Thursday, December 6, 2012

coding as a metaphor

Saw this ad in a car on the Red Line on my way to Harvard Square recently. I love the tone - the edgy, accusatory nature of the question. A definite taunt.

Like, yeah, I'm talking to you punk. You think you write some serious code? Well let's see if it can solve a critical global issue. Write it and compile it and then we'll talk. Let's see how capable you really are!

This is such a great way to compel atypical thinking about not alone application development, but health care and business and society. It covers so much in my mind. 

The taunt is of course to coders and developers on the surface, but underneath is a larger message about how technology is more and more capable of driving improvements in life on the planet. How it is inseparably and deeply woven into the progress of culture and society. 

There is no turning back. Imagine how Louis Pasteur might have reacted.

Friday, October 12, 2012

jack in, jump out

Tech Valley is an amazing place. An *experimental* high school in Renesselaer, NY near RPI. It is focused on project-based learning and combining disciplines.The students are taking classes in history and engineering, physics and physiology.

I had the privilege of speaking there yesterday morning to an entire school assembly - about 130 kids plus some faculty. I shared my concepts around “metacognition+reinvention: the 21stcentury career paradigm”.

These students are exactly the right audience for this message. They are creative and talented and are being taught in a way that will ultimately prepare them well to be successful in the global borderless workplace that awaits them.

After the assembly, I conducted a workshop with just the seniors. We worked on skills needed for jobs predicted to be in demand in 2030 – such as nanopharmacist, lunar tour guide and metaverse event designer. The students’ perspectives were very interesting: trending toward practical and executable in the near term.

Afterwards the principle and the business development director and I had a candid conversation about the crisis that exists in today’s education model. 

My feeling is that the tipping point will come when several successive graduating classes are unable to find work because they have not been given the skills needed to be successful in this changing paradigm.

I look forward to sharing my perspective with more 21st century learners. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

drawing guidance on 21st century education from 1754

I have been reflecting on the myriad societal, cultural, scientific and musical contributions made by Benjamin Franklin. There are lessons we might take away that could help orient today's learners in how to be successful 250 years later. 

What areas should they focus on? What values need to be taught and reinforced? How did the son of a tallow chandler, a runaway from Boston with only two years of formal schooling, have such a tremendous impact on the world? 

To try to find some answers to these questions, I made a two-day pilgrimage to Philadelphia, in late July of 2012. I walked the streets of the city where he settled after sneaking out of his father's candle factory. 

To be fair, Benjamin Franklin was an extraordinary person. That said, some observations that struck me were:
  • His endless and wide ranging curiosity about everything - how do we encourage kids to be curious?
  • His ability to see connections across disparate disciplines - connecting nature and science - lightning as electricity for example.
  • His use of the communications tools of his day (printing) to spread his ideas, opinions and ultimately his influence and reputation. Kids today can model this behavior, taking advantage of social media and other evolving technologies to communicate THEIR unique perspectives and achieve notoriety and thus influence and credibility.
  • The amount and variety of content he created -  writing in a range of formats, under pseudonyms, for his brother, for his own readers, for his critics, for his countrymen, for the world.
  • The ability to see the art in science - the beauty and wonder of how the planet is put together. How do we teach kids to comprehend and embrace this? To emphasize the sheer volume and majesty of the planet while at the same time continuing to investigate and unlock its secrets.
Are these skills much different from ones that would allow success today? No. 

The way Benjamin Franklin addressed them can provide valuable insight for today's learners. He advanced his career(s) by asking, by collaborating, by listening, by emulating, by doing.

He didn't take a class in how to write witty aphorisms for Poor Richard's Almanack - he just did it and published them. They were rough at first, but they evolved into crisp, dense nuggets of wisdom and advice that everyone could understand and appreciate.

He never went to school to study printing - he stood at his brother James' elbow and watched what he did and then imitated it and expanded on it. 

Did he go to a prestigious policy school to learn how to be a statesman and a diplomat? No - he trusted his internal instincts, watched his peers, pushed forward and created his own unique approach.

Could every child today follow this model at a macro level? Absolutely. If they were encouraged and guided in this direction.

We need to encourage today's learners to use these tactics to help them find their own voices. And share them. Know that school is but one node in the broader learning eco-system, but that more macro learning processes and techniques are equally if not ultimately more important.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

communication: 1730 and 2012

Last week, in touring various sites where Benjamin Franklin lived and worked in Philadelphia, I was struck by two things (among many others).

