Matthew Crawford, a writer and research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia feels that today's education needs to return to its practical, hands-on roots, not its current state of representation in the virtual world. Crawford worries that since attention is a stimulus-driven, goal-directed and a limited resource, children, in particular, are subjected to and bombarded with continuous stimulus-driven attention of ads and manipulative messages. Social media is designed solely to have users engaged constantly and returning to their platforms. "Distractibility," says Crawford, "might be regarded as the mental equivalent of obesity." He worries that all this clutter of digital noise may dampen imagination, as well as the clear sense of self. Who are we as people or individuals, when so much of our self-image is now being shaped by marketers, friends and followers? Crawford also feels the philosophical movement of individualization and autonomy has gone too far. "I think, therefore I am, " stated Descartes, in the Age of Enlightenment. However, so much of reality, argues Crawford, now resides in our minds as representations, and the physical reality of the world has lost its meaning and value. Crawford wants genuine individuality and agency, which comes from skilled practice and experience affecting objects in the real world.
Professor Guy Claxton of Winchester University feels that attentional habits are a part of good learning habits, such as collaboration or listening. He believes this disposition of attention can be shaped over time, but not explicitly in the form of a workshop or lecture. He suggests approaching it from the point of losing mindfulness. The goal is when students are distracted, how quickly can they return to attention? Some classes work on a scale of 1 to 10, to see how distracted they have been in a week. Other classes will use a show of five fingers: 1 = not distracted; 2= vaguely distracted; 3= minor distraction; 4 = major distraction; 5 = I was the distraction! The goal is to get kids interested in their own distractibility and to gain greater control and assume responsibility. Another method is for students to keep track of their own distractions, marking a tick every time they are off task on a line scale of completely distracted and completely focused.
Source: Attention: Beyond Mindfulness, Gay Watson, 2017
How did such creative and novel ideas such as the iPhone, the Apollo 13 rescue mission, or Picasso's Les Demoiselles come about? Did they merely appear out of thin air, or is there a more logical and replicable explanation? According to Brandt and Eagleman in The Runaway Species, there are three categories (cognitive operations or strategies) that all innovations can fall into: bending, breaking and blending.
Bending takes the original item and then changes one or more aspects of it, such as shape, size, colour, or viewpoint. One basic example is Monet's many views of Rouen Cathedral in the 1890s. A more practical example of bending would be the invention of the polarized windshield. In order to not be blinded by headlights in the past, the idea of glare-resistant windshields were suggested. The problem: a calcite crystal was six inches thick! However, Edwin Land used "orthogonal thinking" and made sheets of glass with thousands of tiny embedded crystals. Miniaturization solved the dilemma. Other examples of bending include umbrellas, cars, jazz, language, architecture and television signals.
Breaking involves taking something whole, taking it apart, and reassembling something new out of the fragments. The first cell phone systems followed in the footsteps of radio and TV broadcasting, a single cell tower transmitting signals everywhere, but only a few people could make calls at one time. Bell Lab engineers then divided the single coverage area into small cells, each with its own tower, thus solving the problem of too many users. Another example of breaking comes from motion pictures. In the early cinemas, scenes in movies were told in real-time. Soon, filmmakers began to cut the beginning and endings of scenes. Then in Citizen Kane, we see time moving rapidly in years, and soon montages of long scenes can be done in seconds. Other examples of breaking include the following: computers, carbon copy, LCD screens, acronyms, and MP3 files.
Blending combines two or more sources in novel fashion. A classic example would be the Egyptian Sphinx, part human, part lion. With advances in genetics, professor Randy Lewis was able to splice the DNA of a spider to a goat to create Freckles the spider-goat; she's a goat but her "superpower" is she can secrete spider silk in her milk. This spider silk will be used to weave ultra-light bulletproof vests in the future. We also have fish and pigs that glow thanks to the jellyfish gene. Creoles are the blending of languages. Children in a remote village in Australia used their parents' baby talk (which combined 3 languages, Warlpiri, Kriol, and English) and then created their own syntax, known as Light Warlpiri. Blending is nearly limitless: a kingfisher + train = Japanese bullet train; soccer + volleyball = futevolei in Brazil; copper + tin = alloy bronze.
Source: The Runaway Species, Anthony Brandt & David Eagleman, 2017
Bjarke Ingels is the founder of BIG, an architectural firm based originally out of Denmark. Bjarke has interesting philosophies and ideas that could relate to education, as well.
Pragmatic Utopia--it's really the best of both worlds; instead of choosing between a parking lot and an apartment, both can co-exist and thrive, with a kind of symbiotic relationship. It's not an either-or choice; rather an hybrid, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. "The Mountain" has both a garden and a penthouse view for all, and it sits on a cave of parking. And it's built on on block at a time. What do I find amazing? is important for the designer.
Yes is More--the basic philosophy that greater things can be done if "yes" is the answer. How can we get to "yes," as opposed to "no" or worse, "impossible."
Hedonistic Sustainability--linked with the environmental movement; what if sustainability could actually increase your quality of life? Maritime Youth House--it solved a lot of problems in unproblematic ways. What could have been a simple basic structure, it became completely different, with creativity and design.
In architecture, people say it's bad when it doesn't fit in. Yet, he gives the example of the spires in Copenhagen--the differences from the norm--that actually give the city the reputation it has.
Inclusive input becomes the driving force, making everyone happy, has to perform in so many different ways. If you're not realizing a dream, then 7 years is a really long time.
His whole philosophy is barriers exist but they in many ways, the barriers become opportunities to create even more that could have been expected. He's also fascinated in doing things never before conceived and then making it a concrete reality. It's individuality yet blended and encased in an overarching structure and theme that gives it a unity as well. It's dreams becoming a reality in the real world. Humans have the power to impact the world in positive ways.
Source: Netflix; Abstract: The Art of Design
Encouraging Creativity in Kids
Vancouver Writers Festival
Studio 1398, Granville Island
This workshop, led by Marie-Louise Gay, was informative, inspiring and entertaining. The following will be a collection of ideas shared by Ms. Gay, distilled somewhat through my perspective into four broad categories.
This was an interesting session, although maybe a bit tough early in the morning to solve a potential end-of-the-Earth scenario. It's basically an escape room for the classroom. We did it as a group of about 30 teachers, and it was fun to see how people acted. There were definitely a few serious people/leaders who were working hard. Then there were some of us, just catching up with old colleagues. All in all, it was a good time and we saved the world...with 20 minutes to spare.
The educational benefits are quite clear:
The website has everything set up nicely as well with free resources for the escape rooms.
Creative Drama in the Classroom
This session started with a bang...but ended with a fizzle. I think with her drama/acting/educational background, we expected a lot. Still there were some good ideas to be had:
Artifacts Inspire Inquiry
This session was truly inspiring, engaging from start to finish, and the presenter was extremely professional, prepared and personable.
The start is key. She asked us to talk about our childhood "artifact," something from our past that was memorable, important or endearing. The initial brief moment of anxiety shifted to something quite calming: sharing something personally relevant helped create an invisible bond within that group of strangers.
The key point that was stressed was that an artifact doesn't need to be something ancient; after all, your students probably haven't seen some of the things you grew up with, given the acceleration of technology advancements combined with the nature of our disposable and consumable society.
The main activity involved having poster paper, a group of people, and a photo of an artifact. We had to brainstorm as many ideas about what the item was. It was a fruitful discussion, with plenty of varying ideas. Then we received the actual physical object, and our preconceptions or ideas from that photo changed quite dramatically. So we came up with even more refined ideas about what our item was. We actually guessed correctly: a sewing kit!
Lisa Brahms and Peter Wardrip, University of Pittsburgh researchers, have recognized learning practices in making.
