February 27, 2019 mgoudz

Can you measure it?

I’m am currently in the foothills just outside of Tucson, AZ at the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2 for a workshop in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) equity workshop. Forty or so educators representing higher ed, museums, public media (NPR/PBS), and libraries are charged to write a collaborative white peer as part of the National Science Foundation’s Dear Colleague initiative. 

Biosphere 2 is a great location for an immersive writing experience. The spring green on the desert mountains, remote location, spotty cell signal, gathering with familiar and new friends, all provide an incubator for ideas. But will it result in a cohesive document which will speak to the equity, inclusion in digital and studio-based learning? At worst, we’ll leave sphere duo in a couple of days with a great walk down the history lane of privately-funded earth and space research, time to think deeply, new connections, and a chance to disrupt the daily routines. These are all great outcomes, however not the primary charge we have been given. 

In one of our early break out groups were were asked to describe a time when we felt freedom and creativity. One person said freedom and creativity  were in flow when she was cooking in her kitchen, working from a recipe, and short a few ingredients. The plethora of cooking / baking reality beam to our living rooms that in the kitchen, substitution is innovation incarnate.

Another person was invigorated when they pulled an all-nighter, greeting the next day with the invigoration of breaking the “rules” of how much sleep one should get per night and reaching flow state in a writing project around 2am. 

As we shared around the circle, our examples stitched together a common thread of feeling freedom and creativity when there are constraints, and opportunity to break the constraints without out serious danger, and a clear audience/purpose.

We went on to have many conversations and even produced some collaborative docs and and post-its. Even for this extrovert, by social battery was drained my mid-afternoon. We had the constraints of a full agenda, but not of what we were supposed to produce, who our audience was, and how what we were talking about would make it in to a coherent paper. 

Ocean and cliff with trees
Ocean biome at Biosphere 2 (U of Arizona)

So here’s a confession. I broke with the agenda and went back to the casita to reflect and as it turned out a few others were craving the same. I was not alone. We skipped round 2, no documents were produced, and post-its were far behind. But, were we still processing and even learning? 

This morning we started the day with a gallery walk of the charts that we created yesterday. Still the conversation back at the casita, while playing “hooky” stuck with me. So now was the time for an artifact. I wrote on a page, “If learning happens in a forest and no one is there to measure it, does it make a noise?” I hid this on the back side of the board, but it was found and now is a fixed to the podium. 

So now there is some evidence, hanging at the front of the room, and now reflected back in this blog post. If we were to write an observation protocol for playing hooky how might we score just hanging out? 

Yesterday, my breakout group write an observation protocol for studio-based. We did this in the absence of constraints, a clear audience, and purpose. But we found a constraint to break. We left our assigned room, we self-organized and wrote stuff down. Sometimes you need to create your own constraints, just so you can break them and find the flow.