Creativity and Tech

Here’s an article in Forbes about how Google and Chromebooks have overtaken Apple/iPads in the classroom.

I’ve seen this shift. When I started building content for schools, it was nearly 100% iPads with very few laptops. Chromebooks didn’t exist. Five years later, we see over 50% Chromebooks in classrooms. Although we started building for iPads, thankfully, we built something that is accessible to iPads and browsers (including Chromebooks). (We have never had a request for an Android app.)

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I see the reasons schools move: Chromebooks have keyboards. Chromebooks are cheaper. And – I think most importantly – Chromebooks are much easier to manage from an IT perspective.

Chromebooks have come a long ways, but I still see the iPad as a more creative tool. Critics say it’s only a device of consumption, and the Chromebook is a device of creation. I disagree. The iPad is much stronger in video, audio, music and photography production.  You can’t beat iMovie or the plethora of photo editing apps. Garageband is beyond compare for music production. Chromebooks can do these things, but not nearly as easily or as intuitively.

So, who drives the move to Chromebooks? Is it IT? Admin? Finance? Or is it the education teams that are choosing them for pedagogical reasons? Somehow, I don’t think so. Is technology becoming just really expensive paper? Are computers just a fancy Xerox machine, allowing worksheets to be delivered digitally instead of on paper — without expanding education beyond fill-in-the-blanks teaching, avoiding creativity? This is a broad overgeneralization of course, but….

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Loving Reading

I love to read. As a kid, I read all the time. My cousins would hide my books so I would come out and play. I always, always, had a book with me in school so I could read if (when) school was boring and I finished the assignment.

I just thought my kids would love reading, too. We read all the time. We read to them starting as newborns. We did everything to encourage reading. However, my kids do not like to read. I admit I did not handle this well. I pushed, I cajoled, I panicked. My daughter felt stupid. We fought. Tests showed some minor reading disabilities, but never ever enough to get any help. Reading just was never enjoyable, so she doesn’t do it. Still doesn’t – yet has successfully finished her first year of college. My son doesn’t have an reading disabilities, but he, too, does not enjoy reading. What did I do wrong?

I don’t know, and I’ve given up asking. My kids don’t read. Guess what – I am now grateful for this.

I’m grateful because this taught me that there are many ways to learn. This taught me that there are many ways to express oneself, to absorb and demonstrate knowledge. This taught me to recognize the value in different learning styles. My children both are visual thinkers. They see the world in pictures. I see the world in words. Neither one is better – they both have value and are essential. My kids solve problems differently than I do. They see the world through a different lens. This means they don’t necessarily succeed in traditional academic settings with the highest grades – but that’s going to be just fine. I do wish school valued different types of learning styles more.

This post was triggered by a post by Pernille Ripp (“A Parent’s Role in Protecting the Love of Reading“) about her daughter’s journey learning to read. As she describes her daughter’s hard work becoming a reader, it hits me hard – I’ve been there. I celebrate with her that her daughter is now reading at grade level. Yet, without devaluing reading, I also  want to encourage the embrace of whatever might be her daughter’s preferred learning style. If she’ll never be a strong reader, or one who loves reading, it is likely her skills/learning style will be something different. Instead of focusing on her perceived deficits (“reading at grade level” is a school based value), focus on her strengths. Maybe she is a strong visual thinker and the words get in the way of her thoughts. Maybe she’s a kinesthetic learner that needs to move in order to learn. It doesn’t matter – but what does matter is that her strengths are valued and honored.

Ripp’s post gives parents permission to do many of the things I did: lied about reading logs, bought audio books to help her finish assignments, read out loud for homework and for fun. I thank her for her understanding and support. I love this quote:

As parents, we have a right and a responsibility to protect our child, we must never forget that.

We do. And if our kids don’t love reading and learn differently, we have the right and responsibility to our child to honor  and develop those strengths without criticism or making them feel less.

The Straight “A” Leader

Doug Johnson is always a source of excellent blog posts. However, this one about straight-A students is particularly spectacular.

Academia rewards the straight-A student. They are those that get the scholarships, the Latin honors, the Ivy League colleges. I’m not taking away from their achievements – they’ve worked hard.

Johnson asks — are these students learning to question and to be original thinkers? Or are they really good at the establishment of education? (Of course, this is not to downplay anyone’s achievement.) The ultimate question: ”

what happens when our straight-A students become educational leaders – principals, directors, even superintendents?

Are the kids who succeeded at an established structure the ones who can be rethinking how students learn? Can they think outside the box and create an educational system that meets the needs of the 21st century when we’re not creating factory workers?

I can relate. I was one of those straight-A students. I’m not proud of it. I was really good at school – but not sure I was good at all at asking questions. I was good at learning and spitting back on a test. To this day, I bet I could take a standardized test about just about anything and do ok. Learning how to take a test is not a life skill. When I was teaching, the system at which I excelled was the one I wanted to recreate. It wasn’t a good fit for the kids I was teaching. It was a reflection of a different era and didn’t necessarily meet the kids where they were.

It took raising two kids who are not traditional straight-A students to be able to peek outside my box. Why is testing the most valued assessment? Why is the 5-paragraph essay the goal?

Johnson says it best:

Or perhaps we should start giving A’s for something other than good test performance. What a concept.

Theater as 21st Century Skills

Love this post, “Four Reasons Theater Should be a Core Subject in Schools” by Madison McAllister about why theater should be a required subject in school. I’d go a little deeper than the author as to my reasons why.

