Category Archives: TEDxGR

My "What Now"

So I went to TEDxGR this week and was inspired just like last year. My favorites again were the scientists who talked about design, specifically Andrew Dent and Nathan Waterhouse.

Lifted from Material ConneXion website

Andrew Dent is a material scientist at Material ConneXion and his job was to make products “faster, lighter, cheaper, and stronger.” Now he has added has added sustainability to what he needs to create. I loved the materials library that they have created with samples of all materials available to clients. How wonderful would it be to have a library of materials in a lab for students to play and create with?

from Amazing Dat

Another focus of his talk was about nature. He showed how scientists try to mimic nature in creating synthetic products. He gave the example of Speedo looking at sharkskin as a model for creating the best bathing suits for competition swimmers. But then he blew me away with a photo of what sharkskin really looks like. It is so complicated it makes man made designs look ridiculous.

So Andrew said we need to focus on using nature, rather than copying it and gave an example of clothes made from tea and bacteria. These kind of products are biodegradable and sustainable by default.

I also appreciated how he talked about how his person friends are mostly artists. I agree with his approach that science and art need to combine to create future designs and products. It reminds me of the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) movement in schools that recognizes that STEM needs the arts embedded into it to solve the world’s challenges.

Nathan Waterhouse gave me my biggest takeaway moment. He told the story of how NASA science in the 60’s was both a collaboration and competition at the same time. Five teams of scientists worked in the same large building on their designs in competition with each other. But they also shared their progress with each other and could see each others’ work. They could talk to each other, see each others’ products, and copy if they wanted to. This is the method that allowed the U.S. to conquer the moon in only a decade.

At my school we are always talking about collaboration as a skill that we want students to develop. But Nathan has me thinking that we can have both collaboration and competition going on at the same time. When you combine that concept with gaming in schools (from Bill Sabram’s talk) I am really fascinated by what kind of classroom structure for learning could be created. I will be reading some James Paul Gee this summer and trying to wrap my mind around how to combine standards based assessment and problem based learning with a social studies class designed as a game. I also want to make learning student-centered with lots of choices for them so they are intrinsically motivated.

My early thoughts are to have students create their own versions of “choose your own adventures” where instead of just turning to a different page in a book, they may have to research and master a topic, watch an on-line video, or ask and solve historical problems from primary sources. Students could work their way through post WWII America and try to pass an equal rights amendment or peacefully end the Cold War. Then students could play each others’ simulations and critique and evaluate them. The best ones could be shared with other schools as winners of the competition 

Between Sessions at TEDxGR

I was lucky enough to get an invite and attend TEDxGR this week. It was my first TED experience and was definitely the best conference I have ever been to. I would highly recommend attending any TED conference that you have an opportunity to, but especially here in Grand Rapids.
by TEDxGrandRapids
One of the best parts for me was talking to one of the speakers Mickey McManus of MAYA between sessions. He presented on human centered design as a new literacy (more on that in another post).

He told myself and a few other attendees several stories but what struck me most was the interview questions of new hires that he shared. He said that at Maya they have two core interview questions:
1. Tell us about a time you failed.

If  the person being interviewed has to think way back to college or the beginning of their career, Maya is not interested in hiring them. If they use the pronoun “we” a lot and do not take personal responsibility for the failure they are not interested.

If the person tells a story of failure from the past couple of weeks or months and they use the pronoun “I” taking personal responsibility for the failure then Maya is very interested in hiring that person.

In design they use the mantra fail often, fail early. That way when the time comes that it matters you will succeed.

2. Tell us about when you did the impossible.

This question matters because past results are best indicator of future performance. Failing alone is not enough if it does not ultimately lead to success. He said that it doesn’t matter if the task was really impossible because of course it wasn’t since they completed it. What matters is that they thought it was impossible and achieved it.

I think there are huge implications for education in these questions. We need to give teachers and students permission to experiment and fail often. Worksheets and test prep will not get this done. Students need to create their own solutions to authentic problems and test them over and over. Students need to feel safe and encouraged to take chances with creative solutions and they need to understand that failing is not a permanent state but a step in the direction of finding a working solution. Then students will develop the quality of resilience, which Mickey pointed out is one of the back bones of what has made our country great in the face of challenges and tragedy. 

Secondly how often do we give students the opportunity to solve impossible problems? Too often they are given worksheets or assignments that they know the answers are in an answer key somewhere. Students need to be challenged with legitimate questions that the teacher does not know the answer to and have multiple solutions waiting to be discovered. Students need the chance to confront things like poverty, clean water, war, genocide, starvation, and the environment. If we challenged students to do the impossible I believe we would see an increase in both motivation and achievement as students rose to the task.