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Tag: Mississippi

February 23rd, 2015

Foundation for Building the Knowledge Economy

MWB has been involved with efforts to help stop the brain drain that Mississippi is experiencing and to focus on digital literacy and the high level skills that will help us to maintain a thriving knowledge-based workforce in the 21st century. Our support isn’t totally altruistic, although the cause believe does benefit all.

We are an agency headquartered in Mississippi. Most of our business comes from other Mississippi businesses or organizations. So goes the fate of our state, the climate of our creativity, and the depth of our innovation, so goes our company. If Mississippi becomes a major player in the knowledge economy, so do we.

The Mississippi House of Representatives is currently considering a bill (HB 1601) which would provide a state personal income tax holiday for five years to recent graduates of Mississippi colleges or universities who take a qualifying job in-state. The purpose of the bill is to stop us from losing our intellectual capital. The goal of the overall movement is to build a viable knowledge workforce. One that will help us be a leader in a full blown global knowledge economy.

Read how this bill is projected to impact our economy here.

As part of Mississippi’s creative economy, strong advocates of our culture of innovation, and full participants in our future’s vested interests, we strongly encourage other Mississippi businesses and business leaders to take a look at this piece of potential game-changing legislation.

February 17th, 2015

The healthcare economy in Mississippi: MWB Craft Beer Friday 2/27

MWBeer30

UPDATE 2/25/15:  Unfortunately craft beer legal expert Matthew McLaughlin has a conflict and will have to make a speaking appearance at MWBeer30 later this year. However, Butler Snow counsel and former gubernatorial policy advisor Tray Hairston will be on-hand to give a brief talk about the exciting things happening in healthcare in Mississippi, and the concept of healthcare as an economic driver.  Join us at 3:30-ish, Friday, February 27th at MWB’s world headquarters for a great line up of Mississippi craft beer, innovative discussions, and some Mississippi iconic-in-the-making photos taken by MWB Producer of Multimedia Tate Nations.

Great Mississippi from the folks at LD’s Beer Run will be available for sampling.

To stay up with the next #MWBeer30 event and learn about topics discussed at previous gatherings, sign-up for #MWBeer30 alerts. Sign up today and get a free beverage at our next event!

(OK so the beverages are always free. You should sign-up, anyway).

Cheers.

 

February 10th, 2015

Happy birthday, T-Man.

TerrancGoing2Camp

 

Monday, February 9th was a special day in Mississippi. Terrance the Rat, spokesrat of the Reject All Tobacco! campaign, celebrated his 16th birthday. Well, 16 in people years, anyway. Now that Terrance is old enough to drive, I think it’s about time we honored this Mississippi icon by a never before seen “Behind the Fur” article.

An entire generation of Mississippi kids have grown up knowing that R.A.T. doesn’t stand for “Robotic Action Turtles,” or “Really Angry Turnips.” It stands for “Reject All Tobacco,” and kids have spent the last 16 years repeating Terrance’s mantra. I was fortunate enough to begin my tenture at MWB just as the RAT campaign was about to launch. During the development of Mississippi’s ground breaking tobacco counter marketing campaign, it quickly became evident that there were two radically different youth audiences: the teenage 12 – 17 year-olds (we coined this group the ‘Age of Rebellion… for obvious reasons) and the pre-teen 6 – 11 year-olds. We called the latter group the “Age of Reason” because extensive primary and secondary research revealed that the group, generally speaking:

  1. Were accepting of facts, statistics, and analytical reasoning,
  2. Were anxious to repeat what they learned to family and friends, and
  3. Could actually be behavioral influencers to older siblings and especially parents.

 

It was clear that these age groups were radically different in terms of what type of messaging to use, the kinds of concepts that would be effective, and how these messages should be delivered. What was less clear was how to approach this. While it seems like a no-brainer now, things weren’t so cut and dry way back in ’99. Although Mississippi’s tobacco counter-marketing effort was relatively well funded, it certainly wasn’t infinite. And the tobacco program itself had to support a multitude of youth and adult tobacco prevention/cessation services beyond just the counter marketing element. Most experts at the time believed that a messaging campaign targeting pre-teens, especially kids under 10, was a waste of time. Conventional thinking was that tobacco counter marketing wouldn’t really “stick” and that the most immediate impact to tobacco prevalence would be to focus counter marketing almost entirely on the teens.

