Archive for Innovation

Senior Spring and Student Time

3376949154_13eb28eaf8_zAs the pressure of college admissions disappears, those senior who were primarily externally motivated may suddenly find themselves without purpose. It’s understandable! Students who have pursued a demanding schedule of college prep classes for for college admission may lose their will to work with passion. At the same time, educators may be discouraged to see seniors slide out of high school rather than finishing on a high note.

Happily, we also see counterexamples, students who have developed strong internal motivation and see senior spring as an opportunity for exploration and experimentation. By senior year, many students have figured out which topics excite them the most and are interested in designing independent study in these areas.

What obstacles do such students encounter? The typical high school schedule is not so friendly to independent study. In most schools, seniors still attend classes from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM. It is difficult to immerse oneself in a meaningful project within 45 to 80 minute pockets of time. If travel time or the setup of complex equipment is required, then it is pretty near impossible.

Some schools run a senior project term, in which students design and pursue independent projects for the last few weeks of the school year. The school excuses these students from regular classes so that they may do this. However, the scope of these projects is limited to that short timeframe. The longer the senior project period, the more such students may accomplish.

One of our students has developed a creative way to create more flexible time within a typical school schedule. He deliberately chose three classes that have flexible time structures: an online class, an independent study, and a projects class. The online class is offered through Global Online Academy, a consortium of independent schools to which we belong. The independent study is on the Great Lakes region of east Africa. Advanced Topics in Math, while a regular course, is built around individual, student-designed projects. On some days, this student may have large blocks of flexible time in order to study topics in depth and work with adult mentors both inside and outside the school.

As we continue our strategic planning work, we are considering what type of school schedule could offer larger chunks of flexible time by design, in order to reduce obstacles to independent, project-based, or off-campus study. How much flexible time is best? What support would students need to make the best use of such time? Can we give classes the option of meeting more or less frequently without overly fragmenting the flexible time available to students? We plan to ask these and other questions about time, research what other schools are doing, and propose changes for the school schedule.

Photo credit: “Broken Clock” by cacophonyx on Flickr

Beyond Good vs. Bad

Scissors

Most education debates reduce the question of teaching methods to a good/bad argument. Are lectures good or bad? Technology? Homework? While a common rhetorical tool when attempting to win an argument, overemphasis of a simplified position undermines productive discourse and program development. Educators must move into the space between extremes, into nuances and complexity, in order to have constructive conversations that advance teaching practice. A constructive perspective eschews good/bad arguments and embraces relativism.

Of course, a good lecture can provide students with a terrific cognitive experience. However, the vast majority of direct instruction is not high quality lecture but rather a comparatively low-level summary of facts and conclusions. Emphasizing active learning opportunities for students creates more chances for students to engage in productive modes of thinking during class time. Most schools do not call for a ban on teacher talk but rather include high quality teacher presentation as one teaching method among a handful that should be used in classes. As always, effective teacher coaching depends on individual circumstances, which is why teacher observation and feedback is associated with improvement in teaching practice. With one teacher, we encourage less teacher talk and more student leadership in class. With another teacher, we endorse teacher talk, because it’s high quality and just one part of the learning environment.

The same can be said for other polarizing topics such as technology use, homework, class seating arrangements, and curriculum standards. For each, the practice is neither pariah nor panacea. Visit many schools, and one will see both good and bad educational practice along the spectrum of each topic. It is easy to find both effective and disastrous implementations of educational technology, productive and counterproductive homework practices, and thoughtful and thoughtless implementation of state content standards.

Several factors determine the effectiveness of a particular instructional practice in a particular context. The teacher should understand the key qualities of the instructional technique, what makes it effective in the best circumstances, and how it might exist within and interact with the existing learning environment. The school’s mission and values are critically important. The teacher should know how the instructional technique relates to institutional values or could be shaped to better complement them. Teachers should always be attentive to the student experience with teaching practice, through subtle methods such as accurately reading student engagement and depth of thinking during the activity, as well as more formal methods such as soliciting student feedback and examining student class work and assessments.

Ongoing professional conversations about teaching practices, institutional values, and student experience lead to the development of a recognizable culture of instruction in a school. Collaboration, professional development, and examination of qualitative and quantitative data bolster school identity and practice.

