other explorers might use something like the Wild Lab Birds app to chronicle the species of feathered creatures we have on campus. Other teams might examine our use of space in campus planning…”Why did they put that building there?” Such a question might lead to asking to see the master plans for campus which are stored in our Physical Plant and Business Office. Now students could be interacting with other school staff about “city” planning, architecture, and landscaping/environmental issues. Perhaps a team might decide to tap parent resources – people who serve as city planners, architects, etc. Perhaps students might design presentations for improvements and enhancements to their own school or city of Atlanta.

Oh the places we could go! Oh the projects we could explore! Oh the difference we could make! If we would just rethink what it means to be in school. If we would just innovate and leverage the potential of combining our community space with 21st century technologies. Endless learning possibilities. Real learning possibilities.

Wanna go explore? Get a pack of crackers – just in case. And take a 21st century field notebook. Then remember that joyful word that begins many a toddlers vocabulary – “LOOK!”