The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students

 December 20, 2017

(Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

The conventional wisdom about 21st century skills holds that students need to master the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math — and learn to code as well because that’s where the jobs are. It turns out that is a gross simplification of what students need to know and be able to do, and some proof for that comes from a surprising source: Google.

This post explains what Google learned about its employees, and what that means for students across the country.  It was written by Cathy N. Davidson, founding director of the Futures Initiative and a professor in the doctoral program in English at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and author of the new book, “The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux.” She also serves on the Mozilla Foundation board of directors,  and was appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Council on the Humanities.

By Cathy N. Davidson

All across America, students are anxiously finishing their “What I Want To Be …” college application essays, advised to focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) by pundits and parents who insist that’s the only way to become workforce ready.  But two recent studies of workplace success contradict the conventional wisdom about “hard skills.” Surprisingly, this research comes from the company most identified with the STEM-only approach: Google.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both brilliant computer scientists, founded their company on the conviction that only technologists can understand technology. Google originally set its hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students with top grades from elite science universities.

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

Those traits sound more like what one gains as an English or theater major than as a programmer. Could it be that top Google employees were succeeding despite their technical training, not because of it?  After bringing in anthropologists and ethnographers to dive even deeper into the data, the company enlarged its previous hiring practices to include humanities majors, artists, and even the MBAs that, initially, Brin and Page viewed with disdain.

Project Aristotle, a study released by Google this past spring, further supports the importance of soft skills even in high-tech environments. Project Aristotle analyzes data on inventive and productive teams. Google takes pride in its A-teams, assembled with top scientists, each with the most specialized knowledge and able to throw down one cutting-edge idea after another. Its data analysis revealed, however, that the company’s most important and productive new ideas come from B-teams comprised of employees who don’t always have to be the smartest people in the room.

Project Aristotle shows that the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard.

Google’s studies concur with others trying to understand the secret of a great future employee. A recent survey of 260 employers by the nonprofit National Association of Colleges and Employers, which includes both small firms and behemoths like Chevron and IBM, also ranks communication skills in the top three most-sought after qualities by job recruiters. They prize both an ability to communicate with one’s workers and an aptitude for conveying the company’s product and mission outside the organization. Or take billionaire venture capitalist and “Shark Tank” TV personality Mark Cuban: He looks for philosophy majors when he’s investing in sharks most likely to succeed.

STEM skills are vital to the world we live in today, but technology alone, as Steve Jobs famously insisted, is not enough. We desperately need the expertise of those who are educated to the human, cultural, and social as well as the computational.

No student should be prevented from majoring in an area they love based on a false idea of what they need to succeed. Broad learning skills are the key to long-term, satisfying, productive careers. What helps you thrive in a changing world isn’t rocket science. It may just well be social science, and, yes, even the humanities and the arts that contribute to making you not just workforce ready but world ready.

How To Raise Brilliant Children, According To Science

NPR

The ideal student

LA Johnson/NPR

Becoming Brilliant

“Why are traffic lights red, yellow and green?”

When a child asks you a question like this, you have a few options. You can shut her down with a “Just because.” You can explain: “Red is for stop and green is for go.” Or, you can turn the question back to her and help her figure out the answer with plenty of encouragement.

No parent, teacher or caregiver has the time or patience to respond perfectly to all of the many, many, many opportunities like these that come along. But a new book, Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children, is designed to get us thinking about the magnitude of these moments.

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, the book’s co-author, compares the challenge to climate change.

“What we do with little kids today will matter in 20 years,” she says. “If you don’t get it right, you will have an unlivable environment. That’s the crisis I see.”

Hirsh-Pasek, a professor at Temple University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, is a distinguished developmental psychologist with decades of experience, as is her co-author, Roberta Golinkoff at the University of Delaware. And with this book, the two are putting forward a new framework, based on the science of learning and development, to help parents think about cultivating the skills people really need to succeed.

What follows is an excerpt from our conversation.

What led you to write this book now?

Golinkoff: We live in a crazy time, and parents are very worried about their children’s futures. They’re getting all kinds of messages about children having to score at the top level on some test. The irony is, kids could score at the top and still not succeed at finding great employment or becoming a great person.

Hirsh-Pasek: If Rip Van Winkle came back, there’s only one institution he would recognize: “Oh! That’s a school. Kids are still sitting in rows, still listening to the font of wisdom at the front of the classroom.”

We’re training kids to do what computers do, which is spit back facts. And computers are always going to be better than human beings at that. But what they’re not going to be better at is being social, navigating relationships, being citizens in a community. So we need to change the whole definition of what success in school, and out of school, means.

You present something you call the 21st-century report card. And it contains six C’s, which I’ve seen versions of elsewhere: collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation and confidence. But what’s new is the way you relate these skills to each other, and also, you’ve described what they look like at four levels of development.

Hirsh-Pasek: The first, basic, most core is collaboration. Collaboration is everything from getting along with others to controlling your impulses so you can get along and not kick someone else off the swing. It’s building a community and experiencing diversity and culture. Everything we do, in the classroom or at home, has to be built on that foundation.

Communication comes next, because you can’t communicate if you have no one to communicate with. This includes speaking, writing, reading and that all-but-lost art of listening.

Content is built on communication. You can’t learn anything if you haven’t learned how to understand language, or to read.

Critical thinking relies on content, because you can’t navigate masses of information if you have nothing to navigate to.

Creative innovation requires knowing something. You can’t just be a monkey throwing paint on a canvas. It’s the 10,000-hour rule: You need to know something well enough to make something new.

And finally, confidence: You have to have the confidence to take safe risks.

Golinkoff: There isn’t an entrepreneur or a scientific pioneer who hasn’t had failures. And if we don’t rear children who are comfortable taking risks, we won’t have successes.

