Studying identity through structured serendipity. My start to #identity in 2013. #CuratingPurpose

This morning, while attending “Walking with Lucy School,” I studied identity. I didn’t pre-intend to do so, specifically, but the opportunity presented itself because of structured serendipity. I have structured my podcast app with about a dozen different podcasts. Each morning, while walking my dog Lucy, I listen to the somewhat serendipitous collection called the “unplayed” playlist offered by the app.

This morning, the playlist looked like this –

  • The Moth, “A Dish Best Served Cold.” A young man finds something of a true identity for himself – albeit temporary – by searching for the person who committed identity theft with his credit card. I love that he found his identity by doggedly pursuing something that mattered mightily to him.
  • Radiolab, “Solid as a Rock.” Trying to get to the bottom of what makes stuff, the podcasters challenge the listener to consider that the most basic components of things are composed of mostly empty space. With physics, this short plays with our sense of what makes a thing a thing – it’s reality, perception, and identity. It reminded me of two blog posts that I had written, so I went back and read them – here and here.
  • 99% Invisible, “Episode 69- The Brief and Tumultuous Life of the New UC Logo.” Roman Mars and crew examine a metaphorical anecdote about resistance to change by exploring the visual-identity debacle that the University of California system has undergone recently. Among other lessons, I appreciate that there are levels of design investigated in this piece. Maybe most importantly, the transformation itself was poorly designed, and I learned a great deal relative to the work that I now do with educational change and transformation design.

Additionally, a fourth “class” became a part of my structured serendipity on identity this morning. During our walk, I decided to take a detour to my parents’ house. After all, my own identity was initially and powerfully formed by these incredible people. So, Lucy and I changed course and walked to my parents’ house. They were very surprised to see us, but I think they were incredibly pleased. In many ways, I was thanking them for my identity which they helped create. And I started the New Year by telling them Happy New Year in person. A great detour for identity.

All in all, I’d say this was a great way to start January 1, 2013. Now I feel well primed for my identity work in the New Year.

What “classes” and structured serendipity are you pursuing this year about your own identity? How might you help the learners at your school(s) explore their own identities? After all, as Sir Ken Robinson says, it’s about “How are you smart? Not – How smart are you?”


Bonus (and paradoxically the real meat)! A few reads archived on my Diigo that this walk made me re-read … and a TED talk:


[Note for further investigation: I thought my “class” this morning was pretty great. I learned a lot. I am inspired and motivated to learn further. Much of my motivation comes from the fact that I curated my own learning here. I collected the podcasts; I pursued the follow-up, related readings; I returned to a TED talk connected to what I was thinking relative to identity (to me Zander is talking more about identity and purpose than classical music).

In fact, part of my identity is defined by what I have chosen to open myself to this morning … by what to include here. How often do we use school to facilitate students pursuing their own identities? Not within the peripherals of school, but among the core functions and operations of school.

I am developing a new hypothesis – there is actually an 8th C of 21st C. Learning, namely “curation.” Perhaps the other 7 Cs largely depend on the practices of curation. Developing communication, creativity and innovation, critical thinking, etc. may all be connected through curatorial endeavors. And in school, the teachers typically do most of the curation. If When students are allowed to curate more of their school, then they will more likely develop the 7 Cs … as well as more of their own true identity. As they explore and discover “How am I smart? Not – How smart am I?”]

PROCESS POST: Ludwick Marishane and #PBL – “What’s stopping you?”

… one question I have for the audience today is, on the gravel roads of Limpopo, with an allowance of 50 rand a week, I came up with a way for the world not to bathe. What’s stopping you? (Applause)

What is stopping us? Ludwick Marishane did so much more than just come up with a way for the world not to bathe. He figured out a way to battle trachoma and fight disease-based blindness in under-resourced areas.

I believe strongly that school should be more community-issue-problem-solving based. As Daniel Pink explained in Drive, we are motivated most strongly when we feel higher degrees of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Purpose has long been a question driver in schools. “When will I ever use this?” “Why are we learning this?” School could live more deliberately at this nexus of desired relevance and purpose and problems craving solutions. Learners want to maintain choice at pursuing things that matter to and interest them. By pursuing such passions, while the hard work can often feel playful, we develop deep mastery.

If you watched the five-minute TED talk from Ludwick Marishane, do you think he got the following:

  • growing understanding of science, perhaps in the integrated fields of chemistry and biology
  • increased cultural thoughtfulness and empathy
  • strengthening communication skills in writing business plans, patents, grant proposals, etc., as well as enhancing oral communications with presentations, sales pitches, etc.
  • heightening proficiency in mathematics, quantitative and qualitative statistics, and application of mathematical reasoning
  • developing sense that he is a creative and critical-thinking problem solver, with agency to make a difference in the world now
  • expanding appreciation for socio-economic and psychological dimensions of getting a solution to market
  • understanding the necessity of genuine collaboration to combat big, audacious goals

I think he got all of the above and so much more. And what he is giving may far outweigh what he is getting. I think he might help more than 8 million people affected by trachoma. And he developed DryBath because he wanted to figure out a way that he would not have to take a bath himself.

I can imagine elementary, middle, and high schoolers engaging in such starts-as-a-selfish-and-seemingly-ridiculous project. I can see them spending time in more time-concentrated laboratories of integrated learning, rather than interrupting their flow because of bells set to 50 minutes and disciplines sub-divided by cinderblock walls. I can see them solving big problems and growing as engaged, empathetic, empowered citizens. I can see them practicing the skills and learning the content that will serve them, and the world, most dearly in the coming decades.

Some schools might want to make wholesale change to such a model. Others might want to revamp their curriculum and instruction so that “lab” problem solving represents 50% of the day and more traditional classes represent the other 50%. Still others may want to discern how to incorporate such community-issues-problem-solving courses into just 20-25% of the school day or week. Whatever the ration, I believe the students and the world would benefit from the increased and enhanced concentration on dealing with real community issues – issues within one’s school, wider neighborhood, city, state, nation, or world.

As I’ve written this post, in less than 15 minutes, I’ve imagined a sort of “kit” that could help a school get started…

  1. Alan November’s book, Who Owns the Learning?
  2. Suzie Boss’s book, Bringing Innovation to Schools
  3. Will Richardson’s e-book, Why School?
  4. frog design’s Collective Action Toolkit

In fact, if you are already convinced that schools are, or should be, doing such community-issues-problem-solving based learning, then you could use just #4 to help you get started.

As Marishane challenged us all, “What’s stopping you?”

Umair Haque: HBR Blog Network, Oct. 22, 2012 #Purpose

Purpose, like any great love, redeems us. Perhaps not from the inferno, but from the void. Of a life, starved by insatiable self-regard, that comes to feel desperately empty — because, in truth, it has been. There is no singular, simple, final meaning to life. And it is the scars of purpose that, finally, don’t just merely give meaning to life — but endow us with a greater privilege — giving life to meaning.

Umair Haque: HBR Blog Network, Oct. 22, 2012

Seth Godin: TEDxYouth@BFS #Purpose

What is the purpose of school?

Seth Godin, TEDxYouth@BFS

Two new videos to share,” Seth’s Blog, Oct. 18, 2012

Stop Stealing Dreams” (see links to various versions as you scroll down)

Tony Wagner: TEDxNYED – April 28, 2012 #Purpose

Our schools are not failing. They certainly don’t need reforming. The system is obsolete and needs reinventing.

Tony Wagner, TEDxNYED – April 28, 2012

Tony Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills