Learning from the Arts

Great little article by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post about “Top 10 Skills Children Learn from the Arts” making the rounds today. (Just don’t read the comments. How can there be ugly comments about an article like this??)

Read it. And don’t cut more arts programs.



I ran across an article that I didn’t even know I needed to read until I read it….. “On Being a Changemaker” by Karen Pryor.

It hit hard. So THIS is what I’ve been doing, and WHY it’s been so incredibly hard. I’m making things change (well, I’m trying…. not succeeding yet.) The phases of change she defines fit perfectly. The reactions from people around me are exactly as she describes. I know, however, that my reactions have not been as effective as they could be, so my goal is to take her ideas as my guide. This applies both to my work and to the advocacy I do (or try to do) with my children’s schools.

With full credit to Karen Pryor, here are her steps of what people do when faced with change:

  1. Ignore you
  2. Pretend to agree, but actually do nothing
  3. Resist, delay, obstruct
  4. Openly attack you (the dangerous phase, but also a sign that change is starting)
  5. Absorb
  6. Utilize
  7. Take credit
  8. Proselytize

Read the rest of the article for more details, but I am especially struck by her effective responses. I need to internalize them. The one I am very much looking forward to is the last:

They’re taking credit for your idea? By all means let them; your goal is the change. Credit is a low-cost reinforcer and people who want it don’t satiate. Give it away in buckets.

I can’t wait until that day. So far, I don’t see it, but I welcome it!The process of change is hard.

For my reference, here is Karen Pryor’s complete list of effective reactions:

  1. When they ignore you, find allies and persist.
  2. Don’t be misled by lip service. Find allies and persist.
  3. Meet resistance with persistence. Move around the resistance; try other avenues.
  4. The stage of open attack is a touchy time. People can get fired, for example. Keep your head down, but persist. Don’t take the attack personally, even if it is a personal attack. Attack is information; it tells you:
    a) You’re getting somewhere: change IS happening, causing extinction-induced aggression.
    b) Your attacker is frightened. Empathize.
    c) Your attacker still believes in the efficacy of aversives.
  5. Absorbing and utilizing: this stage can last a year or more. Maintain generous schedules of reinforcement.
  6. They’re taking credit for your idea? By all means let them; your goal is the change. Credit is a low-cost reinforcer and people who want it don’t satiate. Give it away in buckets.
  7. Are they pitching the change? Good. If you want to change something else, you now have new allies.

– With credit to the Minnesota Council for the Gifted & Talented, where I first saw the story, and to MinnPost, Nov. 13, 2012, for the reference to Karen Pryor’s blog.

Project Based Learning

Great post by Nicholas Provenzano (aka @thenerdyteacher), “I’ve got 99 Problems, but a Test Ain’t One

Nick writes extensively about his experiments with project-based learning, and the huge successes he’s seen. He also writes about tech integration and the advantages, even though his school isn’t 1:1. He just has a classroom set of iPads. He’s a huge Evernote fan. (No, I’ve never met him, although I have seen him at ISTE.)

I appreciate his thoughtfulness about why he moved away from multiple choice tests: “Remembering the character’s hometown was nice, but demonstrating the importance the hometown played in the story is far more important.” He acknowledges that writing a good multiple choice test is difficult, and it was more about a reading check rather than a check for understanding.

I appreciate how his classes are set up for the benefit of the student, taking advantage of their natural inclinations,

Students are yearning to show their teachers their talent and knowledge. They are bursting at the seams to show the world what they can do. The traditional classroom of lecture and test does not allow them to do that though. The minute I started to let my students choose their projects and express their knowledge in different ways, engagement and the overall energy of the students went through the room.


I sit on a district curriculum committee. The focus of everything is on test scores. It’s all about bringing up the scores. There’s no room even to ask about the value of the standardized tests – it’s just taken for granted. My daughter’s grades are heavily dependent on tests, the tests get far more weight than other work that may require more thought. I’ve had a chance to look at some tests (only a few because they don’t allow the tests out of the room!!) Most of the tests are basic factual recall. Even the teachers admit that they aren’t asking many higher level questions. Why aren’t the tests allowed out of the classroom? Because kids might cheat. And they can cheat because it’s all straight factual recall. There’s very little cheating possible in a project based classroom.