Fortunately the public health professionals in Mississippi had a greater vision. I shutter to think now that Terrance came close to not being born. Thank goodness Mississippi didn’t buy into conventional wisdom and charted our own course.

The rest, as they say, is history.

YTS2014And measurable history, at that. According to the 2014 Mississippi Youth Tobacco Survey, smoking among public middle school students has been reduced by 80% since 1998. To really understand what that means, let’s deal in real numbers: 18,492 fewer Mississippians will become smokers since Terrance and the RAT campaign were born in 1999. Over the course of their lives, these people will miss less days of work, get less sick, not have to deal with disease and death related to tobacco use, and have children who are far less likely to use tobacco compared to kids whose parents smoke. You don’t have to think about it too long to realize the positive and cyclical snowball effect that this has on both the health and economic climates for Mississippi.

The year of Terrance’s birth 23% of all Mississippi public middle school children – nearly a quarter of the population – were current cigarette smokers. Today, just over 4% fall into that category. What a difference a Rat can make.

TerranceCDI’m also personally proud to have had some small involvement in the perpetuation of what has become a real Mississippi icon. Terrance the Rat has his own song & dance troupes that perform at schools and events across that state. He has appeared in several interactive games and activities, a children’s storybook and has tagged off dozens of TV commercials. The guy even has his own CD! At one point during the mid-2000′s, ad tracking data showed that Terrance had a higher brand recall rate among Mississippi kids than a certain other, and much older, cartoon rodent (eat your heart out, Mick!).

Terrance has changed somewhat through the years. Really astute observers will note that he’s slimmed up a little (he now enjoys PeanutbutterPastaLight™) and his collection of friends has grown to include a dragon, a skunk, and even a little sister. The message, however, remains the same. Tobacco is bad. It will hurt you, and those you care about. You better tell somebody. And Mississippi kids have been, for 16 years.  Happy birthday, Terrance.

__________________________________________________

Postscript

I’d like to add that RAT campaign, when first launched, really was unconventional and flew in the face of what many experts recommended. I think that too often in the area of public policy in general – and public health in specific – we tend to always take a “best practices” approach. In other words, we’re not comfortable implementing something until it has been proven and vetted somewhere else. There is NOTHING wrong with this, let me stress. Why invent the wheel if it isn’t broken, right?

Well sometimes the case calls for inventing a better wheel. After all, if nobody ever tried anything new, there would never be any “best practices” in the first place.  Entrepreneurs will say the secret to success is to fail fast and fail cheap. What they really mean is don’t be afraid to take calculated chances, as that is the only way that you can positively change the status quo. The RAT campaign and Mississippi’s work in tobacco counter marketing is a testament to such.

January 8th, 2015

Spotlight Mississippi’s Knowledge Economy: Vote in #IoT CEO of the Year Awards

GaryButler3Chairman and CEO of Starkville-based Camgian Microsystems  is up for CEO of the Year honors from the industry sponsored Internet-of-Things Awards (#IoT). Dr. Butler is the only Mississippian on a list that includes GE CEO Jeff Immelt. This is a great opportunity to showcase the leading-edge type developments that part of Mississippi’s growing Knowledge Economy. As a creative company dependent on a vibrant culture of innovation, we ask that you help Mississippi shine by visiting the #IoT awards page site and voting for Gary.

VOTE DR. GARY BUTLER #IoT CEO OF THE YEAR

 

Learn more about the #IoT Awards and Camgian Microsystems via Tim Mask’s blog with company links, etc.

 

Photo Credit: Tate Nations, MWB

TEDxJackson.com

 

 

October 14th, 2014

Eyes are on us. Let’s give them something to see.

MSKnowIt.001

The eyes of the universe are upon us. At least the college football universe. And that’s a pretty big universe. Mississippi State and Ole Miss are both unbeaten, on top of the strongest division of the strongest conference in the country, and sit #1 and #3 in the polls, respectively. Game Day came to Mississippi two weeks in a row. There’s a lot of football left to play but for the first time ever, it is possible that the two best teams in the land will square off to decide the next year’s residence of the Golden Egg.

Right now Mississippi is one of the most, if not the most, visible state in the United States. We do have some amazingly good football going on for sure. But folks taking a look at Mississippi need to understand that athletics and football are just one thing we’re great at. We all know there is so much more to this state.

While everyone is looking, let’s give them a show.

Chances are if you’re engaging someone out of state in the next few weeks, the leading topic of conservation will be football. Let’s claim it. Then let’s use it. Use it as a springboard to say, “now let me tell you what else…”

What else? The University of Southern Mississippi has one of the best polymer science programs in the world. Back in Oxford we have the corporate headquarters of one of the fastest growing private software companies in the country. Skip down to Starkville and we find the corporate headquarters of a company working to solve issues arising from the “Internet of Things”… solutions to problems that don’t yet exist! The capital city area is home to a corporation working to ensure Mississippi is the first to have fiber-to-home networks essentially statewide. A financial services firm is focused on solutions to increase health care quality while also lowering costs. Speaking of health care, we should evangelize the incredible research happening at our state research hospital. Some of that research will be instrumental in mankind walking on the surface of Mars. Speaking of space travel, the propulsion systems that will take us there will be tested on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It should be no surprise that Mississippi is playing such a pivotal role in the development of commercial space flight.

World Class IT companies who call Mississippi home are expanding. We’re the home to the headquarters of the second-largest nuclear power fleet in the U.S. We’re a top state for entrepreneurial activity. Yes, we are the last state to host a TEDx event, but one look at the TEDxJackson speaker list and you realize that we’re about to host one of the best. Contrary to popular belief, we’re a state on the rise. So let’s make sure that we actively contradict that popular belief.

Absolutely talk about how we have leading college football teams. Then talk about how we are poised to be a leader in the Knowledge Economy. I know it, you know, and this is our chance to let everyone know it.

#MSKnowIt

More about #MSKnowIt

 

Related Initiatives:

Fast Forward Mississippi

TEDxJackson

July 28th, 2014

Interview: Robert Thompson of the Mississippi Polymer Institute

Robert Thompson is interim director of the Mississippi Polymer Institute (MPI). Thompson is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a degree in polymer science and has played a guiding role in the growth of the Mississippi Polymer Institute over the past 19 years. We spoke about MPI, The Accelerator and the role of polymer science in Mississippi’s economy.

The Accelerator
The Mississippi Polymer Institute, located within The Accelerator at the University of Southern Mississippi

How did the Mississippi Polymer Institute get started?

Thompson: MPI was established by the Mississippi legislature in 1983. Funding came in ’93, so we really started up activities in 1993 and have been going strong ever since then. Dr. Shelby Thames, who was instrumental to the polymer science program at USM, also started the Mississippi Polymer Institute.

What’s MPI’s mission?

Thompson: We’re here to help grow Mississippi’s economy using the resources and capabilities we have here at MPI, as well as those available at the school of polymers and high-performance materials at USM. We make those technical capabilities and resources available to businesses here in Mississippi to help them grow. We provide our technical expertise in polymers for businesses, as well as for startup organizations and inventors.

In layman’s terms, what is meant by polymer science, and how is it important to Mississippi as an economic development driver?

Thompson: Polymer science is the study of the development and use of polymers. You know how you can form a chain with paperclips by hooking them all together? Well, the paperclip is a basic building block of that chain. With polymers, we have what are called monomers and those are the basic unit. You can hook many of those together to form a polymer. For example, polystyrene – everybody’s familiar with polystyrene coffee cups – the monomer is styrene and polymer is polystyrene.

The thing about polymers is they’re basically everywhere around you. They’re in paint, on automobiles and housing, in clothing – cotton is a natural polymer – but you also have things like polyester spandex, Gore-Tex, which is Teflon. They in your shoe soles and automotive tires. There are also polymers in personal care products like toothpaste and makeup. You have Boeing and their Dreamliner, the 787 – it has a large bit of composite materials, which also use polymers. So polymers are everywhere you look.

What kind of technical services does MPI provide to Mississippi companies?

Thompson: When we first started out in ’93, we were largely utilizing the capabilities at the Department of Polymer Science at USM. Over the years, we’ve added capabilities. So now we utilize both the resources that MPI has internally as well as those that the polymer science research center has. We have a lot of highly scientific equipment for physical and analytical testing. It helps you identify stuff, figure out how strong something is, where it breaks, what it’s made of – those sorts of things. MPI has been in the prototyping business since around ’95 or ’96 in earnest, really. And more recently, we’ve switched over from prototyping to what everyone’s referring to now as 3D printing.

