Curiosity, Courage, and Creativity

Curiosity, courage, and creativity have been my constant companions these past few months. These three emotions, mindsets, and actions — they seem to be all three — help me survive and thrive with cancer; increase my experience of joy, awe, and wonder; and facilitate and strengthen my making and learning.

I’ve been making a lot of art lately. Perhaps because I have more time and opportunities for mindful engagement, I’ve had a uniquely fantabulous experience as I create. I seem to be able to watch myself make art — almost as though I were watching someone else. The closest I can get to explaining it is to say it’s like metacognition for art and creativity. I’m present, curious, and aware of what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, what I’m feeling, what I’m noticing, and what I’m thinking. I gotta say, it’s fascinating.  

I’ve been primarily studying and playing with watercolor and various kinds of sketching. The other day I watched a tutorial video with Liz Steele over at Art Toolkit. Wow, she has a beautiful process and product. I’m fascinated by her use of watercolor to lay down structure, and her balance between precise thinking and loose relaxed lines and painting.  Before I even finished the tutorial, I grabbed my watercolors, marker, and a black and white photo of a church I love, and set to work.

My curiosity  — Would her method work for me? How will it go? How will I feel?  Might I do that? Can I adopt her loose line method? Can watercolor really give me that structure? — combined with my love of making, gave me the courage to try.

Is it perfect? No. Was it fantabulous to try? Yes. Did I learn anything? Yes. Do I want to keep experimenting? Yes. Do I have more questions now than when I began? Indeed! Did I buy another journal to use for my urban and life sketching? You bet!

I’ve since subscribed to Liz’s blog, found Urban Sketchers, am waiting with anticipation for Liz’s book to make it out of quarantine, and am resisting the urge to buy any other books. There’s so much to learn!

My curiosity propels me, and, I’m noticing, helps me to engage with my process and art in an almost detached way. I’m less worried about trying new things, and when I make mistakes, I recognize them as opportunities rather than disasters.

Here’s an example. I’ve been making folded books to send to friends during the pandemic. As I flipped through one of the books, I saw the same quote on two consecutive pages – UGH! I didn’t want to redo the whole book, and I wanted to maintain the structure of a single sheet folded and cut in such a way as to create a folded book. What was I to do?  I took a breath and a moment to think and wonder “How might I … ?”

After a bit I realized I could cut the page, and paste in a piece of my collaging stash.

By approaching the mistake with curiosity, I was able to see it as an opportunity rich with potential and possibility. The problem opened my eyes to ideas I hadn’t previously considered, and encouraged me to make connections I hadn’t yet made. It turned out to be a happy mistake as I discovered a new way to create the books while adding color, interest, and a unique place for me to add art and inspiration!

Curiosity isn’t always all I need. There are times I am curious and still afraid. Just the other day I was working on my purposely wonky mandala-like designs. I had finished the design and inked in all the various elements. I loved it. My plan was to add color with the watercolor glazing technique — laying down light layers to create shades and depth of color. But, as I looked a the piece I hesitated. Dare I take the next step? Dare I follow through on my desire to try watercolor glazing? Dare I let curiosity lead me to take the risk of putting color to the paper — and possibly wrecking it. Eeee gads.

I did all those things, but not without first stirring up my courage. It’s remarkable, really, how much courage I sometimes need in order to do things, even, and perhaps especially, things I very much want to do. 

I made a few copies of my work so I could begin to experiment with the watercolors before placing them on my design. As I played with the colors, I noticed how they interacted with one another, and how they presented when placed together. It was fun, it taught me a lot, and it increased my confidence.

While experimenting and painting my actual piece, I was constantly stopping, looking, thinking, wondering. I looked from different angles — sometimes by changing the angle of the paper, and at others the angle of my head. I read an article that suggested the angled head posture is a sign of curiosity — trying to understand, to see in different ways, and to orient our ears in a way to gather more information. How cool is that? I laughed to myself thinking, ah, that is what I do when I’m listening or deep in concentration — nice to know it suggests I’m always curious and helps me learn.

My painting process was a blend of intuitive work and critical thinking. I was happy to have the time, quiet, and opportunity to experiment, notice, wonder, and learn. I was fascinated by my eyes growing ability to distinguish between very subtle differences in color. It was interesting to become aware of the things I saw, and didn’t see, each time I looked. It seemed my brain was able to perceive new things with each new look — things my eyes had already seen but my brain hadn’t been ready to process.

