Moving on Down the Line

This blog has been dormant for some time and it is no one’s fault but mine. I think perhaps I was discouraged by the overall lack of interest and readership it did not generate. The word “it” is really unfair though since “it”, a blog idea and series of posts, does not write “it”-self. Rather “its” success insofar as how it informs and influences thinking and creates community, rests with the extent to which the author catalyzes like – minded readers to want to read more of what he is offering.

No one will read this post in order to find out the reasons for the blog’s failure and imminent demise. Sloth, distraction and other professional distractions, other chores, and other gods to serve, are certainly culprits, in addition to the discouragement noted above.

But what I want to do may be of interest to those with likeminded concerns and interests that I have discovered in a variety of ways in the past few months. In other words there are other would-be edufuturists out there who are very interested in each other’s thinking and who selflessly seek to magnify each other’s ideas for the sake of the leaders and teachers who shape students’ futures. I have found them through the help of social media and especially through the help of friends and former students who have steered me to these places.

I published a book two months ago: Futures Based Change Leadership: A Formula for Sustained Change Capacity; < that encodes much of my thinking about how to create school organizations grounded in the future and empowered with the skills and dispositions to sustain their successful continuance.

I am going to start a new blog with that book’s title and use the book as the basis for informing and advocating the principles it offers to help edufuturists recognize their preferable futures. More that I am hopeful too that I can use it to create a community who will actively activate each other to add to its principles so that we can co – create something better than we already have.

My only lament in closing this blog down is that there is some pretty good thinking in this present blog that I don’t want to throw out with the bath water. So from time to time I will retrieve a nugget from these entries and weave them back into the futures-based conversations I hope to have.

Thanks to those who read and followed this blog. Please follow me to the new blog! Futures Based Change Leader.

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An Eighth Pillar to Scott McLeod’s Seven Pillars of a Future School

Having done my best to comment to Dr. McLeod’s seven pillars of a future school (MFS), I’d like to add one more:

Simulations and problem-based learning experiences that foster students’ ability to engage in authentic, real-world work. (hat tip: Trent Grundmeyer)

I spend much time speaking to the values of simulations and experiential learning in another blog; http://seriousgamesdotme.wordpress.com and refer you to that.

However it’s also likely that the premise of experiential learning is woven into most if not all, in one way or the other, of Dr. McLeod’s principles.

Here, I will make the case to emphasize this approach as a particularly vital cornerstone of what FMS should look like.

Perhaps Renzulli’s Triad best complements what I am talking about. Renzulli divides instructional components into three parts; content and basic skills, process thinking, and real world experiential learning.

Ideally the last segment, real world learning involves students in project based approaches that are translated and applied to real world – out-of-school needs, like ecology, social, and political issues.

Simulations, including single computer based, internet based, and classroom based are the ideal bases for the third leg of Renzulli’s triad, especially in those many instances when it is not practical to actually engage students in out of school problems.

An emphasis on using these strategies as a centerpiece of the instructional arsenal of a school would have systemic ripples across all targeted learning goals for students lucky enough to be in MFS.

It’s interesting to me that Renzulli’s triad has been a model for so called gifted programs around the country for a long time. It’s pleasing to me that his fundamental components are finally being recognized for their value for all students.

My last post about MFS will try to capture and synthesize all of what MFS can and should mean to students yet unborn.

Arguing for Economics as Education’s Priority

Napoleon said that an “army travels on its stomach.”

I take that to mean that any group or organization needs the capacity to sustain itself in order to continue itself.

So too must we consider a society, a society whose very existence can no longer be considered self sufficient, if it ever was, UNdependent of the globe’s other societies’ well being. Like it or not we live in what Friedman called a “flattened world”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Thomas_Friedman_2005_(4).jpg

So, a good case for Napoleon’s point of view some two hundred years old certainly has merit!

Add in a twenty year old slogan of one James Carville, http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/c/james_carville/index.html President Clinton’s campaign manager who said, “It’s the economy stupid.”

Nonetheless, we’d all like to think, that our own society, arguably the world’s most influential, needs to ground its policies and plans into thoughtful, long-term actions, that will enable it to thrive and to positively influence its fellow global citizens.

