Saturday, August 27, 2016

Sir Ken Robinson: How to Create a Culture For Valuable Learning

There are still many disagreements about how to improve the education system so that children graduate with the skills and dispositions they will need to succeed in life. Education reform discussions often center on how to tweak existing mechanisms, but what if the system itself is creating the problems educators and policymakers are trying to solve? That’s the theory favored by author and TED-talk sensation Sir Ken Robinson.

“If you design a system to do something, don’t be surprised if it does it,” Robinson said at the annual Big Picture Learning conference called Big Bang. He went on to describe the two pillars of the current system — conformity and compliance — which undermine the sincere efforts of educators and parents to equip children with the confidence to enter the world on their own terms.

‘If you get preoccupied by a certain type of achievement then you don’t even look for other things people might be good at.’Sir Ken RobinsonStudents from Big Picture Learning schools meet Sir Ken Robinson after his speech. (Courtesy Chris Jackson/Big Picture Learning)

Education has become a strategic priority for countries competing for an edge in a globalized economy. Political leaders know future generations need to be ready to take on an ever-evolving economy and that a nation’s prosperity depends on a prepared workforce. These concerns have led to more comparisons across countries and attempts within various countries to standardize the education each child receives.

The problem with this conformist approach, Robinson said, is that “human life is like the rest of life on earth; it is characterized by diversity.” Parents with more than one child know all too well that each can be radically different in temperament, personality and in their strengths and weaknesses. The same rules and parenting approach may work with one, but not the others. And yet this fundamental diversity in the human population is not honored within education. Instead, the curriculum has narrowed and now prioritizes a type of intelligence that favors academic work.

“There’s much more to human intelligence than a certain sort of academic work,” Robinson said. And, “if you get preoccupied by a certain type of achievement then you don’t even look for other things people might be good at.” Robinson points out that when the system narrowly defines success, it will exclude a huge portion of students who don’t happen to be good at those few valued skills.

“We marginalize other forms of intelligence; and it’s a big deal,” Robinson said. But if collectively those involved in the education system changed what it means to achieve in a way that honors the natural diversity of human life, many more people would see themselves as achievers and would push themselves beyond expectations set for them.

The other central tenet of today’s education system is compliance, which Robinson sees best reflected in the testing industry, a multibillion dollar business. But tests only measure what test-makers put on them, and how can such a small group of people know what will truly be useful to a student in a quickly-changing future? Robinson is troubled by the trend of adults in the current moment trying to predict the specific-knowledge students will need. The current focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning is a good example of adults looking at where jobs are right now and trying to make education fit. But who knows what other skills might be necessary 20 years from now?

“The real principle on which human life is based is organic growth and development,” Robinson said. It’s based on the need to invent your own life.” But the education system is not set up to allow for that kind of organic development, although Robinson acknowledges that many educators are doing their best to protect this form of learning. “They’re doing wonderful work because they believe in kids and the work, but they’re doing it against a headwind,” he said.

Part of the problem is the multitude of opinions and lack of clarity on exactly what it is an education should do. Debates about how to improve education will continue to rage because at a fundamental level participants don’t agree about why (or if) kids should go to school. Robinson firmly believes that creativity is a central element of what sets humans apart from other forms of life on earth and so educators’ mission should be to bring out the unique creative energy within each child.

Robinson believes education is “to enable students to understand the world around them, and the talents within them, so that they can become fulfilled individuals and active, compassionate citizens.” He doesn’t deny that learning information about the world is important, but he says it’s equally important for students to understand their own talents, motivations and passions if they are going to lead lives that satisfy them. The current system of conformity and compliance leaves no space for this type of self-exploration.

“We spend more time talking about the outside world at school, but not enough time compelling the world within them,” Robinson said. But it’s the individual’s world view that ultimately determines whether that person stays in school, persists through challenges, feels motivated, interested, engaged and dedicated to work. And failing to focus on a sense of individual purpose could even be contributing to rising levels of depression seen in the US.

Robinson doesn’t deny that education has an economic purpose, and that it’s important for young people to become economically independent and self-sufficient. But to do that, he argues, they shouldn’t all learn the same thing. Instead, they should be learning to be adaptable, to be innovative, to flow with change, to collaborate and other globalized skills that will apply to whatever area of work they are passionate about pursuing. An education can help expose students to different life paths and support them in finding their passions, while giving them the transferable skills to attack any problem.


The education system is commonly compared to mechanization, a “factory-model,” designed to push cookie-cutter children through in age-based batches. Robinson finds industrialized farming to be a better metaphor because it deals with living organisms. Farmers went from an organic model of farming that prioritized crop diversity, rotation and fertile soil to a system of monocrops that easily fall prey to pests, which in turn are killed with chemicals. The focus is on output and yield, which increased with chemical fertilizers. This system does what it was designed to do — it produces a lot of food, but at the expense of the environment.

Similarly, the education system has focused on increasing the number of high school graduates, the output, with no concern for whether they become happy, fulfilled human beings.

“The way you increase the quality of our children’s experience, their life chances, it’s not by focusing on yield, but on focusing on the culture of the school,” Robinson said. A healthy mix of mentorship, arts, physical education, academic subjects and more creates the “healthy soil” in this analogy, the environment in which kids can flourish. Author Paul Tough also talked about strong learning environments as the key element to success in his book Helping Children Succeed.

Robinson said when schools get the culture part right they become an important asset for the community around them. “Great schools enrich the entire neighborhood, the entire ecosystem,” Robinson said. But “schools that don’t get their role in the community can drain the life force out of the community.” The best schools develop the human resources of the community to further more investment, pride and high expectations.

“We spend so much time containing and constraining our teachers and students who have so much talent,” Robinson said. And while some parts of the conformist and compliance-based system are unavoidable, other parts are perpetuated by well-meaning educators simply because that’s the way things have always been done. Robinson is calling on all educators to look at the available resources differently, more creatively, and to use them to create learning environments that allow individual students to thrive and flourish.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Alison Gopnik’s Advice to Parents: Stop Parenting!

Farrer, Straus & Giroux

Alison Gopnik is a renowned developmental psychologist whose research has revealed much about the amazing learning and reasoning capacities of young children, and she may be the leading interpreter of such research to the general public.  She is one of the best science writers I know of.  In her most recent book, The Gardener and the Carpenter, released just a few days ago, she describes the results of many clever experiments that help us understand how young children learn by watching others, listening to others, and manipulating objects in systematic ways in their play. 
A persistent theme emerging from such research, as Gopnik explains, is that children learn not by passively absorbing information, but by actively engaging their social and physical environments and drawing logical inferences based on what they see, hear, and in other ways experience.  Gopnik contends that children learn a great deal from other people, including from their parents, not because the others are deliberately teaching them but because those others are doing and talking about interesting things, which children are innately motivated to try to understand and incorporate into their own growing world views.
Indeed, Gopnik describes research showing that deliberate teaching can, at least sometimes, reduce the amount that children learn about an object, because the teaching tends to inhibit them from exploring the object themselves and thereby prevents them from learning any more about it than what the teacher had pointed out.  The research reveals, to a far greater extent than most people would expect, that young children are quite sophisticated little scientists who bring their already acquired knowledge and theories to bear, in logical ways, as they explore the world around them to acquire new, more advanced understandings.  We adults can help them best not by teaching, but by making sure that they have adequate social and physical environments and time and space in which to explore. The more that young children are integrated into the real world of other children and adults, the more they will learn about that world and discover their places in it.
Of course, if we take this approach and let children learn in their own natural ways, we are giving up the illusion that we can control what they learn and can shape them into being the particular kinds of persons that we might want them to be.  We are, instead, trusting children to shape themselves.  And this leads to the main point of the book.
Gopnik is not only a researcher and author, but is also the mother of three grown sons and proud grandmother to a little boy named Augie.  Her book is founded on research about how children learn, but her message is directed to parents.  In a nutshell, her message to parents is this: Stop parenting.  Does that sound paradoxical?
Parent, according to Gopnik, is a wonderful noun, referring to a partner in a particular kind of relationship; but it’s a terrible verb when used, as it so often is, to refer to what is perceived as a particular kind of work.  Here are some of Gopnik’s words about this awful verb.
• “’Parent’ is not actually a verb, not a form of work, and it isn’t and shouldn’t be directed toward the goal of sculpting a child into a particular kind of adult (p 8) ….  We recognize the difference between work and other relationships, other kinds of love.  To be a wife is not to engage in ‘wifing,’ to be a friend is not to ‘friend,’ even on Facebook, and we don’t ‘child’ our mothers and fathers (p 9)".
• “To be a parent—to care for a child—is to be part of a profound and unique human relationship, to engage in a particular kind of love (p 9).  … Love doesn’t have goals or blueprints, but it does have a purpose.  The purpose of love is not to change the people we love, but to give them what they need to thrive.  Love’s purpose is not to shape our beloved’s destiny, but to help them shape their own.  It isn’t to show them the way, but to help them find a path for themselves, even if the path they take isn’t one we would choose for ourselves, or even one we would choose for them.  … Loving children doesn’t give them a destination; it gives them sustenance for the journey (p 10).”
• “The word ‘parenting,’ now so ubiquitous, first emerged in America in 1958 and became common only in the 1970s (p 21). . … But, in fact, parenting is a terrible invention. It hasn’t improved the lives of children and parents, and in some ways it’s arguably made them worse.  For middle-class parents, trying to shape their children into worthy adults becomes the source of endless anxiety and guilt coupled with frustration.  And for their children, parenting leads to an oppressive cloud of hovering expectations (p 24). … The rise of parenting has accompanied the decline of the street, the public playground, the neighborhood, even recess (p 36)."
The title of the book—The Gardener and the Carpenter—comes from two possible ways of thinking about the role of parents with respect to children’s development. Here, again, in Gopnik’s words:
• “In the parenting model, being a parent is like being a carpenter.  You should pay some attention to the kind of material you are working with, and it may have some influence on what you try to do.  But essentially your job is to shape that material into a final product that will fit the scheme you had in mind to begin with.  And you can assess how good a job you’ve done by looking at the finished product.  Are the doors true?  Are the chairs steady?  Messiness and variability are the carpenter’s enemies; precision and control are her allies.  Measure twice, cut once (p 18).”
