Navigating Uncertainty

In the opening keynote of ISTE 2017, Jad Abumrad, creator and co-host of RadioLab, spoke about the creative process.  He reminded us that all creators regularly oscillate between excitement and self-doubt.  As Abumrad described some of his experiences developing stories for the RadioLab podcast, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the many Genius Hour projects I’ve done my best to facilitate over the years.  Beginning with brainstorming questions, selecting one that resonates, researching the question, and running into obstacles, RadioLab is the embodiment of my students’ attempts to complete their quests for answers.  And, just as my students sometimes run into perceived dead ends, so do the hosts of RadioLab.  But by paying close attention, they may find paths that lead to something even better.  As Abumrad says, “If you commit to the questions, you probably will not get to where you want to go, but you could get somewhere else.  And it could be beautiful.” (This is why I think it’s important to tell students to “Get Lost” and advocate for Trailblazing.)

Our job as educators is to not only help our students “navigate uncertainty,” but to teach them to seek it out.  Abumrad calls this, “The German Forest,” (based on an extremely difficult story he pursued regarding Wagner’s “Ring Cycle”).  Going into the forest is always intimidating, yet exhilarating when you are able to make it to the other side.  The more often you subject yourself to this, the better equipped you will be.  Though the trials may never get easier, you will be able to reassure yourself that you have encountered this before – and succeeded.

During his presentation, Abumrad showed a favorite video of mine that features Ira Glass speaking about storytelling.  Glass’ German Forest is “The Gap,” and it can only be bridged by constantly creating and endlessly honing your craft.

These are the lessons that we must impart to our children:

  • Seek out what interests you, and be willing to take it where it leads you – even if that is not what you envisioned
  • Take calculated risks
  • It is normal to be uncertain, and to question your abilities
  • Allow self-doubt to guide you to improvement rather than to stop you from trying

To those ends, ISTE promotes its students’ standards, which you can learn more about in the awesome Flocabulary video embedded below.

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#WhyIMake

Infosys Foundation has been asking people to share why they make, and including some of their responses on their site.  There are also three videos from famous makers (Nick Offerman, Noah Bushnell, and Adam Savage) who explain why they believe it is essential for human beings to create.  My favorite video comes from Adam Savage, The Mythbuster, in which he says, “I make because in making I’m telling a story.”  As I watch my students in robot camp this week, I get to witness their delight in making  – whether it is making programs, designing robot costumes, recording crazy robot sounds, or fastening bits and pieces together to make their robot props.  And I get to feel the same indescribable joy when I create the curriculum that activates these busy makers.

Jackie Gerstein offers even more reasons for making in her recent post about her “Cardboard Creations Maker Education Camp,” reminding us that making things does not have to involve expensive tools and technology.  The key elements are imagination and a willingness to accept messiness – literally and figuratively – as we go through several iterations to make our ideas into reality.

Whatever our motivation for making, it cannot be denied that most of us feel compelled to do it, and feel accomplished when we succeed.  That is why it is so important for educators to teach our students how to heed their inner desires to create, to persevere through those guaranteed botched attempts, and to make it a quest to improve without becoming bogged down by self-flagellation.

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Even though a makerspace isn’t needed in order to encourage students to make, here is a “Makerspace Essentials” list of articles I’ve published in the past about making.

Chat Pack for Kids

As a parent or a teacher you may find yourself in situations when you need to “kill time.” One tool that I like to use is, “Chat Pack for Kids.”  You can find versions of this from different companies, but I really like this one because it is reasonably priced, the cards are small, and the topics really seem to appeal to people of all ages.  My students who are in robot camp with me this summer enjoy taking out the plastic case that I keep the cards in and asking each other some of the questions, but it’s also a good activity as we wait for parent pick-up.  We all have fun thinking about some of the different scenarios posed, such as what animal we would choose to miniaturize to have as a pet or the one thing that we could change about school.  I try to model creative thinking by offering off-the-wall answers, and we all learn a bit about each other at the same time.  Whether you’re on a long road trip, or just waiting with your class for pictures to be taken, the “Chat Pack for Kids” is a fun way to keep occupied.

I’m going to add this to my Pinterest Board of Games and Toys.

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Chat Pack for Kids

Some Roads are Better Not Taken

Yesterday’s post, “The Trailblazer,” reminded me of an article I wrote awhile ago called, “Tell Your Students to Get Lost.” Both essays carry the message that it is important to give our students opportunities to find their own ways.  Every time I see an innovation, I think to myself, “Now that person understood that we don’t always have to do things the same way.”

One of the readers of yesterday’s post made a good point, however.  How can we allow students to blaze their own trails while still ensuring they comply with non-negotiable rules?

For example, I realized I had created my own monster this year by making it very clear that I wanted my students to do their own problem-solving attempts before coming to me.  One day, when I needed everyone to learn some tricky maneuvers for logging in to a web site they would be using, chaos ensued.  After I told them the first step, they decided to figure out the rest on their own – leading 10 different students to 10 different illogical pages and a quicksand of links that would never take them to the right destination.

And so I learned that, just like life, we need to know when to be adventurous and when to be compliant.  What I needed to teach my students was how to determine the difference.

