Tag Archives: creativity

Revisiting the 2002 National Educator Workshop

In the Summer of 2002 I participated in The Lincoln Center institute for the arts National Educator Workshop: Introduction to Aesthetic Education. Several years later, in March 2008, I blogged twice about the workshop – Imagination: Maxine Greene and Lincoln Center institute for the arts in education.

Everything we have done in the past helps to craft who we are in the present. My yoga teacher Deb often reminds us that everything we have done in the past makes us who we are at this moment on the mat. With that in mind, this morning I reread my Response Essay to the workshop, written in July 2002.

What brought me to reread the essay was a desire to refunctionalize my myriad book shelves at 8:30 last night. For years I have kept my favorite fiction, poetry and reference books in the same room as my desk, on two shelves built into the wall. A portion of my desk was allocated to books about the brain. And my yoga books were relegated to a laundry bin stored under a bench in our bedroom.

My life is changing, by choice, and it is time to purge those books I no longer cherish, and bring my yoga books to the fore. And in the process of looking through folders I smiled to revisit this essay. Not wanting to lose portions of it, and not wanting to keep the papers, I am copying part of it here for my reference. For anyone who happens to read it, if you have comments, please feel free to post them. I’d be delighted to have a conversation.

Oh, and I still do not have room for all the books I’d like to have at my fingertips. Hmm…

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Response Essay – National Educator Workshop – Summer Session 2002/July 8-12

An article in the October 3, 2001 Metro section of The New York Times piqued my interest in Maxine Greene. I had never heard of her beforehand yet the ideas she espoused about education gave direction to thoughts about which I had been ruminating. This prompted me to read her book Releasing the Imagination which in turn led me to John Dewey’s Experience & Education. And all of that pointed me to the National Educator Workshop. [Ed Note: part of the Lincoln Center institute] My expectation for the workshop was to give my imagination some much needed prodding and help me look at what I do through a different perspective. With that in mind, the most significant ideas embraced during the workshop include:

  • The aesthetic approach is one of self-discovery which can be guided through a series of carefully crafted questions and activities.
  • This self-discovery is a process, and that process should tap into what people can do and help them expand their thought repertoire.
  • Collaboration, questioning, and experiential learning (all part of the process) help to make learning intrinsic and give it meaning within the context of the student’s life.

To borrow from others (Maxine Greene and Apple Computer): With aesthetic education we are “releasing the imagination” and enhancing our perspective to “think different”. Imagination is an entry point into something that might otherwise be ordinary.

My perception of the work of art seen/heard twice changed substantially over the course of the workshop. In both cases, viewing and listening to the art without any prior knowledge of the artist or piece was very satisfying. This let me form my own response to the art, modified a little by the comments of my workshop mates. In the case of Poulenc’s music, I listened “hard” the first time as I concentrated on what was being played; this was not listening for pleasure! The Chuck Close portrait interested me for it size and colors. The subject of the portrait intrigued me and I wanted to know more about him.

The early hands-on activities were enjoyable to do but I did not yet make connections between those activities and how I felt about the art of Poulenc and Close. The collaborative brainstorming (of questions we would like to ask about the artists/works of art) was highly satisfying. Indeed, it almost did not matter to me if the questions were ever answered. The very act of collaborative discussion and questioning was exhilarating, cementing ideas and possibilities for me to ponder. It was the satisfaction of thinking and the interaction with others concerned with the same topic.

The research was icing on the cake.

[Ed Note: There is more about my research along with a response to a talk, but I am editing out much of it to keep this post from being even longer!]

Conversation with Catherine (colleague from my school who also participated in the workshop) after the first music workshop yielded these observations:

  • Everyone did something and was able to do something.
  • There was no “wrong” or “right” approach or answer.
  • Using our imagination it is possible to create something out of nothing, in this case just using our voices and bodies to make music.

Five days into the workshop I heard Tenesh [workshop co-leader] say that we are developing skills to focus, and that we try to go to the core of what the thing is all about. Being able to unleash our imaginations to focus in a multitude of ways and thereby get to the core of what we are learning…wow, very powerful ideas which this workshop modeled and helped me experience.