On the consulting services side, we offer personal expertise, which I think is just as important as the equipment. We offer those capabilities to help companies, whether they’re startup companies or established companies, and we also do a lot with economic development agencies. If there’s a prospect or a group that’s interested in the area, they want to know what kind of technological support they can access. For those folks who are interested in moving to Mississippi, we can help them through our consulting services.

Aside from economic development, why is polymer science and the polymer industry so important for Mississippi?

Thompson: Polymers are everywhere. They’re ubiquitous. The companies producing these polymeric materials – whether they’re making the plastic itself or a coating or composite materials – their products touch so many areas. If your  product is metal, for example, you’ll need polymers to coat that metal to keep it from rusting. Polymers are important for all of the manufacturing processes. The science associated with it and the skill sets and the type of individuals who work in polymer science all contribute to the economic growth of our state. 

How does MPI support innovation in our state?

Thompson: From the start, MPI has been involved, largely through prototyping, with inventors. We see inventors come in who are looking to have a prototype part produced so that they can approach investors. Or sometimes, the inventor has their part and their investors, they’re just looking for help for how to make their widget, as we like to say.

Four years ago, we moved from the Polymer Science Research Center at USM to The Accelerator in The Garden at USM. The main reason for that move was to help support startup businesses here in The Accelerator. USM has an effort underway to support the research coming out of the university and help those companies that want to be closer to the university to access that research. So we support companies here at The Accelerator, as well.

We have outreach efforts looking at bringing new industry into the state. On the existing industry side, with which MPI plays a big role, we’re helping to grow the folks that are already here. But also there’s that third effort – the organic growth portion. We’ve started playing a role with events like Startup Weekend and the New Venture Challenge. I applaud all those efforts, and I think they’re great way to help the state of Mississippi through economic development.

Does MPI have any programs to reach out to students before they get to college?

Thompson: We’re very proud to have helped establish nine high school polymer science programs in Mississippi. We started out this effort around ’97 or ’98 at Petal High School. Since that time, we’ve added eight additional high schools across the state. Those schools are Alcorn County, Madison County, Simpson County, Marion County, Hattiesburg High School, Hancock, Moss Point and Pascagoula. And, I’d like to make a plug for the program – I want to work with interested school boards across the state to expand into more schools.

I think one of the important things about this program is that students get to experience our industry through job shadowing. They have the opportunity to visit companies in their area and they see what those folks do every day.  They can decide to go straight to work when they graduate high school, or go to the community or junior college to develop that additional advanced skill set, or they can go to the university and get that engineering degree or polymer science degree. I think it’s very important that we give high school and younger kids the opportunity to learn about our industry to help them set their direction in life.

Can you talk about some of your favorite success stories that you’ve seen come out of the Mississippi Polymer Institute?

Thompson: I have a lot of favorites. Most recently, on the workforce development side, I would have to say [MPI Workforce Development and Technical Leader] Ty Posey’s efforts building up the composites program with GE Aviation. GE Aviation has a production facility in Ellisville. All of their production employees come through the Mississippi Polymer Institute, as well as Jones County Junior College. There are four classes they take, which give those employees a good foundation in 1) what are high-performance composite materials, 2) what are some of the ways that you manufacture and produce these things, 3) what’s the science behind it. I’m really excited about that program and we’re proud to have GE Aviation as a partner.

MPI has been doing commercial development for several years. We started out initially working on a project with the James Rawlins’ research group at USM for a coating for Marine Corps uniforms. That was probably the start of that effort. Since that time, we’ve had a lot of successes along the way. Of course, I can’t mention a lot of those things because of confidentiality agreements.

On the physical and analytical testing side, we’ve done thousands of projects in Mississippi. But, recently, last year, we became ISO 17025 accredited.  For a university lab to become accredited is very unique.

Why is that?

Thompson: When Dr. Thames helped set up MPI, his intention was that we would exist to help industry. That’s our focus. So we’re out there, every day, working with industry, visiting them, talking to them about the problems that they’re seeing. The ISO accreditation is very important to those folks because their customers are asking, “How are you having this checked?” They want to know who’s checking it and who’s checking the people that are checking it.

