The Mommy Rush

Learning, Exploring, Creating, and Growing.

Free 3k XC returns to Nike World HQ on Wednesdays this August – great for the whole family

Run Oregon

Nike’s XC series is returning this August – and it’s still free.

Put on by the Bowerman Track Club (previously called Bowerman Athletic Club), the free 3k XC series is returning this August. Though not specifically geared towards youth, the shorter distance and safe course – run completely on the protected trails and paths of the Nike campus in Beaverton – make it great for families. And the price: free.

The course is a loop, run twice, and if you have a younger child not ready for 3k you could run with them and drop after one lap.

Each week, the race starts a 6p. You can sign a waiver at the event starting around 5:30p each week; in past years they have posted it online but it’s not up quite yet.

Bowerman Track Club XC Series

When: Wednesdays: August 6, 13, 20, and 27, 2014

What time: Each weekly…

View original post 73 more words


100 Days of Summer to Explore the 100 Languages of Children

We made it! It’s Summertime. It seems this past school year has been especially grueling for the Rush Family for many reasons. With a graduating senior, a graduating 5th grader and a graduating Kindergartener, all of the children have grown leaps and bounds from where they were last Fall.  Last fall, I went back to teaching and in so doing, in addition to all of the activities going on throughout the year, we all became stretched pretty thin.  So, we are all very ready for a recharge summer.

The big son is getting ready to head off to college next year so he decided to get a job during the summer to have spending money for the year.  But the younger kids and I decided that, in order to make the most of the summer time we have to recharge, explore, and create. To do this, we wanted to make a list of ALL the things we wanted to do this season.  When I began to map out the calendar, I realized that the kiddos will have just over 80 days, and I will have just over 100 days of summer with which to do whatever we want! It just happens that I’m re-reading The Hundred Languages of Children, the basis for the Reggio Emilio movement as I begin to plan out the new art / tinkering studio for the baby girl.  It struck me that our Summer 100 List during the 100 days of Summer could be a powerful, purposeful, family project, if we were to approach it with the goal of learning and togetherness.

So, today marks DAY 1 of the 100 days of Summer!

Every day we will do at least one thing on our Summer 100 list. Depending on how appropriate, I will try to share here and on Instagram and Facebook.  Stay tuned for some very exciting experiences!

The Hundred Languages Poem




100 Days of Summer List

100 Days of Summer List



1.  Go to the Library every week

2-11. Visit 10 new libraries

12. Learn to fold origami

13. Watch 5 classic movies

14 Read 3 novels,

one each set in Spain, France, Italy


15. Seaside, Oregon

16. Walla Walla, Washington

 17. Spokane, Washington

18. Barcelona, Spain

19, Nice, France

20. Rome, Italy

21. San Luis Obispo, California



22. Create “Flat Stanley”-like character for photos all summer

23-32. Visit 10 new (to us) parks / playgrounds

33-35.  Take 3 Factory Tours

36-40. Visit 5 NEW (to us) museums

41-45. Visit 5 local farms

46-50. Visit 5 different farmer’s markets

51-60. Visit 10 Wineries or microbreweries



61. Do Sidewalk Chalk Art

62. Paint Rocks

63. Fingerprint Animals

64. Make an ABC book

65. Paint Pottery

66. Make Cards

67.  Sketch

68.  Make a collage with magazines

69. Make wind-chimes

70. Make robots

71. Make DIY Light Table

72. Make LEGO Movie

73. Mixed media canvas

74. Make Little Robot Friends

75.  Makey Makey Projects



76. Weekly Family Game Night

77. Do Jigsaw Puzzles

78. Play Twister

79. Go Bowling

80. Go Ice Skating

81. Go Roller Skating

82. Build a Fort

83. Squirt Gun Fight

84. Blow bubbles

85-94. Visit 10 different swimming pools / parks



95. Create Art Journals

96. Take a Picture everyday

97. Write a sentence a day, in a journal.

98. Make a comic book

99. Write a book

100. Create a Time Capsule

People of Portland, you continue to amaze me!

It’s been quite a while since I’ve forced myself to sit down and do some personal writing.  But, this week, I feel I must rant about how wonderful it is to live in a place like Portland, Oregon.

Some of you who know me personally know that I have a teenage son.  And if you know me well, then you know he recently wrote for a grant to restore a small plot of land in the neighboring town of Gresham.  This is no surprise to most of you, especially if you know how I feel about hands-on learning and the power of service-based learning.  I confess the Big Son followed through on this grant opportunity at my urging.  He, however, did all the legwork, including contacting a wildlife expert in the area, lining up volunteers to help with the removal of invasive blackberries, choosing, purchasing, and planting the native plants to restore the habitat.  I was there for moral support, transportation, and well some serious hard work, too.  But for the most part, he completed his project on-time and under budget, and I think he gained a lot from the experience, not the least of which is a sense of what he can accomplish with persistence and focus on a goal.

