01 June 2012

Focused Chaos

When we created this video - Growing Iridescent Classrooms - we were really tapping into the basic learning idea of this century, an idea which has been growing and developing since the 1960s.

Growing Iridescent Classrooms
The ideas, in which 19th century factory production techniques are replaced by much free-er, much more human paradigms, might best be illustrated in the three videos below...

ABC's Nightline asks IDEO to recreate the shopping cart, 1999
There are a few phrases of vital importance in these videos. "Not organized chaos," IDEO's boss says, "focused chaos." For he finds too much organization self-defeating. You must "hire people who don't listen to you," he says, "but corporate America" - and I might add, most educational systems - "aren't ready for that." Ideas need "eclectic teams" - not all people with similar educational backgrounds, not all people with similar training. "In an innovative culture you can't have a hierarchy," he adds, noting that ideas flow from everybody.

We must get out into the world and observe, counting "seat time" is absurd. We must "have wild ideas. If everyone only came up with appropriate ideas, you wouldn't have any points to take from, to get to really innovative ideas." The team must do the evaluating. "Enlightened trial and error," "fail your way to success." Places of innovation are playful.

Now IDEO, and other groups, corporate and non-profit, from NASA to Data General, from Mozilla to Twitter, from Push Pin Studios to Xerox PARC, wherever true learning gets to run and move toward the future, we find the kind of chaos which allows new concepts to both emerge and be tested.

The era of the "open classroom" primary and "school-without-walls" secondary -
that much maligned time of "new math" and "whole language" - produced the thinkers
who revolutionized the world, creating Microsoft, Apple, Google, the supercomputer...
I was helping my sister's family move from California to Massachusetts when I entered my brother-in-law's new place of work. I entered a huge space filled with guys in shorts and T-shirts riding bikes and skateboards, laughing, yelling, throwing frisbees, footballs, baseballs... And I realized that this workplace, at that moment creating the world's most powerful computer, looked a whole lot more like my "free school" alternative high school than like any workplace for which the traditional classroom was prepping us.

I like this review of Tracy Kidder's capturingof the essence of that space...
"When you're young and you get interested in something, you get passionate about it. Maybe it's because you don't know the importance of money and responsibility yet, but you really get into a sport, or hobby, or any other interest, and you do that hobby or play that sport, you write stories or fix cars, making whatever sacrifices you need to just so you can do this thing you love, not because you want to make money at it, or gain respect or admiration, but because it gives you priceless rewards and satisfaction."

And that passion, that messy and barely controlled excitement, is what I see at places like Bridge21Learning, what I see at CoderDojos, what I see when I see kids at play, in fields, on streets, or online, what I see in good primary/elementary schools, but which I rarely see in secondary schools. - or in the often worthless virtual environments created by most educational software developers.

Play. Joy. Chaos. Argument. Movement. Absurdity. Laughter. Human Observation. These are all required parts of the kind of learning which leads to creation rather than replication.

Embracing the chaotic nature of learning... An Australian school at work
There's a point here. Schools must trust childhood and children. They must embrace the search-for-the-new of adolescence. They must stop trying to turn kids into compliant adults destined to build iPads for $8.00 a day. Instead they must help develop young adults who have kept their wonder and width of vision intact. Talking to Irish educators last month in Tipperary, I noted that their nation's exam driven secondary school system left Trinity College's Medical School with great test takers who were so clueless about the world that the first thing they need is art classes, so they can learn to see and describe. If Irish kids, or American kids, came out of secondary schools that looked a lot more like IDEO, that problem wouldn't exist. And, a whole lot more students would want to come to school, instead of trying to get out of it.

- Ira Socol