Movement is Key to Learning

I have seen a couple of very interesting articles in the past twenty-four hours that remind me how important movement is to learning. And not just to learning, either, but to productivity in general. It brings back to mind the story that Sir Ken Robinson told about Gillian Lynne, where she entered the dance school and was so excited to find people like her, who “had to move to think.” And running into these articles has made me realize that it is true – we really do need to move to think. Right now, I am sitting at my kitchen table typing this, and my foot is tapping to some sort of music in my head. Every once in a while I have to shift in my seat, and if I find myself not moving, my attention will drift to the tabs at the top of the page, two of which are inevitably Facebook and Twitter. Yes, I am on Facebook and Twitter. My Facebook page is Project: Preschool and my Twitter “handle” is @sccriley. But I digress… (probably because I wasn’t moving…)

The first article deals with children and energy, and how parents  (and teachers) talk about taking children outside in order to burn off their energy. The article states that outdoor play is a chance for children to explore their bodies’ limits, go through emotional play as they either conquer goals or try and try again. It also helps the wiring between the body and the brain because the body’s movement helps the brain stay focused, and possibilities become endless. And I have noticed something about children and the great outdoors, at least on the playground where I work: For the first ten minutes or so, the children are wildly and crazily climbing on everything and yelling and screaming and having a grand time (especially if it has been raining and they haven’t been able to go outside), but after that a calm seems to settle over them and they actually begin to explore their environment. It is actually quite different from indoors, where children can get bored with the same things and you have to systematically add something new to the equation to keep them engaged. It is as if the environment of outdoors is engaging on its own, and the children have to get over that AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH moment of actually being outside before they can settle down and get down to business. When I think about outdoor play in this context, I think that the thirty minute play time that the state mandates is hardly enough time for children to be outside, because half of that thirty minutes is spent just settling into the new environment. It is the last half of that time that true learning begins within the environment.

The next article is about how a teacher transformed her indoor classroom to make it a more relaxing and inviting environment for children. How did she do this? She took out the desks. She still had a few tables available for children to work together at, but for the most part the children could work wherever they wanted and could collaborate together however they wished. The article says, “She knew she wanted her classroom to have a similar feel as the children’s section in Barnes & Noble or a creative play space in a museum.” She had clipboards available for children to write with if they wanted to sit on the floor (or even lay down if they wanted), and did what she could to make the space as cozy and inviting as she could. The article also says that she saw improvement in the children’s behavior after the improvements and their productivity went up because they had the freedom to move around while they worked.

It is amazing what can be accomplished in a classroom with a little bit of freedom, and remembering that movement is key to learning.

Technology and Curiosity

I ran into this wonderful article from TeachThought about the link between technology and curiosity. I am not that familiar with TeachThought, but one of the greatest aspects of my blogging adventure in the past few months is the journey I have had discovering other people just as interested in education and learning as I am. I hope you enjoy this article as much as I did.

The Impact of Technology on Curiosity

Outdoor Playscapes

I have been a big fan of outdoor classrooms and playscapes for a long time. I treasure Rusty Keeler‘s Natural PlayscapesI have gazed longingly at some of the musical features built by Alex at Child’s Play Music. I have dreamed about what could be accomplished in an outdoor setting. I am sure most administrators have done this.

The tide is turning away from colorful, pre-made jungle gyms and toward more natural outdoor environments. I believe that both have their place in children’s outdoor play – no one can deny the natural urges children have to climb on things or the physical and psychological benefits that are derived from doing so. However, the learning that is involved when one has a natural outdoor environment to play in is unmistakable as well. There are many centers that also boast loose parts for children to work with on the playground that children can use in whatever creative ways that they want.

I came across an article today that showed the difference between an outdoor learning environment and the old blacktop playgrounds from years ago that are still hanging around. I hope that you enjoy the article as much as I did:

Redesigning Recess: Why Kids Need Natural Playgrounds

Being Prepared to Fail

Yes, I know, I said that we shouldn’t stigmatize mistakes and that we should label mistakes as “attempts” instead, so that we can learn to move beyond the mistakes and learn from them. But the truth of the matter is, the word “fail” is in our vocabulary. People use it all of the time to describe what is going on in the world around them. Take a look at the popular “FAIL Blog” to see what I am talking about. (Although, as I got mesmerized by the entries when I went to copy and paste the link, I realized how many of the entries show the creative nature of the human race – and their willingness to put themselves out there.)

This morning I have been browsing the website of Edutopia, or the George Lucas Educational Foundation. Yes, you read that right: the film guru George Lucas is now involved in educational innovation. When I found this out this morning, I felt like I had been living under a rock because I have been following Edutopia on Twitter for a couple of months now without knowing what it actually was. But I was browsing the website this morning and I came across a blog post that sounded interesting: What You Need to Be an Innovative Educator by Terry Heick. The suggestions and advice seem sound to me, but when I got to number five, “Willingness to Take Risks”, I had to smile:

But a real willingness to take risks means being prepared for failure. And failure might come in the form of lost funding, an article written about you in the local newspaper mentioning a “project gone bad,” unflattering data, and a million other possible outcomes.

Being willing to take a risk shouldn’t empower you to implement wrong-headed, half-baked ideas under the guise of an “innovative spirit,” but you should be prepared to fail. Which is fine, because education has been failing long before you got here.

Yes, I had to smile at that, because I have found that the further into this project that I get, the more I seem to take myself entirely too seriously. And worry about failure. “What if the ideas that I am putting forth in this workshop/lesson plan aren’t understood?” or “What if I can’t get my point across?” Some of the ideas that I am presenting are radical by the standards of traditional education, but have been talked about in the realm of progressive education for a long time. A lot of the progressive ideas have been misconstrued and misrepresented by traditionalists for years – one of the hardest parts of my early research was educating myself beyond the myths that have been laid out there. And if that was one of the hardest things for me to do – change my mindset – how difficult is it going to be for me to change the mindset of others? The key for me was being able to take the ideas that I encountered directly into the classroom and try them out for myself, thereby seeing the change and results for myself. I have tried to include this feature in my workshop so that educators can take the ideas that I present directly into the classroom and use them for themselves. Of course, it won’t be easy at first – change never is easy – but with support it can work.

Of course, I need to mentally prepare myself for failure because it could happen. But this quote reminded me to stop taking myself and failure quite so seriously, because education has been failing long before I got here!

prepared to fail

Building Positive Relationships: How To Escape Education’s Death Valley (Sir Ken Robinson)

Do I hit you over the head with Sir Ken Robinson? Well, I am not going to apologize for it, because the man is a wonderful speaker and is full of great ideas. The video I am presenting on the blog today is his presentation at the 2013 TEDTalk Education Conference, which is as phenomenal as all of his others. I included it under “Building Positive Relationships” because the ideas he presents have the ability to change and enhance the relationships between student and teacher, teacher and administrator, and administrator and legislator. I hope you enjoy the presentation.

 

An In-Depth Look at Gever Tulley’s School

As I was trying to locate the video for yesterday’s post, I came across another video of Gever Tulley where he explains his school a little bit more. He details how talking about his school with others has helped him to conceptualize their processes a little more, and he talks more about those processes. I hope that you enjoy this video as much as I did.

The more I think about the model that is used in the school, the more impressed I am. My brain is already going into overtime with this one. Is yours?

Gever Tulley’s Tinkering School

In a past post, I talked about time, tools, and tolerance. I discussed these as things that we need to provide to children in order to encourage them to be creative. In this video, Gever Tulley talks about providing these very things to children in his school, and highlights some of the amazing accomplishments that they have made.

Enjoy!

Does Creativity Peak At Age Seven?

I have wondered this for a very long time. Is that why adults do not view themselves as creative – it peaked long ago?

This question hits me at home presently. I have a seven year old daughter who is extremely creative. She draws pictures and makes up stories about them, and they are truly original and ingenious. She is heavily into My Little Pony right now, so a lot of times her stories involve ponies that she has drawn. Sometimes they are ponies from the series and sometimes she makes up her own ponies. But the creativity involved in her stories is truly breath-taking.

Since I started becoming interested in creativity, I have wondered why adults feel that they aren’t creative. A few years ago, I was actually one of them. I wondered if I could change my mindset and actually become creative again. I wasn’t sure. I wanted to figure out why.