OK, and for each of your six C’s, you also go into what they look like at four levels of development. Can you give us the deep dive on one of these?

Golinkoff: So, critical thinking. First you have to have content, right?

Most people at their desks at work have papers, books, magazines all over the place. Information is doubling every 2 1/2 years. We have to figure out how to select and synthesize the information we need.

So, at Level 1, we call it “seeing is believing.” If someone tells you alligators live in sewers in New York City, you buy it.

At Level 2, you see that truths differ; there are multiple points of view.

You learn Columbus discovered America, then you learn that there are alternative narratives — the Native Americans already lived here. This is kind of when critical thinking starts.

At the third level, we have opinions. All of us have used the phrase “they say.” That will get you into trouble because it shows little respect for science or evidence.

At Level 4, we talk about evidence, mastery, the intricacies of doubt.

E.O. Wilson, one of my heroes, the biologist, says we’re drowning in information and starved for wisdom. When we’re getting to be more at Level 4, we’ll see the gaps and the holes in a line of reasoning. Critical thinking is what leads to the next breakthroughs in any area.

In addition to breaking down the six C’s and four levels within each of them, you also cover the opportunities for parents, teachers and grandparents to cultivate those skills. Talk about that.

Golinkoff: So, if you’re going to have a kid who engages in critical thinking, you’re not going to shut them down when they ask a question. You’re not going to settle for “because.” You’re going to encourage them to ask more. And you want them to understand how other people think.

If you see a homeless person in the street: What do you think that person is thinking? How do you think they feel about not having a home?

Get someone else’s point of view activated to help them recognize that things are not always what they appear. That’s going to help them understand critical thinking.

OK, so that helps me understand how these skills are all interrelated. Perspective-taking, which I think of as a component of empathy, you’re saying is also foundational for critical thinking.

Hirsh-Pasek: Yes, theory of mind is important to be able to do critical thinking.

A big part of what you’re doing with this book is to try to get parents to supplement what’s going on in school. Talk a little more about that.

Hirsh-Pasek: One of the biggest concepts is breadth. Learning isn’t just K-12. It starts prenatally. If you get a bead on what your children are and aren’t being exposed to at school, that will suggest the kinds of experiences you want your children to have outside of school.

And you want people to look at where they themselves fall in the four levels within the 6 C’s, right? It’s not just for kids.

Hirsh-Pasek: Yes. I can say as a mom, well, let’s think about it — who am I as a collaborator? Am I an on-my-own kind of girl [Level 1] or a side-by-side [Level 2]?

When I was rushing my kids to get dressed and out the door, I was an on my own. I wish I weren’t!

It’s not a big deal to let my kid try to pick out his wardrobe. Who cares if it’s stripes and plaids? Let’s see that back-and-forth collaboration is built into our routines.

And then, how much communication is built in? Did we tell a joint story or did I just read the book and get it over with? It’s a really good idea to evaluate ourselves according to the grid. We can ask where we want to grow as parents.

Then we can ask, with the same grid: What do I want for my child? Where is my child now, and how can I build an environment in my house that will enable the child to grow up with these different skills?

Wow. OK. So this is really reinforcing the idea of learning as a social, relationship-oriented process. It’s not just a grid for sorting and measuring our kids; it’s about how we are relating to our kids.

Golinkoff: The other thing I think is crucial to notice is that we’re talking about doing things in the moment with your child. Notice we’re talking about buying nothing, signing up for no classes, and no tablets. Not that we’re Luddites, but we’re talking about how the crucible of social interaction between child and parent really helps set up the child for the development of these skills.

How can I be as great as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson?

Extreme success results from an extreme personality and comes at the cost of many other things. Extreme success is different from what I suppose you could just consider ‘success’, so know that you don’t have to be Richard or Elon to be affluent and accomplished and maintain a great lifestyle. Your odds of happiness are better that way. But if you’re extreme, you must be what you are, which means that happiness is more or less beside the point. These people tend to be freaks and misfits who were forced to experience the world in an unusually challenging way. They developed strategies to survive, and as they grow older they find ways to apply these strategies to other things, and create for themselves a distinct and powerful advantage. They don’t think the way other people think. They see things from angles that unlock new ideas and insights. Other people consider them to be somewhat insane.Be obsessed.

Be obsessed.

Be obsessed.

If you’re not obsessed, then stop what you’re doing and find whatever does obsess you. It helps to have an ego, but you must be in service to something bigger if you are to inspire the people you need to help you  (and make no mistake, you will need them). That ‘something bigger’ prevents you from going off into the ether when people flock round you and tell you how fabulous you are when you aren’t and how great your stuff is when it isn’t. Don’t pursue something because you “want to be great”. Pursue something because it fascinates you, because the pursuit itself engages and compels you. Extreme people combine brilliance and talent with an *insane* work ethic, so if the work itself doesn’t drive you, you will burn out or fall by the wayside or your extreme competitors will crush you and make you cry.

Follow your obsessions until a problem starts to emerge, a big meaty challenging problem that impacts as many people as possible, that you feel hellbent to solve or die trying. It might take years to find that problem, because you have to explore different bodies of knowledge, collect the dots and then connect and complete them.

It helps to have superhuman energy and stamina. If you are not blessed with godlike genetics, then make it a point to get into the best shape possible. There will be jet lag, mental fatigue, bouts of hard partying, loneliness, pointless meetings, major setbacks, family drama, issues with the Significant Other you rarely see, dark nights of the soul, people who bore and annoy you, little sleep, less sleep than that. Keep your body sharp to keep your mind sharp. It pays off.

Learn to handle a level of stress that would break most people.

