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.

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

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.

Gamers are the Fastest Learners

A photograph of Tennis for Two taken in 1958.
Image via Wikipedia

Dr. James Gee has some provocative things to say about the way learning is changing.  This is a trailer for a longer documentary on the subject of gaming and experiential learning.  I am fascinated with the subject as all arts teachers might be.  Arts is experiential by its nature.  You don’t have to play video games to have the experience of learning through experimentation or “leveling up”.  As a result of its ubiquity, gaming happens to be the model used in several studies.  This style of learning happens outside the gaming world all the time and it proves what creative instructors have known all along: social interaction, a positive culture of failure, assessment through “leveling up”, and experimentation all have a hugely favorable impact on learning.  Enjoy the video!

http://www-tc.pbs.org/video/media/swf/PBSPlayer.swf

Watch the full episode. See more Digital Media – New Learners Of The 21st Century.

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