While good/bad arguments make for good headlines, nuanced, complex work leads to better instruction.

(Image by Natesh Ramasamy on Flickr)

Mindfulness Defined Broadly

7am, Waptus Lake

The mindfulness movement is growing in schools. A number of articles in the popular press have described meditation activities that happen in classes or co-curricular programs. Mindfulness has been positioned as an antidote to technology, distractibility and stress. Through meditation, students may develop their capacity for self-control and attention in a society rich with distractions and performance pressure.

In recent years, we have studied mindfulness and organized meditation activities at U Prep. Two years ago, David Levy visited to share his research and perspectives with our faculty. Last year, a group of ten faculty and staff members organized an affinity group to generate program ideas. This year, we have included within the socio-emotional strand of strategic plan development. Each year, our mindfulness work becomes more nuanced and oriented toward action.

Can mindfulness become a mainstream practice in schools? About a dozen faculty/staff members and 40 students currently participate in meditation activities during advisory and after school. While the program is still young, we hear anecdotally that the idea of meditation may not resonate with a majority of the school population. While some schools have made it, I would expect that many schools would require a broader definition of mindfulness in order to build support for it schoolwide.

This August, I learned that one can frame mindfulness much more broadly than just meditation. This fall, ten of us completed an online course through Mindful Schools. Though the course is geared toward developing one’s own mindfulness practice, it also serves as a prelude to mindfulness instruction training and certification. Although it may have seemed ironic to study mindfulness online, the course featured readings, audio lessons, participant discussions, and individual practice.

While breath exercises featured throughout, the course also included various applications of mindfulness that one might not immediately associate with meditation. These include:

  • Movement
  • Emotions
  • Gratitude
  • Compassion
  • Communication
  • Eating

Although “study” and “discussion” are not in this list, it does not require a lot of imagination to make the connection. If one can intentionally direct sustained attention to compassion, communication, or eating, then one should be able to think mindfully about intellectual inquiry and project work.

The course also embraced perspective and refrained from dogma in general. Sometimes, the “wandering mind” inspires creativity and reflection. We may benefit from distraction by environmental stimuli. Situating mindfulness within human experience makes it a lot easier to integrate within whole child education.

Mindfulness enthusiasts are on to something. Whether through formal meditation or just sustained, thoughtful attention, training oneself to intentionally ride the rapids or find a quiet boulder is increasingly becoming an essential 21st century skill. We are likely to incorporate mindfulness into our school’s next strategic plan. It’s just a question of how strictly we will define mindfulness and correspondingly, how broadly we will adopt it.

References

Why It Takes More than Unplugging to Solve Modern Stress | Mediashift | PBS pbs.org

Harvard art historian Jennifer Roberts teaches the value of immersive attention | Harvard Magazine Nov-Dec 2013

Age of Distraction: Why It’s Crucial for Students to Learn to Focus | MindShift kqed.org

You’re Distracted. This Professor Can Help. – Technology – The Chronicle of Higher Education chronicle.com

Mindful Schools mindfulschools.org

Driven to distraction: How to help wired students learn to focus | eCampus News ecampusnews.com

The Mindful Revolution | Kate Pickert | Time Magazine | Feb 03, 2014

3 Reasons You Should Let Yourself Get Distracted | FastCompany

When You Care About Everything, It’s Hard to Think About Nothing: Is the mindfulness movement due for a correction?​ by Taffy Brodesser-Akner | GOOD

Quantitative study of school programs

On reviewing last winter’s issue of Independent School Magazine, I was struck by stories of schools conducting rigorous studies of their own practice, particularly quantitative studies. Granted, the issue theme was “Assessing What We Value,” but turning the lens of assessment inward onto school practice represented a significant additional step in my mind.

In the article, “The Role of Noncognitive Assessment in Admissions,” the author described several schools that are collecting new information about students, traits that might help predict school success. One school (Choate Rosemary Hall) found statistically significant correlations between self-efficacy, locus of control, and intrinsic motivation (as reported by students) and GPA.