I’m super happy with my process, and product.

So, back to my wonderful companions — curiosity, courage, and creativity. 

Curiosity.

Curiosity encourages me to engage and persevere. The curious person is constantly asking questions, and looking to discover new things. I love when it opens the door to new ways of seeing by pushing me to ask questions like why? and why not?

Creativity.

Creativity births new ideas and opportunities as I problem-find and problem-solve. Creative thinking encourages me to make new connections and see possibility.  It encourages me to be open to new ideas, and enables me to create things and ideas that didn’t exist before. Creative thinking is crucial in our ever changing and increasingly complex world.

Courage.

Courage fosters my curiosity, creativity, and learning. With courage I am more willing and able to take risks, think, and learn.

My best work, learning, and enjoyment come when I am curious, courageous, and creative. If my best work, learning and enjoyment are championed by curiosity, courage, and creativity, so too for my students.

So I’m back to asking questions, and thinking about why, why not, and how might we?

Metacognition:

Do I encourage metacognition– even in Kindergarten? Do I teach them the word? What structures are in place in my learning environment that encourage my learners to value their own thinking — sometimes even over the solution?  When do they have the time to notice, think about, and document their own thinking? Perhaps even more powerful  — how do I discourage it? What are the subtle ways I value the end result over the process?

Curiosity:

Do I value and model curiosity? Am I teaching my students to wonder, ask questions, and strive for understanding? Do I provide time, opportunity, and my presence to their questions, wondering, learning, and understanding? And again, how might I unknowingly or unintentionally discourage questioning and self directed learning?

Courage:

Do I honor the fear my learners may feel — especially when they are deeply invested in learning or doing something? What strategies do I teach them to help them increase their own courage? Have I created an infrastructure in my learning space that can help them find the right level of challenge — neither too easy or too hard — so as to grow their courage? Do my learners and I celebrate mistakes, and actively search for learning and beauty within our mistakes? Am I courageous enough to allow my learners to fail? Am I creative and sensitive enough to help them learn from their mistakes and fail forward? How might I be foiling their attempts to strengthen their courage?

Creativity:

Do my students understand the power of creative thinking? Do I encourage dreaming, wondering, fantastical ideas? Is there time in the day for my learners to experiment, tinker,  and make? Am I encouraging creative thinking as well as doing? Are my learners empowered to find problems that mean something to them, and search for solutions? Am I patient, courageous, curious, and creative enough to find ways to allow my learners to find their own answers and way of doing things? Do I share my creativity without usurping theirs?

So much to consider. For now, I will let these thoughts ferment in the deep recesses of my mind. I’m on leave, and need to focus my energy on my health.

Possibility and Fantabulousness in Quarantine

The other day a colleague shared a link about how to force a copy to be made of a google doc, sheet, slide, or drawing, when you attempt to download it. What a great idea! Now no one has to remember to make a copy, or risk changing your original by mistake.

While I was on the Shake Up Learning site learning how to do that, I clicked on a few other things I found interesting. My absolute favorite was her magnetic poetry board that featured small white rectangles with black lettered words, waiting to be placed on a retro mint green refrigerator! Oh my GOSH!!! So good.

After playing for a bit, I noticed she had a free mini course about how to make the magnetic boards. I wasted no time clicking on that link.

I listened, played, and created a magnetic board for my Kindergartners. It was lovely, but a bit too complicated. Back to the drawing board I went.

Finally I decided I’d create a board that had space to create sentences in the middle, while holding the words on the top and bottom of the slide. This would allow the Kindergartners to create the sentences by clicking and dragging.

I shared it as an optional assignment.

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When you are finished with your other projects, please consider teaming with me as an Official Tester of Our Kindergarten Virtual Magnetic Words Board.

I can’t come put magnets on your refrig, so I had to do it on the computer. I learned some new skills, and used them to make word “magnets” as well as a place for you to create sentences, poems, lists, or other things we haven’t yet imagined, on your computer.

This is the first time I’ve tried this, so I’m not sure how it will work for you on your device, or how much you will enjoy it. But I’d really like to know.