• “When we garden, on the other hand, we create a protected and nurturing space for plants to flourish.  … And as any gardener knows, our specific plans are always thwarted. The poppy comes up neon orange instead of pale pink, the rose that was supposed to climb the fence stubbornly remains a foot from the ground, black spot and rust and aphids can never be defeated.  … And yet the compensation is that our greatest horticultural triumphs and joys also come when the garden escapes our control, when the weedy Queen Anne’s lace unexpectedly showed up in just the right place in front of the dark yew tree, when the forgotten daffodil travels to the other side of the garden and bursts out among the blue forget-me-nots, when the grapevine that was supposed to stay demurely hitched to the arbor runs scarlet riot through the trees. … Unlike a good chair, a good garden is constantly changing, as it adapts to the changing circumstances of weather and the seasons.  And in the long run, that kind of varied, flexible, complex, dynamic system will be more robust and adaptable than the most carefully tended hothouse bloom (p 18-19).”
• “So our job as parents is not to make a particular kind of child.  Instead, our job is to provide a protected space of love, safety, and stability in which children of many unpredictable kinds can flourish.  Our job is not to shape our children’s minds; it’s to let those minds explore all the possibilities that the world allows.  ….  We can’t make children learn, but we can let them learn (p 20).”
Although she doesn’t say it explicitly, it seems clear that Gopnik would be fine with the verb “to parent” if it meant something like “to garden.”
Those who have read my book Free to Learn know that I agree completely with Gopnik in essentially all she says about children’s learning and the appropriate role of parents.  Indeed, her research and some of the other research she describes is included in the evidence I present in my book. I do, however, have one big complaint about Gopnik’s book. Gopnik fails to acknowledge that the carpenter model, with all its problems, applies doubly, or triply, or way way more than triply, to our system of schooling.  I wish she would point the finger more squarely at schooling, which is largely the product of and fostered by academic institutions such as Berkeley where she works (and Boston College where I work), rather than at parents.
In fact, as I have argued elsewhere (though not with these terms), the carpenter model of schooling is what has largely driven the carpenter model of parenting.  It is very hard to be a gardener parent while sending your child to a carpenter school, and all public schools today are in the carpenter mode.  Your children keep getting tested to see how they measure up, according to the standard model for all children that the schooling system has set.  And if they don’t meet the standards, you get called in by the school authorities who do their best to make you feel that it is your responsibility to make your child conform and meet the measures that all the children are supposed to meet.  Your child wants to explore one day away from school—like that beautiful grapevine that wants to run riot through the trees—and if this happens several time you will be accused of negligence and may even be threatened with having your child taken away because of the truancy laws.  You continuously hear propaganda about how your child’s future employability depends on getting high marks in school, doing all the right extracurriculars, and getting into a prestigious college—propaganda that places like Berkeley (and even Boston College) profit from mightily.  So, how can parents maintain a gardener mentality in the face of all this pressure from the carpenters?
I was a gardener as a parent until my son started school, and then, when he started school, there was such a discrepancy between the schoolish restrictions on his life and my belief that he needed freedom to grow that I was afraid he would be crushed in the conflict.  The only solution, without giving up on the gardener model and watching my wildflower wither, was to take him out of school.  Fortunately, we discovered the Sudbury Valley School, a radically alternative democratic school that operates in perfect accord with everything that Gopnik says about how children learn and develop. It is truly a garden where children and teenagers can play and explore in their own chosen ways and become their own, beautiful, varied, ever-changing selves.  It’s a school that’s been around for almost 50 years; it’s one of the most fully studied schools in existence; its model has been successfully replicated by many other schools throughout the world; and yet its existence is almost never acknowledged by people in academia, even by people who believe that children learn best when they are free to explore and play in their own ways.
Much of my research, summarized in Free to Learn and in previous essays in this blog as well as in academic articles, has been about the ways that young people learn and develop when they are truly free to control their own education, as they are designed by nature to do.  As part of that research I’ve followed up graduates of Sudbury Valley and grown “unschoolers” (people who were homeschooled by a method in which they had charge of their own education).  Such research, about what happens when children really do grow up free to chart their own days and destinies, in a safe and nurturingenvironment, is the natural real-world complement to the kinds of laboratory research that Gopnik discusses.
Gopnik clearly acknowledges that school is a problem.  She writes about how schools teach children to be good at school—good at tests—but not much else.  At one point she says, “By the time they arrive in our classes, many Berkeley undergraduates are absolute Matajuros of test-taking. It’s no wonder we’re gravely disappointed—and they’re resentfully surprised—when we ask them to actually be apprentice scientists or scholars instead.  Skilled adults continue to face difficult challenges, of course, but passing exams isn’t one of them.  Being the best test-taker in the world isn’t much help for discovering either new truths about that world or new ways of thriving in it (p 190).” 
But Gopnik does not acknowledge the scope of the problem and says nothing about how our carpenter schools interfere with parents' attempts to be gardeners at home.  She offers no suggestion about what to do about schools and no acknowledgement that thousands of families are, successfully, raising their children in the gardener mode by removing them from standard schools.  In fact, near the beginning of the book (p 6), she says, “I believed—and still do—that good public schools are best for all children.”  That, I’m sure, is a politically correct thing to say and makes the establishment think, “She’s OK,” but it contradicts everything else she says in this book.  Where are these “good public schools” she is talking about?  The ones that are usually called “good” are those that churn out the highest test scores and place the greatest pressures on kids.  All public schools these days are judged, and the teachers are judged, by children's test scores.  Every public school, by law, is in the carpenter mode; none of them are gardens.
OK, I’m a little frustrated and I guess I’m showing it.  There are so many smart and good-willed people in academia who, like Gopnik, seem to get it, but who then fail to come to the logical conclusion and fail even to look at the real-world evidence that their ideas beg them to examine.  The evidence has been out there for a long time that it is possible to develop learning spaces where children and teenagers can learn naturally; and the evidence has been out there for a long time that children and teenagers develop beautifully, in highly varied ways, like flowers in a garden, in those spaces; and the evidence has been out there for a long time that such learning spaces are far less expensive and less trouble to operate than are standard schools, precisely because they work with children’s nature rather than against it. And yet academia continues to blind itself to that evidence.  Why?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Human Brain Hard Wired for Nature