2013 E. E. Ford grant award winners included Castilleja School, to support the development of “meaningful and valid assessments of experiential learning, to apply these tools to improve the effectiveness of innovative experiential programs, and to share these best practices with other educators.” $1 million, three-quarters of this raised by the school, supports this effort.

I am following a similar path here at U Prep. Whether the question is the predictive power of standardized assessments or the meeting agendas of our instructional leadership team, I find myself quantifying behavioral data, seeking patterns, and sharing the information with people. Is this just coincidence?

While I have not rigorously studied and confirmed the possible existence of a trend toward quantitative program analysis (irony intended), it seems to me that several contributing factors might exist. Quantitative data is more easily collected, processed and shared than before. The setup of a Google Form is trivial, compared to the “old days” (actually just 10 years ago) when we used to write online forms in Perl on our school web server. Data visualization has grown as a field, to the point where major news corporations prominently feature beautiful, illustrative graphic representations of data, and programming libraries make the process easier. Publication and presentation tools easily incorporate such graphics. Use of data to support conclusions has remained a respectable practice, notwithstanding occasional misuse.

In years past, schools would rarely conduct quantitative study of their own work without substantial external help or an internal reassignment. This lent a measure of respectability to the work, as one would expect valid work from a consultant or internal member of the faculty or staff. Now, with people like me studying school practice within the scope of our full-time jobs, the risk exists that we will reach conclusions that are not well supported by the data or not well compared against results from other institutions. We have to be careful, as well as thorough.

Library Commons In Higher Ed

I recently had the pleasure of attending a talk by Jim Mullins, Dean of Libraries at Purdue University. Jim described the process by which Purdue Libraries developed their new Active Learning Center, a concept and $70m building described as, “a learning commons for the 21st Century.” The following ideas from the talk stuck with me.

The library commons concept, a “noisy” library in which students study, work in groups, access resources, and relax has reached the university level. Purdue, with the support of the State Legislature, is transforming their main libraries to keep pace with how students now use information and technology.

Purdue feels that their concept is unique in that it more fully blends classrooms with libraries than they have seen at any other institution. At Purdue, pilot classes have their regularly scheduled meetings within these flexible library spaces. The library isn’t just a place to occasionally hold class. It’s the main space where class takes place.

The Active Learning Center project includes intensive support and mentoring of professors to make their instructional techniques more generative and collaborative for students. Each professor was provided with an instructional expert, technology expert, and librarian to support curriculum transformation. A number of teams work successively with a series of instructors, expanding the number of instructors and courses that feature active learning. The main examples shared in the presentation showed students working in small groups at tables, while instructors roamed the room listening in and providing suggestions.

Minimal user technology is provided by the school. Students predominantly use their own devices to access information repositories and audiovisual displays using their own devices. Basic needs are emphasized: food, coffee, comfortable seating, and power are thoughtfully incorporated into the physical design of the spaces.

An anthropologist provided key findings that played a large role in the design of the Active Learning Center. Hiring an anthropologist, or at least adopting an anthropologist’s mindset, is becoming more popular as a core method to inform design.

Having just finished our second year with a library commons, we at U Prep can heartily endorse this approach. The Purdue initiative to create new spaces, support teachers with instructional coaches, and fully consider student experience has the shape of a well-coordinated school initiative. At least one of our teachers has started to schedule classes in the library during ordinary weeks, not just research projects, in a manner similar to the Purdue Active Learning project.

 

Attention and Mindfulness in Technology Use: Five Perspectives

U Prep facilitates professional development opportunities for the individual teacher, group of teachers, and whole faculty. This year, at least three of these sessions consider our new iPad and laptop program, wholly within the context of principles of teaching and learning and youth development. Today, we explored the topic of attention and mindfulness in the context of technology use.

On the one hand, we are working hard so that our school keeps up with rapid technological changes occurring in society. The main feature is a huge infusion of tablet and laptop devices that we have placed in students’ hands, plus consideration of how to change our instructional practices to take advantage of the many capabilities of this change.

At the same time, we heard a clear message from our community as we designed the program last year—we want and need balance in our lives. Balance between high-tech and low-tech learning environments; balance between email and face-to-face communication; balance between productivity and reflective practice.

