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The Power of Film

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“I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and  that in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks…The education of the future, as I see it, will be conducted through the medium of the motion picture…”

                                                                 —Thomas Edison, 1922

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what if those were moving pictures, accompanied by dialogue and set to music? What would they be worth then? To me, the right film is priceless.

I have always had a love for the television and film, but due to logistical restrictions–before there was iMovie and YouTube– I sought solace in writing fiction, ever since I was teenager. It was and continues to be a great form of self-expression and entertainment–not to mention practical for my work.

I have also gained an appreciation for film as a source of education as well. As a self-proclaimed documentary buff, I find myself gravitating towards them on Netflix and try to attend screenings whenever possible. I like to consider documentaries high brow reality television, and became enticed after Michael Moore gained mainstream fame. One particular documentary that left a profoundly lasting impression on me  Oscar® winning director Alex Gibney’s Park Avenue (2012), which itself won a Peabody Award.  Park Avenue explores the juxtaposition of the iconic New York street, which few know actually runs the length of most of the City. In fact, far from the glitz and affluence of millionaires in penthouses on the Upper East Side are those awaiting public assistance from a food pantry in South Bronx across the Harlem River. The film is readily available on Netflix and WGBH PBS.  The entire documentary also available on YouTube. Next up for Mr. Gibney is a controversial documentary involving  The Church of Scientology.

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On a lighter note, a couple of other great non-education offerings on Netflix, though much can be learned from them,  are Bill Cunningham New York (2010), which follows the life of the famed New York Times fashion photographer as he makes his way about the Big Apple on his bicycle, snapping ordinary folk who have a unique flare for fashion, and The September Issue, which chronicles the laborious process of publishing Vogue‘s nearly 5-lb. September issue, considered by many to be fashion’s Bible. If you are a fan (or not) of maven and front-row regular, Anna Wintour (hello…The Devil Wears Prada meme), this might intrigue you. If anything, it’s merits exceed farther than just fashion.

Two education-related documentaries of interest are also A Tale of Two Schools (2003)  and Davis Guggenheim’s TEACH, which was released a decade later. I highly recommend both. If you have further interests in education with a twist, Maestra (2012), a film about women who risked it all to bring literacy to their fellow citizens in Cuba, might be worth a look as well as American Teacher (2011), which was produced by Harvard Graduate School of Education alum Ninive Calegari and narrated by actor and Cambridge native, Matt Damon.

Recently at HGSE, three new documentaries were on the docket:  Makerwhich explores learning beyond the classroom through design spaces and the “maker” movement; The Last Mountaina moving environmental conservation film sponsored by the Harvard Green Team; and The Ivory Tower, which explore the issue of education value and student debt. If you  interested in MOOCs, Ivory Tower is definitely worth a viewing. It was a great privilege to discuss the film afterwards at a local restaurant with one of the film’s producers, Eric Grunebaum, and HGSE faculty, Tina Groetzer. Mr. Grunebaum worked with attorney and advocate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who made regular appearances in the film, and is himself is President of a water conservation non-profit called The Waterkeeper Alliance.

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Still on my Netflix wishlist to (finish) is Side by Side (2012), a documentary which contemplates the evolution of film-making from the use of photochemical film to digital media. A jaw-dropping ensemble cast of directors, including James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, and George Lucas, is interviewed on the trade-offs and complexities of decisions directors face as the film making process is being revolutionized in the 21 century.

I aspire to expand the borders of the classroom to encompass the realities of our world, helping students make connections from their coursework to their daily lives by appreciating the links between science and current events, public policy, and even economics. I hope to give them the autonomy to be free thinkers and make better sense of the world around them, and in turn, become better contributors to their communities and fields of practice. I feel that story telling through the medium of film possesses a great power to persuade and inspire a call to action. While films discussed in this post vary in context, most share a constructive viewpoint about evoking change in the world or at least being open to its possibilities. 

I have been particularly moved by this genre of film, and the motion picture, itself. One day I hope to produce my own documentary. Hopefully someone will see it, and it will be as meaningful an experience as these films were to me.

