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EdTech Update





BFTP: 7 reasons educators secretly fear creativity

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. - Apple Inc "Think Different" ad.

Developing creativity in the classroom, in the school, in the district is not particularly difficult. Simple teaching techniques can spur divergent thinking. Innovation can be a part of all content areas and disciplines. Any project can have recognition of originality in its assessment. But creativity tends to be actively suppressed by teachers and administrators*. Here's why.

Educators actually fear creativity - whether we like to admit or not, whether we're conscious of it or not.

Off the top of my head, I can think a number of reasons...

  1. It upsets the organizational status quo. Creative approaches to education mean change. And change always means there are winners and losers - in power, in budgets, in comfort levels. Even if one has been only modestly successful in one's role at school, with change it could get worse. Any truly creative approach to solving a problem runs a real risk of making things worse, rather than better. Educators don't like risk.
  2. It changes relationships. Hugh MacLeod accurately reports that "a big idea will change you." We may like or dislike any individual student, but at least we "know" them and how to deal with them. Creative students grow in unpredictable ways. Creative people can just plain be uncomfortable to around. And we as educators love our "norms." (See Why Robots Make the Best Students.)
  3. It offends sensibilities. Artists (visual, musical, etc.) have always had the ability to shock. I'll bet that the Cro-Magnon (probably a teenager) who used two sticks to beat on a hollow log was driven from the cave. My dad couldn't stand rock-and-roll and I find rap tough to appreciate. Language or visuals one's own generation may find obscene or distasteful are often perfectly acceptable by kids - like it or not. 
  4. It makes us feel inferior. When the tech department asks us to use a creative means of using a tool, we may feel inadequate. As librarians we all know we have a lot to learn about e-resources. As parents ask to be contacted using social media, our learning curve rises. Ask a person to do something new usually means learning on our parts. Why does your being creative always seem to mean more work for me?
  5. It undermines our efforts to create good test takers. The antithesis of creativity is asking for the "one right answer" which is exactly what educators ask students to regurgitate on standardized tests. (Ever wonder why they were called "standardized?) Tests are timed; creativity takes time. Tests are supposedly objective; creativity is often subjective. Tests demand respect for the authority of the test-takers; creativity questions and often defies authority.
  6. It's hard to measure. Which is more creative? A new vocal interpretation of a classic song or an new computer program that helps a diabetic monitor his blood sugar? The song will be assessed by music critics - and by the music-purchasing public. The software will be judged by a single factor - it works reliably or it doesn't. You can't place students or their ideas on a creativity bell curve. There are no creativity lexiles. Teachers especially have been led to doubt the value of their subjective judgments about their students.
  7. It may mean we adults are expected to demonstrate creativity as well. School cultures that value creativity ask for it from students AND staff. But I am doing everything perfectly now. Why change?

So are there antidotes to creativity aversion? Hmmmmmm....

  1. For the risk adverse, think small step approaches.
  2. Instead of "change," think of students growing and improving through creative approaches to problems, know they are practicing real-world dispositions.
  3. Think of how much a geezer you are when you start a sentence, "I can't believe today's kids' tastes in ______________." And try to remember what your parents hated about they way you dressed, what you listened, how you wore your hair, etc. (But you probably really shouldn't have gotten that tattoo.)
  4. Think upstream costs vs. downstream time savings. Yes, it may take some time to learn a new social networking tool for communications, but in the long run, more effective means of communication always saves time.
  5. Creativity also demands what I call "craftsmanship." Content knowledge, good skills, and other testable kinds of stuff is still necessary for creative individuals. Think assessment balance - although I know our politicians make this tough. More on craftsmanship in a future post.
  6. As educators, we need to reexamine the value of subjectivity when we deal with kids and their accomplishments. We are forcing way too many "round" kids into very "square" holes. Think personalization of education - taking evaluating each person's accomplishments personally, as well as their interests.
  7. If you don't want to try new things, take some risks, be adventurous, have a divergent (even subversive) thought now and then, you need to find a new line of work since you've lost your passion for education and are just collecting the paycheck. Think of a field far away from children. Thanks.


* Loved The Lego Movie's perceptive take on creativity and conformity. It's a must see.

Original post 2/17/14


Order of the Arrow: then and now

It was a week of recognition for my grandsons, Paul and Miles.

Paul got the spotlight. He both graduated from high school with honors and was awarded his Eagle Scout Badge by the Boy Scouts. He is a conscientious, hardworking, fine young man of whom I am extremely proud. His parents threw a lovely open house for him on Sunday afternoon, the room decorated with memorabilia from Paul's first 18 years and a slideshow of memorable faces the kid has made over the years.

But younger brother Miles also was recognized this weekend. He was inducted into the Boy Scouts*' Order of the Arrow. From the official Boy Scout website:

For over 100 years, the Order of the Arrow (OA) has recognized Scouts and Scouters who best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives.  This recognition provides encouragement for others to live these ideals as well.  Arrowmen are known for maintaining camping traditions and spirit, promoting year-round and long term resident camping, and providing cheerful service to others.  OA service, activities, adventures, and training for youth and adults are models of quality leadership development and programming that enrich and help to extend Scouting to America's youth. 