Yes, it’s good a good outlet for emotions. Yes, it’s builds great people skills.

Theater also teaches the basics of 21st Skills: Creativity, Collaboration, Communication and Critical Thinking.

21st Century Skills

At its most basic level, theater hits all these skills.  Whether onstage or offstage, theater builds useful life skills.

Onstage: actors have to create a character. They think critically about the character they are playing and find a away to communicate the character and the story to the audience. In order to do this, they must collaborate with others – whether this is another actor, a director, lighting person, stage manager, whatever.

Offstage: directors, set designers, stagehands all have to use these four skill sets as well.

Critical Thinking

The first step of any production is to read the script and think about the characters. What is their intent? What is their backstory? Why do they say the lines? How do they say the lines? How are they feeling? Actors often create backstories for their characters that require them to dig much deeper than the script presented.

What else do you need to know about the setting? How do you analyze the location? What time period is it set in and how does that impact the characters? The sets? Costumes?

Creativity

Theater is inherently creative -and perhaps that’s why people are uncomfortable with it in schools. Each actor creates a different interpretation of a character, and how do you grade that? (Maybe you DON’T!!!) How do you assess it if it isn’t  a number?

Actors, designers, directors all create the production from their imagination. How do different costume choices impact the show? How do you create emotion? How do you design a set to give the appropriate feeling?

Collaboration

Theater is never done by yourself. Even a one-person show requires more people. Actors collaborate with other actors, with directors, designers, stage managers and backstage staff. Talk about a deadline – the show opens! You have an audience. You have to work with the team in order to get the show to open.

Once the show opens, there is another collaboration – this time with the audience. The presence of an audience changes a show and it’s crucial to collaborate with that audience -not to alienate.

Communication

It’s all about communication! From the basics of communicating a story to an audience to delving deep into a character, theater is communication at its best.

From start to finish, many forms of communication are essential. Written: script, programs, marketing. Visual: set, costume design. Oral: delivering lines, giving/receiving direction. It’s all there!

But I don’t DO Theater!

I know, not every kid wants to be on stage. But guess what – not every kid wants to be a biologist, a mathematician, a historian. Yet, all those subjects are required. Why should theater not be there? You can deal with any of these content areas through theater. We all have to be in classes that are out of our comfort zone.

 

Shut-Down Learners

I have never posted just about the Shut-Down Learner concept by Dr. Richard Selznick. I’ve referred to it, but need a more thorough post.

I ran across Dr Selznick’s concept of the Shut-Down Learner about a year ago. It completely fits.

From his article, “When Learners Shut Down,” these are characteristics of a shut-down learner (before shutting down):

  • Tuning out in circle time
  • Highly spatial and visual learners
  • Active or over-active
  • Difficulty with language-based activities such as reading and writing

We’ve got three of the four.

Watch this video for an overview.

Screenshot of his PowerPoint that is it in a nutshell.

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 11.28.53 AM

Self Directed Learning

An article in MindShift, “Is School for Everyone?” discusses a concept that allows teens to fully direct their own learning, with appropriate adult mentorship and support.

Ken Danford founded North Star, a center that enrolls teens and allows them to learn on their own. A former middle school teacher, he saw too many kids damaged, disengaged and unable to learn. He has seen some amazing success stories out of North Star. There are apparently a few other places like this around the country. Students do have to take a GED or something in order to officially get a high school diploma. Many of these students do very successfully go on to college.

This would’ve been an ideal option for my daughter. Like the students in the story, she has significant anxiety around school and basically shut down. It would’ve taken her a few months to destress and come out, but I think she would’ve flown if given the proper adult mentorship and guidance, and allowed to learn at her own pace about things that inspired passion.

Would she have learned high level chemistry? Nope. Would she, perhaps, have explored a Mozart opera in depth? Probably. She may have learned to make films, done ceramics, listened to some great literature, taken tons of pictures, written some scripts, done some professional theater. This list could’ve been long. Instead, she was forced into classrooms with 30 kids, filled out worksheets and taken bubble tests.

We are hopeful that while college is still “formal” academic experiences, the fact that it is more self directed will allow her some more positive learning opportunities. Keep your fingers crossed.

And watch Ken’s TED Talk:

Meaningful Learning

Sam Tanner is another teacher that inspires me. He isn’t a national thought leader – yet – but his head is in the right place. While he actively avoids technology himself and in his classroom, he has the same mindset about education that attracts me to the digital advocates. He is a perfect example that it isn’t the device that makes quality education, it’s the teacher, the philosophy and the pedagogy.

Sam blogs. It is wacky (his word), irreverent and honest. As he prepares to leave public high school teaching for the hallowed halls of higher education (where I’m sure he will continue to challenge the status quo in his own quiet and very meaningful way) I have enjoyed his recent observations on public high schools.

For example:

I proctored an ACT test two weeks ago. Simply put, here is what I think after being a high school teacher for twelve years: building art with high school students is meaningful and testing them isn’t….if what you are advocating limits creative potential, I’m not interested. I’d rather spend my time with people making new, strange things. That is my conception of education, naysayers be damned.

Fortunately for me, my daughter had the opportunity to take a number of classes with him. It’s about all that got her through school. I’m not sure that he fully understand yet what a gift he has been to the students lucky enough to work with him.