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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Newtown, Our Town

Newtown,  Our Town

Newtown, Connecticut is all America.

We grieve for our lost children and their teachers.

But in those first grade classrooms, we see what America can mean, not in death, but in the lives of joy and hope reflected here. 

Robbie Parker spoke of his daughter Emilie as “bright, creative and very loving, adding “I am proud to be her father.”

Donna Soto, mother of Vicki, told us she expected Vicki would do exactly as she did, shield her first graders from the gunman, telling him that they were in the gym.  For that she lost her life.

Dawn Hochsprung, the principal, ran out of her office attempting to tackle the shooter.  She lost her life together with five other educators, all women.

Mr. Parker urged us not to let this tragedy “turn into something that defines us.”

And how do we wish to be defined, we Americans who suffer with all of Newtown and who are appalled at the loss of life?

We shall be defined by the courage of the educators who gave their lives for the sake of their children.

“Greater love has no one than this, that she lay down her life for others.”

And we can be defined by the children.  President Obama quoted Jesus’ saying, “Let the little children come to me. . .For such belong to the Kingdom of Heaven.”

This is the essence of Heaven, the bright, creative,  loving and innocent spirits of Emilie and her classmates--the joy of being alive, having fun on the playground swooping down the turning slides,  playing Hide ‘n Seek, house, school and being fearless astronauts on Mars.

Noted theologian Reinhold Neibuhr once observed that “The individual faces the eternal in every moment and in every action of his life.”  

And what is this “eternal” if not the life reflected in the playfulness of children, their eagerness to explore, to discover and to find out? We see the “eternal” in every child’s curiosity about new stories, colorful, strange rocks or animals, and wondrous displays on an iPad.  We see the “eternal” in their holding hands with each other as they faced danger, being together with playmates, then and now.

What is the “eternal” if not the dedication, love, sacrifice and courage of adults who serve others, who work tirelessly so that they can grow, develop into their fullest potential? 
And we see the “eternal” in every parent’s loving her children, leading them off on a new adventure, to explore, discover and continue to wonder.

In our sorrow, we can remember Emilie, all her playmates, Vicki, and Dawn and learn from them, learn to see newer worlds of hope, faith and love in their lives.

Poet William Blake challenged us 

“To see a World in a grain of sand,
And Heaven in a wild flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”

The Eternal is reflected in the wild flower and the grain of sand just as it is in Emilie’s joyfulness and Vicki’s total love and devotion to those she called her children.

Yes, Newtown is Our Town.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Lincoln, Language and Liberty

Go see “Lincoln.”

You will view superb actors bringing to life one of the most monumental struggles in American history--that concerning the abolition of slavery.

Daniel Day-Lewis exemplifies the almost severe gravity of having to lead a country during the worst war in our history--a civil war-- all the while showing his humanity in the prosecution thereof.

Sally Field, according to an NPR interview with Bob Edwards, noted that during the filming all major characters stayed within character during the entire shoot.  And she is heart-wrenching at times fighting for the life of her oldest child, Robert.

A real surprise is James Spader, unrecognizable from “Boston Legal,” as the head lobbyist, the one who dashes from the House of Representatives floor to the White House with a most consequential note to the President during the day of the vote.  We surely see how lobbying became the all-entrenched force it is today on K Street with votes back in 1865 being bought, and needed Democratic (!) supporters being bribed for a good cause.

But the character that stands out in my mind is one Thaddeus Stevens, he a congressman and long-time abolitionist, played superbly by Tommy Lee Jones.  Stevens had long advocated full rights for Negroes prior to the vote, but on that date i Lincoln needed him to be full-throated in his advocacy of equal rights under existing law.  Almost to deny that he advocated that ultimately blacks would have the right to vote as citizens.  Remember that privilege was reserved at the time for white men.

In a most dramatic moment you can see Stevens mulling over the conflict in his mind--between full rights as citizens or only those within current law.  His final pronouncement leads to the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment by Congress and, subsequently, ratification by three quarters of the states.

Upon reflection I am struck by  the overwhelming power of language in our country to guarantee, or to secure for generations, the liberty so necessary for the welfare of the country, for the preservation of the union.

The Thirteenth Amendment reads, in part, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Here we see the power of language for what did “slavery” and “involuntary servitude” mean in 1865?  Surely they referred to the condition experienced by those brought unwillingly to our shores, many of whom fought during this conflict.

But today do these words have any bearing on us, as citizens, as educators?

You might be as surprised as I was to learn that in 1996 a high school student in Rye Neck School District (NY) filed suit claiming that the school’s requirement to perform 40 hours of community service constituted “involuntary servitude.”  The plaintiff also claimed, using the Fourteenth Amendment, that such service violated his parents’ right to educate him in accordance with their own philosophy and priorities.

How would you have ruled on that decision? (http://csl.sog.unc.edu/node/1238)

Notice also how many famous Supreme Court cases come down to interpretations of language:  “separate but equal. . . corporation/person. . . speech. . . regulate interstate commerce. . .the right to bear arms. . .to  peaceably assemble. . .the establishment of religion” and so on.

What Thaddeus Stevens could not articulate in order to get the amendment through the House was his very strong belief in the rights of  all men to vote and to establish relationships of their choosing.

Notice that in our last election how that right to vote was challenged in many states with laws requiring voter identification and other means.  In other words, we cannot take our liberties for granted.

What Lincoln, Stevens and the others portrayed in this film is the sometimes sausage-making process necessary to pursue lofty ideals, the right of all men and women to live lives of self-determination toward the pursuit of happiness.

Tommy Lee Jones said about his role:  “Politics and government was conducted with language through oratory. People had to speak their minds rather than insinuate them.”

Language matters deeply and we see it during election cycles when words are carelessly and mindlessly hurled around and toward various candidates in order to persuade, often words or claims without any basis in fact whatsoever.
Words matter as they affect people’s well-being and, perhaps, their survival.

Go see the movie. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Teacher Evaluation and Students' Progress

Teachers in Chicago, Newark (NJ)  and all across America are being asked to accept new systems of evaluation.  Here in New York City the use of standardized tests for this purpose will constitute forty percent of their total evaluation, with principal observations and other data comprising the remaining sixty percent.
Part of the impetus for such use of these kinds of measures stems from President Obama’s Race-to-the-Top competitions where there have been certain criteria specified in order to succeed in this process, one of them including a most appropriate emphasis on improving education in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM programs.  Another criterion has been the desire to show how we will hold teachers (and I trust administrators) accountable for their work. 
Teachers are not protesting the need nor logic for their being held accountable.  No, they justly protest having from twenty-five to forty percent of their professional evaluation based upon measures scored with a one-time, bubble-test or Scantron sheet.  Why?
These tests were not designed for the purposes assessing teacher competence. They are all-too brief snapshots of students’ knowledge at one moment.
And, what they measure is important but it’s not the be all and end all.
No, what we should be looking at are ways of assessing students long-term growth in what schools say they are all about.  Each school mission statement contains statements like these:
“We hold high academic standards for all students and expect each will become a responsible citizen of our American democracy.
We want all students to dream, achieve and contribute to a global society.”
On a more specific basis there is one school district (Greenwich, CT)  that paints a portrait of the graduate that calls for her, assuming content knowledge, “to pose and pursue substantive questions” and then engage in the problem solving, critical thinking and ethical behavior required.
To become responsible, active contributors to our society we need students to exhibit what we now call 21st century skills and capacities--inquiry, problem solving, critical/creative, reflective thought, leadership, collaborative skills and skillful use of technology.  
Also within the Race-to-the-Top program Secretary Duncan is his much needed call for alternative means of assessing students’ growth, ones that do not rely upon standardized tests.
Isn’t it reasonable that we should as educators develop these alternative means of observing, monitoring and drawing conclusions about students’ getting better at posing good questions, engaging in scientific reasoning, thinking critically and creatively and using technology?    Knowing Newton’s three laws of motion, themes within Charlotte’s Web and how to prove triangles congruent are important, but we need more than this kind of declarative and skill knowledge to become responsible citizens who can think, discern fact from fiction and create a plan for their own and others’ improvement.
How do we do this?
We use all of the long term, reliable and direct means available through teacher observations; students’ journals posted on  Google Docs, Groups/Plus, Moodle, Edmodo, wikis; performance tests; traditional assessments, interviews and metacognitive reflections.
We can observe Lorraine Radford’s kindergarten students in West Vancouver, BC, growing from making statements about fish--”That’s a clown fish”--in September to asking in April during a unit of The Oceans--”Do you think that anglerfish think humans are fish sometimes?”   Notice the growth from observing and stating facts (as most kindergartners do) to being able to ask a question that puts the questioner into the mind of the anglerfish.  Lorraine monitors students’ asking more and increasingly complex questions using tried and true means of keeping accurate notes during class and posting them to each student’s spread sheet on her computer.
We can observe eighth grade students in Catalina Foothills (AZ) growing from being what their teacher Patricia Burrows calls a “Cookie Cutter A” student, one who recites what the teacher wants to hear, to one who can critique  Animal Farm using analogical reasoning in written essays by comparing Napoleon in the story to Stalin and Hitler.  Critical thinking involves this kind of reasoning together with asking good questions about sources, evidence, definitions and bias.
Educators across the land know how to do this by using their own and district frameworks like those within Project 21 schools (like Catalina Foothills), focused as they are upon critical thinking as one element in educating for 21st century skills. (See CFSD  rubrics:  http://www.cfsd16.org/public/_century/centMain.aspx)

The key will be to convince educators that these skills are indeed necessary, that we can observe and monitor students’ performance progress therein and then communicate such results to parents, use them for our own teacher inquiry study groups and for our own professional development .
Having background knowledge about plate tectonics, the Civil War and Shakespeare’s major characters is important.  But students need to know how to apply such information in our globalized world that changes with ever increasing acceleration.  And we need to know how well they are doing at becoming active, responsible citizens who can contribute to our American democracy and the globalized society.
There is, indeed, “value added” in being able to establish alternative, reliable and valid ways of assessing students’ development and academic progress.

John Barell
Author: How Do We Know They’re Getting Better?  Assessment for 21st Century Minds, K-8.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Bernstein, Sousa and Jefferson

On Independence Day, Nancy and I enjoyed celebratory music offered by the New York Philharmonic and the Hellcats and Jazz Knights from the West Point Band.
The conductor, Bramwell Tovey,  leapt to the podium, pointed his baton at the Philharmonic snare drummer and we were instantly on our feet for “The Star Spangled Banner.”  We attempted to sing, but were caught up in the emotions of the moment reflecting the history of this anthem.

Familiar tunes from On the Town and Candide roused the audience as a packed house settled into the coolness of Lincoln Center, avoiding the intense heat of New York City outside.
The West Point Hellcats and Jazz Knights offered stirring renditions of  “America the Beautiful,”  Glen Miller’s “In the Mood,” and several military marches, including Sousa’s “Liberty Bell.”   

There can be few scenes that stir the soul of a former military person than the sight and sound of a precision drum and bugle corps blaring forth from bright silver horns and philharmonic field drums very strong cadences that reminded me of my favorite march of all time, “The Guadalcanal March” from Richard Roger’s World War II suite, Victory at Sea.

Following these selections conductor Army Lt. Colonel Jim Keene invited all current and past service personnel and their families to stand during the playing of their respective anthems, “Semper Paratus (Coast Guard), Anchors Aweigh,  The Marine Hymn, The Caisson Song (Army) and The Wild Blue Yonder (Air Force).”  Men and women, young and old, stood in silent attention at their seats as the corps musicians in crisp blue uniforms brought all of us to memories of having served this great nation,  and of those who paid the last full measure.
All during these emotionally-charged performances I recalled having read the Declaration of Independence in the morning’s New York Times.  There were the words that laid the foundation for our country,  “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the bands which have connected them with another. . . We, therefore. . .declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States. . .”

Most memorable, perhaps, are the words that each of us is endowed by our “Creator with certain unalienable rights, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”   Derived from writings of John Locke--who championed the pursuit of Life, Liberty and Property--Jefferson changed Property to Happiness, a word for which he then invoked civic virtues of courage,  justice and, perhaps, service.

Another thing that struck me was that “imposing taxes without our consent” was listed by Jefferson in the middle of a much longer list of grievances, commencing with “He—[King George III]—has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. . .” and ending with references to “Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us. . . suspending our own Legislatures. . . excited domestic insurrections amongst us” and caused the impressment of our sailors at sea.

What I remember from high school US History are the grievances about taxes, the Stamp tax, Tea Party and the like.  How time has faded our memories of original causes.
The most stirring tune on Independence Day was, of course, John Philip Sousa’s magnificent “Stars and Stripes Forever;”  its cadences sent our hearts to marching inwardly in ways that would be reflected that evening by seeing James Cagney as George M. Cohan, creator of  “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Over There,”  strut, march, parade  himself across the stage in his own inimitable fashion.  For these two hymns Franklin Roosevelt awarded Cohan the Congressional Medal of Honor. 

We were reminded once again that freedom comes with high costs; that thousands have given their lives that we might breathe free and speak our own minds.  A little sign on the walker of a WWII veteran and friend of my mother’s says it all, “If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading it in English, thank a GI."

Every year we need to be reminded of how we came together to establish this great country on the ideas of Liberty, Equality and the Happiness of those civic virtues--courage, justice and public service.  And how on so many occasions our parents and grandparents sacrificed as necessary on all fronts--abroad and at home--to preserve, protect defend these rights. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

21st Century Skills--Critical Thinking

Recently, a US Federal District Judge, Sam Haddon in Helena, MT threw out a case brought by four readers of Greg Mortenson’s famed Three Cups of Tea.  The plaintiffs claimed that Mortenson had distorted the truth in order to build his reputation and sell more books.  For this they charged him with “fraud and racketeering.”
Judge Haddon dismissed these charges as “flimsy and speculative. . .” claiming that their racketeering charges “are fraught with shortcomings.”
My first response was delight that Mortenson, who is responsible for bringing education to thousands of Afghanis and Pakistanis, was relieved of yet another burden.  (If you have yet to read his books, please do so.)
A second response was Hurray! for critical thinking.  Judge Haddon found no credible evidence to support plaintiffs charges.
Too often we find people in the public eye making claims they just cannot support with reliable evidence.  That’s what the Common Core Standards in Language Arts repeatedly call for students to be able to do, support claims with good evidence.  
This is one aspect of critical thinking.
How often do we hear “The economy (or my economic plan) will do this or that” without any supporting documentation, given nor asked for?  
Another aspect of critical thinking is too often seen by its absence: asking good questions about claims.
Recently, on one of the cable news channels, I watched as five people discussed and debated the merits of this claim: “The war on terror is over.”
During the discussion about effects of this claim no one bothered to raise any of the following essential questions:
Who said it?  To whom? When? Under what circumstances?
And, why was it said?  What  was the speaker’s or writer’s motivation?
These would seem to be quite basic questions.  The claim was made that this assertion came from “an administration spokesperson.”  But who?  A fifth ranked member of a branch of the State Department or Director of Central Intelligence?  Was it said the day before the program or in a leaked memo  directly after the killing of Osama bin Laden?
Other questions would include this one: What was said directly before this claim and after?  Even the Bible says, “There is no God.”  But we know that what precedes this claim is “The fool has said in his heart.” (Psalm 14: 1-3)   Context can be king.
How to foster critical thinking in humanities ought to be obvious.  We present students with challenges to analyze and evaluate actions and ideas in literature and history.  Students arrive at conclusions with supporting evidence.  We begin educating for logical thinking at a very young age.
For example, John Selkirk teaches first grade in Ottawa and one of his goals is to challenge students to think critically by  interpreting human emotions in pictures.  “How’s she feeling?”  Sad.   Students quickly learn to ask their friends, “What makes you say that?” What’s the evidence in the picture telling you she feels sad?
Pat Burrows in Catalina Foothills (AZ) challenges her students to think analogically about Napoleon in Orwell’s Animal Farm: compare him to other historical figures and support your conclusions.  We do the same when we claim “This conflict is just like---”  Again, what are the reasons with what kinds of evidence?
In math, we can strive for students always getting the right answer.  Or, we could educate them to think analytically by asking good, critical questions: “What am I asked to do?  What’s the key information?  How is this problem like others?  Can I draw a picture?  What are important assumptions?  Can I break it into smaller parts?” and once solved “How might I have solved it another way?”
We can foster critical thinking in sciences where we inquire, suggest testable hypotheses, analyze data, draw conclusions and provide evidence.  We can also ask good questions about problematic situations and claims.  A good way to diagnose students’ scientific reasoning is to present them with a complex problem in September and record the kinds of questions they can ask about it.  Then compare this throughout the year.
As Jacob Bronowski, noted scientist and poet observed, “That is the essence of science: ask an impertinent question and you are on the way to a pertinent answer.”
Critical thinking is analyzing situations, and using available evidence to arrive at conclusions.  It also means possessing that certain skepticism that leads to asking impertinent questions.  Skeptics are not negative. 
As Thomas Merton noted in his Secular Journal (1969): “. . . the true skeptic doubts in order that he may know.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

