Movement is Key to Learning

I have seen a couple of very interesting articles in the past twenty-four hours that remind me how important movement is to learning. And not just to learning, either, but to productivity in general. It brings back to mind the story that Sir Ken Robinson told about Gillian Lynne, where she entered the dance school and was so excited to find people like her, who “had to move to think.” And running into these articles has made me realize that it is true – we really do need to move to think. Right now, I am sitting at my kitchen table typing this, and my foot is tapping to some sort of music in my head. Every once in a while I have to shift in my seat, and if I find myself not moving, my attention will drift to the tabs at the top of the page, two of which are inevitably Facebook and Twitter. Yes, I am on Facebook and Twitter. My Facebook page is Project: Preschool and my Twitter “handle” is @sccriley. But I digress… (probably because I wasn’t moving…)

The first article deals with children and energy, and how parents  (and teachers) talk about taking children outside in order to burn off their energy. The article states that outdoor play is a chance for children to explore their bodies’ limits, go through emotional play as they either conquer goals or try and try again. It also helps the wiring between the body and the brain because the body’s movement helps the brain stay focused, and possibilities become endless. And I have noticed something about children and the great outdoors, at least on the playground where I work: For the first ten minutes or so, the children are wildly and crazily climbing on everything and yelling and screaming and having a grand time (especially if it has been raining and they haven’t been able to go outside), but after that a calm seems to settle over them and they actually begin to explore their environment. It is actually quite different from indoors, where children can get bored with the same things and you have to systematically add something new to the equation to keep them engaged. It is as if the environment of outdoors is engaging on its own, and the children have to get over that AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH moment of actually being outside before they can settle down and get down to business. When I think about outdoor play in this context, I think that the thirty minute play time that the state mandates is hardly enough time for children to be outside, because half of that thirty minutes is spent just settling into the new environment. It is the last half of that time that true learning begins within the environment.

The next article is about how a teacher transformed her indoor classroom to make it a more relaxing and inviting environment for children. How did she do this? She took out the desks. She still had a few tables available for children to work together at, but for the most part the children could work wherever they wanted and could collaborate together however they wished. The article says, “She knew she wanted her classroom to have a similar feel as the children’s section in Barnes & Noble or a creative play space in a museum.” She had clipboards available for children to write with if they wanted to sit on the floor (or even lay down if they wanted), and did what she could to make the space as cozy and inviting as she could. The article also says that she saw improvement in the children’s behavior after the improvements and their productivity went up because they had the freedom to move around while they worked.

It is amazing what can be accomplished in a classroom with a little bit of freedom, and remembering that movement is key to learning.

Focus and Creativity

Last week I picked up a copy of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s re-release of Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and InventionIt is an interesting read, but it goes way too much into the psychology of creativity without the component of learning that I love so much. I’m not sure that I actually gave it enough of a chance, but as I read it I started feeling like I was way off of the path of my own passion. However, there was a passage in my reading that struck me enough that I felt the need to mark it for further contemplation:

If we want to learn anything, we must pay attention to the information to be learned. And attention is a limited resource: There is just so much information we can process at any given time. Exactly how much we don’t know, but it is clear that, for instance, we cannot learn physics and music at the same time. Nor can we learn well while we do the other things that need to be done and require attention, like taking a shower, dressing, cooking breakfast, driving a car, talking to our spouse, and so forth. The point is, a great deal of our limited supply of attention is committed to the tasks of surviving from one day to the next. Over an entire lifetime, the amount of attention left over for learning a symbolic domain – such as music or physics – is a fraction of this already small amount.

To me, this passage was very interesting because of the way that we compartmentalize education. English, math, science, and the other subjects have their own little corners of the world, and most schools do not attempt integration between the subjects. Yet this way of presenting subjects and ideas pulls our attention in many different areas in one single day; it is no wonder that understanding of any of the subject areas goes down.

However, when we argue the case like this we run into the oft-repeated argument of which subjects are the most important. As Sir Ken Robinson has pointed out, many subjects have been cut from education programs on the grounds that they aren’t as important and should not be given as much student attention as math, english, and science. It seems to me that this is the wrong way to view the problem; rather than argue about which subjects are the most important to justify cutting other subjects, educators should be finding ways to integrate the subjects to fit all learning areas into a comprehensive whole.

