Clicked to Distraction or Edutainment?

The Rabbit Hole. It happens to us all. I was recently working on a strategy project at GOODCORPS and I overheard one of the people say “I’m taking some learning time.” to her colleague. I thought that was a great way to describe the Rabbit Hole. Learning time.

I was on Linked In looking up an old colleague, saw a post from Shane Atchison, the CEO of POSSIBLE – an agency that does amaaaaaaazing work and then boom. It happened. Down the Rabbit Hole. For almost an hour. In the middle of the work day with deadlines looming and people to meet – there I went. Down, down, down. The video that took me there is below. I felt guilty for a moment. “Damn…I hate when I do that. It felt like 10 minutes not 40.”

But then I realized it was Learning Time. I learned so much from the video on Collectives and then clicking through to the various communities featured in the video. (I stopped myself as I clicked into the 4th story on and realized that it led to the 9th level of distraction.)

But what did I learn that was useful? What problems did I solve? I had no fewer than 5 solid ideas for the project that I WASN’T working on while in the Rabbit Hole, realized that there is a community online for almost everything it would seem and the one I’m working on can be broken down into smaller and smaller communities, and I learned as I watched the part on the birdwatching community that I really only have one topic that I am truly devoted to and that is learning. About anything. And that Edutainment as a movement is enormous right now thanks to the net. With all this information presented in such beautiful ways how can we possibly expect kids to learn sitting at a desk with a boring non moving book page. Blech.

So no more Rabbit Hole. No more wasted time. It is now officially called “Learning Time” – and I encourage anyone who feels guilty for surfing the net at the office to view it as such. Sometime you have to get out of your head to get back into it.

Boundaries and Busyness


There is a great article in the NY Times this week about “Busyness”. The Busy Trap examines the idea that we have forgotten how to relax here in America.  That being busy gives you bragging rights. I experience this often. As a busy person I actually MAKE time to “do nothing”. Sometimes it is “structured nothing” – like meditation. Other times it is laying on the patio with a pile of catalogs that seem to never stop coming no matter what I do.

I think it’s really very important to set boundaries for yourself in our connected world. A couple of times a year I take a Social Media Vacation. When I’m working on projects that cover multiple time zones I really try and figure out when I have to be “live” to folks in the UK or folks in Asia….without this boundary I would be working 24 hours and not sleeping.  At times I would actually realize that my “evening” was really from 2 – 6 when I was working with Germany AND Hong Kong.

I recently had a conversation with a man I know about his new role as President of a division.  He was commenting on how a few of the team members he inherited had asked him what his philosophy was on “live work balance”. He found this entertaining and telling. His answer was – “you’re all grown ups. if you think you need to be at your kid’s baseball game at 3pm then you go. how could i possibly deny you that when you were out to dinner with clients 3 nights this week or working on the presentation for Monday morning on your Sunday afternoon.” He said they looked at him in shock. I have to admit this is someone close to 60 and I was super impressed with his modern approach. It is that kind of approach that the workplace needs these days…at least the kind of workplaces my peers and I are a part of…

It’s a bit archaic to have the boundaries set by an HR person or even by the time zones that were set long long ago. It is up to you to make your own time valuable and meaningful. And that includes sleeping.

Thank You Ray Bradbury

ray bradbury the illustrated man

As a GIRL who ened up working in DIGITAL communications. I have to tell you – Ray Bradbury (along with Star Trek and Phillip K Dick) is a very large influence on who I have become as an adult.

How is this possible? Well – it all started with the Illustrated Man. In my school district in Hamden, Connecticut you progressed in your “reading” through a very set group of tests that were “levels” to show you had advanced. Level 40 was supposed to take you to the end of 6th grade. I passed level 40 in the middle of 5th grade. (I never brag so cut me some slack here….)

I then was tested for the “talented and gifted program”….TAG. As a member of the special elite forces group I got to hang with 10 kids from 3 other nearby schools 2x a week and develop my critical thinking skills. The first book we used as I recall? Yep – “The Illustrated Man”.  I had nightmares. For sure. He was standing at the end of my bed on a few occassions at 3am, much to the chagrin of my mother. But since every book on her nightstand had a foil cover and involved alien abduction, murder or international intrigue – the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Ray Bradbury followed me into Junior High – Farenheit 451 – what many think of as not his BEST work – but it certainly opened my eyes up to censorship and freedome of speech and mind control. It was certainly the primer for films that all fall into my favorite dystopian category – THX 1138, Brazil, BladeRunner…

Every single day I think Ray Bradbury crosses my mind. He crosses it while I’m watching CNN on my 55″ flatscreen on the living room wall. He crosses it when I see a digital billboard with video at the busstop while I’m sitting at a stoplight. He crosses it when I drive downtown by the Bradbury Building made so famous by Blade Runner and sort of a “mecca” for those of us who like to see that sort of static influence in person.

I just downloaded Farenheit 451 (and the Martian Chronicles) to my kindle app on my i-pad. I haven’t reread either in a while. They will get read again before my Monday meeting with a new client.

I know that I will surely be inspired by something in there…and yes – there is something in a book from 1953 that I will subconciously (or purposefully!) introduce into a strategy session on communicating an idea, a product or a new technology to our uber connected world.

And dear Los Angeles Metro team – can we please christen that subway to the sea as the “Bradbury Express” when it launches? That would be such a wonderful tribute to this most futuristic and influential thinker of our era.  “LA’S Future is Up In The Air” by Ray Bradbury

Merci Beaucoup Msr. Bradbury…vos idees vivra a jamais.

The day the Internet Died

internet censorship

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This comment has been found in violation of H.R. 3261, S.O.P.A and has been removed.

Don’t like what you see?

Tell someone.

PBS: 21st century learners


When I hear the threat that funding will be cut for PBS and NPR my blood boils.  But then I end up glued to the television watching a show on Digital Media on PBS – (CLip below) and my blood REALLY boils. This organization is so important. When I think of everything from Sesame Street at age 3 to this show last week (well past age 3!!!)

But I digress and use the opportunity to discuss an additional issue that is my passion for PBS.  THE MAIN REASON I’M POSTING:


If you’re a parent? Forward it to a teacher. Figure out how you can use technology to help your child do their homework and learning PAST using GOOGLE. If you don’t have kids? Volunteer. Send this to someone. Donate money to programs that bring technology into the schools.

“It is now problem solving that we need to learn – everyone should be able to develop the ability to create and not just consume”.

Watch the full episode. See more Digital Media – New Learners Of The 21st Century.

art class is finally getting some long overdue credit

what makes kids creative

I always thought that my major in Art (Visual and Media Design) trained me to have a different perspective in business. I quickly moved into marketing after CREATING the newsletter, CREATING the displays for the windows. Graduate school honed my “science” skills in terms of Marketing; the psychology, the research….

This article is extremely interesting – especially the fact that it’s in the WSJ. Go all you odd little kids in the corner with your stories and pictures and inventions. Go. Go. Go.

The Wall Street Journal

When art teacher Kandy Dea recently assigned fourth-graders in her Walnut, Iowa, classroom to create a board game to play with a friend, she was shocked by one little boy’s response: He froze.

One Harlem charter school gets creative with problem solving. WSJ’s Christina Tsuei sees how the school is developing ingenuity and reasoning in their students at a time when research shows Americans are less creative.

While his classmates let their imaginations run wild making up colorful characters and fantasy worlds, the little boy said repeatedly, “I can’t think of anything,” Ms. Dea says. Although she reassured him that nothing he did would be judged “wrong,” he tried to copy another student’s game, then asked if he could make a work sheet instead. She finally gave him permission to make flash cards with right-and-wrong answers.

Americans’ scores on a commonly used creativity test fell steadily from 1990 to 2008, especially in the kindergarten through sixth-grade age group, says Kyung Hee Kim, an assistant professor of educational psychology at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. The finding is based on a study of 300,000 Americans’ scores from 1966 to 2008 on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, a standardized test that’s considered a benchmark for creative thinking. (Dr. Kim’s results are currently undergoing peer review to determine whether they will be published in a scholarly journal.)

The Torrance tests have been used in the U.S. and abroad for decades and are often used in schools to determine which children are admitted to gifted programs. The test is considered a reliable indicator of divergent thinking—the ability to generate many different, new and appropriate ideas, says James C. Kaufman, an associate professor of psychology at California State University, San Bernadino, and an author on creativity. However, he says it falls short in measuring other dimensions of creativity, such as the ability to put these ideas to work to make new and useful products.

Researchers believe growth in the time kids spend on computers and watching TV, plus a trend in schools toward rote learning and standardized testing, are crowding out the less structured activities that foster creativity. Mark Runco, a professor of creative studies and gifted education at the University of Georgia, says students have as much creative potential as ever, but he would give U.S. elementary, middle and high schools “a ‘D’ at best” on encouraging them. “We’re doing a very poor job, especially before college, with recognizing and supporting creativity,” he says.

Many parents are stepping into the breach by nurturing their kids’ creative skills. They are challenging them to generate new ideas or encouraging them to notice problems in the world around them and research possible solutions. By tolerating “wrong” answers or allowing their children to live in a fantasy world for a while, parents can put off the emphasis on skill-building and achievement, researchers say.

In the past, researchers thought of creativity as the ability to generate lots of new ideas. But in recent years, experts have begun assigning equal importance to learning how to pick the best ideas and solve specific problems, often by working in teams.