On the last day of the workshop I wrote these notes in my journal. I don’t recall whose words they were but they sum up my feelings about this workshop experience, and the goal I have for my students:

There is excitement in experiencing something intrinsically. This experience makes you the expert – it empowers you and draws out your imagination. The result is self-confidence and a depth of knowledge.

[Ed Note: The works of art were Chuck Close‘s portrait of Lucas, and a musical piece by Poulenc, title of which I did not note. I chose to research Close, which included: Chuck Close, Up Close by Greenberg and Jordan (Dorling Kindersley, 1998) and the May 13, 2002 Fortune article Overcoming Dyslexia.]

Maker Faire 2012 or how I spent Saturday

Saturday my husband and I tooled over to Queens, near CitiField, and spent the day walking around Maker Faire 2012. We’ve known about Maker Faires, but this was our first time seeing one up close, and we had a blast! There were all sorts of home made inventions and contraptions, and almost everywhere you looked there were 3D printers or objects that had been made via a 3D printer. The Faire was family friendly, indeed it was designed to inspire kids to create.

We also attended two talks, one by Seth Godin and the other a conversation with Chris Anderson, editor of Wired Magazine, and Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot.

Seth Godin lives in Westchester, a New Yorker born and bred (so I’ve been told). He’s a marketer and author, a summarizer and explainer of and guide to new media and trends, and a highly entertaining and spot-on speaker who does not mince his words. 

Chris Anderson is an author, and editor of Wired Magazine and you can read his article about how The New MakerBot Replicator Might Just Change Your World. And Bre Pettis is the face behind the MakerBot company. Here he is introducing the Replicator 2

The themes of their talks were similar and made an impression on me, especially in my new role as LS STEAM Integrator.

Godin talked about how kids doing science labs in school are not really doing science. Rather, they are kids following instructions that someone else crafted years ago. To truly be a lab, students should be making and innovating. Bre Pettis said that the “criteria for a good project” is “you don’t know what’s going to happen in the end but you try anyway.”

As Godin said: IF it might not work, THEN you are doing something important BECAUSE it is risky and someone can say you are wrong or they don’t like it. From there, you iterate, you try again, you take another risk, you start a conversation.

Of course, this all got me thinking about my Environmental Ed classes, which begin tomorrow. I don’t separate out Environmental Ed from STEAM, but my job is described with these two specific responsibilities. In any case, my take home from Seth, Chris and Bre is a reminder that rather than hand my 3rd graders step-by-step directions, my job is to provide a place for them to explore, experiment, ask questions and figure things out by doing, talking, thinking, sharing, crafting…

For instance, I could tell the kids how water winds up in our homes, I could show them pictures, or I could ask them to ask their parents. But how much better if I provide each class with some crafts items and a large reservoir of water, and ask them to figure out how to get the water from the reservoir to the buildings.

If anyone has thoughts about Seth’s, Chris’s and Bre’s comments or my take-away, please feel free to leave a comment below!

Dance for PD – where I was last weekend

This is where I was last weekend – attending the Dance for PD (Parkinson’s Disease) workshop in Waltham, Massachusetts. I had the wonderful opportunity to take this workshop with two of the founding teachers, David Leventhal and Misty Owens. Immersed in the workshop, I felt as much a student of dance as a student of learning how to teach dance to a specific population of people, those folks with Parkinson’s Disease.

Some 40 of us gathered Saturday and Sunday at the Jewish Family & Children’s Service center, an inviting two story complex that hosts a vibrant Family Support group coordinated by Nancy Mazonson for individuals with Parksinson’s, their families and caretakers. Of the many services provided, one is an ongoing series of dance classes that were begun in 2006.

The details of the workshop are on my yogajournal posterous blog. For now I want to focus on the benefits of dance for folks with Parkinson’s, and I would add that those same benefits accrue to just about anyone with limited mobility or dementia in its early stages.

