Why We Must Break Concepts into Pieces, Let Ideas Linger

During an open house event April 7, I joined University of Massachusetts Boston’s Critical and Creative Thinking program in honoring the work and upcoming retirement of Dr. Carol Smith, a professor of psychology and pioneer in cognitive development, conceptual change and restructuring, and learning for deeper understandings.

UMass Boston faculty members described Smith’s decades of dedication, compassion and goodwill, as she navigated through transformative learning and problem solving, identifying what’s important to think about, as well as why and how. They explained her comfort in appreciating diverse perspectives, and her capacity to offer mixed observations. Continue reading

Why The World Needs Nimble Thinkers

During an open house event March 3, I listened to stories offered by graduates of the Critical and Creative Thinking program at University of Massachusetts Boston. Their stories revealed several common themes among the program’s alumni.

While virtually seated in Boston from Colorado Springs, via an online Google+ Hangout, I heard the first graduate explain how the curriculum had caused some restlessness. She started reopening texts, revisiting ideas. Her thinking had evolved. Her view of the world had changed.

After completing the program, “I figured out just how much I had learned,” she said. Continue reading

How Might Stories Scaffold Creative Learning?

My fingers frequently flirt with keyboards, oftentimes making a move, sometimes when they shouldn’t. It’s that digital hush, again: “Facebook isn’t for essays or politics.”

Where ought I write to understand? Describing her writing process, Flannery O’Connor said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

As a graduate student in critical and creative thinking, I’m fascinated by literacy as mastering process, not content. Knowledge isn’t a commodity. It’s an exploration.

It’s about people using tools—it’s sociotechnical. Continue reading


Our Rising Star

Miracles? Devine interventions? The energy of the universe creating connections? An eerie but random set of events?

Rising StarI witnessed an interesting merger with the sun in early July 2012, while driving near our home in Colorado Springs. A vertical vapor trail had helped it resemble a rising star. A couple of weeks ahead of that sighting, we finalized plans to visit my wife’s sister and niece in Quebec.

During the trip in August, we toured Saint Joseph’s Oratory at Mount Royal. Brother André Bessette, a distant cousin of my mother, founded the oratory in October 1904. He was appointed its guardian in July 1909. Brother André became known as a miracle worker by our family and countless others, even beyond his death in 1937. Continue reading


Preying on Big Data

The falcon soars to a pitch high above a plain, surveying for an attractive piece of data. Another 2.5 quintillion bytes is filling the landscape today, stuffing social media posts, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, cell phone GPS signals and other information systems.

He anticipates the flow of information, staying a step ahead of reactions, considering all environmental conditions. Circling the surroundings, he isn’t expecting the feel of familiarity, but thinking instinctively – nothing is unfamiliar. The characteristics of untrustworthy, unreliable data are consistent across state borders. Continue reading

Qatar’s expat experience

The daylight is blinding and the moist air somewhat suffocating. Frequent 110-degree Fahrenheit temperatures clash with heavy humidity. Hot, sandy breezes feel like standing in front of a filthy spinning turbine. For respite, residents rely on concrete air-conditioned homes, restaurants and shops. Those are typical and timeless summer conditions found in Qatar, a peninsula country protruding into the Persian Gulf.

I arrived in Qatar via Germany and Bahrain in July 2003, more than seven years ago. I had signed an employment offer with a defense contractor in Fort Worth, Texas, while living in Henderson, Nevada. The company staffed force protection positions at Camp Sayliyah, the forward-located headquarters for Central Command. The CENTCOM commander routinely met with reporters there to discuss war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Continue reading

Qatar Sand Dunes

Qatar sand bashing

The Qatar peninsula combines soft and hard terrain, surrounded by the Persian Gulf. The land north of Doha, the capital city, is mostly dust blowing over compact bedrock, where ground excavation requires huge hydraulic jack hammers. The southern region east of Salwa road, the only authorized expressway into Saudi Arabia, is an expedition through enormous slopes of sand.

When driving between continuous sand dunes, the monochromatic landscape looks nearly the same in every direction. Color consistencies camouflage steep cliffs – from a few feet to several hundred meters high – which easily tip unprepared motorists. At times, the only way to penetrate a patch of sand is to build up momentum. Inexperienced drivers who blindly hit the gas are likely to spin out of control and crash. Continue reading

Qatari Merchant

Qatari merchant explains life before the oil

Mohammad Saleh Nishwar, 79, has sold merchandise at Souq Waqif in Doha, Qatar, for more than 60 years. His family-owned store, about the size of a parking space, hasn’t budged in almost 100 years. Reconstruction projects have protected its cultural merit, as part of the oldest trading area in Qatar. Across the street, soaring temples of trade, banking, hospitality and governance are rising from the desert sands, fertilized by seemingly endless fossil fuels. Aside from considerable oil reserves, Qatar has proved 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the largest single gas field under the earth’s crust.

Qatar is a contrast of elements: dull, beige land meets sparkling, blue water. The country protrudes into the Persian Gulf from the Arabian Peninsula. Sand and compact bedrock cover 4,416 square miles. Occasional patches of trees and grass endure the dusty surroundings, which soak up only a few inches of rainfall each year. There are no rivers or lakes, only saline swamps from changing oceanic tides. Continue reading

Moroccan Gnawa

Moroccan cultural exhibition in Doha

Moroccan Gnawa

Moroccan Gnawa

Laila and I watched performers demonstrate traditional dance during a Moroccan Cultural Week at the Qatar National Theater in Doha, March 11-12. The two days were a part of a week-long commemoration of Doha, Capital of Arab Culture 2010. The festivities featured Moroccan jewelry, embroidery and henna tattooing exhibitions as well as events related to cinema, plastic art, traditional music and dance.

Inside a gallery, a Moroccan man was cutting clay tiles with perfect precision using something that resembled an iron anvil. We watched him chip away hexagons and every shape fit perfectly together. Mosaic tiles are a native artistic handiwork of Morocco, which had a lingering affect on art in Spain and Italy, their northern European neighbors. Continue reading

Qatar racing

Qatar Drag Racing

Qatar Drag Racing

Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani, Al Anabi Racing owner, revs up his engine during an Arabian Drag Racing League championship, near Doha, Qatar, Feb. 26, 2010. The Pro Extreme vehicle, from Qatar, uses a 1968 Chevy Camaro SS body, equipped with a McAmis chassis. A Brad Anderson 526-cubic inch Supercharged Hemi motor rests under the hood, capable of unleashing almost 4,000 horsepower.

Everyone watch the mechanical power unleash on the race track, which was nestled within the outskirts Doha. Shiekh Khalid, son of the Qatar emir, set a new standard in speed while driving a full-body door car on a 660-foot drag strip January 22, 2010. During that same race, Qatar hosted the first ever side-by-side finish in under 3.7 seconds. Continue reading