Thoughts on technology and the human mind


The effects of technology on our minds is a contested topic that’s bound wreak havoc on any casual dinner conversation. Since technology use is expanding rapidly and evolving in ways we cannot predict, it is difficult for researchers to conduct longitudinal studies across diverse samplings. The technologies we use change so quickly and in turn, we adjust our habits of use to fit the changing technology. It is a race to keep up with this pace as researchers scramble to collect and analyze data in ways that will provide accurate and useful insight into how technology relates to our minds.

This week, we are sharing work that explores associations between our minds and the ways we use technology. Here is a collection of resources to spark your thinking about our complicated relationship with technology:


BOOK: The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains

In Nicholas Carr’s 2011 Pulitzer Finalist, The Shallows, Carr explores the ongoing debate about the potential and danger of technology. This collection of essays takes on topics across a wide spectrum ranging from brain science to popular culture. If you’re looking for a thought provoking read that takes up deep questions, this book is for you.


BLOG: Brainpickings

In a recent essay on her blog Brainpickings, Maria Popova reflects on the relationship between technology, commodity, and creativity. Drawing on the personal writings of Virginia Woolf, John Herschel’s contributions to the development of photography, and Julia Margaret Cameron’s soft-focus photographic portraiture, Popova laments what is lost in an artistic medium when it becomes so easy to access. Are our minds exercising the same creativity when our Instagram photos rely on “ready-made filters that have purported to supplant the artistry of light, shadow, and composition?”


VIDEO: How technology influences our brains

After realizing that he had become addicted to his smartphone, NPR’s Guy Raz discusses why and how he stripped down his device until he was left with a simple phone with a built in camera. In just seven-and-a-half minutes, Razz touches on the challenges researchers face as they investigate rapidly changing technologies and he shares why we must remember that as humans, we’re wired for direct social interaction.

Reflections On Learning New Skills


As practicing creatives and persons who cultivate creativity in others, we are engaged in continuous learning cycles. We make, tinker, design, invent, and explore through our personal learning pursuits, but we also engage and support others in these practices. Therefore, it is helpful for us to reflect on how we learn and acquire new skills, as well as why these learning experiences are necessary for creative development. 

This week, we are sharing content that invites you to read, listen, watch, and do something that encourages you to think about how you learn new skills and hopefully, inspires you to embark on a new-to-you learning pursuit. You’ll read about characteristics of self-directed learners and specific online resources that are available for learning new things. You’ll watch a TedTalk that shares how you can get the most out of the time you spend learning something new. You’ll listen to a podcast about the power of deliberate practice and then you’ll explore a site called Skillshare where experts offer video courses for a variety of creative skills. 

Happy learning!

Design Thinking In The Classroom

*Article contributed by Courtney Hartnett*

Walking past the open door, chaos appears to ring into the hallway. A longer pause and closer investigation reveal passionate conversations between groups of people. Heads down with pencils quickly working, keeping up with ideas. Numerous hands manipulating an assortment of expected and unexpected materials. Looks of excitement. Anticipation. Frustration. This room is deeply engaged in design thinking. Insert whatever age and educational setting, and the kaleidoscopic connections between individuals, the immediate setting, and the outside world continue to unfold.

Design thinking, also commonly referred to as the Engineering Design Process or creative problem-solving, is not a clear-cut, step-by-step process or curriculum. Rather, design thinking is a method of problem-solving rooted in empathy, creativity, and iteration to create products for specific users:

· Empathy is an important part of designing solutions. Rather than generic offerings, empathy invites designers to imagine solutions that meet the end-users’ unique needs and desires.

· Creativity plays an important role in coming up with innovative solutions that are practical and functional. Designers play around, exploring different configurations and arrangements, of design ideas.

· Designers create iterations of the product, trying out ideas and refining them through prototyping and testing.

Rather than a linear sequence, a visual of design thinking resembles more of a web. Progress towards the end-product is visible, but empathy, creative ideas, and prototype testing is revisited throughout as needed. Design thinking is powerful when embedded into learning environments. Students become problem-scopers—seeking out opportunities for improvements or solutions to real-life problems they encounter, and then tackle those problems with workable solutions.