Research into the impact of dance on people with Parkinson’s is ongoing, most recently noted in this November 11, 2011 article on Dr Sara Houston’s work examining “the benefits to quality of life for people with Parkinson’s taking part in dance classes run by English National Ballet.” The Dance for PD listserv provided a link to Study explores benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s, a summary of Dr Houston’s research.

My father had Alzheimer’s for many years. He also had a never-ending love of music and dance, with a heavy dose of Broadway musicals, music of the 40s and 50s, and folks like the Gershwins, Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, as well as Big Band tunes and songs from both world wars. He attended ballet and Broadway shows for the better part of his life, and danced up a storm (often with me) at family gatherings. Turns out, my Dad also had Parkinson’s Disease, something we did not find out until he died and it showed up on his death certificate. To be sure, I had an inkling, for he had the tremors in his hands, the arms that eventually stopped swinging when he walked, and a walk that turned to a shuffle (also common with Alzheimer’s).  But no matter his physical state, he LOVED the music, he loved singing along to songs, he loved dancing. When the words left him, he sang along with humming or the requisite “heh” in a well-known WWII ditty or Columbia College (his alma mater) song.

Among the many resources provided by Dance for PD is this list of ten points (noted below) extolling the benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s. Reading them over, and having seen the impact of music and dance on my Dad, it’s difficult to say that only folks with Parkinson’s benefit from dancing! All of the Dance for PD classes have musical accompaniment, and the Brooklyn based home of Dance for PD has the benefit of live piano playing by William Wade.

  1. Dance develops flexibility and instills confidence.
  2. Dance is first and foremost a stimulating mental activity that connects mind to body.
  3. Dance breaks isolation.
  4. Dance invokes imagery in the service of graceful movement.
  5. Dance focuses attention on eyes, ears and touch as tools to assist in movement and balance.
  6. Dance increases awareness of where all parts of the body are in space.
  7. Dance tells stories.
  8. Dance sparks creativity.
  9. The basis of dance is rhythm.
  10. The essence of dance is joy.

A former student (who has written a book for other students that, like her, have a learning difference) tweeted a link to Cellist Memory Wiped Out From Virus, Doctors Stunned By Musical Memory. I read the article just after returning from the Dance for PD workshop. Towards the end of the article there are several references to “the link between memory and music”, specifically noting the impact of music on people with Alzheimer’s.

Music! Dance! What a combo this can be for anyone, and especially those whose bodies are no longer as resilient as they once were. For more about Dance for PD, read or listen to this 2008 NPR story, Parkinson’s Patients Find Grace In Dance.

Meshing

Entangled and entwined. The brain and the body. They need and feed upon each other. So it is with the meshing of my interests.

I began this blog as “the graduate course I’d love to take if it existed as a program and was local to where I live.” My plan was to learn as much as possible about the brain, beginning with its physiology, as compiled in Brain 101.

The more I learned about the brain, the more I began to associate ideas and information with the practice of learning and teaching. After all, I had been teaching children and adults for many years (this is the start of my 30th year!) and it seemed about time that I consciously considered the underpinnings of those processes.

From there my interests morphed into professional development and, specifically, adult learning and keeping the aging brain healthy, creative and stimulated. I thoroughly and emphatically enjoy planning and providing learning opportunities for adults. This is quite selfish, actually. I feel good when I can help empower others. I feel good when I have a creative challenge (to plan and provide the PD). I feel good when I can help adults enhance their brain health.

However, the brain does not live in a vacuum, so it was simply a matter of time before my interest in the human body – the receptacle housing the brain and very much involved in a co-dependent relationship – manifested itself. Seven years of practicing yoga (for stress relief, for comfort, for physical and mental well-being) collided gently and smoothly with my interest in the brain and human anatomy. More selfishness. I feel good when I can help kids and adults understand their brains and their bodies, and improve their overall health.

Meshed. Meshing.

And wouldn’t you know it…this is my 400th Neurons Firing post. Gotta’ love those round numbers!

Play & Connections

Ideas favor the playful mind.