What does imbalance look like? When we feel compelled to answer emails at our desk instead of seeing colleagues in the staff room. When we spend hours addressing a technical problem instead of getting work done. When we find students watching a video or playing a game instead of paying attention to class. Looking to the future, one might image a dystopic view of technology in our lives. Let’s take a look.

In one of our faculty summer reads, William Powers wrote:

We’re losing something of great value, a way of thinking and moving through time that can be summed up in a single word, depth. Depth of thought and feeling, depth in our relationships, our work and everything we do. Since depth is what makes life fulfilling and meaningful, it’s astounding that we’re allowing this to happen.

What does balance look like? When tech is truly complementary, part of the environment, rather than taking center stage. When we have the necessary self-control to avoid immediately responding to that ding, buzz, or alert window. When we feel that our humanity is preserved in our very personal practice of living and working within a learning community.

Again, quoting William Powers:

History is replete with moments when some astonishing new invention came along that suddenly made it easier for people to connect across space and time. And those earlier shifts were as exhilarating and confusing to those who lived through them as today’s are to us.

Even in a hyper-connected world, everyone has the ability to regulate his or her own experience. It’s the same theme that great thinkers have struck time after time over the last two thousand years, but it keeps getting forgotten. The answer to our dilemma is hiding in the last place we tend to look: our own minds. The best tool for fighting back is still the mind itself.

We must move a step forward in our understanding of attention and mindfulness, so that we may open the classroom to technology without feeling ruled by it.

How do we achieve this? First, let’s understand that the study of attention and mindfulness with technology is an emerging field. Different approaches exist: some support each other. Others contradict. It’s quite likely that some combination of approaches will be best.

Let’s take a look at five approaches to attention and mindfulness in a technology-rich world. We may identify which aspects of these approaches have the most potential, so that we may implement them broadly throughout the school, incorporate them into our behavioral and professional norms and expectations.

Executive Function

This topic asks what brain research can tell us about learning and technology use. Karen Bradley, a teacher at Head-Royce School in Oakland, describes executive functions as, “our judgment, the ability to set priorities, to choose a ‘go’ versus a ‘no-go’ action, to distinguish junk from useful information.” The use of executive function is critical for young people to learn, as they make decisions about whether to pay attention in class, do homework, and consider thematic concepts in the curriculum.

Frequent interruptions by technology may impede executive function, as students lack the “quiet space” to think deeply, and as their working memory is bombarded by new inputs. Brain scientists such as John Medina tell us that multitasking is a myth, that frequently switching our attention is a detriment to productive thought.

Let’s take a whimsical look at multitasking with designer Paolo Cardini.

[ted id=1622]

Megan Reimann is an expert in special education. She has taught study skills, resource room, language arts, and social studies and is a U Prep ninth grade parent. Megan currently specializes in working with students who have executive function deficits to help them create strong study habits. Megan ran one of our breakout sessions during the professional development day.

Mindfulness

Our second topic is mindfulness. Did you know that you may actually hold your breath when you open your email app to check for new messages? The tense moment of uncertainty—what’s in there?—triggers our fight-or-flight response; our physiology is on high alert while we wait to find out.

How is our quality of life when these moments of alertness happen all day, in quick succession? What can we do to create contemplative spaces and improve our quality of life? How may we teach our students to do the same?

David Levy is a professor at UW’s Information School and an expert in information, contemplative practices, and the quality of life. David is a former computer scientist, researcher on the nature of documents, and student of calligraphy and bookbinding. Dr. Levy’s more recent work has focused on contemplative practices, the quality of life, and how to use digital tools more mindfully. He gave a superb talk on the activities teachers can organize for their students to promote self-awareness and mindfulness. This video provides a brief introduction to his work.

Engagement

This topic looks at attention and mindfulness from the perspective of student engagement. Maybe our students and their technologies aren’t the problem. Maybe our educational paradigm needs to change instead.

Cathy Davidson, another of our summer book authors, asks whether we need to update our definitions of attention and engagement. She argues that distraction actually helps us receive a variety of input that supports creativity, connection, and collaboration. Instead of keeping technology at arm’s length, perhaps we should embrace it and change our educational environments to match. Information is no longer scarce, and teachers have a new, exciting role to play as the architects of student-directed learning environments. Progressive education and project-based learning meet technology in this topic.

