Polar views on generating creativity

It was exciting to be at Google for a second time. In the last 2 years, there have been a heap of developments including an explosion of Chrome Books and GAFE – in US education particularly, being 50%+ of tech represented in US schools!! –  and Google cardboard. The experience via the latter is so immersive that if you are riding the virtual roller-coaster you need some steadying…even if sitting down! Great to see the Google Garage and the giant SQrL too.

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Out of interest, Silicon Valley offers examples of polarised views of generating an environment that sparks creativity. There is the Google model where the environment is playful and wild and collaborative and vibrant and energetic so that ideas can spark and generate and bounce around. And there is the Apple model where we have previously seen the environment as clean, neutral coloured, calm and controlled so that there seems to be an external calm that would allow ones head to explode with ideas without the external confusion. Horses for courses, as they say. Each has merit. Some thinking styles would benefit from one, and some from the other. As big players in Silicon Valley I guess they attract the right people for their style. Maybe keep that in mind when managing the students in your class during creative projects and offer them the “headspace” they need, taking a leaf from the books of these two successful corporations.

Ideas and Innovation

What a week! And it still isn’t over. My mind has been filled and expanded with the many different (but strikingly similar) educational philosophies and ideas of the schools we’ve visited, particularly with the way each of them have implemented their maker spaces and places of ideas and innovation. This tour is slowly brining me to the belief that these spaces are going to become critical in preparing students for the careers and jobs that don’t yet exist.

Given that even Google believes strongly enough in developing a maker/tinkerer culture, and given that they’ve dedicated resources to build their own, it speaks volume about the potential power of these spaces.

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It’s been great to see and compare the size and scale of a maker space like the Menlo School Whitaker Lab, right through to the early stages of the Urban X lab (which we didn’t even get to see in the making!)

Comparing all of the labs to the Google Garage maker space also adds further interest. While we couldn’t take photos in Google’s lab, I actually loved the intensive and frenetic nature and pace of Google’s space; things everywhere, computers in various stages of function, projects being worked on, whiteboards with ideas scrawled over them, materials strewn throughout the lab. For me, this would be a great space to work in – I like to be organised, but when I’m in the middle of working through ideas I am all over the place. Obviously not everyone’s style!

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If I could head back home and implement one lab we’ve seen, verbatim, it would have to be the Castilleja School’s Bourne Idea Lab. Firstly – that name! It elicits intrigue and suspense. The lab was named after a gentleman that contributed to ‘tinkering’ in the school and volunteered in supporting their early programs, but has since passed away. I can’t help but think of an action-filled Ludlum storyline.

Their Lab Director is a wonderfully excited young woman named Angi Chau. Angi has qualifications in electrical engineering, and a real passion for education and developing a maker/tinkerer culture. This is infectious. Good staffing seems like the first place to start!

While Castilleja strives to excel in all areas (educating the whole student), they’ve made what seems like a conscious and concerted effort to implement STEM. Compared to some of the other places we’ve visited, Castilleja seems to be approaching STEM and developing a maker/project-based culture carefully and are working well given what seems like limitations of budget, time, space and recent technological change/risk of change fatigue  across the school. I like this. You can’t roll out a maker space and just expect it to work.

The use of space, and tailoring the program well to their girls was stand-out.

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I LOVED that Castilleja still has a strong Arts/Humanities program. How important is that! I also fell in love with the idea of embedding wellness and citizenship (and dropping the word DIGITAL from citizenship). Coming to mind when they mentioned that is the analogy Sir Ken Robinson uses around electricity. To loosely paraphrase, for perhaps our grandparents, electricity was an amazing, transformative technology, but for our parents, they grew up with electricity just being normal. For many of us, the Internet is an amazing and transformative technology, but for the next generation it’s just normal. Hence, citizenship should be all encompassing, holistic, and taught as such.

Finally, the involvement, contact from and surveying of their Alumni to improve outcomes, particularly as they relate to tech, was great. I jotted down the story of the alum who said laptops have been banned at NYU lecturers. The research around handwriting and the use of pen and paper is prevalent, and while I believe digital skills are important it is refreshing and equally important to consider a balanced approach in anything we do in our schools.

Now… how can I get one of these sleep pods installed in my office…

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Google – The Disney for Geeks

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I had high expectations for Google.  You hear all these rumours about this magical place, almost like a Disney World for geeks like me.  A place where dreams come true and your imagination runs wild.  I can tell you this, I was NOT disappointed.  My experience here exceeded my expectations.  As the cool kids would say…I can’t even…

Our wonderful guide, Amanda, immediately engages us with the ideas students have come up with through their ‘Doodle for Google’ programme.  You know those different Google designs that pop up everyday? you guessed it, all designed by school aged students.  Ideas such as: The Cloud Plough, The Imagination Transporter and Optimistic Binoculars were presented to us.  Each and every one of those ideas, brilliant.  Giving us a glimpse into what could very much be a possibility in the future.

She got us all thinking by asking us a fairly simple but perplexing question:

What is the important event that is going to be happening in the year 2030?

Incase you didn’t know, it is the year that 2016’s kindergarten kids will graduate.  Why is this important? Because by the time 2030 comes around, it is estimated that 60% of jobs that these students will be working in, do not currently exist.  But it is our job to prepare them for it.  How do I prepare someone to be a Cloud Plough operator?

How do we do it?

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This is a question that will burden educators world wide, today, and for years to come.  But where we can start is by teaching skills rather than knowledge.  Rather than delivering the ‘what’ of education, we need to focus on the ‘how’ and the ‘why’.

In matter of fact Google, one of the most desirable places on Earth to work, uses four indicators to help decide which applicants to hire (people applying for jobs at Google average between 2 and 3 million per year).  These four indicators are:

  • Role Related Knowledge
  • Leadership Qualities
  • Flexibility
  • ‘Google-iness’

As you can see, content knowledge only accounts for one of those indicators.   The fact that ‘Google-iness’ (how well you can fit into the company and its beliefs and culture) is just as important and should be an eye opener for many educators.  If we are only teaching them content, we are not developing the student as a whole.  We are not giving them the chance to develop their ‘Google-iness’…which I have a lot of…just incase the magical Google hiring fairy is reading this…

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Amanda points out to us that a student’s Grade Point Average (G.P.A) is NOT an indicator of how well a student will succeed two years after graduation.  Rather it is their General Cognitive Ability (G.C.A) that is the greatest indicator…essentially their ability to collaborate and solve problems.

Her notion of being able to fail well is good thing.  This is something that we need to teach.  To fail well, and do it quickly.  Because if we fail, and if we fail fast, it just means that we can find solutions quicker.  Isn’t that just a brilliant notion? Fail, and fail well!!

But perhaps what inspired me the most was Google’s view on education.  The fact that it is not technology that is the engager and the drive behind a students learning.  But, rather the teacher as a source of inspiration.  Technology should not take the place of good practice.  This is best summed up by Ben Grey, Assistant Superintendent for Innovative Learning and Communication for Community Consolidated School District 59:

Technology amplifies human potential through empowerment, connectivity, innovation, digital resources and access.

Who knows what Google has cooking in their Googleplex, the geek’s version of Cinderella’s Castle.  Maybe they are working on that Cloud Plough, or that Imagination Transporter…but mostly, I hope they are working on those Optimistic Binoculars…because ‘everybody needs a bit of optimism in their lives’

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A photobombing Android