Friday, November 16, 2012

Interbeing...from Thích Nhất Hạnh

From: The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart SutraThich Nhat Hanh 
If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb “to be,” we ha vea new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.
If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And wesee the wheat. We now the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.
Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here-time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.
Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper will be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of “non-paper elements.” And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without “non-paper elements,” like mind, logger, sunshine and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

SparkTruck’s Surprise Lesson: Using Design Skills to Build Kids’ Character

SparkTruck’s Surprise Lesson: Using Design Skills to Build Kids’ Character

When Eugene Korsunskiy and seven of his fellow students from Stanford University’s set out to tour the nation in a brightly painted truck full of laser cutters and rapid prototyping machines, they thought they were bringing a chance to play with high-tech maker tools to school kids who hadn’t had one yet.
And they were: SparkTruck, the educational make-mobile, made 73 stops this summer, treating 2,679 elementary and middle school students to hands-on workshops covering the basics of electrical engineering and digital fabrication, and giving a chance to make cool stuff in the process, like small robotic creatures and laser-cut rubber stamps.
But as the summer progressed, the SparkTruck team learned an unlikely lesson. The most rewarding part of the trip wasn’t introducing the kids to new technologies. Instead it was something far more basic: watching them struggle with design problems.
Only one of the SparkTruck team had training in education. But when the group planned its workshops, Korsunskiy explained, they knew they wanted to emphasize the same skills and processes they’d learned in design school. “Somewhere in each activity, we wanted the kids to get stuck, physically or mentally,” he said.
The point wasn’t to torture children, but to force them to work through an open-ended problem on their own.
Some teachers were skeptical. “One teacher told us, ‘My students are so conditioned to thinking that I’ll give them the right answers,’” Korsunskiy said. She didn’t think the group’s approach, which Korsunskiy summarized as “giving [kids] the space but not giving them the answers,” would work.
Jason Chua inside the SparkTruck; 3-D printers in the foreground. Photo: Larry Rippel.
Sure enough, the SparkTruck team noticed kids’ resistance. Presented with a design problem, studentswould get stuck — and as the teacher predicted, they would come to the facilitators and ask, ‘How do I do this?’ They would beg, plead, and get frustrated. The SparkTruck team would withhold answers, instead asking a kid with, for example, no idea how to keep her robot from falling over, ‘How do youthink it cold be done?’
Eventually, the hard-nosed approach paid off. “After an interaction like that, you see a gear shift in [a kid's] head,” said Korsunskiy. “Once you make it clear that you’re not there to provide the answer, they completely rise to the challenge.”
Unwittingly, the team had stumbled into a big problem — and a gathering cultural debate. According to social scientists (and the journalists who popularize their work), American children are said to be weenies, much more helpless and less resourceful than their age-matched peers in other countries. In educational settings, American kids are worryingly lacking in the faculty known as “grit,” the one that allows people to power through difficult problems, absorbing and learning from setbacks rather than giving up.
The point isn’t that young Americans are destined to be this way, but that somehow, amid all our prosperity, we’ve stopped giving kids the conditions they need to become self-sufficient.
Jason and Eugene lead a Vibrobots workshop in WQED, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo: SparkTruck.
Could hands-on, design-inspired education help? Korsunskiy and his team think so. Design lessons, Korsunisky noted, are based around creative problem-solving. They’re not about memorizing right answers but about developing critical thinking skills, learning to work through problems in a repeated process of brainstorming, testing solutions, and going back to the drawing board. In short, this kind of education builds the very skills of perseverance and intellectual independence that parents, teachers, and social critics say that American children have in short supply.
For Korsunskiy, watching students hit a wall — and then figure out a way over (or around) it — was the most rewarding part of the SparkTruck experience.
Students of today aren’t necessarily going to need to know how to operate, say, a CNC router, he noted. But if this generation is to succeed, it will absolutely need to know “how to approach hairy, multi-variate problems without freaking out” — he name-checked climate change and the obesity epidemic — i.e., to be able to leverage the skills and mindset that a shop-class environment can instill.
As the summer went on, the SparkTruck team shifted focus, beginning to feel more like emissaries for that problem-solving mindset and design process, rather than for the bright, shiny machines in the back.
Which isn’t to say that the machines aren’t helpful for grabbing the attention of students — and educators too.
“When we say we have laser cutters and 3-D printers on board, that makes it way more exciting to principals and teachers,” Korsunskiy said. “We sneak the thing about creativity in the back door.”