The Art of Tinkering December 2, 2014Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity.
Tags: cardboard automata, exploratorium, karen wilkinson, mike petrich, tinkering studio, zig zag
I’m reading a fascinating book about creativity called The Art of Tinkering, curated by the two co-directors of the San Francisco Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio. The book brings together creations and practices of artists and makers from all over the United States.
I love this list of “Tinkering Tenets” from the book–daily practices that help you create:
- Revisit and iterate on your ideas
- Prototype rapidly
- Merge science, art & technology
- Use familiar materials in unfamiliar ways
- Create rather than consume
- Express ideas via construction
- Embrace your tools
- Be comfortable not knowing
- Go ahead, get stuck
- Reinvent old technologies
- Try a little “snarkasm” (joke around and be playful)
- Balance autonomy with collaboration
- Put yourself in messy and noisy situations
- Take your work seriously without taking yourself seriously
These Tinkering Tenets are completely aligned with the advice that comes from creativity research, and the techniques I describe in my creativity advice book Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity.
I first met the two co-authors of this book–Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich–when I was a Visiting Osher Fellow at the Exploratorium for one glorious month in the summer of 2009. I analyze their “cardboard automata” activity in a forthcoming scientific article in Teachers College Record titled “How to transform schools to foster creativity”.
Check out the final sentence of Mike and Karen’s “Author Acknowledgements” on page 223 (Mike and Karen are husband and wife, by the way): “Tinkering as a way of being has been the way we’ve operated since the day we met (well, maybe three months after we met, but that’s another story).” Please tell us the story!
Another View of the “Mad Men” Era November 25, 2014Posted by keithsawyer in Uncategorized.
Tags: huntington ingalls, newport news shipyard, shipbuilding
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I just found these old photographs from 1965, in the Newport News Shipyard Bulletin. The Newport News Shipyard is now the largest shipbuilding company in the United States (it was really big back then, too). This is my sister Cindy (left) and me (right) sitting in front of our father, an electrical engineer who worked on the Esso New Orleans, the ship pictured at the bottom on the cover of the issue.
A Clever Back-Handed Compliment November 23, 2014Posted by keithsawyer in Uncategorized.
Tags: bob hope, henry allen, richard zoglin
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Mr. Zoglin’s excellence as a biographer is as mysterious as Hope’s excellence as an entertainer, but here it is, an entertaining and important book. You end up feeling that (1) you’ve learned everything there is to know about Bob Hope; (2) there isn’t that much to know; (3) you’ve had a good time learning it.
Ten Educational Innovations To Watch For In The Next Ten Years November 19, 2014Posted by keithsawyer in Education.
Tags: ed tech, educational technology, flipped classroom, learning analytics, mike sharples, mooc, open university, school reform
A team of education experts at the Open University (UK), led by Professor Mike Sharples, have identified “ten innovations that are already in currency but have not yet had a profound influence on education” in this new report. Of course, you can find similar lists in just about every business magazine and newspaper, but what’s different about this report is that it’s been generated by researchers working at the cutting edge of both technology and learning sciences research. It’s a must read for teachers, academics, and policy makers–anyone who cares about how schools and learning will change over the next ten years. Here are quick summaries of their ten predictions:
- Massive open social learning. Imagine MOOCs but with their power multiplied by social network effects.
- Learning design informed by analytics. Design and analytics work together to support the development of successful learning and teaching. (If you find this interesting, you have to read the new chapter on learning analytics in the just-published Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences, Second Edition, by the leading experts on this topic: Ryan Baker and George Siemens.)
- Flipped classrooms. At home, or in individual study time, students watch video lectures that offer them opportunities to work at their own pace, pausing to make notes where necessary. This allows time in class to be spent on activities that exercise critical thinking, with the teacher guiding students in creative exploration of the topics they are studying.
- Bring your own devices. Teachers become managers of technology-enabled networked learners, rather than providers of resources and knowledge. This shift opens opportunities for connecting learning inside and outside the classroom. (Mike Sharples is the co-author, along with Professor Roy Pea of Stanford, in a chapter on Mobile Learning in the newly published Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences, Second Edition).
- Learning to learn. Web tools and activities such as reflective journals and concept mapping have been designed to support learning to learn, but these are rarely well integrated into a learner’s social world. There may be more value in adapting for wider use social research environments such as ResearchGate, or question-answering communities such as StackExchange and Quora.
- Dynamic assessment. The assessor interacts with students during the testing phase of the process, identifying ways to overcome each person’s current learning difficulties. In the dynamic assessment process, assessment and intervention are inseparable.
