Penny for Your Thoughts

Originally posted by Anna Simon

My colleague Adam, a Multimedia Instruction Coordinator at the Gelardin New Media Center at
Georgetown University, recently wrote up his observations from the Penny Conference in NY on teaching, creativity, and innovation. It’s a nice reminder that in addition to imparting information, part of our job is to inspire inspiration. You can link to the original post here.

Dr. Tony Wagner on stage at Penny 2012

Penny 2012: A reflection on’s first conference

Last Friday, I attended‘s first annual Penny Conference in New York. The event was very similar to a TED conference: it consisted mainly of a series of short talks centered around the theme of education innovation. You can view videos of the entire conference by clicking here. They put together quite a diverse panel of speakers: faculty from Harvard and NYU; a restaurateur; a 14-year-old TED veteran and teacher; several entrepreneurs; and a former investment banker who started an organizationto build schools in developing countries.

The afternoon-long gathering was big on ideas and inspiration. This wasn’t the kind of conference where you learn new information or skills. It was all about dreaming big, thinking differently, and pursuing an audacious vision of learning in the 21st century.

I found a lot of inspiration in the talks, but there were a few key themes that really stood out to me. The biggest of these is that learning is, and always has been, driven by human curiosity, as this fantastic videofrom Skillshare illustrates. It was curiosity that drove me to spend hours of my childhood reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica on my friend’s living room floor. Curiosity was the fuel behind the (unfortunately, recently discontinued) NASA Shuttle program, and its predecessor, the Apollo program. Curiosity took Darwin to Galapagos, and led Newton to his principia.

And it’s curiosity, paired with creativity, that leads to innovation. Dr. Tony Wagner from Harvard University called for a shift from a consumer-driven culture to an innovation-driven culture in his talk. And the task of educators in this is to call forth their students’ curiosity and creativity; to create an environment that challenges students to take risks, and rewards those who do. Prof. Kio Stark of NYU pointed out the central role of failure in the learning process, and how penalizing failure handicaps our students’ growth and crushes their curiosity. 14-year-old Adora Svitakemphasized the need for teachers to model and encourage a love for learning in their own lives and in their instruction, because if students develop a love for learning, they will learn more and go further than we can imagine.

The clear takeaway for me from the Penny conference was that education should be about inspiration, far more than mere information. To be sure, facts and information are critical; but without inspiration, facts will be forgotten, and without empowerment, information will never translate to innovation and action.

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