Says Nick:

Somewhere along the way, education lost its way and started to focus heavily on memorization of facts and not the actual act of learning. To me, MC tests, fill in the blank exams, etc. as the only means of assessment are a symptom of that larger problem.



Last week, I attended another Apple event at Little Falls. These are exciting sessions where teachers present things they are doing in class with the iPads. My son asked me what I learned. I told him about the science teacher who was having his students do video lab reports, and we discussed the advantages of using images and video when talking about science experiments. We talked about how a lab report he did last week would have benefited from having pictures or video.

Today, when I picked him up, he was super excited to talk to me about the experiment they did. It involved fire and a hard boiled egg. Hmmm… I was having a hard time envisioning what they did. He proudly told me he had a video of it! The video had helped his group answer the questions on the lab report, as they could watch it over and over to see what happened first.

He also shared it with his teacher, who asked him to email it to him so he can post it on his website. His teacher thought it was pretty great that he had done this!

So, my subversive iPad project continues….  While this is a great example of using the iPad for learning, I am surprised my son is not coming up with more ways to use it. It concerns me that he is just following the teacher lead (which is very little tech) instead of thinking on his own. We will be having more conversations about thinking how the tools on the iPad can help him learn and demonstrate learning.

Two huge advantages to using the camera/video camera in a science lab

  • using in learning: watch it over and over to get data, be able to reproduce the set up, share with others
  • share with your family: it was way easier to understand what he did by watching the video. We had a great conversation about it!

Hereś the experiment:


New History

Ran across this interesting post, “The History Curriculum in in 2023” about needing new ways to teach history.

I agree. Totally and wholeheartedly. I am looking forward to his additional posts explaining the 4 Ms: Making, Mining, Marking and Mashing.

I can’t comment directly on these things, but given the tone of this post and the one previous, “History on Thin Ice,” I think I have a good sense where he’s going.

I have been in the history education biz for 25 years, first as a high school/middle school teacher, then now as a museum professional for the last 20+ years where I’ve worked as an interpreter (taking the public through museums/historic sites), a program and exhibit developer, a website developer, and now as a digital curriculum developer. In the museum world, we frequently hear visitors say  how surprised they are that history is so interesting, because it was so awful in high school!

How do we make history interesting? We tell stories. We make it relevant. We connect people to their history, and help them see how it impacts their world today. We talk about how people lived, what they ate, what they did. We find objects, documents, photos, maps that show real people, telling real stories.

What do I see in my kids’ history classrooms? Tests, lectures, and pages and pages of dense text. This wasn’t interesting 30 years ago when I was in school, and it certainly isn’t interesting to today’s students. History isn’t a multiple choice test — history is people, things, places and stories.

These history classes cover an enormous period of time and an enormous geographic area. There is no room to dig deep, to learn more than a few dates or names of “important” people then move on to the next big war or emperor.

My son’s school is different. To be fair, they are not beholden to the (ridiculous) standards expecting them to teach an unreasonable amount of content. (They also don’t have to give up nearly three weeks for standardized tests.) Instead, they use that time to dig deep. For example, they spent an entire month – yes, four weeks – studying an incident in Minnesota history that very few schools even mention, much less spend time on it. They examined primary source documents, including treaties, newspaper articles, testimonies, court documents and more. They examined reactions to the incident over the last 150 years. They had to take the raw materials of history (from a pool of resources the teachers pulled together – they were only 11 and 12 year olds, after all!) like an historian does, and put them together in various ways to make arguments and present information. I would guarantee you that these 11 and 12 year olds knew more about this incident than the vast majority of adults.

It’s pretty clear which approach I prefer, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming blog posts about how he envisions the new teaching of history!

Aha! Here are the four posts: