IOWA CITY — Last summer, Nicholas Colangelo shut the door on his 30-plus-year career at the University of Iowa, which he capped as dean of the College of Education.
But, in the months since, Colangelo has opened a window — so to speak.
He and several masterminds at the Belin-Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, which Colangelo founded in the 1980s and directed for nearly 25 years, have created “The Window” podcast.
The digitally based episodic program is centered on the topic of education — Colangelo’s wheelhouse. But, through interviews with national experts and innovative thinkers, it aims to look beyond traditional school systems and classrooms — also Colangelo’s specialty — for ways to break new ground, maximize human potential and direct talent “toward a larger social good,” according to David Gould, professor and administrator with the Belin-Blank Center and one of the show’s creators.
“What can be learned from leading researchers, educators and administrators studying and innovating in this space?” Gould said. “How can best practices be informed by the stories of remarkable people?”
The Window aims to answer those questions on a national — if not international scale — by curating a discourse around current practices, trends and new ideas. Guests lined up for the show — co-produced by Josh Jacobs, an administrator for the center — include Adam Grant, author and professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania; Arizona State University President Michael Crow; Kathy Hirsch-Pasek, psychology professor at Temple University; and Natalie Merchant, an American singer-songwriter perhaps best know as the former frontwoman of the band 10,000 Maniacs.
‘Break new ground’
Tony Wagner, expert in residence at Harvard University’s new Innovation Lab and senior research fellow at the Learning Policy Institute, served as guest No. 1 for the new podcast — scheduled to make its inaugural episode available May 1.
In his discussion with Colangelo, who hosts the podcast, Wagner praises questioning 5-year-olds who view themselves as artists. He esteems fast and frequent failure as the trial and error of groundbreaking science. He challenges the educational hierarchy that ranks students by grade-point average and test scores. And he urges teens and adults not to lose touch with their inner kindergartner.
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“Whether you are talking about the play of a child, which is fundamentally how we initially learn and discover the world and try to make sense of it, or the play of an adult in a laboratory environment, you are talking about having a certain kind of likeness of being and understanding that necessity isn’t always the mother of invention,” Wagner said. “In fact, play is.”
Wagner began the discussion noting the origins of his passion for innovation in education — a disappointing, if not disillusioning, childhood educational experience. He was bored. He dropped out of school — a couple of times. Colangelo tells a similar tale.
In Italy, where he was born and spent his early years, Colangelo at age 6 was labeled “unteachable” and removed from school. Had his family stayed, that would have been the end of his formal education. But the Colangelos immigrated to the United States, where he got back in the classroom and earned degree after degree — including a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin.
Those experiences, he said, gave him the awareness that student potential comes in an array of packages, and tapping that requires innovation and flexibility — especially at a time when technology is changing the educational landscape and stretching teachers, in some instances, to keep up with their students.
Co-producer Jacobs said he thinks the honors center podcast is a perfect launchpad for the discussion.
“For many years, there’s been a lot of research, a lot of programming coming out of the Belin-Blank Center, and we’ve been looking for an outreach opportunity that really allows us to connect, utilize technology and connect with many, many people,” Jacobs said.
The end goal is change both for individual listeners and the educational systems in which they function.
“I don’t do anything that isn’t geared toward making a meaningful difference,” co-producer Gould said. “Our goal is always to break new ground.”
‘What an amazing idea’
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In hopes of promoting the new podcast, the center recently taped one episode live during the Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City. Dan Lerner, an author and New York University instructor of its popular “Science of Happiness” course, sat down with Colangelo for the podcast to discuss positive psychology, the pursuit of happiness, and the path toward excellence.
“Who doesn’t like to be happy?” Lerner said about his course and what drives it. “Those ages 12 to 92 say, ‘Yeah, I could use some more of that in my life.’ ”
In talking with The Gazette before the taping, Lerner discussed the mounting pressure on today’s students, the stress that creates, and then the fallout — depression, solitude and sickness. But the story doesn’t end there, he said, especially when today’s top educational thinkers are collaborating, swapping ideas and disseminating them to anyone who will listen — like, for example, via The Window.
Lerner used an example from his classroom, where on the first day he asks students to raise their hands if they’ve been stressed out lately. Most do. And then most realize they’re not alone.
“I think The Window podcast provides a similar outlet for people in this field,” he said. “That is to say, they’re going to listen and go, ‘Oh my gosh. What an amazing idea. I hoped someone out there was thinking about these things, but I didn’t really know they were out there. I didn’t know who it was. Now I can look into it.”
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