When he received the grant, the cool thing about it was that in addition to receiving $500 to complete the “project”, which was to restore the habitat of a known population of threatened Oregon Slender Salamanders, he also received an internship stipend of $500 after he completed an 80 hour summer internship related to conservation.  The only problem was, the organization is not in the Portland area – it was a nationwide grant – so they provided no help or facilitation in finding an internship.

So here we are, nearing the end of our summer, and after returning from a 4 week wilderness camp, Big Son realized he hadn’t heard back from any of the organizations that he contacted about a possible internship and he had only the month of August to complete his 80 hours.  As a mom who wants to be sure her teenager 1) follows through on his commitments and 2) doesn’t waste the little summer time he had left laying around the house, I did what any mom would do and sent off a frantic email to the Oregon Urban Environmental Resource Council email list-serve, of which I am a member.  Here’s the gist of my email:

I’m wondering if anyone on this list can use a volunteer during the month of August?  My son received a Youth Conservation Grant from Planet Connect to restore a part of Johnson Creek to improve the habitat for threatened Slender Salamanders.  He completed his project in June and part of his award includes $500 scholarship for an 80 hour internship with a conservation organization or initiative. However the organization did not give him any guidance or connections for organizations in need of volunteers.  The net of all this is he needs to dedicate 80 hours to a conservation effort in order to receive his award.    He is 15, so not driving yet, and we live in Lake Oswego.  He can get pretty much anywhere in the Portland Metro area. Any ideas?Thanks in advance for any help you can offer,

Imagine my surprise when this community sprung into action.  Here are some of the many amazing emails I received in response:

We could use his help with some things around the office if he wants to come here. – Amy, Johnson Creek Watershed Council

I have work he could do!!  Give me a call, numbers listed below, and we can talk. Thanks, Chanda S., Volunteer Specialist I Restoration Coordinator, City of Tualatin

Try the watershed basin councils. -Mark M., Clackamas County

Three things I can think of near where you are:

Have you tried the watershed councils? Specifically, Johnson Creek Watershed Council? Or maybe Tualatin Riverkeeper? The only other idea I have in your area is the Soil & Water Conservation District in Hillsboro. If he doesn’t mind more driving, there are also the East and West Multnomah SWCDs and the Columbia Slough Watershed Council, maybe the Clackamas SWCD although that is far out. Let me know if you’d like me to put you in touch with my contacts at any of these places – they may be able to help pass him along to others as well!- Jen

I might have some habitat restoration projects he could help with if he could get out to the Sauvie Island.  We have bus service to the bridge and I could pick him up there.  I’m on vacation next week, but will be back on Aug. 9.  We are going to have some work parties to remove ivy and other invasive weeds, but he could also help with plant propagation.- Jane, Sauvie Island Habitat Partnership

I have room on my Summer youth Eco-Team the week of August 13-17 (which would be 40 hours), plus we could definitely find some projects for your son to work on for an additional 40 hours. (Entering bird survey data, assisting our staff with daily activities, assisting me with some volunteer programs preparation and documentation…) If this sounds interesting, please let me know! – Susan H., Portland Parks and Rec

Any luck finding an internship for your son? If not, does he have a resume, bio, or what he’s looking for out of an internship?- Thanks, Laura P., Watershed Management, Clean Water Services

I am the project coordinator for the Blue Heron Wetland Restoration Project that is located in NE Portland. We conduct our management and research in the Blue Heron Wetlands located off of Marine Dr. and adjacent to I-5. The purpose of the project is to eradicate the invasive species Ludwigia peploides (aquatic primrose) from the wetland ecosystem. The work that your son would be involved in would include data collection in an aquatic environment, native planting, soil relocation and plot construction. The work is being carried out in a swamp environment, is labor intensive and would definitely make him earn his hours (no surprises). Please feel free to call me for more information. — Alex S., Project Coordinator, Blue Heron Wetland Restoration Project

We also received personal phone calls from the North Clackamas Urban Watersheds Council and a project coordinator from SOLV with a restoration project in Lake Oswego (the town where we live), however by the time the latter came in, the Big Son had already selected two organizations he wanted to work with.  In the end, he applied for the Summer Eco Team through Portland Parks and Rec (watch the video at the link), and the remaining hours he committed to working with the N. Clackamas Urban Watershed Council on some education and outreach activities to engage youth in the area.  Both opportunities sound like amazing experiences and I’m looking forward to hearing what he gets out of them.