The ISO accreditation means a third-party coming in and, more or less, says the processes that MPI has in place, as well as the techniques that we’re using, are what they say we’re doing. Part of it is proficiency testing – our test results are compared against numerous other labs’ test results and, basically, you’re looking for all the labs get the same results. It’s a third party stamp of approval, you could say. It gives some legitimacy to the process you’re using when your laboratory’s testing is accredited.

What else would you like Mississippians to know about the Mississippi Polymer Institute?

Thompson: First and foremost, I’d like everyone to know that we’re here to help. Our whole purpose in being is to help grow Mississippi – to help further our state. 

I would also encourage business folks to come out and take a look at The Accelerator and visit with [Accelerator Manager] Robbie Ingram. And I would encourage people to let us show you around the Mississippi Polymer Institute to see all of the exciting things that we’re doing here.

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July 12th, 2014

Innovation Ambassadors and Fast Forward Mississippi

Fast Forward Card

In order for Mississippi to meet our potential and realize a leading role in the 21st century knowledge-based economy, we believe that we must first be invested in that very potential. In other words, we must believe in our own capabilities and be willing to be our own evangelists. This can begin with something as simple as stirring the conversation.

MWB founded the Mississippi Brain Drain Commission which has worked with partners to develop the Fast Forward Mississippi initiative. This effort is dedicated to stopping the loss of intellectual capital, promoting the next-generation opportunities that exist in our state, and featuring the creativity and innovation that is endemic to our culture.

MS Entreprenurs

CNN Money names Mississippi a top 5 state for entrepreneurs.

Make no mistake, creativity and innovation are embedded in the very fabric that is Mississippi. Our state is the cradle of modern American music. We’ve produced some of the most renown literary figures in American letters. Mississippians have played a leading role in the aerospace industry, media conglomerates, and software companies (just to name a few). However, it is also in our nature to be quite humble and reserved about our resources and accomplishments.

Humility is an admirable quality and certainly has its place. The landscape of 21st century economic development is not one of them. We need to be proud of our accomplishments, bullish on our future, and we need to let everyone know it. Every year we lose some of our best and brightest young people to other areas of the country. In most instances, these are young adults who are products of our public school systems, have attended state colleges or universities, and have studied to be innovators in leading-edge and emerging industries. We have invested in these young people with our tax dollars and values. Simply put, we can’t allow the intellectual capital that we’ve grown to be outsourced.

Yet in many instances, we have no one to blame for this outmigration but ourselves. If we’re not willing to tout our own accomplishments and be confident in our future, why should we expect those with the most potential to remain? This is unacceptable. That’s what Fast Forward Mississippi is focused on changing by being a forum to feature our innovators and creators and to underscore the fact that you can go farther, faster in Mississippi.

Innovation AmbassadorsThe first and often most important step in efforts such as this is starting the conversation – and starting the conversation organically. That’s why Fast Forward has made the call for Innovation Ambassadors. We want to leverage the reach of our social media networks to provide the opportunity to have the conversation we need to have. We’re asking all those who believe in our capabilities of innovation, those who believe in Mississippi’s creative spirit and those who understand that leading the 21st century isn’t just a pipe dream but can be a reality – we’re asking you to show your belief by adding a Fast Forward badge to your personal social media profile picture. You’ll be asked, “What’s that symbol on your pic?” That’s your chance to say,

It means that in Mississippi, we understand what it takes to succeed in the new economy. We don’t focus on investing in businesses or organizations. We don’t focus strictly on industry clusters or market segments. Everything we do in Mississippi is concentrated on investing in talent, innovation, and creativity. We’re doing this and the result is industry, arts, and entrepreneurs that will lead in the 21st century… right here in Mississippi. Watch us go farther, faster.

If you believe we can and should lead, if you believe we have the potential and the people, if you believe in our capacity for creativity and tenacity, then we ask you to be an Innovation Ambassador. If you’re unwilling to accept what some call the inevitability that we’re doomed to fight it out for 49th place, and if you hold the determination to control our own future, then we’re asking you to add the Fast Forward badge to your profile and start telling everyone about the bright future that is the state of Mississippi.

RELATED LINKS

Fast Forward Mississippi

Fast Forward Twitter Feed

Fast Forward Badge

Mississippi Creative Economy

Mississippi Innovation Economy

Innovate Mississippi

April 7th, 2014

TEDxJackson: Coming November, 2014

Mississippi has never hosted a TEDx event before. As of 2014, that’s all about to change. MWB is among a small group of organizations and individuals that have worked to make TEDxJackson a reality.
TEDxJackson

With our application granted this month, the stage is set for TEDxJackson to happen November 6th in the Fondren neighborhood.

