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.

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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