Be The Revolution!

I just read the Genius of Play’s report on “Fostering innovation and Creativity through Play,” cohosted with the Smithsonian Lemelson Center at the National Museum of American History, April 25, 2018.

I love the questions, ideas, hopes, and dreams they express in their event press release, and their event report.

Their plan was to “explore how play serves as a catalyst for creativity and innovation.” What a great plan! Remarkably, they didn’t just explore on their own, for their own information. They invited experts (including me!)  to collaborate with them, and hosted a free event to share our thoughts. They even extended invitations to members of Congress, congressional staff, and staff at the Department of Education.

If you get a chance, read the report  and check out the Genius of Play website. Until then, I hope you are inspired by our definitions of play, and the conclusion to the Genius of Play report.

“What is play?”

“Play is joy – doing things that you love to do. And I think play changes over the periods of your lifetime. I also would say for young children, play is the work in how they live their lives.” (Jeri Robinson, Boston Children’s Museum)

“If it makes you happy … It can’t be anything but play.” (James McLurkin, Google)

“Play is a way of interacting with the world that is both fun and powerful. What makes play powerful is it allows our brains to be open and to explore possibility, entertain new ideas, learn and take risks, and learn that failing isn’t the end, but it’s really the beginning to start a new game, stronger and smarter.” (Molly James, Kent Place School)

“Play is anything that we see as open-ended and unconstrained in the hands of a child. And the tools can be anything: they could be toys; they could be robots; they could be books; they could be nothing; they could be out in the garden, but that’s all play.” (Vikas Gupta, Wonder Workshop)

Genius of Play Report Conclusion:

“The connection between play and invention is real but in order to see a correlation, children need to be allowed to flex their creativity through play. By bringing more play to the school curriculum, giving parents the confidence to play with their children, and helping our society understand and value the benefits of play, we can help children develop the qualities they need to become the next generation of inventors.”

Good stuff, right? It was an incredible evening, and the ability to reflect a bit more about it through the report is pretty awesome.

I’m not sure if the members of Congress, congressional staff, or staff at the Department of Education attended. At first that bothered me. But, now, not so much, because I think the most important people made it to the event.

Parents, educators, toy inventors, and others invested in creativity, innovation, and learning, filled the room. We are the people in the classrooms, museums, after school programs, and homes. In some ways it’s most important for us to hear the ideas, read the reports, and believe in the power and purpose of play and creativity in learning and innovation.

_MG_2340

I read a recent Ron Clark tweet which stated “As we start a new school year, I hope every teacher will take a moment to reimagine what education can and should be for every child. Be magical! Make possibilities a reality! #betherevolution”

I agree, let’s be the revolution our kids, and our world, need and deserve!  Let’s make play, creativity, joy, inventiveness, and innovation possible. We can do it. We can make them a reality in our learning spaces. We can give our students the opportunity to “flex their creativity in play.” We can help others experience and understand the value of play — for all of us.

Let’s stand in our power. Let’s be the magical creatures we are. Let’s be the revolution!

____________________________________________________________________________________________

A link to the report can be found on the Genius of Play website, along with a ton of great information and resources. Or, if you prefer, you can download a pdf of the report – Raising a Generation of Inventors: How Play Fosters Creativity and Innovative Thinking in Children.   

 

Advertisements

A Conversation with Frank Gehry

I first heard of Frank Gehry, several years ago, when I visited the EMP (Experience Music Project — now know as the Museum of Pop Culture) in Seattle, Washington. It’s a remarkable building! It features Gehry’s folds, and some awesome finishes that reflect light, images, and shadows in fascinating ways.

It’s wild, and so unlike other buildings I had experienced. I was fascinated by how it interacted with the things around it – including me. I could have taken photographs for days!

20180703_220047-01-01

I was reminded of Gehry and his building, the other day when I noticed Master Class, offered a class of Gehry teaching design and architecture! How cool is that? I haven’t finished the class yet, but I’ve already been inspired.

Now, to be clear. Frank and I didn’t sit down over a cup of tea, and converse. Our conversation began when I experienced his building, and picked up again with his master class. As I think, talk with others, and allow his words and ideas — as well as my thoughts and responses — to impact me as a creative and an educator, our conversation continues.

