Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update





Revisiting Pink and “Conceptual Age” Skills

A Saturday Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past. The original post from October 4, 2005.

In my August 22, 2005 blog entry, I did a short review of Daniel Pink’s new book A Whole New Mind in which he lists six right brain “senses” he believes successful workers in a post-information age economy will need to have.

Pink’s “senses” (DESIGN, STORY, SYMPHONY, EMPATHY, PLAY, and MEANING) were on my mind this weekend when working on a “serious” paper for the National Library Board of Singapore conference*. The topic is “The Knowledge Worker Redux” and it was a great chance to reflect on what skills our students need to successfully compete in a global economy.

First, I am going to be bold and add a seventh “sense” of my own to Mr. Pink’s list:

7. Not just knowledge, but also LEARNING. Unless a person develops both the ability and the desire to continue to learn new skills, to be open to new ideas, and to be ready to change practices in the face of new technologies, economic forces, and societal demands, he or she will not be able to successfully compete in a global economy.

In the age of educational accountability, we seem to be gearing all our instructional efforts to helping students master left-brain skills, since that is what tests usually measure. But to what extent do we and should we also be developing design sense, storytelling abilities, the ability to synthesis information, empathy, the use of humor, and the ability to detect the importance of the information learned? How do we create true “life-long learners?” What emphases, using Pink’s model, might schools and libraries wish to cultivate in the “conceptual age” worker?


  • Offer art classes and activities
  • Assess not just content, but appearance of student work
  • Teach visual literacy


  • Ask for student writing in the narrative voice.
  • Teach speaking skills.
  • Use storytelling as a part of teaching.
  • Give students opportunities to both hear and tell stories.
  • Honor digital storytelling as an important communication format.


  • Design classroom projects that cross disciplines.
  • Ask for the application of skills and concepts to genuine problems.
  • Use inductive learning strategies (learning by doing).


  • Emphasize reading literature about people from other cultures and socio-economic groups.
  • Give students service learning and volunteer opportunities or requirements.
  • Give students the opportunity to take part as an actor in theater productions.
  • Design group projects.


  • Teach with games, including computer/online games.
  • Teach with simulations.
  • Offer a variety of athletics and physical education classes.
  • Offer participatory music classes.
  • Teach through riddles and jokes, and encourage students to tell them.


  • Offer classes in comparative religion, myth and legend.
  • Teach ethical behaviors as a part of every project.
  • Asking for writings to include statements of personal values.


  • Teach processes, not facts.
  • Allow students to research areas of personal interest (and tolerate a diversity of interests).
  • Give students the ability to learn in non-traditional ways (online, early enrollment in college, apprenticeships).
  • Make available clubs and organizations for students to join in which students learn non-academic skills.
  • Provide access to a wide range of information sources.

Our society and educational system sadly sees many of the opportunities listed above which develop “conceptual age” skills as “extras” – frills that are often the first to be cut in times of tight budgets. It’s tragically ironic that we are doing a disservice to our students as future workers and citizens by doing so.

Other “conceptual age” skills? Other things schools should be doing to help kids practice those that Pink enumerates?

*The paper went on to appear as an article in Teacher-Librarian magazine.


Stray Sunday Thoughts

Every once in a while you time your weekends right. Yesterday was a glorious fall day, and I spent it cleaning the house, doing laundry, mowing the lawn (Hey, grass, it’s fall already, stop growing!), and finishing two books from the comfort of the porch. Today, cool and cloudy, is get down to business day – writing a “serious” paper for an upcoming conference in Singapore, sharpening my presentations for the AASL conference in Pittsburg, and continuing to edit the program for the MEMO conference. Weekends, you got to love them.

Weekend blogging should be free from the normal restraints of professionalism. So just a few random thoughts…

1. You have to love the power of satire. If you’ve not seen the Pastafarian website, take a look. The creator of the site is asking that schools give equal time in their science curriculum to his church’s belief that the world was created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster and that global warming can be directly correlated to the decline in the number of pirates (graph included). A worthy descendant to Swift and his A Modest Proposal.

2. Another very funny, very irreverent satirist is Bill Maher, and I just finished his book New Rules: Polite Musings from a Timid Observer. I would caution that most of his thoughts are not terribly polite, and if you have a particular fondness for the Catholic Church, George Bush or mass media celebrities, you will not care for much of what he opines. But for the rest of us, he’s just about as funny as it gets. Oh, I’d probably not buy this for my school library.

3. As a guy gets older, he spends more time reflecting on what he has and hasn’t done with his life. The number of condom dispensers one finds in gas station men’s rooms has increasingly upset me. I see these machines and wonder why I’ve never had the sort of love life that’s required a fast lurch to SuperAmerica and a desperate fumble for quarters. Sometimes it just seems that everyone in the world must be leading a much more spontaneous life that you are.

4. I am now about 40 pages into Ray Kurzweil’s latest book The Singularity is Near, an optimistic tome about the time humanity and machinery evolve into a single piece of work – supposedly just after technology gets smart enough to start inventing itself. I’m sorry, Ray, this stuff still scares me silly. I keep thinking of the evil Core from Dan Simmon’s Hyperion/Endymion series. Compassion from a computer program seems about as likely as compassion from… well, there is no need to get political here.

5. My cousin Dave was once found in the attic eating mothballs. After having his stomach pumped, his mom asked him why he ate them since they couldn’t have tasted very good. His reply, “I thought they were marshmallows and I’d get to a good one sooner or later.” I think about Cousin Dave’s philosophy now and again when I’ve spent too much time waiting for a book or movie “to get good.” Life’s too short to wait for anything to “get good.”

That’s it. Off to write about “The Knowledge Worker Redux” – whatever that means. Happy weekend.


The $100 Laptop and the Mouse Army

If you follow technology news at all, you are probably aware that Nicolas Negroponte went very public with M.I.T.’s $100 laptop project at last week’s Emerging Technologies Conference.

This remarkable device is wireless, uses static memory, can be cranked to provide power, is built for durability and will run open-source software. Just what I’ve been clamoring for (and predicting – see Turning the Page: E-books and their impact on libraries, School Library Journal, November 2004).

Yeah, I’d be delighted if I could provide such contraptions to all my Mankato students. But we are not the target market for them. Negroponte wants to offer them (by the millions) to students in developing countries - Brazil, China, Egypt, South Africa and Thailand are supposedly already on board.

With this announcement, Neal Stephenson’s science fiction book The Diamond Age is proving once again eerily prescient. (I just love it when science fiction does that!) Set in a future Hong Kong, Stephenson’s world is Neo-Victorian, thoroughly stratified by class. It has also mastered nanotechnologies and an amazing “e-book” A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer has been compiled for the daughter of a very rich industrialist. A copy of the book falls into the hands of an Oliver-Twistian young woman, who uses its educational powers to survive a terrifying childhood.

What I had forgotten until re-reading the book recently was that lots of copies of the Primer were made and given to a group of the most dispossessed members of Diamond Age society – unwanted Chinese girls, abandoned at birth and raised in an orphanage. Using the power of this e-book, they too are able to learn and become a political and physical force – The Mouse Army.

It’s my sense that Negroponte with his $100 laptop project has the same goal – to create great Mouse Armies of the world’s disposed, disrupting the political structures in which the few, rich and powerful rule over the many, poor and powerless. If that is his aim, I’m all for it.

While I have grown terribly cynical about the ability of politics, religion or science to solve major world problems, I still believe in the power of education to end poverty, violence, and depredation of natural resources. I still hold Horatio Alger’s advice close – that through the dint of hard work, good moral character, and perseverance, anyone can lift him/herself out of poverty. But I would have to add “through on-going education” to Alger’s success formula. I see little hope for this world except in creating a better-educated population.

Mr. Negroponte, I hope you create many, many Mouse Armies.


1 Comment »
I feel compelled to incite the Mouse Armies. I could see some wonderful blogs going with this. I have been following with great interest this $100 laptop phenom. Whenever I demonstrate a cool website, I give my 3rd and 4th graders nifty business card sized papers and remind them that they can go to the public library and look up this FOR FREE! Many of my students from non-English backgrounds are introducing their parents to “cool sites” based on these tiny cards. Unobtrusive, looks like everybody elses and useful. Sounds like a winner.

Comment by Diane Chen — October 1, 2005 @ 2:42 pm