Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Letting Go: A Dead End or A New Route?

Sometimes you need to get there on your own, without GPS.

End of a game, end of a book, end of the day, end of the spring, end of the semester, end of the school year, end of a good time...

As they say, all good things must come to an end. Why is that? 

Yesterday, the STEAM Studio held an educator round table - principals, teachers, directors and other educators came to learn more about what we do at the studio and we learned more about what their students need.

One point that was made is that it's hard to let go. Letting go of the comfortable curriculum, the usual routine, old resources,  and the traditional teaching we've used in our schools for the last century. Sure, new methods and practices are being implemented all over our great city. However, when you walk into a typical classroom, it looks very similar to what most of us sat through in our schooling.

When thinking about the bigger picture, outside of education, what are we preparing this next generation for if we cannot expect them to move forward and try new things. How is this possible if we, their teachers, their mentors, cannot move on?  

In our world this last week,  there has been an earthquake, riots, drama, and disaster. When does the day end and the healing begin? When do we stop grasping onto a situation and start walking away? When something ends, how do we move onto a new beginning?

Your brain has a lot to do with it.

  • New Pathways: Do you take the road less traveled, or the same street to the same place everyday?  For example, you might decide to pick up a new sport that you've been meaning to for the last 5 years. As you study and practice the new sport, neurons housed in that area of your brain would send electrical messengers to the cell's center (soma) where ultimately new neural pathways begin to be formed to acquire and store the understandings of the sport.  The more we repeat something and use that portion of the brain in a focused way, the more new neural pathways might develop in your brain. These new pathways become stronger the more they are used, causing the likelihood of new long-term connections and memories. It is possible to teach an old dog new tricks!

  • Your Mindset: Again, it really comes down to a science. One of my favorite researchers and authors, Dr. Carol S. Dweck, penned the book, "Mindset, The New Psychology of Success." I love this quote from her book:
"I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves — in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. Our research has shown when we teach people the growth mindset, with its focus on development, these ideas about challenge and effort follow."

  • No Regrets: According to Dr. Stefanie Brassen, a researcher at University Medical Center in Germany, letting go of regret helps us live a longer and healthier life. By not looking back and wondering "what might have been", we are able to look forward and make better choices as we live our lives. She noted that a common trait in older healthy adults was their positive outlook on life and being relaxed regarding their past. It's common to make mistakes in life, so the moral of the story here is to go easy on yourself and keep on!
  • Changing Habits: Obviously if you want to move forward you will have to form a new habit to replace the old. Quitting cold turkey is hard, and sometimes it's more of not letting go quickly but making that transition slowly. I recently read the Pulitzer award winning, New York Times reporter, Charles Duhigg's book, "Power of Habit". He writes about how habits are formed and how they can be changed:

"First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. To change a habit, there's a framework to follow: identify the routine, experiment with rewards, isolate the cue, and have a plan."

It doesn't happen overnight, it's a process. So whether you are trying a new way of teaching, picking up a new sport, or trying to see things in a new light; know that creating new habits and breaking old ones require some thought and time.

It's hard to let go, especially of someone, something who holds a very special
place in your heart and/ or mind.  Hopefully realizing the science behind it can help you move on. 

One way to look at it, I guess, is that it is 
not the end of the road, but the beginning of a new journey.

As Coldplay sings, "Nobody said it was easy..." a great song to add to your playlist. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

High Speed Sleuth: Quick To Judge or Just the Facts?

You may think you are a cool digital detective, but  Magnum P. I. was on fire!
This time of year brings new hires, retirement announcements, rounds of interviews and updated placements. Some are surprising, others are needed, many are bittersweet. When someone is being replaced in a company, school, organization or church, sparks of interest ignite with the need to find out more. Who is this person coming in? Why is another leaving? What impact will that leave on me?  In our world of light speed access to all kinds of information, we have a wide open portal filled with endless virtual file cabinets.  

