Author Archives: matt1213

LDOC, Harvard Edition

This morning I attended our final AIE meeting of the year, and what will likely be my last class ever at Harvard University. Our final activity was a special treat from our program director.

I can’t say what the activity was (he wants us to keep it a surprise for next year’s cohort), but it effectively summed up what my year at HGSE has been like – enjoyable, creative, unconventional, and experienced with an incredibly diverse and invaluable community. I couldn’t be happier to have spent this year with the people I spent it with.

Now that my time at HGSE has nearly come to a bittersweet close, I’m honored to pass my torch on to the incoming class of 2014, both in the AIE program and elsewhere. May you find the warmth and intellectual stimulation here that I did.

To steal a tiny morsel from Walt Whitman (and one of my classmates), I leave you with this:

“The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
– Walt Whitman, “O Me! O Life!,” from Leaves of Grass



A Brief Interview with TIE Student Graham North

16 months ago, current TIE student Graham North was backpacking through the Eastern Hemisphere. Worlds away from their hometown in Atlantic Canada, he and his then-girlfriend spent a year, and nearly their entire life savings, photographing massive protests in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, feeding Oreos to crafty monkeys in Cambodia, and breathing fresh local air on a cultural adventure that Graham considers the best year of his 28 year-old life. In December of 2011, he submitted his application to HGSE from an Internet café in rural Tanzania.

Over the next few months, Mr. North continued work as an advertising copywriter in Newfoundland, where he concocted catchy Porta Potty slogans and awaited his potentially life-altering decision from Harvard. This week I had the chance to sit down with Graham in Gutman Café to further discuss his background, influences, future, and the peculiarities of being Canadian.


How did your year of backpacking influence your decision to apply to HGSE?
Graham: A trip like that is an opportunity for consistent reflection. It puts your priorities in perspective enough to realize that using all of your creative energy to sell lottery tickets isn’t necessarily the best way to go.

What about your time in advertising?
Graham: Advertising is the most creative industry I’ve ever worked in; it’s a really interesting, dynamic environment. And the creative energy is really high, which is what drew me to it. But I realized that there had to be a better use for creativity than doing what I was doing.

It was Ken Robinson’s Do Schools Kill Creativity? Ted Talk that really inspired me to think: what a powerful vehicle creativity could be and really should be in the field of education. You need to inspire before you can change, and he does that. He inspires people to re-think creativity in education. So that was my goal coming in. How can I use my creative energy in terms of doing that?

Would you ever go back to doing advertising-related work?
Graham: My theory on jobs is that if you’re constantly looking for opportunities to learn, you evolve as a person. Career paths, especially nowadays, are such ransom notes. The likelihood of me wanting to revert to what I was doing a year before, or two years before, is unlikely because I wouldn’t necessarily feel like I was evolving.

What’s your  broad vision for the next 10 years?
Graham: I think it sounds ridiculous, but I would love to be a younger, more practical Ken Robinson, and go around and speak to people about the power of creativity and the way that it can inspire disruptive change. I think a lot people get caught up in routine, or political correctness, and I’d just be really interested to go around and stir the pot a bit, and inspire people to think about how big of an impact they could have if they leveraged their creative energy. If I could do one thing, it would be convince people to take more chances and be more original.

How’s Boston?
Graham: I love it. It reminds me of home. It’s close to home, so I like that. And also I’m Canadian, so I can maybe deal with the cold a little better than the Californians. It’s a great time to be someone who’s interested in entrepreneurship and innovation in Boston right now. When people talk about where you should be in the U.S. in terms of doing something small and energetic and innovative, it’s New York, Boston, or San Francisco. Boston wasn’t on that map before, but it’s totally getting into that space. Plus there’s the Celtics.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve found about Americans since you moved here?
Graham:  [Laughs] For the life of me, I can’t understand why no one knows how to use the metric system here. All of these incredibly, highly educated people, and nobody can make the conversion to what is unanimously the global standard for measurement.


Touché, Mr. North. Touché.

Signing off,

Learning Communities

So I’m taking a swagtastic class at the Ed school this spring called Designing for Learning by Creating. It’s taught by Karen Brennan, a freshly Ph.D.’d professor from MIT who was involved with a very similar class there. The goal of the course is essentially to learn about, tinker with, and create innovative, interactive media. All around, I’d say it’s pretty swell.

One of my favorite aspects of the course, though, is that one in-class hour each week is devoted to student-led facilitation. These sessions have included a debate, an arts-and-crafts identity segment, a learning styles activity, and more. It was finally my turn last week, and my group decided to have some fun with the course concept for the week: learning communities.

Before class, we set up 10 various “learning stations” throughout the Larsen building. These stations were dedicated to activities like paper airplane construction, 3D modeling software, dragon biology, Settlers of Catan, a Beyoncé dance, and so on and so forth. The simple assignment we gave our classmates: pick one of these learning stations and learn with your groupmates for 30 minutes. Here is some photographic documentation of the session:

Here are some students trying out a 3D modeling software called Sculptris:

Here we have a seasoned Settlers of Catan player teaching a newcomer. Thought bubble courtesy of the T-550 teaching team.

Although blurry, you can vaguely make out my classmates learning the dance from Beyoncé’s “Move Your Body” music video. I like this photo because it’s meta.

Happy learning,

PAX East

For those of you who don’t know (and I really don’t blame you if you don’t), the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX for short) is a series of annual gaming conventions held in Seattle, Boston, and Melbourne, Australia. Each expo is primarily dedicated to video games and tabletop games (i.e. board games), and people come from all over to attend industry panels, play unreleased games, and meet and share interests with new gamers. Basically, PAX is the ultimate game nerd festival.

Last Sunday I  joined 80,000 other such nerds at PAX East, which has taken place in the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center since 2010. Yes, 80,000. It’s a very popular event. And, since I can safely assume that you were not present, I have graciously put together a brief photo tour for your educational benefit. You can come next year if you move to Boston 🙂

Firstly I just want to share with you my inaugural experience with Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, it’s as nerdy awesome as it looks.

Next up is a little cosplay action for you. This was a costume competition I had the pleasure of watching.

So you can get an idea of just how big PAX East is, here are a couple photos from above the expo  hall.

Lots of board games were played at PAX East.

Lastly, here is a photo of an epic League of Legends video game tournament. Be envious.

Don’t knock it ’til you try it, folks.


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How I Made My Decision to Come to HGSE

It was a gray and rainy afternoon in Durham, North Carolina – typical for early March. I was sitting at the desk in my basement bedroom, still in my plaid pajama pants from that morning. Upstairs I could hear my roommates and their friends laughing and watching TV. My girlfriend, also a senior at Duke, stood over me in anticipation.

“Just open it already!” she begged. She’s the type of person who sneaks peeks at her Christmas presents at 2 a.m. the night before.

To be fair, I was drawing the matter out rather dramatically. The cursor on my laptop screen silently hovered over the Firefox tab to my HGSE account. I knew my admissions decision was there; I, however, had no problem having Christmas brunch with wrapped presents sitting behind me. I stalled some more.

“Ok, I’m going to click it for you,” she said as she reached around me towards the mouse.

“I’ll do it!” I laughed, but my heart was pumping. With a deep, deliberate breathe, I clicked.


Nearly a month later I still had no idea what to do with my Harvard acceptance. In early April, I was offered a spot off the waitlist to another M.Ed. program in California. In mid-April I was offered a position with City Year San Jose. All three of these offers were time-sensitive. So many options! I fretted, ungratefully. I knew that any of them would be great for me, but I didn’t foresee having to choose between all three.

For the next week or so I constantly tried the various ideas out to my friends and family. “Oh yeah, I got offered a job in San Jose,” I told my grandma over the phone. “But what about grad school??” she asked, unimpressed. “Well, I also got into a master’s program at Harvard,” I confessed. She accidentally hung up on me out of excitement.

My friends were proud of me for getting accepted, too. It’s not every day that a young man from rural Arkansas has the opportunity to attend Harvard. I couldn’t shake the feeling, though, that my choice should be based on what I thought was truly best for me, not on social image. So I took another week to think on it. I took so long, in fact, that HGSE e-mailed me saying I had missed the deadline to give them an answer. Whoops. Luckily for me, they gave me an extra day (don’t tell them I told you that part).

That night I was, more or less, in a panic. What to do, what to do? I thought about my grandma, who believes that a maximum level of education is best. “It’s easy to walk down a mountain once you’re on top,” she always says. I thought about my girlfriend, who assured me that grad school was a hefty investment, but an investment in myself. I also thought about a young woman from the AIE program at HGSE, who I’d spoken with over the phone a few weeks back. I remembered that she’d said there are no limitations at HGSE, only my own curiosity and drive.

The next morning I accepted my offer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In many ways, it was a last-minute, impulse decision. That said, I would argue that most of our decisions are impulsively last-minute. I had no idea what the future held in store for me along any path, but I used the information I had at the time to make the best choice I could.