But more than anything, this week has proven to me that Portland is not a beautiful city by accident.  There are environmental stewards all over the city and the state, really, working hard to preserve the precious natural resources that make the Pacific Northwest such a beautiful place to visit and live, much of which we take for granted.  If nothing else, for anyone interested in getting involved with some citizen science or environmental volunteering, this list can definitely get you started!

Thinking inside the box! The Little Free Library in the neighborhood…

Ok, I’ve been inspired… I only just learned about this concept of the Little Free Libraries that is spreading all over the country, and the first thing I said when I did was, “I want one of those!” When I did some digging into this amazing movement sweeping the country, I learned that it is not too difficult to create one. And so this past Friday, when the Little Son had the day off from school, we began a project: The Carlson Court Little Free Library Project.

In case you’re not familiar with what a Little Free Library is, here’s a quick intro (as excerpted from

Little Free Libraries are small structures that serve as an informal book exchange. Usually positioned atop a post in someone’s front yard, by a bike path or in a park, they seem to have an almost magical effect on people. Once people realize that they can “take” any book they want, they also become aware of a desire to share their favorite reads.

NPR interviewed the founders of the movement this past March, “Give a book, return a book. That’s the motto of what are known as Little Free Libraries.”

USA Today published about them in February – read the article here.

NBC Nightly News caught wind of the Little Free Library in March – watch the video here.

And the article that I read,on was all the inspiration I needed to make it happen for my community.

The concept is simple: put a charming box full of books in a public place, encourage people to share them and to contribute their own.

From the Little Free Library FAQ:

If this were just about providing free books on a shelf, the whole idea might disappear after a few months. There is something about the Little Library itself that people seem to know carries a lot more meaning. Maybe they know that this isn’t just a matter of advertising or distributing products. The unique, personal touch seems to matter, as does the understanding that real people are sharing their favorite books. Leaving notes or bookmarks, having one-of-a-kind artwork on the Library or constantly re-stocking it with different and interesting books can make all the difference.

What I love about the idea is not just that I can give away some of the books that I’ve been holding onto for years – I can do that any day of the week, in fact I dropped a box full off at the Goodwill on Monday. No, what I love about the idea of the Little Free Library is that it is a way of connecting people through sharing books. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that our family is definitely living in the digital world, but there is something about the idea of sharing a good book with a neighbor or friend, that just makes me feel good.

The founders of The Little Free Library movement have designed several standard versions of LFLs, and for a mere $250, you can have one shipped to you ready to be put into use. For some reason, it didn’t seem like the way I wanted to start our LFL. And $250 seems pretty steep for something that could be put together using recycled or reused items. So, this past Friday, on his day off from school, Little Son and I hopped in the car and headed into town to round up some recycled materials from our favorite reuse stores.

We started at The Rebuilding Center, which is a favorite of mine when I need some inspiration for upcycling projects. Little Son loved it because it is on one of the coolest streets in Portland, Mississippi Avenue, which is home to our very favorite ice cream shop, Ruby Jewel, the coolest organic gardening shop we know, Pistil’s, where we got our first batch of redworms for composting several years ago (RIP, little buddies!), and one of several locations of our favorite breakfast (at any time of the day) restaurants, Cup and Saucer Cafe. On this day, we didn’t have time to stop at any of these favorite places, because we were on a mission. At the Rebuilding Center, we managed to find a good-looking cabinet that had been pulled out of a kitchen remodel, and a matching door with glass window panes, so that you can see inside the cabinet. We paid for the items ($20 total) and loaded up, headed for our next stop, Rejuvenation.

Now, Rejuvenation is quite different than The Rebuilding Center, though with kind of the same idea. Depending on where you enter, you’ll think you’re either in a high-end home furnishing store or an antique salvage yard. We entered on the high-end side and bee-lined it to the salvage section for just the right fixture for the handle for the door – a wrought iron sprinkler head from a bucket that had been dropped off recently. Little son immediately chose one with letters along the outside. “What does ELLPOW mean?”, “I think it’s POWELL…”, “Oooohhh, that makes sense, like the street? Cool!” He decided he’d paint the knob electric blue; we paid ($5) and were on our way to find some recycled paint – SCRAP was our next stop.

SCRAP stands for School Community Recycling Action Project and is all about keeping craft and office supplies out of landfills. The first time you walk into the place you will just be amazed, it is literally a warehouse of random junk that you would find in your junk drawer, but sorted to make it easy to find something that you’re looking for. We were looking for paint but on the way to the paint, Little Son found a cool piece of bare wood in a hexagon shape ($.25) that he thought would be perfect for a sign. We grabbed it, found the paint section and were on our way ($3.25 total)

We were home before noon and couldn’t wait to get started on the project – we had some spray paint left over from heaven knows when – we primed and painted the cabinet, removed the old door and put on the new one, painted the knob and the hexagon sign. Little son actually painted the sign with chalkboard paint; he thought it would be cool to change the message on the Library, every once in a while.

