Saturday, March 24, 2012

Back to Creativity- A Response

I find myself in a discussion on creativity with Kurt Knecht and Bob Woody. I come at creativity from the psychological research side and my experience conducting research on the integration of arts into the elementary curriculum for a decade. I did not measure creativity, in fact I resisted some of the pressures. I find that most measures of creativity are artificially focused on a small subset of tasks without extensive validity to back them up. I am not opposed though to the social science  endeavor studying the phenomena as Kurt has said. I come at it from the educational side and my understanding of how our political and educational leadership systems work.
It is widely perceived that America's advantage in the world is it's creativity. We once manufactured, engineered, were well funded and had a technology edge. As a society we feel that America has lost its edge and we are worried looking for our advantage over China and other threats. Our political system needs to manufacture a solution that will get them elected. The way things go the next logical step is to say: well if our advantage is creativity then how do we promote it from kindergarten and how do we really know children are creative? At this point the big testing companies will offer a test of creativity- a standardized one and we will create a generation of students "uniformly creative" then discover it didn't work and blame teachers and unions. My reluctance is really fear of a series of intended consequences that leads to less time for music and art in school because we have to teach creativity.
Finally a note about the nature of creativity. I believe that creativity is rooted in a deep understanding of a domain as a precursor. Lehrer describes the study of mopping to find a new solution. The key part of the story for me was that Continuum designers studied mopping for 6 months then learned from an expert who was years at the task, that is I believe he described the evidence that creative innovation is actually linked to doing! The second aspect the Lehrer highlights and I actually agree with is having the space to try, fail and retry. It is where schools have the hardest time creating the time and space to experiment. We have packed the curriculum with so much "stuff" so many standards and tests that teachers are hard pressed to find time for their students to experiment and wonder per Kurt Knecht or play per Margaret Latta. Without this space to be wrong creativity is a risk not worth taking.
This space for risk with the notions of Flow and Studio habits of mind are the best linkages to elementary education (my domain).
So in summary I do not think we should shy away from studying creativity, only that we should be very careful as both Kurt and Bob emphasized shy away from over generalizing. My suggestion is always to go back to the original studies and avoid the urge to read journalistic versions.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Flipping Rant

Khan and Gates
No, its not what you think and it is still a clean blog. I spent some time thinking last week on flipped learning a term that is in very real danger of becoming a cliche. It started with Khan and his academy that I have discussed before and even recommended on my netcast. I have actually used a version of a flipped classroom in a methodology course I teach in the summer using the Khan academy mini lessons to help students go through the fundamental calculations in descriptive statistics. More recently Hake a prolific observer of science education has posted a series of responses to the quality of the Khan academy instructional approaches (very old fashioned really) that can be seen here. I agree with much of what's been said there but here I have another point to make.
Everyone is hailing this approach as the new silver bullet- new thinking about education that will help transform education. I have the sinking suspicion that the support for this model is actually rooted in two very irrelevant sources. The first is the observation that the instruction on the Khan academy video's is in fact very old fashioned. It is exactly the same thing that I had in Math when I went to school, the only difference is that you can watch it your time repeatedly without driving your teacher crazy.
The second reason this approach is deemed great is that it is supported by someone that has never been an educator and knows very little about learning theory. We love innovators in education that come from other realms and can show educators the light.
Students discussing the media they read at home
during Literature Circles
My rant, however, goes in a very different direction. English language arts and social studies teachers (primarily) have from the dawn of time been flipping their classrooms. They sent students home with the direction of consuming media (books, movies, photos, source documents). The  in class everyone discussed the novels, source documents and produced projects about them. Yet, this does not occur to CNN, BBC or Bill Gates. It turns out that every high-school teacher has been doing it for years. So why do we like when Khan does it? again because it is in math, because it is coming from outside education, because first he made his millions in the stock market and then he discovered education- such a sacrifice. Much more than a teacher that has skipped the getting rich part and dedicated his life to children without the benefit of earnings and Bill Gates loving embrace.
My flipping sisters and brothers who teach in flippin' ways you were there first and will still be there even after Khan fades into distant memory.

Monday, March 12, 2012

An atypical post: Empathy and the act of Artistic Creation

Last week I had two encounters with artists that expressed an empathetic link to exceptional students. Last thursday I went to listen to my son performing as part if the Lincoln High Slam Poetry team. Before they performed we had the pleasure of listening to Chris August Slamming. His most potent poetry seems to have emerged from his interaction with students with disabilities when he was a special education teacher. An example is in this selection that reminds me at times of Taylor Mali. That night I started thinking about ways this experience with students makes us more empathetic in a way that finds its way into an artistic outlet OR maybe it is a shared sensitivity that manifests itself in teaching and caring as well as for creating.
Later in the week I read Kurt Knecht's (a friend and fellow blogger) post about deciding to become a composer. In it he concludes with: "After that morning, I knew two things. I didn’t want to play in places with non-union stagehands, and I wanted to learn how to write music that could make mentally handicapped children clap."
I do not really think that all artists have more empathy. I think there are too many examples to the contrary, but I think that in the act of creating for an audience there is at times a sense of audience (and both my examples are from performance art) that makes us more empathetic. To do that successfully an artist must achieve at least a limited sense of empathy.
The interesting piece in this empathy sense is that empathy is a "pay it forward" idea. I think that when an audience is privy to this empathy they are automatically more empathetic towards the person (think Teebo). In Chris's case it makes his word choice and other choices easier to swallow because he did show us a different side as well. 
I think that the same can hold for kids- performance and artistic creation can foster their sense of empathy as well.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Teaching Art Online

A prospective graduate student came by a few weeks ago. His goal as he stated it is to minimize damage to rural students by providing quality arts instruction online or through distance education in other means. I worry.
I told him that I worried, arts education is a field that requires demonstratin, proximity and more than anything else mentoring. This kind of mentoring is extremely hard to reproduce at a distance. I think that the ability to look at the dancers moves from multiple perspectives, the painters brush strokes or the guitarist hands are crucial elements that cannot be done at a distance. I teach distance courses and Ithink some of

them are great- but not in arts education or arts integration.
My second concern was that by creating online replacements we urge districts that have stuck by their specialists and invested in them to stop. If the quality is there, they might say, why not save a bundle. So what can be done instead?
Here are some ideas:
1. Train classroom teachers in arts integration and enhance their understanding through studio experiences with local artists and museum resources.
2. If online lessons are created integrate them with rich artist in residence programs- mandated not just as an option. The experieneces must be bundled and truly integrated.
3. Educate school boards and administrators about the importance of the arts.

Do not let rural schools do without arts....

Friday, March 2, 2012

Learning Design in Educational Apps

In the past few weeks I have started a netcast on using iPads in k12 education (tech edge on iTunesU). My co-host Allison and I spend quite a few hours every week trying to find apps that are educationally sound. The challenge is quite real. What we've learned may not be surprising, but it spells opportunity or disaster. Most of the "educational" apps are based on implicit and false theories of learning and design. This is not a failure of understanding a specific domain (say social studies) but instead a failure of understanding how we learn.
So what do I mean by opportunity or disaster? The opportunity exists for innovation to take over the marketplace with excellently designed educational apps. The disaster will emerge if after schools invest heavily in mobile devices and fail to deliver on learning simply because the apps that carry the lad are subpar.
We will keep looking fir educationally sound apps (or try to get close).
Check out the website and connect to the netcast:

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