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.
Image via Wikipedia
Having gone through the college admission process two times now, I can say I have learned a few things. This article has so much good advice, I wish I had read it a little earlier. Tufts, Tulane and now Oklahoma State University notwithstanding, most colleges are not yet on board with the super creative admission materials (a la Legally Blond) but we are headed that way. I predict the college admission process will be completely transformed in less than a decade.
The financial aid section is especially useful. A friend of mine gave me the best advice ever: “Whatever they offer, go back and ask for more. There is a little black box under someone’s desk and it’s full of money for your kid. If the financial aid counselor tells you there is no such box, ask that person to look again.” Using this strategy, my oldest went from $0 to full ride. It doesn’t always go that way but like Winston Churchill famously intoned, “Never, never, never, never give up.”
Don’t Blow Your Kid’s Chances of College Admission – Forbes.
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.
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!
via The Arts Room
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.
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.