Monday, June 24, 2013

GUEST BLOG: "Yesterday, Today, and the Power of Creativity"

This week's guest blog is written by Josh Michael, an email marketing professional who also helped create ESL Basics, a free video learning tool for people learning English. He also wrote a Business English ebook available on Amazon.
My best friend growing up was fidgety. He couldn't sit still through class and focusing on a piece of paper was futile.

School was a trap. Failure was the only option in that environment... even after he popped his prescribed Ritalin pills.

He liked to run, play sports, and be around people. Put this kid on a soccer field and thriving was his only option.

What was my friend missing in the classroom that he was getting on the soccer field? He was missing out on the fun and excitement of working with others and having room to play. In today's educational world, technology is that soccer field.

50 years ago...
You read a textbook about planting basil that someone wrote. You may have a few black and white pictures of the process and contacting the author was totally impossible. So, you go home and put that basil seed or plant in the ground as best you can, cross your fingers and hope for the best.

You search "How to plant basil" and WATCH someone plant basil from start to finish. Beyond that, if you have a question or want to tell the creator of the video how helpful they were, just scroll down and type away. Within minutes, the expert who made the video replies back with their comments.

The constraints of a monotone homeroom teacher are destroyed while the creative and beautiful teachings of an educator in the UK are now right at your fingertips.

All of this is well and good, but the INSANE power comes when students feel empowered to create. The same kid who searched "How to plant basil" improves upon what he learned on YouTube and decides he wants to make his own video. This reinforces the subject matter more effectively and efficiently than memorizing the steps to planting basil and regurgitating it on a test while increasing his chances of retaining the information.
In light of the information age and the technology revolution in the 21st century, do you think today's educational climate should take more of a role in cultivating the creativity of students? 
Please, feel free to contact Josh and link up to Josh's bio:
Twitter at @joshistall:

Friday, June 14, 2013

Imagination: a Father's Day Special

"Under blanket... It's raining."

Those four words (however choppy, babbled and broken) were spoken directly to me recently. The words were uttered by my 2 1/2 year old son on a day in which I was consumed by several tasks on my "to-do" list that needed to be complete. In addition, I was not the most relaxed and well-rested of fathers... I was very tired and my son solicited my attention during the fatigue of the afternoon hours. What did I want to do with my time? I wanted to take a nap-time siesta, or catch up on social media, or watch a ball game, or even veg out by eating some tasty snacks. However, I felt compelled to answer the call of my first firstborn. 

He grabbed my hand and he said, "quick, quick... hurry... hurry- under blanket. It's raining." He then led me by the hand he had clasped onto to the next room from where I was trying to rest and took me straight to a blanket. It did not take long for me to realize he was using and sharpening his imagination. 

I know what you may be thinking: Wow! this guy's house must be in really bad shape. Our 1925 cottage is old, but it is not that old. It does not leak rain into our house when it rains causing us to dive under blankets. And, plus, it was actually a nice sun shiny day on this particular Spring afternoon.

On this nice sun-filled day and despite my afternoon fatigue, I chose to entertain my son's imagination. And... You know what? We had a blast. It was awesome pretending to dive under water drenched cascades, take shelter in a cave from a torrential downpour, and escape the elements of Mother Nature. My son and I made memories that day and I don't regret it one bit. 

Did I WANT to use my time imagining make-believe rainstorms when I was tired and stressed? If I am honest with myself, then the answer is no. Did it take time away from what I wanted to do? Yes. However, was it worth it? Absolutely YES!

How does this tie in with education? I believe we all want to tap into our student's imagination. We want to allow students to navigate their curiosities, but unfortunately something keeps us from allowing this to happen. As educators, we, far too often, allow ourselves to be distracted by the unimportant "urgencies" and this, sadly, stifles the imaginations of our students. We lose out on the rich memories and we develop regrets. We lose and our students lose. 

The next time you feel you "have to" do some district initiative or you "need to" complete some ultimatum in order to be compliant, ask yourself... Will this take away from creating positive memories for my students? Will this inhibit my students imaginations? If you answer yes to those two questions, then I would put those on hold and choose to spend time allowing you and your students to enrich life with curiosity and imagination... After all, do not just take it from me. Take the advice of, perhaps one of the most brilliant minds this world has ever known, when he declared... 

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." -Albert Einstein   

What do you think? Is it difficult to invest time in soliciting, cultivating, and allowing imagination in schools today? If so, why do you believe it is so difficult?


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Autonomy, Vision, and Puzzles... "The Time Starts Now"

With a stopwatch in my hand and 30 anxiously staring doctoral students lined up in the hallway of a private university in Nashville, TN; I made one simple statement: "the time starts now." I then, opened a classroom door and the aforementioned doctoral students began to enter the room. Without any formal directions given, and only a 100 piece puzzle placed on top of eight different tables; a fascinating phenomenon took place. As has happened with all groups with which I have facilitated this same task (7th grade students, 8th grade students, a Middle School faculty of 50, a High School faculty of 80, etc.), again, without any formal directions, these doctoral students were observed doing the following:
1. Placing themselves into teams on their own
2. Beginning on the puzzle on their own
3. Dividing up roles and responsibilities on their own
4. Engaging in the task without reinforcements from me, the facilitator
5. Competing against each other without any promise of a reward from me as the facilitator
These observations lead me to ask the following question... Have you ever wondered what makes a great team?
I believe great teams do not necesarrily have to be managed closely by the leader. In fact, I am not alone... @DanielPink stated, "Management is designed to get compliance. But, to get engagement, the only thing that works is self-direction." 
More often than not, great teams can execute a plan (be self-directed) so as long as the mission and vision are clear. In this case, it was very clear... if we could just get into the heads of some of the participants, it would probably go something like this: "hmmm... boxes with puzzle pieces inside of them must mean I am supposed to complete a puzzle. Oh yeah, it would be better if I had some help... hey, you, get over here and help me put together this puzzle." Phrases like "hold up the front of the box so we can see what we are making," and "lets start with the border pieces," are always familiar phrases when making these observations.
After about seven total minutes of observation, the first group completed their puzzle and without any expected tangible reward, celebrated. Why would they celebrate? It is because, like all great teams and like all of humanity we desire belonging (See Abraham Maslow's work on Human Motivation, 1943). The teams putting together puzzles all belonged on a team, they all had a clear mission and vision for the task at hand and they all wanted to win. This was an innate desire to win and nothing could hold it back. My good friend and colleague @RyanBJackson1 reminds me often of what Sigmund Freud has stated, "Man's innate desire is to compete and win." This belief evolves from the idea that it is humanity's innate desire to survive.  
If Freud is correct, then all we need to do as teachers, leaders, parents, is to create opportunitities for students/children/workers/personnel to see a mission and vision, give them autonomy and let them go. They can do it. No more controlling leadership styles, no more over-protective parenting, no more dictatorships demanding the status quo. When we are allowed to see the goal , we can do amazing things. Just remember, "the time starts now."

***Thanks to Teresa Vazquez-Terry for the video footage as well as the video editing. In addition, thanks to Ryan Jackson, Kevin Armstrong, and Tamara Garvey for their assistance with the video. A good group of people right there!