- Event based learning. Examples are the ‘maker fairs’ that gather together enthusiasts who are keen on do-it-yourself science, engineering and crafts projects, and the ‘Raspberry jams’ where fans of the Raspberry Pi computer meet up and share ideas. Local events spark national gatherings and these build into international festivals.
- Learning through storytelling. Developing a narrative is part of a process of meaning making in which the narrator structures a series of events from a particular point of view in order to create a meaningful whole. Writing up an experiment, reporting on an inquiry, analyzing a period of history – these are all examples of narrative supporting learning.
- Threshold concepts. A threshold concept is something that, when learnt, opens up a new way of thinking about a problem, a subject or the world. A challenging aspect of threshold concepts is that they often seem strange and unintuitive.
- Bricolage. Bricolage is a practical process of learning through tinkering with materials. It is a fundamental process of children’s learning through play. It also forms a basis for creative innovation.
If you like this report, you might also be interested in my conclusion chapter in the new learning sciences handbook, “The Future of Learning: Grounding Educational Innovation in the Learning Sciences”.
ZIG ZAG Published in Chinese! November 10, 2014Posted by keithsawyer in Enhancing creativity.
Tags: cheers publishing, creativity, innovation
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Great news! My 2013 creativity advice book, Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity, was just published in a Chinese language edition, by Cheers Publishing in Beijing. Just minutes ago, I received my author copy in the mail. It’s so exciting to see that my ideas are available to readers in China!
Check out the home page of Cheers Publishing: you’ll see that they’ve translated many wonderful science-based books, including:
* Proust was a neuroscientist (Lehrer)
* Where good ideas come from (Johnson)
* Shop class as soulcraft (Crawford)
* Design-driven innovation (Verganti)
Many thanks to the team at Cheers Publishing, for their professionalism and their rapid speed in translating and publishing my book!
Tags: accountability, assessment, diane ravitch, nclb, no child left behind, yong zhao
In the latest New York Review of Books, Diane Ravitch reviews the new book Who’s afraid of the big bad dragon? Why China has the best (and worst) education system in the world, by Professor Yong Zhao, who was born and educated in China, and now has a senior professorship at the University of Oregon. The central argument is: Yes, students in Shanghai schools led the world in the last PISA international assessment; and yes, in general, Chinese students are some of the best at getting high test scores. But in spite of high test scores–maybe even because of it–those same students don’t learn the skills necessary to be successful in today’s knowledge economy:
those test scores are purchased by sacrificing creativity, originality, and individualism….standardized tests are a victory for authoritarianism….they reflect a Confucian tradition of rote learning that is thousands of years old.
So in fact these high test scores are holding China back:
The more that China retreats from central planning, the more its economy thrives. To maintain economic growth, China needs technological innovation, which it will never develop unless it abandons its test-based education system, especially the gaokao, the all-important college entrance exams.
Professor Zhao is not the only Chinese education expert making such claims; he’s joined by a chorus of Chinese experts. Here’s Professor Zheng Yefu, from Peking University, in his popular 2013 Chinese book The Pathology of Chinese Education:
No one, after 12 years of Chinese education, has any chance to receive a Nobel prize, even if he or she went to Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge for college….Out of the billion people who have been educated in Mainland China since 1949, there has been no Nobel prize winner….This forcefully testifies to the power of education in destroying creativity in China.
Ravitch draws on these books to argue against a current move in the United States: toward additional standardized testing and accountability. The argument for assessment and accountability can sound quite reasonable: How can we know if teachers are effective unless we can measure how much their students have learned? How can we decide which educational innovations are worth adopting if we don’t know how much learning results from them? How can we decide between different policy choices, like more charter schools versus more funding for public schools, unless we know which types of schools graduate smarter students?
Ultimately, the push for more assessment is driven by market-based theories. (You generally won’t hear this in the media, only in academic papers, but it’s the only coherent intellectual argument for additional student assessment.) In capitalism, markets work on a national scale only when everyone shares the same measure of value: the national currency. We buy and sell by trading goods for money, and these exchanges create value. Conservative critics of public schools argue that public monopolies, because they’re not subject to competition and market mechanisms, don’t generate value. However, markets can’t work without a common currency of exchange, and in the case of education, that has to be a common national measure of effectiveness, based in student learning outcomes.
