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"Mommy, Look What I Made!"

Written by Sheila Cooperman
September 26, 2014

   “Mommy, look what I made,” is a phrase that any parent is familiar with hearing and can be applied to so many things.  “Look what I made” can extend from a child’s pride in constructing a mud pie, a scribbled drawing, a collage made out of paper towel cores, and yes, sorry, to whateve prideful bathroom success has occurred.  After all, face it, in our society, we place a tremendous importance on toilet training.  “Mommy, look what I made,” is a powerful statement speaking to the sense of pride, self-efficacy, and downright joy when a human being, at any age, accomplishes something that they have controlled, thought about, worked on, and completed.  

   A need to share one’s successes as well as a need for feedback is almost instinctual. Staying with the child metaphor, think about this. A toddler is happily playing on the floor putting things in a cardboard box. The toy that was housed in the box is, of course, ignored. Suddenly, the child is unable to fit something in the box the proverbial square peg in a round hole. After having had some previous success putting things in a box, the toddler tries it, but when no success follows…here it comes. The wails, whines and cries of “Mommy, help me.” And mommy, just as Vygotsky had theorized, proceeds to show the toddler how to accomplish the task.  Mom, the “more knowlegeable other” is helping the toddler develop a sense of independence and teaching, at the same time, the importance of social relationships and collaboration.  People learn with the help of others, people learn by modeling and doing, people learn by having the opportunity to think, experiement, try, and Yes..fail.

   Children are inherently curious. It is a built in phenomenon. It drives early learning.Curiosity is the food for knowledge acquisition, the food for ensuring that individuals will grow and feel confident in sharing and creating. Curiosity is the food for thoughts, questions, problem solving. And just when that system is becoming a well oiled machine–school happens. And an insidious virus begins to spread, but it spreads so slowly that it is hard to detect and diagnose. It reminds me of a segment in the text Because of Winn Dixie  a wonderful book by Kate DiCamillo. In the text, the dog, Winn-Dixie likes to get up on the couch, but will not openly jump up there. He creeps up. First, a paw and he looks around as if to see if anyone is noticing his stealth. Then a leg, and a shoulder. Continuing to look nonchalantly around as though just paying attention to the scenery, he is suddenly completely ensconced on the couch as though he has no idea how that happened. A great piece of writing. Thank you, Ms. DiCamillo. This slow-spreading, almost unnoticeable virus-school- suctions much of the creativity and life energy our of children. School has become the the square peg that we are trying to stuff down the round hole of creativity in children’s minds.

   Sir Ken Robinson stated, “First, we’re all born with deep natural capacities for creativity and systems of mass education tend to suppress them.” He argued that schools and the way they function are the antithesis of what good education should look like, and perhaps more importantly, goes against what is natural and needed in this changing world. People are different and no two, like snowflakes, are the same, yet we are trying to educate them as though they are all the same. People are diverse with different skills, affinities, and capabilities. I cannot sing. No matter how much I try. I have been told to shut up. Seriously, “Shut up.” Children are all different. It is a natural state of being so why are we forcing them all to learn in the same way? Why are we standardizing the delivery of instruction? Why are we squelching creativity and thinking? Our students are individuals. They are not houses made out of ticky-tacky as immortalized in the song “Little Boxes” written by Malvina Reynolds in 1962. 

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   Students are not all the same. They don’t look the same and they don’t learn the same. The world of today is not the same world students lived in 50 years, 20 years, even 10 years ago. The world is changing so fast that it is almost incalculable. So much new information is being produced accompanied with new questions and new problems that how can we, as educators, speak to this. Our students today are bombarded with so much information that our education has to change. No longer can it be said that there is only one authoritative source. No longer can it be said that only the teacher knows. Today, we have to instruct students in HOW to find the information, not just where to find the information. We have to help them construct and build their own knowledge, give them the chance to think and try, give them the opportunities to solve problems because the truth is they are going to have to know how to solve problems that aren’t problems–yet. I remember first being introduced to this concept when the original Shift Happens was introduced. Do you remember?

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   I was awestruck by the titanic changes that were happening in front of eyes and even more awestruck by the fact that my eyes were open, but blind. I was floored by the the antiquated, archaic methods that had been guiding my instruction and my instant recognition that my teaching had to change because the world was changing. And,we all know, time waits for noone. And when my conscious brain embraced this teaching epiphany, I changed. My students changed. Back then it was easy, but now it is much harder beause of the choke hold of standardization, worries over the Common Core, Assured Assessments. These worries are not only choking the life out of teachers, but killing the creativity of our students.  We need to wake up. It is a sad state of affairs, But Sir Ken Robinson can handle it with a smile. 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sir-ken-robinson/do-schools-kill-creativity_b_2252942.html

   So it is time to bring the “Mommy, look what I made,” back into the classroom. It is time to allow students to construct  their own learning by allowing them to actually construct their own learning. We live in a three dimensional world. We need to build and try. Only Flat Stanley is happy and can learn in a flat world of little dimension. And it can work. High Tech High is making it work and Principal Larry Rosenstock says that most learning happens through “kids making, doing, building, shaping, and inventing stuff.” The students themselves speak to the learning and enjoyment they have about education. Wait! Learning and enjoyment in the same breath? The ability to be able to innovate, think, try, fail, construct, fail again, make, succeed is not the wave of the future–it is the wave of NOW. A student in High Tech High said of his work “I think it is fun when you make something you are really proud of and other people are interested in it and give you compliments.” These children are motivated to try, build, and learn. These children have true ownership in their learning. These children are confident and happy. How bad can that be?