5 Dangerous Things You Should Let KidsDo

December 30, 2008

This video got me thinking about learning theory and Duckworth’s “Having Wonderful Ideas.” It seems to me that we are constantly reinventing the world and it is through that reinventing that we discover new ways fo thinking about the world. Here are 5 tried and true routes to wonderful ideas and reinvention –

5 Dangerous things You Should Let Kids Do

What do you think? Is this what kids should be doing?!



Love Letter

November 17, 2008

I love Fridays here at Antioch when classes are in session.  It’s not just the obvious TGIF thing, either. Friday means Integrated Learning students in the building. Now, I may be biased (being as how I’m an educator myself), but I think Fridays are the Best Days we have here at ANE.  (Again, I’m fully aware of the depth of my bias.)  Want to know why?  Here’s a quick list:

Zoom Zoom
There are students racing electric cars down the hall past my office.  These students are in David Sobel’s science education course and, while I have no idea exactly what they’re doing- I know they’re doing it with a great deal of enthusiasm.  And I know they’re using wires and batteries of some sort.  And I’m pretty sure that their students will love this lesson as much as they do.

We are not afraid of Change.
In Pro-Sem today, students will have a chance to impact education policy during the Obama/Biden administration as part of the Dear President Elect campaign being conducted by the Coalition of Essential Schools.  Now, besides the fact that that’s just nifty as all heck, it also speaks to the way that we view our pre-service students as professionals with points of view that matter and should be included in the larger debate.  We don’t believe that you have to stay quiet for 5 years until you earn tenure and that only then are you allowed to have a voice, though that’s another post for another day.  It also speaks to the amazing way that our faculty connect to one another.  See, I’m the direct link between CES and ANE, but I’m not a faculty member in this program.  In fact, my faculty responsibilities are pretty limited  in that I only teach a couple of courses each year.  I’m lucky enough to spend my days working out “there,” in the field, with schools and teachers who are in the middle of the fray day in and day out.  That could mean (and does mean, at many other institutions) that my colleagues in the department could view me and my work as outside the realm of their work.  Instead, Jane (who doesn’t even have a Pro-Sem) and Judy and Peter and Ron were excited about the initiative, took the paperwork out of my hands happily, and promised to return letters later today.  They look to me as one of many links to the best work happening in the field, part of symbiotic relationship that exists here.

Well, Mr. Freire- may I call you Paulo?
Later today, a group of students (some of whom are still merrily learning about physics in the hall) will take on the role of philosophers during a lovely Café held in their philosophy course.  I know this because their instructor is my office mate and she’s been frantically arranging flowers, scones, tablecloths and tea all morning.  By going above and beyond, by paying attention to the details of the educational experience, teachers like Susan create a meaningful community in which learning is not only fun and powerful and rigorous, but also joyful and worthy of celebration.

Can I frame your Out to Lunch?
Speaking of beauty, the final reason (for now) that I love Fridays at ANE- why I love every day at ANE- has to do with the aesthetic of the place.  Now, I could be talking about the ethos, the way of being that we share and that would certainly be true.  I’m not though.  I’m talking about the lovely way in which we do things here.  When people leave notes or make announcements, they do it on scraps of watercolor art.  Not many places have lovely “Leave Papers Here” notices, but we do.

So enough gushing.  Time to get back to work.  That’s the other thing I love- the work we do. That’s another gift I’m lucky to receive every single day.

Laura Thomas, Director Antioch Center for School Renewal

Orientation Day, Sept. 2006

February 27, 2008

Orientation Day, Sept. 2006

I noticed a bunch of words neatly printed on a yellow Post-It note, stuck next to the speedometer. From the back seat I read:

Careful Ageless
Useful Tireless
Hopeful Tasteless
Peaceful Changeless
Wasteful Shapeless
Graceful Scoreless

I sat there utterly stunned by these poignant, powerful words. I thought my supervisor, Norm, is quite an interesting guy. He has meditation words to focus on while driving. Those words were so simple.