Two thoughts really struck me.

“My advice is forgot about creative block. Assume you’re always blocked. Just keep trying. Creative block is an excuse out of fear. I don’t think it’s relevant, and I think you should forget about it.”

Interesting, right? Instead of being bothered if you feel blocked, just let it be. Recognize it as a natural state of being as a creative, and keep doing your thing.

I’m reminded of Uri Alon’s idea of the cloud,  and think Gehry’s idea can have similar power in the classroom. Much like our thinking, sometimes our creating appears to happen easily, almost magically. Often my girls ask me, with voices filled with awe and disbelief, “Wow. How did you do that, Miss James?” They only see what I can do after hours of struggling with my own blocks. Even the blocks that I may be experiencing at the time they query me, are invisible to them, because like Gehry, I just accept them and move forward.

What an amazing concept to share with my students.  Being blocked is  a natural state for creatives. It would be fabulous to help lessen the power of their own blocks and worries. It’d be amazing to help them get to the point where they felt the blocks, even acknowledged they were feeling them, and then dismissed them, with a “No worries!”

Perhaps I need to think of a Gehry mini lesson. Maybe I should include other artists as well. Or, it could be that it’s not a mini lesson at all. It could be I just live a bit more transparently — sharing my own process of blocks, fretting, noticing, breathing (with an eye-roll in the general direction of my blocks), and moving on.

The second quote follows nicely after the first.

“Trust it, don’t force it, don’t leave it. Take a risk even if you know it doesn’t work … Where’s the line and what can you do with that information? If you’re relentless you can make the fly that stops the train.”

I love the idea of balance — trust, without force and without abandonment. Take a risk. See what innovative, creative, outlandishly wild, and fabulous ideas you can hatch. Then, see how far forward you can take your ideas.

And his question is power-packed. “What can you do with that information?” You don’t just create something, or fail, no matter how spectacularly you do either. You notice, you learn, and you do something with the information.

Thanks for the conversation, Frank! I have so many great thoughts and truths to share with my students.

Now to integrate these understandings  more deeply into my life and being, so I can bring them into my practice and classroom with ease. I’m looking forward to the conversations, provocations, questions, learning , risks, successes and failures …. and things I have yet to imagine.

 

Seized by Curiosity

I was just reading a great book, and laughed out loud — with surprise and delight — when I read this line:

… but then, curiosity seizes me: How is it possible ...”

Say it to yourself again. “But then, curiosity seizes me!” Isn’t that a remarkable thought — to be seized by curiosity? Lots of images of curiosity seizing me flooded my mind  — images of what it might look like in reality, and what it might look like with curiosity anthropomorphized! At first I just chuckled and thought, ” I love that!”

But then, struck by the power and pleasure that comes when one is seized by curiosity, I thought. “Geez, how often do I make space for curiosity in my life, and in my classroom?”

So much is wound up with curiosity:

  • surprise
  • wonder
  • dreaming
  • questioning
  • thinking
  • trying
  • searching
  • being immersed
  • intensity
  • freedom
  • agency
  • interest
  • desire
  • a beginner’s mind
  • possibility
  • joy
  • inspiration
  • awe
  • time
  • opportunity
  • learning
  • discovery

I like it all — curiosity and all of its richness, needs, characteristics, and possible outcomes.

I want more of it — in my life, and in my classroom!

 

Helping Students Reach Higher

As educators we often talk about wanting our students to:

  • reach
  • stretch
  • go as far as they can
  • achieve

We also work hard to provide:

  • instructions
  • help
  • scaffolding
  • tools
  • structure

My classroom word wall is quite fluid. Sometimes it has our names on it, other times it has words we may encounter in our various learning units. Once we return from winter break, and move towards spring break, I begin to give the world wall more and more to my students.

In reading they each write three words they want to add to our word wall. They must be words they know how to spell like they are written in a library book.

