Creativity: The Lego Way

Two 2×4 Lego bricks, of the same color, can be put together in 24 different ways.  Three can be connected 1,060 different ways.  Six can be combined in 915,103,765 different ways.  ..and, of course, children (and adults) have enthusiastically assembled them in nearly as many.  It’s when useful and reliable resources can be used in so many ways that creativity is invited.1

The best use of Legos, in my humble opinion, never involved lessons or even instructions.  You do not sit down and teach children how to creatively make stuff by clicking Lego bricks together.  You simply given them the bricks and let them play.

Might we achieve more inventive-minded students, if we could redesign curriculum to simply give our children the prescribed resources of mind, and then encourage and free them to play, construct and learn.  One example occurs to me, something that I witnessed in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada many years ago.

In early 2007, I participated in a provincial conference there and in addition had an opportunity to visit some of the area schools with my friend and NB educator, Jeff Whipple. At the time, the entire province was engaged in some pretty innovative initiatives.  I wrote about that visit here and here.

I was overwhelmingly impressed with everything that I saw in the schools around Fredericton, but the visit that came to mind as I started thinking about Legos was Chad Ball’s civics class.  He had decided to approach it in an entirely different way that year, based on a summer morning brainstorm.  Rather than present the content to his students in teacher mode, he simply made it available to them, the vocabulary and concepts of Canadian government, mostly through a wiki.

Students were then assigned to work in groups, to create a new political party.  They were to develop a platform, write speeches and even establish a mascot and logo – and required to appropriately and effectively utilize every vocabulary word and every concept of Canadian government in the process.  Chad taught in consultant mode, though he reported that he api;d often refer students to classmates who seemed to have a handle on the concept or practice. 

On the day of our visit, Mr. Ball had asked, on the class wiki, if there might be ways to extend the project.  Even though the posting initially evoked complaints from some of the students, within a half hour there were 102 comments on his posting, mostly suggesting ways that they might take their political parties to the next level.2

This style of teaching and learning is about empowerment, not compliance,

because learners are given access to building blocks,

..and invited to build something.

 

1 (2014). Brick by Brick: Inside Lego [Television series episode]. In Inside.Bloomberg TV.

2 Warlick, D. (2007, March 23). A Day of being Overwhelmed. . Retrieved July 21, 2014, from http://2cents.onlearning.us/?p=946

I Learn to Play & Play with What I Learn

I’ve been worrying over what’s to become of my 2¢ worth as I come to pay less attention to the education debate and less effort on promoting my own value to that conversation, which is at least a small part of what my pennies’ worth has been. Do I continue to have my children publish their video and infographic contributions, or drop the blog all together.

What continues to play at the edges of this conundrum is what was perhaps the most resounding nail I’ve hammered on during the final years and months of my professional career – that there is a distinct and crucial difference between learning and being taught. I suspect that there has been no time in human history where the ability to skillfully, resourcefully and continuously learn has been such an essential life long working (and playing) skill — lifestyle.

It’s a profound notion that begs the question, do we need an education system to teaches children how to be taught, or that helps them to learn to teach themselves? And if this is a question worth asking, then what does its answer mean to the pedagogies of our classrooms, libraries, school schedules…

As I have turned my attention away from writing about education and preparing for three keynote addresses a week (mostly not an exaggeration), I will must insist to you that I have not stopped learning. To treat my wife, I’ve taken on more of the cooking — applicable learning. I've started practicing the martial art of Aikido — reflective learning. Digital photography and the art and technique of post-production — information-rich learning.

I wonder if it might be useful to write about these learning experiences, removed from formal education. Though I've done a lot of thinking about my martial arts learning, the injured my coccyx (tail bone) from a bicycle accident, has prevented me from visiting the Raleigh Aikikai Dojo lately. I’m not yet mended enough to go and repeatedly fall down again. So let's look think about my photography learning.

Before
After

I bought a descent DSLR camera several years ago, as an incentive strategy for getting me out of the hotel rooms of the interesting and sometimes exotic places my work was taking me. The scheme worked, and I now have a wealth of snapshots going back close to twenty years. It’s afforded me a richer memory of my global wanderings, but also given me a virtual warehouse of digital images with which to learn and play.

I am mostly using three software tools: Photomatix Pro, to enrich photos by blending different exposures together; Photoshop, to shove pixels around with; and Lightroom for the finishing touches. They are all three, rich and powerful tools for working in a field about which I have no formal training. I simply look at the work of better photographers, watch videos and read blog articles about how they accomplished their masterpieces, pick out a particular technique of interest or need, and teach myself to do it.

And I play.