If you’re ready to be brave, resilient, I can do it Kindergartners, click here. Make a copy, and see what you can do. Try it for a few days. I’ll be waiting for your thoughts, and your sentences.

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I was sure they would except the challenge. But, I had no idea what I’d get in return. I waited, with hopeful anticipation.

Slowly their responses began filling my email inbox. They were great! Each one showed me the spirit, resilience, and all around awesomeness of the student who did the work.

Their sentences speak volumes about who they are, how they see themselves, and what they are experiencing and thinking. I gotta say, they filled my heart with joy! Take a look at a few:

Yes, yes indeed, I do feel all the love!

Fantabulous, right? I included a few words in their word bank that were a little less than positive – yell, cry, worries. I added them to honor and validate the reality that we might want to yell, cry, or be worried. They didn’t choose them — except to suggest — after a long line of things they do — love, laugh, imagine, and create — they don’t yell. That actually made me laugh out loud.

Curious to consider, but true none-the-less, this fantabulousness happened because of the quarantine.

Because we’re home and not together in our school, I needed to rethink how to do what I would normally do in our classroom. How could I give them open ended opportunities to create with words? How could I allow them to share themselves and their ideas? How could I do some formative assessment?

Living during this pandemic I have a bit more time, and am experiencing a good deal more stress. So what could I do? I could try to follow my passion to learn and create. So when this opportunity to learn and get caught up in the flow of creativity came my way, I eagerly embraced it.

I think this fantabulousness also happened because of all the work we put in together pre-quarantine. Not just the work to develop skills, but the work to develop relationships.

Everything about our time together — even now — is about relationships. Relationships with arms, hearts, and big beautiful brains, wide open to embrace each other and all we bring to one another.

We say good morning, inquire how the other is, look each other in the eye, and share our thoughts ideas and feelings. We laugh, and sometimes we cry. Our relationship is based on trust, love, openness to possibility, wonder, willingness to risk, and mutual respect.

For sure, that relationship allowed me to take a risk, do something new, and ask my students and their parents to join me in my experiment. Undoubtedly it gave them courage and freedom as well.

We remain apart, but at the same time together — together in all our fantabulousness!

Be A Bit More “Freddish”

Just read this 2018 article in The Atlantic – Mr. Rogers Had a Simple Set of Rules for Talking to Children.

Mr. Rogers was something else. He was insightful, caring, intentional, thoughtful, and creative. I’m sure he was much more, but that’s what I took away from this article.

We could learn a lot from Mr. Rogers.

“He insisted that every word, whether spoken by a person or a puppet, be scrutinized closely …”

What if, in our classrooms, we had that same insistence regarding our choice of words?

Yes, a classroom is quite different from Mr. Rogers’ TV show. He had the luxury of a script he could study and edit, as well as writers who would help him perfect his words. We are often working in the moment, on the fly. That makes it harder, but not impossible!

We don’t have scripts and writers, but we do have plans and colleagues. We also have the opportunity to reflect and revise. What would our plans, lectures, mini-lessons, conferences, and conversations sound like if our minds, hearts, and language were a bit more “Freddish”?

They’d be pretty fantabulous, don’t you think? Let’s start a movement.

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*According to the Atlantic article,  Rogers’ team of writers coined the term “Freddish” as a way to describe Rogers’ on air language.

 

Wow! What an Experience!

Sometime tired, rainy days hold untold treasures! I was on vacation a couple weeks ago, deep into a tired and rainy day. Lazing about, and looking for something to do, I discovered the LPCA was offering a 3 hour watercolor class. I hoped for good things and secured my spot.

Sarah Yoeman — one of four artists featured in the LPCA The World Through Watercolor exhibit was the instructor. She is a talented watercolorist, and a superb teacher.

The workshop was filled with instruction, experimenting, playing, painting, conversation, laughter, and lots of learning. I learned about paint, paper, brushes, gravity, erasing, taking risks, value, shapes, moving paint, using water, and being in the moment. I took photos and notes. I experimented, kibitzed, taped, painted, and created watercolors I enjoy.

My brother joined me for the workshop. We spent a lot of time looking at Sarah’s art, and our own. We discussed the things we noticed. We talked about value and shape, and how she created various images.

It was a great afternoon. I left with increased skill, confidence and joy.