It was all looking good until we realized we didn’t have anything that could shelter the LFL from the wonderful Portland weather. So, yesterday morning after the baby girl’s gymnastics class, the 3 of us headed out again with another mission, this time to find and build a roof. We were very lucky to find all we needed at the Habitat for Humanity Restore warehouse in Beaverton . They had roof shingles 6 for $1, plywood and beams 2 for $1, and we left with everything we needed for the grand total of $3.28. Home again to put it all together – cutting, hammering, and painting some more – and now the Carlson Court Little Free Library is ready for it’s debut. Please come for a visit, if you are ever in the neighborhood!

What do teachers make? They make us who we are…

Educate to Innovate with STEM

You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write.
I make them read, read, read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math
and hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you’ve got this,
then you follow this,
and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this.

– Taylor Mali

When I first saw Taylor Mali perform this poem, it brought me to tears, and at the time I had no idea why.  But after years of working as a teacher and with teachers…

View original post 151 more words

Minds in the Making: 6 Tips to Engage Your Kids This Summer

Last week, I had an idea, one that I think has the potential to be a great idea. Since October of last year, I’ve been self-employed which doesn’t really tell you much except that I have an awesome boss. In my case, I’ve spent the last several months splitting my time between consulting work (emails, phone calls, and reports) and research for a book project on how to improve the American education system (emails, phone calls, and writing). So, really I could be considered a ‘professional communicator’. If it weren’t for the fact that I am generally talking to some pretty amazing teachers and school leaders, who are at the helm of some extremely innovative education initiatives, I might just lose my mind. In truth,the last several years of my unusual career have given me the opportunity to work with and learn from programs from around the world that are having an amazing impact on kids.

So, what is this idea? Since this year is all about balance, and it is the first summer that I will have the luxury of sharing a good portion of it with my littlest kiddos (Little Son-8 and Baby Girl-4), I decided I wanted to try out some of what my research is telling me about how best to engage kids through informal learning experiences. I imagined sort of “home-brewed” summer camp. As I began to think about how I might be able to engage Little Son in a project, I immediately had a vision of him throwing a fit because he would much rather hang out with his friends! LIGHTBULB… Why not create a camp for Little Son AND his friends to engage the group in some informal learning experiences? And the spark was lit…

It took me less than an hour to put together an email that clearly articulated the idea and I sent it out to the parents of the friends of the Little Son. Within 3 days I heard from 13 families who were interested! The responses were pretty consistent, with an approximate 2:1 “brilliant to crazy” ratio, which made me think I may be onto something. So, I set to work coordinating calendars and came up with about 4 weeks where there were enough kids interested and available to plan a local DIY summer camp!

If you’re looking for ways to engage your own children this summer vacation, here are some tips to help nurture their curiosity through informal learning experiences. These techniques are all derived from educators around the US who are using interest-based learning, place-based learning, project-based learning, and service-based learning to ignite students’ natural curiosity about the world around them, to empower them to take control of their own learning, and ultimately to build the skills necessary to be successful in the global economy.