Don’t follow a pre-existing path, and don’t look to imitate your role models. There is no “next step”. Extreme success is not like other kinds of success; what has worked for someone else, probably won’t work for you. They are individuals with bold points of view who exploit their very particular set of unique and particular strengths. They are unconventional, and one reason they become the entrepreneurs they become is because they can’t or don’t or won’t fit into the structures and routines of corporate life. They are dyslexic, they are autistic, they have ADD, they are square pegs in round holes, they piss people off, get into arguments, rock the boat, laugh in the face of paperwork. But they transform weaknesses in ways that create added advantage — the strategies I mentioned earlier — and seek partnerships with people who excel in the areas where they have no talent whatsoever.

They do not fear failure — or they do, but they move ahead anyway. They will experience heroic, spectacular, humiliating, very public failure but find a way to reframe until it isn’t failure at all. When they fail in ways that other people won’t, they learn things that other people don’t and never will. They have incredible grit and resilience.

They are unlikely to be reading stuff like this. (This is *not* to slam or criticize people who do; I love to read this stuff myself.) They are more likely to go straight to a book: perhaps a biography of Alexander the Great or Catherine the Great* or someone else they consider Great. Surfing the ‘Net is a deadly timesuck, and given what they know their time is worth — even back in the day when technically it was not worth that — they can’t afford it.

I could go on, it’s a fascinating subject, but you get the idea. I wish you luck and strength and perhaps a stiff drink should you need it.

* One person in the comments section appears not to know who Catherine the Great is, suggesting that this is “an utter lie” of mine + “feminist stupidity”. But Catherine’s ability to rise, and strategize around discrimination, holds interesting lessons for anyone.

Learning Through Tinkering

SAN FRANCISCO — My 9-year-old daughter is in the midst of a “pioneer” unit in her third grade class. It’s a great example of a project-based curriculum: The kids are developing math skills by determining what and how much they can pack without overloading wagons for a cross-country trek. They roll a “twist of fate” die that presents (virtual) obstacles they might have faced in the late 19th century — bad weather, loss of livestock, etc. — and then have to problem-solve to get their trek back on track. They’re reading a variety of historical perspectives, such as Louise Erdrich’s “The Birchbark House” and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books. And perhaps most important, they’re learning about self-sufficiency and resilience — and how even the youngest kids needed it in spades.

Before the Industrial Revolution really kicked into high gear, people had to know how to do everything, from navigating routes to preserving food, building homes to sewing clothes. You couldn’t head to the nearest supermarket or mall, you had to figure out how to make it, catch it, build it or grow it. For contemporary kids used to streaming video, play dates and even drone delivery, it’s illuminating to learn about this. And it’s not something easily — or typically — conveyed through grade school homework.

I’m not nostalgic for pioneer days. I’m a huge fan of modern conveniences. But as we’ve become so disconnected from where things come from, from the knowledge, resources and effort required to fulfill even the most basic needs, I believe we’ve lost something essential (if intangible). That’s why I want to talk about two amazing endeavors geared toward cultivating that sort of resourcefulness and creativity.

If we want to raise kids to be independent thinkers and change-makers, one of the best things we can do is give them the tools to figure stuff out for themselves. And a terrific manual for that is “50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do),” by Gever Tulley, a self-taught software engineer.

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A Tinkering School instructor and a student collaborate on a project. CreditTinkering School

“There are not enough opportunities in a child’s life to be taken seriously, to be given autonomy and to learn authentically,” says Tulley. “I think they need learning opportunities that respect and incorporate their ideas.”

Tulley’s book presents 50 challenges (with instructions), each utterly at odds with today’s rampant helicopter parenting, such as Stand on a Roof, Taste Electricity (by licking a 9-volt battery), Dam a Creek and (I’ll admit I’m not ready to allow this one yet) Cross Town on Public Transportation.

“50 Dangerous Things” emphasizes the importance of introducing risk, facilitating autonomy and letting kids know that with danger comes discovery. This book comes to life at The Tinkering School, a program Tulley started here in San Francisco in 2000. (There is also a K-12 school, Brightworks, and a sleepaway camp down the coast; the program has recently expanded to Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin and Buffalo.)

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My daughter works on a ticket booth as part of a project by Tinkering School students to build structures for a carnival. CreditTinkering School

At the start of the week, children are given a project: to design and build a Yellow Submarine, perhaps, or to construct a Monster City and a mechanical King Kong to destroy it. Starting as early as age 6, kids are taught how to use tools (hammers, orbital sanders, skilsaws) safely and responsibly (and to put everything back the way they found it at the end of the day). They form teams, determine tasks and timelines and, with guidance from an expert crew of instructors (the ratio is about one adult to four kids), are entrusted as project leaders designers and heads of a construction crew.

This isn’t just a bunch of kids messing around with stuff. Behind the chaos you can see the gears turning. There is no template, no set of instructions (and no screens). They need to be attentive, engaged and curious. As they begin a project, they’re learning how to collaborate, identify the skill sets of their group and deploy those talents accordingly, and problem-solve creatively. “The use of real tools dramatically increases agency,” says the Tinkering School’s manager, Joshua Rothhaas. “It’s like learning Spanish and suddenly realizing you can talk to about 400 million more people in the world than you could before you knew Spanish. It fundamentally changes the way your kid thinks about the world, how it works, and what they are capable of.”

All these children need are tools, materials and guidance. From there, their imaginations take over and creative problem-solving commences. They are still young enough not to have totally surrendered to that horrible adult trait of second-guessing. They’re given parameters and deadlines, which they take with the utmost seriousness. And at week’s end, the kids take the project apart; the materials can be reused and recycled, so they’re also learning about the life cycle of products and materials.

“When I started 10 years ago, I had the strong sense that kids were not being treated as competent people,” says Tulley. “It was as if no one expected them to be able to actually do anything until they graduated high school. I knew that they were capable of more, and wanted to create a place where they could show themselves and their parents that they could tackle a big problem.”

