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Cultivating Curiosity, a Paradigm Shift for Education
[January 18, 2022]

Cultivating Curiosity, a Paradigm Shift for Education

The latest book by distinguished educator and author Doreen Gehry Nelson, Cultivating Curiosity: Reimagining Teaching and Learning, offers not only a bold, fresh vision but practical and sustainable solutions for overwhelmed educators. Through the methodology's innovative and evidence-based approach, Nelson breaks the stagnation of outdated teaching strategies and inspires teachers and students alike.

Based on decades of real-life experiences (including Nelson's 15 years as a classroom teacher), and grounded in quantitative and qualitative data, the effective and versatile Doreen Nelson Method for implementation of Design-Based Learning (DBL) reinvents contemporary classroom practice and meets the demands of today's complex learning environment. Particularly compelling as educators struggle to recover from the learning disruption caused by COVID-19, Nelson's work reinvigorates teachers' own classroom practice with creativity and critical thinking at the forefront.

To achieve this, Nelson emphasizes the use of student-built 3-D physical models to deeply engage participants in providing elegant (original)and relevant insights into options, decisions, and critical thinking about the real world. The student benefit of this teaching concept is often remarkable-not only does it put academic subjects into a real, visceral environment, it gives students themselves a sense of purpose, capability, and confidence that applies to their whole being. Those benefiting from this approach not uncommonly become student leaders later in their educational journey.

Infinitely readable, the book is part memoir and part practical guide on how to bring Nelson's cross-curricular DBL methodology to today's students. Nelson shares her varied and impressive experiences as lecturer, teacher, consultant, and scholar-in-residence for institutions as diverse as MIT, Harvard, Apple, Stanford University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, London's Royal College of Art, Japan's Sendai Science Museum, the American Bar Association, Walt Disney Imagineering, and the Smithsonian Institution, among others. Nelson was a consultant to Will Wright, the designer of SimCity-the groundbreaking design-based, open-ended, city-building video game series-helping to extend its appeal and relevance to the field of education. Nelson wrote the original Teacher's Guide for the game which is still widely in use today.

Readers follow Nelson's personal journey as a longtime education innovator and founding director of the Design-Based Learning Project at Center X at the UCLA School of Education & Information Studies. As a pioneer of the field of design-based learning, Nelso has implemented her methodology and influenced generations of K-12 educators and school leaders.

"Through Cultivating Curiosity, I hope to bring together my personal experience and evidence-based DBL methodology to connect with and inspire K-12 teachers everywhere. This book asks our K-12 education system to reimagine how we engage with learning in the classroom, on Zoom and beyond," said Doreen Gehry Nelson.

Nelson added, "I want to get education on the right track, and I want teachers to be respected as the heroes they are. And, through my methodology, we aspire for students to become discerning citizens who are curious and care about the world and their future."

Motivated by the same passion for out-of-the-box thinking as her brother, architect Frank Gehry, Nelson has dedicated her life to this creative, equity-based methodology and has taught thousands of educators worldwide, as well as varied stakeholders from computer scientists, marine biologists, medical doctors, architects, lawyers, researchers, theater artists, musicians, and dancers. Her approach and commitment to creative, never-before-seen solutions to education's toughest challenges have been embraced by thought leaders from the late Jonas Salk to activist Gloria Steinem.

"The DBL Project at Center X at the UCLA School of Education & Information Studies has long been at the forefront of education and consistently challenges us to think differently about classroom learning. Through tested and evidence-based approaches and real-life examples, Cultivating Curiosity brings Nelson's DBL methodology to life," said Tina Christie, Wasserman Dean, UCLA School of Education & Information Studies.

Nelson's methodology has global reach, currently included in the Japanese national curriculum and used in schools in Israel and Finland. In Southern California, the methodology is used in the UCLA Lab School, the San Gabriel Unified School District, the Pasadena Unified School District, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Walnut Valley Unified School District, the USC School of Journalism, to name a few. The methodology has also been the basis for a master's degree and certificate program for K-12 teachers at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and an annual, five-day institute at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena.

"As our education community recoups COVID-19 learning losses, innovative teaching methodologies that excite teachers and engage students are more important than ever before. At San Gabriel Unified, we are proud adopters of the Design-Based Learning methodology across the district, and we have witnessed firsthand its powerful impact on our students," said James Symonds, Superintendent of the San Gabriel Unified School District.

Encompassing four decades of evaluative data, Nelson's DBL methodology consistently supports K-12 student achievement outcomes, with students of all grades, abilities, and backgrounds scoring higher on standardized assessments. The evidence clearly demonstrates that DBL, whether applied virtually or in physical classrooms, develops students' creative and critical thinking skills-ever more important in today's evolving learning environment as the education sector struggles to keep pace with changing workforce needs and confronts the after-effects of COVID-19. Significantly, while DBL is a proven, equity-based approach to learning, it reconnects educators with the joy of teaching.

As we emerge from the crisis of COVID-19, which upended so many long-standing assumptions about how we teach and learn, Nelson's DBL methodology offers a practical and sustainable approach for how we do school. Cultivating Curiosity: Teaching and Learning Reimagined, Doreen Gehry Nelson's intimate and powerful book, can serve as a guide and tonic to an education sector struggling to ignite curiosity and truly inspire students to learn and teachers to teach as they long to.

Note to Media:

Doreen Gehry Nelson is available for interviews and speaking opportunities.

To arrange an interview or request a speaking engagement, contact Marina Stenos, Finn Partners.


Doreen Gehry Nelson is Professor Emerita of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, School of Education and Integrative Studies; Adjunct Professor in the Cal Poly College of Environmental Design; was Professor at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, from 2002-present; and in 2019 was named Founding Director of the Design-Based Learning Project by the UCLA School of Education & Information Studies-Center X. An award-winning, 50-year veteran educator and published author in the field of education, Nelson began developing her Design-Based Learning methodology (formerly called City Building Education) in the late 1960s to ignite creativity, promote high-level transfer of learning, and foster cross-curricular critical thinking skills among K-12 students using the spatial domain. She was named one of 30 top American innovators in education by the New York Times in 1991 and is the recipient of both the American Institute of Architecture's prestigious Lifetime Honorary Membership (the highest honor for a non-architect) and the California State University's state-wide, 2006 Wang Award for Excellence in Education.

Cultivating Curiosity: Teaching and Learning Reimagined is available on Amazon.

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