Getting to THEIR Optimum Vision

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Are you a follower of the posts of Jesse Lyn Stoner? She is a business advisor and coach – as well as a bestselling author. I am a very dedicated follower. Her business leadership posts are quite often easily (and importantly) adapted to education; and her posts and quotations (such as the one in the featured image) are very aligned with my values and those of many others.

When I encountered this image on Twitter, I was, as usual, very much in agreement with its message. In fact, I added a comment: “Even worse are the people who don’t discuss issues with ANYONE… They simply select someone’s points of view as theirs!!!”

The title of my blog, “Considerations,” relates to my strongly held beliefs. It is our responsibility to ourselves, our country, and to humankind that we gather a broad body of information believed relevant to a topic of current importance. Subsequently, we must understand, assess for relevance, and organize into a Vision associated with the topic. ‘Vision’ is my term for the interrelationships/ linkages on the topic that enable us to deal appropriately and usefully with situations associated with the topic. ‘Appropriately and usefully’ is an extremely key phrase… One important use of our vision is discussions on the topic with others. While habitual dedication to ‘Considering’ will help us become better with the process, it would be frightening (to me at least) to allow ourselves to believe that personal vision is totally, automatically useful. (It’s no more automatically useful than the visions or points of view of anyone else.) Consistent with the quotation in the featured image above, discussions with a diverse group of people will indeed provide their assessment of and feedback to your vision and introduction to their vision – both improving the visions AND thus the outcomes for situations appropriate for application of those visions.

So how do people develop the skills of Consideration leading to these visions? For sure, each of us can and likely will self-develop the skills if we in fact seek to make a difference; we will self-assess our efforts during and after the application to identify and subsequently refine those skills. And, yes, our parents and family are hopefully successful in their efforts; and if so, they are likely to provide feedback and encouragement to us to refine our skills – starting at a young age.

It is my firm belief that formal education’s most important task is to facilitate the development of those skills. The four skills most critical, I believe, are Effective Learning, problem solving, communicating, and working in groups. Effective Learning deals with the gathering, understanding, and organizing information for use in developing a vision. [Aside: This Effective Learning will also prepare students for in-school assessment including the useless (IMHO) Standardized tests.]

Problem solving starts with recognition of a problem, continues with determination of the true objective, includes the building of aligned visions, obviously involves application of those visions to develop outcomes useful to addressing the objective, and ends with reflection on and documentation of outcomes and efforts made. Application of problem solving enhances both Effective Learning and formal School assessment by the way.

Communicating is important to our improved vision building as noted earlier; it is also obviously the route to our sharing of our efforts with others. I often remarked to my students that “It would be sad if our Nobel-prize efforts never were seen by others.” Of course, the likelihood of ‘Nobel-prize efforts’ are slim. But hopefully our efforts are valuable / useful to others for their adaptation and refinement. Those efforts will be so only if our preparation of material for clear communicating occurs – the complete skill of communicating.

Finally, there is the skill of working in groups. Very often, our efforts are a part of a formalized group effort; but even ‘individuals’ work in informal groups. An artist, for example, works with their manager, agent, materials suppliers, reviewers, gallery people, … Developing the skill of working in groups is important (including for working in study and project groups in school) and must be included in education priorities.

So there is my thesis on the preparation for successful formal education, for lifelong learning so important to a successful personal life and career, and for the critical exercise of our citizen responsibilities. If we educators facilitate the development of these skills and help them to become habitually used through student-centered addressing of our carefully developed driving questions, we will help our students understand the importance of getting to their optimum visions and doing so through discussions with people having diverse views.

Words Are Not Adequate

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Let me paint my circumstances: We are still arranging our furniture and ‘goodies’ in our newly-built home – so exciting of course but still time consuming – five months later. We had a mandatory trip back to New England for some unavoidable appointments (and some great socializing with friends). And, finally, as with any moves, there are required effforts to both in dropping licenses, voter registrations, … at the previous location and adding the same at our new location.

