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.

Middle School Minute(-ish)

Because writing 3X a week was becoming more and more challenging as my school year progressed, a friend suggested instead of blogging, I try vlogging!  Here it is, my first vlog of the new year.  Look for a focus on Middle School and Arts Education!

Developing a Sense of Humor Rather Than a Sense of Outrage: Why Reporting Bullying is only Part of the Answer

A Fledgling Teacher-Led School Trend

Palmer Park Preparatory Academy

My husband found an interesting blog post on the idea of the teacher-led school model.  The idea of a greater presence in the classroom for decision-makers is one which piques my interest.  I am fortunate to work in an educational community where everybody’s involved in student life.  It’s a bit like living in a small town.  Mrs. Crabtree tells your Sunday School teacher what she saw and the milkman noticed something too and we’re all talking to your mom.  But I digress… Enjoy the post:

A Fledgling Teacher-Led School Trend.

How to Recognize a Good Education (via The Arts Room)

Cover of "Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire:...
Cover via Amazon

This post from TheArtsRoom (in Rhode Island) preaches to the choir but I think you will enjoy many of the quotes. The book mentioned in the post, Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire  by Rafe Esquith, is one of my favorite teacher resources. I have a copy in my bookshelf and I ordered one for our school’s library. Enjoy the rest of the reblog!

“I soon learned a basic truth about the arts: students involved in arts education are learning about things far beyond the art they study.” -Rafe Esquith, Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire This weekend marks the midpoint of summer vacation for those of us with school-age children in the house.  So, while I will continue to set aside the back-to-school Lands End catalogs and ignore the Staples ads in my inbox, there are some reminders of the fast-app … Read More

via The Arts Room

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

Grassroots Education Reform Begins with Us

Barnett Berry Video
I gather that some people have had trouble with the embedded video so I am instead making it a link to the Edutoipia site where you can view his video as well as other resources related to education reform.  Thanks for letting me know!

5 minute Barnett Berry video

Barnett Berry is the president and CEO of the advocacy organization Center for Teaching Quality.  In the preceding video he clarifies for all of us just who is going to reform our current system and outlines ways in which that can be done.  He bases his ideas on what he calls the Four Emergent Realities:

The Four Emergent Realities include:

1. A new learning ecology that provides a “24-7, just-in-time” learning environment with specific assessment tools.

2. Having teachers trained and working both in and out of Cyberspace.

3. Teachers working as teams with a structure to support differentiated teaching careers over time.

4. Teacher-preneurs (we used to refer to these progressive educators as mentors) who teach but are also allowed time, space, geography (connecting in person or online) and reward to spread expertise in and out of Cyberspace.

I think Barnett may be onto something.


			

Fast Track Preschool

Children in Jerusalem.
Image via Wikipedia

This New York Times story of preschool madness elicits an obvious response: “Are these parents crazy?”  There are more subtle forms of directed learning that may thwart rather than propel children. We all know that an over-scheduled child can become a stressed-out child.  It would take a month’s worth of blogs to identify negatives associated with stress. For this post I’ll stick to the theme of directed learning.  I should call it over-directed learning.

I have seen teachers and parents (including me) pulling their hair in frustration because a child won’t go along with our learning structure.  I am a fan of giving a certain amount of structure to kids. This includes a few rules, a reliable schedule and logical consequences. That structure allows kids freedom to create within a psychologically safe environment. But here is where I differ from those who push their children to earn their place among the learning superstars before they enter middle school. A child who plays with Lego’s by destroying and rebuilding or spins around in the backyard until he falls down, stands up, looks around, and spins again is learning. We label this kind of learning “play” and by doing so we reduce its importance in the educational hierarchy. Learning does not only occur at a desk or in an environment where right answers rule the day.

Coercing children into directed learning environments such as the one described in the New York Times article or even placing your baby near the stereo to hear Beethoven’s 5th Symphony has only a short-term effect on spatial-temporal reasoning and no discernible increase in intelligence. Why, then, do we continue down these competitive paths? Sometimes we  favor organizational skills and following directions over experiment and exploration. Imposing adult standards on children for things like order, neatness and organization has more to do with convenience and less to do with allowing children to learn and grow. Failure Freedom is missing in these environments.

The freedom to fail boldly is what allows for quantum leaps in learning. By encouraging our children to be afraid of failure and push harder to please the adults in their lives we have siphoned the gas from our educational engine. It took me three kids and many years in the classroom to learn this lesson. But my failures (and not the copious books I have read) have been my greatest learning tool.

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.

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