Sunday, March 25, 2012

Innovation Likes Company...but not always

Yeah, yeah.  I know I said that Innovation Likes Company in my last post, but I got to thinking (on my own), and I realized that it is not always true.  When you need to get unstuck from a rut or need a new outlook, you can really only get that by hooking up with some other people.  HOWEVER, sometimes you need to be by yourself and grind things out. 

I am still struck by the innovators I have met who say they can't do it alone, and it is probably true.  No man is an island.  The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Two heads are better than one (unless you are buying shirts).  Sometimes you feel like a nut and sometimes you don't.  We definitely benefit from getting ideas from other people, but we don't always want what is good, or even expedient, for us.  It is why guys won't ask for directions when they are hopelessly lost.  It is why people continue to complain about a problem that is already solved.  It is human nature to defy logic because it is human nature to want to work things out for ourselves. 

I came across an interesting TedTalk by Susan Cain that promotes the Introvert.  It seems relevant here.  As an introvert myself, it scores a lot of points with me. 

TedTalks: The Power of the Introvert

Campfire, Watering Hole and Cave again
In terms of classroom design, we need to be able to allow for our spaces to accommodate all kinds of learning.  My favourite design model is the Campfire, Watering Hole, and Cave areas.  (I've mentioned this concept before, but I want to talk about it again because it underscores the balance between cooperative and solitary areas.)  We need a Campfire area where the whole class can meet.  Sometimes we need to give global instructions.  Also, if we want to become a community or a tribe, we need a central meeting spot to build those whole group bonds and build a class identity.  I've seen many classes use a circle or a classroom meeting area to fulfil this purpose.  We also need Watering Holes where partners or small groups can gather to collaborate.  If you want to see the intimate gathering potential of such an area, stand by the coffee machine or water cooler in an office on a Monday morning.  Or watch the buffet area at a wedding or party, and see how people meet informally to have a little tete a tete.  The Cave is a really important space for students who want to hunker down and get something done without being distracted.  This is that solitary space where the ideas we've gathered at the Campfire and Watering Hole get synthesized into our own personal way of thinking.  Sometimes we are using the Cave to focus the ideas in our heads and sometimes we are using the space to articulate or represent those ideas to others.

Even now, I sit by myself on my couch and write this (in my cave).  I need time away from others as I think and I write.  I bounce ideas off my wife at the dinner and my friends on the phone or around a table (at a watering hole).  And then I throw my ideas out into the world community for consideration (at my electronic campfire.  Kumbaya!).

Creating a Silent Cave

But in the classroom, I am finding it extremely difficult to create effective Cave spaces.    Isis/RM have these incredible soundproof Pods (right) that create a great cave space.  But even if I could fit these in my classroom, I could not afford them.  Interestingly, my students spontaneously create Cave spaces in our classroom by going under the risers, holing up behind the rolling book cases, stowing away in the cloakroom or removing themselves to the hallway.  All of these still present sound, light, smell, and distraction challenges. 

I was at the Apple Store in San Francisco.  It was crazy busy because of the launch of the new iPad, but because it was so busy, it gave me a chance to stand with my back against the wall and just watch how things worked.  Usually noisy things like the Genius Bar and big presentations were held upstairs.  That doesn't help me too much unless I saw through the ceiling.  But downstairs was regular business.  The interactions between the clients and Apple employees were mostly done at the centre areas, and people noodled at devices on their own at stations along the perimeter walls.  Hmmm, interesting.  By having the main interactions in the middle, customers walking in see that the message is "We are here to help you."  The action is in a more open space.  By having the isolated stations on the outside, those clients' backs are toward the centre, signalling and allowing privacy.  Like a teacher, it is also easier for the Apple people to stand in the centre and monitor their progress without disturbing them. 

I realize a lot of my quiet areas are in the middle of my classroom and my collab spaces are on the outside.  Maybe I should try to reverse them. 

I was talking to CC who is in charge of overseeing the construction of some of our new schools, and he mentioned the difficulty of creating collaborative classrooms that still allowed individual study spaces.  He mentioned cubicle dividers, sliding walls, and curtains as ways to divide rooms but said that these only provide physical barriers, but do not prevent sound from penetrating into outlying areas.  I thought to my own classroom.  I've experimented with lighting and mesh to create pockets of intimate spaces, but I have to admit, these things do nothing for sound.  Maybe I'll invest in a class set of earplugs or put it on next year's supply list. 

Innovation does like company.  But at some time, the company needs to go home so the introverts can get back to (quiet) work.

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