1) Inquire: openness and curiosity
2) Tinker: "purposeful play, risk-taking, testing" using a variety of tools, materials and processes
3) Seek and Share Resources: sharing knowledge and expertise
4) Hack and Repurpose: reuse and combine components in new ways
5) Express Intent: find one's passion and identity
6) Develop Fluency: gain confidence in one's ability through learning and practice
7) Simplify and Complexify: gain understanding of new ways to create meaningful things
Source: Free To Make, Dale Dougherty, 2016
Scott Gilmore wrote an interesting article on manufacturing. The good news is manufacturing jobs are returning to North America. The bad news is that the work is being done by robots.
As we continue to make machines smarter with machine learning and artificial intelligence, they're able to do the jobs that at one point we thought could not be doable. But then again, we live the era of computers that have beaten the world chess champion, Jeopardy champion, and the Go champion.
Autonomous transport trucks are hitting the highways shortly, which could replace over a quarter of a million drivers in Canada (the 2nd most common job for men) and about 9 million jobs in the US.
Henry Siu, professor at UBC specializing in automation has an interesting solution to these future losses, which I found fascinating as a teacher. He suggested avoiding STEM-related disciplines. In other words, these graduates are only contributing and speeding up the process of their own future demise. Instead, a more open-ended arts degree might be the way to go. Students need to be able to think laterally, creatively, and outside the box. That is the kind of thinking that computers will not be able to do for quite some time.
Source: Macleans, February 2017
We tried all the systems that have been tried before, then we tried our own systems and we tried some combinations that no one had ever thought of. Eventually, we flew.
Can children learn entirely on their own? That was the question on Sugata Mitra’s mind back on January 29th, 1999, then science director of an educational technology firm in India. The experiment was simply placing a computer on the outside wall of the building where he worked facing one of the poorest slums in New Delhi. This endeavor became known as the Hole in the Wall. The curious visitors were children who are unschooled and illiterate and most who had never seen a computer before. That computer had a video camera to record what was happening.
What he recorded was quite amazing. Children around the ages of 7 - 13 began to play with this curious device. They moved icons on the screen, used the touch pad, and once they discovered something, that information was passed on to another child. This was all done without any instruction from adults. Dozens of children were using the computer to play music and games, to draw with Microsoft Paint, and use other computer tasks. So was this simply an anomaly, a one-time event? Mitra and his colleagues repeated this experiment in other places in India, rural as well as urban, getting the same results. Often if they could not read, they managed to somehow learn English or Hindi through the computer. Mitra estimates for every computer setup, 300 children became computer literate within 3 months.
Was it a perfect system of learning? Maybe not. Some of the criticisms range from the the lack of evidence of actual improvement in math or other skills in the children; computers themselves falling eventually into disrepair without proper maintenance or management; and more of the children were older boys, so younger girls were often deprived of the experience.
Nonetheless, Mitral's experiments illustrate the three core aspects of our human nature: curiosity, playfulness and sociability. Curiosity was the force that pulled the children to the computer and motivated them to explore it. Playfulness motivated them to practice many computer skills, just for fun; while sociability allowed the children to share their knowledge with others, to create a community of shared learners.
(Source: Free to Learn, Peter Gray; Wikipedia, Sugata Mitra)
In 2010, IBM's survey of 1500 CEO's found that the creativity was most sought after management skill, ahead of operations or marketing. This is what our students need (and probably already have) in schools today. It's the matter of fostering, nurturing and allowing this creativity to flourish, because in these increasingly complex and troublesome times, unique, creative and original thinkers will be critical. So how can and do we allow creativity to become a natural part of everyday life in the classroom?
(Source: Creative Intelligence, Nussbaum)
Daniel H. Lee
This blog will be dedicated to sharing in three areas: happenings in my classroom and school; analysis and distillation of other educators' wealth of knowledge in various texts; insights from other disciplines and areas of expertise that relate and connect with educational practices.