Category Archives: creativity and brainstorming

A Blog posting…

A Rant about “Labels”

“Fresh before” does help us grocery shop- we can buy with ease products that we believe will stay fresh on our shelves or in our cupboards until consumed.  And when we understand about such labels that products may still be both tasty and healthful even after the stamped date- we can buy the products often on discount and not only save money on the goods, but also contribute to the environment via causing less waste and with the current public awareness of “less than perfect” produce being equally tasty and good, awareness is changing the way we shop for food-

Labels, and awareness of how they may be positive and negative at the same time is essential for all connected to Education. For every sign that used to be posted on a clasroom and which read “Failure is not an option” the counter (or opposite) sign in a Science lab might show Edison and his maxim about trying to find the right formula at least a thousand times.  What then is the “ideal sign” for a classroom wall?  WELCOME! and in here there will be no labels.  

For children learn quickly what is considered their own ability and their own strength in relation to the others in the classroom.  Affixing additional labels may help administration in using computers to slot the children into various groups- it doesn’t however help the students themselves.  Most labels in Education have to do with funding- how a school, or a district, or class, or individual students may receive “extra,”- and when the entire school district receives funding, the neighbourhood benefits- however, when a student is mislabeled the student may be removed from one group of peers and placed instead within a community of “misfits” to then on struggle to not only make sense of “Schooling” which becomes a place where little learning is happening, but to, if actually graduating – to graduate with the label of “problem, trouble, slow, applied, special needs, remedial,” and then either reject what schooling offered, or challenge this same system anyhow by going for a future that those labels couldn’t have predicted! In particular the concept of “Special needs” ranges from highly gifted and talented to students with multiple exceptionalities- who may also be gifted-and students who are mis identified as hyper or attention deficit when their inquiry or their attitude or their foundational knowledge base or their background makes the particular class and teacher student interaction one of challenge versus “empty vessel to be filled.”

In so many ways though, that concept of children as “empty vessels” must be overturned in favour of children as learners- period.  And children must challenge, everything and nearly everyone in order to grow- new ideas will not come unless children and adults are both thinking, and both actively willing to be “imperfect,”  to make, create or build something that might not in the completed project match the original vision, but then to question how to improve upon the construction.  Classrooms where inquiry is respected have students who challenge themselves, and who bring extra information to the benefit of the group- like in the workforce where cultures aimed towards growth will find employees participating beyond clocked hours in contemplating how and where to focus energy on improving, and no one is saying or groaning “homework” because the problem solving is the challenge and the actions to be taken provide a stimulation for brain and body- healthy challenges that permit contradictions and design thinking.

We speak of “design” as if it were a simple process, when in fact design is a holistic attitude towards the combination of use (function) and form.  And then in schools we over crowd, underpay, and underfund the neediest of school districts, whose students may even later be sent as “overflow” to higher income neigbourhood schools and once again relabelled; how to “use” as in place these extra students? with the goal often of continuing to claim “setting standards” which may translate to keeping the formal test results up and proving on paper that learning took place.  Integration?  Diversity? Ministry tests as goals or as cumbersome to the whole concept of education?

Labels matter- we all are aware of this – and even the popular “you matter” becomes another slogan when much needed time per pupil, per person, per individual is shortened to mandated minutes, and a stopwatch always clicking off minutes prevents the actual interactions – creating encounters instead of communication.  Young, youngish, older, and seasoned Educators can agree that statistics do not capture commmunity, that labels, even the so called positive ones, may mask the personality of the person and that as human beings, each of us recognizes almost instinctively when in fact we do matter- and when we simply do not or have not “fit in.”

The produce table is now selling “less than perfect” vegetables; and in many elementary schools the notion of wearing “less than perfect” hats continues to catch on- almost like a movement spread from teacher to teacher, and community to community, this new ideal of accepting “not perfect” doesn’t mean “discard” but instead encourages taking a chance- try the produce – try the exercise- try and try again.

For 2017- do “try” until the right combination of people and place and actions allow for the almost unexpected exclamation “perfect!” till we begin- again.  Best wishes…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dressing Up, Acting Out, Enjoying being a Student!

 

Junior High and the first foray into – wait for it- Makeup!

and in schools today there are still students who exit their homes, faces scrubbed, to make it to the school washrooms fifteen minutes early- in time to apply the newest in eye shadows or lipsticks etc. to apply a slightly different persona for the duration of the school day- a little flirty maybe, a little tough?

Not only the girls – many a young man adjusts his cap, the walk, the talk, the total “attitude” to either appear cool or to be what he considers necessary to “fit in” and there is the unspoken recognition that some of it is also to be different from the adult expectations of the day. And Schools furiously dictate notes and send home written mandates for what is expected dress, and style, as if this surface view ever truly reflected the students posturing, or the student’s understanding of where they fit into the hierarchy of a campus, the code of “behaviour” that operates beyond principal, teacher or family and is centered in “teenager” – the wonderful growing space between twelve and twenty!

Shouldn’t we be celebrating these changes instead of being afraid of them? Fashion after all is a clear example of not only how ephemeral “the right outfit” may be, but of politics, the arts, technology, power structures, group versus individual behavior, male versus female dominance, cliques, teams, belonging and experimenting. And while our children may not actually wish for our votes of approval regarding their specific ways to not necessarily rebel but indeed to grow, we needn’t be the ones constantly worrying about societal approval when instead the people truly deserving if unable to ask for our approval are our kids! And kids do find it hard to ask for that so very basic statement of “I trust you!” that some parents forget is central to allowing children to take chances- for that trust doesn’t and mustn’t mean that if a child wishes to share his/her being upset regarding anything, that guilt (the result of disappointing trust) be laid on top of anyone – or any other type of discomfort.

Guilt is not a cleansing nor a helpful emotion- and the discretions kids make rarely deserve such a depth of negative control; instead children require the openness to discuss what did or not appeal- what did or did not in their opinion “work.” And to be given the time to communicate without pressure to conform. 

We worry- that is part of our role as adults, but we mustn’t worry so much that we forget to indulge and enjoy the wonderful uniqueness that our own children display- thankfully not clones– young, growing, learning, and displaying their own personalities enroute to being what society will later label, “adults.”   In the interim, let’s note their individuality with respect, let’s smile at what they find amusing, let’s recognize who they feel are hurtful, and do what we can to understand how they must, to grow, experiment on their own- not living vicariously through an older generation but making their own mark and establishing and dismissing their own set of goals and dreams while they gradually and sometimes fearlessly break away from the staid and the safe to attempt to understand what skills they possess, how these skills can be further developed, and whom they might inquire of for opportunity to learn more.

Principals, teachers, administrative staff and parents will continue to appear to be communicating about the kids in the exchange of letters home or phone calls or in person “meet the teacher,” nights, but the reality is after and for a number of years all of the above will be talking about and around the children, while the children make plans themselves to challenge one another, to encourage one another, and to spread the very basic attitude of “growing up” by either supporting one another or in the worst of situations, ostracizing one another.  The best we as the recognized adults may do is be there, to listen without preaching, and to love without scolding.  We owe this to each new generation. They depend on us for it.

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For an interesting overview of clothing and the concept of vulgarity- tops too short, hair too spiked, pants worn too low, anything “different,” an excerpt on the “idea of vulgarity” (remember people make these rules up and they change constantly over time!) –  is shared in the recent Harpers Bazaar magazine Sept. 2016 – Vulgarity-The Basic Instinct-As Joan Juliet Buck writes- “in your face is never out of style!”

School uniforms may be the rule- but kids- they just wanna be cool! Remember the old mantra- “Don’t sweat the small stuff” – and focus on encouraging instead of confining. Ms Buck also mentioned “Decibels” and tiny children enjoying a “shrill shriek” – enter a Junior or senior High School and listen for a brief moment! “piercing shrieks for the sheer fun of rendering the air” and laughter, and …yup- Learning!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Encouraging Student Voice

We often do “would you rather…” with children, and young adults as a quick and generally pleasant way to generate free flowing discussion and an alternative to brainstorming in the formal sense.  A simple way to start the in class process would be to pose a question, open ended, and to have the students respond directly- no need for a “hands up” but to simply begin calling responses and engaging in the questioning with one another as well as with the teacher- warning, the room is bound to become noisy. 

 

For example, would you rather recall a positive or a negative memory? The Why and they Why Not become intertwined in the student’s responses.  If there is a Writing area in the classroom it is a good idea to begin posting the examples free style; that is do not organize the responses- if suggesting what a mind map may look like then let the ideas pop up on the black board or electronic white board as the come; the results will be an area filled with ideas.  And Students thoughts will digress.  As they begin to argue their points of view, they will also be supplying a supporting point, and considering the “story” within their point of view.  Perhaps most importantly they will have a direct understanding of what is meant when a teacher states “there is no right or wrong answer to this question,” for it is an opinion piece and students MUST be encouraged to validate their own opinions.  

 

Surprisingly with all the current talk in Education about teaching diversity and teaching empathy and teaching creativity, there seems to have become a sense of each of the above as being distinct fields of thought. Perhaps because this allows for someone to become a specialist in a field; it makes for jobs? When the natural outpouring of ideas amongst students tends to flow towards ideas of social justice, towards why anything might be wrong or right, towards how their current experiences do give them an understanding of the greater social order, even when it hasn’t always given them a voice or an outlet through which to express their thoughts, or a means of putting together thought and action.  We could all recall the famous quote from artist Picasso on how everyone is born an artist but some – well to paraphrase – some have all those unique and curious thoughts and unique and curious actions – squashed by others who see very restrictive and prescriptive educational concepts as being the only way to teach! When Educators have guidelines in a curriculum along with a modicum of Freedom in how to apply these guidelines, the results tend to amaze.  Kids own their memories, and their passions.  And are not born with prejudice or indifference or even a lack of ability to care- yes each statement must have its qualifying accompanying comment that indeed there are exceptions to every “rule,” however; when we recognize that regardless of what neighbourhood we teach in, the wealthiest or the poorest, the students are learning about the world in more ways than the time in the classroom can provide, and we as Educators do a disservice if we don’t allow the students to honour their own experiences, and to learn how to express these experiences in a manner that later can be empowering.  As long as the spoken and written word continues to offer the student a powerful means of expression, and if the student wishes to add any of the other artistic endeavours to the process so much the better – for what began as an open ended discussion can spill over into a full scale problem solving individual or group project; and the best type of advice from the Educator at this point becomes only the truly formal suggestions of how it either has been done or could be done- letting the students run with ideas is safer than running with other objects!

For 2016: Schooling and Positively Purposeful

One activity a day please –that is to FOCUS on;

YOGA

Yes

Open

Gesture stretch move repose

Actions to allow learning to settle

As an actual person from the 70s (1970s) I do recall the wave of books and fringe groups discussing TMR and meditation along with green tea and incense burning- but I was more into other things. Today in looking at Curriculum and asking why and where school wide learning balances The Arts and Phys Ed with core Academic subjects, and questions about exam preparation, student worries ( anxiety is too much a buzzword to truly apply to all students ) and what simple additions could have lasting effect on a schools atmosphere, two things continuously surface. Basic nutrition for all, and peaceful meditative practice.

 

Settle isn’t a bad word, in fact it is a word with multiple meanings- we despairingly suggest one shouldn’t settle for something that doesn’t automatically appear to be the perfect fit, yet we applaud those people who appear to be “settled” as in having found some stability from which to grow. And now that winter storms may soon engulf a city in snow, little is more pleasant than to look outside and see a streetscape where after the wind and blowing pellets, the snow has actually settled. Consider then how we discuss the feeling of ideas swirling around and refer to this as a “brainstorm.” And how one field of thought exhorts: create mind maps, another, put it in a list, and ever others, just begin and let the writing flow. But still there will be the students who can’t begin, some who can’t sit still, others who appear glued to their seats but whose pencils rarely make a mark on a page, and between these extremes are the students who simply need to understand what the term calm actually means. Enter “YOGA.”

 

In 2016 YOGA is not “fringe” but decidedly mainstream. And the beauty of it is that it is portable; certainly trained professional teachers will manage classes and here a person may learn exact techniques and increase, level by level, until able to move the body into near magical poses; however back to basics when it comes to a school wide system, and the goal of simply encouraging students to “be.” And doesn’t each of us benefit from having the ability to allow for inner calm even when under stressful situations? So let’s start with the youngest students and increase the practice throughout the grades and remove any discomfort in allowing students to “zone out” for a brief period – active daydreaming if you will, instead of just pushing the call for “makers,” let’s recall that thinking requires quiet time, too.