The first is that he viewed himself throughout his life a printer. It was a unique and powerful role in 18th century America. It allowed him a special camaraderie with working class citizens and tradesmen and gave him a perspective on hard work, focus and diligence that many of his friends - statesmen, wealthy farmers, educated scientists - did not have.

He brought this approach to bear in everything he did: inventing, diplomacy, business, science. 

Second, in his day, printing allowed him to control both the content and the means of delivery. He could determine what he wanted to share whether it was a damning critique of the current political or moral environment, or his Zen-like aphorisms captured in Poor Richard's Almanac. Profound wisdom for the common folk, delivered in easily consumable snippets. 

Today, everyone can create content and easily distribute it to the world with a single click of a mouse. What power that gives us. To drive change. To foment revolution. To share knowledge. To help others in need. To connect across the globe with people in widely different roles and unique perspectives.

He used his power to  manipulate communication to his own and his colleagues advantage. His early diatribes against British rule were made using his first (of many) pseudonym Silence Dogood. He cast himself as a middle-aged woman in Boston, publishing biting commentary in his brother James' newspaper at age 16.

Lessons to be learned - as we use our various early 21st century communication tools to improve society, expand global cultural awareness, encourage tolerance, drive collaboration. 

Franklin would surely be excited at the prospect.

wandering through Benjamin Franklin's world

What a turbulent and exciting time he lived in. Such upheaval and dramatic changes. A new country being born. The Age of Enlightenment dawning. Bold new thinking about science, governance, society, education.

His many sayings and myriad aphorisms are like Lao Tzu, even Buddhist in their simplicity and density. Approaching a haiku-like delivery of wisdom and insight.

The sheer number of things he accomplished is astounding. So many brilliant ideas from one brain. And how lucky he was to also be around so many other very bright and talented people - Jefferson, Washington, Tom Paine - even his nemesis John Adams.

As our tour guide said - Ben was great at working behind the scenes and building consensus-a crucial skill and key to much of his success. 

on the trail of a genius

For several years now I have wanted to conduct a self-directed symposium on Benjamin Franklin in the city where he first came to prominence – Philadelphia. Finally it is happening. Amtrak 175 is heading down the coast and once in town, I’ll hop in a cab to a small hotel in the Old City.
I plan to share this experience here on my blog. Being sucked into the time machine…about to go back three centuries to walk where he walked and contemplate his extraordinary contributions and world view.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Reflections on Levon's passing

Set up in a semi-circle, watching each other, they played with an incredible level of intuition. It was as if they were breathing together.

Sunday morning at Woodstock, August 1969. The Band played a set of tunes from their recently released record, "Music from Big Pink". I sat on a blanket in the mud about 100 feet in front of the stage. They were the tightest ensemble I have ever heard in my life - before or since. And I have been listening to and playing in bands for over 50 years. 

All the members of The Band were completely on the same wavelength in this moment, in some mystical space carved out of the musical ethos. They went there and created music of unimaginable passion and clarity. 

The grooves were swinging and deep. The varied timbres of their individual voices veered into and glanced off of each other with wonderful randomness. The way they approached harmonies was completely unique. Singing in seemingly random ways, jumping in at random moments, all the while feeling so organic and honest.

I had purchased “Music from Big Pink” before I went away to college, in the summer of 1968. I was completely captivated by the record. I’d never heard anything like it. So raggedly soulful and simple, casually passionate and with a quirky rustic Americana essence. 

I took the album to school with me and played it over and over and over. It would get to the end of side 1, I’d turn it over and play the other side. I did this for days and days on end. 

Finally, one afternoon, a student who lived next to me came over and knocked on my dorm room door. I opened it and he asked if I could please play a different record. I paused briefly and thought about his request. Then I said, no, to be honest, I can’t - sorry. I then closed the door and turned the record over...again.
I hold the records of The Band in awe, like some magical musical pedagogy. I learned Rick Danko’s bass lines note for note and tried to reproduce his tone and feel. Levon Helm's playing and singing were an inspiration. In fact,  I have been singing *The Weight* in various contexts for over 40 years.
RIP Levon. You gave the world a very special gift by sharing your talent and passion. We are all forever in your debt.

Monday, March 12, 2012

me at the phone booth in Milan

We spent the night in Milan before heading up to Bellagio. I was desperately trying to reach Inspiration but had to leave a message. Somewhat odd to see a payphone in such a technologically savvy city - and just in front of the Duomo no less! Intersection of centuries. Great design though.