21st Century Skills--Imagination

21st Century Skills--Imagination
The Pulitzer Prize committee chose not to bestow an award for fiction this year.
Novelist Ann Patchett (Bel Canto and Run) wrote about this decision:
"Reading fiction is important.  It is a vital means of imagining a life other than our own, which in turn makes us more empathetic beings."  
She continues to note that “following  complex story lines stretches our brains beyond the 140 characters of sound-bite thinking. . .” and allows us to be “quiet and alone, two skills that are disappearing faster than the polar icecaps.”  (NY Times, 4/17/12)
Patchett’s thoughts on imagination took me to a book I’ve just completed, Katherine Boo’s behind the beautiful forevers--Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (2012).  Boo is such a graphic writer that it doesn’t require much to visualize the real lives of Abdul, Sunil, and Zehrunisa, some of the 3,000 residents of Anawandi, a collection of 335 slum dwellings in the shadows of the airport.  From the trash heaps you could see “how crazy-lopsided all the huts were against the straight lines of the Hyatt and Meridien hotels that rose up behind them.”
Abdul, for example, is a young man whose skill is being able very rapidly to categorize purchased or stolen paper, plastic, metal waste “in order to sell it.”  (Categorization/classification fosters cognitive development.)  Others in the slum break into the Air India facilities and take apart new construction for the nuts and bolts--again to sell.
What’s amazing about their stories is that there is hope.  They go to school; they strive to graduate and move on to become nurses,  professionals, even politicians. Manju’s goal was to become Anawandi’s first college graduate. 
 As one boy said, “Educate ourselves and we’ll be making as much money as there is garbage!”  
There was, indeed, hope for the future, for better lives, but it did take intense imagining to place yourself in the skins of these folks struggling toward the light, for freedom from the crippling corruption that riddled every level of civic life.
What we have here is a tale of human aspirations, the same kinds of aspirations we see in page after page of Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools.  When his schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan had been damaged by storms  or by the Taliban, parents became insistent that he and others fix them, do what they could to return their children to the world of books and learning.  In one community struck by disaster, education was being conducted in tents until Mortenson delivered the chairs with writing arms with which we are all so familiar.

A better life for our children is what can all imagine and strive for.

The life of the imagination is one of our overlooked basic capacities.  It is the fountain of our curiosity about the world.  From our imaginations spring forth those alternative worlds that we grow to live within.  We become better persons by being able to create pictures in our minds, move them around in the past, project them purposefully into the future and then take actions toward self-actualizing them. 
In every classroom we should be fostering the life of our imagination.
“Imagining a life other than our own” is what we do while reading books in every classroom and we can foster this important capacity by challenging students with questions such as:
“What do the characters look like?
Where do you see them?
What do you think they would do under these/different circumstances?
How are you like them?
What would you do in these situations?”
In history, we must engage our imaginations if we are to understand how George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and other founding fathers felt during the first days of our new republic:
What were they thinking/feeling during these early days?
What were their aspirations?
Why did they advocate the ideas and actions they did?
How do you imagine they would deal with failure/frustration?
What if you had been at the Constitutional Convention how would you have handled representation among states/any issue?
How would any one of them want to change government today?”
In science we invoke our imaginations as the greats have done:
For Richard Feynman scientific thinking  “was a process of putting oneself in nature:  in an imagined beam of light, in a relativistic electron. (Gleick, 1922, p. 244)  He once asked,  “How would I behave were I an electron?”  
We know of Einstein’s imagining “thought problems” (gedanken) such as “What if I rode along a ray of light? What would I observe?”
These “What if?” questions require using our imaginations to go beyond givens into areas where physical laws do not apply.
And, in math, where do we use our imaginations?
In turning all those SAT figures topsy turvy in the theaters of our minds in order to demonstrate to somebody in college that we have this capacity. . . 
In posing our own “What if?” questions that challenge us to take the data and imagine alternative solutions, problems:
What if I try this approach?
Suppose I draw it out?
What can I compare this to?  (“Factoring is like. . .”)
Imagine being the tangent to a circle.  What is my goal?
How would I graphically describe myself as a math student.
These questions, if they become part of our ways of seeing problems, put us more in control of our own thinking.  We manifest what psychologists have called a sense of “agency,” being in command of our own thinking.
As Patchett said, reading and imagining make us more “empathetic beings” and thereby better able to work and live within our several communities.  
Our imaginations are gateways to those unexplored territories where we will make discoveries:
“Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

21st Century Skills--Innovation

As Tom Friedman noted a while back in his NY Times column (7/13/11), employees of the future will survive depending upon their ability to add value to their jobs, in other words, to think beyond defined expectations, to be able to innovate. Employers are looking for people “who can invent, adapt and reinvent their jobs every day, in a market that changes faster than ever.” (p. A47)

More recently we’ve had

research on successful countries, developing nations that are growing prosperous largely because of their abilities to do the same thing, innovate, to create new ideas, products and ways of living.

