The reductive seduction of other people’s problems


The reductive seduction of other people’s problems, Illustration by Punya Mishra

Anurag Behar forwarded an article: The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems, which I really think is a must-read for any of us involved in education or development. The points made in the article have particular resonance for us here at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College as we seek to connect our research and practice with schools and communities.

Below are some thoughts prompted by the article that I shared with my colleagues here at ASU, edited lightly for this posting, though I do recommend reading the entire article it for yourself.

First, the idea of “reductive seduction of other people’s problem,” which I take to mean that the further we are from an issue the easier it seems to solve, is a powerful idea. It is an idea we are familiar with, but it is good to have a phrase to put on it. We know this because we understand that context and perspective matter. This is why the innovation engine work we do is driven by the concerns of the community, or the schools or teachers. This is why we seek to bring all parties into the conversation into the process. This is why we seek to embed ourselves (either through our design work, or through the rethinking of the site coordinators roles) in the contexts we seek to work in. This means that…

… second, we need to think hard about our inclusiveness – and how we define the “other.” Many of us have been challenged by the “tone-deaf” nature of Betsy DeVoss’ comments about public education (wither K12 or higher ed) and the solutions she is seeking to support. I wonder how much of it is due to this process of “reductive seduction” of other people’s problems – the operative word here being “other” – having never been in these contexts, and never having truly understood it, the problem appears simple to solve.

This is akin to something Anurag said a few years ago at AERA regarding the role of data in assessment and evaluation of programs (and I am going to paraphrase him).

The need for data is proportional to the distance we have from the actual context, i.e. the further we are from the situation on the ground, the more we need data to help us understand. The closer we are, the deeper we are embedded, the more we understand nuance, the less the need for a certain kind of data, since we have a textured understanding of what is really happening.

I am not trying to make a political point here – but rather raising it as an issue that we need to be sensitive to. It is this distance we have to be wary about. Which leads to the …

… third point, the need for humility in our own plans and capacities. In this work that we are doing in the innovation engine (and I believe in it and am committed to it) we need to be sensitive that we do not fall into the same trap. That we do not become reductive in our thinking, that we not create that “other” who we can speaking glibly about. Our commitment to collaborative participatory design should never be forgotten. Specifically…

… and finally, there are three sentences from towards the end of the article that I want us to remember as we move forward with this work:

  • Don’t go because you’ve fallen in love with solvability. Go because you’ve fallen in love with complexity.
  • Don’t go because you want to do something virtuous. Go because you want to do something difficult.
  • Don’t go because you want to talk. Go because you want to listen.

Blurred visions: Another history of TPACK


I had posted recently a video based on a talk I had given at ASU. In that video I spoke about the role of theory in research through a history of the TPACK framework. You can see the video here.

Now, my TPACK partner in crime, Matt Koehler, has created his own video of the story, this time for a talk he gave at the recently concluded SITE conference in Austin, Texas. Though we cover pretty much the same ground in our our respective talks, I think there are sections in Matt’s version that are quite insightful. You can see Matt’s video (A brief history of TPACK) here.

Why science teachers should care about social justice? New article

social-justice-images-001I have been editing a series of articles for iWonder: Rediscovering School Science, a practitioner orientated journal for middle school science teachers, published by the Azim Premji University. Our first article was titled “Why teachers should care of beauty in science education and the next one, authored by doctoral candidate Day Greenberg is about social justice in the science classroom. You can access the complete issue here and the article by following the link below:

Greenberg, D. (2017, March). Why science teachers should care about social justiceiWonder: Rediscovering School Science (1) 1, 70-73.

One of the best parts of this series is creating all the illustrations that go with the articles — a challenge I took on for the first article and now has continued on to this one as well. The three original illustrations used in this article are given below. Click on the image to see a high-resolution version. final-images-001

Fig. 1. Science and social justice – finding the balance! License: CC-BY-NC.


Fig. 2. Participatory engagement in a classroom context. In the background is a word cloud created from all the words in the Wikipedia page on “Science.” License: CC-BY-NC.


Fig. 3. The dove with an olive branch, a symbol of peace. Made from icons representative of science, flies against a word-cloud created from all the words in the Wikipedia page on “Social Justice.” License: CC-BY-NC.

Shulman on learning

One of my favorite quotes about learning. From this article, Taking Learning Seriously the entirety of which is worth reading. But for now here is the quote, and a visual (just because):

Learning is least useful when it is private and hidden; it is most powerful when it becomes public and communal. Learning flourishes when we take what we think we know and offer it as community property among fellow learners so that it can be tested, examined, challenged, and improved before we internalize it — Lee Shulman


Failed Haiku


Failed Haiku

Five syllables first
Second one has seven more
A failed Haiku!

So close… almost had it.

In keeping with the meta-theme, here is another one, written many years ago, and lightly edited by Danah Henriksen.

Turvy-Topsy limerick

This limerick-wise
Has not the right size
Because the middle two lines are much too long
However, that is the way, although it be wrong
I economize!

Untangling a decade of creativity scholarship: Old chapter, new image


How do we capture a program of scholarship in an image? This is particularly complicated when the work is a tangled web of connections between research, teaching and practice, spread out over multiple publications, presentations and people. One attempt to do this, around our work on creativity is given below. But first some context.

Recently Danah Henriksen and I were invited  to the Learning, Literacies & Technology doctoral seminar offered by Frank Serafini to speak about our work around trans-disciplinary creativity. This gave us an opportunity to look back on the broader program of research around creativity we have been engaged in over the past 10 years or so. (Firstly, its amazing to think that we have been working in this area for almost a decade!!). There are many layers to this work – involving research, teaching, and practice and part of it was captured in a handbook chapter we published a couple of years ago :

Mishra, P., Henriksen, D. & Mehta, R. (2015). Creativity, Digitality, and Teacher Professional Development: Unifying Theory, Research, and Practice. In  In M. Niess, & H. Gillow-Wiles (Eds.) Handbook of Research on Teacher Education in the Digital Age (pp. 691-722). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. [Download the article as a PDF]

Towards the end of the paper we wrote:

In conclusion, we must reiterate that this is on-going work and this paper offers just a snapshot of a complex, winding, and non-linear process… If our experience tells us anything it is that building this bridge between theory and action, research and practice is a complex one. Our approach has been to take on all of them somewhat simultaneously allowing us to see just dialogic and transactional this act can be…. [In addition] the vagaries of journal publishing schedules, the immediate pressures of teaching, the intricate negotiations with co-authors, and the contingent, haphazard nature of life itself have sometimes played narrative havoc with what might otherwise be a clear timeline. In some sense, this contingency lies at the heart of the phenomenon we seek to understand: creativity, and its role in teaching and learning.

As a part of writing this chapter we constructed a chart to capture the different strands of work and how they have fed into each other – attempting to untangle this “complex, winding, and non-linear” process. Danah and I took this invitation to present to Frank’s class as an opportunity to update the chart. The updated version, for the record, is given below. Click on the image below to see a larger version. Continue reading →

Computational Thinking paper wins Outstanding Paper Award


A paper co-authored with Jon Good and Aman Yadav, building on Jon’s practicum study has received the Outstanding Paper Award at the SITE 2017. Complete reference, link to article and abstract given below.

Good. J., Yadav. A., & Mishra, P. (2017). Computational Thinking in Computer Science Classrooms: Viewpoints from CS Educators. Paper presented at the SITE 2017 Conference, San Antonio.

Abstract: Computational thinking (CT) has been described as a mental activity, a problem solving approach, and a skill fundamental to most disciplines. For teachers, the varied definitions of CT make it difficult to integrate into the curriculum. The purpose of this study was to examine how secondary computer science teachers perceive computational thinking practices and concepts in their own introductory computer science classes. Using in-depth qualitative interviews with CS teachers, we investigated how their existing curriculum was structured, their impressions of computational thinking concepts, and whether they identified computational thinking concepts within their curriculum. The results from the study suggested that computer science teachers are generally not familiar with computational thinking concepts, but when made aware of them, they find them relevant to their curricula. The findings inform CS teacher education, and refine both the theory and practice of CT in K-12 classrooms.

49 Amazing moments of STEM: New article

stories-atomsThe universe is made up of stories not atoms — Muriel Rukyeser (Image © punyamishra)

Every educator has had an amazing teaching moment. It is that magical moment, when the topic comes to life and the energy in the classroom is palpable. These are moments that we cannot help but share — we run out and corner the first person we meet and insist on telling them about it. These are the stories that give meaning to our professional lives.


A few years ago we published a book with 49 such amazing stories, as a part of the MSUrbanSTEM project. You can download the book by clicking on the title: Ultimate STEM: 49 Amazing Teaching Moments in STEM.

Of course are researchers we could not stop there. We took these stories and analyzed them for common and overarching themes to help us identify what goes into making an amazing STEM lesson plan. A paper based on that was recently published. Enjoy.

Mehta, S., Mehta, R., Berzina-Pitcher, I., Seals, C. & Mishra, P. (2016). 49 Stories That Make an Ultimate STEM Lesson Plan. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 35(4), 343-353. Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

In this paper we reviewed what 49 large urban public school district STEM teachers enrolled in a year-long graduate certificate and fellowship program at a large Midwestern university considered as their amazing teaching moments. They were asked to share their amazing teaching moments that would make an Ultimate Lesson Plan in STEM. In smaller groups of five, then they were asked to find connections between their amazing teaching moments and to look for the essential components that make these moments amazing. This activity led the teachers to discover 51 key components that made an ultimate lesson plan. We analyzed these 51 key components to find common and overarching themes that were grouped together into a final list of seven key components for an ultimate STEM lesson plan. These key components that make an ultimate STEM lesson plan give us an insight into what working teachers consider to be important for student engagement and learning in STEM content in classrooms.

Coding + Aesthetics: New Journal Article


This may be my favorite quote about the transactional nature of the aesthetic experience. (Image © punyamishra)

Does beauty have a role to play in learning to code? Can code aspire to beauty and elegance? In this article, we argue that it does and it should. Read on…

Good, J., Keenan, S. & Mishra, P. (2016). Education:=Coding+Aesthetics; Aesthetic Understanding, Computer Science Education, and Computational Thinking. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 35(4), 313-318. Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

The popular press is rife with examples of how students in the United States and around the globe are learning to program, make, and tinker. The Hour of Code, maker-education, and similar efforts are advocating that more students be exposed to principles found within computer science. We propose an expansion beyond simply teaching computational thinking skills, by including an aesthetic framework that highlights the beauty and elegance inherent within the craft of coding. This approach not only introduces students to authentic experiences of computational work, but can result in higher levels of retention and achievement. Delivering science content through an aesthetic lens has been successful in other areas of science education. Such an approach in programming extends the possibility of reaching students that previously may not have been interested in the field.

sublime-codeCode can go “beyond the purely practical; like equations in physics or mathematics, code can aspire to elegance” — Vikram Chandra (Image © punyamishra)

An homage to my mother & grandfather

img_0597-1Ravenshaw University, Cuttack India

I gave a talk today at Ravenshaw University (formerly Ravenshaw College) in Cuttack, Odisha on the topic of Rethinking Learning in the 21st Century: Creativity, Technology & Systems Change. I have given many talks over the past few years but this one was special. It was special because by grandfather, Dr. K. B. Tripathy was a highly respected professor of philology there for many years. My mother also studied there, completing her bachelors and masters’ degrees there. She was a prolific writer – especially after coming back to Odisha after my father retired. These two individuals, more than anybody else, were instrumental in my becoming an academic, and who I am today. I dedicated my talk to the both of them.

Below are some photos and links to the event and to information about my mother and grandfather. Continue reading →

Uncreativity: An interview with Chris Bilton

uncreativity“un-creativity” design, invariant under rotation by 180-degrees

In this article, in our ongoing series on Rethinking technology & creativity in the 21st centurywe interview Dr. Chris Bilton, Reader at the Centre for Policy Studies at University of Warwick. He came to academia with extensive experience in the arts and arts management and has devoted his work to better understanding issues related to managing creativity and creative approaches to management. The discussion ranged widely, including topics such as trans-disciplinary thinking; nurturing creativity in students, groups, and organizations; and how routines and activities are essential the creative process. Read the complete article below:

Henriksen, D., Cain, W. & The Deep-Play Research Group (2017). Uncreativity: a Discussion on Working Creativity Before and After Ideation with Dr. Chris BiltonTech Trends (61)2.

Wordclouds, mathematics and building a better teacher

mathematics-education-wordleWordcloud created from all the words in the wikipedia page for “mathematics education” 

What does a teacher need to know to intelligently integrate technology in their teaching? Or better still, what is it that teachers need to know to become effective teachers? 

So this morning I was playing around with a wordcloud generator. Throwing in words from our notes from the Scottsdale Design day… and I got to thinking about how it could be used as an educational tool, specifically to teach mathematics. 

Now, I know what you are thinking, Wordle’s are so passe´, so yesterday. Everybody (and their uncle) uses them and it’s not clear (at least to me) most of the time what value it is bringing into teaching. So bear with me and let me see if I can explain (a) how it can be used to teach mathematics, or at least some content in mathematics; and (b) what implications it has for teacher education and teacher professional development.

I know there are many wordcloud generation sites out there, but the one I focus on is one created by Jason Davis, and is at Continue reading →

Connections: Photo Haiku from Summer 2016

575For the past 17 years (with just two exceptions) my summers have been spent teaching in the MAET program. 2016 was the last time I did that, teaching in Chicago the third cohort of the MSUrbanSTEM project. The MAET program runs somewhat concurrently in three locations—two cohorts in East Lansing MI; two in Chicago, IL and three in Galway, Ireland.  For the past two years we have tried to collectively create an artifact that speaks to our sense of community, and creativity. You can see previous examples here (MAET Words) and here (MSU Fight Song MAET style). This year we asked the everybody involved in the summer programs at these three sites to reflect on what the word “connection” means to them, except that they had to do it in either 5 or 7 syllable words or phrases. And viola… here you have it, the MAET random haiku generator! You will need to reload the page to see a new haiku! Enjoy.


Mathematical insight on reality & you (yes, you!)


I have always been intrigued by the manner in which everyday ideas get “mathematicized” (if that’s a word). For instance, the other day, on a bus-stop by my office I noticed an equation written on the wall. I have no idea why it was there, but there it was.

Happiness equals reality minus expectations – Tom Magliozz

As I have written elsewhere, mathematization is actually quite common. For instance, we sometimes “thoughtlessly assign specific numbers where such specificity is not warranted” and the results may actually be fictional in their relationship to reality. You can read that blog post here: Number (non)sense & flatulence. It is a post where I bring together petabytes, Moby Dick, Indian elevators, Samuel Beckett and flatulence into one sweet(?) package! How often do you see that? It’s worth a read (if I say so myself) so here’s the link again.

A somewhat related issue is how we often take ideas that are extremely subjective and try to express them mathematically, often in the form of an equation. Of course, once we express something as an equation, it is easy to conceive of some interesting variations, generated through simple algebraic manipulation. For instance, here is the equation I saw at the bus-stand:

Turns out that they got the name of the person wrong (thanks Google). It should be Tom Magliozzi (with an i at the end), the late, much beloved, co-host of NPR’s Car Talk, the one who never drives like his brother. 

A simple algebraic manipulation leads to this deep insight:

Reality = Happiness + Expectations

Did you know that Reality is nothing but  happiness combined with expectations? Frankly I did not know that, but thanks to mathematics, I now have a deeper understanding of reality (or at least of alternate reality, an idea that goes well with alternate facts)!

The next image, and example, comes from Dean Basile:


Hmm… lets shift a few of these variables around and we get the following:

You = Impact – Generosity

Reflect on that for a minute (or two). You are whatever is left behind when you subtract your generosity from your impact! Like I said… hmmm…

The question that remains, of course, is what is your relationship to this new reality?


Just some visual wordplay that I have indulged in, just for the heck of it. Nothing really special, though I am partial to the “Explore, Create, Share” design. That was the motto of the MAET program at MSU that I directed for years. cool-type-play-001




2 on Creativity


Explore Create Share

Goodbye 2016, Welcome 2017


Since 2009, our family has made short videos to welcome the new year. These videos are great fun to create, often requiring days of discussion, planning, construction, shooting and editing. They are always typographical in nature, often with a visual twist or illusion. We have no budget to speak of—$10 is around as much as we have ever spent. Below is our latest effort, titled Perspective, shot on our dining table with a budget of around 7 dollars. Enjoy, and yes have a great 2017.

Perspective: Goodbye 2016, Welcome 2017
From Shreya, Soham, Smita & Punya


Those interested can see videos from the years past by going to
Illusory New Year Videos

How was this done? 

Continue reading →

Happy Hanukkah: New Ambigram

In keeping with the holiday theme (see Christmas ambigram below) it seemed appropriate to create a design for Hanukkah. That task actually turned out easier than I had expected – with some natural symmetries that I could take advantage of. The “U” at the center, and the “HA” start paralleled with the “AH” end – just asked to be ambigrammed! If only all words were this easy. A few tweaks later, here is a mirror symmetric design for Hanukkah. Enjoy.


Merry Christmas!


What better way to wish everybody Merry Christmas than with a custom ambigram. The design above, reads Christmas when reflected in a mirror (a wall-reflection) or from either side of the page. For instance imagine printing it on a glass door – it would read the same from either side of the door! Jon Good, my former doctoral student at MSU, created a 3D printed version (shown in the photos below). I think it would make an awesome Christmas Tree ornament – since it would read the same even as it rotated freely when hanging from the tree.



Note: Full disclosure, this technically is NOT a new design. I actually created this a couple of years ago – but since I hadn’t posted it on to the blog, I consider it as being a “new” design.

Structured Improvisation with Keith Sawyer: New Article on Creativity

improv-eImprov(e) Design by Punya Mishra

In this article, in our ongoing series on Rethinking technology & creativity in the 21st centurywe interview Dr. Keith Sawyer, Morgan Distinguished Professor in Educational Innovations at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and one of the most prominent scholars of creativity. In this interview, Dr. Sawyer speaks to the social and collaborative nature of creative work as a form of structured improvisation. Read the complete article below:

Henriksen, D., & Mishra, P., (2016). Between Structure and Improvisation: A Conversation on Creativity as a Social and Collaborative Behavior with Dr. Keith SawyerTech Trends (61)1.

Note: As anyone who follows my blog knows that I love to play with visuals and typography. The “Improv(e)” visual at the top of the page was one I came up with while writing this blog post. Below the jump are a couple of ideas that didn’t make the cut – but I wanted to preserve none-the-less. In each of these the idea is to convey something about the ideas in the Sawer interview – specifically around structured improvisation. Enjoy.

Continue reading →

TPACK & ASU in USDE policy brief


The US department of Education recently released a policy brief, titled: Advancing Educational Technology in Teacher Preparation. As they describe it

This policy brief identifies key challenges and solutions to the effective integration of technology in teacher preparation, provides guiding principles on how to move the field toward effective integration of technology in teacher preparation programs, and identifies areas of opportunity and collaboration for stakeholders across the field.

Speaking selfishly, as a researcher and as a member of the leadership team at Arizona State, I have to point out two key references made in the report.

The first, speaks to my research (a collaborative effort with Matthew Koehler at MSU), namely the TPACK framework. Within the context of one of the key principles described in the report, that of “building sustainable, program-wide systems of professional learning” the report says:

To create expert teachers, preparation programs may find it helpful to incorporate a combination of skills and knowledge often referred to as TPACK: Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge. Graduates should be able to incorporate a solid knowledge of content matter, a deep understanding of how students learn, and a practical facility with technology.

Second, is the reference in the report to some exemplary work being done under the leadership of one my colleagues, Teresa Foulger, here at ASU. As the report states:

Teresa Foulger, an associate professor at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, is leading a working group of educational technology faculty-researchers to develop a set of competencies for use by teacher educators in teacher preparation. The goal of the Teacher Education Technology Competencies (TETC) project is to define the knowledge, skills, and behaviors of higher education faculty who support pre-service teachers in learning to teach with technology. The competencies are being created using crowdsourced scholarly literature as a base, then a collaborative Delphi methodology where input is attained from an international base of teacher educators and content experts. The research team plans to release the competencies in Spring 2017.

Teresa recently presented her work in this area at a meeting at the White House!

TPACK newsletter #31,

Tpack ambigram logo

The latest version of the TPACK newsletter (#31) can be found here December 2016 (pdf). All previous issues are archived here. A shout-out to Judi Harris for all the work that goes into this. As I had said in a previous post, based on Judi’s numbers, the work on TPACK continues to grow. As per Judi, there are 665 articles, 199 book chapters, 23 books, 182 dissertations around TPACK.

* Image: TPACK ambigram created for a t-shirt



Update on “The TPACK story” Or “Oops!”


I had recently posted a video of my talk fall Doctoral Research Forum for the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College on the ASU West campus. As I had written in my post, “I thought it best to speak about the role of theory in research. This is something that troubles graduate students a lot as they move through the program (and I have posted about it earlier here and here). I contextualized the discussion within the history of the work that Matt Koehler and I did in developing the TPACK framework.”

Following the post, I received a lovely email from Judi Harris complimenting me on the talk, but also pointing out few gaps in the story that I had told. With her permission, for the sake of getting the story right, I am including relevant excerpts from her email (with some comments/responses from me embedded in between. This would also be the right moment to thank Judi for her service to the broader scholarly community – through her work with the TPACK newsletter (issues archived here) and the TPACK sig. TPACK would not have been as influential  without her unstinting efforts. Her email and my responses below:

Continue reading →