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.

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.





Will Facebook innovate or get left behind?

According to recent statistics, the average American spends about 35 minutes each day on Facebook. Considering that statistics also show that 66% of Americans are Facebook users, it is not surprising that it has exceeded $500 billion in market value. When over half the American public is engaged on a single social media platform, the question becomes: do the benefits outweigh the risks?

Facebook has offered its users numerous benefits like connecting, sharing, communicating, and exchanging information with others. Users can like, comment, and share content that relates to their interests and/or experiences, and they can also share content that they believe will benefit some or all of their friends. Currently, we can browse the web, read articles, watch videos, search for events, and even shop without ever having to leave the Facebook app. While these benefits can enhance our lives, we must remember that when any platform offers multiple benefits and services to its users, there are always certain risks involved. 

Facebook has been criticized for many quantifiable issues such as privacy, data mining, censorship, security, and the circulation of false information. But the social media giant has also been criticized for more qualitative risks such as the tendency of some users to develop compulsive use habits. 

Although there is controversy surrounding claims that Facebook was designed to tap into our addictive nature, one premise is clear: Facebook is on a mission to get users to spend more and more time on the platform. This puts Facebook in a unique position where it must consider multiple ways to keep its users engaged, but it must also consider the repercussions of building a structure that has the potential to influence so many aspects of its users’ lives. 

Not surprisingly, people are beginning to take notice of the increase in time spent on Facebook and some are even designing solutions to the problem of spending too much time on the platform. For example, multiple apps have been created to limit and monitor time spent on social media, some people are deleting their Facebook feeds entirely, and others are setting their screens to black and white to make using apps like Facebook less enjoyable. 

As more and more people begin to see negative impacts associated with time spent on Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerburg faces his own Innovator’s Dilemma. Coined by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, The Innovators Dilemma describes situations where companies get overturned by market transformations because accepting them would mean going against their business’s mission.

So if Facebook’s mission is to earn more of people’s time, but more people are starting to view time spent on Facebook as problematic, what is Mark Zuckerburg to do? Should he stay true to the company’s past and current vision or should he change course to innovate in light of the potential shift in the market? We’ll just have to wait and see…

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:

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?



Wondering how to create and innovate? There’s a subscription for that.

Mail order subscription boxes have become the hottest trend in online business models. Looking for cosmetics, hip clothing, or jewelry? There’s a subscription for that. Want to sample healthy snacks or have meals prepped and ready to cook waiting on your doorstep? There’s a subscription for that, too.

Do you need to stock up on fresh razors or pet supplies? Well, of course, there’s a subscription for that. If you’re willing to hand over your credit card information, you can subscribe to anything and everything under the sun. For a fee, you can have anything delivered to your door once a month.

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!

Can kids learn art and innovation skills online?


Did you know that online learning isn’t just for homeschoolers and college students? Most of us have seen online courses designed to deliver content via video lectures, assignments, and digital assessments. But, can creative skills like drawing, illustration, problem-solving, and invention strategies be taught online? Several new companies are on a mission to bring creative learning experiences to the e-course market.

Businesses like JAM Online Courses For Kids, Sparketh, and Thrive are designing and distributing courses that teach creative skills through video instruction, interactive discussions, and some even offer support from online mentors or teachers.

If you’re interested in online courses for your children, here’s the scoop on these three companies:

  1. Thrive.  With video art lessons designed to be part of their three-level program, Thrive lessons are created for kids aged 6-12 to allow them to develop their creative muscles at home. Thrive also explains that they offer parent guidance videos that provide parents with the information they need to support their children as they engage with the course content.
  2. Sparketh. Providing over 500 videos that teach visual art and design skills, Sparketh is on a mission to make learning art online “fun and effective.” The videos are divided into three categories: beginner, intermediate, and advanced, and users are encouraged to select videos that are appropriate for their skill levels. Many video courses also include printable content that kids can use to follow along.
  3. JAM. Jam Online Courses For Kids are designed to teach visual art skills as well as innovation and technological skills. Their mission is to “making magical learning experiences to help kids build confidence, creativity and talent that will last their lifetimes.” JAM courses are unique in that they are designed to provide children with an online mentor that will provide feedback and support as they engage with the course content.

Like most web-based content, each company offers free trials for their content–so, go on and give it a try.




Here’s the Scoop on the Maker Movement

*This article was contributed by Courtney Hartnett*

Makerspace? Maker? Maker Movement? Huh?

Heard these words and don’t quite understand what this whole “make” thing is? If you’re behind the curve with the Maker Movement, here’s a quick rundown so you can join in on conversations about one of the hippest creative movements spreading across the nation.

Maker Movement: In January 2005, Dale Dougherty published the first Make magazine— a bimonthly magazine focusing on DIY projects ranging from traditional arts and crafts to furniture building to complex advanced robotics. The readership quickly grew into a community that valued “making” over buying, with an emphasis on creative exploration, learning through doing, and collaboration. One year later, the first Maker Faire was held to showcase the variety of projects created and to celebrate the Do-It-Yourself spirit. Each year, this grassroots movement has gained more and more momentum, spurring the opening of makerspaces and Maker Faires in many communities.

Makerspace: Sometimes referred to as design labs, hackerspaces, and tech shops, makerspaces, as the name suggests, are spaces people gather to make things. Make culture is all about the sharing of knowledge, ideas, and tools, and makerspaces, which are usually community-run, nonprofit organizations, embody these principles. A membership to a makerspace grants one access to usually an extensive (and expensive!) collection of tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and welders as well as fellow DIYers that share ideas, skill sets, and a passion for creative construction. Schools, museums, and libraries are opening up their own makerspaces in recognition of the value of learning through creative, exploratory making— the lingo is tinkering— and opening up accessibility to the materials and skills for a range of people that may otherwise not have the opportunity.

Maker: That can be you. Find a makerspace in your community at, or check out the The Technology Innovation Learning Environment at Georgia State University’s College of Education and Human Development. Learn more about the Maker community at