I’m careful to not say “Three words you know how to spell correctly.” When they use inventive spelling — which is appropriate and important in Kindergarten — the words they write are correct if they, and I, can read them. For instance eat might be written ete. Or, teacher might be encoded as teechr. These are examples of correct inventive spelling, because they follow phonetic rules, and accurately convey the sounds, words, and thoughts of the writer. I don’t want them to begin thinking that the way they write is incorrect, and only by memorizing words, or asking for help, are they able to spell, write, and share their ideas.

In Social Studies, my students think of three words related to our topic, that they’d like to add to our word wall. Often these are words that are difficult to spell like they are spelled in library books. My girls stretch them out as best they can, then we work together to make any needed changes. This gives me the opportunity to share rules, digraphs, blends, and crazy things about the English language (for instance, ir, ur, and er have the same sound!), as well as help my girls find their own errors in thinking, hearing and sounding out.

For instance, one girl wanted to write strong. She srog. We stretched the word out, tapping the sounds – to try and tease out that n sound. She added it. Then I asked her to read me her word again. She read strong. “Hmmm,” I said, “I read srong.” She looked at me with a puzzled look, and sounded it out while holding my gaze. Then she looked at what she wrote and sounded it out again. Finally, she laughed and said “Oh, t! I forgot a t.”

These moments are examples of my students reaching, stretching, and attaining, while I support and scaffold. Sometimes, though, the reaching, stretching, and scaffolding is much more literal.

My students are confident in their own ability to find safe and effective ways to use things in our classroom to achieve their goals. So, they often create their own scaffold, and reach as high as they desire.

IMG_20180210_075908_processed

But, there are times the height they hope to attain is beyond their reach. That’s when I offer myself as a resource. I provide the scaffold they need to reach higher than they might on their own.

IMG_20180210_075948_processed

I really like that I am supporting them, rather than holding them. They get the chair. They have to be brave enough to step onto the scaffolding (me) and stand tall. Even though I am spotting them all the while it’s not always easy! Once on the scaffold, they have to breathe, trust, focus, reach higher. and write — undeterred by the distance they are from the floor!

For me, these are all moments of creativity.

  • Thinking outside the box.
  • Being open to possibility.
  • Inventing as we spell.
  • Not being deterred by what seems impossible considering the tools we have or do not have.
  • Risking.
  • Being brave.
  • Giving it a go.
  • Reflecting, adapting and rethinking.

And, let us not forget the equally important and essential parts of engaging in creative thinking and doing:

  • Experiencing joy.
  • Being struck by beauty and awesomeness.
  • Learning.

Label Your Build

Labeling is part of every build in our classroom. Sometimes my request for labeling is met with a bit of grumbling. “Labels? Do we have to label? Why do we have to label things, Miss James?”

I always respond the same way. “Yes, you have to label things. Everyone find at least three things to label.” and “Why label?!?!!! You have to label things because when you label them, everyone else gets to know and understand your great ideas and creations!” Once they get over the need to stop building in order to label, and any hesitancy they have in their ability to write things that others can read, the labels begin popping up all over the build site.

Here are a few from this year’s Thanksgiving build.

IMG_9275

(bed, home)

IMG_9277

(bed, pillow, home)

IMG_9278

(food place)

IMG_9279

(person, Lilly)

IMG_9280

(mountain)

IMG_9281

(person)

IMG_9282

(crib)

IMG_9284

(trap door)

There’s tons of value in each of their labels. I can assess their phonemic awareness, and their ability to encode the sounds they hear. I get a deeper understanding of their thinking and building. And, perhaps best of all, they get to share their thinking and work with everyone who visits the build.

My favorite thinking shared this year (and mind you, they are ALL fantabulous and bring me great joy) was this one.

IMG_9283

(For you, Mayflower. This corn is for you.)

We learn that the passengers of the Mayflower stole corn from the Native Americans. At first, the girls respond with outrage. “That wasn’t very nice! Why did they do that? That’s mean!” I acknowledge their observations and feelings, agreeing that it does sound mean, and not very nice. But then, I encourage them to think a bit about what the passengers of the Mayflower might have felt — and what we sometimes experience in our own lives.

“How do you think the Mayflower passengers felt when they arrived?” I ask. “They were on the boat for 66 days. The Mayflower wasn’t very big and there were a lot of passengers.” My students are silent, clearly trying to figure things out. They begin to share their recollections and thoughts — “There were storms. People died. A baby was born. Maybe they didn’t have enough food. They were probably cold. Maybe they were hungry.”

