Friday, July 11, 2014

The Power Of An Idea

Source: Amazon
There are wonderful picture books published every year, but sometimes there’s one that stands out from the crowd. What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Bosem is the one. This book is a wonderful story about a brilliant idea and the child who helps bring it to the world. As the idea grows, so does the confidence of the child. This inspirational tale is for anyone, of any age, who’s ever had an idea but may be reluctant to embrace it, because it might seem different, odd, or just a little too big.

The message in this book speaks volumes about giving ideas a place to grow and seeing what happens next. Ideas don’t disappear; they follow us. If we don’t allow them to develop in children as part of the learning process, we will continue to lose the spark of brilliance to rote compliance. Educators want the freedom to encourage kids to cultivate their ideas and bring them to fruition. Sadly, this is not the norm in classrooms today with enormous pressure on them to meet testing requirements.

Source: Amazon
We can talk all we want about “genius hours” and “authentic learning,” but unless the current evaluative system for schools, teachers, and students changes, it’s a moot point. The pendulum has swung so far away from the block areas and free play in kindergartens and toward learning “centers” that we are losing that inventive spirit in kids. They are less creative to think of ideas, and they constantly look for instruction on what to do next. Oddly enough, the successful and highly educated adults who try to initiate reform, who participate in open discussions on social media, and who publish commentary did not go through the school-testing mania, and they’re okay. So how did education get so off track? If we want kids to dream BIG, we need to let them.

Educators need flexibility with an evaluative process based on authentic learning experiences and the environments in which they take place. Would it hurt learning if kids were given "20 percent time" to develop ideas? We think not. Major corporations such as Pixar and IDEO pride their successes on creative work environments, and others like Google and 3M encourage employees to use 20 percent of their work time to play freely to stimulate the growth of new ideas. The upshot of this free time is the many products and services that are second nature to us today.

The more we review our own curricula, the more we see the importance of devoting time in class to allow students to cultivate their genius and creative thinking. To be fair, it should be in school, to give all students the same opportunity. Too many of them are overscheduled outside of school, and others who don’t have the means are at a disadvantage. While we applaud makerspaces and maker fairs, they require payment to attend and parents with time and interest to take their children. By bringing it into the classroom, we can promote a culture of collaboration, guide kids through mistakes along the way, and celebrate the natural growth of discovery.

Steve Jobs was allowed to tinker in his father's garage; Bill Gates played with computers from a young age. Need we say more? Their ideas changed the world, literally. What we want for our students is exactly what the child in the book discovers:
“Then, one day, something amazing happened. My idea changed right before my eyes. It spread its wings, took flight, and burst into the sky. And then, I realized what you can do with an idea… You change the world.”
We don't need to throw out structure and assessment; what we do need is a new system that supports student learning and allows for higher order teaching. With more choice, we can empower the brainchild in both.

Source: Amazon

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

ISTE Recap - Day 4 - The Curse Of Knowledge

Source: ISTE
The final day of the ISTE-palooza felt more relaxed, as the numbers dwindled with the work week and the attendees fell into a rhythm. The emphasis today seemed less about tools for teachers and more about skills for students. Several speakers pointed to the lack of genuine search ability by students who use Google not just as their default research tool but also as their reflexive second brain for information access.

Indeed, Alan November, in characteristic wit and approachability, encapsulated the entire gist of this year's conference in his too-short morning kick-off session about the need for authentic digital use. Ostensibly billed as a talk about what to do during the first five days of school, November effectively marshaled the audience around his claim that before the advent of the web, there were two important concepts to cover: content and skills. Now schools must add “build out your network” as a critical proficiency for today's wired children.

Source: ASIDE, 2014

November also pointed to the "Curse Of Knowledge," a theory in cognitive science described by Steven Pinker at Harvard that claims teachers in effect know too much. Experienced educators have mastered the material already and, therefore, are unintentionally flawed educators. They have difficulty reaching people who do yet know the information. Students teaching other students, however, do not carry this same bias. In fact, the best teachers are those students who truly struggled with the concepts and who understand what it means really to learn.

At ISTE, the same holds true. The temptation exists to feel cursed by the avalanche of knowledge, the overload of "things you're not yet doing." Yet in the Pinker sense, the same is true of teachers teaching teachers; they live on the same plane, within the same general sphere of understanding. Learning between fellow educators, therefore, is efficient and real.

November did offer some intriguing suggestions for the first five days of school, such as spending time on searching, questioning, global connections, year-long projects, and celebrating a culture of failure. Warming up the crowd, he showed the video of "Audri’s Rube Goldberg Monster Trap," a winning way to lure any students into a culture of tinkering.

Other highlights of ISTE's fourth day were the informal "playgrounds" that invited casual, collaborative exchanges. Topics centered loosely on ideas such as the maker movement, mobile learning, and creative play.

Source: ASIDE, 2014
In total, the possible downsides to a conference like ISTE are the enormous crowds, the outsized demand for BYOD sessions that force organizers to require pre-registration, and the omnipresent techies staring at you with Google Glass.

The upsides are the exposure to cutting-edge ideas and the access to leading names in the edtech space. Also, meeting Twitter friends in person feels like speed dating mixed with college reunions. Above all, the ISTE reward for us is being honest about what we don’t know and returning to class in the fall armed with an reenergized toolkit of apps and ideas.

Click here for recaps of Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.
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