Saturday, February 16, 2013

Week 1 Reading: All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking)...

All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) in Kindergarten

Mitch Resnick

The above chart is Mitch Resnick's rendering of the kindergarten model of learning. He argues that this model based on imagination, creativity, play, sharing, and reflection is ideally suited to the changing nature of the 21st century. Traditional kindergartens are full of exploration and collaboration, true markers of innovative learning. He describes this process by the following example:

“In traditional kindergartens, children are constantly designing, creating, experimenting, and exploring. Two children might start playing with wooden blocks; over time, they build a collection of towers. A classmate sees the towers and starts pushing his toy car between them. But the towers are too close together, so the children start moving the towers further apart to make room for the cars. In the process, one of the towers falls down. After a brief argument over who was at fault, they start talking about how to build a taller and stronger tower. The teacher shows them pictures of real-world  skyscrapers, and they notice that the bottoms of the buildings are wider than the tops. So they decide to rebuild their block tower with a wider base than before.  This type of process is repeated over and over in kindergarten."

He believes that schools should become more like kindergarten. The opposite is occurring; kindergarten is becoming like the rest of school. As an educator, I absolutely agree with this. Most kindergartners come do school excited and eager to learn. Why? I believe humans are naturally programmed to learn. It stimulates them, fulfills them, and gives them purpose. Schools, with worksheets, homework, manipulative reward systems, and outdated curriculum, systematically squash the intrinsic learning drive of most little humans. That is one thing the United States education system does fantastically well. 

Resnick sees great potential in technology. In the past, it was very difficult to acquire the materials necessary for students to reproduce the cycle referenced above. Wood blocks work for the primary grades, but they simply do not as students get older. Computers and other advanced technology may hold the answer. These technologies hold great creative energy for students of all ages. That is if they are used appropriately. Too often kids are given computers to repeat math facts or to look up information. They need to be used to encouraged creative diversity. In this way the cycle can be reproduced. As Resnick says, "We explicitly include elements and features that can be used in different ways."

Beside the highlights above, one of the most interesting parts of the article was the discussion on play. Resnick writes, "But as children grow older, educators and parents often talk about play dismissively, referring to activities as “just play,” as if play is separate and even in opposition to learning.” This statement carries a ton of weight to me. I firmly believe children have too much pressure on them, most of it unnecessary. Children can learn so much from tinkering and playing with their peers. Great discovery is gleaned from such play. In fact, play and learning are linked, emotion well being and cognition go hand in hand. Rote memorization, teaching to the test, and rigorous instruction complemented by hours of meaningless homework, does not allow for kids to learn and grow in meaningful ways. As Resnick points out, it also leaves them ill-prepared for the demands and innovation of a brave new economic framework.

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