Native Minds ~ 世界に羽ばたくネイティブ脳を育てよう ~

Background and Vision

All over the world, English represents freedom and opportunity.  Take Naomi, a businesswoman in Japan who feels trapped in a male-dominated business culture, who has no other options because she does not speak English.  Take Mei, a low-income high schooler in China who will never fulfill her dream to study physics at MIT because she cannot afford to learn English. Take Sasha, a young women in rural India who will never escape her village to get a higher paying job in the city because her school does not teach enough English.

What these 3 women share in common is a dream for a better future. The one thing standing in their way is the time and money to learn English.

Enter our company, Native Minds.

Native Minds will offer an English learning platform at a very low cost. Successfully tested in a classroom this summer, it uses highly engaging project-based learning designed around a selection of content from the public domain.  With its unique and effective new methodology, Native Minds will empower and change the lives of millions of Naomis, Meis, and Sashas all over the world.

Our First Market—Japan

Let me present you with some data.

–      Japanese English education business market size–$30 billion USD

–      Years of mandatory English education in Japan until college—10 years

–      Japanese TOEFL score ranking—140th out of 150 countries (worse than N.Korea)

The country’s education system has slowly started to realize something is wrong with their English education and have recently launched several small municipal and national endeavors, mainly focused on cultivating global talent (i.e., encouraging more students to become fluent in English and apply to U.S. academic institutions).

However, their English education, both in schools and professional services, is focused only on grammatical correctness, vocabulary, and test prep.  In other words, they do not teach students how to think, understand, and express their own life, interests, and sense of humor in English or in context of English speaking culture, like my program Native Minds does. The superficial nature of Asian English education in general, has prevented many learners from truly mastering the language in the meaningful way (and they suck all the money out of poor learners).

Mastering English should not be difficult for smart, hard-working learners. Many Southeast Asians become fluent in Japanese just by reading manga and watching anime. Many people claim that dating a native speaker of a foreign language will make the person fluent in a short period time. English education in Japan, or in East Asia lack the following three qualities:

1)   Affordability—so that you can start easily

2)   Enjoyment—so that you will continue

3)   Self-directed learning—so that you can learn what you WANT to learn, not what you are told to.

I, Nene Shirakawa, am a self-taught native speaker of the English language myself. I Graduated from Duke with double major in Economics and Psychology, and then worked as a consultant at KPMG in the US for 3 years before coming to the MIT Sloan School of Management. Before I was accepted to Duke University, I had never stepped a foot into any English speaking country. My high school English education was so poor that some of my smartest classmates still cannot carry a casual conversation with an English speaker to this day. I designed the curriculum by myself for myself to acquire a Native Mind.

In 2013, Native Minds started as a project-based, interactive English learning workshop under the support of Sloan Social Impact Fellowship, Rikejo by Kodansha (The largest publishers in Japan), and Habataku Inc., a visionary creative education company. In this workshop, I was able to help a large number of high school and college students interested in exploring further education abroad (in the US and UK) break through their language barrier at a very low cost. In a post-class survey, all of my students claimed that after the workshop, they were confident that they could make themselves native speakers of English using my project-based, self-directed learning method. A few of them have reported that they have already successfully improved their TOEFL scores above 100 (out of 120), which is generally thought of as the breakpoint to be considered as a candidate for respectable colleges in the United States.

Native Minds x Interactive Digital Platform

Although the initial test of Native Minds operated exclusively in the classroom in summer 2013, it is gradually moving onto a digital platform, as of winter 2014. As our target learners now range from middle school students to college graduates, all learners have at least 3 years of standard English education experience. To accommodate adult learners who have regular work schedules, we have created an online platform where the learners can watch our Native Minds Lectures, perform the required project based learning on their own, and post their work online for each other’s view.

The minimum viable product we have currently is 10 hours-worth of animated Prezi videos with my own narrations, sets of worksheet to go with each lecture, and a hidden blog that embeds all above where learners who subscribe to the Native Minds can use the resource freely, create their own projects, and receive feedback. All five steps of Native Minds’ method are designed to be more fun and productive if done interactively. For example, the card game

The Next Step- Native Minds x Existing Institutions

Currently, Native Minds is sponsored by Kodansha and Habataku.Co in Japan.

Following the success of the summer program, Native Minds is currently partnering with visionary public high schools, private schools, church youth programs, and universities in Japan to provide effective English learning methods to a larger pool of students who are aspiring to build their career abroad.


Five Steps to Your Own Native Mind

Each of the Five Step methods follows these three fundamental rules:

  1. We do not teach English. We teach you how to develop your Native Mind in English.
  2. We do not lecture. We let you express yourself through structured set of creative activities.
  3. We are low-cost. We only curate high quality, non-ESL intended (a.k.a. real), and freely available online resources to help you develop your native minds.

Five Steps Overview

–      Step 1: Native Minds Basics 1.0

Build your Native Mind, which recognizes, thinks, understands, and expresses everything around you in English. We employ our original interactive and creativity provoking card game to help students learn and use natural English phrases based on what they want to say.

–      Step 2: Native Minds Speak! 2.0~Make your entertainment count~

To learn how to speak like a native, the best way is to imitate their speech word for word. In this step, you will create your own voice over video in English, using TV-shows, cartoons, and TED talks.

–      Step 3: Native Minds Debate! 3.0~Here is what I have to say~

One of the biggest challenges Asian students face when the first enter the American academia is their ability to form opinions, question, and disagree with ideas on their feet. In Step 3, we build them this reflex so that they can express themselves fully.

–      Step 4: Native Minds Academic 4.0 ~ Here is how you roll in Academia

This step closely simulates an immersive English learning experience in an academic setting. In NM4.0, students go through the process of listening to an online lecture processing, questioning, and presenting a new set of academic principles all in English.

–      Step 5: Native Minds Exams 5.0 ~Cracking Tests made Easy

Even though I am not a huge fan of language lessons solely focused on test preps like TOEFL, SAT, GRE…etc, I do recognize that high scores on those tests are absolutely necessary for many to explore opportunities in English speaking countries. Step 5 offers fun and intuitive method for students to prepare for standardized exams of their choice, to achieve that to which they aspire.

(There was a problem with the video and I am fixing it now…)

Week 3 – Ideal Teacher

Q3- What does an ideal teacher do? How could just-in-time technology be used to do some of the same? How can we motivate more people to act as teachers for each other? 

How did people learn before there were schools and teachers, before there were books, or even before there was writing itself?  People learned and made sense of their world through stories, songs and dance.  After all, who doesn’t like a good story! For students, a compelling story can teach them concepts, or even skills with the added advantage of holding their undivided attention. So an ideal teacher, while she/he may not necessarily need to sing and dance, should be able to tell good stories that engages students and helps them learn.

An ideal teacher also teaches by letting the students learn by doing rather than telling them.  When students ‘do’ they learn to apply their knowledge to a real world situation.  We all know that it does not make sense to learn driving by just reading books and watching videos, you actually do need to physically drive a car!

There are many other things a teacher can do for a great learning experience but the most important thing that a teacher can do is help students ask the right questions. By fostering a culture of questioning a teacher can help the student make connections across subjects and disciplines that can help them solve real problems.

Just in time technology can provide a richer and more meaningful learning experience because it allows students or learners to take ownership of their learning and become active learners. It can help them learn what they want to learn, where they want to learn it, and how they want to learn.  There is opportunity to learn from experts in the field as well as from peers and also the opportunity to teach others.   However, a learner can get overwhelmed from the plethora of information/knowledge that is available so the ability to make connections and ask the right questions will determine how much is actually learned.


Q2 Importance of Variety

I tend to compartmentalize my learning. There is one path  I pursue that focuses on my career and another that focuses on my hobbies. Both have gotten a boast from resources on the internet that weren’t available when I was growing up. I believe that the biggest factor that helps people identify and make progress towards their goals is having a great deal of variety. People need to know what’s out there so they can identify what makes the most sense to them.

Children growing up today have a clear advantage if they have access to the internet and I’m not assuming everyone does. There are MOOCs that are open to people of all ages in which they can learn about almost anything. I think this diversity of choices is a great way to engage people’s imagination. Another great way to inspire creativity is to find people with similar interests. This can be as simple as looking through Linkedin to find people with similar professional interests and career paths. You can learn through the decisions and mistakes of other people and that can ultimately shape your own profession.

I am also very passionate about pursuing my hobbies. About a year ago, I became interested in learning double dutch. My desire to learn was sparked by a music video that my friend sent me. I watched it over and over many times.

Here is the video

After watching this video and thinking about double dutch constantly I decided to take action. It’s a little strange trying to pursue a children’s hobby as an adult so I wasn’t sure I would find any support. However, a simple google search brought me to and sure enough I found a group called “Double Dutch Lovers”. They met on Friday nights in Harlem and Saturdays in Prospect Park. Everyone was extremely nice and around my age, if not older. It was beyond awesome to find a community of people who shared my interests. I’m still not very good at double dutch, but I found people who helped me work towards my personal learning goals. Also, double dutch is a great activity because it requires at least 3 people and you can’t do it online.

Humans must be crazy

I’m glad to see this question posted here.  The debate over “what do we still need to learn” vs. “what can we delegate to the hive” is something I’ve been grappling with for a long time, but have never had an excuse to sit down and really work through.  Luckily for my colleagues in this class (…and the whole world, I suppose), I will have come up with ALL the answers by the time we reconvene tomorrow at 10am.

In all seriousness, the landscape of learning is shifting beneath our feet.  I am proud to be included (albeit on the tail end) in the generation of people who can proclaim they wrote research papers using volumes of leather-bound encyclopedias and manual typewriter. I will someday hold my grandbabies on my knee and recount stories of these “dark times” when we could only receive Wi-Fi through a designated “hot spot” and Harvard students had to travel in the flesh all the way over to Kendall Square to manually submit a cross-registrant form in order to enroll in an MIT class.  I enjoy that my view of the world spans the transition into this era of unprecedented connection through technology.  It allows me to communicate rather fluidly with both my BC (Before Computers) elders as well as the youths, and empathize with arguments made by both sides regarding the “who, what, where, when, why, and how” of education in the 21st century.

However, with this great privilege comes great responsibility.  It is increasing falling on the shoulders of my generation to decide how best to prepare the children of today to be productive citizens of tomorrow.  After weighing the abstract considerations and fighting my way out of the “we’re just going to die eventually, why bother?” trap, I always return the opening monologue from the 1980 film “The gods must be crazy,” in which the narrator satires the meaning of “civilized man” and its implications on human behavior:

Only 16 miles to the south [of the Kalahari desert, in Botswana], there’s a vast city. And here you find civilized man. Civilized man refused to adapt himself to his environment. Instead he adapted his environment to suit him.  So he built cities, roads, vehicles, and machinery. And he put up power lines to run his laborsaving devices. But he didn’t know when to stop. The more he improved his surroundings to make life easier the more complicated he made it. Now his children are sentenced to 10 to 15 years of school, to learn how to survive in this complex and hazardous habitat.

 And civilized man, who refused to adapt to his surroundings now finds he has to adapt and re-adapt every hour of the day to his self-created environment. For instance, if the day is called Monday and the number 730 comes up, you have to dis-adapt from your domestic surroundings and re-adapt yourself to an entirely different environment. 800 means everybody has to look busy. 1030 says you can stop looking busy for 15 minutes…and then, you have to look busy again. Your day is chopped into pieces, and in each segment of time you adapt to new circumstances. No wonder some people go off the rails a bit.”  (Watch the clip here…you’ll be glad you did)

I find the two sentences highlighted above particularly striking:

  • Now his children are sentenced to 10 to 15 years of school to learn how to survive in this complex and hazardous habitat. This  always reminds me that the concept of school was invented to ensure that children could navigate this crazy world we have constructed. School is NOT a law of nature or even part of natural order; mammals, reptiles, algae…other living beings do organize their offspring into “schools” – except, perhaps, fish… joe binden laughing shaking his head no gif Learning, on the other hand, is a fundamental part of the human process.  We learn what we need to survive and (ideally) to thrive.  Few lament that we’ve traded our hunting and gathering gear for supermarkets…why should we not trade the hours we spend memorizing Nevada’s state capitol* for a readily accessible anthology of all the world’s capitols?**
  • Your day is chopped into pieces, and in each segment of time you adapt to new circumstances. Over the years, the notion of “school” became dissociated with the notion of “home.” Eventually they were completely divided into two discrete entities. Children did not always remove themselves from the “real world” so as to be taught about the real world; they only began to do so over the last couple of centuries.  Finally recognizing this inadvertent divergence has helped me overcome some of the barriers to my own understanding of “learning” and also serves as a very productive framework for imagining how learning could/should/will/must look in the future (e.g. continuous, ongoing, limitless).

While my tendency to “chartmentalize” (yes, this is a made-up word and yes, I’ve already requested that Merriam Webster legitimize it with their equally made-up linguistic lordship) wants to see the world nicely dissected into categories enumerating the “should-learn’s” and “not-worth-it’s,” the world is not that simple and people are not that static.  I am of the camp that we need to gut and redesign today’s school curriculum (right down to the very subjects we teach). I whole-heartedly agree with Mitch in today’s reading when he said that “for today’s children, nothing is more important than learning to think creatively – learning to come up with innovative solutions to the unexpected situations that will continually arise in their lives.”  While the ultimate goal remains “teaching kids to fish,” today’s conditions necessitate that we prepare them with a more sophisticated toolset if we want them to eat for a lifetime.  And there is a lot to be done.

Final thought: I sometimes think of education as a telescope – in our case, an outdated telescope. Because of our obsession with fixing the telescope, we have forgotten that the reason we created the telescope in the first place was to look at the stars. And while we were arguing about how to fix said telescope, the night sky shifted (well, technically, the earth rotated, but you get my metaphor). Before we can work on the telescope, we must return our gaze to the night sky and how we plan to explore the mystery that is our universe.  I’d bet that many of the supposedly “primitive” Bushmen (with whom the “civilized man” is juxtapositioned in the film) have never stopped looking up.  I think the real challenge now is how to pause long enough to have that conversation.



*It’s Carson City, by the way. And it may be interesting to note that I actually knew that from memory. 

**Exception: master trivia players

passion-driven learning in the carpool lane

This past week I had the opportunity to fiddle, fuss, agonize, and triumph with the SCRATCH program. The program is a great example of an immersive learning community that builds on the principle of passion-driven learning. By giving unlimited room to create your own project, the user becomes obsessed with realizing their own personal vision, happily and haphazardly adopting all the tricks of the hacker trade, including mining other projects and programmers for inspiration, examples, and how-to’s along the way.

While I agree that this type of passion-driven learning can be extremely motivating and productive (yours truly spent about 4 hours trying to figure out how to nudge a puppy), I often wonder what comes next.

Individual goal-setting is a great motivator for knowledge seeking, but I wonder how one can move beyond this point to then learn how to locate one’s personal passion within the context of communal efforts. In the real world, people have to learn how to work in service to a larger goal that they did not originate. Taking the Scratch community as an example, multiple users are happy to spend hours trying to progress their own particular project, but how can we help learners locate points of interests in projects that are not immediately apparent to be related to their own personal goal? How can we help individuals find projects to contribute to in collaborations that serve multiple “personal goals”?

I pose this question mostly because I’ve never been one for the “lone genius” idea. Great innovations are emergent from a community that is building towards big ideas. The difference between creativity and mere production is that the former offers insight, or is the manifestation of an insightful thing/idea/object. The process of this evolution of ideas is where innovation lies, the question of authorship, or the creativity of the maker is simply a matter of scale. Cultures of craft express creativity in re-contributing to a tradition, because they are manifesting an idea through a longer, communal process; in societies that are less individualistic, it takes the multiple and built contributions of creative efforts over time to manifest something truly innovative. In the context of Western notions of individualistic creativity (the lone genius), we think of their innovations as singular, even though it is similarly the culmination of a progression of thought within a society. Just as a species could not create webbed toes without first evolving feet, no creative effort happens in a vacuum, as all inspiration is a progression of former ideas and environments.

At this point of my rant, I may need to insert my “How might we…” tweet.

How might we help learners locate their personal passion in communal efforts in order to foster emergent innovation?

JIT learning is a thing?

I am having a hard time picturing the learning portion in JIT learning. Other than learning how to use the particular device(s) that you’ll be interacting with, I don’t see much learning happening. I certainly haven’t done enough reading about the topic, because JIT learning seems to be a real thing, so maybe I’m being sidetracked by the examples I’ve seen, so excuse my ignorance.

Here’s how I see it; I like computers very much, especially programming them. I like to learn about programming techniques and processes that make software development better. I’m really into it, and I have been for a long time. I like to code by myself, but I really enjoy pair programming and other more social activities like hackathons. I honestly don’t see myself learning a new programming language by having ‘just the right information at the right time‘. Factual knowledge is not going to help me be more productive in a new language, and I doubt I would read a detailed step by step sequence of actions that will produce the same result (even if such a guide could be written).

On the other side, I don’t particular like washing machines, but they are very necessary. If my washing machine breaks, I would love to have JIT access to an expert (or a machine) that can provide detailed information about how to fix it because I need it now. I have no interest in learning more about washing machines. I just want to wash my clothes.


So the difference is clear. I am passionate about computers and I want to master that field. The reading about Kasparov touches the idea of mastery though investment and hard work. There is only so much that a person can do during a day of intense labour. Having a device connected 24×7 can only affect that labour to a certain degree. I am not doubting that the combination of human and machine can outsmart a grand master in a particular field, but there needs to be a balance, and just by having more access doesn’t mean that it will be used more (Larry Cuban’s Oversold and Underused: Computers in the classroom is a great example of this).

Having said that, a JIT system would be wonderful for discovery; new topics, new languages, new methodologies, new (and old) anything. Receiving a number of simple messages tailored to your interests would be helpful, especially while you wait for the T or are waiting for a friend. I tend to use Twitter just for that reason, but I mostly ignore Twitter on a regular basis because it’s too noisy.

Going back to the slides, I honestly do not see any learning processes in this definition:

Knowledge delivered in visual, auditory or haptic form based on 
problem/opportunity facing the user as well as their prior 

What I read there is providing help to solve a particular problem, right here, right now. I can see a possible path of adaptability if the knowledge can be distributed in different ways depending on previous expertise, but this does not change the nature of the transaction: You need to perform the following 5 actions to fix your washing machine. Could It happen that after that you discover that washing machines are actually your passion? certainly, but still does not change the nature of the knowledge transaction.

Some of the technical challenges listed are:

- Introducing peers who can learn from one another
- Encouraging reflection, analysis, generalization

Again, I don’t understand the context. I can see how introducing peers that are more ‘connected’ can influence learning, but we really are all human. We cannot expect that because a peer has a mobile device, they are going to be available 24×7 to learn with us. One of the major strengths of online collaboration is that it can be asynchronous. Peer learning as a concept is one thing, but I fail to see a strong relation with the idea of JIT access. We still lead our lives in a very human and social way, and access does not direct usage. Even though we all know that everybody wants to feel the machine (in case you are wondering, nope, the video has nothing to do with JIT learning; I just happen to like it).

With regards to encouraging reflection and generalisation, I also fail to see the benefits in many cases. I don’t want to learn about washing machines, I want them to work so that I can spend my time reflecting and analysing things that I care about.

On a similar note, I believe that McLuhan’s dependency problem is taken too seriously. We don’t learn how to repair car engines and we use cars everyday. When was the last time you asked someone for the time and they read the moon or made a note of the sun position and a bunch of calculations? Probably never.

The main concern seems to be the feeling of dumbing people down by making them dependent on their gadgets. I don’t see the problem. It reminds me of Thomas Thwaites’ toaster project (

home made toaster

A toaster, as we know them now, is not the only way to make toast. It might be the more convenient way, but not the only one. If we are not concerned about depending on kettles and toasters, should we worry about depending on calculators or computers? I don’t think so.

In a sense I am equating JIT learning to casual gaming. Simple rules and lack of commitment seem to be appropriate characteristics, as opposed to hard work and dedication in both hardcore games and in-depth learners. Some of the systems seen in class are really interesting, but in the cases where I can see how learning processes can be affected (for instance through peer interaction), JIT does not seem to be so important, and in the cases in which JIT is important (fixing my washing machine), learning, reflection, and analysis seem to be less needed.


This is the #HMW tweet for this week:

How might we engage the MIT community in interactions with remote 
groups with a special interest in some of the things that happen 
on campus?

The nature of learning in a connected age must change. Lifelong learning and, not on the ability but the desire, for self-directed have become the new fundamentals of the 21st century. They are the only mechanisms that make thriving in such an ever-changing world sustainable and possible at a systems level, but they also align with our understanding of how we learn. Learning is most meaningful, effective and lasting when it directly ties into our personal interests, motivations and abilities—which can’t be defined externally. So helping individuals cultivate their own curiosity and desire to push their own learning has become the new fundamental baseline.

Curiosity — the act of the mind questioning, inquiring, and exploring – and Creativity – the act imagining, cultivating and manifesting – are the two hallmarks of human existence. Together, they have produced all the great innovations and leaps forward in the world. Not coincidentally, they also represent the bookends of a quality learning cycle: start by hooking the learning and engaging them with the topic at hand, then guiding them or ideally supporting them in their own inquiry, only to finally apply their learning in some meaningful way. We know that interest and motivation are not just ‘nice to have’ but are fundamentally required for a meaningful learning experience. But of course, although external elements can stimulate curiosity, it must somehow connect intrinsically.

I have also been curious about my own learning and the nature of learning itself ever since I was a young kid, which is probably why today I am a learning researcher. So in part, that was my personal area of interest and motivation. Yet I also think that much of that was in part due to my environment, where I was supported in exploring my own curiosity, dreaming up new ideas, creative outputs, and given the adult means and supports to explore them. It is the playful nature of learning, as it can be outside of a forced/formal environment like many schools. It reminds me of the work of Scot Osterweil, who talks about the “4 Freedoms of Play” which he explains really equal the 4 Freedoms of Learning:

  • Freedom to Experiment
  • Freedom to Fail
  • Freedom of Identity
  • Freedom of Effort


So of course new digital technologies offer us incredible opportunities hook learners on a new idea or journey of exploration, of offering imaginative and playful worlds to explore concepts and big ideas, and most importantly connecting us in meaningful ways that were not possible before. Yet one of the greatest fallacies we have observed about educational technology over the past 50 years is chasing the technology for technology’s sake. The learning and desired experience must come first, then the technology to support it can follow.

I believe that learning is a very personal activity, and yet highly social—we are social beings and we learn in community and by ‘bumping into’ one another. Yet beliefs and identities about oneself as a learner can quickly get warped by many of the commonplace practices of traditional schooling. Fear of failure, disengagement, lack of application to reality all shut down the innate spark of curiosity and interest in learning. Inspiring and reviving curious and energetic nature of learning for anyone of any age is possible, but it requires creating safe, playful, engaging and flexible environments that allow that to flourish and support the individual on that path however it might unfold.

Week 3

Q2- How can we inspire curiosity and passion for learning in more people, and help learners make progress towards their personal goals?  How might we use the web (or other tools) to do this? Start by asking yourself, how you developed the passion for the things you are interested in today (what are they?) and then generalize from there.

I have a passion for the outdoors, particularly water. This was a passion that I developed as a child, when I would go to the ocean every weekend to swim or play in the sand. When I was young, I enjoyed these outdoor swimming activities because of the excitement of being thrown by a large wave or the challenge of creating the best sandcastle possible. I learned how to swim through swimming schools that my parents enrolled me into, which opened many new opportunities for me to learn new sports and activities today. For example, I recently learned how to surf, and have been trying to surf as often as I can. Why did I want to learn how to surf? Because my friends already knew how to surf and I wanted to join them.  Similar to when I learned how to swim, I attended a surf school to learn how to surf with an instructor. I’m still a bad surfer, but it’s exciting for me to have this new challenge to accomplish.  Eventually, I hope to join my friends in the water. My passion for water has remained constant throughout my life, but my learning goals have evolved since I was a child.  When I was a child, I wanted to become a stronger swimmer. Today, I want to become a better surfer.

While the outdoors was a passion that I have had for as long as I can remember, I also have a recent passion that I developed a couple years ago. This passion is for boardgames. Growing up, my family rarely played board games. However, when I moved to a new city, my new friends introduced me to their favorite board game, Ticket to Ride. Since then, I’ve been hooked. I discovered that boardgames are a way for my friends to spend time together and learn more about each other’s learning styles and gaming skills. For example, we quickly discovered that while our friend Andy was a more cautious player, our friend Christina had a gambling style to her playing. We discovered different versions of Ticket to Ride – United States, Europe, Germany, and Scandinavia, and learned about the geography of each. We started inviting strangers who we met at bars (who are now our friends) over to our apartments so we could play Ticket to Ride together. The board game was a way for us to collaborate together and be innovative! One day, we were bored with the existing game, and we tried to make our own version of Ticket to Ride using the map of the town we lived in and we even invented new versions of the game.  While none of the different “versions” of the game were marketable, it was fun to conceive of different interpretations of the game together.

So how can we inspire curiosity and learning? Perhaps we can use the web (or other tools) to provide resources for existing activities. I think successful learners often think, “wouldn’t it be cool if…” and act upon this curiosity. My generalization from my experience with swimming and board games is that both passions inspired me to discover new challenges. When I learned how to swim, I thought, “wouldn’t it be cool if I could surf.” So, I wanted to learn how to surf. When I learned how to play board games, my friends and I became bored one day and thought, “wouldn’t it be cool if we created our own board game.” So, we decided to create our own.  I think we can inspire curiosity in more people by creating new opportunities and experiences for them from their existing passions.

Sometimes, I have a difficult time acting upon my curiosities. This can be attributed to lack of resources, time, or money. I was able to go surfing because I lived near a body of water. I was able to create newer versions of the board game because I was with a friend to play the game with. If I didn’t live near a body of water, it would have been more difficult for me to learn how to surf. If I didn’t have my friend with me to play, I wouldn’t have been able to test the newer versions of the board game.

I don’t think the technology should be the only means to learning new passions and skills. When I’m in the water, I am observant to the surroundings around me – the music of the water, the color of the waves, the interaction that I have with other surfers to avoid collisions, and the feeling of connectedness that I have with nature. When I’m in the water, I can’t be stressed about a new email or text message – I can only enjoy the moment. Similarly, when I play Ticket to Ride (in person and not online), I enjoy sitting around the table with my friends and reading each other’s emotions.

 So how can we initiate learning and curiosity in more people? I think the web (or other tools) should be used as a resource. I think technology can help to foster and develop these passions – but not necessarily initiate them.  I like watching surfing videos on YouTube or other social networking sites to keep me motivated about the sport, especially when I am too busy to go to the ocean. I think, “wouldn’t it be cool if I could surf like that?” After my friends and I left France, the boardgame became a way for us to connect together, but only this time online through their website. We started coordinating times for us to “meet” together online and play the virtual version of the board game. While we became friends around the dining room table playing Ticket to Ride, the online game has been a great way for us to continue to connect with each other and meet new fans of the game.  However, it is more difficult for us to create newer versions of the game online. Even if we think “wouldn’t it be cool if…” about the game, it’s difficult for us to act upon it because we are limited to the structured nature of the online game.  While technology has its limitations, and did not necessarily initiate my curiosity for surfing or for boardgames, it has helped me nurture and encourage these passions.


Hermione, Curious George, and the Dude…

While this activity came fairly naturally in last week’s session, I did not know where to begin when I reread the assignment. How do we build platforms for learning at the Media Lab that extend beyond the physical Media Lab community?



This question is so big!  As I desperately tried to cling to one of those 19 words to find refuge from the overwhelmingness of that task, I was finally struck by a simple realization – the end goal of these new platforms is to serve actual people.  People with goals, interests, time commitments, jobs, families, favorite foods, spirit animals, bucket lists, and unfathomable depth.  In order to gain insight into their lives, I had to walk in their shoes and see through their eyes.  I present you with three potential end users and the the AEIO of their learning (and I guarantee you know someone that would fit the profile of each persona):

User Number 1: The Ambitious Type A’s (Hermione Granger)


Hermione says: “A course from the brilliant minds at MIT, oh wow, sign me up!  I think I can schedule that between my 1pm and 3pm every other Thursday!

User Number 2: The Playful & Inquisitive (Curious George)


George says: “That was such an interesting TED talk you recommended. I searched for more information online and wound up reading for 3 hours about that topic…

User Number 3: The Inadvertent Learners (The Dude)

The Dude says: “I was wandering around the park and stumbled upon this pop up science fair.  Turns out that the sun is made through the fusion of hydrogen into helium…the sun is just a giant ball of gas!”

Placing ourselves in each of these characters’ shoes gives us insight into when and how they learn (NOTE: these are neither mutually exclusive nor collectively exhaustive):

 User Environments where learning occurs Activities people engage with in learning Interactions that lead to learning Objects involved in the learning process
Hermione  Structured environments that promote or showcase learning – she attends because she thinks she knows it all She sets tangible learning goals for herself Competition with peers challenges her and pushes her to excel Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, riddles, brainteasers, games in general 
George  Informal and accessible settings, (such as internet communities, blogs)- he reads them for entertainment and can do so from the comfort of his own home He makes connections to peers and events that are relevant to his current topic of interest Accountability – he likes learning, but needs to be motivated by his peers (“dragged” to events, “feeling obligated” to participate in a club or group project, etc.) to ensure he takes it to the next step Mobile phone and tablet – he loves looking things up immediately whenever he doesn’t know or understand something… which naturally leads him to click on 7 or 8 suggested links after that
The Dude  In his face – he doesn’t mind learning if it happens at the exact moment he wants to do it Humor (cracking jokes, making contemporary references) actually helps him remember a lot of information Personal discussions – late night, happy hours, in line at the grocery store Beer & Pizza (external motivation) – serves as fodder for him to show up, stay out, and talk with new people

Final Thought: 


In creating these new platforms, I think we must separate the different audiences we are trying to reach.  Each will require a unique level of engagement and method of interaction from the intended learners.

Week 2 – Girls and Science Education: Extending learning beyond MIT Media lab community to engage more girls in science

Week 2

Girls and Science Education: Extending learning beyond MIT Media lab community to engage more girls in science

Environment: where girls can learn about science in a fun way

  • Online: browsing science websites for kids (discovery kids, NASAkids etc.)
  • Home: conducting science experiments with everyday objects
  • Mall: the makeup counter at the mall may be a good place to learn the ‘science’ behind cosmetics

Activities: Girls learn science if they are engaged and do not feel judged

  • Sleepovers (a science camp may sound boring but a science sleepover!!)
  • Cooking can be a fun way to learn about plants and food, to learn measurements, and to follow (recipe) instructions carefully
  • Playing science games online or even creating ‘apps’ with friends

Interactions: girls learn better if their interactions are gender neutral/ gender sensitive

  • Teachers: when girls can connect with their teachers in a positive way
  • Parents: when parents engage with girls and encourage them to view science as fun
  • Peers: when being interested in science is not a cause for rejection by friends

Objects: any object can become a tool for learning about science

  • Household objects
  • Cosmetics
  • Computers/smart phones/tablets

Users: girls

  • K-12 school girls
  • Girls from low-income families
  • Teachers and parents