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…


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.]


#CCOW, Illich and Me

The following is posted in the #CCOW online forum in response to Chapter 6: Learning Webs – Illich, I. (1971). Deschooling society (Chapter 6). New York, NY: Harper & Row – from Ivan Illich’s Deschooling society, and Karen Brennan’s questions:

How do these tweets exemplify the types of interactions that Illich desired?
How do Illich’s visions of learning align (or not) with your own?
What peer interactions within the workshop have you found most useful or interesting or surprising?


As Karen noted, Illich was indeed prescient with his views on learning opportunities and networks. Several times his words evoked Maker Spaces; MOOCS and similar online learning opportunities; unconferences; the systems of ratings and reviews on amazon, netflix, many online stores; etc, and even Toys from Trash of Arvind Gupta.

As the posted tweets highlight, we are learning due to our own interests and motivations, getting feedback from (and sharing with) one another, as well as expert guidance and assistance when needed. For us, as adults, this is truly self-motivated learning. This is how humans learn from the age of newborns through early childhood – by using “abundant play” to explore and learn about their world, and they do it because they have an inner “want” to learn about their environment and to survive in that environment.

As an adult, my learning has been intentionally sought and all self-motivated. It has been interest-based for both personal and professional reasons. I have long thought that the best professional development is personal learning.

Illich describes a type of learning that I have only rarely seen at the high school level. Twice I had the benefit of being the faculty adviser to students pursuing independent study projects that were based exclusively on their interests, which they were fully responsible for defining, and which they would not have “learned” within the confines of their normal school experience. Both students were inordinately successful with their projects, to no small extent due to their self-motivation and passion, the guidance they had from experts, the networks of people (in person and online) with whom they interacted and shared, and their sharing back to various communities (as newly minted experts) during and at the conclusion of their projects.

There is no doubt in my mind that, at least in most schools within the United States, our adherence to traditional schooling has done a tremendous disservice to our children. As Ken Robinson has said, we teach the creativity out of our children somewhere in elementary or middle school. He also talks about the importance of “finding your element”. There are also many powers-that-be that refuse to acknowledge the impact poverty and socio-economic class have on our children and our school systems. Illich’s approach is radical to those who fear losing control of our educational system, because that system helps to keep certain groups in power, and because many people are change-averse. I have not fully thought out my idea of an alternative educational system, but from my 31 years of teaching, I do know what such a system would not include.

In discussing this reading with my husband, he mentioned a quote by Buckminister Fuller that can be condensed to “Let the tool change the people”. Those words could be describing Scratch and CCOW. The tools of Scratch (a learning environment freely available to anyone with a computer and Internet access) and the CCOW community (wherever you find it – on Twitter, in the Forum, in the Scratch online community, any of the other online sites, and even at the upcoming gathering at Harvard) combine to change each of us who participate. This forum (and Karen’s guiding questions) get us thinking about our approach to learning and teaching. As we use the tools and think about expanding their use beyond ourselves, we are changing. For after all, all learning is changing – changing the neuronal connections in our brains, which in turn changes how we think (and eventually act).


Powerful Ideas

This week in the MOOC we were charged with reading and thinking about Powerful Ideas. We also tinkered with a Logo-like app called TurtleArt, which brings back the turtle geometry of Logo. You can read more about it in Turtle, Art, TurtleArt and see a gallery of images or download it at TurtleArt. For an oldie but goldie look at Logo, check out LogoWorks: Challenging Programs in Logo edited by Cynthia Solomon, Margaret Minsky and Brian Harvey.

Here’s my quick turtle art doodle, along with my reflections.

doodleEnjoyed tinkering with Turtle Art, and appreciate that the makers of it wanted to bring back the turtle geometry of Logo. I LOVED Logo and thought it was an excellent playground for kids and adults. In fact, when I first started playing with Scratch, I used it to mimic Logo.

