Friday, March 29, 2013

What did you think of Sir Ken?

A former student asked me this earlier today. You see, Sir Ken Robinson visited GVSU this week (news story) and shared his message about the need for creativity to be infused in education - not just something added on. I told the student something like, "He was certainly inspiring. I left feeling passionate about being an educator and affirmed in my efforts to improve teaching."

(Watch this and see if you don't agree)

"But," I added, "I'm still thinking about how to implement the ideas he shared. What does it look like?"

The student responded, "You always ask that."

My colleague, John Golden, was also at the presentation and wrote this recap. He had the same question (no surprise for anyone who knows us). John focused on education in general, however, and I want to focus on a specific example Sir Ken gave about mathematics. There's currently no transcript or video of the complete talk so some of this is based on memory and notes which admittedly are a product of my own filter. So be forewarned.

Sir Ken talked about asking a math professor in London how the math department evaluated doctoral theses. The math professor explained that the math, obviously needed to be correct, but that this was not usually a problem. So it boiled down to two things. First, the work was something original that contributed to the current knowledge-base. And second, it was aesthetically pleasing. The math professor explained that math was a way of representing the beauty and truth of the world and that a dissertation needed to be able to demonstrate that connection. (If anyone remembers this differently, I'd be happy to make the necessary adjustments. Please leave your memories in the comments.)

As I thought about these requirements, it became clear that K-12 schools often focus on the initial point, correct mathematics, while ignoring originality and aesthetics. So what would this look like if we also incorporate Sir Ken's admonition that the later elements, associated with creativity, are not added on after the fact? I think standards-based assessments and problem finding activities are two sources to consider as ways to address these expectations, but I am open to other. What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. Am getting a nice dose of Sir Ken within last 48 hours, first reminded of his RSA animation by Keith Devlin's recent post, then John's recap, and now yours.

    If we didn't have state standardized tests, would "correct mathematics" still come first in the classroom? I can't tell you how many teachers have told me that they can't do problem solving, collaboration, projects, and all that "cool" stuff because they have to get through so-and-so chapters by so-and-so date. My response to them is something like, "Can you afford NOT to?"

    The task at hand is to convince teachers (and administrators) that by DOING mathematics with students that the test scores (if the questions on the test are worth a damn to begin with) will actually improve because kids are thinking critically and using strategies and asking questions.

    Teachers need support and training to provide learning opportunities for kids that foster the kind of creativity that Sir Ken passionately points out.

    Then I see teachers attend workshops (myself included), get great ideas in a binder, then put this binder on a shelf somewhere and forget to implement this in their own classroom. We are so busy with busy work! So there's that monumental never-ending paperwork shuffling that we teachers are asked to do that leave us exhausted and no energy left to try anything new.

    I'm starting to mumble. Thank you, David.