Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sir Ken Robinson @ Kaneko

This evening I had the wonderful privilege of listening to Sir Ken Robinson speak at the brand new Kaneko in downtown Omaha. Kaneko just opened last week and is part library, part art museum and all creative center. It truly is a beautiful facility and will be a huge asset to not only the downtown area but also the surrounding metro.
I will say, I would've loved to live blog the event, but it wasn't a conference, it was a little more cozy, so that's why you only get the recap. I'll do my best.
Sir Ken Robinson believes, in a very basic paraphrase, that everyone is born creative, but it is suppressed during a person's life. His book, The Element, touches on how to find that point in your life where you are doing something you are good at and have a passion for and how that improves your quality of life. That's the extremely short version. I'd hate to give away the whole book.
I was fortunate enough to see Sir Ken twice. The first event was specifically for educators. One of our principals got early enough so we sat front and center, or as one of our other colleagues put it, "On Ken's lap." I had seen the TED video and am starting to read The Element, but hearing him talk about creativity was absolutely amazing. This was an outstanding opportunity for him to focus with a specific group of people who are on the front lines of where creativity, in his mind, goes away. He compared school to fast food chains. Paraphrasing, he said no matter where the fast food restaurant is, you always get the same burger, the same bun, the same fries. It may be garbage, but it's still guaranteed wherever you go. On the other hand, there is another restaurant group (with his accent, I didn't really understand the is appreciated) that says, here is the criteria for what a quality dining establishment is, we don't care what you cook, but you must meet the criteria to be published in our guide. All of the restaurants are outstanding, but they are all different. Why couldn't education be that way? He also touched on the three pieces of education: curriculum, teaching and assessment. He says that while teaching (or instruction) has been shown to be the key to quality education, politicians only focus on the other two because they are easily manageable. Teaching is what hinders the creative process because too many teachers are worried about the other two areas. He was very engaging and included a question and answer session to get our thoughts on the state of education in Nebraska. The comments were fairly positive on the whole, although the new state tests did come up.
After a Subway supper and a little tour of the library, (which is cool, but a lot smaller than I imagined, although I know they aren't done renovating) the second general session began in the Bow Truss Presentation Space. Basically, Bow Truss is in the same building, but is a large, open, flexible space. As you would expect, the majority of the speech came out of the book, which of course, is perfectly fine. He gave some great examples of people who have found their element and how they reached that point. He believes that more people would find their element if creativity wasn't a thing that was so looked down upon and stifled. He showed a great stat where a group of people took a test to measure their divergent thinking (think opposite of the strict, by the book, IQ test). One question example he gave was, "Name things you can do with a paper clip." Non-creative people can come up with two or three while truly creative can come up with over 200, manipulating the paper clip because the question doesn't say it has to maintain it's shape. As 3-5 year olds, 98% qualified as genius based on this test. By the time the same group reached age 25, 2% were still at the genius level. His argument is that the difference between the first and the last test was that they were educated. They were educated that there was only one right answer. 
So my take? I agree that, with an increase in standardized testing, too many teachers have been scared into "teaching to the test." Let me point out that, since I've been in undergrad, I've argued that teaching to the test isn't a bad thing as long as it's a well written, viable test. The test should have important knowledge that all students need to know at that age/grade level, therefore the activities that you are doing in your classroom should be age appropriate and related to items that students need to know. But I think too many teachers teach to the test in the sense that they feel the only thing a student needs to know is how to answer a question that looks eerily similar to the one on the big elephant in the room known as the state standardized test. While I understand the reason behind standardized testing (I said understand, I didn't say like), I think teachers need to look at their objectives, use their assessments and unleash a student's creativity with those things in mind. We are working with our staff members to develop learning plans. Teachers are given the end (summative assessment), a couple of places to check in (formative assessments) and the overall objective, but how they get their is up to them. Is this an ideal situation? No, not in Sir Ken's world. But I do feel that this process has opened it up to teachers to think creatively and adjust instruction based on their own students. However, we still have teachers that have it branded into their brain that IT'S ALL ABOUT THE TEST, when really, they could/should/NEED TO relax more and expand the opportunities that they are giving students.
Tonight was an outstanding night. I got my book signed. I got to experience a brilliant human being discuss a topic that I need to incorporate more into my job and my district. If you ever get the chance, I HIGHLY recommend checking out Sir Ken Robinson.
Congrats to Hal France and the rest of the Kaneko staff for a wonderful opening presenter. Keep up the good work and the crowds will exceed tonight. Fix the mic, though :)


adarling said...

Woot! Lots to think about, thanks very much for the peek about what went on at Kaneko.
As and art teacher I can only reply AMEN to Sir Ken's assertions and will definitely look for the book.
As for the testing bit, my big question has always who should be learning from the test? If its only your students then you are only 1/2 right and maybe that's generous.
Thanks again!

J Allen said...

If I understand your question correctly, I completely agree that teachers should learn just as much from the tests as students. If not, it's a waste of time for them to give it. If assessment is given such high importance, it has to shape your instruction. Not so much how you instruct, but what the purpose of the instruction is.