Tim Brown‘s talk at the 2008 Serious Play conference (and shared as a TED Talk) about creativity and play has influenced me on many levels. His talk provided me with activities I used in two presentations. His talk reminded me of the importance of play in everyone’s life, not just in the lives of children. And his talk further reminded me that at many of our schools, as kids get older, we corral them into seats, tell them to sit still, and expect them to learn. (This year’s Serious Play Conference will take place August 23-25 in Redmond, Washington.)

As summer arrives, and with it vacation from school, here is Tim Brown’s talk to spur some summer play.

Play can be a hearty path into ideas. Being absorbed in play can leave the brain open to percolating ideas in the background. And it is this percolating of ideas that Steven Johnson believes is part of where good ideas come from. In his book Where Good Ideas Come From – The Natural History of Innovation, Johnson talks about “the slow hunch“, which he describes as ideas that “fade into view” after having time for “cognitive incubation“.

Ideas need time to jell. Many of my blog posts reflect on ideas, and it has always been one of my hopes that writing here at Neurons Firing would help my ideas to more fully form for eventual reflecting back out in some fashion.

Drawing on the “adjacent possible“, a term suggested by Stuart Kauffman, Johnson had me thinking about the value of social networks, both face-to-face and digital. The more we are are in places where ideas are bandied about, whether or not they are ideas directly related to our interests, the more our own ideas have the opportunity to jell and perhaps get influenced by any of those bandied ideas. I think of this hanging out with my networks as having my mind poised at its zone of proximal development, unknowingly ready for some relevant or irrelevant nugget to feed any one of the percolating ideas.

As Johnson puts it:

This is how innovation happens.

Chance favors the connected mind.  

Quest for a Community of Practice

Jane McGonigal, in Reality is Broken, notes that among well-designed games there is always some sort of quest.

A quest is a journey to accomplish a task. Completing the quest often provides the participant, in this case the gamer, with a sense of satisfaction. And the more epic the quest, the more satisfying the accomplishment. The game design typically impacts the motivation of the person playing, and most of the better designed games inspire intrinsic motivation on the part of the gamer.

The other day, @alexragone tweeted:

@brainbits @fredbartels Just got to the player investment design lead in #realityisbroken How can we design OPuS courses with this in mind?

OPuS is the Online Progressive unSchool being developed by Fred, and he describes it as:

an education environment in which learners work together to discover and develop what Ken Robinson calls their element, or what many of us call, their passion.

OPuS supports communities of practice in which teachers and students with shared interests collaborate to develop mastery of their chosen element, and as part of that process, work to make the world a better place.

Additional information about OPuS is available in this Prezi. (By the way, Fred replied to Alex that OPuS is Communities of Practice, not courses.)

Alex’s tweet got me thinking about Fred’s description, and how it meshes with much of what Jane McGonigal describes as being the important factors in game design. The “player investment design lead” refers to a job description at the game designer Bungie, of Halo fame. The person in this position

directs a group of designers responsible for founding a robust and rewarding investment path, supported by consistent, rich and secure incentives that drive player behavior toward having fun and investing in their characters and then validates those systems through intense simulation, testing and iteration. (page 244)

McGonigal concludes that, based upon the job description above, the goal is to design a game in such a way that “participants should be able to explore and impact a ‘world’, or shared social space that features both content and interactive opportunities.” She then notes the additional characteristics of such a game:

  • participants will be able to create and develop a unique identity
  • participants will see the bigger picture
  • the only reward is participation in good faith
  • the emphasis is on making the content and experience intrinsically rewarding

Hmm, a well designed community of practice has a guide to steer the process. The members of the community are self-selecting participants because they share an interest in a particular passion and know that by participating they will enhance both their own and everyone else’s understanding of the topic. The participation happens individually and collaboratively, in physical spaces and interactive virtual social spaces. And the quest to learn is its own reward.

In another tweet, @alexragone wrote:

More on definition of student engagement:  https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Student_engagement#Indicators#isedchat

Sounds to me like a well-designed game and a community of practice share many of the traits that encourage student engagement.