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Time for an Altered State of Play/Work!

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Recently, I watched a short video from Stuart Brown on the importance of play, not just for children, but also for adults. It made me start thinking about how we get so hung up on the tensions of work and play, and how they might benefit from becoming more integrated in our lives. As Stuart Brown attests, playing is good for us — good for our minds, our bodies, our spirits and our relationships and communities. So how can we become more play-full in our work in these difficult times?

It’s easy to get depressed as the economy continues its slide, times get tough around our families and communities, as well as our schools. Everyone is asked to more with less, and while we could all say that we have some ‘clutter’ in our lives that we need to rid ourselves of, there are also those who live close to the line where necessity is indeed, the mother of invention, as we all devise new ways of coming to grips with new realities.

As Edutopia reports, our schools, notoriously underfunded for the most part, face especially tough times as funds for materials continue to dwindle and more and more teachers are forced to buy supplies for our children out of their own meagre pockets. Teachers have always been more than willing to spend their own cash to help out families who can’t afford supplies but recently K-12 teachers have reported spending more than $1000 a year just for classroom supplies! In the face of this crisis, teachers are getting creative, playing with the nature of their work as in selling advertising space at the bottom of quizzes and exams, using organizations such as Freecycle where people give away lots of things they no longer need (but you might – you need to be quick though!), still others set up a listserv in their community posting requests for donations of supplies they need. Then there are those who organize school supply fundraisers and still others (like the Construction Management program at my own university) have organizations adopt classrooms! Not only is creativity alive in these endeavors but the playful perspective taken by these teachers is leading to some serious sustainability practice!

Teachers aren’t the only ones getting creative around education resources. In a recent report from the UK, more than 500 11-19 year olds completed and presented their Manifesto for a Creative Britain to the Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham. These young people reflected on what they feel they need in order to learn, think and act creatively. They imagined how schools might be different, what people in the creative industries could do to help and how they could develop the best environment possible for creative decisions and forming ideas. Students worked and talked together using online discussions, face to face conversations, group debates and video interviews to canvas their peers. Can you imagine what would happen if you engaged in such a project in your community?

These are indeed serious times for serious work and yet, simultaneously, what we may need is some serious play, by both adults and children to become more creative in our daily lives. I never cease to be amazed by the wonderful imagination of my children and the ways in which they question the world in which they live through their play. Perhaps Stuart Brown is onto something in releasing adults to play!

With thanks to laurel fan, dalydose and kelseyohhgee for their images!

Developing the creative spirit in all of us!

Encouraging The Creative Mind: Lessons from Leonardo

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

It’s tempting to think that our intelligence is measured through our verbal reasoning and mathematical capacities but such a narrow version of intelligence has been thoroughly debunked by contemporary psychology.

Howard Gardner in his work Frames of Mind, believes we have 7 major forms of intelligence.

Here they are, as listed by Michael Gelb, from his work ‘How to think like Leonardo da Vinci’, complete with examples of each intelligence in action:


1. Logical-mathematical
— Stephen Hawkings, Isaac Newton, Marie Curie
2. Verbal-Linguistic — William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson and Jorge Luis Borges
3. Spatial-Mechanical — Michelangelo, Georgia O’Keefe
4. Musical — Mozart, Ella Fitzgerald
5. Bodily-Kinesthetic – Muhammad Ali, Martha Graham
6. Interpersonal-Social — Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth I
7. Intrapersonal (Self-Knowledge) — Thich Nhat Hanh, Mother Teresa.

Of course, given such a list of intelligences that we possess, intelligence does not/cannot exist solely in your head! Neuro-scientists insist that we are intelligent at our very cellular level, and as a result, the mind-body-spirit separation that occurred over time in history does not serve us well. Moreover, as we get older, our brains are capable of making increasingly more complex new connections if we encourage them to do so. And this is the rub. In order for our intelligences to become developed equally, we must take a holistic approach to their development, only then do we have a chance of becoming, like Leonardo da Vinci, gifted, multi-talented individuals. Renaissance men and women.

Michael Gelb, based on a study of Leonardo and his methods, offers 7 Da Vincian principles to be remembered, developed and applied (across all ages!):

1. Curiosita – a perpetual curiosity and willingness to ask questions, continually learning about the world around you
2. Dimostrazione – the application of knowledge to experience and being willing to learn from mistakes
3. Sensazione – the refinement and development of sensory intelligence, especially sight as a way of enlivening experience
4. Sfumato – to go up in smoke – the willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty
5. Arte/Scienza – whole brain thinking — balancing science and art, logic and imagination
6. Corporalita – the cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness and poise
7. Connessione – systemic thinking – the ability to recognize and appreciate the interconnectedness of all phenomena.

Renaissance men and women are not restricted to any societal period. Indeed, many people demanding educational reform to create citizens more capable of living and thriving in an interdependent world believe that we need a new form of Renaissance individual for these times. Our current educational systems demand us to specialize, when really, a more general and generous understanding of the holistic nature of our world would serve us better. At the very least, contemporary and future citizens need to be digitally literate as well as globally aware.

