Thursday, April 20, 2017

NCEA2017 'TED' Chat: Forget Everything You Learned in School

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” -Einstein

The need for 21st Century Learning may not be so '21st Century.' --I would say, it has been rediscovered as necessary in order for our children to be successful later in life.

Although, Einstein was a product of the 19th century and offered his insights for the 20th Century, he continues to inspire us for the 21st Century. One only has to read his quotes to get a sense that this great thinker possessed the 'heart' and the 'mind' of what 21st Century Learning aspires to offer today's students.

How about this one...

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” ~ Albert Einstein

Ouch! As I read his words I find myself secretly agreeing with Albert, even though I've been an educator for over 25 year. I guess, I was kind of like that 'fish' that never really could 'climb that tree.' As a result, I spent most of my K-12 years thinking I was 'stupid.'

Life, however, has a way of making one 'smart' or at least it has a way of stripping away the facade that facts and knowledge measure a person's ability. I'll never forget my freshman year in college, when, in order to be admitted into a religious order, I had take an IQ test. Upon receiving the results, I laughed out loud when the counselor told me I scored superior. "How can that be," I asked, "when I always tested as average in school?"

His explanation was my first real 'life lesson'--he said something like this, (I found this definition on line) that 'my' intelligence measured 'my' capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and demonstrated my aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc....--not just what I knew or memorized., I began to ask some questions like:  Why did it take so long for my ability to surface? Why couldn't the teachers see my ability?  Then it hit me, the real question was, Why couldn't I see my own ability?

It's very simple: WYTIWYG! What You Test Is What You Get! And the 'Y' is plural. It not only refers to what, 'you,' the teacher will get by externalizing the results for a grade--but what, 'you,' the child will internalize and believe about him/her self later in life. I know I did.

At my school--there were no tests to measure my ability only my knowledge (or what the book said). There were no tests to score my level of creativity only my level of regurgitation. There were no exams that asked for understanding or synthesis--only exams that wanted facts, correct spelling and proper grammar. There were no projects based on interest, passion or, only handouts that required you 'colored in the lines.' As a consequence, the perception of my ability was being shaped by tests that kept telling not just how 'little I knew' but more insidiously, they were communicating just how 'great' was my 'inability' to learn.

Einstein was right...I really needed to forget school in order to understand the value of my education.
Once I climbed down from the 'tree' and started listening to how life was educating mind opened up. College was awesome. I was being asked to think, to synthesize, to make correlations, to apply to real life and I was damn good at it. Although, a victim of my own doubt from time to time...good professors and a strong passion kept me moving. When I graduated with my BA and credential I was surprised to learn on my graduation diploma that I earned Magna Cum Laude. You see, even though I knew my grades, I still couldn't believe I was that smart--guess, I still have to come down off that tree.

So, what experiences from my life's 'education' opened my mind to help me score with superior intelligence? Upon reflection, perhaps it was the 'education,' that came in the form learning piano and guitar, which I taught myself when I was in 7th grade. Or maybe it was the 'education' that came in the form of writing stories and plays and then performing them for our family and friends when I was young or later in high school when I performed in the theatre. Perhaps my 'education' is a result of reading countless fairytales, watching classic movies and as my mom always said...'when you were little you were always taking things apart to see how they worked.'---Life was actually making me very 'smart' --who would have thought that the learning I was doing only paralleled my schooling--because it was never part of my classroom experience.

If you would have asked me at eighteen, do you see yourself becoming a published author, a national presenter, or a educational leader sitting on boards and representing elementary principals from 3 states? I would have had no hesitation and answered, 'I'm not smart enough to do those things.'

Yet, all I needed to do was 'forget what I learned in school' and the value of my life 'education' rose to fill the void.

So, how could it have been different? Who knows? I think rather than dwelling on my past...I'm going to look forward and draw some conclusions. How could 'that' child, (me), be served by education today?

Simple: 21st Century Skills & Project-based learning.

Learning focused on Creativity, Communication, Collaboration and Critical Thinking.
Project-based learning that is student driven based on interest, talent and passion.

Let me end by sharing a great comic strip from Calvin and Hobbes that sums it up.

Thanks to the NCEA team and Andrea Kopp, Asst. Director for Professional Development, for giving me the opportunity to share this 'TED'-like chat with the attendees. The experience was both very personal and affirming.