Although only in 7th grade, Miles was recognized by his troop for his leadership and, I like to think, his cheerfulness. In a weekend initiation at a Boy Scout camp near his home, he was expected to maintain a vow of silence and do a service project.

While never achieving the rank of Eagle (only Life), this grandfather was also a member of the Order of the Arrow. In the mid-late 1960s, the award was given during a week-long Boy Scout Camp that was held at a now defunct camp near West Okoboji, Iowa.

On the Thursday of the camp, all Scouts gathered in a large circle around 3 huge bonfires late in the evening. Ceremonies included past OA scouts dressed as Native Americans (wearing war paint, of course) and dancing with garter snakes in their mouths, drums thundering in the night. But at one point, these same scouts began running inside the circle with flaming torches. Once each round, these frightening figures would face an inward facing scout, and with a scream and forceful shove, push the unknowing boy into the arms of other scouts behind him. This is how we learned we had been inducted into the OA.

We were then drug to our tent to gather our sleeping bag and led blindfolded to a remote wooded part of the camp. There we were expected to spend the night alone and find our way back to the dining hall the next morning. On getting back to camp, our breakfast consisted of a raw egg. We did not have the option not to eat it.

During the day, we too were to maintain a vow of silence. We were also to carve an arrow from a shaft of wood which would then later hang in the dining hall along with past years' OA arrows**. If we talked during the day, we had to carve a notch in our arrow and if we cut ourselves, we were to adorn the arrow with a drop of blood. (No, I am not making this up.) I don't remember anything else of the ordeal.

I did not see Miles induction into the Order of the Arrow. I only got to pick him up at camp early Sunday morning. In the past 50 years, I expect the ceremonies have become more culturally sensitive (or maybe not given the images on the camp totem pole) and a good deal safer. Having qualified to be an adult scout leader***, I know the Boy Scouts take the safety of the young men and women in the troops very seriously.

But I sense from both boys' involvement in Scouts that it is still a great deal of both fun along with useful learning and experience. It was for grandpa, anyway.

My paltry collection of merit badges from the late 1960s.

* I like to refer to the Boy Scouts as my favorite para-military youth organization.

** I had heard the arrows from the Okoboji camp were sent to a camp in Nebraska when it closed. I have no idea if this is true or not.

*** I've been lucky enough to accompany the grandsons on a number of Scouting camp outs and trips, including a High Adventure outing to the Boundary Waters in 2015. Planning to do Philmont with Miles in 2020.


The travel phone


I have an old iPhone I keep in a drawer at home just to use when I travel abroad. As soon as I get to a international destination, I head to the nearest cell phone store and purchase a new SIM card and a pre-paid data plan - usually about 5 gig. Total bill is around $20-$30 and the data lasts for at least a couple weeks.

I only realized on this last trip to Europe just how dependent I've become on this old device.

Its primary uses are for navigation and photography (which needs no explanation.) I do feel totally dependent on GoogleMaps whether walking, driving, or even taking mass transit. (A librarian in Tokyo taught me how to use GMaps to use the city's complex metro system.) I love how GMaps will predict walking time and has the directional indicator that shows which way you are facing. For me, one of the most confusing parts of a subway is figuring out exactly where you are when you come up on to the streets. When I do a lot of driving, I have a commercial app called CoPilot that I like because the maps are downloaded and one can still navigate without having a cellular data connection. 

Other apps on which I depend when traveling include:

  • Speak and Translate -  real time lanuage translation 
  • Spanish Anywhere - Spanish dictionary
  • Fly Delta - boarding passes, updates of flights
  • GlobalConvert - currency conversion, but also does metric length, weight, temperature
  • Mobile Pass - easy go through immigration returning to US
  • Uber - works around the world. Taxi drivers are corrupt in many places.
  • HostelWorld, TripAdvisor, Kayak - on the fly booking for rooms, tours
  • AllTrails - maps of hiking trails
  • Bed Time Fan - creates white noise to help one sleep
  • Facetime, Skype, GoogleVoice - calling home
  • Compass - when you really just need to know what direction is actually north
  • DropBox - storing and accessing pdfs of reservation confirmations, copy of passport, and other travel docs

I explained to a friend recently that one of the reasons I like to travel is I consider it a test of my aging brain. Can I still figure out how to get from A to B? Can I make myself understood when neither of us speak a common tongue? Can I still a book a room, rent a car, or sign up for a tour? He observed that travel asks us to use different parts of our brains than out daily life, and suggested that is perhaps why it feels like an effective test. I like that.

I've long wondered whether our devices are enhancements or replacements for our thinking processes. When the affordable pocket calculator came out in the mid-70s, I liked to think that I could use my mental processing power to solve problems rather than to remember multiplication tables. Does the GPS allow me now to learn more about where I am going rather than worry about how I get there? As language translation apps become more powerful and realtime, will I now be able to craft more effective communications with my host country friends? 

Or maybe, just maybe, my phone being smart helps compensate for me not being quite so smart myself.

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