Thoughts: Building NIFTI 2.0

October 18th, 2021


Last weekend, we kicked off the second year of the NIFTI program. I am calling it NIFTI 2.0 – The Sustainable Futures Initiative. Our primary focus will be on sustainability design thinking. There are many situations where sustainability design thinking is absent. The California water crisis is one.

The YCISL program sees sustainability design thinking as comprising smart programming, debugging and release to early adopters as prototypes. We will coach students to get divergent-convergent thinking to be instinctual and an essential ingredient of their emotional intelligence practice.

The new NIFTI will be less about career guidance, and more about upgraded and upgradable thinking skills. We will pollinate NIFTI with exercises from the ITW program so that students can envision what the next-generation of leadership needs to do – and how to do it.

If we were to give the current NIFTI group of students the challenge of solving the California water crisis, how would the divergent-convergent thinking process go? I think first we will have a long list of people who would be accountable. We will then have a comprehensive list of reasons for the water crisis perception. On the convergent side, we would design innovative solutions – perhaps a trio that get all stakeholders to realize we have a glass half full and the challenge is to get it more full, and not prevent it from getting emptier.

One of the premises I presented in the introduction to NIFTI 2.0 is “Sustainability has a PR problem” and that this explains why sustainability is stuck (stuck in the negatives as Alison Ledgerwood puts it) – and why it is so hard to move ahead. I am hoping that the NIFTI students will learn design thinking strategies to make sustainability behavior popular (like phenomenally popular) and practically naturally. And this leads to our NIFTI Roundtable 2021 topic of “Sustainability in Education.”

Google Data Studio: YCISL Skills Survey

October 7th, 2021

I have been wondering how to create web dashboards and came across Google Data Studio. While learning how to use Google Data Studio, I played with visualizing the results from the YCISL Skills Survey. I aggregated the results from several YCISL workshops including two NIFTI programs, one ITW workshop and one YCISL Focus Group; there were responses from 107 students.

I will be starting the another NIFTI program next week and will update this dashboard when the survey results are in.

First, a few things I learned about using Google Data Studio:

  1. Collect GEO information. Google Data Studio includes a Google Maps chart which looks cool and would show the worldwide reach of the YCISL program.
  2. Try to eliminate chances for duplicate entries. I use Google Forms to do the survey and that is collected into Google Sheets. I manually moved data from each event’s survey to an aggregate Google Sheet from which Google Data Studio accesses data. I did this because I needed to clean out duplicates manually in Google Sheets.
  3. Include time stamp information. This allows Google Data Studio to display data from different time frames.

And now some observations about what I found through Google Data Studio:

  1. Students rated their Positivity skills very high at 4 or 5. This is a great indication of growth mindset.
  2. Students rated their Design Skills as average with most choosing 3. This suggests that we could discuss the meaning of “design” in the same way we discuss the broadness of “creativity” and “leadership” so every one feels that it is accessible. It was also interesting to see that design was the skill most students wanted to improve. Fits well with our programming on design thinking and design-build.
  3. There are also several students who rate various skills at 1 or 2. This could be an indication of no prior exposure or poor past experiences. Pushes our YCISL program to try to turn this around by creating memorable great experiences.

Looking forward to collecting more survey feedback and updating this dashboard.

CNA: The PSLE Math problem that got everyone calculating – and asking

October 3rd, 2021

In my CNA app today (Sunday October 3, 2021), I read an article about a math test problem that reportedly caused immense distress among test-takers and their parents…plus caused a wave of reactions on social media. The story “The PSLE Math problem that got everyone calculating – and asking Why do Helen and Ivan have so much change when everyone’s gone cashless?” was written by Khoo Bee Khim.

The test question as reported in the article was…

Helen and Ivan had the same number of coins. Helen had a number of 50-cent coins, and 64 20-cent coins. These coins had a mass of 1.134kg. Ivan had a number of 50-cent coins and 104 20-cent coins.

1) Who has more money in coins and by how much?

2) Given that each 50-cent coin is 2.7g more heavier than a 20-cent coin, what is the mass of Ivan’s coins in kilograms?

I gave a go at solving the problem. I initially started on a spreadsheet then moved to a pen and paper (and calculator). I scribbled an equality expression and after 10 minutes reached an answer for part 1 when I realized it wasn’t an equality problem. Then I contemplated an approach to part 2 and set up an equality expression for that and reached an answer. My answer for part 1 was correct, but I had done an addition when a subtraction was called for in part 2 and had the wrong answer initially. Switching the addition to a subtraction got the correct answer. I am an average C-student after all.

After this experience, I feel this was a fair question and showed which students had high organizational thinking skills. There are other factors in play as well though. These include:

(1) the ability to interpret story-based questions. We know that girls tend to do better in this area.