My research has pointed more and more to education and the way children are taught as being key to why people don’t view themselves as creative. Children are taught as they are sitting at a desk. Younger children are allowed to sit on a carpet sometimes, but for the most part they are sitting. And they are tasked with listening to the teacher talk to them, most of the time. I actually heard one of my daughter’s former teachers call her class “chatter monsters” when they were trying to get their ideas heard over her. And the context of the experience that they were having left much to be desired as well. All of the children were sitting on a carpet that clearly was not big enough for all of them to sit together comfortably. They were packed on this carpet. Needless to say, it took about five minutes for the pushing to stop as the teacher threatened the children with some type of punishment if they did not behave. Then we had the chatter monsters. The teacher handed the children individual whiteboards, markers, and socks to use as erasers, and then told them what to write. Any children who were not writing what she said or were writing when she hadn’t told them what to write or were writing something different than what she said were punished. (The punishment, by the way, was taking away coins that were used to earn a trip to the treasure box on Fridays). There was no creativity involved in the activity and no opportunity for children to express themselves. The whole time that I volunteered that day, it was the same thing. All of the activities were cut and dry with no chance for individual expression. Worksheets and sitting, no talking out of turn, nothing but what the worksheet or the teacher wanted done.

Joseph Berk, in his article about engineers that I featured yesterday, stated that he thought that the rules that are in place during school is what causes creativity to peak so early. While I partially agree with him, rules are needed in society in order to keep things running safely. (We could get into a discussion about government and overreach into society here, but this isn’t the time or the place; we are focused on education. However, if you want to assert your own creativity, we can have a discussion about that in the comments.) There is such a thing as rules becoming too restraining, however, and this can definitely affect creativity. Requiring children to sit together in a tight space without pushing or touching anyone else is simply asking for trouble. Making children learn academic information within a prescribed box (worksheets, flashcards) is a sure way to suck the creativity right out of a child. When children are not allowed to express themselves, and are in fact punished for doing so, they soon learn to not be creative. And since the majority of people feel that creativity peaks at age seven, learning to not be creative happens very quickly – within two years of starting school. With at least eleven more years of school left, creativity would seem to not have a chance.

In thinking about that last sentence, my thoughts ran back to my years in high school. Every high school has their cliques, and mine was no different. But my mind came back to the people that I began to associate with in my later high school years. They were most likely in an extracurricular music class or in drama. They were the ones that drew insanely awesome pictures during class and knew how to not get caught doing it. They had conversations in class, trying to figure out who was the greatest guitar player that ever lived. These were the kids who were creative for creativity’s sake. I envied those kids because their attitude about school was entirely different than mine. I envied the musicians because they were so creative that they could jam and improvise, and I couldn’t. I was strictly and literally a textbook musician, and I was that way when it came to school as well. I still am when it comes to school. But in learning more about different facets of our education system, I have allowed myself to be more creative in the classroom. And this, in turn, has allowed me to let my children be more creative as well.

It has also allowed me to look at my daughter and realize that I need to do everything I can to provide her a place where she can feel free to create her stories and her pictures, to find an outlet for these stories that she seems to spontaneously come up with. She needs to have a place where she can hone that creative skill so that it will not die in the eleven years of school she has left. My older daughter shows me that she still has creativity all of the time, letting me know that I have not failed her in that way – not yet. She is actually planning on becoming an engineer, and I see little pieces of what Joseph Berk was talking about when she talks about her work in her architecture classes. But she is passionate and creative and hopefully won’t lose that as she learns all of the rules and regulations involved in engineering.

And me? My outlet is this blog, and my classroom. I find myself being insanely creative in my classroom, and I have a class of wonderful children whose creativity inspire it in me. It is almost like we feed each other. I enjoy giving them a creative outlet, because in three or four years, when they start elementary school, they may not have that outlet any more. But the more I foster their creative little minds now, the better chance they may have later.

Lincoln High School in Walla Walla Tries New Approach to School Discipline

I am a huge advocate for treating children with respect. I have done a lot of posts about punishment in the classroom. I have talked on and on about how Conscious Discipline works for me in my classroom. I am even developing my own discipline system geared more toward preschool aged children.

This story caught my eye tonight, and it is well worth the read. It is kind of long, but I want you to see the transformation that this high school made – and why it made it. It contains the science behind the method, and how it works.