Professional Development is at once inspiring, restorative, and energizing. An ongoing learning for our faculty has an immediate impact on the experiences of students in the classrooms. From courses and workshops to webinars and shared readings, our faculty embrace opportunities to broaden their understanding of the human brain, of best practices of instruction, and of the constantly shifting landscape of educational reforms.
Some of our faculty attended the Learning and the Brain Conference in February in San Francisco, and we’ve asked them to report to you about some of what they learned. We hope you enjoy this edition of our Gateway School Professional Development Newsletter!
Five Dimensions of Curiosity
Reflections from Learning and the Brain by Amy Schwerdtfeger
“How can we manufacture intriguing moments in the classroom?”
This essential question resonated with me, and I was indeed intrigued throughout psychologist Todd Kashdan’s keynote address at this year’s Learning & the Brain conference. Todd led the room through an exercise in which two-thirds of the audience were told to stand and put their hands in their pockets, while the rest of the room was directed to stand, look at their hands, and examine the ratio of the lengths of their index to ring fingers. He proceeded to tell the one-third group all sorts of interesting facts about this ratio, and how a large versus small ratio has been shown to correlate with different personality traits. Two-thirds of the room was in curious agony, helplessly standing with their hands in their pockets, wondering what their fingers looked like. The one-third group was pleasantly listening to Todd and gazing at their hands.
Todd identified these two groups as curiosity types called “deprivation sensitivity” (hands in pockets) and “joyous exploration” (examining hands). Both states of curiosity can be elicited in the classroom, as even deprivation sensitivity involves seeking to close knowledge gaps. These are just two of the Five Dimensions of Curiosity (all of which could take shape in a classroom!).
In teaching science, curiosity seems particularly important. I believe it is imperative for curiosity to drive student learning in my classes and I look forward to developing new methods to elicit this spark.
Reflections from Learning and the Brain by David Cameron
Perhaps the most enlightening talk I attended was that by Brad Gustafson entitled “Renegade Leadership: Creating Innovative Schools for the Digital Age.” As can be surmised by the title, the talk was geared towards the ways in which technology can be used in our schools to actually transform the way teaching and learning take place. Although Dr. Gustafson touched on issues from drones to iPads to Twitter, the real thrust of his talk was the need for schools to change our antiquated ways of thinking about education; namely to move far away from teacher-centered teaching and towards a much more student-centered and student-led approach. The path forwards, he points out, is through technology.
Gustafson defines “renegade leadership” as ‘leadership from the heart’ and goes to great lengths to show that using technology does not mean burying one’s head in a device. In fact, he points out that when students use devices such as iPads or phones to communicate and express themselves, they can usually be found clustered around one device, sharing and creating face-to-face while using tech as a tool, not an escape. I’ve noticed our students doing the same here at Gateway!
Education for the Age of Artificial Intelligence
Reflections from Learning and the Brain by Kaia Huseby
At this year’s Learning & the Brain conference, one particular presentation stood out for me: “Education for the Age of Artificial Intelligence.” Charles Fadel, the speaker, is an author, inventor, and thought leader for global education. As a teacher, I believe that children are capable of complex problem solving and astounding creativity. I admit that when I learn about some of the rapid advances in artificial intelligence, I feel simultaneously intrigued and somewhat skeptical. I wonder: which skills should we emphasize in education?
Fadel explained that AI is best at working with great volumes of data and it works through algorithms; repetitive tasks, classification, and computation are its strengths. But algorithms can be very rigid and that’s when human intelligence – and creativity – are important. The human brain is incredibly complex, with many types of nerve cells and connections. While AI tries to imitate this, the subtlety of human thought is truly not replicable.
So what does this mean for education? Fadel argues that children should be regularly engaged in meta-learning and metacognition; they should develop growth mindsets in many areas. These ways of thinking will help this generation to be creative and innovative in the workplace. Fadel emphasizes that humans are unique in the way that they experience authentic emotions, build relationships, ask questions and give nuanced explanations. Now that we can access and process information so easily through AI, some of the skills that are most important to emphasize in education are flexibility and versatility.
The Gardener And The Carpenter
Reflections from Learning and the Brain by Mary D. Geyer
Do you ever feel like if you could just help your kids avoid making the same mistakes you did growing up then they will be so much better off? Perhaps you think that after all of your schooling, if you just show your kids what you learned, they will reach their brilliant understanding so much faster than you did.
We all fall into misconceptions of what it means to “parent”. Alison Gopnik, a developmental psychologist at U.C. Berkeley, challenges this notion of trying to mold our children to be a certain way so they will grow in a specific direction. She draws from the field of developmental psychology and evolutionary biology to explore how children learn. Gopnik states that, “Our most distinctive and important human abilities – our capacities for learning, invention, and innovation; and for tradition, culture, and morality – are rooted in relations between parents and children.”
Although she contends that these connections are important for human evolution, Gopnik also challenges an oft-held view of what it means to “parent.” She states, “Parents are not designed to shape their children’s lives. Instead, parents and other caregivers are designed to provide the next generation with a protected space in which they can produce new ways of thinking and acting, for better or worse, that are entirely unlike any that we would have anticipated beforehand.”
The analogy she provides of parenting is that it is not carpentry, building towards a specific goal, but more like gardening, “providing a rich, stable, safe environment that allows many different kinds of flowers to bloom.” Hence, the title of her book, The Gardener and the Carpenter, which I highly recommend.
Play and Improv in the Classroom
Reflections from Learning and the Brain by Patricia Lucas
Four of the six Gateway teachers in attendance at the Learning & the Brain conference chose to attend Dr. Katharine McKnight’s compelling and entertaining session on the use of improvisation and play to boost brain friendly learning. It’s safe to say that we all love fun, laughter and creative play — students and teachers alike. Combining these human delights with learning is not only substantiated by brain research, but also something many World Language teachers have known and implemented for many years.
Dr. McKnight actively demonstrated how improvisational learning activities support and meet specific learning goals, including the development of skills of focus, comprehensive listening, oral communication, critical and creative problem solving, and idea generation. In addition, improv learning games can physicalize content information and specific terms within the subject area. Examples in specific content areas might be improv math games, scientific structures, and storytelling sequence, plot and character development. Social Emotional learning skills such as relationship building, give and take, reading social cues, and verbal and non-verbal communication development may also be furthered using the improv and play learning models.
Since the conference I have put improv into practice first with my family, secondly with my 8th grade class and, most recently, with the entire GWS staff at our recent in-service day. Dr. McKnight’s book “The Second City Guide to Improv in the Classroom” is the “go-to” resource I intend to consult as these fun and fruitful techniques continue to unfold in my classes.