Play Ball!

Last week I published the second edition of the “Do Good Things” Newsletter/blog post. In it, I spoke about the great good work of “Coach Ballgame,” James Lowe. Today, I have the pleasure of releasing the first episode (it’s rough…but beautiful) of our “Doing Good Things” podcast featuring Coach Ballgame.

If you have a cup of coffee, some time, and the desire to be moved by someone who is doing beautiful work in the world, then please take a listen/watch to our first episode.

‘Atta Boy!

Issue #2 of the Do Good Things Newsletter has us looking across the continent for a person, a company, or a corporation doing good things. In our first issue we looked at one of the world’s most successful companies, Lego, and how they are leveraging the power of their brand to bring play and creativity to children in need.

This week we’re looking to California and the great good works being done by a young man with a love for what was once, “America’s Pastime”–Baseball.  Now, I never played organized ball, but I still have my old glove, and I played years and years of catch, pickup games, and I practiced pitching almost every night in the summer.  I loved the game. ‘Loved the smell of leather and oil, my mouth full of gum, the thrill of tracking a deep flyball, and the satisfying smack of the ball in the glove’s pocket.

While my own children never took to the game, I’ve spent many nights (re)watching The Sandlot.

So a few months ago, when I stumbled on the YouTube channel of James Lowe (A.K.A. “Coach Ballgame”), I was teleported back to my youth.  If I had known there was a Coach Ballgame out there in my neck of the woods, I probably would have spent my years playing baseball as well as soccer.  

What James does so well, is bring the joie de vivre of the game to kids who otherwise might not get to play organized ball.  His mission is to “restore an ardor for America’s pastime.” But it’s so much more than that. He is teaching sportsmanship, character, and bringing such a joy for the game to young children that it’s utterly infectious.  

It is rare to find people who have so connected their passion with a purpose that they live their lives “in the element,” but when you see it, it is unmistakable. They are numinous.  Their every move is fluid. Their words evoke life itself.  

James Lowe, “Coach Ballgame,” is such a person.  I swear to you, you cannot help but smile when you watch him coaching baseball.

On Wednesday, December 8, Coach Ballgame will spend the early morning hours of his California day bringing his story to the students of NOVA Lab.  

As we venture forth in this marking period on our own purposeful projects, projects driven by passion that serve the needs of a community larger than ourselves, we will always be looking for role models. I am grateful to be able to bring the Good Work of Coach Ballgame to NOVA Lab.

Social Media Information for Coach Ballgame:

Tik Tok:
PodBean Podcats:

So I Started a Newsletter

Yeah, I know it’s not original, it might not even be something that’s sustainable for me, though I can get help from the members of NOVA Lab, I’m sure. (We’re all about encouraging and helping each other.)

Dubbed the “Do Good Things” Newsletter, I was inspired by the confluence of my most recent blog post and Lego.

It feels good to write this. I’m looking forward to this every week.

Subscribe to for more learning goodness throughout the week, month, and year.

From Great to Good

I was reading today in the Daily Stoic about what mattered to Marcus Aurelius…what things for him were marks of success:  good character and acting for the common Good.

My musings on Marcus got me to thinking about how I might rebrand a bit in NOVA Lab  

For the past two years, I’ve issued a daily call to my NOVA Lab students to “go do great things.”  But in thinking over what Marcus Aurelius said, I am wondering if “do great things” is too much license.  Great things might be accomplished in many ways, and those ends might justify means I wouldn’t want to justify.  

So I thought about “Do Good Things.” 

I love the ambiguity there.  At first, it seems, like the statement of an underachiever, like “good enough.”  What entrepreneur would consider only ever being “good.” “I make good soup.”  “I make good apps.” 

No, we live in an age of superlatives, and maybe we can thank PT Barnum for that, or the advantage of America’s ascension to dominance in the 20th century.   Whatever it is, it seems our want to be the best, the biggest, the greatest.   And I wonder if in doing that we’ve missed the fact that great rests upon good.  If the foundation isn’t good, if the core motive, the root cause is not “good,” then “great” becomes a facade, a label, a mere entreaty without moral intention.

So the rebranding, strange as it may seem, is to step back and step down in order to step up. I want to tell my students to do “good things.” Because, in the end, that’s actually what I want.  That’s the goal of Social Impact design.  And we can do that, and know that, and measure that, I think, if we at least agree on moral standards of what it means to “do good.”

