I have a lot I want to talk about and this will probably all be a huge mess. I apologize in advance for the slog this will be. I will try and break parts of it up with photos or videos if possible!
…buuuut it’s still going to sort of be a wall of text, so I don’t blame you if you take a pass on this one.
This week, we talked about some of the “hot button issues” related to technology in education and what our own opinions and experiences led us to believe on the topic. I admit that I am far too passionate about this, so this is why it will indeed result in rambling, but I chose to comment on the discussion we had in class surrounding the question of why we teach what students can Google, and the question if curriculum needs to be abolished or changed altogether with the rise of technology and information being readily available at our fingertips.
My opinion is this. I think we should by all means be changing how we teach and how our students learn with the changing environment of our world. I believe that the way we have taught for years is not the best way, and is not the system of success, but the system of the privileged, and the system of the mundane. We do not teach students to learn, we teach students to recite. And this is why I think that technology can shape the world for the better by forcing us to not teach our students what can be found on Google, but instead to teach our students to Google, to be curious, and to want to learn.
What is the Problem?
School Kills Creativity
I know I saw Ken Robinson’s TED Talk on this topic in my first year of University, so I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has seen it, but I think this video works nicely as the opening point to my opinions on how our education system perhaps does need to change and be adjusted to account for some of its failings.
Here is the video as well, if you want a YouTube video, instead of the TED Talk website.
Basically, the idea is that school encourages students to stop trying new things, to stop thinking outside the box. He states this by talking about how young children are unafraid of being wrong, and are unafraid of failure. And then we give them the consequences for failure that mean that they’ll never want to not succeed again.
And while it is true that failure needs to have some form of acknowledgement, it doesn’t mean that students need to feel as if they are a failure simply because the answer was incorrect, or different than expected.
We teach students that there is only “yes” or “no”, and there is no “maybe” or “let’s try it” or “what about this?” and, in doing so, we give them that black and white idea that one is good and one is bad.
I think that absolutely school kills creativity and it is our job as future teachers to do something about it.
Behind Every Successful Person there is a Feeling on Education
Now, I don’t want to make it seem like I’m being a terrible person, and I’m not saying that education is terrible. Because honestly, I read through about a million different quotes from famous or “successful people” and what they had to say about education, and I disagreed with a lot of what they were saying. So I am perhaps providing a bit of a biased look by choosing the quotes that prove my point, but I admitted to it, so you all know that there is a large amount of bias being shown all over this blog.
But I want to emphasize why I chose to include this part. I made this choice because if our education system was perfect and the way we have organized the system worked then there wouldn’t be legitimate criticisms of the system. Everyone’s heard the list of people who dropped out of high school or university to move on to greatness – Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg, to name a few straight, white males – and people use them as examples. To let people know that they can achieve greatness, that they can do good things, that they are capable of anything, no matter their grades or how they did in school. We hinge self-worth and importance on school, we elevate people by their perceived genius because they excel. But then when we take a look at the people who have played a large part in what has made the world what it is today, we see so many of them denouncing the education system.
It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of education have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. – Albert Einstein
The fact that ideas, that inventions, that science, math, poetry, everything in the world was discovered and created due to someone having an idea or a passion is no secret. Math spent most of its time being manipulated by people with the desire to see more. Scientists like to blow things up in the name of SCIENCE, poets like to see if they can write a poem about having no meaning and artists like to see if maybe driftwood has a hidden figure in it somewhere.
My point is that a lot of what we teach students in classrooms today was discovered by someone who wondered why. Who asked questions. Who tried things. Who failed more than they succeeded. And then we sit there, and tell our students they are destined for greatness. They are destined to be like the ones they learn about who created everything they love. And then we teach them in a system that does not nurture and cultivate the skills needed to do the things they did.
By the way, random aside, I was trying to find the poem I was referencing up there. I could not find it. So maybe Google is not that useful after all……..
Here is, from her best recollection, what the poem sort of looked like in my sister’s memory. Not totally related, I just promised there’d be pictures, so here’s a screenshot of my skype.
What Happens Next?
Those of you who are in my EMath class already heard me talk about this, so I apologize for the repetition. I found a documentary online the other day, called Rediscovering Mystery. Gonna give my props to Danny O’Dwyer, the video game journalist and documentary creator who made the documentary. He left his old job to start a Patreon so that he could make an in depth series of videos that explore the inner workings of game creation and development. He’s really awesome, you should check him out, look at his YouTube channel if you have any interest in video games in general.
But even if you don’t, you should totally watch the documentary on mystery.
