Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Celebrating divergent thinking

ELP facilitator Lorraine Sands writes:

I hope that I can capture for you the vitality of the learning I witnessed. I imagine many of you will have heard of Beyblades as they seem to be a world wide phenomenon.  Earlier this week. I was visiting a relatively small rural community and with a little time to spare, I thought I’d just pop into an early childhood centre to catch up with some teachers I hadn’t seen for  a while. Whaea Tracy and I were chatting when a little guy came up and asked if I would like to see his Beyblade. We all know how impossible it is to resist requests from animated, intensely interested children and so I turned to give my full attention expecting to see him demonstrating his prowess with these toys. Instead he disappeared momentarily and returned with some magnetic geometrically shaped blocks. I was fully alert now as this was intriguing. Manaaki placed 5 triangles on the table and clicked the magnets into place, lifted these into a 3d model so they formed the bottom half of a diamond and finally placed a pentagon shape on top to give it strength. He then threw his version of a Beyblade onto the ground where it spun with considerable speed, dancing merrily across the floor. I was stunned for I felt I had witnessed a 21st century learner in action. All the best  of that 20th century pioneering spirit we love in New Zealand, that number eight wire, can do attitude, using whatever is around  to solve whatever problems need to be solved, with a 21st century twist! This creative inventor had  seen a possibility. By knowing how one thing worked he had leaped a thinking chasm, making some completely unrelated materials work in a similar way!

That kind of divergent thinking is to be celebrated. It’s the kind of thinking that will grow the ‘knowledge enconomy’. We’ve continually heard this rhetoric from political parties, yet there seems less detail  about how this ‘playing around with ideas’ can be embedded into learning throughout  a child’s education. Guy Claxton gives us some powerful notions around “Building Learning Powered Schools”. Slit screen teaching where thinking about thinking is highly visible alongside increasing knowledge and skills. His book is worth having in your libraries.  Manaaki then set about making another of his Beyblades, for of course they are designed for having races with other people and his intention was for us to work with him to see how fast we could make them go. Collaborative and competitive in one go, happy to share his knowledge so we could have fun together. He was clearly working as a leader and as a team member.The attributes for a successful 21st learner just kept stacking up.

These are the magic moments that need documenting and so I fetched my camera. Manaaki, ever vigilant for another learning experience wanted to take his own photos and figured out how to use my camera in quick time. Spinning tops of course lose their vivacity in still photos so we switched to video mode. I left promising to send him the DVD so he could show his mum and dad at home on their TV.

What did I come away with that day?  I listened to Alison Gopnik this morning on National radio (it will be worth getting the pod cast of this), talking about how essential it is for children to be viewed as scientists who make predictions about the world and test their theories. This playing around with ideas feeds their growing intelligence. She said that structured learning is detrimental to children in their early years. The challenge for us is to make our environments into vibrant learning settings where children’s curiosity can flourish with support from teachers who promote making mistakes as a way to learn. This means children will be learning at the cusp of their experience and skills stretching these far and wide.

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