Nature Deficit Disorder

Have you ever watched what happens when a dog is let ‘off leash’ whilst out on a walk?  They don’t typically wait patiently by for their person to give them directions on where to go, ideas for what they can do, suggestions for how to maximise their outdoor experience.  No, they just take off and explore, try things out, repeat favorite moves.  Most dogs will keep an eye on their people to make sure they are ok without them and then back to the exploring.

I just read an article on BBC.co.uk in which the author, Richard Black, shares the findings of a National Trust report that states:

UK children are losing contact with nature at a “dramatic” rate, and their health and education are suffering.

I was directed to this report by a friend of my husband.  Chris is a husband, father, pilot and all-round great guy and I would imagine his comments below would resonate with many amongst us:

The article is definitely worth a read. It also made me think again to John Medina’s 12 Brain Rules. Specifically rules 1 and 12.  How can we make sure we maximise opportunity for the brain to flourish in these areas?  I’d say, for starters, take a leaf out of Chris’s book – if you can’t say ‘yes’ to more than half of the things on that list, perhaps you (or your child) need some more nature time?  I mean, who doesn’t love a great mud pie?  One of my favorite memories of last summer was when my friends came to stay with their two girls.  We were sitting outside in the hot afternoon and in order to encourage a little ‘running through the sprinkler’ I ended up doing exactly that, fully clothed, until soaking wet.  Uncomfortable?  Yes.  Had I just showered and changed and was now wet again?  Yes.  Great memories and a whole lot of fun?  Of course!

Here are the summaries of rules one and twelve.  For summaries of all the Brain Rules, click here.

P.S. Is that not the cutest picture of our gorgeous Abby at the top of the post?

Creativity, Innovation

When Was Your Last Great Nearling?

In all this talk of experiencing failure and the power of failure to move you to a place of success, I came across a term that was new to me: nearling. What is a nearling?

According to this website:

A nearling is a positive word for something new that you did with the right intentions, which has not (yet) led to the right result.

The reasons for nearlings not to succeed can be diverse, the circumstances have changed; a better option has been chosen; you made an error; faith decided differently; there suddenly were other priorities, etc.

Until this moment there was no right English word for this phenomenum. There is the word ‘failure’, yet that sounded negative. You only recognize a nearling when you look back. You can always learn from a nearling. The nearling fills a gap in the international innovation language.

You can be proud of nearlings because:
1. You started an initiative
2. You may have moved others
3. Maybe it led you to something that was successful
4. You need many nearlings, for a few successes
5. You learned from it
6. …

The part I like about this the most is “something new that you did with the right intentions”.

That made me think of Seth Godin.  In his book “Linchpin”, Seth talks about being fearless – and the difference between being fearless, reckless and feckless:

Fearless doesn’t really mean “without fear.” What it means in practice is, “unafraid of things that one shouldn’t be afraid of.” Being fearless means giving a presentation to an important customer without losing a night’s sleep. It means being willing to take intellectual risks and to forge a new path. The fear is about an imagined threat, so avoiding the fear allows you to actually accomplish something.

Reckless, on the other hand, means rushing into places that only a fool would go. Reckless leads to huge problems, usually on the boss’s dime. Reckless is what led us to the mortgage and liquidity crisis. Reckless is way out of style.

Feckless? Feckless is the worst of all. Ineffective, indifferent, and lazy.

I am sure, like many of you, you have experienced moments when you have given your kids choice in project work and watched them choose a ‘safe’ topic.  In one of our first projects of the year, I experienced the following:

  • I watched one child build his solar powered car in about 45 minutes.  He had two weeks to work on it.  When I talked with him – for about an hour – we eventually figured out that what he had wanted to do was build a boat but with more panels, more motors and more propellers.  Problem?  He eventually admitted when I asked him why this wasn’t his project: “I know the car works.  I don’t know if the boat will work.”
  • Another student found instructions online for a solar powered charging device.  She asked if she could print them off and do that as her project.  I said she could use those instructions and make that device as research but that she would then need to ask her own questions and investigate something new and different – how to charge two devices, how to shorten the charge time etc.  The next day she came in with a completely different topic requiring no hands-on component and nothing more complex than a ‘what is a…’ question.

What is holding these super smart kids back?  I think it is a fear of being fearless.  On his website, Brain Rules, John Medina asks “At what point do children stop asking questions in schools?”  Here is his answer:

Elementary School.  Kids learn very quickly that teachers value the right answer more than a provocative question.Consider a whopping six-year study with more than 3,000 innovative executives, from chemists to software engineers, published in 2009. The biggest common denominator of these entrepreneurs? Inquisitiveness. Lead author Hal Gregersen, interviewed in Harvard Business Review, talks about children:

“If you look at 4-year-olds, they are constantly asking questions. But by the time they are 6 ½ years old, they stop asking questions because they quickly learn that teachers value the right answers more than provocative questions. High school students rarely show inquisitiveness. And by the time they’re grown up and are in corporate settings, they have already had the curiosity drummed out of them. Eighty percent of executives spend less than 20 percent of their time on discovering new ideas.”

So, what do we do?

Well, we could start by sharing the following words from writer, Neil Gaiman, that he penned to welcome in the new year:

And then we could all put this up in our rooms:

Most importantly, start listening more, talking less and encouraging our kids to be in charge of their own questions.


Did You Ask A Good Question Today?

As a teacher of an inquiry-based program, questions are – or should be – at the heart of our classroom. We recently had a parent come in to give a workshop on presentations and the thing he shared with the kids as his number one tip: “Ask questions!”.  When you ask a question, you engage your audience and you immediately set brains to work.  Think of some of your best lessons – did they start with a factual monologue from you or were they sparked by a question? Asking great questions and learning how to be in charge of your questions to further your learning is one of those 21st Century classroom skills that I think can sometimes be overlooked.  You don’t need an iPad or a laptop, you just need to be consciously engaged, curious and willing to ask questions that you don’t have answers for – yet!