 

And as we as Educators continue to push for “Healthy Schools” let’s nourish the body too! If full time lunch programs are not doable in a district could healthful snack breaks fit into the budget? Having participated where schools offered something as simple as a ½ orange or ½ banana to students twice a day and recognized that the break also allowed for light conversation, then valued the renewed vigor when students tackled coursework, can vouch that sometimes even the simplest of gestures have lasting benefits. Makers and doers, thinkers and tinkerers, schools owe it to their staff and students to create and encourage learning awareness; one of the better ways is to help increase school wide non-analytical action. The reflections can occur during the relaxed periods; instead of being imposed upon students may begin to find reflection a natural occurrence. And then, when asked to consider various options, recognize that in addition to brainstorming, allowing ideas to settle is worthwhile too.

spot the differences :)

remember the “can you count the changes” in images from children’s exercise books-

These two images have much to offer for an in-class discussion and an on paper assignment:

Courtesy of Norman Rockwell

https://i2.wp.com/aaaaarte.com/img/2009/12/img-article-norman-rockwell-gallery-launch_144229432655.jpg

what clues suggest a change in mood? which ones suggest a story behind the image? which character has undergone the most transformation?

have fun with it!

Seriously, dig deeper to find “success”

TEASING; and why there is a huge difference between children learning word play and playing with words, and actual taunting. Taunting doesn’t work in business relationships, either. The carrot before the donkey is an awful image because it reduces a human to the level of a beast of burden- a donkey- an animal traditionally used to conjure up the image of a “foolish beast”. Another word for a donkey- an “ass”-and to be “a donkey’s ass”- is an extreme insult.

To taunt is to hold out a promise and constantly withdraw it-think of children and adults at play. Sometimes parents will use bribery to encourage a certain form of behaviour; the award must then be received if the change in behaviour is to take effect. Otherwise, the game is not a game at all- it is an exercise in power, and simply proof of the power of one party over another. In this day and age where words like “collaboration” are a little too loosely spread about, what needs to be made clear, be it in business or personal life, is that teasing creates resentment, not community. Why then do we allow for, nay, even encourage between adults, behaviour which would be criticized in a kindergarten classroom?

Word play sample: “Pete and Repeat (or spell it Repete and then it is a visual homonym) were walking along the bridge; Pete fell off- who was left?” Answer: “Repeat” = child asking question gets to repeat it – ad infinitum – laughter will ensue for a brief moment- but if it continues…the word play has become mean play.

 In life doing the same task again and again, and here we get to paraphrase Einstein, becomes a ridiculous exercise- punishing rather than building someone up.

Yes, as tutor, I will have older students proof their work, recopying it until they are satisfied that it says what they wished to express- but this is not a futile exercise, it is an exercise meant to have students become owners of their thoughts, and willing to share these opinions in the public forum which they participate in- a school.

If as a community we are going to build up the youth in our care, we want them to feel confident to share their opinions, to express ideas, and to recognize when a piece of writing is making a point, to think about the points other authors are expressing, and to not be afraid to show that they too can communicate. Our corrections must address the separate areas of content and grammar and structure, while bearing in mind, that our students have experienced different lives from ours, and may read into a piece something separate, special to their understanding; which is why we must teach go to the text, find where you feel this idea is being developed, and do not be afraid to stand out from the crowd.

If I am going to share with students an image with a carrot in it, then this one seems more appropriate:

As Teachers we are entrusted with all the reasons for digging to find that success.

I had a basket of citrus fruit so…

citrus photography

Funny, we say “Oh that’s a lemon”  as an English expression for when something, say a second hand car, doesn’t work to expectations.  We also remind people to “make lemonade” or not waste the product.  I simply love the image of a bunch of cheerful bright colours, and this image reminded me of a children’s poem:

Oranges and lemons sang the bells of St. Clements

Oranges and lemons
Say the bells of St Clements
You owe me five farthings
Say the bells of St Martins
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey
When I grow rich
Say the bells of Shoreditch
When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney
I’m sure I don’t know
Says the great bell at Bow

Now we hear many an injunction to bring back PLAY- one of the better ways to incorporate play, and if it isn’t happening at a kindergarten and other elementary class near you, make it happen by having a small group(s) of children enact actions to some of the “tried and true” nursery rhymes.  Remember “London Bridge is falling down” ? when making a bridge and moving underneath it and taking turns being the bridge itself, children and the adults helping are encouraging literacy.  In the poem above, children hear both rhythm and rhyme.  For a slightly older child, have him/her look at the poem, speak it a few times, then try to write it from memory.  Help by offering a prompt – but not till asked 🙂 And if working with a child at the age to be curious about geography a mini history/geography lesson may happen.  Apparently the rhyme dates back to the mid 1600s and was actually danced to!

Lemons, limes and oranges, tart, semi-tart, and sweet- something for every taste; they add a dash of freshness to any environment.  Got a lemon?

Here is a science experiment just made for the lemon: http://www.education.com/science-fair/article/lemon-cleaning-products/   and a new use for the copper penny.