Monday, December 30, 2013

Changing the Laws of Learning

Some time ago I observed two boys.  I was immediately intrigued by the curiosity and imagination. The boys had just found a very large cardboard box.  They were discussing how to design a fort. The older of the boys seemed to be "pulling the strings".  He was explaining that it had to have a door, window and a spot to lookout.  The older boy also began to create a list of rules that needed to be obeyed in the fort.

One of the rules that made me chuckle was the password to enter.  The older boy said the password was, "paper airplane".  As I continued to listen the older boy was outlining many procedures that needed to be followed.  In my opinion the fort looked aesthetically pleasing.  As I watched I thought the two boys were getting along wonderfully.  Then a bit later I saw the youngest in his room.  He appeared upset.  I went to the edge of the room and listened.  He was sitting at a table and I thought he was coloring.  On closer inspection he was writing.  The younger of the two boys was very independent, he loved to invent things and use his imagination.  Often his ideas were squashed by his older brother.  As I looked at the paper he was designing battle plans and even created a pouch to attach to the dog.  The dog would be the so-called scout or messenger.  I was really impressed with his creativity.  He had drawn a secret entrance in the shape of what he described as a, "sqircle". It resembled a square, but had semi-rounded corners.  I said, "Wow, you've got some cool ideas for your fort!"  He then looked at me with a very sad face and said, "he says my ideas don't make sense and there is no such thing as a sqircle."  This saddened me, I then told him I thought he had great ideas and he should do them.  A smile began to creep into his face, but I could also see that he doubted himself. Time after time his ideas were shut down.  I can see how this would stifle his creative juices.

Think about this story, are you the older brother or the younger brother?  Are you the out-of-box thinker or do you crave obedience/conformity?  Do you try new things or do you play it safe?

I've been in education for 16 years and what I have seen over and over again is that so-called "good" students fall in line with what they are told and remember what we say.  In many ways I taught this way.  I wanted my students to "hear" me and to "remember" what I taught.  My goal was that the lessons I taught would translate into problem solvers and thinkers.  As I look back I don't think I approached this correctly.  If I wanted problem solvers and thinkers I should have spoke less and given more open-ended situations.  I should have applauded the amazing imaginations and gotten out of the way of the creative thinkers.  My educational tactics have changed through the years, I now ask more questions and try to give less answers.  It isn't easy to change, but just because the majority do it a certain way doesn't mean it is correct.

We can learn a lot from history, some of the people we look to for inspiration were the most creative and imaginative of their time.  A few names immediately come to mind:  Steve Jobs, Galileo, Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Beethoven, Da Vinci and Madame Curie to name a few. These individuals were willing to take risks and "go against the grain".  As I re-read great books like Classroom Habitudes by +Angela Maiers I see the need to foster a new way of teaching and learning.  We cannot continue to create students that simply regurgitate information.  

As I read @AngelaMaiers and Seth Godin I agree with the statement that, "No one is or can be a genius all the time.  But all of us are geniuses sometimes..."

Our students have an inner genius, it should be our goal to create a safe learning environment where students can imagine, create and explore.  This won't occur overnight but it is possible.  As educators it needs to start with adaptability.  

"Adaptability is more than just serving change; it is using change as an opportunity for growth." 

Life long learners embrace challenges with a beginner's mindset.  At one point in our lives we were the energetic beginner, over time change became difficult and we began to resist change.  We can be the energetic beginner again, it is inside all of us.  My challenge to you is this, will you help foster each student's inner genius?  Will you applaud out-of-the-box thinking?  

This Week's Big Question: Will you adapt your teaching style to meet the needs of tomorrow's future?

Articles Worth Reading:

A Look Back and Forward by @Suz_Gibbs

Old Pair of Jeans by +Tony Sinanis  @TonySinanis 

Put Another Log On The Fire by @ColinWikan

Videos Worth Watching:

Great lesson for everyone to hear! Thanks for sharing @DerekBraman  (4 min)

Re-Imagining Work (9 min) Very thought provoking...

The Power of Empathy (3 min) shared by +Suzanne Gibbs 

Hilarious! (7 min)


  1. Great post Ben! I want to foster a creative generation of kids. Great thoughts to evaluate my own teachings on. Thanks for allowing us to be able to teach in a way that is "out of the box" and feel safe and supported to do so.