From the website 12Most came the following list of the 12 Most Genius Questions:

1.   How can we make it /each other better?

2.   How do we know this to be so?

3.   Is this what is needed most?

4.   What is it we hope to accomplish and what’s stopping us?

5.   What are we most proud of?

6.   What is possible?

7.   When can we start?

8.   How will we prevent failure?

9.   Who/how can we make this happen?

10. What do we regret most?

11.  How can we make the best use of…?

12. What if we…(Dream big!)

In the video that accompanies this post, the lead teacher encourages the children to be “in charge” of questions. What does being in charge of questions look like:

  • you ask lots of questions
  • you never stop asking questions
  • you ask different questions
  • you become unafraid to ask more questions

She then goes on to have the students practice the difference between statements and questions.  Instead of “I see a pink balloon” = “How do they get balloons in a heart shape?”.  She uses Where Do Balloons Go? by Jamie Lee Curtis  to further her investigation into becoming in charge of questions.  The teacher asks the children to focus on the learner in the book and to hold up a finger for every question that she asks.  At the end of the reading, she tells the students that while she loved the book, she thought the learner in the story was fantastic – a superstar learner. As a group, they agreed she was a superstar learner because:

  • she knew how to find things out by asking questions
  • she studied and investigated the same topic
  • she kept “digging deeper and deeper” – using her questions like a shovel to go deeper
  • she never stopped asking questions
  • she asked so many different questions

In her article, “Asking Questions: Cultivating a Habit of Inquiry”, author Evelyn Wortsman Deluty shares the following story:

When asked why he became a scientist, the story goes, the physicist and Nobel laureate, Isidor Isaac Rabi, speaks about his childhood on the streets of New York City at the beginning of the last century. He grew up in a devoutly Jewish home, the son of impoverished immigrant parents. Steeped in a religious tradition that values learning, his mother, who had little formal education, would inquire about his school day. Yet contrary to many parents who might try to discern what a child did or learned that day in school, Rabi’s mother would inquire: “Did you ask a good question today?” Rabi’s mother indirectly initiated him into the habit of inquiry that nurtured his scientific journey because she understood that the roots of learning are cultivated by a mindset that emphasizes the active process of questioning rather than the passive recitation of facts.

She goes on to add that “the ability to ask reflective question is at the root of all change and progress”.  It is an almost three page article and very much worth your time to read it.

So how do we go about encouraging more, better and different questions in our classrooms – and what do we do with these questions once they have been asked?  One option would be to check out the Right Question Institute.  They have a lot of resources (look under the Educator tab – free to sign up).  You will need to do a little reading on the subject but the resources below should give you a fairly quick idea as to wether or not this is something you are going to pursue.  The first is a basic outline of the steps you would go through.  This is a brief summary of a longer explanation of the six stages of the Question Formulation Technique

The second is a list of ‘rules’ to be distributed to kids whilst they work on their questions.  Ultimately, the aim to get more questions, generated by your kids, buzzing around in your classroom.

Design, Innovation


I was mentioning yesterday about the cosomonaut – the stylus for the iPad/iPhone.  The same guys who made that, made the app Frameographer which is available on iTunes for $2.99.  It is a stop-motion making app that is a lot of fun to play with.  About ten minutes after downloading, I had made this:

In about 45 minutes, I had made this:

If there is a good sunset tonight, I am going to try out the time-lapse feature.

I like that it is a clean, easy way to experiment with stop motion. There is an ‘onion skin’ layer that you can turn off and on that allows you to see where the last shot was on screen as a faint shadow. I think with a little effort, you could come up with something pretty slick in a relatively short period of time. (And maybe without shots of your fingers at the tops of the frames holding the books!). If you give it a go, post a link to your creation below! Once you make a film, it is one click to save to your camera roll and one more to export to YouTube. Easy.


Above and Beyond – An Ode to the 4 C’s

I have a friend who always seems to be at the edge of what is cool and awesome.  She shared this video on her reading blog on the last day of school before the spring break which is why I missed it and didn’t see it until now. It is the work of one of my favorite author/illustrators, Peter H. Reynolds, in collaboration with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.  It is one of those videos we should have playing all the time in our schools and classrooms and highlights the importance of collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity – the 4 C’s of a 21st Century education.

Here is the poster mentioned at the end of the film.  Download it here.

Creativity, Design, Presentations

Visual and Creative Thinking on the iPad

The presentation above is a really great example of an effective use of graphics to get across a message to your audience.  The content is also really interesting if you are interested in pursuing visual recording. I particularly liked the couple of slides (which I have copied below) that give a few tricks for quickly sketching words and ideas into pictures.
Now, I know it says that visual recording is not about being artistic – and I somewhat agree, somewhat disagree.  I look at some of these visuals and I am blown away by how awesome they are and then struck with the “I couldn’t possibly…” disease!  The more I look into it, the more I realize that it is like anything else: get a few good tools under your belt, practice, practice and did I mention you might want to practice?
The next video is from Rachel S. Smith who is a visual recorder/visual facilitator and she is specifically speaking about using the iPad for this.  Her talk (which is done in Brushes) is really interesting and she gives information on four apps that you could use if you wanted to give this a go. A great suggestion she makes if you are someone who is wanting to give this a go but don’t currently have a conference to attend, is to try it out on a YouTube video – or a TED talk.  The four apps she gives information on:

What about a stylus?  I have not used one on the iPad (although when John finishes his apple pie, he is going to hunt one down from an old phone of his so I can give it a go).  If I were to buy one, however, the cosmonaut would be my choice.