Do I sometimes think about the paths I didn’t take? You bet. Do I occasionally groan with my classmates about the sizable loans we’ve taken on? Sure do. Do I have any regrets? Not a single one.


“What type of people will be at HGSE?”

The above question is one I was quite concerned with around this time last year. Coming straight to HGSE from undergrad, I wasn’t sure how well I would fit in here. Was I old enough? Did I have sufficient knowledge of educational philosophies? Did my personality fit the “Harvard norm?” I had this idea that everybody in grad school would be academically rigorous, have tons of work experience, and know exactly what they wanted to do in life. I was also afraid that HGSE students would be overly serious about their work, having little concern for the recreational side of life, such as exploring Boston or holding weekend get-togethers.

To be fair, there are many people here with these characteristics. In fact, I would say that the underlying common trait of HGSE students is that we’re driven by some sort of impassioned vision of the future. However, our passion by no means equates to “having figured out life” (whatever that means). When it comes down to it, HGSE students are not exceptional because of some innate ability or uncanny understanding of the world; they are exceptional because they think, work hard, and, to some extent, understand the concept of social responsibility. These qualities, although not always easy to embody, are ultimately acquired by choice, not birth.

So, do you belong at HGSE? My answer: it’s your choice. There is nothing about a person’s background that explicitly defines where they do or don’t belong. There are only frames of mind that we employ in the present. If you want to spend 10 months critically engaged with education, learning from peers, and acquiring invaluable theories and skills to take into the world, then you belong at HGSE. There are people of all types here. I know you will fit in.


[Insert Pixar Joke about Winter Storm Nemo]

This is my street the morning after Winter Storm Nemo:

If you can’t tell, that is my SUV. Buried in snow.

And here is my girlfriend’s cousin the night before:

She nearly got blown away!

At the end of it all, though, the next day of a blizzard is always beautiful in its own way (even if it practically incapacitates your city). Here are my girlfriend and I enjoying the sunset at the Chestnut Hill Reservoir:

Stay warm, friends

Classes on Classes

A dialogue with myself on choosing classes for the spring term:

Me: “Choosing only 4 classes from the entire Ed school catalog is really hard.”
HGSE: “Oh, well, actually you can take classes at any Harvard school.”

Me: “Seriously? Ok, then. Let’s see, there’s the business school, law school, arts and scie…”
HGSE: “Also, I forgot to mention that you can take any class at MIT, too.

Me: “Wow, oh my. I can explore an entire other university.”
HGSE: “Well, technically you can cross-register for classes at Harvard, MIT, Tuft’s school of international affairs, and the Episcopal Divinity School.”

Me: O_o

So that’s about where I’m at right now. I’m currently in my second week of course shopping (which is only supposed to be one week), and I still haven’t quite decided what I want to take. There are simply too many great choices. I feel like I’m in the gum aisle at a gas station and can’t decide which one to pick out of my 150 options (I’ve actually counted 100+ before, you should see for yourself sometime).

Although my decision is a hard one, I’m incredibly grateful that I have such a great academic opportunity. I’m actually enjoying all the sampling that I get to do now, but I’m ready to dive headfirst into something for the long run.



Three days in and I’m over a quarter of the way done with my J-term course, and it’s been absolutely amazing so far.

Side note: J-term is our “January term” here at HGSE. It’s a period over winter break when the Ed school offers all sorts of interesting courses for credit (and a few just for fun).

“Why take classes on my winter break??” you might ask. Well, for one, I want to make the most out of my time here. I won’t have access to Harvard classes forever. Secondly, grabbing some extra credit now will free up a little time for my ominous job hunt in the spring. And lastly, the course I’m taking, Informal Learning for Children, just looked awesome.

So far, our class has had the privilege to hear from a number of experts in various fields, including a WGBH producer, Sesame Workshop executives, and even a studio head from Rockstar Games. Our capstone project for the course, in teams of 5, is to propose some sort of informal learning product or initiative to be ultimately evaluated by third-party professionals. My group is currently working on an interactive platform to improve print and digital literacy in 8-10 year-olds.

It’s going to be a busy two weeks, but I think it’ll be well worth my time.

Happy New Year!


♫ It’s the holiday season… ♫

It’s December, which can only mean one thing…

Finals! (woot!)

Or, for any of you non-students out there, it means time away from work to be with family and friends. Whether it be sitting around a crackling fire, going to the cinema, or simply having a meal with the ones you love, this time of year tends to feel a little extra special.

I know I have several papers that need writing, but I couldn’t help but get started on holiday festivities around Boston…

Season’s greetings from HGSE, and good luck on applications over winter break!