In this video, Alan November describes one such learning experience (jump to 3:35).

Further reading:

Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design” (Mizuko Ito et al)

Exploring the Edge: New Learning Environments for the 21st Century” (John Seeley Brown)

Mastery

This topic asks whether we feel uncomfortable with technology simply because we have not fully mastered it. Alerts and notifications can be turned off. We can get better at how we use communication and collaboration tools, so that they truly become part of the background of our educational environment.

In Send, David Shipley provides perspectives and techniques to allow you to take control of your email inbox.

Howard Rheingold invites us to tune our “crap detector” and “attention muscles” (to borrow a term from David Levy) to restore control over our electronic interactions. “Dive into the deep end,” Rheingold tells us.

Clay Shirky says that the problem is not information overload, rather it is filter failure. The key skill now is to be able to set up systems to bring the most relevant, stimulating content to our attention.

Further reading:

Attention, and Other 21st-Century Social Media Literacies” (Howard Rheingold)

It’s Not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure” (Clay Shirky)

Personal Learning Networks: Knowledge Sharing as Democracy” (Alison Seaman)

Students’ Social Media Lives

What are students doing behind those screens? Anthropologists Mimi Ito and danah boyd have a lot to tell us about how young people experience life through social media. Understanding their perspectives may help us work with students in classes and evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of separating students from their devices.

Further reading:

Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project (MacArthur Foundation)

Teens and Technology 2013” (Pew Research Center, Berkman Center for Internet and Society)

Teens, Social Media, and Privacy” (Pew Research Center, Berkman Center for Internet and Society)

iPad and Laptop Program Guide

Herewith, please find a guide to the new U Prep iPad and laptop program, written for families. It describes the program in detail, including device guidelines. I am really excited about the quality of our preparations this year. Faculty members have been actively experimenting with and thinking about new uses of student devices, particularly tablet-based computing.

Screen Shot 2013-06-14 at 11.50.16 AM

iPad and Laptop Program Guide

The Future of Digital Cultures

It’s week 3 of E-Learning and Digital Cultures, which of course means that I am ready to write about week 2! Thankfully, this MOOC is designed to allow for some time flexibility. Here are a few ideas and reflections from the week 2 videos and readings.

During week 2, the instructional team shared some utopian and dystopian views of what future culture might be like in a highly technological age. Interestingly, the two utopian views were both from technology companies, Corning and Microsoft. While both showed a variety of scenes from daily life, they placed a heavy emphasis on business life, particularly business travel. Curiously, the imagined future devices were themselves technically very advanced, but the social applications were very familiar from present-day life. People were shown going to business meetings, attending school, and making their way around the house in a way not at all different from the present day. My favorite: the kids’ school uniforms were straight out of San Francisco Catholic schools!

The two dystopian videos were alarming views of company or state control of society, in which technology is used to keep people captive. Sight is worth a view if you have a spare eight minutes. Wearable computing, video game culture, dating sites, corporate control, and personal greed all come together in this detailed, entertaining and frightening view of the future.

While I fully agree with the need for vigilance against political and corporate totalitarianism, I have too much faith in humanity to believe that these dystopian views will in fact become reality. I am reminded of the historical analysis in Hamlet’s Blackberry, in which William Powers demonstrates that humanity has not only survived but also shaped cultural change in response to past eras of rapid technological change. My favorite example: according to Powers, the telephone was first envisioned as a mass broadcast device. We would all pick up the phone to listen to messages sent from a central agency. Instead, people’s unstoppable desire to connect with each other transformed the telephone into a personal communication technology. Returning to the week 1 theme of determinism, personal agency is alive and well and shapes technologies at least as much as technologies shape people.

In the week 2 readings, Johnston addresses how the Internet is characterized by metaphors to help people understand it. However, metaphors such as “superhighway” oversimplify the true nature of the Internet, limiting people’s ability to fully appreciate its potential. While I appreciate this point of view, I equally feel that innovators constantly invent new Internet applications and thus stretch our collective understanding of what one can accomplish there. While the superhighway metaphor was all about transcending space and time, we have more recently developed new metaphors to reflect more recent applications of the Internet for social connectedness and knowledge creation.