The Tinkering School ethos is echoed across the bay at Project H in Berkeley, Calif., where, says its founder, Emily Pilloton, “There’s no reason in the entire world to be bored.”

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Project H students with the frame of one of two houses they are building for the homeless. CreditProject H

After graduating from architecture school, Pilloton quickly became disenchanted with what she was being paid to design while working at a for-profit design company. So, in 2008, she established Project H, a nonprofit that merges design and hands-on building to inspire youth, transform communities and improve K-12 public education from within. She and her small team teach 200 students at the Realm Charter School in Berkeley (it’s part of the regular curriculum). She also runs a summer camp for girls, and recently added a weekend workshop program for adults. (I couldn’t let my daughter have all the fun — I took welding with Pilloton last year and can’t wait to do it again.)

Her young crew is currently building two tiny houses that they designed. In the process, they’re looking at housing through a social, economic and environmental lens: upon completion of work, the students will donate the homes to Opportunity Village, an organization that helps the homeless in Eugene, Ore. Pilloton had wanted to donate locally but this group is the only one she could find that uses houses of this size (175 – 200 square feet) to house the homeless legally. Her students learned another valuable lesson as aspiring designers/architects — you’ve got to learn to work with zoning restrictions.

Creating something as ubiquitous as a house, says Pilloton, makes these kids look at the things around them in a different way because now they understand how they’re put together. (By the way, this all happens on an annual budget of $200,000. I think the greater challenge is the inability to clone multiple Emily Pillotons.)

“Every student in our class has something to contribute,” says Pilloton. “When you put a tool in the hands of a young person there’s the instinct to use it in a really creative way. It’s super powerful for a kid to say I drew this thing and now I’m building it.”

As Pilloton describes what and how these kids, and the young girls in particular, are learning, her observations jibe with what I’ve seen with my own daughter. “It’s powerful and necessary to give girls the opportunity to do something unexpected,” she says. “There’s nothing you could say to them that they wouldn’t try.” In short, they’re true pioneers.

A New Paradigm for Accountability: The Joy of Learning

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Now that we have endured more than a dozen long years of No Child Left Behind and five fruitless, punitive years of Race to the Top, it is clear that they both failed. They relied on carrots and sticks and ignored intrinsic motivation. They crushed children’s curiosity instead of cultivating it.* They demoralized schools. They disrupted schools and communities without improving children’s education.

We did not leave no child behind. The same children who were left behind in 2001-02 are still left behind. Similarly, Race to the Top is a flop. The Common Core tests are failing most students, and we are nowhere near whatever the “Top” is. If a teacher gave a test, and 70% of the students failed, we would say she was not competent, tested what was not taught, didn’t know her students. The Race turns out to be NCLB with a mask. NCLB on steroids. NCLB 2.0.

Whatever you call it, RTTT has hurt children, demoralized teachers, closed community schools, fragmented communities, increased privatization, and doubled down on testing.

I have an idea for a new accountability system that relies on different metrics. We begin by dropping standardized test scores as measures of quality or effectiveness. We stop labeling, ranking, and rating children, teachers, and schools. We use tests only when needed for diagnostic purposes, not for comparing children to their peers, not to find winners and losers. We rely on teachers to test their students, not corporations.

The new accountability system would be called No Child Left Out. The measures would be these:

How many children had the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument?

How many children had the chance to play in the school band or orchestra?

How many children participated in singing, either individually or in the chorus or a glee club or other group?

How many public performances did the school offer?

How many children participated in dramatics?

How many children produced documentaries or videos?

How many children engaged in science experiments? How many started a project in science and completed it?

How many children learned robotics?

How many children wrote stories of more than five pages, whether fiction or nonfiction?

How often did children have the chance to draw, paint, make videos, or sculpt?

How many children wrote poetry? Short stories? Novels? History research papers?

How many children performed service in their community to help others?

How many children were encouraged to design an invention or to redesign a common item?

How many students wrote research papers on historical topics?

Can you imagine an accountability system whose purpose is to encourage and recognize creativity, imagination, originality, and innovation? Isn’t this what we need more of?

Well, you can make up your own metrics, but you get the idea. Setting expectations in the arts, in literature, in science, in history, and in civics can change the nature of schooling. It would require far more work and self-discipline than test prep for a test that is soon forgotten.

My paradigm would dramatically change schools from Gradgrind academies to halls of joy and inspiration, where creativity, self-discipline, and inspiration are nurtured, honored, and valued.

This is only a start. Add your own ideas. The sky is the limit. Surely we can do better than this era of soul-crushing standardized testing.

*Kudos to Southold Elementary School in Long Island, where these ideas were hatched as I watched the children’s band playing a piece they had practiced.

Learning to Think Outside the Box, Creativity Becomes an Academic Discipline

The New York Times

An interesting related to the “Maker Movement.”  We hope to open our Sacred Heart “Maker Lab” in the near future.

By LAURA PAPPANOFEB. 5, 2014

 

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Students in creative studies at Buffalo State College posted key points to being a creative thinker. Brendan Bannon for The New York Times

IT BOTHERS MATTHEW LAHUE and it surely bothers you: enter a public restroom and the stall lock is broken. Fortunately, Mr. Lahue has a solution. It’s called the Bathroom Bodyguard. Standing before his Buffalo State College classmates and professor, Cyndi Burnett, Mr. Lahue displayed a device he concocted from a large washer, metal ring, wall hook, rubber bands and Lincoln Log. Slide the ring in the crack and twist. The door stays shut. Plus, the device fits in a jacket pocket.