The thriving to which I refer actually speaks to many leadership challenges. These include but are not limited to

– being exemplary environmental global citizens

– being proactively sensitive to the needs of all people and groups

– maximizing the positive potential of all manners of technological advances

Now let’s return to the poll two posts back and to the “results” posted. I’d personally argue for the premise of process as I have said many times across many posts. That is, the more nearly American Education focus its curricular and instructional efforts on creating a nation of critical thinkers, effective decision makers, and creative problem solvers the better served we all are.

These would be citizens who can contribute to a lasting and successful economy, one that would be able to effectively maximize production, consumption, and wealth for the collective and individual good.

My “decision” doesn’t EXclude the other choices. Rather, it umbrellas them.

Completing the Creative Problem Solving Process

That you have now filtered through the ideas generated by the creativity processes, and that you have also now used left brain evaluative thinking to squeeze out the one idea or combination of ideas that best fits the criteria  you have established to choose what you will put in motion, you’re ready now to get it “accepted”.

That is, find ways to make sure that the audience, or target group, who is either responsible for adopting and implementing, or is also the beneficiary of the chosen premise is assured that the idea has been carefully parsed and planned for!

This has to be done! If you had decided that the best way to alleviate drought conditions in the Sahara was to tug a bunch of icebergs from the South Pole to Tunisia, you’d have a bunch of people to convince of the idea’s “obvious” merits.

And, since your target group probably had not engaged the process we have used their creativity muscles might not be strong enough to receptively embrace an idea that seems so out of the box.

Now we enter the “Yes-but” phase. That is, “This might sound good, but ….”

And here, where you and your co-creators have already done all the hard work to systematically present cogent and compelling premises to the Doubting Thomas’ out there, you are very prepared to assure them of the wisdom of your collective creativity.

So, you anticipate those yes-buts! Identify what the objections might be and be prepared to answer them. Better yet, tell the potential nay-sayers what the potential objections might be in advance of their raising them and then offer up the answers to those yes-buts.

Better, better yet invite their yes-buts, offer them the alternatives you have considered in tandem with the criteria you have used so that everyone is empowered to contribute to the final part of the creative problem solving process.

Converging on Divergent Thinking

Picture the process:
1. Convergent Thinking Part I – Teacher leads learners to amass fact and themes, etc. This is all convergent, that is, specific type thinking.
2. Convergent Thinking Part I continued – Teacher leads learners to parse, merge, squeeze, synthesize the facts into questions and issues they are trying to solve.
3. Divergent Thinking – Teacher uses creativity techniques to encourage
  • fluency of thinking
  • variety of ideas
  • elaboration of ideas
  • combination of ideas
so that students have created new and fresh alternatives to the issue for solution.
4. NOW teacher switches back to convergent thinking by inviting students to identify criteria that would help students assess their tentative – creative solutions in order to evaluate these for their potential success.
  • Using their criteria students begin to filter their ideas and to isolate those that appear to have the most promise.
  • Students use additional or previous research, canvas other individuals, poll, use feedback to refine their ideas.
  • Students use additional criteria to isolate the solutions they have created to choose the most likely ideas.

5. So that now the learners have created their own filters to sift the ideas that likely would have never been generated unless they had engaged the creativity process in the first place.

6. And now they can “rate these ideas” to CONVERGE on the optimal solutions.

Next post will speak to how to “gain acceptance” for their creative problem solving.

What is the First Thing you Thing you Think of When I Say “Ship”?

You’ve brought your students through the left brain distilling process where they’ve boiled off the detritus of excessive trivia and have narrowed down to the issues or questions they wish to solve.

Now it’s time to reverse engines and reverse thinking too. Because now you need to promote lateral, creative thinking.

What is the first thing you think of when I say “ship”? Try it on yourself and with others. Almost always it is “The Nina”, or “The Mayflower”. Something like that. Sooner or later, you will have to model this by offering up “The Starship Enterprise” or something like that. Doing so sends the message to your students to stretch their thinking beyond the obvious. If you really want to impress them, say, “CitizenSHIP”, or “FellowSHIP.”