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When I looked at my notes that evening, I discovered I had inadvertently skipped a few pages in my journal. Eee gads. I wasn’t loving that mistake. I stared at the blank pages, wondering what to do. After a few moments, inspiration hit. Why not fill them with my reflections about the experience?!

My thoughts quickly filled those pages, and overflowed onto others. I was struck by my level of enjoyment, motivation, and ability to engage deeply with the process. It felt like I had experienced 3 hours of an optimal teaching-learning relationship.

With that thought, I excitedly thought of my paper — Managing the Classroom for Creativity. I wondered if I might find all the elements of my amended KEYS classroom management system in Sarah’s workshop. I pulled up the paper to remind myself of all 8 points in the system and compared them to my experience in the workshop.

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Freedom

Our goal for the workshop was to explore the world of watercolors and  let Sarah guide us in creating your own watercolor work or art.

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Even the goal offers a great deal of freedom — a watercolor work or art. Sarah shared information, made suggestions, and demonstrated technique. Then she set us free to explore and experiment.

We were free to use one sheet of paper or more. We could section the paper into multiple sections, or keep it as one. If we didn’t like our piece we could try again on the back. She suggested we stand as we paint — giving us her reasons for doing so — but she allowed us to explore and choose what worked best for us. While she demonstrated various techniques, she didn’t require us to use any one in particular.  She encouraged us to experiment, be bold, and take risks.

Positive Challenge

The ideal level of challenge is one that engages without overwhelming. Sarah helped maintain this level of challenge by affording me the freedom to choose my challenge. But, interestingly enough, I found it was her presence and interaction with me that helped me maintain the optimal level of challenge. As I became overwhelmed, she offered help in the form of a thought, a suggestion, or simple encouragement. If I took too easy a route, she encouraged boldness. And, she normalized the struggle inherent in positive challenge by freely sharing her angst with her process and product.

Supervisory Encouragement

Right off the bat, Sarah shared The Three Laws of Art:

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They cracked everyone up and helped to establish an environment free from fear and worry. The laws suggested failure was to be expected, and helped us to accept it with a modicum of grace and ease.

Although Sarah was far more accomplished than us, she interacted with us as equals. It was clear she had more experience, expertise, talent, and knowledge. It was clear she was the teacher. But, or perhaps, because that was true, treating me as a colleague, a fellow artist, helped elevate my own sense of self, and consequently my thought, process, and product!

Sarah wandered about the room, observing, noticing, and commenting on our technique and product. She found things in everyone’s work to notice, praise, or share with the group. She pointed out the beauty she saw in entire paintings, color choice, shapes, expression of depth, or small portions of our work. Sometimes she encouraged new points of view by physically turning, or moving our paintings farther from us. By doing these things, she showed us the value of our work.

Work Group Support

Our group was diverse in experience and ability. Sarah’s banter and sharing of our work helped me to feel at ease. I began to appreciate my fellow painters expertise, courage, risk taking, and ideas. I was challenged by some of them, but always felt safe and secure.

Sufficient Resources

The materials we used in this workshop were excellent. We had unlimited access to lovely paper, juicy, pigment-rich paint, and professional level brushes of various sizes. This spoke to the importance of our work, and elevated us to the level of “real” artists. I appreciated that tremendously!

20180821_150037-01Access to these quality resources helped us succeed and accomplish our goals.  At one point I was having a tough time. Sarah happened by me, and suggested I use a different size paintbrush. Then looking at the paint I was using, she went and got her own palette to share with me! She brought several of her own palettes and brushes to share with us, and did so with a great generosity, and zero sense of indebtedness or worry on our part.

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Some of the best resources Sarah shared with us were her artistic-eye, her brain, her experience, and her hands and skills. These were invaluable.

Organizational Support

While just a short workshop, Sarah established great organizational support for us. She shared her vision of creativity available to all of us. She constantly suggested problem-solving strategies to help us succeed. Risk taking, boldness, and fresh ideas were welcomed and encouraged.

Profound image of child/student

Loris Malaguzzi (Reggio Emilia) knew children are “strong, rich, and powerful.” He would have loved Sarah. She saw each of us this way, and she helped us to see it as well.

Profound purpose and possibility of education/learning:

It’s clear Sarah loves to paint, and experiences something profound when she does so. She shared that love with us, and invited us to enter into the depth of the experience. And, I think, she gets the value of what she is doing when she teaches and shares with others.