Humans may be hard-wired to feel at peace in the countryside and confused in cities – even if they were born and raised in an urban area.

According to preliminary results of a study by scientists at Exeter University, an area of the brain associated with being in a calm, meditative state lit up when people were shown pictures of rural settings. But images of urban environments resulted in a significant delay in reaction, before a part of the brain involved in processing visual complexity swung into action as the viewer tried to work out what they were seeing.
The study, which used an MRI scanner to monitor brain activity, adds to a growing body of evidence that natural environments are good for humans, affecting mental and physical health and even levels of aggression.
Dr Ian Frampton, an Exeter University psychologist, stressed the researchers still had more work to do, but said they may have hit upon something significant.
“When looking at urban environments the brain is doing a lot of processing because it doesn’t know what this environment is,” he said. “The brain doesn’t have an immediate natural response to it, so it has to get busy. Part of the brain that deals with visual complexity lights up: ‘What is this that I’m looking at?’ Even if you have lived in a city all your life, it seems your brain doesn’t quite know what to do with this information and has to do visual processing,” he said.
Rural images produced a “much quieter” response in a “completely different part of the brain”, he added. “There’s much less activity. It seems to be in the limbic system, a much older, evolutionarily, part of the brain that we share with monkeys and primates.”
The effect does not appear to be aesthetic as it was found even when beautiful urban and “very dull” pictures of the countryside were used.
Professor Michael Depledge of Exeter University, a former Environment Agency chief scientist, said urban dwellers could be suffering in the same way as animals kept in captivity. He said the move to the cities had been accompanied by an “incredible rise in depression and behavioural abnormalities”.
“I think we have neglected the relationship that human beings have with their environment and we are strongly connected to it,” he said. “If you don’t get the conditions right in zoos, the animals start behaving in a wacky way. There have been studies done with laboratory animals showing their feeding is abnormal. Sometimes they stop eating and sometimes they eat excessively. How far we can draw that parallel, I don’t know.”
The study was part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund Programme and European Social Fund Convergence Programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Dr Frampton was one of the coordinators of the research, which was carried out by Marie-Claire Reville and Shanker Venkatasubramanian, of the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at Exeter University.