In a self-referential moment, the course brings in two articles about the relevance of MOOCs, Shirky’s “Napster, Udacity and the Academy,” and Bady’s “Questioning Clay Shirky.” I lean toward the less revolutionary Bady, reminded that the more things appear to change in education, the more they stay the same. Channeling Cuban and Tyack, public education in the U.S. has proven remarkably resistant to change, the basic model surviving intact despite repeated waves of educational innovation. I don’t see much evidence to conclude that the most recent set of innovations will break this trend. Our society has a very firmly-held conception of what Cuban and Tyack call the “grammar of schooling,” or what people recognize as school-based education. As long as most MOOCs faithfully reproduce this grammar, they are likely to remain a pale echo of place-based schooling rather than a viable replacement. That people are taking free online classes does not mean that physical schools are now obsolete. At the same time, wouldn’t it be wonderful if prestigious universities were offer a number of free courses to the world indefinitely, as an expression of some small measure of public purpose from these giant institutions?

I look forward to the week 3 content. Given the upcoming long weekend, I even have some hope that I will be able to get through it before the week is out!

 

Determinism in Academic Technology

Week 1 of E-learning and Digital Cultures has focused on technological determinism and its corollaries, social determinism and uses determinism. Technological determinism is the idea that technology itself causes personal and social change. The theory is reductive, simplifying the cause of complex social and cultural changes to a single factor. Expressed in different sub-forms, technological determinism insists that technological advancement is inevitable, affects all parts of society, and operates outside of our control. Technology gains anthropomorphic qualities.

Uses determinism takes a similarly reductive approach but give sole agency to people and their activities. People, not technology, cause social change and shape technology itself to their ends. Social determinism suggests that political and economic factors shape technology. One may see social determinism expressed in terms of digital divide and political power theories for the evolution of technology.

I find this perspective incredibly helpful in clarifying current debates in listserv discussions, education technology conferences, and faculty meetings. Technology is often portrayed monolithically, a single concept that can be described in one word. Technology determinists appear on opposite sides of the debate. Technology evangelists, particularly those who sell technology products, spread powerful messages that the evolution of information into digital form by itself transforms society. The world is now flat, we live in a technology revolution, and our future is impossible to predict–all because of undersea fiber-optic cables. Techno-critics portray technology as a false god, leading us to distraction and consumerism. Our society is in decline. For both techno-enthusiasts and techno-critics, neither individuals nor organizations or society have agency or can shape technology. Neither side of the debate rings true for me.

Most education technologists are uses determinists. In contrast to technological determinists, they assert that technology itself has no independent agency. It is “just a tool” that can be used for good or evil. They feel that master teachers can bend technology to their will, directing it entirely toward the service of teaching and learning. In this view, teachers should first identify learning objectives and then select the technology tools that will best support them in a straightforward, linear process. While this view is helpful to appropriately place technology within a school, it can also be used to control technology or keep it out of the classroom. It also does not do justice to the challenge of artfully using technology, which requires a nuanced understanding of how a technology-rich environment is different from a technology-poor environment.

Social determinists argue that countries and corporations use technology to control others, brainwashing us through media to further their ends, exacerbating the divide between haves and have-nots. In this view, although anyone can learn to program, CEOs rule. Twitter does not cause revolution; rather, governments flip a switch and cut it off when it suits them. In this view, technology companies are seen as having huge power to dictate school program through product features, terms of service, and licensing requirements.

Where does the truth lie? Probably somewhere among all three of these ideas. Social and cultural change is too complex to be affected only by single factors. The interaction of society and technology is multifaceted and changing. Individuals, societies, and technology all have some causal agency and are all affected by the others. We have the power to exert some control over our environment, while at the same time, our environment changes us to some extent.

Two extreme positions dominate much of the national debate on education technology. At one end, technology determinists argue that if only schools had more computers, the positive effects on education would emerge automatically. At the other end, both techno-critics and skeptical teachers argue for keeping technology at arm’s length, limiting its effect on the classroom as much as possible. School leaders can move such conversation to a more productive place by both acknowledging the partial validity of any deterministic viewpoint. Some truth exists to any of these perspectives. At the same time, any education discussion is incomplete without balance among the different determinist viewpoints.

