When Was the Last Time You Were Bored?

“When was the last time you were bored?” was the question posed by Manoush Zomorodi, author of Bored and Brilliant, host of @Notetoself, during a session at SXSWedu earlier this month.  The question stumped me. The last time I was bored?  I’m a working mom of two elementary school kids currently launching my first book who also volunteers to run our school’s foundation.  Who has time to be bored? I can’t remember being bored since at least 2008. Who cares?  And yet, the question lingered and nagged at me long after Manoush’s session.  On the flight home, other questions started flooding my mind. When had life become so busy? Was I wearing busy as a badge of honor?  How much did my phone and all the apps, dings, texts and notifications contribute to my business? Was any of it necessary? And worse, what was I teaching my kids by living such a busy life largely dictated by my phone?

In Bored and Brilliant, Manoush shares incredible research about how our smartphones are not only taking control of our lives but are actually reshaping our brains.  She offers seven challenges to help you establish a baseline for your habits and clear some of the noise to create the space for boredom.  Was I ready to take on the challenge?

When you pay attention to boredom, it gets unbelievably interesting.
— Jon Kabat-Zinn

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect as we were headed to Mexico for five days.  Sharing what I learned with my family, I committed to really disconnecting for our vacation.  No facebook, Instagram, Twitter or email. I was ready to turn it all off. When I told my boys, they cheered (and I knew they would hold me accountable!)  We all agreed our goal was to get bored and it was the best thing we have done as a family in a long time. Our days were filled with sandcastles, ice cream cones, and naps in hammocks.  I felt so happy watching Owen, my seven-year-old, laying by the side of the pool watching a line of ants do their thing. It was then that I decided I wanted more of this and I was capable of making it happen at home as well.  

Vacations end all too quickly and life resumes with all the daily challenges.  While life isn’t as slow as it was on vacation, we have managed to slow it down.  Getting bored is now an option at our house. We are creating space for thinking, creativity, and downtime that we hadn’t done before.  Thank you Manoush, for reminding me that I am in control of when my phone gets to interrupt my life and I don’t need all those notifications all the time.  Thank you for helping me see how important my habits are in setting the tone for those around me. It will be an ongoing journey for sure, but given the choice, I’ll choose the boredom badge over the busy badge anytime!

When was the last time you were bored?

 

How are You Playing with Questions?

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In honor of “Question Week,” I thought it might be fun to share the ways in which I am playing with questions at home.  We all know that questions are important. They can be serious, they can be more important than answers and they can be playful!  With two boys, ages 7 and 8, I am living with the silliness of questions.

After being inspired by a Huffington Post article “25 Ways to Ask Your Kid So How Was School Today Without Asking Them How Was School” originally posted in 2014, I started asking my kids crazy questions.   It wasn’t easy and I fell back on old habits asking, “How was school today?” more than once, but I was always rewarded with a more interesting conversation whenever I had a more interesting question.  One of my favorite tools to support this question asking endeavor is an app called “Talk2Kids” that offers one question a day to use with kids. Here is a glimpse of some of the questions from last week:

  • If you were a zookeeper, what would be the scariest animal to feed?
  • What is the longest word you can spell?
  • If you could choose who would you sit by in class? Who would you NOT want to sit by in class?
  • If you could create a new flavor of ice cream what would it be?
  • What would you do if you found a magic wand?

My boys love answering these questions.  We usually ask and answer them on the walk to or from school.  We talk, share ideas and laugh. Time flies. It has already been two years of me intentionally asking questions during our walks.  I don’t do it every day, but if it goes too long without a question my boys ask for it. It’s become a part of our routine and we all enjoy the playfulness of these questions.

With Amazon’s Alexa at home, there are many more opportunities to play with questions. It turns out 7 & 8-year-old boys push Alexa to her question answering limits.  Here are just a few questions my boys have asked Alexa in the last few weeks and Alexa delivers a humorous response to all of them! (Don’t believe me, try asking them!)

  • Alexa, can you sing me a song about technology?
  • Alexa, what does a fart sound like?
  • Alexa, where did you come from?
  • Alexa, what do you eat?
  • Alexa, can you tell me a joke?

Not too long ago, my youngest son, Owen started asking a question every night at the dinner table.  Sometimes the questions are downright silly, but sometimes they are pretty profound for a seven-year-old and they stump my husband and I.  Just the other night he asked us, “If you could create any business you wanted what it would be? Why? What would name it?” Not to be outdone by his younger brother,  my older son Jake asked us, “What is your biggest failure that you’ve turned into an opportunity?’” Speechless, but happy I have to believe playing with questions on our daily walks to school is helping them develop more curiosity and making them more comfortable with questions.  How are you playing with questions?

I'm Tired of Working in a Worksheet Factory

These were the words of a third-grade student as shared by Ron Baghetto, a creativity researcher, during his session on “Possibility Thinking” at SXSWedu.  I chuckled, captured the statement and shared it via Twitter. In most cases, worksheets represent the drudgery of learning in schools and this student comment captured that sentiment perfectly!

