Serendipity or William and Mary

Sometimes good ideas come from disciplined planning and structured learning, and sometimes they arise by happenstance from the environment in which we find ourselves. I was grappling recently with finding an appropriate way to write about two concepts that were loosely related but not theoretically joined—standardized curriculum and student experiences at home. I wanted a way to talk about them both in the same conversation.

I struggled for several days reading article after article, trying to draw tortured parallels between ideas. Then a reminder popped up on my phone: “Teaching Critical Thinking lecture with Don Ambrose in fifteen minutes”. I had put it on my calendar after seeing it in the weekly email of things to do around the School of Education, but I had forgotten about it. This was just the kind of brain break/detour that I needed to be able to see my work with fresh eyes.

The Center for Gifted Education had brought Dr. Ambrose in to present on some teaching methods he had developed for stretching kids’ creativity beyond the usual boundaries. He reviewed and demonstrated ten or so interesting strategies for stimulating students’ creative sides and critical thinking skills—all of which could be adapted to fit any kind of class, from math to literature to music. It was a very interesting and entertaining two hours.

So I adapted one of his methods to my research problem, which allowed me to see connections that were not apparent before. The ideas started flowing. I came up with a visual model to represent everything I was thinking about, and got some really interesting new observations and thoughts out on paper. Afterwards, I thought how fortuitous it was that I had happened to put that reminder in my phone. Thinking further on it, however, I realized it wasn’t serendipity at all—it was William and Mary. These kinds of opportunities and interactions happen all the time here, because a lot of people work very hard to deliberately cultivate the kind of environment where learning and good ideas happen in the everyday routines and interruptions that characterize school life.