As for powerful ideas – it’s keeping PLAY alive, regardless of the age of the learner and regardless of the level of the learning. There is usually plenty of play in a lower school (elementary school), but the play gets sucked out of the school environment the higher up in the grade level the learner goes. It’s not just keeping PLAY alive in the learner’s life; it’s reigniting PLAY in the teacher’s life, as well.

My Marshmallow Challenge

Today the second session of Learning Creative Learning will take place. I will be at my school’s professional development day, which happens to be focused on Design Thinking for Educators, so  will wind up watching the LCL session later this evening.

The final bit of pre-session prep was the The Marshmallow Challenge. I had seen the TED Talk awhile back, and immediately thought it would be interesting to do with a roomful of educators. Turns out that one of the second grade classes at my school did it this past fall!

The challenge specs for the MIT class are slightly different than the ones in the TED Talk, and I further changed them a bit for myself.

TED Talk specs: In eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top.

MIT specs: Spaghetti, tape, string, marshmallow – Build an interesting freestanding structure. The entire marshmallow must be on top. Time limit: 18 minutes. (It is presumed that the material quantities remain the same as for the TED Talk specs.)

Laurie’s specs: With 20 sticks of spaghetti and as many marshmallows as needed from one bag, build an interesting freestanding structure in 18 minutes. (Notice the difference in materials used.)

I did my challenge yesterday afternoon.

In early April, I will be giving a talk to parents (same talk twice, once in the morning and once in the evening) about STEAM at school. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Math. The bulk of the talk with not be a talk! Rather, it will be learning and doing and playing, and you probably already know where I’m going with this…yes, they will be doing my version of the marshmallow challenge.

LCL Intro

A MOOC is quite a large “thing” – a conglomeration of people from around the world participating online in learning something. I’m not entirely clear how many are participating in MIT’s Learning Creative Learning, but about 24,000 folks have signed up. One of the ways the MOOC curators will have a sense of who is here/there is from the 30 second video introductions we’ve been encouraged to submit. Here’s my 8 second intro!

Seymour’s GEARS; Laurie’s PATTERNS

[After reading the preparatory materials for Session 2 of the Learning Creative Learning MOOC, particularly Seymour Papert’s “Gears of My Childhood“, we were asked to “write about an object from your childhood that interested and influenced you.”]


photo-53I wanted to take the door to my bedroom with me. It was plastered with pictures and cut-out words and letters and photos and memorabilia. When I left home, that door represented my life through elementary, junior and senior high school.

That visual potpourri overflowed both sides of the door to encompass the walls of my room, though I knew taking those walls along was not exactly feasible!

All of my interests as a kid were represented, floor to ceiling, either glued, tacked, pasted or written directly upon the walls: Collages. Newspaper headlines. Bits and pieces of this and that. The players of the Knicks & Mets teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s written in green marker. Souvenirs. Photographs. These vertical surfaces embraced my room with a scrapbook of my life, arranged by color, texture, timeliness, interest, and always by whatever available space I could find next.

I loved the process of creating layouts. I spent hours crafting birthday cards for family, experimenting with letter arrangements and doodling new letter forms.

My interest in the visual look of information followed me through as a copy editor for my high school newspaper and then for a magazine in college. One of my early jobs was working for a printer, back when letterpress printing was a typical way to mass produce print media. We shared office space with a graphics company where I was able to dabble in layout and design, giving me the impetus to take classes at the School of Visual Arts.

To this day, my brain gravitates to patterns: the visual look of printed material or digital posts, objects on the fireplace mantel, plants on the windowsill; patterns in the piano music I play; patterns in the built world around us; nature’s patterns; patterns of thinking – how does our brain work – and patterns of living – how do our bodies and our brains age.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for the freedom to do unto those walls and door as I saw fit!

P.S. I teach. Part of what that entails is designing curriculum, be it for school or for yoga sessions I’ve led. In that design process, I’m always considering patterns, be they stretched out over a year or just over one class.

Reflection from last summer, in our kitchen