The Art of Science–Boston Museum of Science Part Deux

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I didn’t expect to see art exhibits at the Boston Museum of Science, but there it was, ever so subtle but nevertheless present in many forms. It got me to thinking about the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, ART, and Math) movement, which puts the Arts into STEM fields. Art and science are interconnected, as both are creative fields, though they are seldom considered in the breath. Without imagination, we would not have shapes and colors, that form images, perhaps of a landscape, or a building, or even a molecule. Without art, is there science, or vise versa? Thinking creatively has been the solution to so many of the world’s most pressing issues, whether it be a cure for a disease, a plan to remodel a city, or finding a resolution to political conflict. While art may not have to take on the form with which we are most familiar–a painting, sculpture or the like–I find few things more comforting than a stroll in a gallery on a quiet afternoon contemplating an artist’s vision while writing my own mental rendition of the piece.

Here are a few gems I came across in an unlikely or perhaps what should be a likely place…the Boston Museum of Science…next up: Harvard’s Fogg Museum of Art!

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Water Stories was an exhibit of abstract paintings in a hue of blues reminiscent of impressionist art. The sounds of babbling brooks throughout the space added another dimension to experience, awakening another sense.

 

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Boston Museum of Science

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The first snow of the season fell on Sunday November 2, and while it was beautiful to see for a Texas transplant, it was also a bit daunting to step out in the cold wet weather unless absolutely necessary. But I maintained my resolve! There was a special once-a-year chemistry demonstration by Dr. Bassem Shak ashiri of the University of Wisconsin at the Boston Science Museum on the heels of the American Chemical Society’s Chemistry Week, After having watched Dr. Shakashiri’s appearance at MIT on YouTube, I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to miss. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Dr. Shakashiri puts on his chemistry demonstrations at various cities nationwide to audiences of all ages as part of his Science Is Fun online laboratory. Besides the special effects created by the chemical reactions, Dr. Shakashiri also explains the principles behind them.

We were treated to some dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) sublimation making a smoke screen, acid-base indicators that turned solutions all colors of the rainbow, and even a glow-in-dark solution!

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The are a myriad of other exhibits, many of which are interactive, to explore at the Boston Museum of Science. Visitors can enjoy learning experiences in a variety of fields including agriculture, the human body, disease states, engineering, and physics. Here is a quick sampling of the various exhibits I encountered.

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Chemistry Interactive Demonstrations As Part of the American Chemical Society’s Chemistry Week

 

 

How Do You Like Them Apples?

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On a fun note, last weekend several HGSE students boarded two yellow school buses (yes actual school buses, in the rain, on a Saturday MORNING) and headed to the beautiful town of Stow 21 miles west of Boston to go apple picking at Honey Pot Orchards. The drive up is beautiful particularly with the changing New England fall landscape that combines quaint villages of stores and homes and country roads speckled with a mishmash of yellow, orange, and red leaves. Making the most of an Indian Summer in New England with a traditional activity, we embraced the rain and picked apples to our hearts’ content: Macoun, Honeycrisp, and Crispin.

There was also a pumpkin patch, pond, and a small animal farm on the property. A hayride or short walk through the orchard will get you to the farm store where you can nosh on apple cider donuts, cider, and coffee, as well as pick up some goodies to take home (apple pie or pumpkin butter anyone?). Given the soggy conditions, there were not many indoor seating options which was a bit tough to swallow along with the luke warm coffee, but the trip was nonetheless a big success, as I walked away with a bag full of fresh apples, some incredible photos, and a sense of pride in taking in some local New England culture.

I also purchased a bag of cider apple donuts…they’re gone now. I didn’t share. I’m not proud.

apple picking me in tree    stow yellow umbrella

Stow fall landscape

Follow the Leader…

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learn to change the world

I recently had the privilege of speaking one-on-one with Harvard Graduate School of Education’s (HGSE) Dean of Faculty, James Ryan.

Dean Ryan was an attorney-turned-author-and-educator, whose detour into education began most notably as the Matheson and Morgenthau Distinguished Professor,  as well as Academic Associate Dean, at the University of Virginia School of Law–among other distinctions– before arriving at Harvard in 2013.

This year, Dean Ryan launched the Campaign for HGSE to enable the school to “fulfill its vision of changing the world through education by expanding opportunity and improving outcomes.” A day-long event, including a visit from current Secretary of State Arnie Duncan and a performance by famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, kicked off the campaign under the slogan “Learn to Change the World.”