One asks “Why didn’t they just ask the Native Americans for some food?”

“Good question.” I respond. “Why didn’t they?”

At first they are silent again. Then I ask them. “Did the Native Americans and the passengers of the Mayflower looked alike? Did they dress the same? Do you think they spoke the same language?” They quietly and thoughtfully respond “No.”

Now I am silent. For a moment or two I let them sit with that information. Then I ask them “How do you think they felt?” With a greater of empathy they respond, “Maybe they were scared.” I shake my head, “Yeah, maybe they were scared.” Wanting to bring the two ideas together, I continue “It wasn’t nice what they did. They shouldn’t have stolen the corn, but it’s good for us to remember they might have been afraid, and hungry, and didn’t know what else to do.”

When the girl made those bags of corn, she showed them to me. “I decided to make these for the Mayflower. I’m going to leave them by the boat so they see them. Then they can just have this corn, and not steal ours.” I responded, “That’s a great idea. I bet they’ll be happy to find it.”

There is so much I love about her thoughts and work. Kindness. Empathy. Problem-solving. Offering without being asked. Leaving it with a note — therefore forgoing a thank you. Believing this will help them, and keep them from taking your things — without telling them not to take yours. Lastly, I love that the build, and the labeling, allowed this student to show the depth her understanding, empathy, kindness, and problem solving. May she keep it, grow it, and use it all her days!

The Joy of Inventing

Recently heard in my classroom …

Miss James!

I LOVE inventing! Inventions are the BEST!

(And yes, the bold, large font is appropriate as it conveys, I hope, just a bit of her enthusiasm!)

20171129_143136-1-01

Oh my GOSH!!! I loved the passion, zeal, and joy of this young inventor!

She’s right, you know, inventions are awesome and fantabulous!  They are the best because they allow, encourage, enable:

  • joy
  • passion
  • engagement
  • independance
  • collaboration
  • thinking
  • problem solving
  • sensible risk taking
  • failure, re-thinking, re-designing, re-making, and increased understanding
  • creativity
  • learning
  • love of making, exploring, and learning

I loved her enthusiasm, and I’m so glad she shared it with me. I am grateful for the reminder to search for, and find, ways to support freedom, making, play and inventing in my learning space!

 

 

 

Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?

I’m in the second week of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC. I’ve been thinking about George Couros’s Critical Questions for the Innovative Educator(Chapter 2, pages 39-41). They are fantastic!

I love the first question!

Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?

IMG_20170311_154917_processed-01

This question implies a deep sense of respect for our students. We are treating them as ourselves. We are acknowledging and treating them as:

  • people who can learn.
  • people who love to learn.
  • people who, when given the chance, will choose to learn.
  • accomplished learners.
  • people who know things.
  • people whose ideas are valuable.
  • people whose needs and wants are respected and considered.
  • people with interests and passions.
  • people who are good at some things, but not so good at others.
  • people who deserve, and are given,  reasonable freedom, choice and agency.
  • people who are teachers as well as learners.
  • people who inspire others.

What a fantastic way to approach our students and inform our practice!

I ask myself three additional questions when I reflect on my practice.

Will this increase my students’ love of learning? 

Will this empower my students to achieve their academic and creative potential? 

Will this position them for greater thinking and creativity in the future? 

My goal is to be able to answer, “Yes!” to each of these questions. Most of the times I can. Sometimes, though, I have to say “Hmmm … not so much.”

But, since I’m asking the questions, the answer “Hmmm … not so much.” isn’t so bad. In fact, maybe it’s actually good!

Now I have the opportunity to think, learn, ideate, iterate, and come up with new ideas. Ideas that will make me want to be  a learner in my class, and that will increase my student’s love of learning, will empower them to achieve their potential, and will position them for greater thinking and creativity in the future!

 

 

 

Using Creativity to Boost Young Children’s Mathematical Thinking (MindShift)

I am SUPER excited to share this article with you!

MindShift author, Deborah Kris, did a spectacular job. She asked thought provoking questions that encouraged me to continue to research mathematics and creativity, and to reflect again upon my beliefs and practice.