  1. Assess their interests and learning styles. What are they naturally interested in and how do they learn best? Research tells us that when a child is engaged in an activity that falls into their “interest domain”, they are more motivated to learn. It is this intrinsic motivation that has the greatest impact on a child’s abilities and achievements. Find out what interests them – it is the key to their motivation! (I’ve developed an Interest Assessment for use with K-5 grade level, feel free to access and use to help identify interests and learning preferences for your own kids)
  2. Get outside and explore! I recently posted on my own experience recognizing my disconnection with nature. My experiences with Nature University as well as conversations with teachers have convinced me that Nature has a unique power to fully engage your senses and to inspire creativity. I recently interviewed a teacher in Massachusetts who manages the Eco-Explorer program for elementary teachers. One of their techniques for teaching with the outdoors is a “10-minute field trip”, which is just enough time to sketch a flower, test some soil, or clear your head for that next great idea.
  3. Play lots of games (yes, including video games) and create new games! I am not a huge fan of video games, but I will admit my kids do enjoy playing them. And I tend to agree with the research that tells us that Games are NOT the enemy, despite the fact that so much of the world’s problems are blamed on video games. It’s hard to imagine there could be anything good about having our children spend hours staring at a screen and plotting and strategizing about how to reach the next level of Super Mario Brothers. But research tells us that process of learning how to play a new game actually develops the very skills we hope kids will hone by the time they reach adulthood. I am of the philosophy that if playing video games has some benefit, then designing video games must build useful skills as well. The fact is that there are few activities that will provide more training to solve real-world problems than designing a video game. Give kids a chance to play games and use the experience to create something new!
  4. Explore your community. A couple months ago, I spent some time talking with an amazing teacher in San Diego who took this approach with her science students; they spent one day a week out of the school building. And the results were astounding, kids made discoveries about the world just from observations in their own backyard. But even more important,this helps kids to understand what it means to be a part of a community. How are we all connected and how can we contribute to our community to solve a problem or serve a purpose? No matter where you live, there are rich experiences available to introduce your kids to different perspectives.
  5. Ask questions, research, and learn. Do people ever read a newspaper anymore? Well, in our community they do, though information overload is a very real problem and one that our children need to know how to manage. Access to information is no longer a luxury. For kids growing up today, digital natives, the critical issue has become how to cut through the overwhelming amounts of information to determine what is important, relevant, and accurate. Spend time reading and looking for information through available resources and build experiences around what you find. These experiences are building a foundation for lifelong learning, a skill that is necessary in the fast-moving economy we live in.
  6. Learn about another culture. Last summer , our family took an extended vacation to a small-town in Mexico. Instead of staying in a big resort, where we would have met lots of people from places just like our hometown, we rented a home in a small fishing town and attempted to integrate our selves in the local community. I can’t put into words how powerful it was to watch my children adapt to a new environment with a different language, different foods, and different challenges. Although the stay was only 2 weeks, it was long enough for all of us to appreciate that we are just one piece of the global puzzle, and it sparked a desire in the kids to learn about cultures different from our own. Travel is a wonderful way to do this, but it is not the only way, there are organizations and institutions everywhere that are dedicated to sharing their culture with the public. Take advantage of these opportunities for you and your children!

If you’re looking for ideas to keep your kids busy this summer, with worthwhile activities that will allow them to continue to grow, this should get you started. And stay tuned for more information about how to develop your own DIY Summer Camp with your kids!

Top 10 parenting lessons from Albert Einstein

In honor of Albert Einstein’s birthday, I thought I’d share some of the parenting lessons I picked up from one of the most significant scientists of our time.  Some you’ll recognize, others maybe not, but all apply to the “Science of Raising Children”.

  1. Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.  This explains why, despite a daily reminder from me, my 8 year old cannot remember to brush his teeth before leaving for school!
  2. If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself. This law is not specific to parenting, but one that becomes crystal clear once your child can form sentences.  The good news is that sometimes the 6-year old explanation is all that is necessary.  The bad news is that there are infinite numbers of questions that come from the mind of a 6-year old!
  3. If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.  Read to them, with them, and without them!  Reading is the key to knowledge, share it with them.
  4. Speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.  The kiddos are watching and they will imitate the behavior we model.
  5. Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.  I’ve always said that the only thing I want my children to learn is “how to learn”. Our job as parents is to make sure this happens…
  6. Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.  Don’t be disappointed if your child does not excel in something set forth for them.  Let them find their passion, the genius will follow!
  7. Never memorize something that you can look up.  After all, there is Google and Wikipedia for homework help, Allrecipes and Cook’s for recipes, HBR and Working Mother for business tips etc. Information is everywhere; don’t waste your time trying to remember it all…
  8. You never fail until you stop trying. I will get these chicks out of the nest, gosh darn it, if it’s the last thing I do!!
  9. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.  Don’t make life easy for your children.  Growth only comes from challenge.  This is the most difficult parenting lesson of all!  But your success as a parent depends on how well you learn it!
  10. A question that sometimes drives me hazy: am I or are the others crazy?  Oh yes, it’s definitely me!  I have 3 kids after all.  That is the definition of crazy!

Need a new perspective? Sometimes it’s as simple as just stepping outside!

I am conditioned to find examples of innovative technology and engineering, everywhere. It is just who I am. Whether I am in the grocery store ringing up my own purchase with a self-scanning machine, reading the newspaper about the new solar cell project, or simply evaluating the new gadget or app that comes out onto the market to make my life easier, as an engineer, and an engineering educator, innovation catches my eye. But recently, I’ve realized that as an engineer – someone focused on the study and creation of the human made world – I have been missing out on all of the science – the study of the natural world – that goes on right under my nose. And what a world it is…