Importance of Free Play

Hope you have all had a wonderful vacation.

With two weeks left of the ISHCMC vacation I thought it might be worth sharing a couple of articles with you that might stimulate ideas of how to occupy your sons and daughters.

See you soon,


·        The other morning after breakfast, my five-year-old daughter whined, “I’m bored!” Few words have the power to rankle parents more than these two (except maybe “When are we gonna be there?”). It was Saturday and the whole day stretched luxuriously before us. We didn’t have to hustle off to school or pack lunches or fly off in four different directions. We could simply hang around and do nothing.
Therein lay the problem.
I told my daughter what my mother had told me when I was a girl: that being bored meant I just hadn’t thought of something clever to do. Boredom reflected poorly on me, not my circumstances. Then I shooed her and her seven-year-old sister out to the arroyo to play.
The arroyo is a dry, sandy wash that runs a few hundred feet below our house. We’ve found piles of rusty tin cans there, traces of a makeshift homeless camp (long abandoned), and other random cast-offs. Mostly, though, it’s wild little corridor between steep hillsides, lined with piƱon and juniper trees and bound by sandy cliffs that are perfect for scooting down on your bottom—a narrow slice of nature a few blocks from downtown Santa Fe.
For the past few months, the girls have been earning their independence in the arroyo. At nearly six and eight, they are old enough to venture into it on their own—as long as they follow a few basic rules. They must always stick together, bring the dog, keep the house more or less within sight, come when I call, and carry a walkie-talkie in case they run into trouble.
That morning I watched them wander down the trail, dragging our dog, Pete, on a leash. Every five or ten minutes (though it might have been closer to two), I walked outside and cocked an ear. I couldn’t see them in the arroyo, but I’d be able to hear them if they yelled, and I knew Pete would bark if a stranger approached. After a few minutes, my little one raced up the trail, red-faced and sweaty. “I need a jar!” she exclaimed, running past me into the house. A minute later, she came out clutching a mason jar and two magnets she’d swiped from the fridge. “We’re collecting iron,” she explained, pronouncing it i-Ron. Then she was gone again. I was dying to follow her, but I knew if I did, I’d defeat the whole purpose: inventing their own games and schemes, without me.
Child development experts call these kinds of spontaneous, child-directed activities “free play.” A generation ago, when kids were far more likely to wander out the door and goof off in the yard or ride bikes with their friends, this didn’t need special terminology. It was just called play. A seminal 1997 study from the University of Michigan determined that the amount of spare time kids in the U.S. had to play dropped by 25 percent since 1981, and Boston University psychologist Peter Gray has found that it has been declining ever since. In a 2007 report, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that “much of parent-child time is spent arranging special activities or transporting children between those activities… Many parents seem to feel as though they are running on a treadmill to keep up yet dare not slow their pace for fear their children will fall behind.”
“There’s Mandarin on Monday, piano on Tuesday, soccer on Wednesday,” says Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free Range Kidsmovement. “It’s all part of the race to the top.” And it’s not just children of privilege who lead more structured lives. Often underserved kids or those whose parents work full time go straight from class to school-subsidized aftercare.
Then there’s the innate parental fear that unsupervised kids will fall prey to shady characters. (The statistics don’t bear this out, however: crime against children has been decreasing since the early 1990s. Finally, a rash of recent high-profile incidents in Maryland and South Carolina, in which parents were questioned by the police for sending their children into public without supervision, have sent the message that it’s negligent to let kids roam free. “An unsupervised childhood has become taboo,” says Skenazy.
In moderation, organized extracurricular activities instill skills and competence in kids, boost their confidence, and give parents both time to work (I’m writing this while my seven-year-old is at mountain-biking club) and peace of mind that their children are being looked after. “No one wants their kids to be unsafe,” says Skenazy. 
But child-directed play is essential to children’s emotional and intellectual development. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics 2007 report, “some play must remain entirely child driven, with parents either not present or as passive observers, because play builds some of the individual assets children need to develop and remain resilient.”
2014 study from University of Colorado found that children between six and seven who engaged in less-structured activities like imaginative role-playing, reading for pleasure, and playing board games and tag demonstrated greater so-called “executive function,” or the ability to organize their time, initiate tasks, and achieve goals without external direction—skills which help build self-reliance and success later in life (and ensure that they’re not still living at home when they’re 30).
“These were any kind of activities where adults were not present to organize the way the activity unfolded,” explains the study’s lead author, Jane Barker, who notes that the results held for controls like family income and gender. “We saw the same the benefits of free play in boys and girls, and families with greater or less means.”
Still, not all free play is quite so free. For single parents and dual-working parents, setting aside blocks of time for unsupervised fun can be challenging. “I put my daughter in activities when she was young because it gave me bigger blocks of time to work than when she was home playing. I would take her to gymnastics and sit in the stands and pull out my computer,” says Carol Greenhouse, a single mother whose daughter is now 13. 
Where you live may pose obstacles, too. While rural families may have open space right out the front door, they may not have a built-in posse of neighbor kids nearby. Urbanites may lack nature but have a larger local community of like-minded families. Ultimately, says Skenazy, “the only people who have the luxury not to let their kids out for free play are those who live in truly violent neighborhoods.” 
Indoors or outside, alone or with other kids, the important thing is that children are left to their own devices to invent, organize and enjoy their own schemes and dreams. “You can have free play in your room, but there are more loose parts to play with outside in nature,” says Richard Louv, who wrote the bestselling book Last Child in the Woods and his latest, Vitamin N, in an effort to combat what he coined “nature-deficit disorder.” Louv is talking about the Theory of Loose Parts, devised in the early 1970s by an architect who found that the more variables in an environment—the more things people can manipulate, see, touch or feel—the more creative they are.
Here’s how to set your child loose:

Build a Community

Don’t just assume your friends feel the same about free play as you do. When Greenhouse, who lives in rural Vermont, learned that neighboring parents didn’t let their 13-year-old daughter and her daughter explore the stream on their property without adult supervision, she was surprised. “We live in a sweet liberal town; everyone believes in kids going outside, but is it really happening? This family is full of big kayakers. I didn’t think I’d have to talk to them about this, but I guess I do.” Open the lines of communication with other parents about your shared goals for getting kids together for unstructured play and together strategize ways to make it a reality.

Schedule Unscheduled Play 

It sounds counterintuitive, but in this hyper-organized world, being intention is essential. Skenazy recommends creating a Free-Range Kids Club through your child’s school or in your neighborhood, as a group of parents in the Chicago suburbs recently did. Block off one day a week so that a critical mass of kids have free time after school. It can happen anywhere—at the park, downtown, walking home from school. The only organized part  is the day of the week. “It’s like wildflowers–if you want to bring them back, sometimes you actually have to take the seeds and plant them. If something has been destroyed that was natural and occurred spontaneously, it sometimes requires help and planning to bring back. Once you have a bunch of kids together, without an adult to ask what to do, everything kicks in: problem solving, empathy, creativity, imagination.”

Strive for Balance

No one’s saying you should wipe your youngster’s weekly calendar clean of karate, Spanish club, or swim team. Just find pockets here and there to let him be a kid on his own terms. How much free play do they need? While Barker and her team of researchers don’t recommend a specific amount of time, Louv favors the same guidelines he offers to combat nature-deficit-disorder: “Some is better than none and more is better than some.”

Become a Hummingbird Parent

If your child is too young to play unsupervised, train yourself to be a hummingbird, not a helicopter—one who hovers at a distance. “Watch kids from kitchen window, or let them explore the periphery of the park on their own,” says Louv. “Swoop in only if your child is in mortal danger. That’s a technique you can learn.” 

Encourage Aimlessness and Even Adversity

Not every minute needs to fulfill some obvious purpose in your child’s life. “Even time that seems fallow or ‘unenriched” is very enriching,” says Skenazy. “If you just watch the birds every day, you’d learn a lot about birds, or if you are bored watching birds, you’d go do something else, like read or paint.” Adversity, too, isn’t something to be feared, either. “Many people say, ‘I can’t let my kids go out because something bad may happen,’ says Skenazy. “But it’s important to remember that not all bad things are tragedies. Often when adults are asked think back on something in their childhood that they felt proud of, usually it’s when something did go wrong and they had to muddle through.”

Engage Them Afterwards 

After your child finishes playing, ask them to tell you about their adventures. Showing interest sends the message that their independence is valued and matters. When my five-year-old Maisy came home toting two jars filled with fine, black shavings, I asked to shown me how she’d collected it. “Here,” she said, pouring some iron in the dirt and handing me a magnet. When I skimmed the shavings with the magnet, the iron clumped onto it like a fuzzy coating of fur. I sat on the ground next to her, doing it over and over, feeling like a kid again. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Most Likely to Succeed Documentary

Dear all,

This is a 25 minute episode from Lip TV about an excellent documentary called Most Likely to Succeed. This is based around the outstanding book by Tony Wagner of the same title. We have tried to get this film for a screening but apparently the documentary is only being shown in the USA. This is such a pity for all international communities. This documentary looks at the issue of 21st century education and what we should be doing to meet today's challenges. It talks about the documentary and its background with a few clips.

