Friday, February 26, 2016

The Power of a More Beautiful Question

Last week, middle school students had the opportunity to engage in an inspiring visit from retired U.S. Army Captain, Will Reynolds during an assembly. Dressed in a suit and tie, Capt. Reynolds, talked to our students about motivation, character, and overcoming adversity.  About halfway through his presentation, he shared the following video:

After watching the video, everyone in the room soon realized that Capt. Reynolds had a prosthetic leg.  He then began to tell us the story about how he lost his leg following an explosion while deployed in Iraq.  During the rest of the presentation, he shared inspiring stories, ideas, and advice to our middle school students.  Finally, at the end of his presentation, he showed our students his prosthetic foot called the "Cheetah", which he uses to run and perform other physical activities.  As soon as I saw his foot, I made an immediate connection to the current book I am reading, A More Beautiful Question.

"If they can put a man on the moon, why can't they make a decent foot?" [1]

This is the question that Van Phillips asked back in 1976 after he was in a water skiing accident and lost his leg from the knee down.  At the hospital, Phillips was fitted with a replacement foot that was beyond unsatisfactory.  He then asked a different question, "Why should I settle for this lousy foot?" [1] In his pursuit for making a better foot, he asked another question, "I wonder if this prototype will hold up better than the last one?" [1] Van soon fell into the loop of failing, then building new iterations of a prosthetic foot. Until one day, he asked a more "beautiful" question, "What if you could somehow replicate a diving board's propulsive effect in a prosthetic foot? What if a human leg could be more like a cheetah's?" [1]

Photo taken with Capt. Will Reynolds
beautiful question is defined as, "an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something--and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change" (p. 8). [1] But having a question is just philosophical thinking.  In order to bring about change, Van had to begin trying to answer his own question. He had to turn his question into action.

That is when Van had a breakthrough with Flex-Foot prosthetics, which completely revolutionized the prosthetics industry [1]. His new "Cheetah foot" was a curved blade that resembled the letter "C" and acted as a springboard propelling the user forward. Van's invention was able to help so many amputees walk, run, and engage in physical activity again.  Most famously, Oscar Pistorius used this prosthetic "Cheetah foot" on both legs when he competed in the 2012 Olympics.

It was such an honor to meet Will Reynolds and to see the true power that a question can have.  If it weren't for Van PhillipsWill Reynolds might not have been able to accomplish the goals he had after his leg was amputated.  Fortunately, as an accomplished athlete prior to his injury, combined with new technology in prosthetics, Reynolds began cycling as part of his rehabilitation and now races on a competitive team. More impressively, Capt. Reynolds has also competed in the Invictus Games for wounded warriors, winning four bronze medals at the 2014 event in men’s classified 100-meter and 200-meter athletics sprints, the Road Race, and the Time Trial in cycling.

Van Phillips continues to ask questions such as, "Why does it have to cost so much? What if the design were tweaked in some way--through new materials, different processes--so as to make the limb accessible to more people?  How might I make that work?" (p. 38). [1] To this day, Van Phillips has never lost sight of his original question and is still passionate about the innovation of prosthetics.

I think this is such an amazing lesson to share with our students.  The lesson -- that questions can be incredibly powerful -- if there is dedicated action following the questions.  Let's get our students excited about asking questions.  Let's keep them excited about asking questions.  And let's challenge them to refine and to pursue their questions.  Who knows ... they too, might be able to change the world one day.

You might also like

Promoting Inquiry and Exploration with Primary Resources
Curiosity: The Simplest and Most Powerful Learning Technology
Is this a Googleable or a Non-Googleable Question?
Inquiring about Inquiry

  1. Berger, W. (2014). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.
  2. Rothstein, D., & Santana, L. (2011). Make just one change: Teach students to ask their own questions. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press
  3. How Prince Harry's Invictus Games Help His Military 'Brothers and Sisters' Heal: 'We Are His Community'

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

How Do You Learn in the Digital Age?

flickr photo by GotCredit
shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

In lieu of Digital Learning Day 2016, I thought I would ask a very simple question, "How do you learn in the digital age?" Even though this is a simple question, the answer can be very complex. The reason is because there are so many resources, learning styles, and strategies that can be used today to gain and share information.

In a world that is constantly evolving, it is arguably more important than ever to engage in continuous professional learning.  As educators in this world, it is often difficult to keep up with the latest research, new technology, and best practices.  However, in order to prepare our students for their future, we need to be continually asking ourselves these challenging questions:

  • What am I doing to stay informed of the latest research in education?
  • What am I doing to keep updated with transformative technology tools and resources?
  • What am I doing to ensure that I am implementing best practices in my classroom?

While taking graduate courses is a great way to answer these questions, it can become very expensive and time consuming.  Therefore, I would argue that it is more cost-effective and time-sensitive to create your own Professional Learning Community (PLC). By creating a PLC, you will be able to connect, learn, and share with other passionate educators from around the world, at your convenience.  Here are a few ways to start building a PLC in order to keep current in education. 

Engage in social media

Did you know that you can search Twitter without having an account?  If you are new to social media, this is the first place that I would start.  By visiting Twitter and searching for educational hashtags, you can view or "lurk" conversations around specific topics in education, even without contributing.  I would recommend searching the following hashtags: #edchat, #edtechchat, #edtech, and #education.  For a more comprehensive list of other educational hashtags and Twitter chat schedules, visit Twitter Chats for Educators.  If you would like to view multiple hashtags at once, I recommend using Tweetdeck for a "bird's eye view". 

As you begin reading these conversations, try to "follow" colleagues, educators, and organizations that you highly value.  This will help you to start building a base for your PLC.  And when you are ready, I encourage you to participate in these conversations. Everyone has something to contribute to a conversation.  Even you!

Let information come to you

One of the biggest challenges of online learning is the fact that there are so many websites and resources that are out there.  In order to learn more efficiently, we not only need to be consuming information, we need to be curating information.  Rather than going out and searching for websites, why not let websites come to you?  

By using a RSS Reader, you can choose to subscribe to your favorite websites and blogs for free! What's more, you can organize and manage these resources into custom categories of your choice.  I would recommend using Feedly to begin filtering your favorite resources.  To get started, I would recommend following, or subscribing to the following websites:

Participate in a local EdCamp

EdCamps are one of the most innovative professional development opportunities that exist today. Why, you might ask?  Because, not only are they free events, but there is no schedule or agenda. Topics are organically created the morning of the event and any participant can volunteer to lead a session.  EdCamps are increasingly sweeping the nation and are changing the way that we learn as professional educators.  Check out some of the upcoming events and take a creative risk by signing up for one near you. 

For your consideration

In addition to these examples, there are many other creative ways to engage in a PLC. Consider using your Google+ account to follow your colleagues and join educational Communities.  Consider using Diigo to bookmark, organize, and share your favorite articles and resources on the Web.  And consider signing up for a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) at to learn about meaningful topics with others for free. 

If there are other ways that you are learning in the digital age, please share by posting a comment. Happy Digital Learning Day, and happy learning!

You might also like

The Teacher’s Guide To Twitter
George Couros on Social Media
My Personal Learning Network is the most awesomest thing ever!!