This is the latest in a series of blogs from the teacher cohort.
By Lee Cristofano
This past Spring, I was invited to co-facilitate a workshop for some colleagues regarding a piece of technology that teachers might use in their classrooms: a camera that captures 360° photos and videos. I received my camera courtesy of the Carnegie Mellon CREATE Lab’s Fluency Project two years ago. I remember leaving that meeting and running all over the campus of CMU, taking dozens of pictures with this new camera like a tourist in a strange land. I couldn’t wait to get home to download all the pictures to my computer and explore. Struggling through typical Parkway West traffic would be especially bothersome.
I have used this camera for quite some time both at home and in the classroom, so I had no hesitation in accepting the offer to facilitate. The CREATE Lab team set up a time for a conference call so we might review the expectations for the workshop. In the days preceding, I did what I thought any responsible teacher should do: I planned to prepare lessons, make some handouts, anticipate technical issues and create several final products to show my colleagues.
And then we had the conference call. The objective of this workshop was, in fact, not to have every participant be proficient with the camera after an hour-long session. Rather, the objective of this workshop was somewhat the opposite: Let the participants play! Let them be curious as to what this strange piece of technology is. What does it do? Where do I even turn it on? What would happen if I push this button? Why is it blinking? What does this flashing icon mean? How do you take a picture, and where does the picture go? Now what? And ultimately, where might I use this in my teaching? In education speak, we would be taking a constructivist approach to learning.
Reflecting on our conversations, I had two new thoughts: First, a favorite book by Richard Feynman titled The Pleasure of Finding Things Out popped in my head. About winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, Feynman wrote, “The prize is the pleasure of finding the thing out, the kick in the discovery…” Secondly, I remembered all the fun I had running around campus, taking pictures, rushing home to get them downloaded to the computer to see exactly what I managed to create.
Had I followed through on my original plan, demonstrating the camera’s workflow, showing my own work and implementing a rubric of what a satisfactory, good or excellent finished product should look like, I would have denied my colleagues the pleasure of finding things out. The joy of figuring out how something works on your own. The intrinsic joy we all feel when we master a monumental task, and the joy of learning how to use a new tool in your own way, not just the way someone else thinks is the “proper” way to use it.
After teaching for 25 years, I wonder… Have I designed my classroom instruction for optimal efficiency, delivering maximum content in minimum time? Have I spoon-fed my students all the knowledge they would need just so they could meet curriculum goals and pass assessments? Have there been times where I denied my students the pleasure of finding things out?
This is the first of hopefully many blog posts by a partnering cohort member.
By: Zac Shutler
Hard Skills to Learn: LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner says the biggest skills gap in the US is not coding
As a school superintendent in the state of Ohio, I get the opportunity to attend numerous conferences that stress the importance of “preparing students for careers that don’t yet exist.” These conferences are led by many intelligent people from the state education department and by various officials from universities across the state. When they begin these lectures and they use that phrase about preparing students for careers that don’t exist, two thoughts immediately come to mind. The first is: “It is impossible to prepare someone for something that doesn’t exist.” And the second thought is: “Isn’t this a challenge that our society has always faced?” I believe that is why this article by Simone Stolzoff resonated with me.
Prior to entering the administration side of education, I was a high school social studies teacher. My role was to discuss issues of the past with our students and connect those lessons to our modern lives. One example is how Guttenberg’s printing press changed the way that books were consumed and put many calligraphers out of work. Another example is how prior to Carl Benz inventing the first automobile and Ford’s assembly lines making the vehicles affordable, city streets were over crowded with the horse and buggy model of transportation that came with pollution problems of its own. A more recent example would focus on how the internet and Amazon have changed the game for traditional retailers. What I am saying is that public education did not specifically train students to create these technological shifts, nor did they prepare people to fill the jobs that these new industries created. What the combination of formal education and supportive parenting did do was give our kids the social and emotional capacity to adjust and meet whatever challenge or change the world had to offer.
When I reflect on my time as teacher fifteen years later, I see how understanding our past validates my belief in the ever-evolving nature of technology and how the education system and more importantly, families, have instilled timeless principles into the next generation. I believe that it is a growing concern that the standardization of the American education system and the toxic stress that many students face at home is threatening our ability to meet the next wave of challenges. In his book, How Children Succeed, author Paul Tough details the importance of “non-cognitive skills” or, as the article refers to them, “soft skills.” These skills can also be referred to as character traits or grit. Whatever we want to call them, research shows us that these principles can be taught, and we are missing the mark in education if we don’t make the concerted effort to educate the “whole person,” especially for our students who are immersed in “toxic stress.”
In closing, I would like to share a brief story that started me on a path of personal growth. First, I was blessed with supportive parents that modeled leadership through their actions. Not every child is born into a situation that lends itself to a strong foundation built on universal principles. Even though my parents modeled personal leadership, I did not think about it, study it, or realize I could improve as a leader until I took a course during graduate school at Franciscan University. I can’t remember what the title of the course was, but we mainly studied Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In short, it changed my life and improved me as a person. A story that always stands out to me from one of Covey’s books is the story of the ship and the lighthouse. The ship is on a collision course with what the captain believes is another vessel and the ship’s captain is desperately radioing for the other object to change course. The light house represents universal principles that are unchanging. They do not move and are effective in any era. Principles like: Commitment, Courage, Generosity, Initiative, Listening, Integrity, and Teamwork. Modeling these principles at home and within our educational system will prepare the next generation for the “careers that don’t yet exist.” They always have and if we are vigilante, they always will. Modeling universal principles and teaching social emotional intelligence to students who are lacking those skills is imperative.
One of my favorite authors, Ryan Holiday, summed up the importance of these skills with a powerful message. He wrote, “To whatever we face, our responsibility is to respond with: hard work, honesty, and by helping others the best we can. Duty is beautiful, and inspiring, and empowering. That’s all that has been asked of us. No more and no less. Sure, the goal is important. But never forget that each individual instance matters. The whole isn’t certain, only the instances. How you do anything is how you do everything. We can always act right.”