Is Googling a person the most effective way to get the facts you need? Are they fact or fiction? 

What's the first thing you do when you want to know more about someone? Be honest!
1. Ask that person
2. Ask someone who knows them?
3. Google it.

This isn't confession, so keep your answer to yourself. However, if we were completely honest, we would say that we first Google a question we have. It makes sense. Easy, usually reliable, you get to see a pic, find out other things about them that maybe you weren't even searching for. We have created a society of digital detectives.  Move over Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, Cagney & Lacey, Dick Tracy, and Kojack...everyone with a Wi-Fi signal has a P.I. badge.

So, we Google, then we make (often times, jump) to conclusions about what we see, hear or read. It's human nature, we are curious people! Here are some points to consider when you are sleuthing:

1. Is there a logical fallacy?  We know now there are some "facts" which are not true, even if at the time they seem completely logical. The Earth is not flat, Pluto is not a planet, dropping a penny from the Empire State Building is not deadly, you cannot get warts from toads, and Bruce Jenner is no longer a man (actually, that one is still under debate, I can't keep up). Everyday new information is uncovered and people are sometimes wrong. Don't believe every fact you find.

2. Who's your eyewitness? Nothing seems to get past Google or does it? How amazing that we have this free, quick and exciting research assistant at our fingertips? A recent study found that about 50% of medical information searchers googled was inaccurate. I don't know about you, but that doesn't make me feel comfortable when it comes to my health and other topics I'm asking Siri about. There are many different "people search engines" out there for you to find (for free) information, obviously some are going to have misleading material.  Have you ever Googled yourself? I do from time to time, and I have all kinds of aliases because I have a nickname and a married name, so sometimes it will state that I am either 29, 40 or 51 (I'll take age 29).  According to Spokeo,  there are 46 different females named "Mandi Sonnenberg" in the US today. I guess I am not so unique or original after all!  

3. The third degree? If you want to know something about about someone, how about just asking them? Are they approachable or near you to do so? There's always email, Facetime, texting or old-school talking on the phone. The best way to get to know someone is to spend time with them.  Using social media doesn't count as getting to know someone. I remember a few years ago during the spring season, one of our students was graduating to be a teacher and she was job searching.The principal from one of the potential schools she was interviewing looked up her Facebook page and quickly made some negative assumptions about her. When she wasn't asked back for an interview, she asked the principal why and he explained that her Facebook page was not a representation of the type of teacher they wanted at their school. After some more conversation with our student, the principal realized he had looked up the wrong girl with the same name!

4. Testimonial evidence?  We all live in this fishbowl, swimming around, hoping to get a little privacy by hiding behind our plastic plant ornament or hiding under a rock here and there. Yet, our business is not always our own business. Life happens. Kids get in trouble, couples get divorced, someone's financial situation changes, pictures are posted on Bragbook (I mean Facebook) and people start talking. Documents located via the intetnet and social media can be deceiving and misrepresent anyone or anything. Here is a good read about why social media has a credibility problem. This doesn't mean that social media and internet searches can't be helpful, they can!  It can be a great starting point to diving deeper into what you need to find. The point is, a picture doesn't always mean a thousand words.

5. What's your motive?  When it comes to hiring and firing, out with old and in with the new, we tend to get a little nervous. Change is HARD. Really hard. When children are involved, or if your job is at jeopardy, or there is a new hire as a boss, educator, leader, or whatever change agent is coming, this naturally raises a level of concern.  It's understandable to find out what you can about someone who is entering your life in some personal or professional capacity. Here are some tips for finding anyone, anything online and Google search tips. You wanna make sure your reasons for gathering more information are solid and you have others around you who can help you go through the material to see different angles . 

Everyone has the right to their own opinions and, thanks to our technological advancements, we have the right to search for important information. Being cautiously concerned sometimes is imperative when it involves the safety of our children and families and/or the prosperity of an organization or company we are invested. But, the process doesn't begin and end there; using our brains and reflecting on the accuracy of the information takes time. How about less interrogation and more interest in the whole person. 