From the conservative perspective, this seems so logical that only a union-loving liberal, one with a weak mind and an absence of critical thinking ability, would oppose it. But Ravitch’s review shows us the dark side of additional accountability: We could turn our schools into China, and kill the high level of innovation that’s driven the U.S. economy to be the most successful in the world in the past fifty years. Her counterargument is powerful, and is grounded in historical facts: The U.S. national government first began its push for additional testing and accountability in 1983 (the Reagan era A Nation at Risk), concerned that our supposedly poor schools would lead us to economic decline; and yet, during the last 30 years, the U.S. has kicked ass in the world’s economic competition. She notes that on an international test of math in 1964, U.S. seniors scored last among twelve nations; and yet in the following 50 years, the US outperformed all the other eleven countries “by every measure, whether economic productivity, military might, technological innovation, or democratic institutions.”
This could mean that education isn’t really that important to a country’s success, but neither liberals nor conservatives believe that; and the only other possible explanation is that it means that tests are horrible measures of whether students are mastering valuable 21st century skills, the skills that really matter. Ravitch can barely hold back her contempt for arguments that schools are to blame for the 1970s oil crisis, or for the Japanese success in the auto industry in the 1980s: “When the US economy improved, would any of the politicians thank the schools? Of course not.”
Ravitch concludes her review by quoting from Zhao’s new book:
Zhao dreams of schools where the highest value is creativity, where students are encouraged to be confident, curious, and creative. Until we break free of standardized testing, this ideal will remain out of reach.
Tags: james stigler, john bransford, learning sciences, make it stick, mark mcdaniel, roger schank, tony wagner
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Look at what arrived in the mail today! The newly published second edition of The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences. Here I am, holding the first copy, in front of my creativity toy bookshelf. Available from Amazon.com now!
Here are the early reviews:
“The first edition of this handbook was outstanding. The second edition is even more inclusive and up to date, with a choice of chapters that nicely complement one another and are written with unusual clarity. This is a must-read for everyone who cares about education and learning.” John Bransford, Professor of the Learning Sciences, University of Washington
“The learning sciences is well exemplified in this very well-put-together book. There are excellent articles here about learning by argumentation, by collaboration, through projects, through cognitive apprenticeship, and in virtual worlds. This book demonstrates that learning scientists continue to make great progress on how learning works.” Roger Schank, Northwestern University
“Too often, we educators teach in the ways that we have been taught, without regard to the research about how learning actually happens. This anthology is an invaluable contribution to a long overdue discussion about how best to ‘reinvent’ education for the 21st century.” Tony Wagner, Harvard University; Author of The Global Achievement Gap and Creating Innovators
“In an academic landscape characterized by increasing specialization, the learning sciences stands out for its broad and interdisciplinary approach. In this highly readable and useful overview of the field, this outstanding group of authors demonstrates the power and promise of a field motivated not by the advance of a particular theory or paradigm but by a desire to understand and solve some of the most significant issues of our day – issues of education and learning in a socially and technologically complex world.” James W. Stigler, UCLA, co-author of The Teaching Gap
“This is a deeply rich, comprehensive handbook of the learning sciences. The volume covers an impressive array of topics—from theoretical approaches to methodologies to concrete, implementable instructional techniques. I found it to be extremely informative and accessible. Without a doubt this handbook will be an indispensable and satisfying resource for students, researchers, teachers, and experts.” Mark McDaniel, Washington University in St. Louis, co-author of Make It Stick
Learning How To Do Architectural Design November 5, 2014Posted by keithsawyer in Case Studies, Education.
Tags: architecture education study, barbara rogoff, donald schon, etienne wenger, jean lave, learning sciences, the design studio
The research field I work in, the learning sciences, has been heavily influenced by studies of learning both inside and outside of schools. Outside of schools, learning environments are structured very differently from traditional classrooms. Many learning scientists have studied what have come to be called apprenticeship learning environments; this is how people learn on the job, for example. Here are the central steps in apprenticeship learning:
- The apprentice watches the master execute a skill.
- The apprentice attempts to replicate that skill.
- The apprentice reflects on her performance, and examines how it is similar and different to what she saw the master do.
- The apprentice “internalizes the performance” and “makes it her own” by repeating the cycle.
These four steps were first studied and documented by a lost hero of the learning sciences, MIT Professor Donald Schon, on pages 74 and 75 of his long out-of-print 1985 book The Design Studio. He called these four steps “the ladder of reflection” and he first observed them in an architecture studio class, as a researcher in the definitive and influential 1981 Architecture Education Study (two volumes, and also long out of print).
