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]

PROCESS POST: What Guy Hoffman Could Teach Us About Our School Day!

There are so many reasons for educators to watch the TED talk below – “Guy Hoffman: Robots with Soul.” As for me, I am paradoxically inspired, mesmerized, puzzled and saddened by Hoffman’s talk.

When I watch and listen to Hoffman, I think of what he must have been like as a K-12 student. What amazing curiosity, drive, passion, and persistence this learner must have had – must continue to have. Through his work, I am inspired by what contributions robotics and roboticists will make in our lives.

And yet I am saddened by the conversations I can imagine that some (many?) schools would have regarding the content and context of such an idea-generating talk.

“What department would we place this course in? He wants to build robots as part of his learning, so it must be ‘Engineering Class,’ right?”

“We don’t have a course called ‘Engineering.’ Maybe we just put it in physics?”

“But how would we cover all the stuff we are already doing in physics? There’s no time or room to add robotics like this in my course.”

“Could it go in a math class? Hoffman mentions math in the talk, doesn’t he?”

“No, it should go in Drama class. Weren’t you listening? He said he took a drama course and method acting is what really helped him break through in the contrast between the computing mind and the adventurous mind.”

“But Drama is just a semester elective. Our kids could never get this work done in just a semester, given the basics of acting that we need to cover.”

“It should go in computer animation, when we get that class up and running.”

“What about psychology? He talks about emotions, and our ‘Human Psych’ course is the only course that has ’emotions’ in the learning outcomes.”

“Why not biology? After all, he is using human biology as a mechanism for understanding how to make the robots more ‘human.'”

“Are you kidding me? When would we have time to build robots in 10th grade biology? It’s AP, for goodness sake?”

“Look, if he wants this to be part of his schooling, he’s gonna need to find a faculty sponsor, and the faculty member will need to create a course proposal. It’s already December, so our deadline is passed. Any course proposal would need to be submitted by NEXT December, and then we might add the course the FOLLOWING year, if the academic committee approves the course. And forget about team teaching with a math, drama, physics, and biology teacher-team. That’s way too many resources to commit to an elective, non-essential course.”


OR — we could build in time during the school day for passion-driven, cross-curricular learning. So what if the 17-year-old version of Guy Hoffman’s idea doesn’t fit neatly into one of the silo-ed, department-organized, subject-area courses? Those course structures only represent part of our school day and school week. We don’t just organize by departmental subject area. We co-organize by student-interest and make space for just this kind of exploring, searching, questioning, experimenting, and integrating.

After all, we know that to nurture innovators, they must have time, room, and opportunity to practice observing, questioning, experimenting, networking, and associating.

Oh that we might make it so. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?