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10/27/2008

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Stevie Rocco

It's heartening that the folks you spoke to want to add these things to the curriculum, and a total reverse (I must say) from my prior life as a high school teacher. In my district (not our local one), the teachers were begging to do some new and innovative things, and it was the administration that stifled the creativity. For the most part, this happened at the level of local administration (e.g., principals) rather than centrally.

Interestingly, I found that kindergarten in our local public school was the most creative and inspirational time for both of my children. Other than one fabulous second-grade teacher whom both my children were privileged to have, the remainder of their elementary education was quite stifling. And each year they always seemed to have novice teachers--folks who were fresh out of internship and just feeling their way. In my experience, creativity was the last thing on their minds--getting through the year was.

This year, we pulled my daughter from the public school and put her in a local charter. So far, it's been a fabulous experience. Everything is about portfolios, technology is integrated wherever you look, and teachers (two per class of 25) are responsive to a degree that I haven't seen in a long time.

That having been said, I don't really blame the teachers, either. As I personally experienced from my seven years in the public schools, the system itself wears you down. And it really seems unfair that my daughter's new charter school is so fabulous because the state chose to free them from the red tape and bureaucracy of the regular public school. Why not just free everyone and be done with it?

Ellysa

Hi Cole,

We (meaning Emily and I) have been doing outreach to K-12 and public librarians for the last four years (our group has a ridiculously long name---K-16 Central PA Information Literacy Network). This is partly borne out of my past as a children's and school librarian and our wish to connect with librarians at all levels of education. Our workshops have been well attended, and have traditionally focused on information literacy issues.

I think a technology-based initiative to reach out to area K-12 educators as Dave suggests above is an excellent idea. I know our librarians would certainly be interested---I think one of the shortfalls faced in this area (which impacts the level of teacher/librarian use of technology in the classroom) is a dearth of local professional development opportunities.

If you're interested in pursuing this, Emily and I would be happy to share our practices (all of our workshops carry Act 48 credit, which is a major incentive to educators) and partner/hrlp out in any way possible.

Robin

I understand your reasons for feeling disheartened. Being such an innovative thinker, it is only natural for you to want an open learning environment where your child can flourish to the best of her potential. While your children are at the beginning (or will be soon enough) of their public school education, my children (14, 16, 18) are at the end of theirs. While my kids have fared well academically, I must admit I didn't leave it all in the hands of the school district and their standard agenda. Like teaching manners, ethics, and accountability, I believe innovative thought and discussion falls within my sphere of influence as a parent and can be applied to whatever development level is currently appropriate. It might be more work, but seeing your kids thinking creatively and outside the box is very rewarding. Of course, I must admit that I have had to provide more support to the youngest, who is by far the most innovative, when his teachers did not appreciate his innovation as much as I did. Strangely, this was most obvious in the middle school; I cannot fathom why.

Many make the argument that college doesn't really teach you specifics, as much as it teaches you how to learn. To me this makes a lot of sense, and is a core life skill that makes a monumental difference in a person's life. Why, though, do we wait until college to focus on how to learn I think that when we encourage innovative thought from a very young age, we might be incurring more work for ourselves as parents in guiding and leading them in exploration, but the rewards are far greater for them. The choice is ours, as is the responsibility. I just hope that academia and school districts catch up quickly.

dave

What a great place for you to give a talk! It seems that if we want to serve higher education, we should aim at K-12 educators. I wonder if our outreach to other campuses arrives too late in studnt's careers to be of much significance. Having summer or weekend gatherings for K-12 educators and road shows to high schools might help. It sure seems worthwhile, and would spread some good Penn State PR.

Cole Camplese

Thanks to everyone for the comments ... a few thoughts. Both my wife and I will be strong advocates for our child as she moves through the system. I won't be the silent type, but at the same time I will always work to respect the position the teachers are in. I know it is systemic issue, not a single point of success or failure and that means we'll have to work hard at every turn. I think the thing now that she is in first grade is that we are seeing a push to the middle -- creativity and curiosity are already starting to be pushed aside. That is what is so disappointing.

I know we'll continue to explore alternatives and if something that feels right comes along, we'll make the move. For now I am going to engage my little lady in other kinds of activities so she gets exposed to other kinds of thinking. I'll let her do digital storytelling activities, we'll go out and make little movies together, and I know we'll have fun doing it. In the process I hope to find ways to continue sharing these ideas with her teachers and the school administrators I get to talk to. My time working with K-12 PA leadership has just begun and I plan to take advantage of the opportunity.

I especially like the idea that Ellysa shares -- opportunities to provide professional development for our own school environments. That may be a theme I explore here very soon. So again, thanks for the thoughts and I'd love to continue this conversation!

JamieO

Cole,

When I volunteered for the Penn State Powwow a few years back, I was chatting with several local school teachers. They asked what I did, and I told them, and then I asked if they ever considered using Web 2.0 stuff like social Internet, podcasts, etc. in their classroom. They were middle school teachers.

This is anecdotal, therefore not really true evidence of a local attitude in education, but their reaction was like I suggested a field trip to the End Zone. For example, one said "so you think it's a good idea to allow child predators access to students while they are in school???? Not in my classroom." Never mind any benefit, just focus on the worst case scenario. The others wrote off this stuff as a passing fad that was going to be irrelevant to their students in a few years.

Matt Groenig, creator of the Simpsons, did a cartoon in the 1980-1990s called Life in Hell. One of my all-time favorites. Well, he did a series called "School is Hell" in the late 80s, and in the section on kindergarten, there was a frame that showed a kid painting. The frame was titled "express yourself with art" and had little balloons around the kid that said "Paint doggies!" "Paint pictures of your house!" "Paint on your friends!." At the bottom Groenig had "Be creative now before school destroys your creativity with soul-crushing conformity."

How little things have changed, apparently.

Anyhow, back to work.

Rachel Smith

Cole, I feel such empathy for your situation. Like you, I want my son to love school, not to see it as a chore or something to get out of, but to want to go because it's where interesting things happen. He's in third grade now and I have to say I'm very very pleased with his school and his teachers -- but it's not at all the "traditional" model.

When he was in preschool, we interviewed a lot (a LOT) of potential kindergartens before we picked one for him. I still remember one of them: we asked what the curriculum was like for the kids, and the teacher looked at me and said, "We mostly focus on teaching them to sit still in their chairs and stand quietly in line so they will be successful in school next year." Yeah, that's what I want my kid to be: orderly, quiet, and bored to tears.

He's in a Montessori school now, where his teachers take one day a month to plan lessons -- school is closed for curriculum development. As a result, they are able to offer him (and the other children) specialized material that suits his learning style and ability. I am so grateful to have this school available. I wish that all schools and all teachers were as equipped, and that all children could have the opportunity to learn to love school, not as a place where they stand quietly in line, but as a place where new ideas are embraced and individuality is celebrated.

I think one of the first steps is for people like you to talk to audiences like this one. Thanks for carrying the banner out there.

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