Now I try to verbally model the inner dialogues that I hope my students will eventually develop as habit.

“Is this a time I can be creative, or do I need to do the exact steps my teacher is giving me?”

or,

“Can I use the loopholes in this task to do something unusual, or do I need to honor the intention of the assignment?”

Just as I imagine Angelique’s trail guide taught important safety rules and basic riding techniques, we teachers need to gently release our students to blaze their own trails as they adhere to certain behavior expectations and learning standards.

I am not advocating complete student anarchy just as I don’t advocate for complete student compliance.  However, I think many teachers rely on the “nose-to-tail” type of journey a large percentage of the time.  I think our schools would better serve our students by preparing them for and allowing them to go off the beaten path – while teaching them to recognize the occasions when it’s better to pay attention to your guide.

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image from Jonathan on Flickr

The Trailblazer

One of my good friends, the incredible @lackeyangie, sent an e-mail about a recent vacation experience, and I asked her permission to share it here.  The implications for education are apparent, especially if you have heard George Couros speak – or read his book, The Innovator’s Mindset.

“Hi!
So yesterday I had an amazing day! We went to the Rusty Spurr Ranch, which is about an hour northwest from Breckenridge. We went to this ranch because they market themselves as being different from the regular “nose to tail” trail ride. They actually do NOT want you to follow the same trail, but pick different trails to get to  destinations on the ranch.  We had a really patient and knowledgeable wrangler named, Tess, who accompanied us on our 2 hour ride. I was riding a beautiful strawberry roan horse named Rosie. About an hour into the ride:

Me: “Do we HAVE to stay on a cut trail, or can we make our own path through the sagebrush?”
Tess: “Oh, we love for our guests to go off the trails! Blaze your own trail; that makes you a ‘Trail Blazer’!
Me: “Really?”
Tess: “Yes! It’s actually great for the horses if you get them off the trail. They get in such a rut following a cut trail. We don’t want them to become complacent.”
Me: “Really!” (Yes, same word, but I sounded more astonished this time.)
Tess: “Yep, if the horse is complacent, then they tend to become stubborn. Then, it’s extremely hard to teach them new things. We want them to wonder what turn is coming next.”
Me: “Look at me! I’m a Trail Blazer!” ( Yes, I actually said this as it was only my husband and kids on the ride.)
Marie: “I want to be a trail blazer.” (And she does with a proud smile.)
Sam: (Already blazing a trail with a smirk on his face.)
Then, before you knew it, everyone was blazing their own trail, and they were all the more excited for it.

Disclaimer: It must be said…Trail blazing did have it’s pitfalls at times! There are more mosquitoes in the tall grass and occasional missteps as the horse had to overcome various obstacles in it’s way like fallen Aspen trees. Moreover, Rosie got spooked by something and reared up! She tried to cut back to one of the trails for safety, but I calmed her down and kept on blazing.”

We often talk about teachers who are trailblazers, but how frequently do we encourage our students to search for new paths?  As George Couros states, “Compliance does not foster innovation. In fact, demanding conformity does quite the opposite.” Yes, there are pitfalls, but insulating our students from those will only make them less prepared when they encounter them in the future.

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imae from Pixabay

The Curiosity Workshop

The Curiosity Workshop is a website founded by Mia Nicklin, who began to write daily “curiosities” for her son when she observed that his school experiences did not seem to be stimulating his interest in learning. Among the staff and contributors, The Curiosity Workshop also has a teacher advisory board and a student one that includes children between 8 and 12 years old.

On The Curiosity Workshop site, readers can find interesting nuggets of information along with great images, like this article about Sweden’s Ice Hotel.  The “Weekly Wisdom” page offers a quote from a famous individual each week, and includes a young person’s interpretation of the quote.

Somewhat of an online magazine for children, The Curiosity Workshop is certain to motivate readers to learn more with its amazing pictures and kid “bite-sized” information .  It does not yet have the substantive number of resources that you can find on sites like Wonderopolis, but it does have an interesting “hook.”  With parent permission, students can register for the “Read for Good” program, which allows participants to collect online “stamps” as they correctly answer questions about each of the posts.  With a mere 50 stamps, they can choose a charity to which to donate, such as saving elephants or providing soccer balls to impoverished communities.

This site has a lot of potential, and I hope that it will expand over time.  In the meantime, share it with students and parents if you are interested in nourishing curiosity and the world at the same time.

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image from Pixabay

Terry Stickels

Do you crave brainteasers?  Do your students delight in them?  (Many of my students do!) Terry Stickels is a world-renowned puzzlemaster who has published several diabolical books of challenges and authored weekly puzzle columns in many newspapers.  You can find out more about him here.  One type of “stickler” that has made him famous is called, “Frame Games,” which are like rebus puzzles, but placement and size of the text give clues as well.  For example, the picture below would translate as, “I understand.”

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On the Terry Stickels website you can find many free brainteasers, including a series of “Frame Games.”  There are coin puzzles, variations on sudoku, and several other types of challenges.  Some can be downloaded in tremendous zip files, and others are meant to played online.  Whenever you are looking for a way to pass the time, (such as during the summer break) and still exercise your brain, this is a resource you should definitely consider!

 

Great Minds Don't Think Alike!

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