Ep 1 – Getting Started

Podcast Episode 1 – Getting Started

What’s in your way?
I had an enlightening conversation today with my friend Sheila about how I have been avoiding putting my podcast out into the world. I already had the first episode fully produced. But I have been second guessing myself daily until I finally went back and listened with people whose opinions I trust. That’s all it took. They didn’t even have to say anything. Just the act of listening to the podcast with my husband and daughter gave me fresh ears to hear what was missing. That is not to say Episode 1 is the most fabulous podcast ever made. I assure you, it is not. It is, however, the start of something I anticipate will improve as I learn and grow with your suggestions. It’s like that with original work, isn’t it? When you first write an idea into a document, or try dance steps alone in your kitchen, or sing some song phrase into your phone, you are not quite ready to share it. Or ySally Seeks Input from the Worldou struggle to make your partner or your mom (or your kid) understand what you’re creating. A few key strokes, dance steps, or musical notes later you might be ready to share. When you share, if you want your work to grow, you must start by finding someone who a) validates you as an artist, b) understands the value of constructive criticism, and c) is given the go-ahead (by you) to give an honest reaction. Most of the time you don’t even need to hear what they think, it will become clear what needs to be done as soon as you reveal this early draft. But your audience of one or two may still want to talk about what they noticed. When you allow people to express opinions about a work of art you are never suggesting that every idea expressed will be incorporated into your work. That would be silly. Allowing another person to share an opinion about something precious to you is the beginning of collaboration. To be able to hear what other people think about the work, your ego must step out of the way. Take what you can use, disregard the rest and thank all your critics for their opinions. Thank them with genuine gratitude. I promise, this gets easier to do after some practice. Don’t be confused about comments made about your art. A person commenting on your work is not critiquing your character. Listen for the contribution to the art. Sometimes, the most ridiculous ideas can lead to sublime finished work.

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From Legos to littleBits

Ayah Bdeir at TED: Building blocks that blink, beep and teach
How does approaching a complex problem with the mind of a child elicit fresh, creative, accessible new things?  Ayah Bdeir, an artist/engineer looked at Legos and was inspired to consider transistors in a new way.  I have often told my students that art is a unique expression of a universal idea.  This broadens the concept of art significantly.  If we want to inspire creative thinking, we must be willing to encourage and celebrate differentness and its contribution to the creative process.  Diversity, a buzzword for racial and gender integration, takes on powerful meaning in the world of art and education.  Diversity is a necessity for artists.  But children who are different often feel at odds with a system that rewards sameness.  I look at a classroom full of middle school kids and I sometimes wonder if teaching them how to work to a standard is one way to let them off the hook.  Kids do the minimum required rather than push for greater understanding, deeper knowledge, and personal best skill development.  Once a student recognizes the objectives of the academic game, he or she is free to play at any level.  If good grades are the goal, many savvy learners do what is required to get to the goal, but no more.  For those not interested in the game, playing at academics is boring, annoying, or off the radar.  For those who have been trained to believe their grades have some connection to an individual’s character quality, the game of school can produce paralyzing anxiety.

How do we, as educators, provide the assessments kids want without attaching them to a child’s self-worth?  This non-judgmental assessment feature is no fantasy.  Children who play video games live in a world of action assessment.  When a character dies on a video screen as a result of a lack of skill or knowledge, there is rarely a response like some I have seen in school when children do poorly on tests.  The gamer’s reaction to a lack of skill is to get better at the game whether through repetition, research, or online cheats (don’t be fooled by the name; cheats have their own learning curve).  When the expectations for schoolwork reach beyond skill building and touch the sensitive nerves around a student’s developing sense of self, there is room for reassessment of our assessment tools.

Rather than push for homogeny, we could reward new ways of thinking.  The weird girl who thinks differently will be included at lunch because the school’s environment embraces and rewards her contributions.  The weird boy who daydreams will be lured into conversations to mine his mind for unique ideas that cause an upward spiral of abstract thought in the classroom.  We have a role to play as teachers in creating an environment where divergence is no longer frowned upon but encouraged.  In fact, we now know it is this divergent thinking that creates great ideas such as Legos and littleBits.  It’s about time we stop rewarding imitation.  Let’s celebrate the weird kids and give everyone permission to reveal his or her diversity.

Arts Teachers Know This Already!

Student ArtistThis is a terrific article written last May for the Washington Post online magazine.  My friend and fellow arts instructor, Jan, sent it to me today.  It reiterates what I have been saying to anyone who will listen: Improved test scores are not an adequate reason to include or exclude a subject area.  Arts have intrinsic value not specifically related and yet foundational to learning in core subject areas.

Creativity Begins at Home

Yeah, that's right, we wear costumes to the RenFair

At the recent Creativity Summit in Tulsa this month my kids and I joined a breakout session where we could share our ideas on the question: “How can our schools continue to produce creative young people in a climate of reduced support for education, especially in the arts?”  I made a short video and both of my kids answered with a piece of poetry.  My daughter’s piece, titled A Sense of Urgency has to do with the reason kids feel misunderstood in the current system.  My son’s piece is a reworked poem titled Wasteland. He approaches the idea from a more absurdist perspective because, as he says, the current thinking about education is absurd.  Both kids are award-winning writers and I love being able to get a glimpse into their heads.  Enjoy!

A Sense of Urgency

Perhaps I just don’t comprehend the issues.

I am a member of a generation

That has become lost in the whirrs of

Machinery, internet porn, and WoW

We are members of Generation Tech

And we do not write on legal pads anymore

We write exclusively with the help of

The Grand Masters:

Microsoft, Apple, Dell and Windows

Words that all mean one thing:

Freedom.

Our own brand of freedom.

On the internet, we are who we want to be,

We can be any gender, any age, any sexual orientation

And in that sense, we are the

Most creative generation

But perhaps I don’t understand the issues

The older generation is trying to impart to us

“A SENSE OF URGENCY”

Because apparently our cities are dying

And apparently it’s our fault

Damn kids with AC and TV and LOL

Kids that won’t go outside when it’s hot

Who prefer the internet to sports

We plug headphones into our ears

Drink Mountain Dew

And stare at the shimmering, lovely screen

Our fingers whispering over the keys

Like mice

And you could practically smell the cooling fan burning,

The processors are so fast

The older generations are trying to tell us

“Stop! Now! Before it’s too late!”

But don’t they know it’s already too late?

That there’s nothing to be done to save us?

The older generations will look at us

And shake their heads, slowly and sadly,

And stare out the windows at our coffee shops

And our sidewalks, crawling with the misshapen mass

Of Generation Tech,

And they will feel sorry for us

That we cannot kick a can across the street and feel the joy in that

BUT

We will feel sorry for them as well.

Because they are trapped dreaming of old worlds

Worlds that are long dead

And we are here, on the information superhighway,

Creating the new

Wasteland

One blustery day,

We decided to build a wasteland.

So we put on our toolbelts and fastened our knapsacks

And set forth to make a difference.

First we had to rid ourselves of the buildings

We didn’t bother to check if anyone was inside

This was too important to worry about casualties

“Why must we lay waste to these places?” one man asked.

“We lay waste to make waste,” I responded

“Or have you no ambition?”

We waltzed through the destruction

To see what had yet to be born anew

Taking a pair of curtains, we tore apart the fabric of time and space

We found an extinguisher and doused the fires of love

We turned a dinner plate and cooked a feast of dead ideas

All to make way four our glorious wasteland

That was to be our paradise

“Is there no food or water?” a woman asked

“We shall feed on the fruits of our labor,” I responded

“And our thirst shall be quenched by the sweat of our work

Or have you no motivation?”

We took food out of cans

We took milk out of cartons

We took files out of file cabinets

It was becoming difficult to work

We could not see through all of the light

The only solution, then, was to destroy the sun

“A rocket?” one man asked

“Too obvious”

“A cannon?”

“Too cliché”

“Perhaps a monster”

“Where do you propose we find a monster?

The lawyers are all dead and the math teachers are too distracted”

Little Billy climbed on top of a recently built pile of rubble

He placed his index finger and thumb an inch apart

So that the sun fit perfectly

He plucked it from the sky and buried it in the dirt

Surrounded in darkness, we could see as clearly as ever

Again we set to work, building as much waste as we could

We tore and shredded and smashed and crushed

When all was done, I listened

I could hear no voices

No children laughing, no men arguing, no women gossiping

Who knows what happened to them?