For example, 3rd grade students at my school recognized that teachers had a problem carrying several items with them during the school day. Teachers had to carry a walkie-talkie, schedules, keys, access badge, cell phone, and student medication, among a number of other things. Items were often left behind or misplaced, wasting time to locate lost items or double-checking to make sure all things were accounted for. Using design thinking, students created well-sized satchel bags with compartments and labels specific to the items teachers need to carry with them at all times. With items having specific “homes” in the bag’s compartments, it is simple to identify when something is missing. Duct tape was the final “fabric” of choice and offered unique pattern options and flexibility in assembling durable bags. The final product was well-received by the teachers for the stylish appearance and customized functionality.

To start working with the design thinking mindset, there are a number of resources available. From an organizational or business standpoint, IDEO offers a number of examples and resources for applying design thinking within a company as well as to generate products for customers. The at Stanford describes their purpose as helping others develop their own creative potential through design. They have an extensive collection of resources that would be a good place to start for anyone interested in design thinking. When you have younger people in the mix, jumping into design thinking can feel overwhelming. Check out the videos from a five-minute film festival about Design Thinking from Edutopia. There are a number of examples of what design thinking can look like in school settings.

However you decide to start, design thinking offers endless opportunities for learning and engagement. Participants apply problem-solving in real-life situations that require communication, creativity, experimentation, and collaboration. This is by no means an exhaustive list of learning opportunities. Give it a try, and I think you will find the experience dynamic and rewarding for everyone involved.

Reflections On Ideas


In this series of creative invitations, we’ve compiled resources that explore the concept of ideas. As creatives, our work is grounded in our minds’ abilities to observe the world around us, to think across concepts and experiences, to make connections, and to imagine new possibilities. It is through such ways of thinking that ideas are born and developed through our work. 

This collection includes links to sites where you can read, listen, watch, and do things that will prompt you to think about ideas. You’ll dig into topics such as where ideas come from, how they are constructed, how we can engage in thinking exercises to help us generate new ideas, and the changing idea economy.





Reflections on the Creative Process


Every creative develops a unique process that allows them to explore their inquiries and create their best work. Processes are often identified, tested, labeled, and replicated in order to teach others how to engage in creative work. But, processes are difficult to translate into one-size-fits-all packages because individuals take them up in different ways. As we work toward refining our creative processes, it is often helpful to hear how others describe how they work. Sometimes there are similarities across our processes and when we are struggling, it can be inspiring to hear how other artists work. 

This week, we’re sharing invitations to read something,  listen to something, watch something, and do something that will help you explore the concept of “process” in the creative community. Hopefully, this collection will inspire you to experiment with different aspects of your process and to begin carefully articulating what works best for you.

Click on the images below to explore how other artists describe their creative processes:





What does it take to innovate?

Recently, Bloomberg released their 2017 rankings of the world’s most innovative economies. Bloomberg ranks regional economies based on their scores in seven different areas, including research and development, and the number of high-tech public companies based in the region.

According to their findings, the United States has dropped out of the top ten for the first time in six years, landing in 11th place. Falling from 9th place in 2016, the US lost ground mainly in its score in the education-efficiency category, which has to do with how many science and engineering graduates are available in the job market. Although the US had made improvements in productivity, it was not enough to compensate for losses in other scoring areas. 

The demand for STEM graduates in the job market leads many to conclude that the logical solution is to push students toward degree programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. But the answer is more complicated than emphasizing these subjects in K12 schools or counseling more college students into STEM degree programs and careers. One must look no further than the American tech giant, Google, for proof that the solutions to our innovation problems are complex. 

As part of their own internal research into the skills that lead to employee success, Google discovered that the traditional tech skills they predicted to find were not the skills that were most valuable to their employee’s success at work. Instead, they found that the top seven characteristics of their highest performoring employees are the following:

  1. Being a good coach
  2. Communicating and listening well
  3. Possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view)
  4. Having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues
  5. Being a good critical thinker and problem solver
  6. Ability to make connections across complex ideas

These aren’t the hard skills that are top of mind when many people think about STEM skills, but they are the “soft skills” that can be developed across a variety of academic and fine arts domains. Findings like these further bolster the argument for the Arts in STEAM education programs since the arts promote ways of thinking that include making connections, empathy, critical thinking, problem solving, communicating, and listening. (For more information read the National Art Education Association’s position statement HERE). 

Therefore, an engineering degree can be valuable in the job marketplace, but so can that art degree–it’s all about how you think.

How to get Creative with Fidget Spinners

Yeah, yeah, yeah…we’ve all heard the complaints. Fidget spinners might have been designed to help kids with attention and anxiety disorders release energy and focus their minds, but they’ve become a major disruption in classrooms across the country. As with most modern “kid fads”, a simple youtube search shows us there’s more to these little gadgets than the annoying classroom competitions over who has the coolest colors or the largest collection.

Actually, kids are doing some super creative and innovative stuff with these mass-marketed “toys.” Below, you’ll find a few of our favorites that prove that even the most annoying trends can provide kids with opportunities to tinker and experiment.

  1. Check out what they can learn about balance and momentum when they tinker with a pen and a fidget spinner:

2. Check out what they find when they look inside a fidget spinner:

3. Check out what happens when they use Legos to make their own fidget spinners:

The Perfect Summer Art Project


Have you ever wondered why blue prints are blue? Well, it’s because in the mid-1800’s an astronomer named John Herschel developed a printing process for copying his notes. He discovered that mixing ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferrocyanide created a photosensitive solution that has come to be known as blue ferric ferrocyanide. When this solution is applied to paper and dried in the dark, it can be activated when it’s exposed to UV light. Any portion of the dried solution that is covered from the light will remain white, and when the paper is rinsed in water the blue ferric ferrocyanide will change from green to “Prussian Blue.” This process creates the blueprint effect.

Summer is the perfect season for creating cyanotype prints and nature can provide the most unique objects to use as negatives. If you’d like to give the process a try, you can purchase the chemicals and mix your own blue ferric ferrocyanide or you can purchase pre-treated papers and fabrics. When working with children, adults must supervise the use of chemicals to ensure they are used safely. If you have any safety concerns, you might choose to use pretreated papers. You can purchase these papers HERE.

Check out this youtube video for instructions:

How Theory & Beliefs Shape Your Thinking About Childhood

When you work with children, you’re not working in a vacuum. Our work is constructed within the context of our experiences and the beliefs we develop from these experiences. Our lives are affected by our families, friends, and coworkers, but also, the larger social worlds in which we live.

It’s next to impossible to experience life in a social bubble, as our lives are increasingly connected not only by physical location, but through the virtual connections of the Internet, television, and online media. Therefore, as we think critically about the work we do with children, we must consider the connections between our personal experiences, our beliefs, the theoretical context, and the work being done by others in the field.

These connections require us to consider how our work is informed by important questions:

  • How do you define childhood? How do you believe children should be treated in society?
  • How do your beliefs about what it means to be a child relate to sociological theories about childhood?
  • What theories/beliefs do you notice being taken up in your field? How do your theories/beliefs compare?
  • How will your beliefs about childhood affect the work you do with children?



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For those of us who are interesting in cultivating children’s creative lives, we’re constantly searching for new ideas and activities to engage kids in creative and innovative thinking. In fact, there are a few businesses that are on a mission to send children inspiring activities each month.

Here are a few subscription boxes that are delivering creativity:

  1. BITSBOX. The creators behind Bitsbox believe that the younger kids start learning to code, the better. Like any language, it’s easier for kids to acquire it if they learn a little bit at time by immersing themselves in the language. Each Bitsbox includes interactive instructions with simple coding commands that allow kids to build cool apps that really work!
  2. TINKERCRATE & DODDLECRATE. Tinkercrate and Doodlecrate are designed for kids ages 9-16 and deliver STEAM experiences each month. Tinkercrate is focused on science and engineering activities, while Doodlecrate is focused on art and design activities. Created by the parent company, Kiwi Crate, their mission is to make STEAM accessible, engaging and fun for kids ages 3-16.
  3. SURPRISE RIDE. To help curve the screen time epidemic, the Surprise Ride box is created to be a monthly learning course delivered to your home. There are a variety of courses like art, science, and geography and each thematic box contains two hands activities, a book, one snack, and extras that help get kids exploring the world around them.

So, if you’re looking for something creative, but are feeling a bit uninspired–subscribe!