The spirit of TED is all about “ideas worth spreading.” TEDxJackson will remain true to that mission. The theme for this event is Fertile Ground, a reference to the great opportunity that exists in Mississippi. The committee is currently working to recruit a diverse range of speakers both from inside and outside the state. Talks will focus on ideas relevant to the global TED community, but subjects will center on issues that connect with the needs and interests of Mississippi – health, education, creativity, and the economy.

A website for the event is currently under construction, and information about attendance applications and tickets will be available soon. Anyone interested can, in the meantime, connect with TEDxJackson through social media platforms, listed below.

twitterbutton TEDxJackson on Twitter

facebookbutton TEDxJackson on Facebook

Organizing committee members include our agency, C SpireMississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, Innovate Mississippi, with additional participation from the Jackson Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and the Mississippi Development Authority.

Jackson Attorney David Pharr has taken the position as lead organizer of the event. You can read a great interview David gave about plans for the event.

TEDxJackson is an independently organized TED event.

February 24th, 2014

MWB Innovation in Education Series – Media Literacy at Operation Shoestring

Media literacy makes for smart kids at Operation Shoestring

There’s no doubt that Star Pool’s children are growing more media savvy by the day. And not just the two grade school-age boys she has at home who already do homework on the computer and have assignments requiring a good deal of Internet-based research.

As Assistant Coordinator of Project Rise at Operation Shoestring, Pool has many other bright students that she helps guide in the ways of interactive media.

“In today’s society, everything is basically focused on media. Homework, watching TV, everything,” Pool says, adding that when kids don’t know their way around the increasingly mesmerizing media landscape, “it’s kind of numbing. I just think it numbs some of their senses.”

Yes, the vast array of media technology now available can seem mind-boggling, to say the least. And it appears that a large number of educators across the country would agree.

In fact, one recent survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts of secondary-school teachers found that 87% feel that “these technologies are creating an ‘easily distracted generation with short attention spans’ and 64% say today’s digital technologies ‘do more to distract students than to help them academically.’”

Okay, aside from being a major distraction for a whole generation, media does have its good side. Media literacy is increasingly important because technology offers kids such a wide world of benefits. As Pool notes, “It helps with personal life. It helps with finance. It helps with reading comprehension. It helps with math skills.” In short, Pool says, “It helps with a lot of the basic tools that they need to become successful children, teens to adults.”

Pool and other teachers in Operation Shoestring’s afterschool and summer programs for younger students aim to “enhance some of the things that they already know” and to “help them get the basics, the foundation, the skills that they need… once they leave elementary.”

In addition to providing mentorship, academic enrichment, and media literacy training to kids K-12, the non-profit organization strives to be a resource for the parents of children served, too. “We inform parents on what they need as well, through different workshops that we have,” notes Pool. Becoming tech-savvy themselves “allows parents to go on and look at the children’s grades, to go on and see what the homework assignments are” and just stay better in tune with what’s going on in their kids’ lives.

And, at the end of the day, ensuring media literacy for Jackson-area youth fits surprisingly well into the overall mission of an organization aimed at teaching children and inspiring families. Media skills training, as Pool puts it, accomplishes both.

“We put the child at the center of everything that we do. And once the child has gotten it, we know that they’re making it better for the families, which then extends out into the community.” And that, says Pool, “helps everyone rise.”

Star Pool, Assistant Coordinator of Project Rise

Star Pool, Assistant Coordinator of Project Rise at Operation Shoestring

 
 
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February 8th, 2014

Interview: Mitchel Resnick

Mitchel Resnick, PhD, is a LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research and director of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT Media Lab. His research group developed the “programmable brick” technology that inspired LEGO MindStorms robotics kits. More recently, the group developed Scratch, a popular programming environment for kids. Dr. Resnick received the 2011 McGraw Prize in Education and was listed by Fast Company as one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business.

We spoke about the importance of creative learning, effective strategies for digital literacy, and the impact of initiatives to introduce computer science into more classrooms.

mres-by-joi-high-res
Dr. Mitchel Resnick. Photo by Joi Ito.

What is the Lifelong Kindergarten Group?