That got me thinking…how can we change the world? What can I do as an individual that would make a significant difference? The Dean’s moving words in his speech resonated with me, even more so because I had attended a luncheon a week prior, in which he had discussed his book, Five Miles Away, A World Apart: One City, Two Schools, and the Story of Educational Opportunity in Modern Americawhich chronicled the disparity between two schools so close and yet so far. The divergence of resources, both material and otherwise, seemed implausible, and yet it is the reality of many school districts today.

Dean Talk

 

 

Dean Ryan Book

 

As a self-proclaimed documentary buff–I like to consider documentaries high brow reality television–I drew parallels between the book and a 2012 documentary by Oscar® winning director Alex Gibney entitled Park Avenue, which itself won a Peabody Award.  Park Avenue explores the juxtaposition of the landmark New York street which few know actually runs the length of most of the City. In fact, far from the glitz and affluence of billionaires in penthouses on the Upper East Side are those awaiting public assistance from a food pantry in South Bronx across the Harlem River. The film is readily available on Netflix, WGBH PBS, and on YouTube

Two education-related documentaries of interest are also A Tale of Two Schools  and TEACH. I highly recommend both.

I am drawn to using such examples in my teaching (at Houston Community College) to help students make connections from the classroom to the real world so that they feel a sense of ownership in their own futures and therefore, work harder towards building better ones. Dean Ryan’s book struck that chord with me and inspired me to incorporate more of these influences into my teaching.  

One day I hope to produce my own documentary. Hopefully someone will see it 🙂

Sister, Sister…Schools

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HKS

One amazing learning experience has been the option of cross-registering for classes at other Harvard schools, such as the Kennedy School of Government (HKS), Business School, and the School of Public Health. While I did not register for a course at a Harvard sister school, or MIT, I have heard rave reviews from classmates who have taken advantage of the opportunity.

With consideration of the number of classes to which I could commit as well as time limitations, I elected to perform an internship at the Kennedy School’s SLATE (Strengthening Learning and Teaching Excellence) program and a research apprenticeship at MIT’s Media Lab, working on a MOOC. This was the best “compromise” in order to fully experience what these two great institutions had to offer while still being able to manage my time. I’m like the proverbial “kid in a candy store,” as there are so many opportunities for  exploration in Cambridge, but alas, there is just so much time in the day. Still, I cannot help myself! But I learned to prioritize…

I definitely wanted to expand my scope of learning outside of the Graduate School of Education because I believe that as a society, we have a moral responsibility to bring social awareness to important issues in the world and to be open to new experiences. That was my mindset as I applied to the Kennedy School’s SLATE program, which among other initiatives has employed a flipped classroom design in some first year public policy courses. I have been an advocate of flipped classroom and blended learning platforms for some time and have also employed them in my own classes, albeit in STEM fields. This, I believed, was a opportunity to learn how the flipped classroom concept is applied to other fields of study.

Flipped classroom, broadly defined as having part of the instruction (lecture) online and active engagement (participation) in class, has become a potent buzzword in education circles. However, true flipped classroom implementation is still a skill that many of us educators are developing.

While at the Kennedy School, I was also exposed to many seminars and guest speakers from many fields that came to discuss their careers as well as important issues. One such topic was the economic ramifications related to climate change in China through the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government. Another talk brought the director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) human resources to speak about opportunities to change the world through work at the UN. Journalism has also been well-represented as the Vice President of ABC News Public Affairs, Robin Sproul, and  Barbara Walters were on hand. And what’s a school of government without some figureheads? Enter the President of the Philippines and Guana as well as our own Vice President Joe Biden. While I could not attend every function, I made an effort to attend the ones that were of greatest significance to me: the UNPFA, Mossavar-Rahmani event, and Robin Sproul’s round table.

My goal as an educator is to make the material I present in class not only applicable to the real world but also relatable to my students so that they may take ownership of their learning and feel empowered to use it to change their world for the better as a result. I must also do that for myself. Hence, my interest in HKS and journalism.

Venturing into unchartered waters may be a frightening and risky proposition, but without testing those waters, we may never stumbled upon that which makes us even more inclined to take the next plunge.