I’ve been teaching Schon’s book as part of an advanced research seminar this Fall, titled “Learning How to Create,” and the more closely I read his writings, the more I wish that learning scientists would study his analyses of apprenticeship learning. Instead, we’re more likely to cite Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger’s 1991 book Situated Learning, or Barbara Rogoff’s 1990 book Apprenticeship in Thinking (both of which are very impressive, in extending our understanding of how people learn, but neither of them cite Schon’s writings). Through informal conversations, I know that many of the early founders of the learning sciences were influenced by Dr. Schon’s work. In the cognitive sciences, his research was an early salvo in the now-completed attack on 1970s-era cognitive psychology, with its now-rejected assumption that learning, performance, and expertise are best thought of as internal mental structures and processes, that can be captured and represented in a disembodied computer program. Instead, today we realize that expertise is better conceived of a repertoire of situated social practices.
Here are some of my favorite quotations from Schon’s 1985 book:
Initially, the student does not and cannot understand what designing means. He finds the artistry…to be elusive, obscure, alien and mysterious. Conversely, the studio master realizes that the students do not initially understand the essential things and cannot be told those things at the outset, because the fundamental concepts of designing can be grasped only in the context of the doing….The student does not yet know what he needs to know, yet knows that he needs to look for it. His instructor cannot tell him what he needs to know, even if he has words for it, because the student would not understand him. (pp. 54-56)
Schön imagines what the teacher might say to the student:
I can tell you there is something you need to know, and I can tell you that with my help you can probably learn it. But I cannot tell you what it is in a way that you can now understand. You must be willing, therefore, to undergo certain experiences as I direct you to undergo them so that you can learn what it is you need to know and what I mean by the words I use. Then and only then can you make an informed choice about whether you wish to learn this new competence. If you are unwilling to step into this new experience without knowing ahead of time what it will be like, then I cannot help you. You must trust me. (p. 57)
I agree with Schon that studio practice has many important lessons for educators in other fields, including science, engineering, and math. Schon was influenced by the improvisationality of jazz, and he argued that learning was an essentially improvisational process.
Schon’s research was published almost 30 years ago; today, learning scientists continue down the path that he first mapped out.
Vygotsky on Collective Creativity October 21, 2014Posted by keithsawyer in Everyday life.
Tags: Collective creativity, creativity, lev vygotsky, vygotsky, walter isaacson
I just re-read a classic article about creativity, written almost 100 years ago by the legendary Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky’s theory–that innovations emerge from social networks and collaborative groups–has been supported by decades of research. Here are a few choice quotations:
Our everyday understanding of creativity does not fully conform to the scientific understanding of this word. In our everyday understanding, creativity is the realm of a few select individuals, geniuses, talented people. This view is incorrect. Creativity is present whenever a person imagines and creates something new, no matter how small a drop in the bucket this new thing appears. Collective creativity combines all these drops of individual creativity that are insignificant in themselves. This is why an enormous percentage of what has been created by humanity is a product of the anonymous collective creative work of unknown inventors. (pp. 10-11)
Everything the imagination creates is always based on elements taken from reality, from a person’s previous experience. The most fantastic creations are nothing other than a new combination of elements that have ultimately been extracted from reality. (p. 13)
The first law of creativity: The act of imagination depends directly on the richness and variety of a person’s previous experience because this experience provides the material from which the products of creativity are constructed. The richer a person’s experience, the richer is the material his imagination has access to. Great works and discoveries are always the result of an enormous amount of previously accumulated experience. The implication of this for education is that, if we want to build a relatively strong foundation for a child’s creativity, what we must do is broaden the experiences we provide him with. (pp. 14-15)
Every inventor, even a genius, is a product of his time and his environment. His creations arise from needs that were created before him. No invention can occur before the material and psychological conditions necessary for it to occur have appeared. Creation is a historical, cumulative process where every succeeding manifestation was determined by the preceding one. (p. 30)
The right kind of education involves awakening in the child what already exists within him, helping him to develop it and directing this development in a particular direction. (p. 51)
In conclusion, I emphasize the importance of cultivating creativity in school. The entire future of humanity will be attained through creativity. Because the main objective of school is to prepare them for the future, the development and practice of creativity should be one of the main goals of education.
Vygotsky’s view is exactly what contemporary research on innovation and creativity has found, as captured in my 2007 book Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration. (And, more recently, in Walter Isaacson’s book The Innovators.)
* Vygotsky, “Imagination and creativity in childhood.” Journal of Russian and East European Psychology Vol. 42 No. 1.
Is There a Link Between Creativity and Madness? September 23, 2014Posted by keithsawyer in Creative performance.
