Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Marian Liebowitz on 21 Century Skills

I had the opportunity to see and hear Marian Liebowitz speak about "what we can do as parents and students in the 21st century". I thought it was a great talk, so I wanted to share my notes.

She spoke to a group of [approximately] 30 parents of elementary aged students. She wrote a few notes on an easel as she spoke for visual reinforcement. She started with three main areas that she thinks parents/children should learn and practice:

- Self management
- Thinking (consider points of view)
- Problem solving

She further expanded into:
- Hypothesis (predicting)
- Creativity
- Communications
- Technology
- Collaboration (enhancing planning, thinking, and communicating)

She talked about "habits of mind" or "dispositions", such as persistence, reflection and self assessment.

I could immediately tell that she had great thoughts and I was interested in them. I felt my interest pique because it seemed as though we were very similar (in what we're trying to accomplish), yet coming from different perspectives....more on that below...

She then dove into specific examples (i.e. stories) and she recommended three books. Her first example was to give kids "a list" - i.e. "things I need to do". She called the items on the list "criteria" and she mentioned that we don't need to worry about calling these lists "criteria" (just know that they are).

She jumped back up to the abstract/conceptual and talked about:
- Time mgmt
- Priority mgmt

Then said something to the effect of "schools will look different in the future, not what we're used to, for example more online, some instructor-led and some learning with friends" (I of course loved these comments :) )

She then moved into one of themes that seemed to pop up from time to time - "you're not telling, you are asking" (as in, you should be asking more, looking for more conversation, and casting your thoughts/feelings less).

She jumped back to the example and talked about the importance of visual reminders - "kids like contracts, I used to buy gold seals, have them sign the agreement and then seal it, they said it looked adult-like". (I think there's a parallel to the project charters we create :) )

I think I forgot to write in my notes that she took questions around this point...which was good...made it interactive, dynamic, tactical...

Then she mentioned an interesting quote "Structure is not about 'what', it is about 'how'". (reminds me of the definition of process...now is when the thoughts start popping up in my head about 'how do we find the balance between structure/process and creativity/innovation')

"Don't tell them what's important, but help them think about it" (variation on a theme)

She then recommended her first book - Miss Nelson. She said it helps children understand point of view, i.e. ask "how did miss Nelson feel". Then she gave the poignant example of the Rutgers student that recently jumped off a bridge (and how those other children probably did not consider other's points of view) (I'm not sure this is a new message, I seem to recall my parents saying "walk a mile in someone else's shoes", but maybe its taken more seriously/critically now?)

We should help children ask (and answer) "What could she have done differently?" (variation on a theme)

"We should raise questions, not answers" (variation on a theme)

Her second book recommendation was - Doctor de Soto by William Steig (which I sadly never heard of! :( ) She talked about how it helps children ask "How do we make judgments?". She talked about perceptions leading to problems which should lead to brainstorming of solutions (ah, the first time we've flipped from structure to creativity, I think?).

She then moved into her second main point - "we need to stress Thinking skills". "Get away from our concrete way of dealing with kids". Her second book recommendation was
Alexander's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. She said it helps kids to ponder "Not is it right to feel that way, but why does he feel that way?" and "What could have been another ending?" as well as a series of "What if?" questions.

Her third book recommendation was "The man who walked between the towers". She talked about "How do you make dreams come true". "We have a tendency to dash our kids dreams, especially too early". "Greatness comes from dreams". We should embrace and childrens dreams and ask "So what do you think you have to do that?". I loved this line - "Once a kid develops discipline (read: passion) they can translate that to anything they do, so we should encourage kids to dream and dream big"

If I recall correctly, she "ended" there and took questions for quite awhile after that... here are a few quotes from my notes of the q&a time...

"Ask them - What do you think it takes to get there? [when they set goals]"
"We're living in a world that has far fewer boundaries, create your own boundaries"
"If you have a dream but no persistence [then you probably will not achieve that goal]..."
"How do we encourage persistence?"
"Try again, stick with it, try new ways"
"Spend time reflecting"
"Ask - If you had to do it again, what would you do differently?"
"The most powerful tool we have is modeling"
"We're always projecting our feelings [better to ask]"
"You might consider being careful to not bury the answer in the question, such as - Do you think this is going to be hard?"
"Practice flexibility"
"Aim for intrinsic rewards not a trophy culture"
"Don't kill their curiosity"
"Don't [always] be linear thinkers"
"Help them to deal with [and realize] ambiguity"
"We have the potential to have our kids be more flexible, and be thinkers"
"Help them learn to problem solve in a group"
"We have a tendency to over protect"
"Let kids have choices"
"Let the child do the planning, see if it works [referring to days, events, etc.]"
"Even if it was successful, ask how could we done it even better"
"We think were helping by structuring everything"

=== As I was listening, several comments sparked ideas, here are a few===

-John Seely Brown tells a great story about his neighbor. A young man that had a dream of becoming the best surfer in the world. He and his friends practiced, practiced, studied, studied and eventually became the greatest surfers in the world.
-The concept of "follow your passion" - and the question she asked about "what would be the impact if we all did that" - made me think of our recent trip to Italy. To me, that is a culture based on everyone following their passions - its a beautiful thing.
-Dr Randy Pausch says "Follow your passions, believe in karma and you wont have to chase your dreams, they will come to you"
-I heard a lot of questions/comments about specific individuals, I wonder [just like she asked] what affect these kinds of thoughts/approaches have at a macro level [like Italy]
-"Precision Questioning and Answering" is a phenomenal approach for asking great questions and giving great answers - I think it has value in this conversation
- video games - I thought Marian would be interested to see all of the TED talks that mention how video games provide an excellent way to learn, practice and improve -- very quickly.
-There's a great book that I'd recommend "Relax, it's only uncertainty"
-When we go on vacation, we like to each take a day and call it "our day", which simply means that person is the "leader" for the day (i.e. its up to them what we do, including a day led by our daughter)
-I read a great article recently that talked about the "ability to say no" (and HOW to say no - I think this relates to the time/priority mgmt issue. It can be exceedingly difficult to say no to opportunities.
-This was a key point for me - and a question that I really wanted to ask - Doesn't it seem tricky to find the delicate [shifting] balance between structure and ambiguity?
-I was surprised that personalities didnt come up as a topic - I could have easily seen any of the personality assessments popping up in this conversation...
- A line I've heard before in this kind of conversation is "we need to move beyond [read: add to] the 3 r's of the 20th century - reading writing 'rithmetic...and into [list all of the qualities we discussed]"
- If I were to list the skills of the 21 century, and I'm sure I'll forget a few, I might list reflection, problem solving (individual and team), retracting, strategic and critical thinking, finding information/knowledge, validating information/knowledge, synthesizing information/knowledge, connectivity, accessibility, innovating, creativity, artistic/design, multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural, communication, technology, research, experimenting, observing, networking, practicing/repeating, questioning, curiosity, leadership .... I think she covered most of them...
- "We have a classroom system when we could have a community system"
- Another related book would be the innovators dilemma
- One last question I would have liked to ask, even though she somewhat indirectly answered it throughout her talk was "How did you arrive at this kind of thinking?" (i.e. was it through life experiences, books, mentors, friends, physical locations/events... I'm sure it was a combination, but it would be fun to hear her perspective of the combination - a thread of pearls, if you will)

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