[IAEP] Sugar Digest 2009-05-03
walter.bender at gmail.com
Sun May 3 18:13:03 EDT 2009
I encourage you to join two threads on the Education List this week:
has boiled down to an instruction vs construction debate; and
has boiled down to a debate of catering to local culture vs the
Enlightenment. I encourage you to join these discussions.
Rather than commenting here, I want to discuss a third, orthogonal
topic: creativity. I hosted a visit to Cambridge this week from Diego
Uribe, a Chilean researcher who is currently a Fulbright scholar at
the International Center for Studies in Creativity in Buffalo, NY.
Diego challenged me with two questions: Can we be more deliberate in
developing children's creativity skills and how can we use Sugar to
better disseminate creativity heuristics?
Diego is of the believe that creativity is a skill that can be taught;
there has been more than 50 years of research into how to teach this
skill; and yet creativity is rarely a deliberate part of mainstream
Diego introduced me to Grace Hopper's formula for creativity that I
had not previously encountered: The probability of creativity is a
function of knowledge, innovation, and experience, modulated by
attitude. (Historical footnote: Hopper is the one who coined the term
"debugging" when her colleagues found a moth stuck in a relay of the
Mark II computer.) In this formulation, attitude is often the weak
Central to his own vision of teaching creativity as a skill is the
ability to strike the proper balance between divergent and convergent
Guidelines for divergent thinking
* defer judgment
* go for quantity
* make connections
* seek novelty
Guidelines for convergent thinking
* apply affirmative judgment
* keep novelty alive
* check your objectives
* stay focused
(I was reminded of David Reed's analogy to water and ice: innovation
occurs in its liquid phase; consolidation in its solid phase.)
Diego was "preaching to the choir." When I was director of the Media
Lab, I never told the students or faculty what to work on—their ideas
were always much better than mine—but I did insist on a creative
(learning) process that I described in a paper, "The seven secrets of
the Media Lab".
The phases of the moon represent the cyclical process of innovation at
the Media Lab. In the 1980s we used to describe the first phase of the
innovation cycle as ‘demo or die’. John Maeda rephrased our mantra in
the late 1990s to be ‘imagine and realize’. Indeed, it is a violation
of our cultural norm to have an idea and not build a prototype — in
large part because of our deeply-held belief that we learn through
expressing. Building a prototype also enables us to advance to the
second phase of the innovation cycle — critique. The Lab, which has
its origins in architecture (the founder of the Media Lab, Nicholas
Negroponte, is an architect) draws upon the tradition of studio design
critique; we have daily visits from our industry partners and other
practitioners with whom we engage in an authentic critical dialogue
about the work. In this exchange, the work is discussed within a
broader context — ideas (and prototypes) are exchanged, improvements
and alternatives suggested. We then advance to the third phase of the
innovation cycle — iterate. Iteration within the Lab means returning
to ‘Step One’ to push our ideas further. Iteration within our
partners’ organizations means taking a prototype towards real-world
application. In both cases, we can learn from our mistakes (and
Another secret is fire:
Fire fuels the Media Lab. We invest in the passion of people, not
their projects. It is the fire that burns in every student and faculty
member that inspires and motivates them — love is a better master than
duty. Innovation at the Lab comes from the bottom up. It is not
regulated by a top-down process, but by continuous feedback from
peers, the faculty, and our external collaborators.
These principles proved affective at MIT in establishing a learning
community that is both collaborative and critical. These same
principles were an influence on the design of Sugar; however, we can
probably do more to embody them directly into Sugar itself.
Diego and I spent the next two hours exploring how we might make the
creative process more explicit in Sugar. He suggested that we consider
two common, approachable heuristics in our deliberations—SCAMPER and
SCAMPER is a technique developed by Alex Osborn, described in his book
Applied Imagination. SCAMPER is an acronym for "substitute, combine,
adapt, modify, put to another use, eliminate, reverse." It is used for
encouraging divergent thinking.
PPCo is also an acronym: "positives, potentials, concerns, overcoming
concerns." It was developed by Roger Firestien and Diane
Foucar-Szocki; it is used for convergent thinking.
What follows is a brief summary of our using a small sampling of the
SCAMPER and PPCo methods.
We started by focusing on "Substitute" as our divergent thinking
technique. We set a goal of coming up with at least five ideas
(quantity) as we thought about replacing parts of Sugar with
alternatives; making changes to the Journal, adding a new Sugar
component, or coming up with lesson plans to suggest the use of Sugar
in some more creative ways. Some of our ideas included: making a
SCAMPER example from an existing activity; making SCAMPER "cards" with
helper questions for each activity (in the spirit of Squeak Cards);
creating a math example where we ask students to come up with multiple
proofs, multiple uses, and multiple implications of each new concept;
a peer-edit extension to the Write activity where the editing is
focused on a SCAMPER activity; a template for the Portfolio that would
encourage the use of SCAMPER to expand upon work in the Journal; using
SCAMPER and PPCo to organize the bulletin board; a SCAMPER activity;
SCAMPER channels in IRC; SCAMPER tags in the Journal;
inter-generational SCAMPERing; a SCAMPER visualization of Journal
content; and a version of sharing where those who join an activity
engage in a SCAMPER or PPCo activity.
We then used PPCo to critique our ideas, using some stock questions to
organize our convergent thinking activity: "How to?", "In what ways
might we?", "How might I?", "What are all the ways to?"
We itemized the positives of embodying SCAMPER into to sample Sugar activities:
* They would easy and quick to prototype;
* They would not be content specific;
* They would be an easy way to get the community to test the idea;
* Anyone can do it;
* It would be easy to share the results;
* They would give us a simple framework for evaluating the idea.
We also itemized the potentials of embodying SCAMPER into to sample
* It might lead to some general principles in Sugar;
* It might lead to teachers reassessing their assessments;
* It might lead to more useful collaboration;
* It might make things more fun and more social;
* It might lead to more sharing and collaboration;
* it might promote more mentoring.
And we did some exaggerating:
* It might lead to more learning;
* It might lead to authentic problem-solving;
* It might lead to a world of SCAMPERing;
* It might lead to a world of learning to learn;
* SCAMPER combined with Portfolio assessment might make standarized
We listed some concerns:
* What might be a way to keep SCAMPERing fresh?
* In what ways might we visualize progress?
* How might we integrate SCAMPER with the Portfolio?
* In what ways might we tell the SCAMPER story?
And we listed some ways we might overcoming one of our concerns: In
what ways might we tell the SCAMPER story?
* Case study: e.g., a SCAMPERized English class;
* Stand on the work of SCAMPERers who have come before us;
* Conduct a controlled experiment;
* Sketch out specific Sugar examples;
* Create some videos of SCAMPER in action;
* Create an immersive SCAMPER experience ("show, don't tell");
* Create a SCAMPER Mindmap;
* Create a SCAMPER portfolio.
Finally, we made an action plan:
* Short term: research for SCAMPER examples; blog about SCAMPER to the
community; create a portfolio template; make a sketch of a Journal
template; and introduce SCAMPER at Sugar Camp;
* Medium term: create a SCAMPER Sugar challenge; and get SCAMPERized
Sugar into the hands of teachers and learners;
* Long term: having creativity principles materialize in Sugar.
The choice of SCAMPER and PPCo were somewhat ad hoc. Nonetheless, I
came away from my morning with Diego convinced that we can embody some
creativity principles into Sugar to great effect.
Gary Martin has generated a SOM from the past week of discussion on
the IAEP mailing list (Please see Image:2009-April-25-May-1-som.jpg).
Gary also generated a SOM for the entire month of April
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