Some might look to this with cynicism,  perhaps even a bit of derision, “Who is he to believe that by doing good things he could change the world.”  I’ll take that challenge.  I want to live knowing I tried to do all I could to make the world a better place rather than simply bettering my own place in the world.

Lightning in a Bottle…Twice: The Joy of Learning

A week shy of two years ago, students in the first iteration of my inNOVAtion Lab class traveled to Fluxspace, an educational innovation space attached to the headquarters of Corbett Inc in Norristown, PA. The trip, our second in as many months in the prepandemic fall of 2019 (after a trip to the BPHL Innovation Festival), was also the second of two of the greatest events in students’ academic careers, at least as self-reported by the students in attendance at both events.

As one of the few adults who attended these two trips, as their teacher in the inaugural year of of inNOVAtion Lab, as a teacher of 26 years at the time, I agree.

In 26 years I’d had my share of classes that blew me away. But for the most part, that astonishment was confined to the classroom, which is a safe and limited(ing) space. How students fared once they left? Once they stopped playing by the rules of my classroom (however loose I may have set those rules) and moved on? Like most teachers, I rarely knew.

But our first trip to Fluxspace changed that. It became a benchmark for us. It was the place where we wanted to return, the place where some of my students would go on to intern and bring their talents and insights to others.

It was also the place we would not get to return to for two years. COVID made sure of that.

Until yesterday.

Our return to Fluxspace had been something I’d designed for over two months. All the work of the entire first marking period was chosen to prepare students with the skills to succeed and the knowledge to reflect upon. I was intentional in my choices (see * at bottom), and my intentions were, at least in part, to see if it would be possible to capture lighting in a bottle twice.

This, the third cohort of NOVA Lab, made that magical task a reality.

On November 12, 2021, after almost exactly two years, my 35 NOVA Lab students returned to Fluxspace. Primed for a presentation from Drexel University and an afternoon of presentations to panels of parents, professors, and professionals, these students had the kind of nervous energy that any coach wants in his players before a big game.

And what a big game we had.

Chuck Sacco, Liz Herzog, and Barrie Litzky from The Charles Close School of Entrepreneurship kicked off our morning with an informative and interactive look at the Entrepreneurial Mindset. After background information on the traits, skills, and characteristics of the mindset, student teams had 20 minutes to come up with an innovation with social impact.

The two months of background students had in innovation and design thinking proved valuable as teams of designers who’d never worked together before created diverse and approachable solutions to a host of problems from gentrification to unemployment to over-incarceration.

Wait… twenty minutes to solve the world’s problems? Not going to happen, and the students know this. But they also know that they’re the generation next in line, and they won’t miss the opportunities we’ve missed. One team even approached me after the presentations to ask if they could work together to continue their project addressing food deserts.

And while those moments were outstanding, what really stood out was the way the students shifted into their roles as design teams in the afternoon to present their designed solutions to the National Design Challenge for 2021.

Split into two groups of six teams each with ten minutes for presentations and feedback, these students handled the task before them, to tell the story of their client and their solution, just like design students . I’ve seen design critiques before. My students were part of college design student mid-crits at Philadelphia University in 2012. And that is how I set up these presentations. With only twelve days on-task for this challenge and maybe 8 hours of class time, NOVA Lab students floored their panels with their empathy, research, creativity and professionalism. What’s more, they exhibited something I rarely see in even my own English classes–they brought heart and energy to these tasks. They collaborated like mad, relied on each other, and communicated an empathy for their clients that is missing from most self-absorbed, individual (and even group) work that is done in the classroom.

I don’t need to have 28 years in the classroom to know that when students are intrinsically motivated, the learning is deeper, more relevant, and “sticky.” As I noted in my first post about Fluxspace in 2019, this is the kind of experience that shifts the mind utterly, that reveals something we’ve hidden from students behind tests, and rules, and most of all, grades. . . .

This is the Joy of Learning embodied.

*Below is the basic outline for how we worked through our first marking period. All the work listed has specific timelines and is based on key concepts at the heart of Innovation and Design Thinking for Social Impact.

Community and Culture building, Creativity and Communication skills, Innovator’s DNA and the Adaptable Mind, Design Thinking, and, finally, the National Design Challenge.