To the right are before and after images from the train station in Basel, Switzerland, where my wife and I changed trains travel from Frankfort to Milan. The before image is a fine snapshot. It’s clear and crisp. However, there is little sense of the station itself. So a produced a copy of the photo with the exposure cranked up, revealing the high rounded roof and ribbed structure. Blending these two files, with a third lower exposure copy, not only revealed the vast size of the station, but with some play, gave the photo an antique and artistically rendered effect. Near the far end of the building, there was a hint of some open windows with morning sunlight shining through. To excentuate this, I used some techniques that I'd learned the day before to enhance the beams of light add added some extra open windows, giving the photo not only a sense of place, but also of moment.

My point is that

I learn by playing and working and then play and work with what a learn —

..and there is no clear point where one ends and the other begins.

Might classrooms be a little more like this, where students learn by playing and working (accomplishing something of value) and then play and work with what they've learned?

Might these sorts of writings be useful to you, practicing educators?

 

You Wouldn’t Believe!

I was just scanning through a Facebook feed I have for folks I went to high school with, and an old friend posted a YouTube video of the Temptations singing, I Wish it Would Rain.  Maybe you have to be close to my age to be able to appreciate the marvel of spanning the decades with a mouse click, or a tablet touch.  What if it had been suggested to us, in 1969, that this sort of thing would be possible.

These thoughts reminded me of a day in 1967, when Mrs. Cole, our 9th grade civics teacher, suggested to us that by the year 2000 we would each own our own computer, and it would be small enough to carry in our shirt pockets,

..and it would be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide!

The thing is, that in 1967, we didn’t believe her.  The very idea of having such a device, so soon, was beyond our imaginations.

It’s an important story to me, because we cannot begin to imagine the astounding possibilities of our children’s future, the tools and opportunities that they and their children will take for granted.

As an educator, it begs the question, “What do our children need to be learning today, and how do they need to be learning it, to be ready for an un-imaginable future,”

“..to be able to create a future • • • that’s better!”

Am I Missing It?

I just woke with a start.  Did I just miss the ISTE14 ADE (Apple Distinguished Educators) photowalk yesterday?  A quick Googling from my office (next to my bedroom) and I see that the event isn’t until next Saturday.  Most years I’ve been blogging by now with recommendations for ISTE novices, about what gear to take and how to behave.  But not this year.  I’ll be mostly taking it easy at home, taking pictures, taking walks, riding my bike, playing with the dog (my daughter’s studying in Europe and we’ve got the dog) and working on a slew of personal projects.

Talking with Carlos Austin, a local iPad photographer.

Will I miss ISTE14?  Well, I’ll certainly miss the photowalk.  Last year’s walk around San Antonio was phenomenal, especially because of the talented and ingenious photographers I followed around — both the gear geeks and the artists.

I’ll also deeply miss EduBloggerCon, now called something else (HackEd), where educators go to learn from each other.  I’d planned, for a while, to attend only the photowalk and HackEd, but figuring the cost and how much I’m enjoying becoming a homebody, I finally decided to forego Atlanta this year.  I can’t accurately say how many NECC/ISTEs I’ve not missed, but it’s more than 20.

I’d like to say one thing here, about why I’ll be at home on ISTE week – and I’ve written about this before   I submitted two presentation proposals.  

One was a standup and teach presentation about games and pedagogy.  It was accepted. 

The other was a very strange interactive performance (see NCTIES), designed to provoke the audience to self-examine their personal ideas about information and communication technologies and education.  It was rejected.

Look!  The best learning that I have done, was not taught to me.  The best learning came from a challenge, or curiosity, or an intriguingly inventive plot – and it involved a conscious and resourceful re-examining of my own knowledge and ideas.

Have fun at ISTE14 and question your learning.

It’s Silly, I know!

It’s a silly distinction to make, I know, objecting to “personalize learning,” as a term for describing the current flavor-of-the-week in education reform/transformation conversation, preferring instead, “personal learning,” .  

As an advocate, I cannot fault the use of either label for student learning that is personal, needs-based, unconfined and empowered by personal passions and skills. That’s my immodestly paltry characterization that fits both terms.

I could, if I thought it would be the least bit helpful, call attention to semantics, suggesting that one is a verb, “..produce (something) to meet someone’s individual requirements..”, and the other an adjective, “..belonging to a particular person..”

But I guess what disturbs me the most and prevents me from letting go of this argument is that one can be

  • Packaged,
  • Monetized,
  • and marketed

to superintendents and legislators,

 

The other liberates learning.