Let's slow down, reflect on what we are searching and 
hopefully we will find what we are really looking for.

Two of my favorite detectives were Tubbs and Crockett, who can forget Miami Vice!? Here's the theme song you can play while you are searching for clues.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Apple's New Wearable: Watch Out!

What do you really want at your fingertips?

I remember when I was in junior high and I got my first Swatch watch, equipped with a guard, and inter-changeable bands to mix and match any outfit. I thought I was so big time. However, I'll never forget my dad saying, "It's rude to keep looking at your watch when you're with others."

Um, whaaat? Obviously, he had not seen THIS watch. This watch was trendy, the latest and greatest. Even though I couldn't really see the actual time through the overlapping rubber guards, I enjoyed looking at it on my wrist and was beyond excited to wear it at all times. It wasn't even digital!

Now we have the Apple Watch.

Anytime, literally, any... time you want to be up and up on what is happening, there it is.

Here is what I can share through recent research and little bit of common sense on why you may want to pass on this arm candy, well, ok, wrist candy...

  • Price: Let's just get down to the question everyone wants to know, how much is this gonna cost me? The prices range from $349 to over $15,000 (that's right not $1,500, but $15K!) Is style that important to you?
  • Style: There are three main styles to choose from, Apple Watch Sport, Apple Watch, and Apple Watch Edition. Obviously the Apple Watch Sport is least expensive. Available in 10 different models with a variety of band colors (white, blue, green, pink and black). The Apple Watch is middle of the road; available in 20 different models including a stainless steel face with options of a sports band, leather or buckle loop, link bracelet or milanese link option in a variety of colors. Lastly, the Apple Watch Edition, the more Rolex version including 8 models with 18 karat gold  also including different choices for band colors which stylishly gives you limitless access.  
  • Access: The options are timeless here. You have 24/7 access to apps. It works very much like your Apple phone. All you have to do is move your wrist and it comes alive. It gives you a small tap when you receive a notification.  Directly on the watch face, you can swipe "up" to view small glances of content you view the most, then swipe "down" to see missed notifications. No need to wind this watch, but you do still have what they call a digital crown which looks like that nob you use to wind.  You can roll the digital crown to see more information you are swiping, zoom in, call on Siri, and view more apps. Force touch is another innovative resource on this phone. It avoids more buttons on the display and allows you to delete messages, end sessions, and navigate to other apps. Will you be one of the masses wearing it?
  • Health: There is a new feature accompanying Apple Watch, called Health Tap. Let's say you are hungry and want a quick ride, not only will your Apple watch (aka, Siri) help you find a special local place like Governor Stumpy's which serves a variety of delicious options, but it can give you nutrition data about what you are consuming.  Health Tap, will also provide you with helpful knowledge from over 68,000 licensed doctors. Other features and apps include the ability to set pill reminders, monitor your heart rate, and track your total body movement as you investigate other aspects of your life.
  • Life: I think back to my dad, who always has this way of saying something that seems so straightforward and simplistic, yet ends up having a bigger meaning. Over the years, we all have been in meetings, where someone was checking their watch, then it migrated to checking their laptop, then their phone and now it's back the watch. When, in all honesty, it would be nice for them to just check out the person they are with!  If you are a person who has self control and you know that you won't be constantly looking at your watch, then do it. Go get that digital wearable!
But, unlike our mobile phones, we can't put THIS watch away. It's on us, tethered to our body,  so unless you take it off....you are connected to everything, except maybe the one you are with.

And, it doesn't have those unforgettable guards like the Swatch watch. Maybe that's what Apple needs to add, guards to keep people from wasting time constantly looking DOWN, and instead... keep them looking UP.

It's yours 4.24.15 (you can pre-order, too). Set your alarm...or not. Are you part of the cure...or the disease?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Our Society's Obsession with STEM/STEAM: Crazy or Critical?

