Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Connection vs Protection

I recently watched a TED talk by Steven Johnson about where great ideas come from. His discussion centered around the position that great ideas generally come from hunches - and that two or more hunches that join together develop into a great idea.

He argues that collaboration is the key for the development of great ideas and that we must create systems that allow those hunches to come together and turn into great ideas. Coffee houses during the Enlightenment, Parisian Salons of Modernism were such vehicles. What is it for the 21st century?

Technology is the obvious answer. The opportunity to reach out and connect your hunches with other people's. One of our jobs as educators - and I classify teachers, parents and peers under that umbrella - is to teach each other how to use these tools effectively in order to avoid the inevitable distractions that can result from it's exponential growth. There is much to be gained from the effective and appropriate use of technology.

One of the other points Johnson raises is that intellectual property is regularly patented, copyrighted and trademarked. In order for effective collaboration to occur, we must consider less protection of our ideas and allow for more connection. My students' summative task for their current Unit of Inquiry involves them creating a machine that will solve a task that is identified in a scenario. There were four scenarios they could choose from, each asking them to use their understanding of the principles of force and motion to help design and build a machine. I first asked the students to choose the scenario that most appealed to them and they drafted their own ideas. The next day I grouped them with other people who had chosen the same scenario and gave them the opportunity to join up their ideas with their peers or continue to work on their own. Every student decided to collaborate with someone else and the enthusiasm they have shown to share and develop their ideas has been amazing. I hope this will be a valuable lesson in the power of collaboration for them as they head into next year.

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