Here is the website mentioned at the end of the documentary: 

We will continue to try and obtain a copy of this documentary or get permission for a screening.


IB or A-levels: which is best?

Students sitting A-levels UK
Recent research into higher education outcomes has tended to put the IB in a better light than A-levels 
A key decision for parents of students heading into the sixth form is which route their child should take. While A-levels are by far the most popular option, the most widespread alternative, at both UK and international schools, is the International Baccalaureate(IB) diploma.A-level students typically take three or four subjects which can be exclusively science or the humanities.IB diploma students take six subjects, which must include a mix of science and humanities, plus three other elements: theory of knowledge, which looks at how we know what we know; creativity, activity, service, which involves artistic, sporting and voluntary work, and an extended essay.

If students are looking to go into a maths or science-related subject, the depth of study at A-level is genuinely better than it would be at IBPaul Young, senior vice principal, Doha College

And while both routes are widely-accepted for entry into university, both have their devotees.
Paul Young’s twin sons Jonathan and Michael are in the second year of A-levels at Doha College in Qatar, where Mr Young is senior vice principal.

He said A-levels give his sons an opportunity to specialise, which they would not get with the IB. While Michael is taking maths, further maths, physics and history, Jonathan is studying maths, physics, biology and psychology.

“If students are looking to go into a maths or science-related subject, the depth of study at A-level is genuinely better than it would be at IB,” Mr Young said.

Twins Michael and Jonathan Young 
Twins Michael and Jonathan Young are taking A-levels at Doha College

A-levels may be a UK qualification, but they are accepted by universities around the world.
"Many of our students go on to study at Oxford, Cambridge and other Russell Group universities. However, a significant number will choose to study in the United States, Canada and South Africa where A-levels are readily accepted," said Mr Young.

Paula Baptista’s son Gilles is also in his second year of sixth form, although he is taking the IB diploma, at the British School of Brussels.

The school offers both A-levels and the IB, but Ms Baptista said the latter was a better fit with her son’s interests.

“It was really suitable for the type of student Gilles is,” she said. “He is happy to develop critical reasoning and wants to know why and how things happen and to go deeply into every subject.”

The IB also offered Gilles the opportunity to study psychology and film and meant he did not have to drop a second language, she added, while recognising extra-curricular work. For the service element of his course, for example, he trained 10 and 11-year-olds in how to put on TEDx talks.

Although Gilles found himself with less free time than his friends taking A-levels, he became more disciplined as a result, Ms Baptista said.

Recent research into higher education outcomes has tended to put the IB in a good light. A study by Leeds University academics found that students who took higher level maths at IB were more likely to get a first class degree than those who took A-level maths.

Analysis by the Higher Education Statistics Agency found that IB students were more likely to go to a top 20 ranked university than their A-level peers, more likely to get a first c
lass degree and more likely to go on to postgraduate study. best/?WT.mc_id=e_DM118455&WT.tsrc=email&etype=Edi_Exp_New&utm_source=email&utm_medium=Edi_Exp_New_2016_05_13&utm_campaign=DM118455

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Reconsidering Rigor in Schools

“There is a momentous, broad-based cultural shift underway that has struck at the roots of every industrialized system of education. The result is a demand for more personalized learning, brain-friendly environments, less recall and more thoughtful application of knowledge, optimal conditions for eliciting intelligent behaviors, constructivist tools, and respectful, caring relationships that honor the learner.” — Thom Markham

The impetus for the cultural shift that Markham describes in Redefining Smart: Awakening Students’ Power to Reimagine Their World is well-documented. The wide-ranging dialogue concerning this new reality — a radically different conception of learning — is no longer a debate. Part of the complexity for schools seeking to address this challenge includes the obligation to make the transition without unduly alarming those who assess the quality of schooling through a lens traditionally known as rigor.

There are many misconceptions that govern the worldview of rigor in education. At its most fundamental level, advocates of rigor believe that school should be “hard”. Rigor is most frequently characterised by an abundance of homework, tests, grading, and compliance. In a school that is “hard” some students will be successful, while others will not. The notion of a learner-centred school context might be new to many of us educated in the 20th century. For parents, there are only the familiar elements of their own school experiences to relate to. The paradigm shift that can be dramatic for professional educators must be incredibly daunting for parents who note a fundamental shift in the way we think about learning. According to Markham: “Instead of measuring difficulty in terms of information retrieval, or amount of homework, the new standard of personal rigor puts thinking and intelligent behaviors at the forefront. How a student expresses those personal qualities become the standard for capability and performance. In effect, we’re starting to redefine what is ‘hard’ in school.”