More on my adventures at MIT in a future post…stay tuned!

 

 

Quad Contemplations

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I was enjoying a nice fall afternoon, which felt slightly cool and breezy, in that nirvana of climates that comes around every spring and fall or as those in Southern California call it: everyday.

While the park benches and duck pond of Boston Common were calling me, I couldn’t bare to trek on two T-lines to get there. Instead, I decided to explore a bit more of Cambridge. While I love the manicured simplicity and quaintness of Radcliffe Yard at Harvard, I wanted to venture in the opposite direction. So I found the Quad, a little slice of the Utopian balance at a university reminiscent of Dead Poets Society, just a stone’s throw from my apartment, down Shepard St, between Massachusetts Ave and Garden St (can you tell I’ve been to New York?). The Quad, which is home to Cabot House, is a small park, framed by four red brick buildings, dormitories and a cafeteria, complete with a tower clock, a roster-adorned wind vane, and all the New England charm you would expect. On one end of the lawn, students re were tossing a football,  while others were scattered, lounging in chairs and listening to music or working away on laptops.

 

The Quad Dorm

 

I took a seat and for the next hour, contemplated what being here means to me and what I want to achieve. I realized that this was indeed the balance of social and academic life that was beyond a foreign concept to me. It was more like Indiana’s discovery in the Close Encounters of the Third Kind sort of foreign.

Like many, I have brought my own baggage with me to Harvard, but my hope is to unburden myself of these lingering matters and replace them with new praxes.

It was a great hour of reflection–a word that was somewhat cringe-worthy for me–but it was the equivalent of some serious “couch time.”

I came a long way to find better meaning in education and its reform, from Houston to Cambridge, but sometimes, some of the best lessons can come from your own back yard.

Quad Feet

Cambridge Connection: Farmer’s Markets

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I have enjoyed visiting a couple of the  farmer’s markets in the Cambridge area, perusing the various stalls of produce, locally baked bread, varieties of honey, and flower stalls. For those on the campuses of Harvard and MIT, it is a convenient stop during a break in your day or perhaps on your way home. Prices are comparable to small local grocery or convenience stores on most items, and the quality has been quite good from my experience.

Near Harvard, there is a farmer’s market in the plaza next to the Science Building within Harvard Yard on Tuesdays and in the Charles Hotel courtyard on Fridays and Sundays. On Wednesdays and Thursdays vendors set up shop in the MIT/Kendall Square area.

A map along with days and times of these and other local farmer’s markets can be found here, directly from the City of Cambridge.

Here is a look at some of the goodies I picked up recently.

 

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Freshly cut mixed lettuce from Harvard Farmer’s Market.

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Mixed cherry tomatoes from Cambridge Center Farmer’s Market near MIT/Kendall MBTA station.

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Lots of baked bread choices from “When Pigs Fly Bakery” seen at more than one farmer’s market. Plus an adorable bag in which to carry your loafs home.

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My choice: mango, pineapple, raisin, ginger, and sesame rustic bread. Delish toasted with a butter for breakfast.

 

Some farmer’s markets are open during winter months, but I will be visiting more frequently during the fall while the selection and weather are best.

Happy shopping and eating!

Cambridge Connection: I’m an Ink Blotch

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This post will be the first of many, I hope, side bars on more experiential learning that I have had during my time in Cambridge. Learning does not always have to occur in a Utopian context of the classroom or online–it can take place as life happens!

Before I begin this series called “Cambridge Connections,” which will highlight some activities and items of interest in and around Cambridge/Boston, I thought I would share why this series will be particularly meaningful to me. As I mentioned in a previous post, Harvard is my second chance at redemption, in more ways than one.

1. My first go around at higher education was a successful one–on paper. I graduated with my doctorate 8 days shy of my 24th birthday from an esteemed program and received a job offer within two weeks. Unfortunately, I was miserable for much of the seven years I spent pursuing that goal, and upon graduation, realized that I will likely not be utilizing my degree in the manner in which it was intended. This realization was crushing and the level of self-depreciation that I experienced put me at a new low. The shock of it all had made me quite numb, and I genuinely felt lost and without purpose. I was like the center of an ink blotch, hollow and dark. 

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Modified from original image courtesy of Mburger64

 

I soon found solace and that purpose in teaching, applying my degree to chemistry instruction at the higher ed level, and soon the sense of melancholia slowly faded like an ink blotch drawing. And the rest is history. I  salvaged my degree and honed it into a successful teaching career, to which I am dedicated and inspired by everyday. But the aforementioned ink blotch still had some outer-lying bands of gray that I needed to fade away. Why? Read on…

2. I never enjoyed my university experience as a young adult. There were many factors at play. I became ill for much of the time I was at university, had some personal issues with which to wrestle, and felt the burden of a pressure cooker curriculum, to which I was not entirely certain I belonged. This made me relatively introverted. I seldom conversed with anyone, unless necessary. Needless to say, I did not engage with my peers in class and certainly not outside of it. There was barely any cohort bonding in the form of general gatherings, trips, or school-sponsored activities, and of the few that were, I certainly didn’t feel welcome–that’s just my perspective. I take responsibility for much of this, but I also recall the negativity and chilly vibe that I felt from classmates and some (not all)  faculty. This was not a place I wanted to be nor did I belong. So despite my successful competition of the program, which I have parlayed into a fulfilling and somewhat lucrative career (second time I’ve said this, I know, but I didn’t think in my darkest days that it would happen), I have held onto some resentment from the experience. Okay, a lot of resentment which I have buried deep down into my subconscious…until now. 

Harvard is my second chance at enjoying the experience of education. I have been hearing from my colleagues as well as my family, many of whom met their spouses and life-long friends at college, anecdotes about the “good old days” and how much they wish they could relive the yesteryears. I could not relate, and was determined that I would not let that happen at Harvard.

I have made a very concerted effort to befriend classmates at HGSE, take part in school/cohort bonding activities, student organizations, and extra-curricular activities off campus with my peers. I have also made connections to some faculty and staff, which I have enjoyed immensely. I have had more fun and interaction in these first five weeks that in all seven years of my previous degree. Partly this is due to an effort on my part, but I must also give credit to the amazing people with whom I have crossed paths among these ivy walls. I hope to revisit this post in eight months time and write an update, which I hope will be full of  reflection, vindication, and a restoration of my faith in the human spirit.

If any of my peers or professors read this, thank you sincerely for being so generous with your time, ideas, and friendship. It means more to me than you will ever know.

 

Going Back to Kindergarten…

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I have always thought that to learn something (a skill, an instrument, a language, you name it), you needed to be methodical about how to approach it. I always envied those who could learn to play an instrument by simply doodling with it or playing “by ear.” The same goes for languages. I could never really grasp those skills organically. I always need to have an empiric approach.

Part of my learning journey is to come out of that comfort zone and simply try to learn by doing…not over-thinking.

As part of a Harvard class, “Designing for Learning by Creating,” taught by MIT alum Karen Brennan, my class had the pleasure of hearing Mitch Resnick speak about the Scratch program he helped develop at MIT. This was on the heels of our class creating and presenting our own Scratch projects. Here’s a link to mine…don’t expect to be impressed, but at least I tried.

 

 Mitch Resnick and Karen Brennan at Harvard Graduate School of Education

Mitch Resnick and Karen Brennan at Harvard Graduate School of Education

I wondered how children were so adept at learning this program and yet, it was taking some of us hours to create a 30 second game or simulation to present. Then I heard Dr. Resnick speak about the learning that takes place in children and the mode in which he learn. He likened the ease of learning children possess comes from their approach: lots of experimentation, color, activity, creation, and a lack of fear of failure. We should all go back to kindergarten! Right…

mitch kindergarten

Maybe my problem is that I never went to kindergarten–I started first grade at age 6 in England, not speaking a word of English. Note: a moment of epiphany…this explains so much about me. I did not play with blocks, draw, or play. Perhaps I missed out on one of life’s great rights of passage?

Time for redemption! Lots of this happening in Karen Brennan’s class in T550.

T550 lawn Flickr httpswww.flickr.comgroupst550PUT DASH2014

Student discussions behind Longfellow Hall, from the T550 Flickr Page

 

If you missed Dr. Resnick’s TED talk, it’s available here on YouTube. 

 

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