RESNICK: My research group, the Lifelong Kindergarten Group, develops new technologies and new activities to engage people in creative learning experiences. So we help people learn through designing, creating and expressing themselves.

We call the group Lifelong Kindergarten because we’re inspired by the way children learn in kindergarten. In the classic kindergarten, children are constantly designing and creating things in collaboration with one another. They build towers with wooden blocks and make pictures with finger paints—and we think they learn a lot in the process.

What we want to do with our new technology and activities is extend that kindergarten approach to learning, to learners of all ages. So everybody can continue to learn in a kindergarten style, but to learn more advanced and sophisticated ideas over time.

I understand there’s a long history at MIT of using computers as a tool for education.

RESNICK: It goes all the way back to the 1960s with Seymour Papert, who started working on the Logo programming language. It was a way for kids to be able to write computer programs to control things. Now, at the time, most people thought it was crazy because computers cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. But Seymour recognized that computers were going to become less expensive and would proliferate throughout the world. So he saw there was an opportunity to use computers as tools for young people and that young people would have access to that technology. He knew that the best experiences would result from not just using computers to deliver information, but letting kids take control of the technology so they could create things.

Seymour would say it’s important that you don’t want the computer programming the child; you want the child programming the computer. You want the child to be in control. So Seymour started these ideas all the way back in the 1960s. His ideas then started to get out into the world when personal computers became available in the late 1970s into the 1980s. The Logo programming language became one of the most popular ways children were using personal computers in schools in the 1980s.

I was deeply influenced by Seymour. He was my most important mentor, and I continue to be inspired by his ideas about children learning by designing and creating things. Our work on LEGO Mindstorms and Scratch were deeply inspired by the ideas from Seymour Papert.

Why is it important to provide kids with opportunities for creative learning?

RESNICK: The process of making things in the world—creating things; it provides us with the opportunity to take the ideas that we have in our mind and to represent them out in the world. Once we do that, it sparks new ideas. So there’s this constant back and forth between having new ideas in your mind, creating things in the world, and that process sparking new ideas in the mind which lets you create new things. So it’s this constant spiral of creating and generating new ideas.

We live in a world that is changing more rapidly than ever before. Things that you learn today could be obsolete tomorrow. But one thing is for sure: People will confront unexpected situations and unexpected challenges in the future. So what’s going to be most important is for kids to be able to come up with new and innovative solutions to the new challenges that arise. That’s why it’s so important to develop as a creative thinker. Just knowing a fixed set of facts and skills is not enough. The ability to think and act creatively will be the most important ingredient for success in the future.

You’ve spoken about “learning to code” versus “coding to learn.” What’s the difference?

RESNICK: Many people are starting to get interested in learning to code, or learning to program computers. One reason a lot of people are interested is because it provides opportunities for jobs and careers because there’s a growing need for professional programmers and computer scientists. So that’s one reason for learning to code—there really is a need and there are economic opportunities.

But I think there’s a much bigger opportunity. I often make the analogy to learning to write: Some people who are learning to write will become professional journalists or novelists, however most people aren’t going to make a living just through their writing. But we still want everyone to learn to write, because once you learn to write, it lets you organize your thinking, and it helps you express your ideas in new ways. I see it as being the same with coding. Although coding does provide some economic opportunities for jobs and careers, I think the most important reason for learning to code is it lets you organize your ideas and express your ideas.

Coding lets you learn many other things. So that’s why I think what’s most important is not just learning to code, but coding to learn. As you’re learning to code, you’re learning many other things.

What kinds of skills does coding teach?

RESNICK: You learn how to organize your ideas. That is, you take complex ideas and break them down into simpler parts: How to identify problems and then “debug” the problems. How to take the ideas of others and reformulate those ideas to meet your needs. Those are all common things that people do when they’re coding. But those are also common things you do in all types of problem-solving activities and design activities.

Even if you’re doing something that has nothing to do with coding—if you’re organizing a birthday party for a friend or developing a new marketing plan for your company—you use some of those same ideas. So those approaches, which you can learn through coding, can then be applied to all different kinds of activities both in your personal life and your work life.

Should every child learn to code? Should coding be a school subject like algebra or chemistry?

RESNICK: I do think every child should learn to code, and I would approach it similarly to writing—the same way we teach children to write and then let them use their writing in all other courses. You learn to write and then use your writing in writing book reports and writing science reports—you use it in all other subjects. And I think similarly, it would be great for all kids to code and then use that knowledge in many other classes.