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Every single one of the components of the modified KEYS approach to classroom management had been present and employed in Sarah’s workshop! WOW!!!

My research had been about other people — those in literature I had read, as well as my own students. This was the first time I experienced the Amended KEYS Classroom as a learner. Let me tell you, it was powerful!

Having experienced them myself, increases my desire to intentionally and deliberately incorporate them into my learning environment and management practice. It also makes me wonder how I might share this information on a grander scale?

 

POST SCRIPT: 

I blogged about my angst as I painted a few days after the workshop. At first I was incredibly surprised by the intensity of my angst, and my seeming lack of any learning and ability!

Taking a break, I sunned myself on a rock, feet dangling into the freezing river water. I took a moment to breathe and assess the situation. Certainly I didn’t lose all my learning and ability. But clearly something had changed.

I realized the change was that I was painting by myself. I no longer had the resource of Sarah and her skill and expertise right beside me. That is huge! Huge as a learner, and huge as an educator.

I didn’t enjoy the angst, but I’m glad I experienced it. And, I’m super glad I took a moment to reflect and had that epiphany.  Now to remember it, allow it to inform my practice, and look for opportunities to share it with my students.

 

 

 

We Are All Beginners

I had grand plans, this summer. I would create art, progress on the ukulele, nap, travel, read, learn, and refresh my body, mind, and spirit. I haven’t done nearly as much of any of those things as I might have liked, but I have done some, and it’s been wonderful!

Lately, I’ve developed a love for watercolors. I’m no pro, but I enjoy dabbling. I think my love affair started when, on a rainy day, unable to hike, I wandered into a local bookstore in search of a literary diversion. Instead, of a good book, I discovered a wall of art supplies — real, professional grade art supplies. Paint, paper, watercolors, pencils, pens, rulers, paint brushes, and more! No lie, for a moment, my knees went weak! I adore creating art, and all the tools and supplies connected to it. It brings me great joy to simply touch beautiful art tools and materials. I left the store with a simple watercolor travel kit, and a watercolor paper block. I was hooked.

The other day I discovered these beauties. 37635898_10217065659493192_6164546794509303808_o

If it were appropriate to describe watercolor as delicious, these would be the ones! Of course, perhaps there are other, more expensive, more professional ones that are even more delicious, but for me, I was satisfied.

I enjoyed looking at, and admiring them for a few days. Then, as luck would have it, I found this wonderful artist online — Watercolor Wednesdays. She has some fabulous videos on youtube.

I watched a few, and was impressed by her process and product, as well as the spirit she brought to the table. I decided to break out my supplies and give it a go. Here are my products from today.

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Nice, right? Not perfect by any means, but I think I am beginning to understand more of the essence of watercolors. By that I mean, I am beginning to understand a bit more about how they work, and what they are meant to do, as well as how I might work with them.

It was a fascinating experience to take a breath and jump in. Don’t get me wrong, it was mildly daunting. But, it was fun!

In one of the first lessons I watched, she said she doesn’t worry about the end result.  “Really?” I thought. “You aren’t concerned about the end result?!!!” I decided to set aside my skepticism, embrace her point of view, and not worry about the product. Instead, I would just paint. Removing my focus and feelings from the final product, I was more able to be in the moment. Existing more fully in each moment as it happened, I was more able to experiment, observe, notice, learn, and do.

It was fun, but not particularly easy. It’s tough sometimes, to allow myself to be a beginner. As a beginner, I’m vulnerable. I must embrace my foibles as well as my less than perfect products. I have to be brave, and not fret about what others may think about me, my process, or my product. Perhaps most difficult, I must not be hard on myself as I experience all of the difficulty of learning something new. If I can manage to do all that, or at least some of it, I am more able to enter into the joy of discovery, and the exquisite, child-like joy of one who is discovering something new and fantabulous!

As I sat and looked at my finished paintings, I had an epiphany!

This is what I ask my students to do — every moment of every school day. Try new things. Embrace being a beginner. Be brave. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Don’t worry what others think. Don’t fret. Be kind to yourself. Keep trying. Be in the moment. Experience the joy!

Wow, right?!

It makes me think differently about the work educators and students do every day. It’s profound. Learning to read, doing math, writing stories, interacting with each other. It’s all like my experience with the watercolors. We are often beginners, and that can be intimidating. But it is also powerful. There is joy and incredible potential in being a beginner. Perhaps even more joy and potential than in being an expert.

I have a lot to think about!

I want to take this epiphany and let it help me grow as an educator and lead learner in my learning space. For now, I am going to think about how I might give my girls more time and opportunities to experience the joy and potential of being a beginner. I want to think how I might shine the light more brightly on the ways I learn, struggle, try, persevere, find joy in little things, and embrace me as me.  And, I want to find time for them to be in the moment — able to explore and try, without fretting about the product. Hopefully this will enable them to more fully understand and experience the essence of whatever it is they are exploring.

I’m excited to see where this light will lead me — and you!

Comments, thoughts, and stories of your own journey are always welcome!

The Currency of Hope and Beauty

Artist Ekua Holmes is planting 10,000 sunflowers, and changing her part of the world.

“Artists deal in the currency of hope,” Holmes said. “We deal in the currency of beauty, and our job is to reflect back to society what we see.” (Boston Globe, July 11, 2018)

Oh my gosh! YES!

As creatives — artists, thinkers, possibilitarians, musicians, writers, makers – we are about beauty.

We look for beauty. We find beauty. And when we cannot find it, we create it. We live in the realm of possibility — perhaps because of our belief in beauty and hope  — and we invite others join us there.

I love that idea! Beauty, hope, and possibility are my currency!

Then I thought: Isn’t this true of us as educators as well? Or, perhaps shouldn’t this be true of us as educators? Shouldn’t beauty, hope, and possibility be our currency as well?

Isn’t it our job to recognize the beauty, hope and possibility that exists in our students, our admins, our parents, and our selves? Don’t we, everyday, endeavor to find and illuminate the beauty, hope and possibility inherent in learning, struggling, wondering, failing, falling, persisting, discovering, collaborating, and simply being?

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Yes! Yes, we do.

Beauty, hope, and possibility. It’s part of us as educators. It’s our currency. It’s our strength.

Let’s embrace it, live it, and offer it to all those around us.

Play is Fun and Powerful

The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, and the Toy Association  collaborated to host a Genius of Play event at the Smithsonian on April 25th. I had the distinct joy of being asked to be one of the panelists! Of course, I accepted.

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The panelists included:

Vikas Gupta — Co-founder and CEO of Wonder Workshop, and maker of the award-winning Dash, Dot and Cue robots. James McLurkin —  Inventor and Senior Hardware Engineer at Google. Jeri Robinson — Vice President of Early Childhood Initiatives at the Boston Children’s Museum. And, Me, Molly James — Creativity Researcher, and Kindergarten Teacher at Kent Place School.

Our conversation on the panel centered on play and its place in learning and schools, creativity, and innovation.

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Have you ever considered how you would define play?

I am always thinking about play and creativity, but for the weeks preceding the panel, I did so with increased attention. I observed my students, and noticed all the remarkable insights, skills, discoveries, and joys they experienced as they played. I read articles, thought, and chatted with fellow creatives.

At times, as if it were to keep my head from exploding, I would have to write. I would write streams of consciousness, questions, wonderings, ideas, and things to look up. With those thoughts safely recorded in my notebook, my brain seemed free for new ideas and questions. This continued for many cycles.. Then, on the train to DC, and at breakfast the morning of the event, several things became crystal clear.

As I rode the train, I wondered how I would succinctly express my ideas. I could talk about play and creativity forever, but how could I do it as part of a panel, in a few sound bites? I decided to see what the dictionary had to say about  play.

I was shocked. I hadn’t read the definitions previously because I didn’t want to risk plagiarizing any of their ideas. I wanted my definition to be my own — from my own experience and research as an educator, and a person who plays. After reading the definitions, I realized there was no chance I’d be stealing their words.

The definitions I found were remarkably different from mine. They made play sound frivolous, purposeless, and unimportant. Nothing was further from what I believe to be the truth.

With these definitions as the way play is explained and understood, it’s no wonder it’s sometimes difficult to convince others of the significance of play in life, learning, creativity, and innovation. I would LOVE the dictionaries to have a definition of play that more correctly explains its essence, and highlights its importance. I wonder how one goes about getting a definition in the dictionary changed?

While perhaps not short enough for an entry in Merriam Webster, or dictionary.com, here is what I consider a much more accurate and appropriate definition of play.

Play is a fun and powerful way of interacting with the world — with people, things, thoughts, and ideas. The fun of play is a large part of its power. When we play we laugh, we let go of worry, we fret less, and we breathe more.  This helps our brains — regardless of our ages or tasks — be more open and able to explore possibilities, entertain new ideas, and learn. When we play we are so much more willing to take risks — and even when we fail, we discover that failure isn’t the end, instead it’s the opportunity to begin the game again — stronger and smarter!

I was not alone in that understanding. All the panelists shared experiences and beliefs in the importance and power of play for all ages — at home, work, and school. It was great to hear such a unified message from a panel of people with very different backgrounds and occupations.

There were so many other great thoughts and ideas presented and discussed about the importance of play. When the video is posted on the Smithsonian page I will blog again and link to it.

The whole event  — arriving early and chatting with Jeri; meeting Monica, James, and Vikas; laughing and sharing our hopes to “not sound like idiots”; the receptions; and the panel itself — was spectacular. There was a ton of brilliance, thinking, collaboration, humility, awesomeness, laughter, honesty, passion, and playfulness on that stage.

Being part of this panel for the  Innovative Lives Series helped me to more fully embrace my expertise and fantabulousness! I presented with the big boys and girls, and in the process, I discovered, I am one of them!

 




Post script:

May 2014 I earned my MA Creative Thinking. A little over a year later, I had this blog, and a published paper. Four years later, an invitation to the Smithsonian.

Wow!

Gotta give a huge shout out to Karl K. Jeffries and his program at UCLan!  You, Karl, are a spectacular mentor, and creative thinker. And, a huge thank you to the many others who walk this creative, playful, fantabulous journey with me. I’m incredibly grateful!

 

 

 

Learning through Rapid Prototyping

I recently presented a workshop on Design Thinking with a fabulous NJAIS colleague.  It was an incredibly thought-provoking experience for me. Teaching educators about using design thinking in the classroom forced me — or, more correctly, allowed me  — to immerse myself, again, in a plethora of creativity and design thinking resources. I read, listened and thought deeply, as I searched for the connections, and inspirations to share with the participants.

The idea of rapid prototyping was particularly provocative. It’s not the norm for education, and yet it has the potential to be profoundly valuable. By prototyping rapidly — with ideas, strategies, or products — we gather large amounts of information in a relatively short period of time. In the process, we discover our own strength and agency, and we experience the hidden potential of failure.

Rapid prototyping and gathering information from each failure, is a natural mechanism for learning, problem solving, and innovating.  I experienced its value as I watched my students attempt the Tower of Hanoi math game.

I prepped them for the process. I emboldened them in their willingness to try. I told them they might not get it  — the 1st, the 5th or the 100th time —  but they should keep trying, and learning with each move, mistake or failure. After listening to the rules, they gathered their three blocks, and set to work figuring out the puzzle.

One of the  girls was  the epitome of rapid prototyping. Rarely taking her eyes off the blocks, she moved them without discussion.She made hundreds of moves. She appeared undeterred by her failure to solve the puzzle, and seemed to find joy and interest in the process.

The number and quickness of her moves, might suggest her moves were aimless or unstudied. Someone watching might  wonder whether she were learning anything, or making any progress. But, looking at it with the eye of a design thinker, it became clear she was rapidly prototyping.

 

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Her movements were speedy, and many. But, they were definitely not without observation, noticing, thought, or purpose. As she made her moves, she clearly learned about the blocks, the puzzle board, and the ways in which everything worked together. After what seemed like hundreds of moves, she paused, looking at the board. Then, she  made the seven moves necessary to solve the puzzle!

(I particularly love this photo that captured the rapid movement of her hands as a blur of motion.)

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It was fascinating and a bit humbling to watch her! I was struck by how wonderfully it illustrated how we learn, as well as my role as an educator.

I must create a culture and environment that supports my students. A culture with resources that bolster their knowledge and understanding, while encouraging them to be brave, and to believe in their ability to work and learn. I must give them provocations and opportunities to problem find, and problem solve.

Then, I must step back and let them do their thing. I must resist any urge to jump in and rescue them before they actually need my help. I must sit in my own discomfort, and trust. Trust the process of learning. Trust creativity and design thinking. Trust rapid prototyping and learning from failure. And mostly, trust them!

Finally I must breathe! My breath helps me pause and gift my students with time and space. It helps me remain calm and confident, unafraid as my students heroically brave the unknown.

It’s a spectacular process that inspires and teaches me. My students — our students — have a tremendous amount of courage, insight and capacity to do and learn. All they need is the opportunity — and our trust and breath.

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.

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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.

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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.

When the Smithsonian Invites …

You say “GET OUT OF TOWN!!” Then, you accept!

I have been meaning to blog about this for quite some time, but as I began to investigate the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation  I kept finding new things that made me go “WOW!” and kept me from blogging.

If you’ve never given their website a look, you really should. They’ve got some awesome thinking and resources.

Look at some of the things they believe, and attempt to live:

“In Spark!Lab, we believe everyone is inventive, and hope that our visitors continue to create and innovate long after they’ve outgrown us.”

I LOVE this. Even though I’ve read it several times, it still makes me shake my head. That’s exactly what I think and hope about my Kindergartners. They’re all creative, inventive, and fantabulous! My hope and intent is that they experience, learn, embrace, and live those truths, with me, and long after they’ve left me!

Another post said “Lemelson team members pride ourselves on ‘living the mission’ as creative problem solvers.” They tell the story of  trying to rescue a lost  phone, and document the process at the same time.

I laughed out loud as I read this story. This is my life as a Kindergarten teacher. Always trying to work with my girls to figure out ways to make things possible — all the while doing my best to snap photos.

And, as I think about it, this is my Kindergartners life too! They are living the mission as creative problem solvers as well! The other day I discovered two girls — bottoms up in the air, faces on the ground, arms reaching under a block cabinet — all the while talking furiously with one another. What was going on, you ask?

Someone had washed a yogurt container, and when they placed it in the ‘use for making’ basket, the container fell behind the cabinet.  The girls could squeeze their arms under the cabinet, but they couldn’t reach the bottle. The flurry of conversation was about the blocks and other items they were trying out as tools to retrieve the container.

To add to their challenge, our classroom has art projects taped to the floor and the edge of the closest art project is about 18 inches from the edge of the block cabinet.

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The block cabinet is on wheels, and a visiting teacher volunteered to move it. The girls rejected this simple solution because they didn’t want to risk harming the art project. It was fantabulous to watch their intentness, inventiveness, and collaboration as they worked to retrieve the container.

Then there is the Lemelson Center strategic plan .

(This is just a small portion of their plan. I’ve put their thoughts in bullets form to make them easier to discuss here.)

  • Value creativity and embrace the potential rewards of risk-taking.
  • Inform and delight audiences and convey the enthusiasm and joy that are integral to the invention process
  • Encourage visitors to participate and see themselves as inventive
  • Push the limits of exhibition design to advance visitors’ curiosity and active learning
  • Our work has the potential to inspire millions of Americans and billions of people worldwide to view themselves as having inventive capacity and to build the skills and confidence needed to overcome barriers to innovation.

At the risk of repeating myself, I love these ideas, and they are a large part of my strategic plan as well. Perhaps it seems odd that a Kindergarten teacher would have some of the same strategic plans, hopes, visions, dreams, and goals, as the center of a major organization. But, if you think about it, it makes perfect sense, and seems to me, should be true of every educator.

Educators do remarkable work, with remarkable people — colleagues, admins, parents, and students. These constituents have limitless potential for imagining, thinking, creating, making, and impacting the world for good. Our work — informed and driven by our plans, hopes, visions and dreams — holds the possibility for profound and far-reaching impact. What we do influences those we  interact with each day. This in turn influences every individual and problem they encounter, now, and in the future.

I’d love to tweak their ideas — making them more mine — and create a canvas of some sort for my learning space.

  • Value creativity.
  • Welcome cognitive and creative risk-taking.
  • Be open to possibility.
  • Teach for delight.
  • Nothing without enthusiasm and joy.
  • Embrace and encourage curiosity.
  • Enable active learning.
  • Live the profoundness inherent in teaching and learning.
  • Believe in the incredible power and potential of my learners.

If I do actually make a canvas, I’ll be sure to share. Until then be inspired, and embrace the profound awesomeness that is you, your work, and those around you!