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How does passion fit into a “design challenge”?


My first thought about passion was that it is contagious.
To give you an example... I've been always more of a techie, but when I heard of the Hardcore History podcast and tried listening to an episode I just kept on listening. Because - even though history didn't interest me much before - it was presented with such passion and quality that I really enjoyed it. (kudos to Dan Carlin)

Let me share my experience hosting a creative learning workshop called the City X Project.
This is really a workshop in design thinking and at the same time an introduction to 3D printing - therefore I ran this workshop in a local makerlab.

The idea about teaching design thinking is to present a design challenge to the kids and then lead them through the steps of the design thinking process: empathize, define, brainstorm, prototype and test.
I find this very useful, as a basic underlying framework for lessons or workshop.
I also totally agree with the need for project and passion.
So how do the two things fit together?

For example... my own children joined our workshop, and since they have already tried 3D printing before they came ready with ideas: "I'm going to 3D print a penguin." ... passion, great.
From that point onwards though it didn't matter how i set up my little introductory story, how I presented the design challenge, how we even brainstormed. Once the kids were left to work on their idea, my kids started working on making a 3D model of their penguin - which I was very happy about except that it had nothing to do with the topic wink

I'm wondering what your thought are about maintaining passion and at the same time guiding the learning process , especially when using "design challenges" (applying design thinking) or open ended questions (SOLE).
If we figured out a way to blend these ideas together that would be a Montessori 2.0 smile




Hi Simon, I think while we plan to teach a specific lesson, we also need to allow for flexibility in learning especially for children who might not be interested in the direction planned but instead veer off into a tangent.

As long as the learning objectives are achieved (aligned to your lesson plan), I think having the kids own their project is a big key factor and their passion would self-motivate them to complete it.


My colleagues and I have developed integrated programs--like a Montessori 2.0--for early childhood. We use a Sensory Alphabet both to give kids open-ended experiences and to provide a vocabulary for finding and expressing passion non-verbally. We focus on creative thinking and exploration of problems and ideas in a variety of traditional and digital media. If this interests you, look at


Thanks. @drcrh How does NewWorldKids manifest itself? are your running the program or offering the curriculum? It appears as you are working at "the Foundry" but I don't seem to find it online....
I also don't get the idea of the "missing alphabet"... I guess I need to read your book smile Is it possible to sum it up briefly?


It’s hard to put it in a nutshell, but I’ll try!

New World Kids (NWK) is a program and curriculum developed by the Foundry intended to identify and nurture the creative strengths of diverse children. The program/curriculum cannot be purchased without the teacher training, which is done by the Foundry. For the last five years or so, the program has been implemented year round at Big Thought’s “Thriving Minds” in the Dallas Independent School District as an afterschool program, at Creative Action in the Austin Independent School District both in school and after school and in different formats, and at several museums, such as the Aldrich in Connecticut as a two-week summer or afterschool program.

The Missing Alphabet is a book for parents with the same philosophy and intent. It refers to what we call “The Sensory Alphabet:” line, color, texture, shape, sound, movement, rhythm, light and space. (Look up our book on Amazon—we got great reviews from parents, educators and researchers.)

NWK begins with an exploration of each of these elements in the Sensory Alphabet, which provide a vocabulary bridge between our sensory experiences and our creative work across the curriculum. This Alphabet also provides glimpses into each child’s natural creative strengths. For example, a child who really loves space and shape might be a budding architect; another child who loves texture might be a budding textile artist, cook or even a surgeon. Our passions arise from these natural strengths—what we are good at or desire to be good at. We provide media (including digital), materials, experiences, problems, etc., to help build on these natural strengths and we use an open-ended structure for lessons so that children have more or less choice in their responses. We include a simple reflection at the end of each lesson with these young children by asking, “What activity did you like best today?” This provides us, them and their parents clues as to where their passions might lie.

All our work is based on 40+ years of work with children, parents and educators and is based on current neuroscience, cognitive studies (including multiple intelligences) and best practices in education. I’m the Education Director of the Foundry, Cynthia Herbert, and have a PhD in Developmental Psychology.


Thanks Cythia.

Our passions arise from these natural strengths—what we are good at or desire to be good at. Neuroscience supports this notion—as does common sense! Our brains are designed to seek meaning and educators are encouraged to develop lessons that build on what is personally significant to their students.

Isn't this a bit of the nature vs.nurture debate?
To give you a counter example: I am really bad at music. Do I have a passion for it? Well, I finished Guitar Hero on level 1. And it was fun. Sure I do.
Would it be a good career choice? That's another question.

I think what you're suggesting is
1. use the "sensory alphabet"" to establish a vocabulary with the children
2. using some exercises discover the innate strength
3. use this knowledge to tailor (otherwise open ended) learning tasks for the child, this way boosting the passion they feel while going down the path of learning


If you want to know where I stand on the nature/nurture debate, you can call me a constructivist. Both are important--it is the interaction of the child with his world that makes the difference.

The idea is not to lock kids into a label, but rather to help them develop their own self understanding and to feel comfortable with what they know and do not know. We want them to have the confidence to appreciate the diversity in people without feeling either superior or inferior and the resilience to pursue whatever skills/knowledge they need or want.

About the music: When I sang, people (even loved ones) would put fingers in their ears. But I enjoy singing and want to encourage teachers I work with to be unafraid to sing with their students. It took me 30 years but I learned how to carry a tune. I will never be an expert in music but I can use it as I wish. I would not say it was passion that lead me to improve--it was grit! And learning to sing fed my main passion, which is to help kids find and use their unique creative talents to help make the life they want to lead and deal with the challenges they will face. Also, I want teachers and parents to recognize
when music (or whatever) is a passion for a child and do what they can to feed that passion--and not just share/encourage their own passions.


It's a bit off-topic... i'm wondering why with NewWorldKids you didn't decide for a more open licensing of the program... like OER Commons for instance.


Again a longish answer!

First of all, the Foundry is a small organization and we are senior citizens. We think we have wisdom and a legacy to offer. We know we have grit!

I do have some materials that are open source: For 15 years, I worked with teachers from Latin America who came to the US to study for a year and then return to rural areas in their countries to act as change agents. During this time I developed materials for training teachers to employ learner-centered, brain friendly strategies in their instruction. These are free to anyone who can read Spanish and are called Como crear una leccion inolvidable (CCULI). You can find them here:!bajar/ct1j USAID decided to end the program last June, although it consistently received high marks from external, international evaluators. I still keep in touch with many of the 300-400 teachers I worked with--via social media. These materials can be adopted into classrooms as they are--with the subjects--reading, math, science, etc. taught separately. I also have older materials (most not digitized) written in English that are similar and I worked over 40 years with public schools and other venues to differentiate the curriculum.

However, as a child I came from a different tradition. I attended after school classes where the philosophy was that all of us are creative, that diversity is good, and that creative thinking can be practiced and learned. It also was what we may now call "metacognitive" in that we thought and talked about thinking and creating and tried to understand our own best ways of thinking and learning. I worked with that program and its extensions over 30 years--but each time I worked with schools, I had to start with the state or national test and work in narrow silos of subject and grade.

I got tired of working with school as is and having to always start with high stakes testing or at least use it to justify the programs I did. My colleagues and I wanted NWK to be the best expression of what we had learned over the years. We decided to begin with summer, after school and/or museums and develop programs like the one I had experienced as a child. We carefully structured the program to be more and more open-ended, both for the teachers and kids, and NWK is rich with layers of experience. However, people browsing through the program could (and have!) just cherry pick favorite activities and ignore the structure. So for now, we only sell the curriculum with dozens of creative, fun and interesting experiences to those who are willing to be trained in the underlying philosophy and structure. This may change and we are exploring possibilities.

What would you do if you wanted to share important ideas but did not want to see them diluted?


I think that a great opportunity for an open learning environment is that it also opens up new channels of networking. For me, this speaks volumes about the nature of sharing in context with others' learning spirals.

An example that I have is that I recently set up a workshop day at my local Hackerspace. I left things open ended and tinkered with the format, but an overall theme that I had in mind for the event related to big projects for the MaKey MaKey.

We got a couple of the exercises I had in mind accomplished and a couple people took the initiative and resources to dive in on their MaKey MaKey projects, but some participants were working on projects that were not related to MaKey MaKey or even electronics.

However, they were all big projects. One of our members and his daughter pulled a boat at the space down to assess it and take next steps on its progress. Other members were installing new shelving systems around the space and looking at some in kind donations we'd just received. One member worked on his 3D printer to print figurines of relatives he had scanned. A few people helped with some much needed space inventory, and we had a variety of other projects going on.

In this situation, the theme I had in mind was very basic: big projects. Even though I had a particular set of lessons, exercises, and overarching concepts that was important to me, we had coexisting passions that were centric to a more inclusive theme: big projects. I had some people stay with me through the whole thing with what I was doing, I had some people who cherrypicked a few items and applied concepts to their passions, and I even had some people that chose to work on other projects instead. We frequently have this occur at our workshops, we only ask those using the space and participating to honor a few informal considerations such as respectful volume and space use using critical thinking case by case when an organized event is going on.

I like this approach, but what do you think?


Well, that is a hard question and I am struggling with finding an answer as well...

A couple of points to consider though:

There are great benefits when ideas can spread. You didn't give the financial gain as your main motivation for locking down the program - which is respectable by the way - but rather it seems you want to protect its integrity.
The Creative Commons no derivative works clause may give some protection.
Besides, what really happens in the field is beyond control - even if you "train the trainers".

Which leads to my second thought. This model - which is common in educational franchises - where people need to be present in a physical location (i.e. fly to Texas) and take training in a brick and mortar class room is the case of having a digital product (or a product that we could digitize) that is distributed via a physical channel.
We can think of this as four quadrants, along the axes of
- is the product/service primary digital
- is it delivered via a digital or physical channel?
For example the Apple AppStore would be an example of digital products delivered via a digital channel, whereas Walmart is an example of physical products delivered via a physical channel.
The point where I'm getting at is that you don't want to be in the quadrant where the product or service is primary digital - or can be turned digital - and have it delivered via a physical channel.
Think of Blockbusters video rental vs. Netflix, or newspaper publishers vs. online magazines.

So @drcrh to answer your question, yes I think training the trainers prevent the dilution of ideas.
I would suggest different means for delivering that training. (hint: we're on a MOOC's forum wink)

I'm working on an education startup called Warmer Sun ...
Coming from a software engineer background I may have different skills and/or biases: I set up the website to provide and online community - using Discourse, the same forum software that we are using here; and open edX, the same MOOC platform that MIT and many others use. (btw this is the power of the democratization that true open source provides ...)
My goal is to develop workshop materials in the areas of different emerging technologies - 3D printing to be the first - and offer these training materials in the form of downloadable lesson plans, instructor guides and supplementary resources.

Going back to OERCommons, what makes me think a lot these days is that most of their licenses do not allow for commercial use. If you want true, wildfire like growth then you have to allow for commercial use in some form because venturing enthusiasts should be able to run these programs in community centres - where they would of course charge for it.


@James_B I'm still thinking that as an educator you do want to control the "open-endedness" and set some constraints of a theme or topic that you are guiding the children to explore and dig deeper into.



I'm enjoying our exchange, Tamas. We are working both on digital courses to be distributed through a non-profit with a large national educational audience and disseminating our materials through a national (for profit) educational publisher. We hope to create a partnership so that educators could buy the materials at a decent price from one and have training for a modest fee from the other. Of course, many people may choose one and not the other. As you can see, this will certainly mean loss of much of our own control, so we are also working on other ways to reach parents and teachers. All of this is challenging but my passion is to share my ideas and experiences to help kids!


I like your approach, James, and it works well for your objectives. Giving kids and others opportunities to work with a variety of new media and materials in creative ways is terribly important. Also, I, myself, am very much a "hands-on" learner and would so have appreciated more of those opportunities growing up. The difference: In my curricula, the children/participants themselves are the main subjects. We aim to provide experiences wherein the learners will learn something about themselves and their own best ways of thinking and learning. Our programs for little kids aim to help them be better prepared to take advantage of what you have to offer. If they have a budding understanding of their own best ways of working, can appreciate diversity and that they don't have to be naturally good at everything, are used to using all their senses, are used to playing with lots of materials and media, and if they are not worried about "failure," they will have the confidence and experiences needed to gain the most from your programs. My suggestions are few and you may already be doing them!

Inventory people who come to find out their interests and/or why they are there.

Think about kids that would "hate" to do what you are asking them to do and consider things they would love.

Provide a few additional materials that may spark their thinking: colored paper and markers? little dolls or action figures? a video camera? glue and glitter? a funny hat? a partner?

As kids leave, ask them what they liked (or not) and get any suggestions they have.


This is interesting...
How much time, how many sessions is needed for this self discovery?
This would be wonderful if you could blend it in to any curriculum.

I'm a strong believer of material over method: what you do (or study) is more important than how you do it. Otherwise it becomes a sort of efficient vs effective.
So I'd still prefer there to be a topic of learning other than l'art pour l'art "passion discovery".