And of course, George Couros chose the past five plus weeks to facilitate the second edition of his online Innovator’s Mindset MOOC! Having gained so very much personally from the first offering, I really didn’t want to miss this second offering. I made the commitment to actively participate – in the weekly live YouTube sessions, the book re-reading (in my case), the Wednesday night #IMMOOC Twitter chats, and individual assignments. This blog post in fact fulfills the last individual assignment.

To say that I’m so glad that I made the commitment to actively participate cannot be overstated… While I gained much knowledge, experience, links, contacts, and confidence from participation in the first offering, I can honestly report that the most valuable outcome, I now understand, was preparation for the second offering. But then, those of us dedicated to lifelong Effective Learning know it to be critical to happiness / success (regardless of our definitions of both). Perfection is a useful if unattainable goal but continued attention to it will always be of great value. Yes, things change rapidly; but goals such as happiness and success can always be better approached with a better ‘tool box.’

So what did I accomplish as a direct result of my participation in this second IMMOOC offering? Here’s a (most certainly) incomplete list:

  • I resumed my posts to this Considerations blog – after a year-long hiatus associated with preparation for and implementation of our move from Connecticut to Virginia.
  • I gained a better understanding of the rewards of blogging (a central focus of the IMMOOC) – including developing visions of how knowledge and skills interact to enable improved use, self-assessment of those visions through sharing with others, refining those visions via dialogue with readers of the blog, and building my Personal Learning Network.
  • I was once again reminded how valuable the information found within “Innovator’s Mindset” – much more so because it was the second reading / Consideration of it for me (as with all books of relevance and value; most have at most one of these but not both).
  • I was introduced to the power and value of live broadcasting of presentations / dialogue – such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.
  • I was reminded of the richness and value of Twitter chats. I regularly participate in #OklaEd, #Vachat, and #TWOTCW but understand better the value of exploring others as time permits.
  • I have gained a new thinking of my possible contributions to improved Effective Learning facilitation. I believe I do have contributions to make through my blog posts and am excited to be back adding new posts regularly. I’m also looking forward to Considering two new opportunities: writing a book as well as facilitating ongoing, online educator professional development.

So, GOOD NEWS??? Yes, for me for sure!!! And for other participants as well, from my reading their posts. AND for all others learning about IMMOOC too late to participate in this offering. (Start by reading and Considering George Couros’ book! Follow the IMMOOC facilitators on Twitter: @gcouros, @KatieMTLC, and @TaraMartinEDU. Search the #IMMOOC hashtag on Twitter. And watch for (hopefully) future offerings of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC.)

An Addition to ‘School vs. Learning’

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Yes, it’s the same featured photo used for my blog post of a few days ago… It’s been an important one to me since first discovering it. Very presumptuous of me I know, but I have a suggestion for an added comparison for the list in the photo.

Today at the Y, I was about to begin my regular exercise-bike ride. My routine is to exercise while listening to podcasts on my iPhone. I subscribe to a number of series and just, sort of randomly, start whichever is the first one in line. Today’s was titled “The Future of Happiness” from Amy Blankson, part of the Unmistakable Creative series. Her fundamental thesis is that “Happiness Leads to Success, rather than Success Leads to Happiness.” [The title of the podcast in fact is the name of a book she has written.] The portion of the podcast most directly linked to innovation and learning begins at about the eleventh or twelveth minute. My thoughts: Ms. Blankson provides great suggestions about the importance of happiness to success. That happiness is in large part shaped by our perception of the world. Circling back, our perception of the world associated with opportunities to help others (through innovation) leads to happiness – while leads to success.

So here’s the suggested comparison: School is connected with stress. Learning evolves from happiness.

Educators and Learning

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I’ve just completed my first reading of the latest post to the blog of R.H. Steele. His blog, “Risk to Learn,” is one of my favorites; this post, as I do for each of them, will be Considered very carefully. He reflects on the many needs / challenges of students today and asks two questions: ‘Where do academics fall in today’s education?’ and ‘Whose responsibility is it to tackle these needs / challenges?’ I agree with his thinking: It’s the responsibility of teachers to facilitate more than academics, to deal with all the needs / challenges of students.