Some parents are signing their children up for programs designed to foster creativity. One such program, Destination ImagiNation, Cherry Hill, N.J., is an educational nonprofit that involves nearly 100,000 students in annual competitions. Volunteer coaches guide teams of up to seven kids, grouped by age from kindergarten through college, who work together after school to come up with creative solutions. They’re given projects like designing weight-bearing structures from foil, wood and glue, solving a community problem or, for small children, creating a play about bugs to show how they interact with nature and animals. Similar programs include Odyssey of the Mind, Sewell, N.J., and Future Problem-Solving Program International, Melbourne, Fla.

To nurture creative skills at home, parents can invite children to come up with possible solutions for everyday problems, and listen to their ideas with respect, says Don Treffinger, president of the Center for Creative Learning, a Sarasota, Fla., consulting group. A child who notices that an ailing neighbor is snowed in might shovel her sidewalks, for example. A child who is troubled by photos of Haitian disaster victims might donate allowance money to a relief fund.

Asking open-ended questions and showing interest in answers can help. When Meg Richey sat down a couple of years ago to write a speech about activist Rosa Parks, her opening was a clunker: “Rosa Parks was an important person in American history,” says Meg, now 10. “It was dull.”

But after her father Brett, of Charlottesville, Va., a volunteer coach for several Destination ImagiNation teams, praised her effort, encouraged her to dig deeper and asked open-ended questions about how she might improve it, Meg says, she thought up a new introduction: “Can you imagine being kicked out of your seat just because of the color of your skin?” The speech was a winner at a youth-group competition. Now, Meg says she goes through the same process on her own when she writes. “I ask myself all the questions my dad asked, and it gets the creative juices flowing,” she says.

Parents also need to refrain from judging kids’ ideas, even if they seem crazy or naive. When Linda Rice’s son Jacob, 10, told her last spring that he wanted to make a lot of money writing, publishing and selling a global newspaper and an accompanying website, she listened, then asked a few questions. Who would be the best people to ask first to buy subscriptions, the Plover, Wis., mother and former teacher asked. Drawing on her past experience working with gifted students, Ms. Rice encouraged him to think about what kinds of stories he would include.

Jacob decided to limit his early subscription sales to family members and friends. When he ran out of ideas for stories, Ms. Rice prompted him with questions about what readers might enjoy, and Jacob decided to make up some puzzles. His eight-page newspaper had a successful four-month run with 10 subscribers, earning him $90 before he lost interest, Ms. Rice says.

It is best to avoid paying too much attention to the outcome of kids’ creative efforts, says Dr. Kaufman, the professor. “The more emphasis put on the final product—’It’s so beautiful I’m going to frame it and tell my friends about it,’ ” he says, the greater is “the risk that the kid is going to do pictures for the praise, and not for the enjoyment.” Instead, emphasize effort over results.

When Maureen Dougherty’s three kids were small, she and her husband Brian encouraged them to make up their own lyrics and dances to nursery rhymes, says Ms. Dougherty, of Stephens City, Va. Hearing Mr. Dougherty and the kids laughing one night years ago, Ms. Dougherty opened a door to find them stumbling around with their eyes closed, singing original lyrics to “The Three Blind Mice.”

After inventing spontaneous lyrics for years, their children, now 14, 18 and 20, enjoy public speaking and “can think of things to say right off the cuff,” Ms. Dougherty says.

Raising a creative child can be taxing. Such kids tend to have above-average “spontaneity, boldness, courage, freedom and expressiveness,” Dr. Kim says. So they sometimes behave like little anarchists.

Parents can explain when it is OK to be whimsical, and when they have to toe the line, Dr. Kaufman says. If your child loves to parody lyrics to children’s songs, for example, “you have to let them laugh and giggle,” and then explain that “you shouldn’t do this at school,” he says.

Write to Sue Shellenbarger at

Using Today’s Tech to Map Social Networks of the Past

republic of letters

Exploring Correspondence and Intellectual Community in the Early Modern Period (1500-1800)


This project by some students at Stanford is pretty fantastic. One thing I have noticed over my adult years is that I read more biographies. As I read and read and read – and realize certain connections; it gives me a perspective that I feel like my history classes never could. For instance – reading Katherine Graham’s autobiography and learning that it was her mother that supported the gallery that forwarded Alfred Steiglitz’s photography as “art”; that made photography and art at all! – it was an “aha moment”. I’ve often thought that professors should require biographies more often as part of reading lists.

Back to this post…. I love reading collections of letters – there is something about the voyeuristic nature of them that allows me to feel as though I am uncovering truth. Even in today’s blogosphere and all of the social networking – how will it be archived? How will future historians trace the twitter feeds between the luminaries of today? One of my favorite books long ago was Posession by Byatt. Two PhD’s, a love story, history – all unfolded through the discovery of a piece of paper locked away in a box. (Even enough to tolerate a it being turned into a not so fabulous movie…more than one viewing admittedly!)

I love the idea of using modern mapping technology to bring a deeper understanding to the connections throughout history. Click the image to see the project — and make sure you have an hour or so!