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.”

WHAT IF…

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?

#iDiploma

Real-World Impact: Guest Post @TylerThigpen #MVPSchool #MVIFI #MVImpact

Today, the Upper School parents at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School (where I work, learn, serve, and play) received a letter from Head of Upper School Tyler Thigpen, and I am quoting a significant section of the letter below, with his permission, as something like a guest blog post.

To give just a bit of context, the Upper School students at Mount Vernon experience (and share voice in the iterative implementation of) a very purposefully researched, designed and orchestrated transdisciplinary program. Using MVPS’s developed model of design thinking – DEEP (Discover, Empathize, Experiment, and Produce) – faculty and students focused on discovery and empathy phases in September, October, and November. Then, in the first week of school in January, students engaged in a mixture of content/context workshopping, vigorous presentation production, and iterative pitching to convince expert panels to approve further work on the projects into the experiment and produce phases. Pitches were evaluated on ten comprehensive criteria, and projects were also rated by degree of difficulty.

Okay, now onto the guest-blogging-by-way-of-parent-letter…

Dear Upper School Family,

Happy New Year!

I have been itching to share with you the deep learning, college preparation, and marketplace training that have already occurred this year.

Last week, thanks to an innovative plan crafted collaboratively by both students and teachers, Upper School students positioned themselves to leverage content and skills from their classes to design and pitch capstone projects aimed at real-world impact.

They developed creative solutions, honed their presentation abilities, and used constructive criticism to correct previous knowledge and improve ideas. Examples of diving deep in search of learning outcomes in some of their classes included: students writing algorithms, researching flora and fauna, learning profit maximization, understanding search engine optimization, and performing comparative analyses.

Students received pointers from visiting professionals such as the SVP of Business Operations at Turner Broadcasting, SVP of Communications & Investor Relations at First Data, VP of Marketing at Popeye’s, VP of Financial Planning & Analysis at Manheim, Chief Development Officer at Metro Atlanta YMCA, Councilman at City of Sandy Springs, and numerous others.

The learning that is taking place is truly remarkable.

Colleges appreciate when students come equipped to learn how disciplines overlap and how humanistic and scientific approaches can be applied to real-world issues and challenges. Both emphases were front and center last week. About this approach, a Wake Forest University faculty leader writes:

“Mount Vernon’s innovative move, allowing students and curriculum to cohabit in a learning environment, should serve as a model for all schools. The difference between knowing about and knowing is profound. When students engage the realities of their study–the good, bad, and the ugly– the result is ownership; students become actors who come to believe they can act. The point of education is to sanction agency for students to win their future. Hats off to Mount Vernon.”

– Dr. Allan Louden, Communication Studies Department Chair, Wake Forest University, and Director of United States Grant for the Ben Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Institute

From the private sector, another professional comments,

“Mount Vernon’s transdisciplinary approach focuses on building strong critical thinking and problem solving skills that will better prepare students to compete in a global marketplace.”

– Joanne Burke, Banker, Goldman Sachs; and Member of Board of Overseers, Boston Symphony Orchestra

Lastly, one of last week’s panelists remarks,

“Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of such an exciting experience! Not only was it meaningful to me because I witnessed tremendous growth in the students…but it was also incredible to see students tackling problems that exist in the world outside MVPS, offering significant and relevant solutions. I am impressed with the level of thoughtfulness and detail students put into their projects. Thank you again for allowing me to join!”

In my career I cannot remember seniors, during their final semester of high school, spontaneously celebrating success by running down a hallway and high-fiving classmates because of a school project. But that is what happened.

Levels of engagement, relevance, and challenge are high, and I look forward to sharing more updates as the process evolves.

Tyler S Thigpen

Head of Upper School

Mount Vernon Presbyterian School

What’s your school balance in terms of teaching subjects vs engaging purposes?

From “‘The Coolest Thing Ever’: How A Robotic Arm Changed 4 Lives,” Joe Palca, NPR, Morning Edition, November 28, 2013 [HT @tnsatlanta]

The three Rice students heard about Dee in an unusual freshman engineering class. Instead of learning engineering principles from a book, students form teams to come up with engineering solutions for real-world problems.

And remember what Sir Ken Robinson said in September 2013 at colab:

The basics are not subjects. The basics are purposes.

What’s your school balance in terms of teaching subjects vs engaging purposes?

= = = = = = = = = =

Previous Posts in this Balance Series:

Ingredient School? Or Culinary School? What’s Your Balance?

How would you think and feel about registering for “Ingredient School” instead of “Cooking School” or “Culinary School?”

On the first day, and everyday, you learn about the various ingredients and inputs for countless dishes. However, you rarely, if ever, actually get instruction, opportunity, and practice in combining the ingredients, experimenting with different recipes (even inventing recipes!), and tasting the concoctions created by actually mixing the ingredients and making a meal.

The course would actually be about grocery store shopping and refrigerator stocking, but the pots and pans would remain cabinetted, and the stove and oven would live without flame. You’d have to combine on your own time, without the support or benefit of your expert guide. You’d have to cook, finally, years later, on your own time.

What would you think? How would you feel?

What if the ingredients were math, English, science, social studies, etc.?

If you calculated the actual UX (user experience) and tabulated proportional time that learners spent dealing only in ingredients versus actually getting to cook something, what would your school profile look like?

[Blogger’s note: I’m so fortunate – blessed – to work and learn in a community that believes strongly in providing “cooking classes” and experimenting with preparing whole meals!]

Human-Centered and Relational

From Dr. Lee-Anne Gray, “Making Education More Like Real Life Through Design Thinking,” Huffington Post, 9/18/2013

Design thinking asks students to become investigators in their world, attempt to solve problems, bridge gaps of knowledge independently, collaboratively, and resourcefully.

From Tyler Thigpen, “Taking a Relationship-Centered Approach to Education,” Education Week, 9/10/2013

What if schools used real-world scenarios to teach? What if learning were tied to complex problem-solving? What if students graduated from high school knowing how to negotiate peace treaties, stimulate depressed economies, and reduce obesity rates in America?

Now imagine a school where students and teachers decided collaboratively that the future of energy, the problem of inadequate access to safe drinking water, and the issues surrounding genetically modified organisms were among the topics of study. In this model, students would be taught to use skills and knowledge from the traditional disciplines—math, science, English, social studies, and so on—to take steps toward scaling and solving aspects of these complex issues. Teachers would work together, leveraging their content expertise in service of a problem. Students would navigate complex, unpredictable situations using a multitude of educational resources. This real-world problem-solving approach would partner with expert field practitioners, community members, research scientists, political leaders, and business owners, all showing students ways of addressing the pressing problems facing the world, from the local to the global.

“Design Thinking” and “Transdisciplinary Education” may be called buzzwords and trends by some. For me, they are long overdue innovations in the school world that promote and empower relevant, real-world solution seeking as the foundations and trunk lines of time spent in school. School should be life. School is life.

At their core, #DT and #TDed are about the corps. The people. Design thinking and transdisciplinary education are human centered and relational. They are about inquiry, empathy, and impact.

@MVPSchool is about #DT and #TDed. #ILoveMySchool

What an honor it has been to see the core/corps of our school discussed in Education Week and The Huffington Post these past few days. Thank you.