The reason I include this is because I find that the lessons highlighted in the video can also be easily drawn to education and how we should be adjusting, shifting, and changing our direction in teaching. They talk about how creativity in games is dead because of the rise of the internet and strategy guides and FAQs on the internet meaning that it is easier than ever to just give up on a puzzle. They talk about how game development has moved in this direction as well. That if a player can’t solve a puzzle in five minutes, the game will pop up a little hint at the top directing the player. Games hold the player’s hand to an extent where no one wants to figure things out on their own anymore. And the developers discuss how they made their games – Frog Fractions, The Witness, and Spelunky – in spite of these stipulations. All those games are amazing, by the way, check them out. Frog Fractions is also free, Just saying.
In school we hold our student’s hands. We give them hints if they get stuck on a question. We give them a step-by-step guide to do a math problem. We give them multiple choice on tests. And when a student gets something wrong, we shut that line of thinking down, sometimes before they even get to their wrong answer. We work so hard to garner student success instead of thinking about how success should look and feel.
This is why inquiry in the classroom is so important. Because it encourages students to try things, to experiment, to not worry if they get the answer wrong, because often, there is no one right answer. I am a fan of this idea and this doctrine because we are then teaching students to not be ashamed of something that they’ll spend more of their life doing. The majority of people (like, I’d say over 90%, but that’s a made-up stat, sooooo) fail more than they succeed. It took me a long time to learn to make mac and cheese. I still am not a perfect baker, but I can make a mean meringue, who knew? You start every task with attempts and losses, and you work toward the success that means you’ve mastered a skill, idea, task, or concept.
That is what the documentary is alluding to with solving puzzles and mysteries in games. Games like The Witness give you no walkthrough, just a very simple straight line of about five or six puzzles before the game literally opens up into an entire world and you can go wherever you want. I spent my first four hours of the game literally wandering in a village where I didn’t solve a single puzzle because I had unwittingly found the area of the game you should probably do last. The game has puzzles you can go the entire game without seeing, and it blew my mind when I knew there was so much more to explore (literally so much, you can beat the game in the first ten minutes, and like, who knew?).
Frog Fractions has that last idea in it. That there is so much more to it than meets the eye. It is not what you think it is. And sometimes you can play the game and never move past the first section because you don’t know what the game is hiding. And Frog Fractions 2 is so crazy, I can’t even describe it.
Spelunky has a secret boss that is literally an eggplant monster that is literally so impossible to get to, only one person has ever done it without a partner, something even the creator thought was impossible.
That was the obligatory games rant. To show you the lesson these games can teach us.
- You can figure something out even if someone doesn’t give you guidance or instructions
- You can try new things and see what works
- Not everything is how it seems, and sometimes you need to look at information from a different angle to see the bigger picture
- Something may seem impossible, until you try hard enough
Technology and Exploration
We give students opportunity. We stop using our curriculum to create a hive mind with singular opinions and ideas and instead we teach our students to explore, to want to learn, to desire the answers, to fail, to learn from their failures, to then succeed.
From failure you learn. From success – not so much. – Aunt Billie, Meet the Robinsons
Technology gives us immense opportunity to work with exploration in the classroom. Like, I said earlier, give them a reason to Google, instead of teaching them the facts they can look up.
Here are some of the ways that technology can help us in devising change and opportunity in our curriculum, and how we can rediscover that mystery that is missing.
- We can use the internet to explore math games with students – my table group and I looked at two websites yesterday in my EMath class – Math Hombre and Plastelina that have various math puzzles to explore and learn from.
- Of course, there is Desmos and all the graphs you can explore there, and the art you can create.
- You can do a flipped classroom and have your students watch the content of your class at home, and come to school for help or enrichment – gives you more time in the classroom for exploration, challenging questions, real life applications, and trying new things with the work.
- You can use resources on the internet to find more interesting and creativity inducing lessons – use pinterest, twitter, any resource that will share ideas with you.
- Encourage students to use Google, to look up things in class when you don’t know the answer, to research for an inquiry project responsibly.
These are my ideas on how we can instill creativity and mystery into our classroom, on how we can still use our curriculum we have, but teach it in new fun ways that inspire students to fail more than they succeed because that failure is worth it. There is something worth learning in being wrong. That even though you can Google something, doesn’t mean you know the context, or know why it is important. It is up to a student, a class, and/or a teacher to tell us why what we’ve Googled is relevant, and where we go from here.
That was my blog, if you made it this far, you are a very determined soul. I apologize for the length.