Time is key to choice, voice and creativity…
“Okay, come up with three ideas in the next three minutes. Work together. Oop, time’s up. Share out.”
“Deadline’s in a week. Just do the best you can in the time you have. No you really don’t have time at this point to do over.”
“Sorry, I have to give you this test for the STAR tests and we have to start our project this week too…”
This is all stuff I’ve done or said in the last couple of weeks. So yes, it’s true, I am the one shutting down our children’s minds in the Orinda community.
“Does ‘improved’ mean more work in the TAP project?” a seventh grader asked me in church this morning. Yow.
I think that many students look for the easiest way to get any homework, any project done because they have so much to do and so little choice around most of it. They are desperate for slivers of free time where they can or could be creative around problems they are interested in. Except they are maybe too tired and perhaps too distracted by screen-based activities. They don’t expect and don’t trust opportunities to make choices and to have voice in the small number of projects they do get in our school system. Both Karen and I are finding this true.
What are some things we are doing and trying?
- Trying especially hard to NOT kill the spark of interest at the start with too much teacher talk at the start of a project.
- Scheduling enough time for project planning and for project completion.
- Allow students to brainstorm PRIVATELY first ex. by having them come up with ideas at home, then share with their group the next day. In the social cut-throat of middle school, creativity can be shut down by fear of ridicule.
- Redo policy for everything – homework or even near-complete projects so ‘failure’ is translated to a learning experience.
The overarching hope is to start a cultural change where depth over breadth is valued. I’m wishing us good luck with that in our lifetimes. But maybe tied with the sexy bow of “21st Century Skills” our community elected representatives will not want to be left behind reforms happening all over the nation. I’m not going to lean on the crutch of “we can’t fight the culture” but I’m vulnerable to feeling beaten down by it. Here’s what I’m thinking to do about it:
- Keep sharing with colleagues about what’s going on in our class rooms and how it might link with their curriculum area. Stuff that might be fun to do together. I’m especially interested in learning more about Jennifer W.s’ Socratic Seminars and Terry’s debates secrets, both of which fire up our students.
- Maybe lay the ground work for cross-curriculum collaboration for content and shared students by asking to schedule half the core classes with each science teacher – a modification of a school-within-a-school model.
- Continue to push for easily available technology as that really does switch on students and inspires them as they find their own information.
- I want to try out Play Interrobang online challenges with students very soon, and try to weave it in to POP, TAP and other projects. Teachers and kids can supply the challenges. It socially networked safely for schools so kids can see and comment on each other’s missions. They earn points, badges and kudos for documenting their solutions. Missions include ones where they would have to learn science concepts. Have you tried it? Impressions?
- I’ve got to take some time out of the class room to visit place where creativity amongst middle school students flourishes. Where is that? I know of several high schools, including Napa’s New Tech High and Holden High in Orinda. Need to research local middle schools serving similar communities. Those examples will speak loudest to me and to our admin/board and community. Other ideas?
- I’m going to start sharing with school board members too – maybe 3 minute ‘bright spots’ presentations at board meetings that the public have a right to do, including teachers.