That will get their attention and more importantly will begin to encourage some creative thinking.

For sure, there are many idea fluency, idea generating strategies! In another post I will offer up some specific references. The point here is that you are modeling and using strategies that are meant to encourage Divergent, that is spread-out thinking where they may likely be NO specific answer.

Could Goldilocks and the Three Bears have ended differently? What would have happened if the South had wind the Civil War? Are there more than one conclusion you can draw from that graph? From that slide specimen?

The possibilities are endless because creativity can be endless too.

Using this process even as in the next post we’ll return to Convergent Thinking, THAT Convergent Thinking will be a whole lot richer in complexity and in risk-taking than if the teacher had never empowered her students to think differently, to risk!

Squeezing Left Brain Thinking out of the Tube

TEACHER: Write that down folks! Andrew Johnson was the first president to be impeached.
(Students furiously scribble down Teachers’ latest epistle.” )
JOE STUDENT: Mrs. Smith can impeachment represent a power struggle among the three branches of government?
TEACHER: (ignoring question, continues): Alright now write this down… The Senate failed to get the necessary number of votes to find President Johnson guilty of the impeachment charges.
(Students furiously scribble down Teacher’s latest epistle.)
JOE STUDENT: But Mrs. Smith ….
TEACHER: Joe, that question will not be on next week’s test.
An extreme scenario? I don’t think so, of what I call a teaching mortal sin where the students’  desire to see more deeply into an issue falls victim to a teacher’s headlong rush to cover material.
A Creative Problem Solving (CPS) approach would use the facts as described above as an impetus towards solving the deeper issues associated with the surface level fact and would indeed sharpen a rationale for higher order thinking skills.
So using the the first segment of the CPS process described in the previous post let’s begin to see how a teacher can use facts and data in more complete package that will enable her to be satisfied that the facts are “covered” and that these same facts can catalyze deeper thinking and problem solving / process approaches to learning:
FIRST SEGMENT – CONVERGENT THINKING AS IMPETUS TO DIVERGENT THINKING
  • Students are led to, or discover issues or problems that need solution. IN THIS CASE TEACHER POSES AN ESSENTIAL QUESTION SUCH AS. “THE CONSTITUTION REQUIRES THAT A PRESIDENT IS ELECTED THROUGH AN ELECTORAL COLLEGE SYSTEM THAT SOMETIMES NEGATES THE POPULAR VOTE. LET’S EXAMINE THIS PROBLEM SO THAT WE CAN CREATE A BETTER WAY TO ELECT A PRESIDENT.” Students now begin to research all aspects of the Electoral College and of the cases where a candidate who lost the popular vote won the election anyway.
  • Teacher uses specific problem-identification techniques to squeeze the problem to its core needs. TEACHER POSES VARIOUS CONVERGENT THINKING STRATEGIES TO BOIL DOWN THE ISSUES THEY ARE TRYING TO SOLVE. FOR EXAMPLE: “WHAT ARE THE PARTS OF THIS PROBLEM?” OR “CHOOSE THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUES THAT SEEM TO BE OF CONCERN?” Students, in groups or individually begin research and analysis to pinpoint the issues associated with the problem.
  • Students engage these techniques to narrow and refine the problem. TEACHER USES CONVERGENT STRATEGIES LIKE ABOVE AT LEAST TWICE TO ENSURE THAT STUDENTS HAVE DISTILLED THE ISSUES FOR SOLUTION. SHE INVITES STUDENTS TO VOTE ON THE PRIMARY ISSUES IN ORDER TO DIVIDE THEM INTO WORKING GROUPS IN ONE OF TWO WAYS. THE FIRST WOULD BE TO ASSIGN A SPECIFIC ISSUE TO A GROUP FOR MORE RESEARCH AND CPS OR SHE MERELY CREATES GROUPS TO TACKLE ALL THE ISSUES EN MASSE.
  • NOTE that each all of the above activities are left brain / convergent thinking strategies
The result from this segment of CPS is that the students will have sorted through trivia and facts to have boiled off the deeper themes that drive the issue in the first place.
The next post will explore Convergent Thinking that can only really take off after the students have sharpened their Divergent Thinking.