More Evidence of a More Playful Society & A Really Bad Trip

Those who have seen my “Cracking the Code of the ‘Native’ Learning Experience” presentation are familiar with my theory that we have become a more playful society. We spend our cognitive surplus in more interesting ways than ever before. 59410 snowmg1 316x422Here is more evidence, a photo taken down Glenwood Avenue, just minutes after Brenda and I had driven through last Wednesday on our way toward a hotel near the Raleigh-Durham Airport. WRAL.com invited people to playfully add to the photo.  You can see a slideshow of the photo manipulations here.

This part was not fun.  Often, when snow is in the forecast and I’m flying out, I’ll stay in a hotel near RDU the night before so that I’m only a shuttle-ride away the next morning. It had only just started snowing when we left the house for what is usually a fifteen minute drive. Shortly after riding and pushing our sedan up and down Glenwood Avenue and seeing the gridlock that had already formed in the in-bound lanes, we decided that she would not be able to drive back home. So we went straight to the airport, parked the car, and set out looking for taxis, one to take her back to Raleigh and one to take me to my hotel. The hotel shuttle had stopped running, as had the contracted airport Lincoln Town Car taxi service.

Smaller taxi companies had come to the rescue, older green and yellow and electric red cars and minivans, mostly from Japan and driven by young men with exotic accents. Brenda got one of the early ones, headed for North Hills. I got one of the next ones, delivering folks to airport hotels. After two hours of pushing, both ours and many other cars around us, I was in my room, and after another hour, Brenda had been let off at North Hills, from where she walked the remaining mile+ to the house, and lucky to do so.

The next day, I learned that my flight, one of only two leaving RDU that day, had been delayed until 12:00 noon, messing up my connection in Atlanta. Lacking the confidence change my connection on the web (Brenda does that stuff), I called Delta to do the rescheduling for me and I got a new itinerary, keeping the first class seats Brenda had paid extra for out-of-pocket.

I took an early yellow and green cab to the airport, planning to spend the morning in the Delta Sky Club. It hadn’t occurred to me that the lounge might be closed for the snow. No problem though. We had the rest of the airport to relax in.

The plane out of Raleigh, which had been parked there for two days, ended out leaving around 2:00 PM, because they’d waited until nearly noon to start preparing it, as even the engine needed de-icing. Trying to board with a 1st class boarding pass, I was informed that they didn’t have me listed in their manifest, that the Delta agent I’d spoken with on the phone had mistakenly canceled that flight. They gave me the last seat left, 16A, right next to a Duck Dynasty-looking fellow with a sleeveless shirt and tattoo on his shoulder that said M-R-Ducks. The part about the tattoo a bit of an exaggeration, but the rest of this is true.

Of course my delayed delay out of Raleigh caused me to miss my rescheduled flight, but on landing in Atlanta, a very friendly agent told me that I had already been rebooked on a new flight, leaving in an hour and a half. I walked over to the Delta Ski Club there, only to discover that it was more crowded than the concourse. So I spent 45 minutes in the lobby of the club, talking with Brenda on the phone.

The flight on to Louisville was without incident and I was lucky enough to grab a Ford Fusion Titanium to drive over to the hotel. The next day my talks at the Sacred Hearts Campus in Louisville went very well, such a gracious audience, and thankful too. Brenda and I both had been keeping them updated on my adventures of the previous two days.

Flying out of Louisville the next day was only slightly complicated by more snow during the night, the slight delay leaving me only ten minutes to get from gate B24 to gate A20 for my connection in Atlanta. I made it, though I’m sure that at my age and size, running all that distance with luggage was not a pretty site.

The good news is that every once in a while, I will have a trip like that, where everything that can, does go wrong. And then, I’m charmed for the next 24 months or so.

So, may the remainder of my speaking trips be without incident, and leave me with only the best memories of this professional life as a vagabond educator.

Nc snow meme: Attack on glenwood ave [Web series episode]. (2014). In Slideshows. Raleigh, NC: Capital Broadcasting Company, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.wral.com/wral-tv/image_gallery/13392751/

 

But…

Wires
Will these wires be used to impose teaching or empower learning?

I’m happy about Obama’s ConnectED plan and the Broadband initiative, doubling e-rate funding.  Working in other countries, I know how uniquely special E-Rate is.  

However, I remain skeptical as to whether this program and its associated teacher-training will result in transforming education into the learning that’s relevant to preparing a new generation of learners, within a new information environment for a future we can not clearly describe.

If it happens, it will be because of what determined, creative and compliance-free classroom teachers do, not because of an emerging education industry.

Education 2014, As Seen in 2004

Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century, by David Warlick

In 2004, Linworth Publishing Company released Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century.  They had come to me more than a year earlier to write a book about technology for educators, and, being so flattered, I agreed.  However, as I commenced researching and planning the book, I came to realize that it was not technology that was impacting the work of educators nearly so much as the changing nature of information.  What we read was changing in..