For example, I have heard of many early childhood educators setting up a restaurant environment in their classroom. Children create menus (language and writing), figure out prices and count out money (math), cook food (measurement), take orders (social skills and writing), set tables and pour drinks (life skills), and many other activities in one single environmental setting. This integration of skills and subject areas not only helps the children focus their attention, but also puts learning in the context of real life – an important aspect of motivating children to learn.

Admittedly, Csikszentmihalyi is talking about in-depth knowledge about a specific field, but the implications of the passage do need to be thought about in terms of education as a whole. This is, after all, where the majority of education reformer’s claims come from – attention paid to one subject takes away from attention paid to another. But it has been shown through alternative forms of schooling that subject matter, when integrated, can be used to solve a variety of problems and can even be used to create things that children have only dreamt about. As children get older and their interests become more focused, then the argument toward specialization can be made because the older child’s interests are more specialized. But even then, compartmentalizing subjects and knowledge doesn’t help with creativity and education in the long run. My own journey to educate myself has taken me into the realm of psychology, education, philosophy, room decor, science, logic, technology, and other areas. It has been a winding journey through many different disciplines, and I have learned a lot more on my own than I have through the compartmentalized lessons that I have received in college. By freeing myself to explore many areas of knowledge, I have been able to make connections between disciplines to create an integrated picture of what education should look like. This is the kind of knowledge that should be available to others as well, and only by integrating our subject matter can we achieve this kind of deep understanding of the world around us.


focus and creativity

Finding Your Own Passion

When I was young, I wanted to be a teacher. I had a desk that I set up in my room and pretended that I was teaching my dolls. When I got into high school, I wanted to be a psychologist. The way people think and how people learn has been a subject of great interest to me for most of my young adult and adult life.

When I was 18, I got married and then got pregnant. My dreams of studying psychology at the University of Chicago shattered as I worked at Chick-fil-A, first as counter help, then as a shift manager, and finally as a marketing director. I hated marketing. It was challenging, so it held my interest, but I had no idea what I was doing and I was learning as I went. When bringing in new customers is your job and you have no idea how to do it, things can get pretty frustrating pretty fast. Not to mention the fact that I was a shift manager and the marketing director at the same time – I had to do most of my marketing job at home, off the clock.

When I gave birth to my second child, I said good-bye to the fast food industry. I had begun thinking about going back to school and majoring in education. I got a job working in child care (admittedly, it was a job of convenience at the time), and quickly discovered that I loved it. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the job fit in nicely with my passions of education and psychology. Years – and hundreds of hours of research – later, I am realizing that I have landed in my passion and am doing everything I can to learn about the field and the psychology of learning, creativity, motivation, and other aspects of education.

Recalling the story of how I landed in my passion makes me realize that discovering and acting on your passion is sometimes not easy. I got lucky in that my job of convenience turned out to be the path to my true passion. Some people are not that lucky. Some people end up on a path simply because they are good at something. Sir Ken Robinson talks about a woman who started out as a concert pianist. She has dinner with a conductor one night, who points out to her that he can tell that she does not enjoy being a concert pianist. She realizes that her true passion is literature and she becomes a book editor. Other people that I know are doing what they are doing simply because the circumstances of their lives called for swift action – a job of convenience, like my initial job in child care.

I haven’t talked to too many people about what their passion is, if they are doing their passion, or if they are going to be involved in their passion in the future. It would probably lead to many interesting conversations. Maybe instead of talking about reading and reviewing a book that I already know I probably won’t finish, I should talk to people about their passions. I am looking forward to having the opportunity of doing that during the workshop, although I know that for some people the process of discovering their passion is a deep and personal one. When I went through the process of discovering my passion for the classroom, it took me a week of deep soul searching, and I haven’t shared the results of that process with anyone. My hope is that I can share my process with others and they can use it to discover what they are passionate about in the classroom, and it can inspire them as it inspired me. My hope is that it makes a difference.

