Sources of inspiration.

Cool Tools Book
Cool Tools

Sometimes people wonder where I get ideas from. It’s always a difficult question on answer, because the sources are so varied and diverse, but since I just received something I’ve been waiting for, I thought I’d share:

Kevin Kelly, formerly of the Whole Earth Catalog, formerly of Wired Magazine, has just put out a new book: Cool Tools A Catalog of Possibilities. It is, in every way, the spiritual successor to the Whole Earth catalog. Just looking through it inspires idea. It’s exactly the sort of place I go when I need broad-band inspiration.

I hate rubrics.

It’s like this: Rubrics run the danger of encouraging “checklist think,” wherein a student checks off the aspects of the rubric to achieve the grade they want. Done well this doesn’t pose a problem, but it’s often not thought out- and the rubric becomes a mere checklist to be fulfilled. The danger with this is the elimination of opportunities for creativity. When the checklist becomes the gold standard, we risk loosing the ability to reward the divergent thinking student.

Consider that the rubric essentially becomes a contract between the student and the teacher. It allows for points to be awarded based on specific criteria. This is good, in that the students know exactly the sort of tasks they will be rewarded for. The flip of this, of course, is that educators can only reward for the things in that rubric.

I’ll offer an example from my education.

During my undergrad study, I was asked to write a paper in an English class. The topic was specified, as were several other criteria: evidence integration, structure, length, transitions, etc. Among the specifications was a stipulation that the paper be between five and seven double spaced typed pages long.

Let’s say that I’m not known for my long-form writing. It’s not my nature.

The paper I submitted was a scant three pages long- essentially half of what I’d been asked to provide. In all ways, the paper was excellent (if I do say so myself…), and it exhibited the sort of depth of thought and argument that the professor was looking for. When it came time for a grade, I was rewarded for my work with an “A.” There was no rubric for this paper- there were guidelines. As a result, the professor was free to grade my work on it’s merits. Had there been a rubric that specified the length of the paper, the professor would have had no choice but to deduct points for the short length of my work.

It’s not that rubrics are inherently bad. It’s that so many of the rubrics made aren’t thought out and structured to foster the creative and divergent thought we so badly need students to express. They aren’t rubrics- they’re checklists. And not good checklists at that.

It won’t fail.

NASA's motto for the Apollo program
My modified Field Notes with NASA’s Apollo program motto.

Somewhere between 400,000 and 1,500,000 people were directly involved in allowing 12 people to walk on the moon.

This was a project so big that no one person could understand all aspects of it. But each member of that enormous team lived by the same mantra:

If won’t fail because of me.

Different isn’t scary.

photo (3)
This Field Notes is different. It isn’t even scary.

Different isn’t scary- it’s different. In the educational world,¬†you’d think that different was something to be feared and loathed. The resistance to change is formidable.

Buy why? We cling to the past like we have something to loose, when in fact we should have no allegiance to it. We ingest new data, and as a result of that data, sometimes things change. This isn’t some sort of sign of weakness. This is acknowledging that new data has impacted us- nothing more.

Stop thinking of different as scary, and start thinking of it as different.

Feed the Animal.

This is counter-intuitive.

If a highway has lots of traffic, the general feeling is that a lane should be added to increase the capacity of the road. It seems to make sense: more cars = more lanes. Totally fine.

Except that’s not what happens. When you add a lane, you actually increase the usage of that road, thereby canceling out whatever “extra” capacity you’ve added. What you end up in is an arms race of sorts- constantly adding capacity only to see usage continually rise to compensate.

And so it goes with bandwidth in an organization. You find that your internet connection speeds are too low, and so you upgrade your ISP service to a higher bandwidth. In our case, we started with a 50Mbps connection, which was woefully slow. So, the choice was clear: upgrade. We moved to a 400Mbps connection, and, for a short time, things were radically improved. But as news of the more robust connection spread, usage increased. It’s not as crippled a connection as we once had to be sure, but with the much larger amount of data we’re pushing around, it’s not as razor sharp as you might think.


There’s no end in sight either- we’re now up to about 550Mbps, and as we add another 800-900 devices next year, we’ll be lucky if the connection experience we’re able to offer stays static. But this is not one of those problems that benefits from simply throwing resources at it. What needs to be considered is shaping a culture that understands the resource. Just as people once left the lights on and water running as a matter of course (hopefully no longer…), we need to educate and help people be more efficient with their use of bandwidth. A culture not of miserly enforcement, but of thoughtful and considered use.

You’ve got it backwards.

Don’t tell you kid to make their Facebook/Instagram/Vine/Twitter private. All that does is hide the problem.

Instead, insist on them keeping those public. It removes the false security that making those accounts “private” actually prevents bad things from happening. If those accounts are kept public, there’s no illusion: things posted will be seen. By you. By grandparents. By college admissions officers. And that knowledge changes the behavior instead of hiding it.

Vitamin C is a joke.

So it’s the winter, and I’m perpetually on the verge of getting some illness or another. There’s always a snivel or a throat thing or a ache or whatever. The single thing I’m told to do most by the folks around me is to take Vitamin C in order to not get a cold.

And they’re wrong.

Don’t believe me? Try here. Or here. Or here.

It’s not that Vitamin C isn’t good for you, or that it doesn’t have positive effects- it’s that people’s perception of what those effects are is divorced from reality. Information gets filtered and handed off and “summarized” and thus distorted. The difficult part there is that people have faith in their sources, and thus don’t think of the second/third/fourth hand information as distorted, and we end up thinking that Vitamin C somehow cures the common cold. The details disappear, and it is those same details that hold the truths that we were looking for.