I loved immersing myself in the research and reflection. As I did, I came to believe even more deeply that creativity in thought and action increases the power and beauty of mathematics. I hope you enjoy the article, and that it enhances your thought and teaching practice.

Using Creativity to Boost Young Children’s Mathematical Thinking

By the way, there is a link in the article to my paper – Managing the Classroom for Creativity. If you haven’t read it yet, give it a look.

James, M. (2015) Managing the Classroom for Creativity. Creative Education, 6, 1032-1043. doi: 10.4236/ce.2015.610102.

 

 

I’m published!!!

WOO HOO!!! My first academic paper is published in the Journal of Creative Education (June 2015). It’s based upon my MA Creative Thinking research.

Here’s all the info:

James, M. (2015) Managing the Classroom for Creativity. Creative Education, 6, 1032-1043. doi: 10.4236/ce.2015.610102.

AMAZING to see my name – Molly James – as the author in a research journal. I hope it is the first of many.

Please feel free to join me in a happy dance and a lovely cup of tea!

tea

Then, pop over to Creative Education Journal and take a look at my paper. CE is an open access journal, so you will be able to download and read my paper without the need to subscribe. (YAY!) Here’s the link:

Managing the Classroom for Creativity

It’s a great read – if I do say so myself! My hope is it will help many educators create classroom environments that encourage deep thinking, academic excellence, and creativity.

A Tree Grows in Kindergarten

I recently attended a workshop at Bank Street College in NYC. They have a tree growing in the middle of their lobby! A BIG TREE! If I remember correctly, it actually goes up to the second floor.

It was fabulous! I wanted one in my space. It would add to the classroom environment. It holds incredible possibilities for all sorts of learning and playing – science, history, literacy, math, art, morning meetings under the tree, and puppet shows in front of the tree. And, the students would love it.

I chuckled as I wondered how I might convince my school to architecturally recreate the kindergarten and library (above our room) to allow a tree to grow within the school building. Realizing that was not likely to happen, I set about thinking how else we might have “a tree grow in kindergarten.”

Ages ago, a friend gave me all sorts of wire to use as sculpting material. I still had a lot of the wire left, in a beautiful basket, on top of my cabinets, waiting. “Woo hoo” for keeping things that have creative potential, even when I can’t figure out how to use that potential.

That wire held the answer! If I couldn’t grow a tree, surely I could make one out of wire!

In my mind, I imagined a grand tree. A wire trunk with real tree branches  “growing” out of the wire trunk. It would be spectacular!

I built the tree in my mind several times – often changing the structure on a long car rides. Finally, I was ready to give it a go.

There was a lot of prep work the night before the build – find fishing wire, fight off mosquitos to get branches, take the leaves off the branches, gather tools (wire cutters, clippers, pliers, a hammer, pencils and a tape measure), load the car, and, perhaps most importantly, try not to forget anything.

The day of the build also held a lot of work – including tons of measuring and re-measuring, a failed try at anchoring (which, thankfully, led to a better engineered tree), an incredible amount of wire work, the realization I had to cover the pointy wire ends (yay for silver duct tape), and many other niggly details and tasks.

tree collage

The process was an interesting combination of frustration, invigoration, exhaustion, perseverance and psych. It was an exercise in patience as I pro-typed, failed, thought, re-thought, tried again, looked, looked from another angle and perspective, adjusted, tweaked and took untold number of relaxing breaths. In the end, my fingertips and back were screaming, but the tree was there, “growing in our kindergarten room.”

I will, no doubt, rebuild it again in my mind. I am already imagining new ways to connect and support the branches to allow for greater artistry and larger branches! But for now, a tree, made of wire, paper, actual tree branches, hard work, and imagination, grows in Kindergarten .

(A close up of the wire bark – complete with knots.)

tree2

 (The tree ready for our first day.)

tree1

I trust the tree will bring joy to those who experience it, and encourage them to be open to possibility, creativity, imagination, hard work,

I hope, now, and throughout their life, they will be inspired, and empowered, to create something new and fabulous — perhaps, something incredibly useful and valuable.