I care not

As long as I have my wasteland, I am happy

With my wasteland built, I lay down for my eternal slumber

I do not know how long I was asleep

Millennia, years, months, days, perhaps seconds

Perhaps I had gone back in time

What woke me up was more of that distracting light

Muttering angrily, I looked up

In the spot where Little Billy had buried the sun, a star tree had grown

Each star on each branch was emitting the most obnoxious light I had ever seen

I got up to cut it down, but then I saw something

I saw what was left of my wasteland

Instead of rubble, there were buildings

Instead of destruction, there was construction

Instead of remains there were beginnings

I wept silently to myself

They had destroyed it

They had destroyed my beautiful wasteland with society

The fools had no idea

I collected myself and began to travel

There was a thriving place nearby

The perfect place to build a ghost town

Creativity Summit

After a summer vacation-inspired hiatus, I am back in the saddle to begin Monday-Wednesday-Friday blogging again on the subject of creativity and education. I attended a “creativity summit” a week ago for my city where Robert Sternberg, one of my favorite educators, was the keynote speaker. I invited two of my kids to come and listen and express their opinions in the group discussion portion of the day. The purpose of the event was not stated in any of the literature I received. This, otherwise, was an interesting and edifying event. Apparently, creativity is not as easily discussed as it is… experienced. The best part of the day for my kids was a break out session where they found a creative way to answer a prompt concerning education and creativity.  During the lecture portion of the day, speaker after speakertook to the stage and talked about their various projects.  Some were more on point than others.  I could have listened to Sternberg talk all day.  He is funny and interesting and has a lot to say about education and the creative life. The flow of the discussion meandered from outdoor architectural spaces to multicultural representation to how we compare with the other metropolis in our state and who in the country is ahead of us (creatively speaking).  One of the most interesting speakers was architect Shawn Michael Schaefer.  According to the literature he is the Director of the University of Oklahoma Urban Design Studio and a faculty member of the College of Architecture.  The loose discussion was interesting but at the same time it felt a little disjointed. I later learned this summit is only a starting point for more and deeper discussions. If the support at this particular meeting is an indicator, this could be the beginning of a very exciting creative period in my city.

Born Creative

This is the video I made for a recent Creativity Summit in my city. The question was a prompt designed to encourage discussion and creative response.

 

Summer’s Almost Over!

Hi all,
I just wanted to let you know I will begin posting again next week on the Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule now that back-to-school sales have begun. See you all in the blogosphere.

Ernie Kovacs and TV Art

Ernie Kovacs
Image by geminicollisionworks via Flickr

I first learned of Ernie Kovacs on a random stop in 1984 when I stumbled into the New York Radio and Television Museum.  I was dumbfounded when I learned I could view old Kinescopes of shows I had never even heard of.  A docent recommended an Ernie Kovacs kinescope and I was hooked.  I spent a couple of hours looking at rare footage and falling in love with his childlike spirit and risk-taking comedy.   As an arts teacher I am constantly in search of ways to show my students what artistic expression can be.  Ernie Kovacs used the medium of television the way Picasso used brush and canvas or Julie Taymor uses the stage.  Unfortunately, for Kovacs, his legacy is only just now being heralded with a release of a retrospective by Shout! Factory.  He was a clear creative genius at a time when his talent found a voice in a brand new medium of expression.  His ideas and the medium were new.  Everything about his art was difficult to assess as there was no precedent for what he was doing.  This lack of a grade or measuring stick made it possible for Kovacs to play as a child would play.  It was a gift to television and comedy in general that he  create fearlessly.  Some ideas failed, others were before their time and still others kept his fans tuning in and his fan base growing.  To this day there are numerous iterations and flat-out copies of his work.   His comedy is as fresh and funny as it was when he was competing with Uncle Milty, Jack Benny, Steve Allen and Danny Thomas for laughs.  Television comedy is an art form that doesn’t garner a great deal of respect.  But if you are interested in seeing the work of a true artist regardless of the art form, consider giving Ernie Kovacs your attention.

NPR Story on the release of the new Ernie Kovacs anthology

Part 2 (of 4) – Reconceptualizing Education

Educational innovator, Dr. Jim Taylor, Huffington Post blogger and author of twelve books on parenting, education, and sports psychology, asserts that it’s time we trade in the S.T.E.M. educational model “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics”and, as he puts it, “Broaden our focus into S.T.A.M.P.E.R… which stands for Science, Technology, Arts, Mathematics, Physical (activity), Emotions, and Reason.”

Everyone admits the current system is inadequate to the future we envision, but changing anything often means spending money.  Right now, with districts cutting everything from teacher salaries and jobs to closing entire schools, folks cannot imagine affording any kind of sweeping change.  It causes many reform-minded administrators to lose heart.  Taylor argues for the inclusion of the arts in the new model because, “Inventive thinking cannot be “taught” in the traditional sense of the word, but it can be experienced and nurtured through the various forms of artistic expression.”  Experience, free play, and the freedom to fail and recreate a project is not unique to the arts but arts teachers understand better than most the value of these concepts.  Without ‘failure freedom’ actors would hesitate to get on stage.  Without the experience of playing with a particular medium, an artist might not consider combining it with another medium to create a new form.  Recreation is essential in dance where an artist must return to a piece again and again to perfect her physical communication.

Dr. Taylor is recently fond of pointing out that success in education begins before school starts.  In addition to supportive families and a loving home environment, he supports free play and recess for the development of children’s imaginations and he is definitely interested in encouraging kids to push themselves hard enough to fail.

Our most famous innovators would certainly agree that free play and social creativity, ‘freedom failure’, and experience make for success in nearly every field..  Henry Ford was interested in social creativity.  He once said, “I am looking for a lot of people who have an infinite capacity to not know what can’t be done.”  Thomas Edison was known for monetizing his failures.  He famously noted, “I make more mistakes than anyone else I know, and sooner or later, I patent most of them.”  And Pablo Picasso remarked, “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

Perhaps Taylor is not saying anything particularly new and fresh, but if enough educators such as Taylor speak out about these common sense strategies we may finally begin to reconceptualize education for the 21st century.  We may indeed learn to honor the current generation’s needs more than we honor education’s poorly performing past.

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