"Instruction that promotes complex thinking over memorization is associated with strong class participation, achievement and students setting hopeful, aspirational goals for their educational futures....Collaborative, interdisciplinary, active and problem-based learning have been found to improve student attendance, course completion and graduation rates." - Mosher, Hartwell & Brown
Recently, I read an article about the discovery of insulin 100 years ago - interesting to me because my mother was a childhood diabetic in the 1930's and would not have survived without insulin, despite the many tribulations she endured at the time as researchers, doctors, patients and their families continually refined the medication, best practices and understandings of this 'miracle' medicine.
It reminded me of another article I read within the last month about the speed of vaccine development for the COVID-19 virus - which was actually not a 'speedy' process at all, but a series of developments over almost 10 years prior to the pandemic occurring in 2020 when MERS first began appearing in the world - and this had built on vaccine research that had begun a decade before that.
Research building on research until a worthwhile and timely discovery is made. 100 years apart but a similar process - discoveries are made by a researcher or group of researchers, questions are asked by many others, there are experiments and conversations, graphs, charts, comparisons, wonders, imaginings, 'what 'ifs' and maybe's, exploring and predicting, trying, failing and trying again. In the early 21st century, we call this 'design thinking' in many circles - including the field of Education - and as I reflect on the state of the visible world (so much of what hits the media represents only a small fraction of the human experience overall), I am wondering what the role of design thinking really is in the world of 2021?
It feels, sometimes, like possibility, inspiration, discovery and imagination have fallen out of fashion in our zeal to have 'hard facts' that often are so over-analyzed and turned inside out that the actual truth never seems to really be acknowledged or perhaps, even available.
There have been times in the past five years when trying to understand the truth of the world's events has been a gargantuan and futile effort, caught as we, the 'public', have been between lies disguised as truth and fiction masking as fact all jumbled up together with a loss of empathy, kindness and care overall. As many of us struggled not to get caught on this slippery slope, humanity itself was suddenly and unexpectedly assaulted by a virus that rapidly began killing thousands of people. Immediately, lifestyles changed and we became wearers of masks, inveterate hand-washers and struggled to define what 'social distancing' actually meant - and then vaccines arrived on the horizon and suddenly everyone was questioning everything. Where was the evidence of how the virus was transmitted? Where was the evidence masks worked? How did a vaccine get made so quickly? What is herd immunity? What is a variant? Is this a disease of 'old' people or not? Everyone wants an answer - no! Everyone wants the 'truth'!!
And a draft curriculum arrived midst all of this clamour for the truth, asking children to recite a particular version of history, study known algorithms and calculations in math, be classical in our thinking and slide back into historical patterns of social interactions that we have already clashed with in our not-so-distant past. More 'truth' for all of us to clamour for as we continue to close doors, narrow our perspectives and hide from anything that is not familiar and reliable from our pasts.
And I wonder where our human ingenuity exists within all this muddle of fear, anxiety, best intentions, confusion and disarray of life that is 2020-21?
Where does imagination go when fear overwhelms? Why is building on the discoveries of others no longer celebrated but regarded with suspicion? Where does one find inspiration these days for new ideas, re-designing, thinking bigger, trying out new iterations of previous thinking? Why is it suddenly horrifying to discover anything new about math? Where are the possibilities for tomorrow?
As I watched a few children creating in the Maker Space last week, it was clear to me that imagination, inspiration, discovery and possibility are alive and well in our children! The Maker Space has been very quiet during this pandemic year, and it was not the lively, noisy place of old with just a few masked and protected students working in the Studio at a time. Nonetheless, the children were fearless in their designs, trying out new ideas all the time, adding ideas to each other's, trying to capture their dreams in fabric, wood, glue and nails - there are our dreamers and doers of the future!
They will carry this deep-seated belief they can change the world, one nail or hot glue gun at a time, from their earliest experiences of school. They will know curiosity can lead to great things for humanity. Our children will dare to explore and discover, try new things and help each other out with ideas and new iterations.
When they are in the Coulee, they carry this perspective with them there too, as well as an awareness of the history, the connections, the presence of Na'a as they explore, question, wonder, imagine and investigate their world. They are not in pursuit of any truth; the presence of possibility is what captures their imagination. Each child knows they will experience and see the world through their own lenses, appreciating the nuances of others' perspectives at the same time. There is room on the planet for all of us to care and share together.
This pandemic year has caused so many of us to withdraw and turtle, to worry and pull back to home, to question and fear as well as feel frustrated, angry and isolated. Our children are capable of echoing every fear and worry we display, especially in these days of isolation when parents and teachers are their primary sources of contact and security. These are, without a doubt, precarious days...
Yet there is optimism and joy to be found in the laughter of the children, in the discoveries, the designs and inventions, the plans and stories they each dream, share and grow together with every waking moment. It is essential the adults in their world sustain the bubble of confident possibility they naturally carry as they make sense of the world. Their future does not feel constrained by the pandemic in any way - and that is extremely refreshing in a world that, just now, feels so riddled with distrust, disorder, blame and an unending search for some definitive truth that never really seems to be attainable.
Perhaps it is the children's work to help us remember the importance of possibility, imagination, inspiration and discovery. And they do this so effortlessly every day - when we give them the space to do so. Our work, therefore, is to create the space and let them show us the possibilities of their futures.
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal