Tag Archives: observation journals

#TEDTalkTuesday: Noticing a.k.a. practicing neoteny

When innovators talk about the virtues of beginner’s mind or neoteny, to use the term favored by MIT Media Lab’s Joi Ito, one of the desirable things they’re referring to is that state where you see things without labels, without categorization. Because once things have been labeled and filed, they become known quantities— and we don’t think about them, may not even notice them. (Berger, 41 pag.)

Tony Fadell: The first secret of design is … noticing

You see, there are invisible problems all around us, ones we can solve. But first we need to see them, to feel them.

Look broader. Look closer. Think younger.

We must become, in a word, neotenous (neoteny being a biological term that describes the retention of childlike attributes in adulthood). To do so, we must rediscover the tool that kids use so well in those early years: the question. Ito puts it quite simply: “You don’t learn unless you question.” (Berger, 24 pag.)

Berger, Warren (2014-03-04). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas . BLOOMSBURY PUBLISHING. Kindle Edition.

Formative Assessment: Feedback and Action

In Synergy, Bo and I have asked our learners to complete a couple of standing assignments each week in lieu of traditional homework assignments.  One of the standing assignments is to make observations, ask questions, and think about why things are they way they are.  We ask that our learners post their observations to a common place so that we can learn from each other and find common ground of interest in our community.  (You cannot see our common space because it is password protected.  I wish you could see how interesting and varied our learners observations and questions are.) The standing assignment is to post 2-3 observations per week on our common site.

Here’s the progression of assignments and formative assessment:

The first formative assessment was launched on Wednesday, August 31.  Notice that it is not graded; it is just a check-up.  Review your observations journal posts and do a quick count.

This week we issued a more formal formative assessment as shown in the class plans.

This lesson integrates observation journaling with data collection.  It is our hope – our plan – that we will use their observations to help identify the next projects/problems we want to tackle.  We have collected lots of data and now is the time to organize the data and search for trends. As shown in the class plan above, we asked our learners to review all of their posts, to count and tag them, and to self-assess their observation journals based on a rubric that we are developing.  We asked our learners to self-assess and graph their progress in 4 areas using 4-point rubrics.

Here are a couple of examples of graphs submitted by our learners:

Learner 1 Learner 2 Learner 3 This is formative assessment at its finest.  Each learner is informed in several ways.

  • Am I meeting the stated expectation for the number of posts?
  • How am I doing on each category in the Observation Journal rubric?  Is there an area where I am preforming at or above the stated expectations?  Is there an area where I can improve?
  • What action should I take now to do my part?

Bo and I are also informed. We see our Excel experts, our graphing experts, and our observation journal experts.  We have data and graphs to analyze.  We have the opportunity to differentiate – enrich and intervene – as needed by our learners.  

Our learners have taken action.  The expectations are clear.  The path to improve has been communicated.  As a team, we can take steps to improve, learn, and collaborate.  


  • How can this idea be translated into other classes?
  • Now that our learners carry MacBooks, how can we empower/challenge/charge them to take more ownership in charting their progress and growth?
  • Would this type of formative assessment experience spur learners to more/different/better action in traditional classrooms?
  • Would this type of formative assessment help the teacher to differentiate – intervene and enrich – quicker, easier, better?