Events like Hour of Code have raised the visibility of coding and given people an opportunity to get some sense of what coding is all about. But it only will be meaningful if there’s a follow-up and follow-through. If people take that initial spark and turn an hour of code into a day of code or a week of code or a month of code where they continue to explore the possibilities of coding.

So it’s the same thing. If you just spend an hour learning to write, it wouldn’t be so useful. On the other hand, if that sparks your imagination and then you continue to do more things with it, then it becomes meaningful.

How is Scratch changing the way people think about computer programming?

RESNICK: We emphasize that Scratch is a way to express yourself creatively, to express your ideas. It’s also a social activity: You can share your projects with others and learn from what others are doing. Many other organizations that are trying to help people learn to code don’t focus on those ideas. They often are just focused on students learning the concepts of computer science or learning how to solve puzzles with programming.

We take a different approach with Scratch. We see Scratch as an opportunity to express yourself creatively and to work collaboratively. I think it’s really important to have that as a core underpinning for what coding is about. Our ultimate goals with Scratch are to help young people think creatively, reason systematically and work collaboratively. We think those skills are incredibly important in today’s society. 

In Mississippi, we have some big challenges relating to education and poverty. Can computer science be a game-changer for us?

RESNICK: I think it’s always dangerous to assume that there’s any one thing that’s going to make a big cultural change. But it could be one element.

Before you can think about changing living standards, you need to change learning standards. I think computer science provides new opportunities to help people become better learners. I think the thing that’s going to guarantee success in the future is people developing as creative thinkers and creative learners. Doing creative work with technology through learning to code is one pathway to that. It’s not the only pathway. But I think what’s probably the most important thing is having young people grow up with opportunities to think and act creatively. That’s the key.

Would you say that computer science can engage students that may otherwise be not that interested in school?

RESNICK: I do think it’s incredibly important to build on young people’s interest. People are going to be most interested in learning when they’re working on things that they really care about. The computer, if it’s used the right way, has the opportunity to engage kids in doing things that they really care about. But I want to add that doesn’t happen automatically. The computer can also be used in a way that kids won’t be interested in.

So it’s not just about using the computer—it’s the way in which it’s used.

There aren’t very many credentialed computer science teachers out there. Are credentials necessary for teaching computer science to young people?

RESNICK: I agree with you that there’s a challenge. Many teachers don’t have much background in this area. I think further into the future, we’ll get more teachers over time with more expertise. But, for now, I think there are great resources for teachers to learn enough to help young people get started with coding and using computers in creative ways.

I would also encourage schools to support teachers in learning new things so that they can help support these young people—and also hiring new teachers who can bring new expertise into the schools. This isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s a long-term process.

How should K-12 schools approach the teaching of computer science?

RESNICK: We should make sure all subjects are taught in a way where kids get a chance to learn through creative expression. And not just computer programming. In a science class or physics class or biology class, teachers should allow students to have creative learning experiences. 

We should rethink all school subjects so there are opportunities for children to learn by designing, creating, experimenting and exploring. That’s also true when we use computers. We should use computers to design, create, experiment and explore. But we should apply those ideas to all classes and all media.

So you’re saying more hands-on learning?

RESNICK: Well, it depends on what you mean by hands-on. I would emphasize learning by creating and experimenting. If you put your hands on something, and you’re just following the instructions to build a model, then that’s not a very good activity even though your hands are involved. What’s important is to give kids the opportunity to create things and experiment with things, to use their imaginations and to think creatively.

What are your thoughts about getting more women and minority students involved in computer science?

RESNICK: I think that’s linked to what we talked about earlier with supporting people and building on their own interests. Often, in all school subjects, including particularly computer science, you’re taught in one way which might be appealing to some people but not others. We need to make sure we provide multiple pathways into activities.

For example, when we developed Scratch, we made sure that people can use Scratch to do all types of different things. You can make a game, you can make a story, you can make an animation, you can compose music. That’s because different kids have different interests. If we only had computer programming for making games, that would be appealing for some kids and not for others. We wanted to be sure to provide multiple pathways so that kids from all backgrounds and all interests are able to follow their interests and become creative learners.

Related posts
Interview: Cameron Wilson of Code.org
Interview: Jon Mattingly of Kodable

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