The world may be full of problems, but students presenting projects for Introduction to Creative Studies have uncovered a bunch you probably haven’t thought of. Elie Fortune, a freshman, revealed his Sneaks ’n Geeks app to identify the brand of killer sneakers you spot on the street. Jason Cathcart, a senior, sported a bulky martial arts uniform with sparring pads he had sewn in. No more forgetting them at home.

“I don’t expect them to be the next Steve Jobs or invent the flying car,” Dr. Burnett says. “But I do want them to be more effective and resourceful problem solvers.” Her hope, she says, is that her course has made them more creative.

 

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Cyndi Burnett teaches Introduction to Creative Studies at Buffalo State College. Brendan Bannon for The New York Times

Once considered the product of genius or divine inspiration, creativity — the ability to spot problems and devise smart solutions — is being recast as a prized and teachable skill. Pin it on pushback against standardized tests and standardized thinking, or on the need for ingenuity in a fluid landscape.

“The reality is that to survive in a fast-changing world you need to be creative,” says Gerard J. Puccio, chairman of the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College, which has the nation’s oldest creative studies program, having offered courses in it since 1967.

“That is why you are seeing more attention to creativity at universities,” he says. “The marketplace is demanding it.”

Critical thinking has long been regarded as the essential skill for success, but it’s not enough, says Dr. Puccio. Creativity moves beyond mere synthesis and evaluation and is, he says, “the higher order skill.” This has not been a sudden development. Nearly 20 years ago “creating” replaced “evaluation” at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning objectives. In 2010 “creativity” was the factor most crucial for success found in an I.B.M. survey of 1,500 chief executives in 33 industries. These days “creative” is the most used buzzword in LinkedIn profiles two years running.

Traditional academic disciplines still matter, but as content knowledge evolves at lightning speed, educators are talking more and more about “process skills,” strategies to reframe challenges and extrapolate and transform information, and to accept and deal with ambiguity.

 

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Annoyed by restroom doors that are always broken? Matthew Lahue, a junior, designed the Bathroom Bodyguard.
Jim Lahue

Creative studies is popping up on course lists and as a credential. Buffalo State, part of the State University of New York, plans a Ph.D. and already offers a master’s degree and undergraduate minor. Saybrook University in San Francisco has a master’s and certificate, and added a specialization to its psychology Ph.D. in 2011. Drexel University in Philadelphia has a three-year-old online master’s. St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, N.C., has added a minor. And creative studies offerings, sometimes with a transdisciplinary bent, are new options in business, education, digital media, humanities, arts, science and engineering programs across the country.

Suddenly, says Russell G. Carpenter, program coordinator for a new minor in applied creative thinking at Eastern Kentucky University, “there is a larger conversation happening on campus: ‘Where does creativity fit into the E.K.U. student experience?’ ” Dr. Carpenter says 40 students from a broad array of fields, including nursing and justice and safety, have enrolled in the minor — a number he expects to double as more sections are added to introductory classes. Justice and safety? Students want tools to help them solve public safety problems and deal with community issues, Dr. Carpenter explains, and a credential to take to market.

The credential’s worth is apparent to Mr. Lahue, a communication major who believes that a minor in the field carries a message. “It says: ‘This person is not a drone. They can use this skill set and apply themselves in other parts of the job.’ ”

On-demand inventiveness is not as outrageous as it sounds. Sure, some people are naturally more imaginative than others. What’s igniting campuses, though, is the conviction that everyone is creative, and can learn to be more so.

Just about every pedagogical toolbox taps similar strategies, employing divergent thinking (generating multiple ideas) and convergent thinking (finding what works).The real genius, of course, is in the how.

 

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Edwin Perez’s FaceSaver keeps your phone from falling. Cyndi Burnett

Dr. Puccio developed an approach that he and partners market as FourSight and sell to schools, businesses and individuals. The method, which is used in Buffalo State classrooms, has four steps: clarifying, ideating, developing and implementing. People tend to gravitate to particular steps, suggesting their primary thinking style. Clarifying — asking the right question — is critical because people often misstate or misperceive a problem. “If you don’t have the right frame for the situation, it’s difficult to come up with a breakthrough,” Dr. Puccio says. Ideating is brainstorming and calls for getting rid of your inner naysayer to let your imagination fly. Developing is building out a solution, and maybe finding that it doesn’t work and having to start over. Implementing calls for convincing others that your idea has value.

Jack V. Matson, an environmental engineer and a lead instructor of “Creativity, Innovation and Change,” a MOOC that drew 120,000 in September, teaches a freshman seminar course at Penn State that he calls “Failure 101.” That’s because, he says, “the frequency and intensity of failures is an implicit principle of the course. Getting into a creative mind-set involves a lot of trial and error.”

His favorite assignments? Construct a résumé based on things that didn’t work out and find the meaning and influence these have had on your choices. Or build the tallest structure you can with 20 Popsicle sticks. The secret to the assignment is to destroy the sticks and reimagine their use. “As soon as someone in the class starts breaking the sticks,” he says, “it changes everything.”

Dr. Matson also asks students to “find some cultural norms to break,” like doing cartwheels while entering the library. The point: “Examine what in the culture is preventing you from creating something new or different. And what is it like to look like a fool because a lot of things won’t work out and you will look foolish? So how do you handle that?”

It’s a lesson that has been basic to the ventures of Brad Keywell, a Groupon founder and a student of Dr. Matson’s at the University of Michigan. “I am an absolute evangelist about the value of failure as part of creativity,” says Mr. Keywell, noting that Groupon took off after the failure of ThePoint.com, where people were to organize for collective action but instead organized discount group purchases. Dr. Matson taught him not just to be willing to fail but that failure is a critical avenue to a successful end. Because academics run from failure, Mr. Keywell says, universities are “way too often shapers of formulaic minds,” and encourage students to repeat and internalize fail-safe ideas.