Tags: aspen ideas festival, bipolar, dean keith simonton, james kaufman, nancy andreasen, Tom Bartlett
If you’re schizophrenic, depressed, alcoholic, or bipolar, are you likely to be more creative than the average normal person? Most people think the answer to this is an obvious “Yes.” We’ve all heard about famous writers who’ve been alcoholics or have committed suicide (Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway) and musicians (Kurt Cobain) and even comedians (Robin Williams).
This is why so many people are surprised to learn that there’s no scientific evidence of a link between creativity and mental illness. In fact, there’s substantial evidence that creative people are more happy and mentally balanced than average; for example, check out this new study that found that writers “have more optimistic perspectives and improved quality of life”.
In the latest issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, reporter Tom Bartlett has written an excellent story that starts with his visit to the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival, where Professor Nancy Andreasen gave a standing-room-only lecture arguing that creative people are more likely to be mentally ill–specifically, to have mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder. But after speaking with several other prominent creativity researchers who were also invited to speak at the event (including me), he was surprised to discover that most of us don’t believe there’s a link.
Of course, Professor Andreasen strongly defended her research when interviewed by Bartlett after her talk. So when Bartlett concludes his article, he throws up his hands and says he can’t figure out what the real truth is:
The discussion too often gets derailed by wildly varying definitions of creativity and mental illness, terms that are so hopelessly broad that simply asking if there is a link between the two is unlikely to ever lead to a satisfying answer. The research that appears most promising takes a narrow look at particular fields and distinguishes between everyday creativity and bleeding-edge genius. It remains a bewildering puzzle, one hampered by our still-evolving knowledge of neurological differences, the challenge of categorizing creativity, and the cultural biases that can’t help but influence our conclusions. It’s enough to drive anyone crazy.
It’s not Bartlett’s fault; after all, there are one or two professors who stand out against the broader scientific consensus, most notably Andreasen, so what is a journalist supposed to do? Journalists generally like to represent every side of a controversial issue, but in this case I think Bartlett worked too hard to seem to treat both sides equally. When he interviewed me, I told him about the four most definitive scientific studies of mental illness and creativity, all of which found that among creative people, there isn’t a higher incidence of any mental disorder (I summarize all four in my 2012 book Explaining Creativity). I told him about the many studies showing that exceptional creators are more likely to be mentally healthy. I told him that most of my creativity research colleagues are certain there isn’t a link:
- Robert Weisberg (2006) says this is a myth
- James Kaufman (2009), the author of Creativity 101, says that studies claiming there’s a link are flawed and that the link has never been proven
- In his influential textbook, Mark Runco (2007) says “there are indications that creativity has benefits for health” and that the only reason people are still talking about this is “because it is newsworthy”
One seeming exception is Dean Keith Simonton, who’s quoted by Bartlett as saying there might be a correlation between very highly exceptional creativity and mild psychopathology (although not full-blown mental illness). But even Simonton doesn’t think there’s a link between regular, everyday creativity and mental illness. And more importantly, he doesn’t argue that the link is a causal link–the idea that being exceptionally creative makes you more likely to become mentally ill, or the idea that having a mental illness makes it more likely that you will be exceptionally creative.
The first thing you learn in an undergraduate psychology course is that correlation is not causation. Even if there were a correlation between being creative and having mild symptoms of mental illness–and this rather mild claim is the only one that gets any traction with any more than one or two of creativity researchers–that link would not necessarily be causal. There are lots of ways that it could be almost accidental:
- Artistic professions don’t police their borders the same way other professions do. If you’re bipolar, it may be hard to get through law school or medical school, but no one can stop you from taking up a pen and paper and writing short stories.
- Our society has lots of stereotypes about how creative people are “supposed” to behave, and these include quirky behaviors and eccentricity. If a painter is a bit unconventional, no one gets upset. But if your accountant starts to act a bit quirky, you’ll go in search of another accountant. In other words, if we believe there’s a link between artistic creativity and eccentricity, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Finally, most artists and writers are not that successful, at least not right away. Their paintings don’t sell for a lot; their short stories and novels take years before they become famous (if ever). Engaging in work that you really care about, and experiencing rejection for days, months, and years, could stress out the most mentally stable individual.
All three of these explanations are perfectly good accounts of why there might be a correlation between artistic creativity and mild levels of mental unusual-ness. So it’s actually kind of surprising that all four of the major studies did not find any statistical evidence of a correlation between creativity and mental illness. (It’s probably because engaging in creative activities actually benefits your mental health.) And none of these explanations require us to posit a causal link. But of course it’s the causal link that gets people so interested–the belief that if you’re mentally ill, you can tap into some inner reserve of creative potential that is closed off to us normal people. For THAT claim, there is no evidence whatsoever.