  • What it looked like,
  • What we looked at to view it,
  • How we found it,
  • Where we went to find it,
  • What we could do with it and
  • How we communicated it.

Discussing this with my editor, Donna Miller, we concluded that what was needed more than a book about technology, was a book about literacy, and how our notions of literacy are affected by an increasingly digital, networked and information abundant (overwhelming) world.

To set the stage my first chapter was a story, set in a middle school in 2014.  It was perhaps more of a thought experiment for me, imagining the technologies that would almost certainly be available in schools in 10 years and then learning how they might be applied, by telling a story about the school’s students, teachers and community.

Here is the story’s introduction.

This first chapter is a work of future fiction. I do not call it science fiction, because I have every reason to expect that schools can change this much, and that it could happen during my career. If they do not, it will not be because the technology is not available, but because we did not have the courage or vision to make such dramatic changes in the way that we prepare our students for their future.

Some of what you read in this short story will seem unbelievable. However, if you are aware of the advances in computers and networking over the past ten years, it will not be the technology that surprises you. It will more likely be what learners and educators do while they are engaged in teaching and learning. So let us remove the veil of our own industrial age upbringing for just a few minutes and see one possibility. Welcome to The Bacon School, 2014.1

Continue here.

Copyright © 2004 by Linworth Publishing, Inc.

My next few blog entries will be a serialized version of that story.  I want to thank Marlene Woo-Lun for helping me to get permission from ABC-CLIO to republish this chapter and also for helping in the second edition of this literacy book, Redefining Literacy: 2.0, published in 2008.

Warlick, D. (2004). Redefining literacy for the 21st century. (p. 1). Columbus, OH: Linworth Publishing, Inc.

Script Learning

It’s been a busy few weeks, with the holidays and then a wedding – the first of our siblings children to tie the knot.  Also consuming no small amount of my time was the shinny new and cuddly MacBook Pro we bought for Brenda just before the end of the year.

We serve our children by drilling them on facts and prescribed processes, and testing their recall ONLY if THIS is what we expect for them

A new computer and operating system (Mavericks) thrills me.  New opportunities, and new and interesting ways of doing things, working, learning and playing.  

But Brenda doesn’t look at it that way.  We compliment each other in so many ways.  I strive for the new and unpredictable, while she holds to certainty and the traditional.  I’m smart enough to know that she’s smarter than me, so — it works.

And, so, I’ve been working to make her brand new MacBook Pro behave exactly the same way that her four-year-old white MacBook did – with a few unavoidable exceptions.

Her copy of Intuit’s Quicken  which she uses to keep our books, would not run on Mavericks   She stopped upgrading Quicken, when the software dropped its check-printing feature in 2006.  And so, converting her data from 2005’s Quicken, to the new Quicken Essentials, was not going smoothly.  In fact, my research indicated that it couldn’t be done.

To get a second opinion, I called their tech support, and, after only about five minutes was connected to a young man with a delightfully exotic accent.  Not a problem. I love accents, even though my particular hearing disability makes interpreting them difficult for me.  The problem wasn’t his accent.  It was that he was determined to answer a question that I was not asking

I won’t go into detail, except to say that my research, prior to calling, informed me that there was a particular obstacle to upgrading from any version older than 2006.  He seemed not to hear that part of the problem and insisted on the standard upgrade process.  As that continually failed, he would leave the phone for increasing periods of time, coming back only to suggest something else that I had already tried before calling.  

I gave it an hour and a half, open to the possibility of a sudden and surprising solution, but then apologized and disconnected to make a 5:00 appointment.

The young man was working from a script, based on a set of expected and well understood problems, the solutions for which he had been thoroughly taught and tested.  I understand the approach.  It’s inexpensive, qualifies as successful training and probably solves a sizable number of predictable support problems.   However it is useless for unexpected and difficult to understand problems.

..and here’s the moral of my story.  If the last sixty-some years have taught me anything, it’s that most of what we experience in the future will be unexpected and difficult to understand and that much of what we didn’t expect and struggle to understand will actually reveal priceless opportunities.

We serve our future by drilling our children on facts and prescribed processes and testing their recall ONLY if it’s the picture above that that we expect for them.  Our children need to leave our schools practiced in a lifestyle of paying attention, evaluating, thinking, adapting, inventing and finding value.

I fear that this testing madness has already quite nearly ruined one generation.

The Chemistry of Cookies

This has got the be the most mouth-watering learning experience I’ve ever had. Enjoy this very thorough explanation of how exactly we get from dough to cookie on a scientific level. Embed This Video

The Chemistry of Cookies

This has got the be the most mouth-watering learning experience I’ve ever had. Enjoy this very thorough explanation of how exactly we get from dough to cookie on a scientific level.

Embed This Video