 

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Chanil Mejia and Yasmine Payton present their big idea, a campus chill spot, in Introduction to Creative Studies. Brendan Bannon for The New York Times

Bonnie Cramond, director of the Torrance Center for Creativity and Talent Development at the University of Georgia, is another believer in taking bold risks, which she calls a competitive necessity. Her center added an interdisciplinary graduate certificate in creativity and innovation this year. “The new people who will be creative will sit at the juxtaposition of two or more fields,” she says. When ideas from different fields collide, Dr. Cramond says, fresh ones are generated. She cites an undergraduate class that teams engineering and art students to, say, reimagine the use of public spaces. Basic creativity tools used at the Torrance Center include thinking by analogy, looking for and making patterns, playing, literally, to encourage ideas, and learning to abstract problems to their essence.

In Dr. Burnett’s Introduction to Creative Studies survey course, students explore definitions of creativity, characteristics of creative people and strategies to enhance their own creativity.These include rephrasing problems as questions, learning not to instinctively shoot down a new idea (first find three positives), and categorizing problems as needing a solution that requires either action, planning or invention. A key objective is to get students to look around with fresh eyes and be curious. The inventive process, she says, starts with “How might you…”

Dr. Burnett is an energetic instructor with a sense of humor — she tested Mr. Cathcart’s martial arts padding with kung fu whacks. Near the end of last semester, she dumped Post-it pads (the department uses 400 a semester) onto a classroom desk with instructions: On pale yellow ones, jot down what you learned; on rainbow colored pads, share how you will use this learning. She then sent students off in groups with orders that were a litany of brainstorming basics: “Defer judgment! Strive for quantity! Wild and unusual! Build on others’ ideas!”

As students scribbled and stuck, the takeaways were more than academic. “I will be optimistic,” read one. “I will look at tasks differently,” said another. And, “I can generate more ideas.”

Asked to elaborate, students talked about confidence and adaptability. “A lot of people can’t deal with things they don’t know and they panic. I can deal with that more now,” said Rony Parmar, a computer information systems major with Dr. Dre’s Beats headphones circling his neck.

Mr. Cathcart added that, given tasks, “you think of other ways of solving the problem.” For example, he streamlined the check-in and reshelving of DVDs at the library branch where he works.

The view of creativity as a practical skill that can be learned and applied in daily life is a 180-degree flip from the thinking that it requires a little magic: Throw yourself into a challenge, step back — pause — wait for brilliance to spout.

The point of creative studies, says Roger L. Firestien, a Buffalo State professor and author of several books on creativity, is to learn techniques “to make creativity happen instead of waiting for it to bubble up. A muse doesn’t have to hit you.”

Laura Pappano is writer in residence at Wellesley Center for Women at Wellesley College and author of several books, including “Inside School Turnarounds.”

Minecraft, an Obsession and an Educational Tool

The New York Times

By NICK BILTON
Luca Citrone, 8, and his sister Willow play Minecraft before they go to bed.Michael CitroneLuca Citrone, 8, and his sister Willow play Minecraft before they go to bed.

If you were to walk into my sister’s house in Los Angeles, you’d hear a bit of yelling from time to time. “Luca! Get off Minecraft! Luca, are you on Minecraft again? Luca! Enough with the Minecraft!”

Luca is my 8-year-old nephew. Like millions of other children his age, Luca is obsessed with the video game Minecraft. Actually, obsessed might be an understated way to explain a child’s idée fixe with the game. And my sister, whom you’ve probably guessed is the person doing all that yelling, is a typical parent of a typical Minecraft-playing child: she’s worried it might be rotting his brain.

For those who have never played Minecraft, it’s relatively simple. The game looks a bit crude because it doesn’t have realistic graphics. Instead, it’s built in 16-bit, a computer term that means the graphics look blocky, like giant, digital Lego pieces.

Unlike other video games, there are few if any instructions in Minecraft. Instead, like the name suggests, the goal of the game is to craft, or build, structures in these 16-bit worlds, and figuring things out on your own is a big part of it. And parents, it’s not terribly violent. Sure, you can kill a few zombies while playing in the game’s “survival mode.” But in its “creative mode,” Minecraft is about building, exploration, creativity and even collaboration.

The game was first demonstrated by Markus Persson, a Swedish video game programmer and designer known as Notch, in 2009 and released to the public in November 2011. Today, the game runs on various devices, including desktop computers, Google Android smartphones, Apple iOS and the Microsoft Xbox. There are thousands of mods, or modifications, for the game, that allow people to play in prebuilt worlds, like a replica of Paris (Eiffel Tower included) or an ancient Mayan civilization.

While parents — my sister included — might worry that all these pixels and the occasional zombie might be bad for children, a lot of experts say they shouldn’t fret.

Earlier this year, for example, a school in Stockholm made Minecraft compulsory for 13-year-old students. “They learn about city planning, environmental issues, getting things done, and even how to plan for the future,” said Monica Ekman, a teacher at the Viktor Rydberg school.

Around the world, Minecraft is being used to educate children on everything from science to city planning to speaking a new language, said Joel Levin, co-founder and education director at the company TeacherGaming. TeacherGaming runs MinecraftEdu, which is intended to help teachers use the game with students.

A history teacher in Australia set up “quest missions” where students can wander through and explore ancient worlds. An English-language teacher in Denmark told children they could play Minecraft collectively in the classroom but with one caveat: they were allowed to communicate both orally and through text only in English. A science teacher in California has set up experiments in Minecraft to teach students about gravity.

Mr. Levin said that in addition to classroom exercises, children were learning the digital skills they would need as they got older.

“Kids are getting into middle school and high school and having some ugly experiences on Facebook and other social networks without an understanding of how to interact with people online,” he said. “With Minecraft, they are developing that understanding at a very early age.”

While there are no known neuroscience studies of Minecraft’s effect on children’s brains, research has shown video games can have a positive impact on children.

A study by S.R.I. International, a Silicon Valley research group that specializes in technology, found that game-based play could raise cognitive learning for students by as much as 12 percent and improve hand-eye coordination, problem-solving ability and memory.

Games like Minecraft also encourage what researchers call “parallel play,” where children are engrossed in their game but are still connected through a server or are sharing the same screen. And children who play games could even become better doctors. No joke. Neuroscientists performed a study at Iowa State University that found that surgeons performed better, and were more accurate on the operating table, when they regularly played video games.

“Minecraft extends kids’ spatial reasoning skills, construction skills and understanding of planning,” said Eric Klopfer, a professor and the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Scheller Teacher Education Program. “In many ways, it’s like a digital version of Lego.”

Professor Klopfer suggested that if parents were worried about the game, they should simply play it with their children. He said he set up a server in his house so his children’s friends could play together and he could monitor their behavior and then explain that some actions, even in virtual worlds, are unethical — like destroying someone’s Minecraft house, or calling them a bad name.

But Professor Klopfer warned that, as with anything, there was — probably to my nephew’s chagrin — such as thing as too much Minecraft.

“While the game is clearly good for kids, it doesn’t mean there should be no limits,” he said. “As with anything, I don’t want my kids to do any one thing for overly extended periods of time. Whether Legos or Minecraft; having limits is an important part their learning.”

Many children would happily ignore that little warning if their parents let them.

Last weekend, my sister saw Luca on his computer with what appeared to be Minecraft on the screen. “Luca, I told you, you can’t play Minecraft anymore,” she said.

“I’m not playing Minecraft, mama,” he replied. “I’m watching videos on YouTube of other people playing Minecraft.”

Is pink Lego deterring girls from science?

The Telegraph

Lego’s range of pink toys for girls helps enforce a gender divide that sees boys performing better in science, a BBC television presenter and scientist has claimed.

Lego Friends.

Lego Friends

10 Mar 2013

Professor Alice Roberts, who has fronted programmes including Coast, Secrets from the Ice and Digging for Britain, lambasted sexist attitudes for deterring women from pursuing the subject and suggested the Danish toy was part of the problem.

Since girls are better represented in science elsewhere in the world, the reason why they lag behind in Britain must be “cultural”, she argued.

“The gender divide seems to be getting worse to me,” she told teachers and school leaders at an Education Innovation summit in Manchester.

“Lego has always been a good toy which teaches children about engineering. But Lego is now producing a range which it is says is for girls, which is completely pink and is about creating cakes.

“I think the problem is happening at a very young age, when the idea is instilled that there is a big difference between girls and boys, rather than at age 15.”

She attacked suggestions by education experts that schools could adopt “shopping-based” problems to encourage girls in maths and said the idea of using shopping and the colour pink to interest girls in science was “outrageous”.

“It goes back to a 1950s idea of what women should be like,” she said.

The Lego Friends range, to which Prof Roberts was believed to be referring, was criticized last year for fuelling gender stereotypes.

The line includes a set for girls with figures in pink, purple and green settings, a dream house, a splash pool and a beauty shop.

Lego said it was developed following requests from parents and girls for more realistic and detailed sets with brighter colours and role-playing opportunities.

A spokesman said: “We’ve always had Lego bricks that are pink and we’ve got a wide variety of different sets.

“We don’t say ‘this is for girls’. It’s up to the child or the parent to make the choice.”

Prof Roberts, an anatomist, physical anthropologist and science writer, said women also struggled to progress in scientific careers because of childcare.

“If you have a career break, it has an amazingly bad effect on people’s career,” she said.

3-D Printer Helps Save Dying Baby

From CNN

By Stephanie Smith, CNN
Wed May 22, 2013
Kaiba Gionfriddo as a newborn, before he experienced breathing problems.Kaiba Gionfriddo as a newborn, before he experienced breathing problems.
A second chance for Kaiba

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kaiba Gionfriddo stopped breathing daily and had to receive CPR
  • Doctors tried the equivalent of a “Hail Mary” pass
  • They created a splint on a 3-D printer to enable him to breathe

Editor’s note: “Life’s Work” features innovators and pioneers who are making a difference in the world of medicine.

(CNN) — When he was 6 weeks old, Kaiba Gionfriddo lay flat on a restaurant table, his skin turning blue. He had stopped breathing.

His father, Bryan, was furiously pumping his chest, trying to get air into his son’s lungs.

Within 30 minutes, Kaiba was admitted to a local hospital. Doctors concluded that he had probably breathed food or liquid into his lungs and eventually released him.

But two days later, it happened again. It was the beginning of an ordeal for the Youngstown, Ohio, family that continued day after agonizing day.

“They had to do CPR on him every day,” said April Gionfriddo, Kaiba’s mother, who later found out her son had a rare obstruction in his lungs called bronchial malacia. “I didn’t think he was going to leave the hospital alive.”

With hopes dimming that Kaiba would survive, doctors tried the medical equivalent of a “Hail Mary” pass. Using an experimental technique never before tried on a human, they created a splint made out of biological material that effectively carved a path through Kaiba’s blocked airway.

What makes this a medical feat straight out of science fiction: The splint was created on a three-dimensional printer.

“It’s magical to me,” said Dr. Glenn Green, an associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology at the University of Michigan who implanted the splint in Kaiba. “We’re talking about taking dust and using it to build body parts.”

Kaiba’s procedure was described in a letter published in the most recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

“It was pretty nifty that (doctors) were able to make something for Kaiba on a printer like that,” April Gionfriddo said. “But we really weren’t so worried about that. We were more worried about our son.”

Green, who has been practicing for two decades, and a UM colleague, biomedical engineer Scott Hollister, had been working for years toward a clinical trial to test the splint in children with pulmonary issues when they got a phone call from a physician in Ohio who was aware of their research.