Some leading education technologists focuses largely on positive uses determinism. Some have even written books to say so. Let’s take a look at three authors who explore uses determinism to different degrees. In Hamlet’s BlackberryWilliam Powers explores individual agency in a technology-rich world, suggesting that people have faced similar crises of technological change and information overload for all of human history. Powers’ explanation balances the different determinist views, accepting that new technologies have an effect on society, while in time, society responds and shapes technology to serve its ends. The key, Powers argues, is critical thinking and attention — building the discipline of mind to unplug, keep perspective, rediscover the self, and act intentionally in our busy world.

In Net Smart, Howard Rheingold also keys in on attention but advises that we build our mental discipline while using technology rather than by stepping away from it. He ascribes more agency than Powers to the individual and less to technology. Rheingold suggests simple techniques to pay attention to your use of technology, such as setting a timer to remind yourself to check your attentional focus, practicing meditation and yoga breathing techniques, and getting better at filtering useful from useless incoming information. He proposes that attention and mindfulness training become part of the required school curriculum, a 21st century literacy, if you will.

In Now You See It, Cathy Davidson takes attention mindfulness one step further, arguing that the very definition of focus is changing from an industrial-era concept of single-minded attention to an interactive, interpersonal kind of attention more appropriate for a highly connected age.

School leaders who understand the different determinist extremes may better navigate the hazardous waters of education technology change in schools.

A Brief History of Design Thinking

Each of the past two summers, I have participated in workshops on a method for program development called design thinking. You may have heard of it, as it has been the subject of workshop presentations at education conferences, articles in education publications, and faculty retreats. In this article, I recount the history of design thinking in independent schools as I understand it. Call it “Design Thinking: West Coast Edition,” if you will. I would love to hear your experiences as well. Then, in a second article, I plan to tell the story of design thinking here at U Prep, particularly the experience of applying design thinking theory to on-site practice.

Design thinking has its origins in the world of business, specifically product design. A better chair, shoe, or building design have been common subjects of design thinking over the years. IDEO‘s David Kelley is cited as the pioneer of design thinking. Concurrently with explorations of design thinking, independent schools were engaged in a process of “professionalization”, looking to learn from business practices such as employee expectations, employment, and evaluation. The Summer 2011 edition of Independent School featured the theme of “Developing a Professional Culture in School.”

Independent schools were perhaps also attracted to the prestige of a national leader in design thinking, Stanford University. The Institute of Design (a.k.a., d.school), and its offspring IDEO, reached out to schools as early as 2009 (12), and a number of independent school leaders visited and attended their workshops.

A smaller but also prominent school is also located along the Peninsula south of San Francisco, Nueva School. The school came into contact with the Stanford d.school, found that these ideas resonated with its practices of experiential education, and decided to make design thinking a core feature of its instructional program. This led to the development of a dedicated space for prototype fabrication, hiring of a program director, and the integration of design thinking methods throughout the school’s curriculum. Nueva staff took design thinking one step further, adopting it as a process for learning environment design, and began to train its own staff as well as those from other schools. This led to several much-cited conference presentations, Nueva’s summer institute for design thinking, as well as its Innovative Learning Conference.

The 2012 NAIS Annual Conference featured workshops on design thinking (12). Architecture firms developed design thinking partnerships with educators (12). Mount Vernon Presbyterian School used a community-based design thinking workshop to inform the redesign of the school’s library and held a Design Thinking SummitRiverdale Country School and IDEO offered a free online course in design thinking and published an educator’s guide to design thinking. A number of schools began to try design thinking in classrooms and community projects (1, 2). Personally, I have been involved in the design thinking work of Santa Fe Leadership Center and Leading Is Learning. You may be interested in some upcoming Leading Is Learning events, a free webinar on Jan 30 (offered with Whipple Hill) and a design thinking event in June 2013 at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School.

We have engaged with design thinking in a number of ways at University Prep. My next article will explore these efforts and investigate the differences between attending a workshop on design thinking and implementing it in school practice.