We were driving to the beach for lunch, a small beach just inside the Bay that looked at the Marin Headlands and some steep brown islands. We also came to pick up some seaweed for the sea slugs that were held on the exhibit floor in a large tank.

Norm was already my mentor. He showed me how to set up and maintain all the biology exhibits, including the necessary tricks for the Limping Grasshopper Exhibit that was only supposed to be up for a few months but had lasted for twenty years. And he encouraged me “to lose some time” in other parts of the museum. Since I started working at the Exploratorium, I felt I was getting closer with Norm than with my other co-workers. Especially after our calm lunch watching tankers and sailboats in the Bay and then the flora walk rummaging through the different kinds of seaweed, Norm was starting to be my friend and mentor.

At the end of this day, we were packing up our stuff in the office. I decided to ask.

“Norm? You know those words on your dashboard? What are they for?” I couldn’t help my reaching out emotion from cracking my brow or voice.

“Oh, those. Those are this week’s spelling words for my oldest son, Willy. We put them there so we could test him.” “Oh, that’s a good idea.”

This vignette is my favorite and applicable to our orientation day in August. Well, let me begin by asking what does “placeful” mean? By my accounts, it’s not a real word, but one of my favorites. Was that teacher a visionary or did I misspell the word? I define “placeful” as a deliberate choice to fulfill the aesthetic. Moving with purpose. There was a point, during our orientation day when people were filing out of 201 N for a break when I came up with another definition for “placeful.”

Here we have an accumulation of great potential; there will be great teachers here. Simply, we represent an amazing set
of choices.

by James Erard

Thoughts on Cognitive Development By Coco Roy

February 27, 2008

It is interesting to note that evolution of adult thinking, as it follows the natural line of thought through a given idea, seems to recapitulate Piaget’s cognitive developmental phases.

Take global warming for example. Our initial interaction with the theories of global warming was probably a collection of the ideas of scientists and politicians. We may have believed these ideas unquestioningly, assuming that the experts knew more than we knew (pre-operational), or we may have sought out new knowledge and from our own schema created an understanding of global warming (concrete operational). If we continue on this path, applying abstract thinking and continually gathering information, we may eventually shift our original beliefs (formal operational).

The difference of course remains that as adults this process could happen in a matter of seconds, or it could take months, or we might never leave the first phase. Still, it seems that when confronted with a new concept, adults often seem to initially revert to the imitative thinking of early childhood, before they can fully understand this new concept. For example, we might repeat key phrases of global warming, including CFC’s, melting of the polar ice caps, changing patterns of migratory birds, or greenhouse gases, before we have a genuine understanding of what these phrases actually mean.

Perhaps then, we may better understand the cognitive abilities of children by observing the evolution of our own thoughts.

Learning 21st Century Skills through Video Games

February 27, 2008

There are millions of Americans who have grown up on video games and some of them are now becoming teachers. Those young teachers are excited at the thought of using interactive video games as a teaching tool. Then there are those who are reading this and who are appalled at the thought of kids glued for hours in front of a computer screen. But those of us who are in the middle are more curious than anything. We’re not talking violent games or Tony Hawk skateboard games here – the research on the effects those games have on children are pretty conclusive. But forty-five million households have video game consoles in their homes. If kids get addicted to games that teach skills that future employers want – critical thinking, multi-tasking, problem-solving under pressure and team building, would that be so bad?

A popular misconception is that video gamers play alone. Most video games are now incredibly complicated and gamers must work together to reach a new level. Like any good curriculum, video games spiral knowledge. As new characters and environments enter the game, you must store that knowledge because most likely you will be asked to retrieve it in a future time before moving on to a next level. Gamers learn and practice skills again and again.

If you want to move on from even level one, you need to READ and pay really close attention to the directions. A gamer needs to THINK in sequential order – what did I do last level and what is the logical next step? Gamers OBSERVE every detail and think about how they can use it or if it inconsequential. Sim games have enormous amounts of details. Gamers often CREATE MAPS from memory to help them. Every step of the way, you are expected to PROBLEM-SOLVE including using STRATEGIES for gameplays. COOPERATION games involve more than one player who depend on one another to complete the game. And if you don’t think games improve their VOCABULARY, listen in on a conversation between two gamers, read what they have WRITTEN online about their strategies in SOCIAL networks, or just read on to the next paragraphs. And bonus – they are 110% ENGAGED.