“He said, ‘I’ve got a child who needs (a splint) now,’ ” referring to Kaiba, said Green. “He said that this child is not going to live unless something is done.”

Green and Hollister got emergency clearance from their hospital and the Food and Drug Administration to try the experimental treatment — which had been used only on animals — on Kaiba. The child was airlifted from Akron Children’s Hospital to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at UM.

“It was a mixture of elation and, for lack of a better word, terror,” said Hollister, a professor of biomedical and mechanical engineering who has been studying tissue regeneration for more than 15 years. “When someone drops something like this in your lap and says, ‘Look, this might be this kid’s only chance’ … it’s a big step.”

The next big step was getting a CT scan of Kaiba’s lungs so that the splint could be fitted to his organs’ exact dimensions. Hollister used the results of the scan to generate a computer model of the splint.

The model was fed into a 3-D printer that can engineer structures using a powder called polycaprolactone, or PCL.

PCL is malleable; it can be fashioned into all kinds of intricate structures. When a splint is created using PCL, it becomes a sort of biological placeholder, propping up structures while the body heals around it.

PCL has been used for years to fill holes left behind in the skull after brain surgery, according to Hollister. As time passes, PCL degrades and is excreted out of the body, hopefully leaving behind a healed organ.

What followed in Kaiba’s case was a painstaking process of creating the splint on the printer in layers. Information about each layer is transmitted from the computer to a laser beam, which melts the PCL into a 3-D structure.

“We can put together a complete copy of a body part on the 3-D printer within a day,” Green said. “So we can make something very specific for a patient very quickly.”

Green then took the splint, measuring just a few centimeters long and 8 millimeters wide, and surgically attached it to Kaiba’s collapsed bronchus. It was only moments before he saw the results.

“When the stitches were put in, we started seeing the lung inflate and deflate,” Green said. “It was so fabulous. There were people in the operating room cheering.”

“This case is a wonderful example that regenerative technologies are no longer science fiction,” said Dr. Andre Terzic, director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Regenerative Medicine, who was not involved in Kaiba’s case. “We are increasingly … finding new solutions that we didn’t have before.”

The technique used by Green and Hollister is part of a burgeoning field called regenerative medicine, which involves engineering therapies — using things like stem cells, or “body parts” constructed out of biological material — to harness the body’s ability to heal itself.

Creating a part that is specific to a patient’s organ takes on even more importance with diseases like bronchial malacia, in which conventional intervention is risky and often the alternative is life on a ventilator.

But while cases like Kaiba’s are a medical boon, both Terzic and the UM researchers stress that this and other regenerative procedures must be replicated in a wider patient population.

“This gives us the opportunity to really do patient-specific and individualized medicine,” Hollister said. “So we don’t have to do one-size-fits-all. But there is still a lot of work to be done.”

While that work is being done, Kaiba’s family remains grateful that, 15 months post-surgery and at age 18 months, he is still able to breathe on his own.

“I’m just so happy he’s still here, that he was able to make it through,” April Gionfriddo said. “Hopefully (soon) he’ll be able to run around and be an even happier child.”

The splint will take three years to degrade, and in the meantime, Kaiba’s lung should continue to develop normally, said Green.

Green and Hollister hope to begin clinical trials in a larger patient population this year or next.

Sacred Heart Greenwich Sophomore Named 1 of Westchester County’s Best and Brightest Business Minds and Innovators for her Philanthropic Work

Here’s an article about Sacred Heart Sophomore Mary Grace Henry.  Mary Grace honed her philanthropic organization through her 8th grade “Making History” project.

Wunderkinds 2013: Mary Grace Henry, 16

Founder, Reverse the Course

BY ALYSON KRUEGER // PHOTO BY DARRYL ESTRINE PUBLISHED APRIL 26, 2013 AT 02:59 PM

In addition to playing two sports, completing her homework, thinking about college, and socializing with her friends, Mary Grace Henry, a 16-year-old high school sophomore who lives in Harrison, runs Reverse the Course (RTC), a successful international nonprofit organization that she founded in 2008. RTC sells reversible headbands to raise money to send girls living in impoverished countries to school.

 
From a young age, Henry was aware that girls in other countries did not have the same opportunities she did. Her school, the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Greenwich, Connecticut, had a sister school in Uganda that they raised money for through jump-rope competitions and penny wars. But she was not happy with just supporting one school; she wanted to find a way to send more girls to school so they “could be in control of their own lives” and “give back to their communities.”

 
After attending a headband-making class in 2008, Henry knew she had found her revenue source. She asked her parents for a sewing machine and quickly made 50 headbands to sell in her school’s bookstore. They sold out quickly, and she started selling more in boutiques, at sidewalk sales, and at craft fairs across Westchester. By 2010, she had raised enough money to send two girls to school in Uganda. Now, she has raised enough (more than $35,000) to send 32 girls in Uganda, Kenya, Paraguay, and Haiti to school for at least two years. (RTC also works with the girls individually to determine which institution they should attend.)

 
“It’s kind of shocking to think that I’ve lived on Earth for about 16 years, and I’ve sponsored 75 years” in tuition, she says.

 
Organizations such as Pencil for Hope, the Philanthropic Educational Organization, and the Girl Scouts have recognized Henry’s success and have asked her to speak at their events. She also received the Richard A. Berman Leadership Award for Human Rights from the Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center. But Henry knows her work is far from over. Her short-term goal is to sponsor 100 girls, and, in the long term, she hopes to keep the organization up and running as she graduates high school and goes to college to study business or journalism.

 
“I think that for the rest of my life,” Henry says, “I will in some way be connected to this organization.”

 
► For more 2013 Wunderkinds, click here.