You ask someone to draw a picture of what a scientist looks like and you will most likely get something like this.

A few weeks ago The Washington Post published an article regarding the STEM obsession in America as being dangerous.  Every time we turn a corner, we see the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) /STEAM  (insert Arts) bandwagon making it's way down the educational highway.  But, on the shoulder of the road, are those who may not be motivated by those acronyms. The article reminds us that we need Psychology, Communication, Art History, English, and Music majors (just to name a few). We need also need those who may forgo college,  Manufacturers, Entrepreneurs, Builders, Farmers, Ranchers and others.

What we need more than anything? Kids who know how to think for themselves and problem solve.

There are several important areas I have learned when creating, developing and sustaining STEM/STEAM initiatives to support thinkers; not just consumers or doers, not just scientists, techies or artists, but makers of meaning.

(listed alphabetically, not by priority)

1. Double Entry Reflections:   It's not enough to just experience a new activity, we need to reflect on what is going on. Double entry journals do just that. By simply folding a piece of paper in half you now have created a front and back way to express learning. The left side can be used to write down facts (from the  research or reading), what they are learning as they go through the activity, the right side is meant for reflection. For example, on the left side, the student can answer the question, " What did you find challenging?", then on the right side, "Explain why you found it challenging or different." No need for multiple choice tests or scary assessments, have them keep this working document to share their understanding and thirst for more.

2. Expertise and Involvement: There is not one person out there that could possibly know everything about science, or technology, or math, or art or engineering, especially how to integrate these pieces together. Network, email, and text people who are educated and experienced in different content areas. Invite them in to volunteer their time to share and teach what they know (even if it is just an hour). No presentations...participation! Students are exposed to presentations and power points way too often.  At the STEAM Studio, we have called on high school students (like our own Krishon), college pre-service teachers, and other talented volunteers (the amazing artist John Bukaty) to share what they know in a platform that allows to work with the kids, not tell them, show them and learn from them.

3. Keep Em Interested:  Despite grant money, initial interest and the whole STEM excitement, reports show that many students are not finishing STEM education programs. One of the main reasons is that they lose interest. Learning is no different than other areas of your life; relationships, hobbies, travel...you enjoy being involved with someone or something because there is something different, exciting, memorable and worth learning more about.  They key to getting kids to start what they finish, in regards to STEM/STEAM programs, find what really interests them and build a project or activity around that.

4. Multiple Opportunities: Teachers and parents cannot do it all. There is mandated curriculum which must be taught, a social and family life which is essential to growing, and opportunities needed to inspire life long learning.  After school clubs are a great way to extend enrichment activities while integrating fun and individualized attention beyond the bell. Research shows there are significant benefits, beyond academics, for participants in after school programs. However, many programs only offer one topic, one project or one way to be involved.  STEM/STEAM programming should offer multiple ways to learn and multiple ways to participate through multiple topics.

5. No Recipes:  I'm not saying that anything goes, but we need to get away from structured lesson planning, standardization and assessing our students to death.  Design Thinking allows learners to be explorers. We want them to think for themselves, to be risk takers, to fail then try again, to succeed and evolve their project, to seek improvement in what they are doing.  This is the essence of Design Thinking which is the core of what we do at the STEAM Studio.

Are STEM/STEAM programs crazy or critical? It depends on the vision and mission of the initiative or program. If it is to follow the masses, deliver content through rote memory, standardized testing and push out incredibly boring material, then it is crazy. Facilitating the mad scientist image ingrained in many of our youth will deter them from such a program.  However, if you build, develop and evolve a program which focuses on individual talents, interests, interdisciplinary learning to raise confidence in the areas of STEM/STEAM, then you have a critical calling for the next generation.

I remember one of the first movies that made science look fun: Weird Science. You don't need to be blinded by science, or STEM/STEAM, it can open your eyes to all different types of ways to have fun and learn.

Thomas Dolby - She Blinded Me With Science from Mad Hatter on Vimeo.