Like most new teachers, I was horrified in seeing the computers line the wall of my second grade classroom. But the reality is that students in the 2nd grade are learning how to type their alien attack stories and by 5th grade they go home and create myspace web pages by uploading jpegs, downloading mp3’s and poking their friends. In Middle School, they can text with two thumbs faster than we can read their messages. I want my students to understand the world so I make an effort to understand theirs. I go on myspace and Facebook, I question my students about text messaging acronyms, I ask them what their avatar looks like, and most recently, I asked what it meant that a friend had thrown a sheep at me. If this is starting to sound like gibberish to you, ask your students to translate, to let you into their world. They will be thrilled to teach you something.

I’m certainly not sold on the idea of video games developed for the classroom, but I am curious. With such a large, willing audience, it doesn’t make sense not to be open minded about video games used as teaching tools.

A Childhood Memory by Kenny Harris

January 25, 2008

My grandfather was a gentle giant who eagerly shared his quiet affection for the Ozark Mountains he had lived in all his life. Every time my family arrived at his small town home, after we had been fed and watered, and our personal things were stowed away, he would ask who wanted to go for a ride in his old pick-up. For my Grandfather that meant to drive as far as possible into the forest, get out of the truck, stand at a rivers edge, comment on the subtle changes that man or weather had brought to the water- way, and then hush, and let the serenity of the wilderness rejuvenate his soul.

Rejuvenation of his soul is certainly an idealized way for me to express what the wilderness actually gave my grandfather. I don’t know precisely what he gained, he was a quiet man, and rarely articulated what his relationship with the forest offered him. What I have to help me understand his deep appreciation for the natural world are my early childhood memories of following him over ridge tops and down into the hollows, through the shallow creek beds, meadows, and fields, as well as his physical response to many of the beautiful places we visited.

These memories of observations may be assumptions about the gentle giant’s perspective. But that is okay, because what is important is that it was his calm affinity for the wild lands that was pivotal in developing my own deep appreciation for the natural world. Whether this appreciation was built on assumption, or fact, the reality is that something precious has blossomed inside of me.

My grandfather participated in church service to be a part of a community. He made pilgrimages into the woods to visit with God.

There is one seminal moment in the relationship with my grandfather that, for me, has catalyzed nature’s ability to heal the spirit. I was six or seven, and we were wandering around a forested hilltop; he was filling his pockets with acorns and simultaneously turning over rocks to see what kind of bugs had established residency. I was kneeling on brittle leaves with a stick in my hand, fixated on poking a cluster of hideously looking ground mushrooms.

When I had finished defacing the fungus I stood up and noticed grandpa was much farther away than I had realized. He was standing on the edge of the hilltop between two enormous oak trees, silhouetted by the late afternoon sun. In front of him were three fall foliaged Ozark valleys converging in to one. I wanted to approach, but my young intuition told me to be still. From my position, it appeared he had undergone a transformation— as if he had absorbed the same earthly nutrients as the giant hardwoods he stood by—and expeditiously became just like them—rooted to the edge, reaching for the sky.

He had never carried on that far from me before, and his idleness had began to concern me—was he going to return? Of course he did. And when he turned, and moved towards me, I stayed in my place and watched him saunter by. He glanced at me only once when passing, and in that moment, looking back in to his delicate eyes, and at his relaxed posture, I began understanding why he made so many trips in to the forest.

My grandfather participated in church service to be a part of a community. He made pilgrimages into the woods to visit with God. It was the cool rivers and streams, the rugged hills, and dense forest of the Ozarks that were his sanctuary—where there was an abundance of peace and tranquility.

That day on the ridge I believe he was reminded of how grateful he was to be alive. Perhaps like me, he stood there looking out at the beautiful world thinking about the wonderful things his grandpa shared with him.