In this new year, consider how you can expand your repertoire of intelligences — what would you like to learn this year? what would your kids like to learn? How can you begin to craft a creative mind and life based on Da Vinci’s principles?

With thanks to maven and Dave ‘Coconuts’… for their images!

Art in 2009!

Monday, January 5th, 2009

At the end of our beloved 2008, we posted a series of 5 wishes for 2009 — we wanted arts funded, we wanted them in our schools, we wanted them for all (young and old, big and little) and we wanted to hold onto the arts of love and hope.

WOW – that’s a lot to accomplish in one year so we thought we would start with something fundamental – what is Art? Notice the capital letter. I ask this question of you based on my reflections over the last 48 hours — first, my 5 year old and I completed our questionnaire for his well child visit and he was asked to draw a person (I have never seen him do that – he usually does watercolors at school – highly impressionistic, kaleidoscopic whirls of color, with no body parts in sight!). Second, I read on the web that in my country of birth, a major art gallery had had one of its large concrete public walls graffiti-ed (is that a word?) on by the same artist twice in a month. When asked if they would be removing the artist’s poetry, the curator of the museum was disgusted — it was art, an expression of an artist’s love for someone else, how could he remove such an expression of human emotion? Finally, as a writer and as a mother, I was creating a blog, adding images, adding a trailer for a movie about something I was passionate about. Humming away, completely in flow (art as meditation), on my ‘piece of art’, I was completely floored when asked – so what purpose is that serving? Why are you doing that again? Hmmmm art. Art is something difficult to hold onto it seems.

And so I turned to my old friend, wise distributor of words, the dictionary. What is art? I asked it. Here is what it said, imagine a staccato machine-like voice —

” \ˈärt\. Function: noun. Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin art-, ars. Date: 13th century.

1: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation <the art of making friends>
2 a: a branch of learning: (1): one of the humanities (2)plural : liberal arts b: archaic : learning , scholarship
3: an occupation requiring knowledge or skill <the art of organ building>
4 a: the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects ; also : works so produced b (1): fine arts (2): one of the fine arts (3): a graphic art
5 a archaic : a skillful plan b: the quality or state of being artful
6: decorative or illustrative elements in printed matter.”

Righty-o then.

My dictionary friend then added, ” art implies a personal, unanalyzable creative power; skill stresses technical knowledge and proficiency (OK….); cunning suggests ingenuity and subtlety in devising, inventing, or executing (uh-oh….); artifice suggests technical skill especially in imitating things in nature (definitely not to be confused with art) whereas craft may imply expertness in workmanship.”

So which one was my son being asked to fulfill in that questionnaire?

Whatever it was, it was different to “a personal, unanalyzable creative power” as suggested by my dictionary friend. Hmmm. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? When we revisit our five wishes we now begin to see them as follows – we want this power funded, we want it sustained in our schools and education (after the word educare, to lead out), we want everyone to possess this power or have access to it and we believe that two of our strongest emotions — love and hope, are its wellsprings. Over the next few months, we will be working some more with this vision of art in this blog and speaking to some fine scholars of visual literacy and active agents in making this power of art available to all, especially encouraging it in our younger generations. We will also explore ways to recover this power in our everyday lives with those big/little/old/young people we love and we will see what kind of thinking, minds and characters emerge as a result.

We look forward to your company on this journey!

With thanks to Denis Collettejbrownell for, well you know, art…..

Let’s start 2009 with Art!

Kids on Computers : When to Start?

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

 

During Randy Parker’s Seattle radio interview, the issue of age appropriateness came up.

Yes, we hear stories of eighty-year-olds having a grand old time with Creativity Express, but what about on the other end?  When is a child ready to play with the program?

This can be puzzling. The animated software program suggests ages 7-97. Dr. Toy, which has recognized Creativity Express as one of this year’s “Top 10 Creative Products” suggests 6-12. (Thanks also to Homeschool Blog for an award).

Really, when can kids get the most value out of Creativity Express and other programs? If we say Let’s Start With Art, when do we start?

We probably all know a family (or three!) that are all over tech. The parents are engineers or web developers. The kids are writing code by eight. They design games for each other for fun. But what about the rest of us?

Well know that you are probably not the first to ask. Daniel D. Shade wrote his oft-quoted piece, Developmentally Appropriate Software back in 1991. Some of us weren’t even “launched” then. He developed, with Dr. Susan Haugland, a criteria scale, that measures the value of software programs for kids.

Some of the criteria are obvious.

* Does the software offer clear instructions?
* Age appropriate in terms of realistic concepts?
* Appropriate methods?
* Expanding complexity?  “low entry, high ceiling.”