Steele makes the statement: “When I was growing up schools had one job: Educate through the teaching of content.” For sure, back then (you know, ‘when dirt was clear – not dirty yet…’), there was much stronger parental influence reducing some unfortunate demands on teachers. But I’ll take issue with this comment in the following sense: I’m quite certain there were many educators that did more than teach content; many facilitated the learning (not the memorizing) of core knowledge and the development of the skills of lifelong learning.

Learning has progressed from the time of no books to today when books document yesterday’s research at best. My thesis: If the research and the learning tools that exist today were available at the time of Aristotle or any of the scholars of later times, the great educators back then would align with the great educators of today. And the demands for dealing with the needs / challenges of students would be the same… “I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

LEARNING -RANDOM / NON-LINEAR

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My belief: Learning (and any situation faced) will yield a better result more quickly IF approached as a ‘problem to be solved.’ That procedure used will be random and non-linear to achieve the optimum learning.

My personal problem solving procedure has the acronym, OSCAR. THE ‘S’ is for Speed Bumps, the random brainstorming of topics that might have importance to the situation at hand. The point is to not miss topics, should this step not be taken. Imagine looking to learn deeply about any topic, leaving out input because of the rush to learn.

The bigger problem results from the list of steps typical for the procedure. Suppose our ‘problem to be solved’ is learning how to write a blog post. The procedure might be something like: choose a subject, develop a title, write an introduction, discuss major points, and finish with an important takeaway – a list. Do you think anyone could draft a valuable post ‘addressing step one, addressing step two, … ???’ Of course not; as you periodically self-assess efforts, new ideas will arise, parts will be thought out of order if not inappropriate – you will ‘loop’ back to previous steps (NON-LINEARLY). That’s why we call them ‘drafts’ / why we edit our efforts!

We must help our students learn that this is routine in learning. I would add that it’s important to honestly accept that it is a problem to be solved, invoking a sometimes random, always non-linear procedure.

REFLECTION & THE INNOVATOR’S MINDSET

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It’s Week Two of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC) currently underway. The featured image above illustrates George Couros’ list of the eight characteristics of an innovator teacher’s approach to learning. I have referred to this image quite frequently since first encountering it. While each one is as important as the others, I’ve selected “Time for Reflection” for this blog post.

In the most recent Considerations post, I discussed the four skills that, to me, are the highest purpose for formal education. They are: Effective Learning, problem solving, communicating, and working in groups. Among many of my strongly held beliefs are these: (1) Every situation anyone faces will yield a better outcome more quickly if addressing that situation is treated as a problem to be solved. And (2) the two features of effective problem solving are ’embracing ambiguity’ and ‘regular self-assessment.’  I have used the phrase, embracing ambiguity, since first hearing it in a presentation long ago (source long forgotten unfortunately). It is I believe one of the keys to innovation and that link could be (maybe will be) the subject of another blog post! Because ambiguity raises the level of risk, it increases the importance of self-assessment.

Regular self-assessment is really the first of three associated frequent steps in effective problem solving: self-assessment to gather evidence, reflection to Consider that evidence in terms of addressing the situation at hand, and refinement to the work procedure to better address the situation. My observations as well as anecdotal feedback from many educators suggest that students do not like to reflect, giving it lip service at most, all too often.

What is reflection? Let me provide my word description of it. For any situation being addressed, at any time, is defined in terms of its status – the features of its being. These would be identified through self-assessment. Also, for any situation being addressed, there are ultimate features of the outcome(s) satisfying our goals for our efforts. Finally, there is the latest set of features for the currently used procedure presumed to get from the present status to the final outcome. Three sets of features. The very important role of reflection is to consider all three sets of features in terms of whether the currently used procedure is still working – or does that procedure require refinement. As note, this self-assessment and the associated reflection and possible refinement must happen frequently during the overall addressing of the situation.

But there’s one last reflection that is equally important: the reflection on the two sets of features of the outcome – the set of desired outcome features and the set of actual outcome features. In the ideal world, these two sets would be identical and the reflection would consist of making sure all desired features were included as actual features. IF the regular assessment / reflection / refinement were done well, in the ideal world, this would be straightforward. But there is no ideal world! Time might not be sufficient, a needed resource might not be available, a ‘documented’ capability might not really exist, … The final outcome will hopefully be useful but even that might not be the case. So the reflection this time has two purposes: deciding how useful (or maybe not useful) is the final outcome; and what recommendations are appropriate for consideration if the effort were continued or repeated?

Reflection, as described in this post, has not been identified for any situation. It must be an important characteristic of all innovative efforts for or between / among the important communities associated with education: teachers and students of course; but also administrators, families, general citizens, policy people, and elected officials. For example, it’s important as teachers develop their pedagogy for facilitating student Effective Learning. And it’s important as administrators work with teachers and policy people to develop a plan to identify and address the standards for education. And so many more.

Notice I have assumed any interactions among the communities listed are fully functioning… It may very well be that some problems to be solved are improving the functioning of communities and across communities!

i hope my thinking on innovation are of value to you.

Mathematics in Perspective

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I have two engineering degrees, each with a mathematics minor. Wish I could say that I chose that minor because “there’s a great deal of mathematics in engineering.” Not really… I took mathematics because generally it was the easy “gut” course any semester; mathematics learning came very easy – at that time, much easier than history or philosophy or similar.

Move forward in time fifty years or so: I’m now an emeritus engineering professor after almost thirty years at the University of Connecticut, having eleven years earlier in industry, and sprinkled with a variety of consulting opportunities. How many differential equations did I solve in this time? ONE that I can recall. How many integrals did I do? Very few unless you consider the easy ones (such as the integral of Sin(x)dx or xdx). BUT how many times did I use the “basics” of mathematics (calculus)? I.e., “integral of a function equals area under the curve.” Very often, routinely… FIRST PERSPECTIVE: Unless one is teaching mathematics, only the fundamentals of calculus will be important. Too bad the math departments, textbook authors, and faculty don’t think about that…

Now, thinking back on my faculty period. For students in my classes or for my advisees, I was always eager to facilitate their learning. With my mathematics minors, I was frequently able to assist with clearing up confusion – in their math courses or for the math considerations in their engineering courses. The most common difficulty that I identified: When their were multiple paths to use, they had no idea how to decide which one to use! They knew how to use one if selected for them; but no clue how to choose. Learning this, my facilitating was quite straightforward: help them figure out what to look for in order to optimize the likelihood of choosing correctly. SECOND PERSPECTIVE: It’s not enough to facilitate the learning of procedures; optimizing their use must include selecting the best procedure to use. Too bad math departments, textbook authors, and faculty don’t think about that.

My final thoughts for this blog relates to the context of mathematics use. Consider the components WITHIN mathematics: There are the math facts (e.g., 1+1=2 or the previously noted “integral equals area under the curve”), the math procedures, choosing the best procedures, using those procedures correctly, and assessing the outcome for correctness. I’ve already noted the issue with choosing the best procedures. And assessing seems to be expected routinely but not really common among students. The other three components are staples of most math courses and textbooks.

BUT, too bad most mathematics courses, even so-called APPLIED mathematics courses, don’t contextualize the mathematics. Before “doing the math,” the situation encountered has to be understood and MODELED – developing the appropriate mathematics equations, etc. to enable analysis. After “doing the math” then, one has to use the math outcomes to answer the questions identified in understanding the situation. THIRD PERSPECTIVE: There is very little real-world situations included in mathematics courses to assist with gaining experience as well as motivation by the students.Too bad math departments, textbook authors, and faculty don’t think about that.

So the subsequent courses (such as engineering or economics) then should build on robust mathematics learning. In dealing with situations, the student, and later the employee, seeks an overall outcome that is SUCCESSFUL – the efforts are USEFUL in dealing with the situation. Note that I personally never use “correct” as because of uncertainty, assumptions, approximations, etc., we don’t ever know the right answer; the best we can hope for is useful input to dealing with the situation. FOURTH PERSPECTIVE: Too often, the source of “non-usefulness” of efforts are the non-math components of those efforts: the modeling and/or the interpreting. Too bad mathematics departments, textbook authors, and faculty (AS WELL AS THE OTHER “USER” DEPARTMENTS) don’t think of that!!!