Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sir Ken Robinson, Creativity and Pole Dancing

I had the great fortune of seeing Sir Ken Robinson in person twice this week.  Every time that I hear him, I re-examine my own actions in my school.  His thoughts on creativity are logical and path that we should be following.  Are we educating our children based on the skills that they will need, are we limiting their potential because we have narrow scopes as to what defines a successful student?

I kept on writing down some great quotes, and he is a master of powerful quotes.  He is
brilliantly funny, and some of his tangential comments are hysterical.  I believe that Sir Ken is person who can discuss the fact that dogs cannot pole dance and link it to education and creativity.  He was talking about the settlement patterns of humans, related to soil conditions, water availability, ports and so on, but that Las Vegas made no sense.  Las Vegas is in the middle of a desert with access to very little water and yet has been amongst the fastest growing cities in the United States.  Vegas was created on different principles then had existed before. Vegas -> Pole Dancing -> Dogs can't pole dance only humans can. 

Sir Ken is better in person that on video.  If you have not yet had a chance to see/hear him, you really should take the time.  Here are 3 links to different presentations that Sir Ken Robinson has done.
 Do Schools Kill Creativity
Bring on the Learning Revolution
Changing Education Paradigms

His views on education are bang on.  We seem to try to fit too many square pegs into round holes with many students being asked to follow the same course loads as their neighbour even if that is not the best path for them.  The time limitations are the same, the school year is the same, the blocks of time are the same.  We tend to use the same material with the same strategies even each year the classes are different and the kids are different.  He used a great metaphor that makes perfect sense:  A farmer knows that what made a successful harvest last year will not necessarily make a successful one this year. Conditions change and as those conditions change, they need to adapt to them.  Why are do many classes seem to be the same year in, year out.  Something else he said that brings this point home was that life is not linear but education is.

One of the more powerful comments that I heard was that creativity is a person's birthright.  Everyone is born with huge natural talent.  He defined creativity as putting imagination to work, it is the power to bring to mind things that are not present.  He showed a longitudinal study that measured creativity as the children aged.  When they were kindergarten-aged 98% scored at a genius level on creativity and as they aged the percentage of students who tested in the genius range decreased dramatically.

He often used the term organic, and linked it to culture, and that creativity was never dead but rather dormant.  He brought up Death Valley, the hottest and driest place in North America.  The reason that he discussed this was the fact that a few years ago it received about 7 inches of rain and suddenly, for a short time, flowers bloomed where they hadn't bloomed before.  I felt this was an excellent portrayal of a child's potential.  If you create the right culture in the classroom or at the school then the students will flourish.  Human resources are like natural resources, they are often buried and you have to find them.

He had an opportunity to work with Sir Paul McCartney and discussed Sir Paul's education.  Sir Paul mentioned that he hated music at school.  He and George Harrison, who attended the same school two years behind him, were both told that they had no talent.  Imagine having two members of the Beatles in your music class and not seeing their potential.  Will this continue to happen as we seem to define at schools useful and useless subjects.  If children are denied the arts and denied the opportunities to express themselves differently, how many other amazing people are we crushing?

As he was talking about the segmentation of the school curriculum it really got me thinking.  He mentioned that creative schools have creative timetables and do not separate everything into chunks.  Let's take Language Arts as an example.  Over the course of the year we might teach students poetry, expository writing, descriptive writing and so on.  Yet when it comes to projects and final assignments, how often is it limited to essay style paragraph writing with limited opportunities for the students to freely express their thoughts?  How many times does this occur in Science and Socials?  Do we allow students to write in verse, put together movies or presentations if they are more comfortable or better able to communicate their knowledge in different ways?  There is as much Art in Science as there is Science ad Art.  Why do they have to be segregated?

Sir Ken said that we are living in times of revolution, where things we take for granted are mistakes and things that we believe to be obvious are false.  We are in a crisis of of human resources where we process people in education with a certain type of role.  Students who are "quirky" tend to be shut down, when they try to do things differently they are told that it is wrong.  They begin to fear ridicule and failure.  If kids spend all day at school doing stuff they're not good at, they begin to feel as though they are no good at anything.

He said that great teachers make everything interesting.  If you are engaged, you do not watch the clock, you lose track of time.  He made reference to Ewa Mataya Laurance

He left us with some thoughts to process.  If the environment of the school/class makes a huge difference to how we feel, what changes can we make?  If being born is a miracle, what are we going to do with that miracle?  Lastly he discussed assessment.  He feels that assessment should be looking at the value and originality of the work under specific and relevant criteria.

We were very fortunate to have our Superintendent at our session as well as the BC Minister of Education.  Our Superintendent told us that he will support us in our endeavours to make this happen in our schools.  The challenge for me now is, what changes can I make to create the very environment that he describes.

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