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Hack Jams and Systems Thinking

Written by Jenn Cook
February 15, 2014

During Week One of our 2013 SI, we introduced the concepts of hacking and systems thinking through an individual Toy Hack, through making paper journals (our Writer’s Notebooks!) out of recycled trash, and then a group Hack Jam with boardgames. We also watched an Ignite talk about Culture Hacking (above) and read some essays on systems thinking in educational settings (links below). These exercises helped us “get inside” the type of thinking and practice we believe is necessary for teachers to thrive and succeed in classrooms that are becoming increasingly structured and scripted. We wanted to graduate teachers who felt empowered as innovators, tinkerers, makers, and thinkers.  

The assignment (below) for the Toy Hack, which got us started, was taken from #clmooc:

“Grab an old toy─maybe something that you played with as a kid, or something from the bottom of your kid’s toy box, or perhaps a something that you rescued from abandon in a thrift shop or a yard sale. Study it, consider what it is, think about what it can be. Gather the things necessary to hack it, remix it, or remediate it─your analogue and/or digital tools. Take it apart, put it back together in a different configuration. Add something. Take something away. Make it sparkle. Make it move. Make it light up. Create a digital story, a fan-fiction mash-up, or film a stop-motion animation.”

Figuring out how to transform a toy you know very well into something else purposeful and useful requires divergent thinking, something grownups get out of practice with, in my humble opinion. So, we knew the concept of hacking wouldn’t take hold as long as it only applied to toys and games. How do we hack school? Like Seb Paquet asks in his Ignite talk: How do we find the cracks? How do we fill those cracks with something new, something original? 

Our desire to apply the principle of hacking to ineffective school systems led us to an examination of systems thinking, which, in turn, led us to ecological ways of thinking about schools, and then writing, which led us to ecoliteracy and ecocomposition. This is to say that a lot of good can come from a li’l old Toy Hack. 

Systems thinking for teachers:

Intro to Systems Thinking (from 1995!!!):

Intro to Ecoliteracy:

Some more on toy hacking from Chad Sansing:

Hacking frees thinking. Hacking gives you permission to break rules and look for alternatives. Hacking challenges the “way it’s always been.” 

Systems thinking brings us out of our boxes and asks us to consider the entire system as a whole, in its functionality and dysfunctionality. Systems thinking asks us to cooperate, not compete, to get a job done. Systems Thinkers 

(1) consider long and short-term consequences of actions;

(2) recognize there might be unintended consequences to their actions;

(3) identify the circular nature of complex cause and effect relationships and

(4) look at things from different angles and perspectives. 

As we moved into Weeks Two and Three of the SI, this template for our thinking–hacking, repurposing, considering systems–laid a firm foundation for the questioning of school cultures and practices that would arise in our subsequent writing and discussions and, ultimately, in our action and work back in our classrooms. Open Jenn’s Hacking Handout.docx