Are your students curious, exploring ideas or questions on their own? Or do they sigh with relief and go back to sports or social media or other pastimes once the bell rings? Yes we all need downtime, but look at…
When did you last play? How about your employees or your students? As Linda Stone pointed out in her blog A More Resilient Species, self-directed play (experiential, voluntary and guided by one’s curiosity) is essential for developing resilience, independence and resourcefulness, let alone creativity. She quotes scholar Brian Sutton-Smith, “The opposite of play is not work. The opposite of play is depression.”
This kind of play can’t be guided by adults—adult-directed soccer or chess club or playground games have their place, but they don’t build the same skills as exploring your own interests, or negotiating with other children as you form your own club or develop your own game or turn a tree house into a castle.
And this kind of play does not happen at the expense of time spent on academics. In fact, researchers are finding that creative play is essential to the kinds of learners we are aiming to create: scientists, innovators, inventors, creative problem-solvers, great writers, and more.
Last month’s edition of Educational Leadership was all about creativity. The article that struck me the most described how Einstein cited his secondary school training in using his senses during observations, practicing visualization, and exploring the construction of devices as a patent examiner fueled his abilities as a scientist. He also directly attributed his breakthrough on the theory of relativity to his ability to think musically, nurtured by his study of violin since the age of six.
What’s the so what? These are all skills. Einstein is talking about physical and mental skills and habits of mind. He didn’t cite memorizing theorems or formulas, but skills he mastered through purposeful practice. Take a look at the schools around you. Are students getting a chance to develop in nonbook-learning ways that scientists and other problem-solvers need? Ask yourself
I’d like to suggest a twist on it for those whose decisions affect children in our public schools:
“Would you want your own child in a classroom following these policies? How would you have fared as a student?”
For one thing, this simple data item–our own values around a policy–would halt debates on topics such as “Do students benefit from recess?” “Should a first-grader be asked to sit still for a three-hour test?” I think we could answer these with the question, “Were you ever a child?”
But more important, we need to have students as excited on their first day of their senior year as they are on their first day of kindergarten.Why? Because their learning has only just begun. To really make it in today’s world, no matter what they learned in school, they will have to keep learning their entire lives. Cultivating a love of learning is as, if not more, crucial as any content matter.
Volunteering at an education booth at Minnesota’s State Fair let me observe parent-child interactions as passers-by tried toothpick puzzles along our front counter—quick little exercises in spatial reasoning.
Most parents lovingly encouraged their children, but a few incidents triggered this blog’s topic: Educate parents that math ability comes from hard work. It’s a myth that we either are or aren’t good at math.
A school board decided that middle school students weren’t paying attention in class because they were looking out the windows. Their solution? Build a windowless school. Honest. They did just that. Four wings with white walls. Students couldn’t tell where they were so they added grey, brown, and other neutral-colored panels to identify the wings. Sounds more like a prison than a school, doesn’t it?
Of course, this design failed to rivet student attention to teacher instruction. Why? Students were gazing out windows because they were bored with what and how they were being taught–instruction, not construction, was the root cause of the problem!
Each time we solve problems without identifying the root cause, we risk spending millions, as did this school district, on something that won’t further student learning.