Note: In the first draft of this post, I spent a great deal of time talking about book reviews, after I mentioned something about reviewing another book by Sir Ken Robinson about people finding their passion. Through the reflection that I did during the first draft, I realized that book reviewing is not for me – it definitely is not my passion. Therefore I will not be reviewing Ungifted by Scott Barry Kaufman. Although the first 250 pages of the book blew my mind (I loved it), I have come to the realization that I probably won’t finish the book. I hate to disappoint, but I do have to say that if you are interested in the psychology of intelligence, creativity, and motivation, it will definitely be a great read for you.

Building Positive Relationships: How To Escape Education’s Death Valley (Sir Ken Robinson)

Do I hit you over the head with Sir Ken Robinson? Well, I am not going to apologize for it, because the man is a wonderful speaker and is full of great ideas. The video I am presenting on the blog today is his presentation at the 2013 TEDTalk Education Conference, which is as phenomenal as all of his others. I included it under “Building Positive Relationships” because the ideas he presents have the ability to change and enhance the relationships between student and teacher, teacher and administrator, and administrator and legislator. I hope you enjoy the presentation.


Creativity Fueled By Passion

Through the course of creating my workshop Encouraging Creativity in the Classroom I have pondered over the definition of creativity. Sir Ken Robinson defines creativity as “the process of having original ideas that have value”. I wanted to incorporate the different aspects that I have seen and experienced that are inherent in the process of creativity, so I created this definition:

Creativity is an idea which, when combined with the proper energy, inspires action to develop something that has value.

Even though the word is not present in the definition, I believe passion to be the “proper energy”. In fact, if I were quoting my definition outside the context of a workshop, I would probably substitute “proper energy” for “passion”. However, this definition was created with an eye toward presentation, so that is how it stands.

Do you find yourself creative mostly in the realm of an area that you feel passionate about? I was contemplating this as I wrote my last post, because I watch people as they talk about different things. The things that they feel the most passionate about are usually the ones in which their eyes light up as they talk about it, and they have more knowledge about it because of their passion towards it. I am sure that, if I take a closer look at people’s passions and where they feel the most creative in their lives, there would be a strong correlation between the two. Sometimes I am prompted in my head to ask, “But why are you doing this when you are so passionate about that?” It really brings to mind the Holstee Manifesto:


Building Positive Relationships: Motivation in the Classroom

Do the children in your classroom motivate you? They should. They are full of wonderful ideas, and are curious about everything around them. I look at the children in my classroom and my brain buzzes all day long with ideas of different activities that we can do based on what they are already doing. Sometimes our day goes in an entirely different direction than I had planned on. Actually, that is probably most days.

On the other side of the coin is the child. When the teacher brings their creativity and motivation to what the child is doing, it motivates the child to do more and explore more. It pushes them to new limits. Just as Dan Pink talked about in his TEDTalk, it brings mastery and purpose into the classroom: mastery because children work toward understanding of different concepts related to their lives and interests, and purpose because the teacher gives their exploration more relevance and purpose with their involvement. The type of motivation that is at play between the teacher and the child is cyclical in nature, with the teacher feeding off of the motivation of the child and vice versa.

One of the things that I especially liked about the Sir Ken Robinson talk about Changing Education is pointing out that, when you strip education down to its bare bones it is nothing more than the relationship and interaction between a student and a teacher. When these two motivate each other and feed off of each other, magical things happen in the classroom and a mutual respect is built up between the two. As the teacher sees just what the child is capable of and the child sees that the teacher cares about their ideas and helps them expand on those ideas, a partnership in learning is formed. Children begin to learn about how to learn, and teachers learn to appreciate the little things that go on in the classroom – the things that can motivate them.

Classroom motivation isn’t just about motivating the students. As teachers, we sometimes need a little motivation ourselves. Taking a moment to observe the children and what they are doing or talking about can be just the reminder about why we are motivated to teach that we need.

How to Change Education From the Ground Up

Once again, Sir Ken Robinson has given an excellent speech about the nature of education and the changes that are needed to educate effectively for the 21st century. This is probably the best talk I have heard yet, and I really encourage you to give it a listen.


What Are You Prepared to Do?

I have found a new, interesting, motivational website called Big Think. The most interesting part of the website to me is the Big Think Mentor section of the site. This section has a lot of motivational information from a lot of experts in creativity and business. The site also offers a paid subscription to their YouTube channel, where you will have access to a wealth of motivational and thought-provoking material.

One of the cool things I have found about the site is that Sir Ken Robinson has a collection of workshop videos on the site related to finding your element. I think we all know by now how much I love Sir Ken Robinson’s work (and here, too), so my natural inclination was to subscribe to the channel to watch the videos. I haven’t seen them all yet, but the purpose of this post is to introduce you to the post that brought the site to my attention: Are You Standing In Your Own Way?

What is your element? Are you standing in your own way to reach it?

Perspectives on Creativity From an Engineer

In doing research on what the consensus is for when creativity peaks, I ran into this article by Joseph Berk, an engineer. Joseph offered a different perspective on creativity than Ken Robinson. Robinson, as well as many other people that I have featured on this blog, have stated that creativity is essentially one’s ability to connect the dots and come up with something new from those connections. Joseph Berk laments that “most new designs are evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. They are improvements or modifications of other designs, rather than completely new concepts. They involve applications of other mechanisms and concepts, rather than completely new things.”

Isn’t this the “connecting the dots” that Robinson and others have talked about? Berk is not arguing that it isn’t, nor is he saying that this isn’t a type of creativity. He is lamenting that there isn’t more original work coming out of the world of engineering.  He faults the rules, regulations, and other constructs of society and the natural world that essentially put an engineer in a box and do not allow them to come up with original ideas of their own, simply because they are busy trying to conform to those rules.

The article is an interesting read, and another piece in the puzzle of creativity.

Building Positive Relationships: Finding Their Element

Ken Robinson’s book Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creativewas extremely thought-provoking for me. In an age whre most people state that creativity peaks at age 7 (a topic that we will definitely visit at a later date), Robinson states that creativity can be very much alive and well in the adult, provided they find their passion – that element that allows them to experience the joy of working, creating, and discovering. Most people seem to go through life in a haze of dislike for their work but resigned to doing it anyway – and since this seems to be the norm in society, no one questions it. It seems to be the exception rather than the rule that one find fulfillment and happiness through their work.

I find that one of my jobs as a teacher is to provide different avenues for children to express their creativity. It is almost like a treasure hunt, because each child is different and each child likes to express their creativity differently. One may love to color and one may love to paint. One may love to play with sand and one may love to build with blocks. One may love to get messy and one may not like mess so much.

The key to the treasure hunt is to provide as many different experiences as possible, observe during those experiences, and brainstorm new experiences off of those observations. By observing children’s reactions to different experiences, we can help them find avenues for their creativity that they enjoy. If we let others in the child’s life know about the avenues the child seems to enjoy, they can expand and extend the experience for the child. And through their experimentation and expansion, new avenues to express creativity may emerge.

So what does this have to do with building positive relationships? Well, for starters, everyone seems to appreciate being supported in an area of their lives that they enjoy. This is no different in children. In a time when children are told “no” seemingly all the time, it is up to us, the advocates for children, to be the ones to tell them “yes”. There is a woman whose page I follow on Facebook who posts all the time about telling her children “yes”. And the way she phrases it, you can tell that the things she says “yes” to are things that the children have either asked to do, or are things that may have gotten a resounding “no” if not for a pause in which one asks the question, “Well, why shouldn’t they be allowed to do this?” Her children will most likely find their element quicker because they have been allowed to experience and experiment throughout their childhood. And they are also experiencing the respect from their parents that, even though they are kids, they are capable to learn  how to maneuver their way through life. They are also capable to learn from their parents about aspects of life through modeling.

Children are sill learning about their world. In order to gain a full understanding about the way the world works, children should be allowed to experience their world as much as possible. We have all had something in our life that we didn’t fully understand. Usually curiosity will drive us until we gain understanding. But if we feel that our curiosity is being stifled, we will lose our curiosity, and may lose interest in something that may potentially be our element. The same is true of children. One of the worst things we can do to a child is to stifle their inborn curiosity by not letting them experience and experiment with life.