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What I wasn’t prepared for was the immediate reaction to this tweet.  Within minutes, there were hundreds of favorites, retweets, and comments from educators and parents who have witnessed a similar student response to worksheet learning.  The quick response both surprised and saddened me. Part of the reason I look forward to attending SXSWedu is that it attracts one of the most forward-thinking and optimistic groups of educators nationwide. Every time I have had the privilege of attending, I have felt like I found my people and yet even among this very forward-thinking group of educators the “worksheet drudgery” experience resonates.  I’m not intending to get into an argument about the merits of worksheets, sure there are probably some worksheets that are valuable(?), but we know most worksheets don’t equate to true learning. Yet we allow (encourage? ignore?) the practice to continue.

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Why?  If we know better, why aren’t we collectively able to do better?   Isn’t this an opportunity for us to impact change? I know we are focused on bigger education issues—equity, poverty, innovation, digital divide… the list goes on and on. But I can’t help but wonder how we can eradicate the drudgery of worksheets that students are experiencing daily.  Sure it’s a small change, but it is defining the learning experience for children in schools everywhere and it’s turning students off to school and more importantly turning them off to learning.

Ironically, today I emailed my son’s teacher (who we love) to ask what we can do to support his learning while we travel for the next few days. Her response, “I sent home a packet of worksheets for him to complete.”  Sigh…. Being both a parent with students in the k-12 system and an educator pushing for change can create some awkward situations that I am learning to embrace. I wholeheartedly support teachers and schools, but above that, I support developing a love of learning for my children.  We are headed to Mexico where my children will get the chance to learn outside of school. Apologies in advance to our teacher, but I won’t be spoiling any of this learning with “worksheet factory” moments while we travel.

I’d love to hear about your worksheet experiences. How have you made an impact in this area?

 

Does Design Thinking Have a Pedagogy Problem?

 Slide from Julie Schell's SXSWedu Future 20 Session

Slide from Julie Schell's SXSWedu Future 20 Session

This was the question posed by Julie Schell (@julieschell), a leading expert in learning design and innovation in higher education, during her Future 20 Session at SXSWedu.  Julie posed the question to a packed room of educators, many of whom are design thinking enthusiasts and shared not only the problem she sees but also a few solutions. Here’s a recap of the session with my take-a-ways.

The popularity of design thinking is contributing to the pedagogy problem.  With so many people eager to dive into design thinking, the number of design thinking boot camps, toolkits, and free resources are on the rise. This is the pedagogy problem that no one is talking about—rapid exposure and the way we are teaching it.  With such limited exposure, people are not developing an expertise in design thinking but have illusions of familiarity. As a result, are we sending out novice design thinkers who are ill-prepared to tackle our wickedest problems?

The  problem was further outlined that the dominant design thinking pedagogical model creates unintended consequences because we currently have:

  • wildly divergent definitions of design thinking
  • wild variation in implementation
  • lack of sustained engagements to provide course correction.

And the following three ideas were shared to fix the pedagogy problem:

  • Stop saying design thinking isn’t definable
  • Instead of rapid exposure aim for anticipatory socialization
  • Start collaborating with learning scientists

I don’t disagree with Julie and I see value in the proposed solutions, however, I also see value in continuing to expose people to design thinking at a rapid pace. While some may attend a two-day boot camp and consider themselves a design thinking expert, I don’t think that is the norm.  In fact, most of the leaders I have met who are experiencing success using design thinking have committed deeply to learning more about design thinking and developing their expertise. There is great value in learning by doing. Perhaps another solution to consider is the reframing of how we are teaching design thinking.  Rather than aspire to turn out more design thinkers, what if we aspired to teach the habits and mindsets of a designer? You don’t need to be an expert to start thinking differently and therefore leading differently.

Podcasts That Push My Thinking

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I love learning about new ideas and am constantly searching for books, articles, and podcasts that will inspire me.  I get even more excited when I find materials that challenge my thinking and cause me to question.  Usually books are my go to, but lately, time has been a big constraint and I am finding it so much easier to fit podcasts into my on-the-go life. Here are just a few of my current favorite podcasts that touch on leadership, creativity, and education:

Revisionist History - Hosted by Malcolm Gladwell, Revisionist History revisits topics from the past.  Sometimes the podcast focuses on an idea, a person or an event.  I love the perspective that everything from the past deserves a second chance.

Modern Learners - Hosted by author and speaker, Will Richardson, Modern Learners examines the changing landscape of education.  I love the informal nature of this podcast, that leaves me thinking about big ideas in education with examples of schools actually making changes, not just talking about them.

Accidental Creative  - Hosted by Todd Henry, this podcast is full of inspiration for anyone who desires to work and live more creatively.  It is a weekly podcast full of tips and interviews from top thinkers, leaders, and artists.  I know Todd is also starting a new podcast called, Herding Tigers that is focused on leading a creative team.  I haven’t listened to them yet, but just subscribed and will be listening soon.

99% Invisible - If you see design everywhere, this is the podcast for you.  Hosted by Roman Mars, the weekly podcast focuses on all the thought that goes into the things we don’t actually think about.  After listening to this podcast, I guarantee you won’t look at many things the same way and may just start to notice new details of design in your own life.

This is Your Life - Michael Hyatt hosts this weekly dose of inspiration that will help you lead more intentionally.  Every episode contains questions, ideas, and actions that will help you discover ways to do more of what matters and less of what doesn’t.

What podcasts push your thinking?  I’d love to hear!