Tag Archives: Sir Ken Robinson

Ken Robinson, motorcars, and eva2

Ken Robinson continues to move his message along in this 5 minute interview with Bonnie Hunt (who I have since discovered is an actress as well as talk show host).

Feel free to also visit this 3 1/2 minute CNN interview with Ken, Why Teaching is ‘not like making motorcars’, posted March 17, 2010.

If you are a regular reader of Neurons Firing, or you happen to notice the size of the Sir Ken Robinson text in the tag cloud at the right, then you know I am a fan of his talks and ideas. Robinson has informed the ongoing discussions that my husband and I, both educators, have as we think about how education can be transformed. My husband, who is the Director of Information Technology at a local K-12 independent school, continues to explore the ideas of school transformation using the eva2 wiki as a place to compile ideas. I invite you to come along for the sharing of ideas!


Back to School

Technically, it is still summer. The weather seems to be a little bit ahead of the solstice switch, though, with open-windowed evenings cool enough for down comforters. I find this time of year energizing, perhaps due to the weather but also because my body rhythms are so tied in to the school calendar. It’s September; we start again. And one way to start is by looking back to the end of the last school year.

Back in early June, Sir Ken Robinson gave the commencement talk at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). His name has appeared here enough times that it almost feels like he’s been a guest blogger. Robinson was invited to talk at RISD by John Maeda, RISD’s President. Maeda gave a TED Talk back in December, 2008, and you can watch it below. It’s been many years since I’ve been in college, so perhaps Maeda’s page on the RISD site is not that unusual for a college president, but it sure impressed me.

Sir Ken Robinson at the Celebration of Teaching and Learning

These days Ken Robinson is all over the place giving talks and being interviewed. He can do that because he knows how to tell stories, and has a wonderful voice that is sheer pleasure to listen to. He also has a compelling message that resonates with educators. I must have listened to or read just about every online Robinson interview that exists. Here is yet another one, text only, from earlier this month on wharf.co.uk.

The interview focuses on Robinson’s latest book, The Element. A few Fridays ago I had the pleasure of hearing him talk about this in person at the Celebration of Teaching and Learning conference in New York City. Thanks to Google, I had a  free pass to the conference, and attended solely to hear Ken talk. 

I spent the morning roaming the aisles collecting goodies to bring back for my colleagues, and being reminded how large, loud and sometimes overwhelming a major conference can be. Lunch was delicious and included in the admission, and it was where I was told there were some 8,000 attendees at the conference. 

With a pleasantly full stomach, I settled into a center aisle seat in the third row, filled with anticipation for Robinson’s one o’clock talk. Even though I figured his message would be similar to the one online at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (it was), that did not deter me in the least. 

What did I gain from seeing Sir Ken in person? He is not as tall as I expected. (My son thinks it’s silly that I thought he’d be taller, or that I even noticed this aspect.) He has a wonderful smile and the outside corners of his eyes crinkle when he smiles wide or laughs. (A long time ago I read that smiles of this nature release endorphins that make you feel good. It’s the power we have to uplift our own moods, as long as those corners get crinkled :-)) He introduced Terry, his wife, though I didn’t get to see her as she was somewhere at the rear of a very large ballroom.

But mostly what I gained was seeing a marvelous story teller in his element, sharing a tale about which he is passionate. The result was an attentive audience that was rapturous over many of Robinson’s proclamations. His message has made the rounds of independent and public school teachers alike.

He riffed on the concept of standards versus standardization, saying that “standardization only ever gives you the lowest common denominator”. He previously stated that great schools, of which there are many, are different from one another because they are “personalized and customized”, not because they are standardized. 

Robinson went on to share statistics from an experiment designed to demonstrate that we are born with the capacity for divergent thinking, but get educated out of that capacity. The highest scores in this experiment were earned by the youngest participants – kindergartners! The students were retested every five years, and there was a control group of a slightly larger number of adults. 

Continuing on, he asked for a show of hands to see how many in the audience wore wrist watches. His point, on which he elaborated further, was that we in education need to anticipate the life that the kids we are teaching will be living, and teach to that future. This is a common theme I have heard voiced elsewhere, particularly from those of us responsible for facilitating the use of technology in schools. He behooved us to “enliven the minds of learners.”

He also had the audience belly laughing over his hypothesis of tonsils (the pulling of which Robinson likened to a baby boomer epidemic in the U.S. from the 1960s) and chicken nuggets, but you don’t want me to share that here, as the punch line really requires Robinson’s voice, smile, and arched eyebrow.

So what comes next? My wish list of what I’d like to hear more of…

  • the specifics regarding the program he helped design in the UK for systematically approaching creativity
  • more of his ideas for changing schools, which he has said need to undergo transformation rather than reformation
  • his ideas on how to make the arts more prominent in education 

Robinson’s book tells many tales of people who found their element, many of them after spending dissatisfying years in school, but…

  • what about those students who do not find their element

If any of you are aware of Robinson’s responses to the above, or know more about the program in the UK, please share below in a comment. Thanks!

Sir Ken in his element


Being “in your element” is an idiom that UsingEnglish.com defines as feeling “happy and relaxed because you are doing something that you like doing and are good at.” In his latest book, Sir Ken Robinson describes “the Element” (which is also the name of the book) as “the place where the things we love to do and the things we are good at come together.”

