“Carbon, the basis of all known life on earth, has surprised us once again.”

— STATEMENT from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences



Photo credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory - http://www.flickr.com





At the beginning of any positive social/educational movement, a team of innovators must have a vision that transcends the horizon of known limitations. This small core group is charged with the responsibility to somehow share this vision with others and recruit them to believe that they too can see beyond. The Coalition for International Initiatives (CII) has five founding members who all have a noble vision for a better tomorrow for global school children in India and the US. Logic Bay, our web-developer, has been attempting to bring our vision to reality by programming the eKWIP website. This Web 2.0-based site houses global collaboration tools as well as the standards-based lesson plan format called T2M (Triggering Teachable Moments).

In a recent exchange with our web-developer, I was having a difficult time explaining the new “teachable moment” format for lesson design. The T2M format is based on previous research studies in Problem-based Learning(PbL). The PbL movement is itself less than 50-years-old and has not yet been adopted into mainstream educational institutions–we’re working on it! How does one explain a lesson design that begins with a “fuzzy,” ill-structured problem with no pre-determined solution? It is also difficult when the program sets expectations of classroom educators to act as facilitators of students pursuing the iterative process of creating possible solutions and testing them out.

In our vision of the eKWIP platform, the sucesses and failures will be shared between global partners in India and the US  in order to generate new and unique possibilities for solutions. This is a shared vision of the core team of CII developers, but it is difficult to explain in terms of the concrete schematics of a web design. I have spent many nights wondering how to demonstrate our vision. Then…

Earlier this week,  I turned to the back page of our local paper. The 2010 Noble Prize in Physics was just awarded to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, two physicists at the University of Manchester, England for their nanotech discovery, graphene . Their story is one that helps to illuminate eKWIP, a multi-dimensional social/educational experiment. Take a look at their story on this brief YouTube clip:

It all starts with a problem and a team of dedicated thinkers who have the ability to wonder, “What if?” Did you notice that I said a team? Two heads are better than one, and when hundreds of heads from around the world collaborate online problems get solved in new and unique ways.

For these two Noble scientists, their problem was to wonder “if” there might be a new material that would prove more effective and efficient than currently existing materials. The solution to their problem was truly at their fingertips the entire time. Graphene, as you saw in the video, is a two-dimensional material that has uses in almost every facet of life. The fact they were able to isolate the atom with a piece of ordinary Scotch tape is what makes this story so amazing. Simply, they had the ability to see the extra-ordinary possibilities in the ordinary objects of a piece of tape and a lump of graphite. They had a “moment” of genius because they started with a clearly-defined goal but allowed for the wiggle room of wonder-filled exploration.

When analyzing this story one can find insights into the capacity we are trying to build by designing teachable moments around academic standards.  In the T2M model we base all of our “teachable moments” on a single academic standard triggered by a problem and assessed with a project -based rubric. The problem must be harvested from events in the “real” world that trigger the students to wonder, “What if?”


Photo credit: K-idea : http://www.flickr.com


By the way, it was not always the Nobel committee calling for Andre Geim. In 2000, Geim won an Ig Nobel award for his work with frogs and magnets. He was experimenting with the possibility of levitating a frog using a magnet. The failure of this project and his global condemnation could have blinded his vision of solving future problems. At CII we believe that failure is a necessary part of the learning process. Failure alllows the problem-solver to change course and direction in order to eventually find success. When transcending the horizon of the known world, one cannot be fearful of a flat world.

To you Dr. Geim and Dr. Novoselov, we at CII congratulate you both on your prestigious award and for  your ability to seek extra-ordinary solutions through collaboration and the belief that wonder is a Noble pursuit. CII is creating a Web 2.0 program with a creative pedagogical application that helps to trigger teachable moments that turn the ordinary into the extra-ordinary.

On another note, I would like to see a frog levitate–how about you, reader?

Gregory M. McGough, M.Ed.

CII Chief Academic Officer