Monday, September 24, 2012

Big Idea Monday-Free Choice Learning

Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than in the one where they sprung up.
-Oliver Wendell Holmes

Sometimes I am late to catch on to the really hits. My obsession for Mad Men came after someone loaned me the first two seasons on DVD. I hear the stories in many best selling books when they are already made into movies and when those movies are already recycling on-demand. That is how I feel about TED. What is TED, you ask? Oh, I am glad I’m not the last person on the planet to learn about it. It is so brilliant, it is mind-boggling that TED isn’t a household word. TED stands for technology, entertainment and design. The tagline is: Ideas Worth Spreading. It’s mission is: sharing ideas. TED started out as an annual global conference for the world’s greatest thinkers in 1984. The concept has evolved into an amazing on-line source of inspiration open to anyone who wants to think. TED talks are videotaped and made available for free on-line. The non-profit has more recently empowered local communities to host their own independent TED discussions. I attended one in Sarasota and another in Tampa last week. There were 171 independent events hosted in fifty countries last month alone.

The conversation in TEDxSarasota centered around creativity and featured a game designer who is making video games as a marketing tool to drive consumers to businesses. Another techie spoke of his work in biotechnology. The same idea that gave us touch screen smart phones and WII gaming has a world of future life altering applications. For example, we heard from a color blind man who “hears” colors. A computer device and camera attached to his head sends different sound frequencies based on the colors picked up on the attached camera. A technical solution to a disability has led to him becoming a composer (he makes music out of paintings) and an artist (he makes paintings out of music).

In TEDxTampaBay, the conversation was structured around the theme of “The Future of Stories” . Everyone has a story. We heard from college kids who have engaged curiosity in their community by hanging some simple Swings in public spaces. We heard from a Hospice counselor who draws inspiration from the clarity experienced by her dying clients. I was intrigued by the story shared by the CEO of Odyssey Marine Exploration, a Tampa-based company that has discovered hundreds of shipwrecks across the globe. Gold and silver are just part of the treasure that has led to museum exhibits and Discovery Channel’s series “Treasure Quest”. President Mark Gordon talked about his childhood dream of exploring the sea realized. From the imagination of a child, new technology was designed to allow him to go miles below the surface. In the unchartered depths, Odyssey explorers have discovered new life forms that are leading to medical breakthroughs. 

On this Big Idea Monday, I would like to celebrate the concept of free-choice learning experiences or the idea of education on demand also synonymous with experiential learning. TED is a perfect example of learning through experience or learning from others willing to share their experience. My idea is to apply this concept in my own community where we have a wealth of cultural institutions and too many failing schools. There are outreach programs here and there. There are some out-of-the-box teachers and plenty of parents who take advantage of the local resources. We have professionals willing to mentor too. But it is all so hit and miss. My big idea is to build a bridge between the cultural resources and the school district to make it easier and more accessible for students to gain exposure to the artists, historians, scientists, architects and entrepreneurs shaping our community.

The trick is to not make another layer of bureaucracy or duplicate efforts. Ideally, this would be an easy way for the users and providers to plug in and connect. I have a 30,000 foot view right now. Really would love to hear other ideas. For any of you who don't live in this area, let me give you a brief background. The city of Saint Petersburg has a history museum, a Holocaust Museum, a fine arts museum, Morean Arts Center, Creative Clay, the Dali Museum and the Chihully Collection. It is also home to Major League Baseball, Sunken Gardens botanical gardens, a state of the art marine biology  research labs, a Coast Guard Station, a small airport, a world class sailing center and Poynter Institute. It is also in the visioning stages of designing an iconic pier. Despite these treasures, everyone I know either sends their kids to private school, home schools or suffers sleepless nights worrying about a school choice system that offers as much control as winning the lottery. The county graduation rate has improved recently to 77%, although we still lead the nation as the worst graduation rates for minorities. Less than 1 in 4 black males make it out of our schools with a diploma.

So how can we use existing experience resources to solve the problem?

Any ideas worth sharing?

1 comment:

  1. U.b loves Ted, has been watching for a couple of years. Will watch with interest if you can get your project going,,,,will need is wonderful you can afford to send your kids to private schools...very few can...there should be no reason public school should not be prime in the world...something wrong with the system...on my soap box...just wanted to say TED has been big in our home for quite awhile....great source.....check out Khan Academy for free math,Bill Gates recognized his importance....Love, a.p


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