In Why Nations Fail (2012), authors Acemoglu and Robinson note that the US, Britain and European countries prosper when compared to other countries. Why is the US so much richer than, for example, Egypt? In part because we rid ourselves of dictatorial powers and shared control with all citizens. “We, the people. . .” are in charge.

As noted historian Niall Ferguson observed about this book, “Without the inclusive institutions that first evolved in the West, sustainable growth is impossible, because only a truly free society can foster genuine innovation and the creative destruction that is its corollary." (emphasis added)

What does this “free society” mean? That we as citizens have a good measure of control over our lives and ways of prospering. Some have less than others.

When you can take a plot of land and carve out space and time for your own plantings and ingenuity, you will invest more in it, rather than, as serfs during the middle ages, having to give all products to the lord of the manor. We have a stake in our future

What does this have to do with schools?

In our classrooms we as the educators have opportunities to do what Pat Burrows does in her Catalina Foothills 8th grade English class does. Provide students with choices:

I give my students choices on a regular basis. Those choices range from choosing from menus to demonstrate their proficiency in a skill/knowledge to making decisions about using technology or other resources. Bottom line here: if my students do not feel that they have any power when it comes to what and how they learn, they don’t `own’ their learning and become`bystanders.’ (Barell, 2012)

It’s the same way with emerging nations. If the people feel they have control over over access to and use of certain natural resources and can devise ways of making money therefrom, then it stands to reason that this country can grow and prosper.

Innovation is also fostered by an educator’s creating a more authentic problem-based curriculum wherein all students can pose good questions, conduct purposeful research, making findings, think critically and creatively and draw reasonable conclusions.

Students in Mary Darr’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) middle school classes (Sandusky, OH) have been, for the past two years, been learning how to collaborate with friends in order to solve problems such as:

How to attract `Tweens to the Cleveland Indians ball park

How to use vacant properties along Lake Erie for profit.

How to rebuild the Cedar Point roller coaster rides to attract more customers.

During these intensive learning experiences, students often struggled with collaborating and learned that “TEAMWORK” was the most important ingredient for success. They were also able to create novel solutions to well-stated problems, solutions that often intrigued the adults who reviewed their ideas (e.g. using mood indicating colors on the roller coaster handle bars, “Acting cool in front of friends would be difficult if the lap bar turned a color that showed nervousness.” ).

As we are learning from books like The Idea Factory (Gertner, 2012) about how Bell Labs created/invented the transistor and laser, it’s vitally important for creativity to have people with diverse experiences and backgrounds working with each other. The best solutions come when people with different perspectives collaborate with each other. Hence, problem solving in schools should be conducted with students with different experiences and talents. Diversity of input is key.

In addition to having some control over decision making within a problem solving context, and having problem solvers with varied talents, another element within our educational systems that can foster innovation is our openness to mystery, novelty and, of course new ideas. Not all adults are comfortable with the new thinking of our children and students, new thinking reflected in such questions as:

Do you think that angler fish think humans are fish sometimes? (kindergarten)

How big will space be when it stops growing and when will it stop growing? (kindergarten)

Why are mountains necessary? (grade four)

What if a planet spun out of the solar system? (grade four)

How much g force can a person bear during a coaster ride? (grade eight)

What if there were no gravity on the moon? (grade nine)

Suppose Holden Caulfield (Macbeth, Jefferson, Marie Curie, Cleopatra) lived today? (mine)

These are just a sample of the kinds of questions we might encounter when we provide students with some control over their own educational destinies within a problem-oriented curriculum.

There’s little or no preparation for such innovative thoughts. What we need to do is respond in ways that encourage the original thinker’s creation, urging him or her to share their thinking, to take it further and suggest the kinds of resources that might be necessary to find answers, if there are answers. For some this might take gradually moving beyond our comfort levels into those domains where novelty prevails. As one teacher in the STEM projects noted, “We were out of our comfort zones!”

So, countries and classrooms thrive on innovative thinking, when citizens in both environments have choice, emotional and intellectual support and are confronted with challenges of a high order wherein all can participate in their own fashions.

I never realized while I was a graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University in Dwayne Huebner’s curriculum theory class that his introduction of the concept of who controls which decisions, when and how would be so vitally important to my work as an educator and to the prosperity of persons as well as developing nations.