I first recognized my lack of connection with nature after reading a very well-known book about the importance of nature in child development, by Richard Louv. The Last Child in the Woods lays out the author’s theory that kids today are suffering from what he calls Nature Deficit Disorder, not a clinical term, but one that is easily understood when described. As I read the book, I very quickly identified myself in Louv’s description of the consequences of being raised without a connection to nature. For some reason, this realization bothered me. How had I lived my life, up to this point without realizing and taking advantage of all that nature had to offer me, not only as an engineer or scientist, but as a teacher, a parent, A PERSON ??! (As a follow on, I’ve recently begun reading Louv’s latest book, “The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature Deficit Disorder”, that was inspired by adults who approached him after “The Last Child…” to insist they suffer from NDD, as an adult. Highly recommend both books, the latter is more current, though Last Child … is still very accurate)

And so when I came across the opportunity to apply for a local naturalist training program for adults interested in environmental education, I immediately jumped at the chance. Nature University, as it is called, is coordinated by the agency in Portland, Oregon Metro, which manages much of the natural resources in the urban area. Nature U is by application only – to be accepted you must have either a background in environmental or natural resource programming or experience working with youth in formal or informal educational settings AND a desire to share nature with the community. The program is structured very much like it sounds, a 10 week university level course that introduces and engages participants in all aspects of environmental and naturalist education. It is a free course, but in exchange, participants must commit to giving at least 40 hours of volunteer time, within 12 months, in the form of hosting and leading field trips at the local natural areas and parks managed by the organization.

To say that my eyes have been opened to a new world would be an understatement. In fact, the first skill we learned was how to increase our nature awareness through “Owl Eyes” (vision), “Deer Ears” (hearing), and “Fox Walking” (silent walking) – all intended to give us a better chance at observing nature in its, well, natural form. We’ve begun to learn to interpret Bird Language, the calls, postures, and behaviors of birds to determine what is happening in the nearby area, Animal Tracking, observing the imprints left behind by wildlife in soil, snow, mud, or other ground surfaces to tell the story of the animals in the immediate eco-region, and overall nature interpretation, using story telling to convey the interrelationships between all living species.

The experience has been amazing and inspiring, as it seems I am being introduced to my world through a new lens. In fact, I’ve been trying to document the experience through a literal new lens, the camera that I bought myself for my birthday, in January. I’ve included some of my recent photos below. Since beginning this course at the end of January, I’ve been to more natural areas, wildlife refuges, and preserved wetlands than I have in my entire life, all to try to soak in all that I’ve been missing. The bonus is, that these experiences are perfect for sharing with children, and have given me some wonderful ideas and excuses for spending time with my own children. I can confirm that spending time in nature is a perfect universal experience that allows for shared learning and bonding – exactly what a family should be doing!

The lesson I’ve learned is that sometimes we don’t have to look very far to find a new way of looking at the world, sometimes all it takes is the intention and desire to quiet our minds and take in all that is happening around us. If you are looking for a new perspective, a way to clear your head of the stress of daily life, or even just a way to connect with your own children and family, get outside, take a walk, look up and down, listen and learn! If you need help, the list below has some wonderful tips to get the most out if you experience in nature (excerpted from

Tips for Experiencing Nature

  1. Clear the mind of all clutter, worries accumulated during daily living. This can occur naturally during an extended stay in the wilderness.
  2. Let go of time. Live in the now, not the past or future. Don’t fret about the past, don’t worry about the future. You are not on a schedule out here.
  3. Walk slowly and see more.
  4. Sit down. (“If you were to sit under an oak tree for an entire day, you would have enough information to write an entire book.” – John Burroughs.
  5. Let go of worries. Identify what is worrying you and let it pass.
  6. Be alive. Pretend you only have a week to live and every moment matters.
  7. Be quiet. Silence in nature is the rule, noise is the exception. (example: walking through woods)
  8. Don’t analyze (I.E. calculating gallons/sec of waterfall).
  9. Try without trying. Can you get to sleep when you try to get to sleep?
  10. Don’t try to name things. Names can’t describe!
  11. Nothing is commonplace. Each plant is unique, each animal different.
  12. Follow your heart! John Muir was asked, where are you going? “Anyplace that’s wild!” If something looks interesting, check it out. Follow your instincts and urges and you will be surprised!
  13. What will people think? Who cares! Let go of inhibitions! Force yourself to do something crazy and you’ll find it easier to follow your heart.
  14. Let go of prejudices. You never know what is going to be around the corner.
  15. Immerse yourself. Jump into the swamp, get dirty, play in the mud! (example: hiking in rain with cliff)
  16. Ignore discomforts, cold, hot, etc.. (remember as children?)
  17. Become that child!
  18. Best teachers are plants and animals.
  19. Nature is everywhere! Why do we have plants? To remind us of our connection to the earth. There is much to learn from a single potted plant.
  20. Deep relaxation, meditation can help! See below. Stalking can also get you into this relaxed alpha mind set.

A Creative Process: 7 steps to solving any of life’s problems

January is International Creativity Month, a perfect time to reflect on how to be more creative in our lives, to learn to recognize and act on opportunities for creative thinking, and to find (or thank) the muse that provides the inspiration for creating more great work.  According to Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love), in her very moving TED talk, “The big mystery is that creativity does not always behave rationally. […] This is one of the most painful reconciliations we have to make in a creative life. But maybe it doesn’t have to be so full of anguish.  If you never have to believe in the first place, that the most extraordinary aspects of your being came from you.  … it starts to change everything.”

Creativity, or more specifically, the creative process, happens to be a passion of mine and has been ever since the year I first entered the workforce as an engineer, nearly 15 years ago, and was given an opportunity to lead my first design project.  I was thrilled at the opportunity, but at the same time, I was terrified because even though I had successfully completed a degree in electrical engineering, I didn’t feel quite qualified to lead a “real-world” design project from beginning to end.  So began my quest to learn about the  the creative problem-solving process. 

In any case, as one who doesn’t ever like to admit that I don’t know what I’m doing, I set to work on my personal study of the creative process and have been learning about it ever since.  During the years that followed, I’ve uncovered many very useful tools and suggestions that I use on a daily basis to solve problems, come up with ideas, make connections, etc.  My research on the topic of creativity is the main reason I often proclaim that “The best engineers are creative engineers.” when speaking or writing for STEM educators. I truly believe that without the tools necessary to add creativity to our work, we all become simple cogs in the system, keeping the status quo moving.  Innovation comes from the new ideas, the new processes, and all of this is made possible by the Creative Process.

In this post, I’d like to share my reflection on the very first book I ever read on the Creative Process, “The Universal Traveler:  a Soft-Systems Guide to Creativity, Problem Solving, & the Process of Reaching Goals”.  In my opinion this should be the guidebook for anybody looking for a way to think creatively.  For a long time, it was my crutch as I muddled through my first ever ‘cradle-to-grave’ design project (and I have the highlighted, dog-eared paperback to prove it. ) I’ve delivered many a presentation with only the knowledge I gained from the book and the application to my life as a professional engineer. 

