Tuesday, December 20, 2011

We are asking the wrong question...

I am a big fan of Sir Ken Robinson. Robinson has penned two books, "The Element - How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything" and "Out of Our Minds - Learning to be Creative"

In these books, Robinson discusses the immense power of and need for creativity. He discusses the nature of creativity and his belief that creativity and the ability to think divergently (seeing many possible solutions to problems) is an ability we all have and that it decreases over time. This last claim is supported through research on problem solving in which people were asked questions like how many different uses they could come up with for a paper clip. The same subjects were asked in a longitudinal study that lasted 10 years. They asked them every 5 years (age 5, 10, and 15) and the number of possibilities they came up with decreased as they got older. They got worse! Robinson's claim is that by age the children had become "educated" into the idea that there is one answer and it is in the back of the book.

One of the central claims in the "Out of our Minds" book is that we often think of and measure intelligence wrong.

A great example of this theory is the question we often ask of ourselves and others "How intelligent are you?" The implied assumption behind this question is that intelligence is a singular and finite characteristic. Much like "How tall are you?" It implies that intelligence can be measured and defined as a specific trait or set of traits. Robinson argues the question we should be asking is "How are you intelligent?" Amazing what a difference the placement of one word; intelligent, makes. Moving that word changes those two questions entirely. Instead of intelligence as a singular, quantifiable trait, the second question portrays intelligence as a multitude of different abilities in a number of different areas. It assumes the intelligence of every individual. Rather than intelligence being something you either have or don't, it becomes something everyone has in varying amounts in many different areas.

I am convinced that the nature and culture of schools would change if we would stop asking the first question and started asking the second. What a great thing to ask kids whether they be in kindergarten, 12th grade, or anywhere in between.

On a related note, if you have not ever watched Ken Robinson speak, you really should. Two of his most popular talks have are "Is School Killing Creativity?" and "Bring on the Learning Revolution!" Those two talks are a "Cliff's Notes" of sorts for his books and are embedded below.

Make the day great!


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stop Filling the Pail and Start Lighting the Fire

campfire clipart

I recently returned from the 2011 TIES Conference in Minneapolis. TIES is an organization made up of a large number of Minnesota school districts that exists to advocate, enable, and empower teachers to increase student engagement through the integration of technology. This is the second year I have been able to attend the conference. I love the learning that happens at TIES because there is a great mix of hands on, applicable tools and tips that can be immediately used in a variety of classrooms, and challenging discussions of broader topics relating to student engagement and the very meaning of what education should look like and consist of in the 21st century. I always come away invigorated, challenged, and with a major headache!

One of the most interesting sessions I attended this year was called I-Imagine: Waking a Generation to Their Own Greatness. The content of the session was great but what really struck me was a statistic. It said that of all of the knowledge in the world, in a 13 year academic career (kindergarten through 12th grade) a teacher could only ever cover .0000001% of it. Whoa. Now, before you call the statistics police, I am fully aware that such a statistic is very difficult to believe, impossible to verify, and in all likelihood, completely made up. But don't get hung up on the number. There is a fundamental truth in there. There is so much knowledge and information in the world, there is no way we could ever hope to cover all of it in 13 years. Not. Even. Close.

One of my favorite educational quotes is: "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." It is attributed to the poet W.B. Yeats. That quote immediately came to mind when I heard the previously mentioned statistic. If our goal in education is to pour as much knowledge as possible into the heads of our young people as we can before their 18th birthday, we are doing it wrong and we are doing them a disservice. We could pour facts and figures into them all day, every day, and not even cover one iota of the available knowledge in the world. So why do we try? In the meantime national statistics show a majority of students say school is boring, uninteresting, and irrelevant and we live in a world where anything you can memorize can also be Googled in .05 seconds on any computer, ipad, or cell phone.

When we think of education in these terms, it seems to me that we need to spend less time trying to fill the pails and more time trying to light the fires. Teach skills in context. Identify student passions and connect them to their learning. Light the fire of curiosity and rekindle a love of learning. Stop filling pails. Light the fires instead.

Make the day GREAT!