He also writes, “Please do not think, however, that we have reached the pinnacle of early childhood computer applications. The majority of software produced for early childhood is still drill-and-practice, software improvements continue to center on graphics and sound rather than content.”

So, as we have heard before, in other contexts, content is key. What are kids being asked to do?  Chase things around to groovy sounds and lights? Or is there value in the program?  Frustration or mastery?

Between the ages of 1 and 2, cause and effect makes sense to a child. They also start getting computer basics around now. Be gentle with the keyboard. Don’t sit on it. Don’t throw it. There are games that offer magic by simply touching a key. Since this age group can’t recognize letters, keyboarding is limited to forward and back arrows. Full-on assistance please.
There are programs like Baby Smash that don’t even ask for fingers. My boys loved this one.

At around 3 or 4, your child will start showing readiness for “real” software. Simple stories. Puzzles. No complicated scenarios. No timed games. They need to work at their own pace.
They also still need a helper, since few children are reading at this age. A parent or teacher on hand is a good way to learn.

There is software that supports learning numbers, colors, shapes, letters. It’s also a good age for music and artistic software. Make sure there is a  balance between structured learning, right/wrong stuff, and open play.
It’s all good.

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, when used appropriately, technology can enhance children’s cognitive and social abilities. Computers are compelling. Colors. Sounds. Little people see us big ones working on computers, they want to do that too. (They want cel phones too, but that’s another story).

The right software programs engage them in creative play, problem solving, some sort of conversation. And control! How cool for them to control pacing. Repeat games as often as they want.

Again! again! again! heard that before?

NAEYC also recommends, “Just as parents continue to read to children who can read themselves, parents and teachers should both participate with children in computer activities and encourage children to use computers on their own and with peers.”

So they are on their own, but they aren’t. Be with them to offer help, encouragement, praise.

In terms of choice, Dr. Hoagland offers these sage words of advice.
“The instructions should be clear and easy to understand and the software should provide the kids with visual prompts and/or a help option they can refer to when needed, minimizing adult supervision. Software should contain no violent objects, characters or activities, and should include positive social values, such as cooperating, sharing, communicating and expressing feelings.   Advertisement is visibly reduced and the children are exposed to concrete representations of objects, sounds and settings that belong to the real world, since children tend to believe without much questioning that what they see and hear is true.”

And there will be merchandise targeting the little people.
There are scaled-down versions of mice that claim to work from ages 2-10.
Or why not just shoot for the whole FunKey Board Fun Mouse Bundle.
And what about a pre-school computer desk, “comfortably fits a child from 2 to 6.” But maybe we don’t need to shell out the big bucks to create our Mini Me.

Dr. Hoagland sums up by saying ” in their early ages, children need to engage in activities that require the use of their hands, hearts, bodies and minds.”

So true. Let’s not make the computer, like the TV, in Stephen Spielberg’s assessment, “the third parent.”

Also, don’t forget to introduce healthy computing habits.

* Posture (Did we all just straighten up?)
* Seat comfort.
* Take breaks to rest the body and eyes.
* No food or drinks within dangerous proximity.
* Clean screen. Just like grownups.

Also, realize that kids will be online more as they age. But don’t worry. That’s a good thing. According to a recent Macarthur Foundation study, it turns out that America’s youth are developing important social and technical skills online. They are hanging out, but they are also learning. So that’s good, right?

It’s what we do.

So there is no right time to start with art. Just let the little bots play, explore, and see what happens. Years from now, who knows what they will be doing with computers?

But if we help them now, they will help us later, when the latest technology confounds us oldsters.

Art Smart

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

One thing on everyone’s minds these days is the role of arts, and children, and are they getting enough. Or in the crunch to meet standards, do we just focus on the old R and R (reading/’rithmetic). Which would be a shame. Research tells us that children exposed early, and often to the arts fare better in tests, careers and life. But sometimes we see arts getting booted pretty low on the priority list. Or off the list.

Some people understand the need for a meaningful arts education.

  • Neuroscientists get it. Training in the arts improves cognition.
  • Teachers get it. Students who participate in the arts have higher test scores and lower drop-out rates.
  • Corporate leaders get it. Terry Semel, past chairman of Warner Bros., said, “Art is central to a civilized society. Kids who create don’t destroy.”

Thinker/writer, Daniel Pink notes that we are at the end of a binary-only thinking era. Students who can think imaginatively, creatively, or “outside the box” will become the most attractive workers for global corporations. Arts education prepares young minds for non-linear thinking.

As the oft-quoted Elizabeth Murfee writes in her 1995, Making a Case for Culture, “Drawing helps writing. Song and poetry make facts memorable. Drama makes history more vivid and real. Creative movement makes processes understandable.”

Socially, arts have proven to be an effective outreach tool to engage youth. Self esteem, cooperation, resilience improves when students have been exposed to the arts.
And lastly, what of the joy and wonder the arts offer the mind and spirit? Arts play a key role in the life of a child.

With thanks for a great image to Nicole Marti

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