An earlier post describes the book, but how much better if you can hear Sir Ken talk about it in his own words. Here is his February talk at the RSA, the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

It’s Elemental, my dear Robinson!

theelementI have been anticipating the publication of Ken Robinson’s the Element since it was first announced, which seems like over a year ago. I was also hopeful that the author’s voice would mimic his presentation style, unlike the last book of his I tried to read, Out of Our Minds (which I could not get through). Happily, despite the many typos (around 12!) in the Element, Sir Ken’s humor, narrative and story telling expertise all came through.

This is a book about not only finding your passion, but also about the importance of doing so – both for yourself and for the benefit of moving society along. It is also about how the nature of education has to not only change, but actually TRANSFORM in order to better serve those who engage in the process (and perhaps open up pathways for those who drop out of the process).

One of Robinson’s points, made with co-author Lou Aronica, is that in way too many instances our educational systems discourage students from pursuing their passions, or worse yet, do not provide environments that foster finding one’s element. He shares a slew of stories about prominent people who found their elements despite their “education”, in some cases choosing to forego finishing their formal education.

A number of ideas resonated strongly with me, two in particular.

The future for education is not in standardizing but in customizing; not in promoting group think and ‘deindividuation’ but in cultivating the real depth and dynamism of human abilities of every sort.

Finding your element, especially if it is NOT your job, will probably enhance how you do your job.

Getting back to the first idea – Robinson suggests we need to

  • transform curriculum, and “eliminate the…hierarchy of subjects”
  • instead of “subjects”, curriculum should be based upon disciplines
  • curriculum should be personalized


The Notes section of the book provides URLs for a number of topics and ideas referenced. Not all of the sites are pertinent to what I tend to write about, but below are those which complement this post.

Another look at the five senses – perhaps we have more than just five? Exploding the five senses by Andrew Cook

Audiblox is a worldwide company that has put together “a system of cognitive exercises, aimed at the development of foundational learning skills” and seems to focus on those who have learning difficulties. The founder of Audiblox, Jan Strydom, along with Susan Du Plessis, has authored IQ Test; Where Does It Come From and What Does It Measure?

A conversation about The Future of the SAT in The Chronicle of Higher Education 

Tony Buzan talking, in a number of short videos, about the use and benefits of Mind Mapping

The Rules of Mind Mapping 
Use both sides of the brain 
The rest of the videos are available here

Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Mentoring Project Who Mentored You? 

International Telementor Program – “facilitates electronic mentoring relationships between professional adults and students worldwide”

Public/Private Ventures “creating and strengthening programs that improve lives in low-income communities” 

The UP Experience – a one-day, less expensive version of TED 

Pulling Rabbits out of Habits

Earlier in May of this year, Janet Rae-Dupree wrote an article about the impact of habits on creativity. Published in the New York Times, Can You Become a Creature of New Habits? mentioned a number of issues that I have touched upon in Neurons Firing. Rae-Dupree does an excellent job of making her points, so you might want to read her article before reading the rest of my post.

Mel Levine has always championed finding out what you like or what you are good at, and then forging ahead in that area. He  has written, “All students should have experience savoring true expertise, having one or more areas of deep knowledge and passion/obsession.” In his book A Mind at a Time, Levine states that “The young have a basic right and a need to develop their affinities over time.” He is “convinced that many students who appear to have significant learning problems (and in a real sense they do) in reality have highly specialized minds, brains that were never designed to be well rounded.” Levine sums up the importance of affinities and strengths:

Parents and our educational system must provide opportunities for kids to utilize and strengthen their strengths and their affinities–no matter what those assets happen to be. To deny a developing mind access to its specialty is cruel. To judge one’s worthiness in the specialties of others is equally inhumane.

Sir Ken Robinson makes very similar points in his oft-referenced TED Talk. He has suggested that schools squash creativity, in essence that we “educate people out of their creative capacities.” I’ve written extensively about Robinson, and you can summon up all the posts from the tag cloud at the right.

This brings me back to Rae-Dupree’s article. She talks about developing new habits, indeed, that it IS POSSIBLE to develop new habits, and there are benefits to doing so: “…brain researchers have discovered that when we consciously develop new habits, we create parallel synaptic paths, and even entirely new brain cells, that can jump our trains of thought onto new, innovative tracks.”

She concludes with a quote from one of the authors interviewed. “You cannot have innovation,” she [Dawna Markova] adds, “unless you are willing and able to move through the unknown and go from curiosity to wonder.”

Pour all of these complementary ideas into a hat, and you increase the likelihood of being able to pull out the metaphorical rabbit.

Sir Ken, Riz Khan, Creativity & Schools

If you’ve been here before, the name Sir Ken Robinson may sound familiar. Here is a two-part interview of Sir Ken by Riz Khan, host of the Riz Khan show on Al Jazeera English. Each segment is 11 minutes long. The topic of the interview – Schools killing creativity? I found both segments worth listening to, but if you are only going to listen to one, please make it the second one. By the way, I’ve pre-ordered Sir Ken’s book The Element, due out in early 2009.