So what happens when a school takes the shifting digital landscape seriously, acknowledging how the brain works, the essential need for intrinsic motivation, the reality of the declining value of fixed knowledge, the importance of social and emotional learning, and the critical need to focus on learning how to learn in new and dynamic ways? What must proponents of traditional rigor think when their child attends a school that:

Does not grade homework or believe in assigning it unless it serves a clear learning purpose.

Believes that averaging grades is illogical and allows students to negotiate assignment deadlines.

Eliminates streaming to increase challenge while believing that every student can succeed.

Regards the development of a digital presence and personal learning as educational priorities.

Is committed to the arts, design, creative expression and physical education as core curriculum.

“The chief barrier to moving forward is an outdated definition of rigor. The core task of the modern world is not to prep students for standardized tests by delivering content, or even to make them “college ready,” but to prepare them to judge the quality of information, generate new ideas, filter them through a net of critical analysis and reflection, and share and move the ideas through a design process to create a quality product, either as an idea or a material object.

Much of the above, for some, represents a lowering of standards, a dilution of rigor. The reality of where we have come from and where we need to go is clear, but the pursuit of this direction is not without its challenges. “It is indisputable that a set of industrial beliefs are ingrained in the mental model we call education… Moving from the quantifiable apparatus of schooling to the qualitative expressions of deeper intelligence — and to more personal, individual standards for thinking and accomplishment — is a huge thought barrier to cross. Welcome to 21st century life.”

Of course, it is not acceptable for schools to declare that rigor is a thing of the past, that new approaches to learning should not be open to scrutiny or that a commitment to excellence has become less important than in the past. What is required is a new definition of rigor and a commitment to educating all stakeholders in understanding why learning has changed and how schools need to change accordingly. This process will take time, patience, strong leadership and an acknowledgment that not everyone will accept the need for change or applaud the implementation of transformations that unsettle the core of traditional certainty. But continuing to do what we have always done does not honour our obligation to students and the realities of our interconnected, digital world. As Markham points out:

The task of redefining rigor is an important one. I like the new definition that Brian Sztabnik has set forth: “Rigor is the result of work that challenges students’ thinking in new and interesting ways. It occurs when they are encouraged toward a sophisticated understanding of fundamental ideas and are driven by curiosity to discover what they don’t know.” This definition is notable in that it makes no reference to getting into the “best” college.

I was fortunate to enjoy a screening of the film “Most Likely to Succeed” at theCoSN Conference in Washington DC recently and to hear the perspective of executive producer, Ted Dintersmith. I highly recommend that schools make arrangements for a screening of this important film. There is one scene in the film that especially resonated with me. In this scene, a teacher at High School Tech in San Diego, (who is using modern learning strategies with his students), holds a meeting with some of his “stronger” students who appear disgruntled with these methods. To paraphrase the exchange, he asks these students whether they would like to be equipped to lead meaningful lives or to ace the test. The shared perspective that the test results were more crucial than learning how to live meaningfully — that the development of personal interests and passions could wait — speaks volumes about the cultural expectations around schooling these days.

The real essence of rigor is doing the right thing for students and ensuring they have the most dedicated, personally invested teachers to guide, mentor, coach and support them. We must have rigor in schools, but in a new context. Modern learning needs to be productive and have purpose. That purpose is related to the real world, not the game of school, long the domain of traditional rigor. While learning will inevitably look different in this new context, the core essence of the relationship between engaged students and caring teachers has never been more important.

Eric Sheninger, in his new book, deals with the issue of rigor in some practical ways that are the hallmark of his writing. He suggests that teachers in the contemporary digital landscape need to take care to consider whether modern methodologies are still as structured, rigorous, and relevant as before. For Sheninger, the critical instructional design questions modern teachers need to ask include: “What capabilities do I want my students to develop? In what specific ways is my instructional design rigorous, relevant, and goal oriented? What are my benchmarks for rigor? Relevance? Relationships? Clear objectives?”

Engagement and personal meaning are the new rigor. Digital learning, balanced with traditional, challenging expectations deepen, rather than dilute rigor. Parents and educators are right when they suggest school needs to be rigorous. But if we accept — as we must — that the needs of the first half of the 21st century are inevitably and distinctly different from the second half of the 20th century, what this rigor looks like needs to be reconsidered and embraced with the modern mindset required. Nothing less than a rigorous commitment to this paradigm shift will prepare our young people for the futures they deserve.


Brian Sztabnik. A New Definition of Rigor.
Ted Dintersmith. Most Likely to Succeed.