(2) the comfort with unknowns. Most students are conditioned to be able to manage two unknowns in a problem: x and y. This two-part question had three unknowns in part 2, but one of them was already expressed in part 1. There was sequential dependency. So the issue here was the perceived high uncertainty because the problem had two parts. In coding, we might call this nested logic.

(3) tracking units. Some students may have got the wrong answer in part 2 because weight information was given in kg and g. This is a classic “trick” in STEM problem solving.

(4) test context. If this question was considered part of the “hardest” part of the test, then perhaps we could assume most of the rest was…less hard? There is also strategy in where this and other “hardest” questions were placed in the test…beginning…middle…or end. This would be the stamina and change of pace factors. In the real world, if this problem was the only one that needed to be solved in day, how many people would be successful?

(5) test balance. Was this question building on a previous problem that tested a similar math skill but in a simpler context? Ever had a test where every single question was “hardest” and filled with booby-traps? I have…once.

In relation to what we discuss in YCISL, I wonder whether students will ever need this particular math solving skill? And after answering that, will the educational system ever help students to become masters at solving this type of problem?

Furthermore, this question is outright positioned on the reasoning side of thinking skills. The storyline set-up is a distraction and perhaps a creativity decoy. There are many ways to make this a creativity-testing question or even a real world type question. Maybe one day, our tests will advance to that more emotionally intelligent level.

Love the Instagrams really though…!

YCISL Skills Survey: Which skill group do you want to improve the most?

September 17th, 2021

In 2019, we presented the idea of EQ-fying Schools, Classrooms & Learning in order to optimize the level of engagement. We postulated that current teaching paradigms exclude evaluation and optimization of emotional intelligence of students and the instructor, and that leads to fuzzy learning. We envisioned a smart dashboard for instructors that would help in course preparation. Data would include student academic records (mainly to identify gaps), learning strengths and weaknesses, and conditional preferences. For example, does the student typically need to be taught a math concept one or five times before it is mastered?

A creativity skills survey was designed and prototyped for a Stanford Sustainability Design Thinking course in 2020. A similar survey was then applied to various ITW workshops in 2020 and 2021. One of the questions (multiple choice) in the survey is “Which skill group do you want to improve the most?” In the YCISL context, this question is aimed at informing the instructor on student motivation and self-awareness. The survey is still in the prototype phase because we have had short programs and long programs, small groups and larger groups, and so on. So we are learning how the survey works in various settings.

However, I came across a YouTube video today on a cool way of displaying data in infographics so I thought I would try it out. The following infographic show the response to the above-mentioned question by a group of students from a university in Japan attending a YCISL Focus Group.

Almost half the students were interested in improving their creativity skills which is great because the YCISL program focuses on creativity (or more specifically creative energy). Many students were interested in improving their communication skills which is helpful to know since we have our elevator pitch exercise. Having this kind of information could help us balance our workshop agenda with accurate eq awareness & management.

Thoughts: Framing Your Design Thinking Story

September 17th, 2021

In the YCISL program, particularly with the project work, we have been taking our asking questions design thinking method and placing it in a storytelling frame. When ideating concepts, teams have to ask Who? What? Where? When? Why? & How? questions regarding the story frame they wish to open presentation of their concept. The aim is to engage the viewer to share or empathize with the problem or need. In a Thinking Out Loud session I recently presented in, I had students “doodle” a scene where their product and user were together. I asked them to try to answer as many of the design thinking questions as they could through their doodle sketch. Working on such a sketch helps teams learn their concept’s positioning and application circumstance as well as opportunities for adding details and filling gaps.

The doodle sketch above reflects an exercise I have used where we look at sustainability in bathroom lighting.

Want to try this method? Here is a 3-step method to try:

  1. Form and answer the design thinking questions.
  2. Make a preliminary sketch using the answers.
  3. Add details to the sketch to focus on one concept message (eg, your problem statement or your concept statement).

Bonus: give your sketch a title (could be your concept title).

NewSchools Venture Fund: A YCISL Perspective

September 14th, 2021

Last week, I sent in a job application for the position of Associate Partner, Innovative Schools at the NewSchools Venture Fund. My cover letter stated that I was seeking flexible part-time activity that would complement my Stanford youth creativity project. Apparently what I was offering was a non-starter which is not a big surprise. But since I found what they were doing quite interesting in the education space, I will write a brief entry here to share my views of their mission and strategy.

Their “Our Model” statement is quite compelling. The words “philanthropy”, “partnership” and “innovative” are the three keywords that I would pick out for their main feature list. To choose one sentence that I feel represents the overall effort, it would be “We seek out promising innovators from around the country, and invest in those with the greatest potential to improve student learning and make a positive impact.” A highly revealing design thinking statement. It has the Who? Where? What? How? and Why? that I ask for in the YCISL Asking Questions Design Thinking method. There is no When? element here or elsewhere in the Our Model statement. I think it should be added.

On their Core Values page, they list Bold, Passionate, Connected, Inclusive and Accountable. This reminds me of my visit with the Lili`uokalani Trust – in several respects. Admirable. In terms of a YCISL review of the core values, I think of Satoru Iwata’s GDC Keynote statement about his business card, mind and heart, and there is a fairly good connection with these core values: Accountable->Business Card, Connected & Inclusive->Mind, Bold & Passionate->Heart. YCISL-type words that may work better in characterizing the needed effort include: Mindful, Uplifting & Optimistic (reflective of our fondness for emotional intelligence and positivity).

Actually, even beyond the inconvenience of the flexible part-time condition in my application, there is admittedly sparing overlap of interests. Awkward momentary silence. The YCISL program is based on a premise that there is a universal lack of creativity in education and that leads to educational misses. The YCISL program is open to all and we have hope to assist any young person at any interface who will take personal ownership and has a desire to improve their own life. Let’s just say our napkin doodle may be quite different from their napkin doodle. Still, we can learn from each other.


LinkedIn: The Lego Data Story

September 4th, 2021

You know, YCISL and “Lego” (the pieces) have been together since the start. We’ve had our Lego Exercise since our first workshop in 2011. We’ve used it to demonstrate creativity, visualization and team collaboration.

In my LinkedIn newsfeed this week, I saw a graphic that uses Lego pieces. I managed to trace it back to a company called Hot Butter Studio and a photographer named Brandon Rossen. The LinkedIn version is an extended modification of the original and I found yet an even more extended version on Reddit in an article titled “The Lego Data Story, adapted from original image by Monica Rosales Ascenio.

I find the LinkedIn version thought provoking when it comes to design thinking. In our YCISL ITW-DTI design thinking workshops, we are using an asking questions method to acquire pieces of information that subsequently get architectured into a story worldview. This model also fits well with our Divergent-Convergent Thinking Feature List exercise where we gather as many options as possible, categorize them into priority levels, and use select attributes to differentiate for innovation.

I feel the “Explained with a Story” step enters the emotional intelligence realm by applying resources with purpose and meaning. The prior four steps (data, sorted, arranged & presented visually) are essentially analysis steps and would be considered part of the knowledge intelligence …and as per the YCISL KI + EI -> LI formula, we need to flex our EQ to achieve leadership and success.

If we also remind ourselves of Sir Ken Robinson’s thought that “In fact, creativity — which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value — more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.”…we also can appreciate the Actionable (Useful) extension of this graphic because the energy we put into our own creativity is intrinsically motivating when we receive feedback that we are serving something of value (further credit to Richard St John’s thought “…you’ve got to serve others something of value.”)

CNBC: “How Common Core Broke U.S. Schools”

August 9th, 2021

My YouTube feed today presented a video posted by CNBC titled “How Common Core Broke U.S. Schools.” The description for the video reads “First implemented in 2009, Common Core was an ambitious initiative to revolutionize the American education system. National leaders from Bill Gates to President Obama supported the idea and it cost an estimated $15.8 billion to implement. Years later, research showed the new curriculum had minimal impact on student performance. So why did Common Core fail? Can a common curriculum be successful for all students?”

Around 2010, my kids were in middle and high school. Race to Nowhere was making headlines with special screenings in communities and raised awareness about stress and anxiety in schools. I also recall two other programs with imagery-filled titles, “Race to the Top” and “No Child Left Behind,” that were adding fuel to an already burning problem. They were both huge funding efforts which by-passed Rory Sutherland’s fourth quadrant and the Ministry of Detail. Common Core apparently was also a product of this funding movement and, according to the CNBC report, failed to gain traction…ever.

The video reports on resistance to change (probably resulting from a poor elevator pitch) as well as crosswinds such as adoption of computers, e-textbooks, cultural shifts, and socioeconomic tides. This was the time when educators were discussing teaching framework alternatives that were working, but policymakers were fixated on testing, test scores and accountability. While Common Core didn’t really cause more damage to an already hurting K-12 educational program, it essentially helped the education industry grow at the expense of student learning…quasi-equilibrium so to speak. Entering college students were less well-prepared and colleges started having to offer more remedial catch-up courses (related to tuition increases?). Degree programs of study either got extended because instructors were stretched or terminated early because students couldn’t get past lower division courses. On top of this, government policy was driving increases in college enrollment and the value of an undergraduate degree declined (supply & demand, I guess).

The Common Core isn’t necessarily a bad idea. In fact, it’s a great idea. The issue may have been with the innovation & design thinking process. In YCISL-speak, the Common Core did not seem to possess emotional intelligence or intrinsic motivation. SAT/ACT, Subject tests and AP tests were the de-facto standards of achievement…and not interfaced with actual school learning. The knowledge gaps that Salman Khan had referred to were going to get worse.

Standards-based examination tied to school learning is in place almost everywhere in the world…except in the US. Standards-based education programs even have overseas influence (that is, outside the country where it is the national program). We also have the International Baccalaureate (IB) program which is standards-based and intentionally available by design for adoption internationally.

A greater disappointment lies in the poor outcome of the Common Core despite the sense and awareness that was sparked by Sir Ken Robinson’s TEDTalk “Schools Kill Creativity.” Maybe the next challenge should be Common Core 2.0 for 10% of the cost of the original Common Core. Some thriftiness might get some wiser moves.


Thoughts: 3 Rubric Statements for YCISL Leadership

July 24th, 2021

YCISL is anatomically a leader-shaping youth program. It started 10 years ago. In that time since, what have we learned from our interactions and programming? Here are three rubric statements about the YCISL sense of leadership.

  1. The Person (30 points).
    • Is the person self-aware? How do they answer the question “Tell me about yourself“?
    • Does the person see themselves as having an ability for self-improvement? Does the resume show a history of self-improvement? What did they do today that supports their growth? What is on their skills roadmap for happiness and success?
    • What is the person’s worldview? Can the person describe their worldview using the asking questions design thinking method? Is there attention to detail in this worldview?
    • What are the dynamics in the person’s worldview? What verbs describe the actions? What adverbs?
  2. The Personal Story (30 points)
  3. The Senses & Sensibilities (30 points)
    • Can the person express a sense of purpose (and be honest about it)? Is the person comfortable with expressing their sense of purpose? Is the sense of purpose simple & authentic (no acting) enough to follow?
    • What does the person prescribe to build a sense of motivation? What self-motivation practices does the person use? Can the person describe some intrinsic motivation social experiments? [Automatic fail grade if the person thinks money solves problems.]
    • What energizes the person’s life senses? Can the person switch modes according to energy demands such as for quick bursts, peak periods, resistance, resilience & recovery? Does the person have renewable energy resources?
  • Bonus Category (10 points)
    • Is the person a scholar? Do they read? Do they listen? Do they ideate? Do they think critically? Do they interpret (data & information) fluently? Do they feel the freedom to explore? Do they learn from failure and clean up their worst mistakes?
    • Does the person inspire others to (try to) do great things? Are teamwork, team-building, and collaboration featured in the person’s activities?

As part of my Stanford work, I frequently advise new course instructors on how to compose a grading rubric. A well thought out grading rubric makes the simple task of evaluating work easy by providing focus & awareness. Yet, a great grading rubric maintains reserved flexibility to recognize statistically abnormal results. So here I am sharing some notes on how we can evaluate our leadership skills, record and future.

WSJ: Making Senses

July 20th, 2021

There was a special insert in the Friday July 8, 2021 issue of the WSJ titled the “Future of Everything.” In the center spread was an article titled “Making Senses” by Angus Loten & Kevin Hand. The article widened my mind scope on the “smart” and “eco-smart” project themes that are a part of the YCISL ITW-DTI workshops being offered this summer. Advances in sensory devices and dataset building with the alignment to human preferences should find amazing applications in sustainability design thinking.

Transparency. We are very familiar with computer vision and image recognition, but most of this is with regards to shapes and little else in terms of physical characteristics. The advancement described in the article about transparency will lead to better depth perception and recognition of vessel contents.

Taste. The need for sensory systems in food storage (eg, refrigerators that can detect bad food) is taking a long time. Let’s hope the advancements in “electronic tongue” technology means we are near the point where we can greatly reduce wasted food. A premium market for this may be in wine since wine can improve or decay depending on various factors.

Touch. I have seen many fascinating videos of product assembly lines and food production lines to know that there is a lot of mechanical tools involved. Upgrades to these and other applications could help healthcare as well as more common needs.

Smell. The AI sensory application to robotic noses and identifying vapors can be used in enhancing or neutralizing odors. There are so many places where pleasing odors could enhance productivity and removal of objectionable odors could reduce distractions.

Hearing. Noise cancellation hearing devices are quite popular presently. Ever tried using one during air travel? Isolating voices using AI could process sounds so that no idea is lost among the “chatter” and everyone is heard. Ever been to a call center?

The common thread in these advancing areas is the collection of reference data. Even so, there is so much variability that it is challenging to consider anything as a reference. Things change very quickly and conditions can tweak channels. For example, in the food waste application I mentioned above: how much reference data would be needed to tell whether it’s time to discard your jar of sauerkraut?