  • Step 1 – Acceptance: When it comes to work and life, I have several quotes I use almost as mantras and one of my more common ones goes something like this  “The first step in solving a problem is identifying there is a problem.”    Or a more recent humorous derivative: “The first step in solving the problem is admitting you are PART of the problem…”  The key here is acceptance, defined by the authors as “self-motivation”. This is basically committing to devote time and resources to completing the 7 stages of the process to solve the given situation.  It is important to note, however, that the mantra I use really only covers part of this process.  I’m sure we all know that person who is identifying problems to no end:  aka ‘The Complainer’ who sees more problems than can be solved, or better yet, ‘The Critic’ who can point out the flaws in any situation.  Problems abound in their world.  Do not confuse these characters with a true Creative. Because in order to actually complete the 7 stages of the creative process, it is necessary to not only identify the problem, but to also commit to solving it.  A Creative does not identify problems for others to solve, but rather hunts for problems that only he or she can and will attempt to find a resolution.   This is so critical to the process and the ability to look at a problem and determine if it is something that should be and can be solved is the mark of a Creative. 
  • Step 2 – Analysis: Once a problem has been identified as something that needs attention, the next step is to spend some time researching and analyzing the problem to better understand the context and components involved. This is  also known as the “legwork” and is the process of taking a big picture look at the situation to see where there may be possible interrelationships with other subjects, to identify a list of attributes of the problem, and to follow the path of a similar problem.  The traditional method of analyzing a problem involves ‘looking it up’  (or the contemporary method, ‘googling it’) but a true Creative does not rely on one source or even one category of information.  Lateral thinking,( taking the wide view of a topic), morphological analysis (dividing wholes into parts), and making models of the problem (to examine a different point of view) are all creative ways to go about the analysis stage in the process.  A commonly used method in engineering, TRIZ, was developed by Genrikh Altshuller, and is defined as the “Theory of Inventive Problem Solving”. The process identifies 40 different ways to analyze a problem, which when utilized properly, is thought to be able to solve any problem.
  • Step 3 – Definition:  Didn’t we already define the problem in step 1?  Well, no, not exactly… In Step 1, all we did was determine there was a problem, and we committed to taking steps to attempt to solve it.  But during Step 1, we didn’t have enough information to actually ‘define the problem’.  In this stage, we set the expectations, for ourselves and anyone invested in the solution to the problem.  We have gathered lots of information during the analysis stage, now we need to extract meaning and awareness out of what we have gathered.  In this stage, we are ‘getting our bearings’, clarifying our objectives and establishing the criteria for a good ending and a successful solution.  The challenge is not so much in finding definition as much as it is selecting the single meaning that feels good enough to live with for the rest of the problem solving journey.  During this step, I often find myself flipping between several creative thinking methods such as prioritization (listing, categorizing, and prioritizing all relevant pieces of data) , essence finding (boiling down the many parts of a thin to capture its true underlying essence), and synectics (developing insight from the outside looking in). 
  • Step 4 – Ideation:  Although often confused with creative process, the ideation stage is not in itself a problem-solving process.  Ideas are ways; to go places and to do things. Ideas are options, ultimately to solve a problem.  But to begin the ideation stage before adequately ‘defining the problem’ (step 3), is a bit like buying a plane ticket without a destination.  Before we can develop a list of possible ideas we must be sure we have completed the definition stage.  Then and only then can we start the fun part – ‘Brainstorming’!  If you’ve ever participated in a good team brainstorming session, then you know how exciting it is to feed off the creative energy of a group.  The reality is, however, that brainstorming is only one way to generate ideas, albeit the most well-known.  Other strategies include using manipulative verbs or the SCAMPER method, analogical thinking through forced connections, and mind-mapping, all methods that can be used individually or with a group. (the video below is a great tutorial on mind-mapping, which is extremely helpful when teaching yourself how get your ideas out of your head and onto the page. )
  • Step 5 – Idea-Selection:  So, if ideation were the fun part of creativity, then idea-selection is the worst!  At least it always has been for me.  And I would venture to guess that this is true for most creatives, because in order to select an idea to try, you have to leave the rest behind.  Not an easy task if you think the list is any good.  Nevertheless, a prolific Creative knows that in order to solve a problem, something needs to be chosen for trial.  An experienced engineer will jump right in because he or she knows that ‘the first trial never  hardly ever works!’  (Sidenote:  I used to deliver this piece of wisdom to elementary students before I unleash them on an engineering challenge, because I’ve witnessed many a very dissappointed kindergartener who was sure his or her idea was going to work.  That was until I visited a class of 5th and 6th graders in this past year and observed a quiet, but brilliant pair of students attack the challenge using exactly this process.  While the rest of the children haggled about whose idea was best, these two very respectfully listened to the constraints, followed the instructions, and solved the problem in their first try, forcing me to re-evaluate my use of the word ‘never’.)  Strategies for selecting the best idea?  Well, that really is a personal decision, but for me decision trees, criteria-based ranking, and negative selection are my go-to methods for selection.  But, truth be told, there is no right way to do this.  At the end of the day, I’ve relied as much on my intuition as on any other method. (In my opinion, the strategies above are often more useful in justifying your selection when presenting or communicating an ultimate solution)
  • Step 6 – Implementation:  Now that you’ve picked a path to success, it is time to take action on your plan and ultimately begin the journey that will take you to your destination (a solution to the problem).  Theoretically, if you’ve followed the preceding 5 steps systematically, you will at least see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, it is not always a smooth journey.  And often this stage is the true test of how well you’ve accomplished Stage 1 (acceptance / committing to solving the problem).  In my work as an engineer, implementation is followed by several iterations of evaluating the solution against the criteria for success and then repeating Steps 3-6, until the solution is reached.  But in the context of an creative solution to a subjective problem, this stage could be as simple as communicating the idea to the stakeholders of the problem.  This could take the form of a formal presentation, a report, graphs, charts, diagrams, models and many more forms of artistic representation.  The key here is to be sure the product truly represents a solution and that the audience has enough information to understand it. 
  • Step 7 – Evaluation:  How often do we complete a project or solve a problem only to never think about it again?  Too often, in my opinion.  The evaluation step is critical to the development of your creative skills, whether you are an engineer, an artist, a business person, a teacher, or a parent.  How else will we know if we are meeting our goals, improving our world, or teaching our students?  At the very least we should take the time to reflect on the process we took to reach our solution -did we skip any steps? what was difficult?  what felt comfortable? – so that when (not if) we are faced with our next challenge we can be confident that we have the skills to solve it.  Truly, this is how we develop our creative muscle, and how you can have a Creative Life!

As Ms. Gilbert says, “Don’t be afraid.  Don’t be daunted.  Just do your job!  Contine to show up for your piece of it, whatever that may be. […]  If the divine cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed, then, ‘Ole!’ to you.  But if not, then do your dance anyhow, and ‘Ole!’ to you, nonetheless.  Just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up.”  Yes, that is the secret to a creative life! 


Post Navigation