On Creativity: Anticipation, Regret, and Remembering Grandpa Earl

Very early in 2011, shortly after hearing of my grandfather’s passing, I thought of something Sir Ken Robinson said in his GISA 2010 keynote. In talking about creativity he mentioned that even engaging in remembering is an act of creativity. In remembering we “imagine” past experiences because, obviously enough, they are no longer occurring in the present moment.

I just returned from a four-day reunion with my mom’s side of the family, the quadrennial Monroe Family Reunion.  At our last reunion in 2008, my grandfather Robert Earl Monroe encouraged us to go back to the roots that we left behind at the 1973 Grand Tetons National Park “Jenny Lake” reunion (I was -1 year old at that time);  he wanted us to go camping.  There was consternation.  The younger generations, with few exceptions, are not a camping sort.  Families with young children rightly assumed that camping would would be more inconvenient than hotel travel.  There was a good bit of grumbling about the shift in reunion ethos.  However, they loved “Uncle Earl.”  His four older brothers having been deceased for years, he was considered the pater familias.  So, he got 95% of the family to do what it didn’t want to do.  And 18 months before the reunion he died. If you knew him, you’d know that not only would he have found that hilarious, but his family quietly delighted in the irony as well.

In the end the family greatly enjoyed their time camping in beautiful Asheville, NC.  Their fears, it turned out, were unrealized.  Some folks imagined that it would be worse than it was, which is to say, they remembered an as yet unfulfilled but potentially likely version of the event.  In their mind they created a vision that was prognostic, but in the end wholly different from what actually was.  They used creativity to imagine a scenario that did not exist, and in fact would never exist since the reunion came to pass in a very enjoyable fashion.  I happen to remember that some of these family members, during the oft-maligned “talent show” at the 2000 reunion in Branson, MO, openly declared that they “weren’t creative people.”

So as I remember my grandfather I seem to be taking particular joy in imagining my visits and adventures with him and in recalling the many stories he’s told me of growing up in a world that I can scarcely imagine.  But I don’t need to imagine it; I merely need to share in his remembrance of it.

I don’t mourn Grandpa as much as I dread the notion that our adventures have come to an end. And that’s a form of creativity as well: imagining a world that will never again come to be.  Even regret is a form of creativity, says Kathryn Schulz in her TED Talk Don’t Regret Regret?  If I want to spend some time with the self-proclaimed “Earl of Curmudgeon,” I’ll have to do it by remembering him. I’ll have to imagine him.

How can those among us claim to “not have a creative bone in our body” when we spend every day remembering, regretting, and wondering?  It is true, perhaps that these people don’t have creative output to show for it.  But that’s a consequence of not sharing one’s creativity, not the wholesale lack of it.

Learning in our times and discovering curriculum: two reflections from Richardson’s ISTE Ignite presentation

This blog will not hereafter be a list of habits that I’m building; however, I will mention one little habit that I’ve decided to take up: do something with everything.

I attended the Lausanne Laptop Institute in Memphis in mid July.  It shaped up to be a fantastic few days of learning and expanding my PLN.  However, by the end of the first day I was a bit frustrated with the amount of “sit and get” that attendees were subjected to.  Rather than stew, I decided to practice a new habit.  I decided to take at least one thing away from each session.  Sometimes it had little to do with the session.  During one session on do’s and don’t’s of technology, I took one word that was mentioned during the presentation (“habitat”) and tweeted/brainstormed (tweetstormed?) about a potential course that revolves around a student’s habitat.  During another session the presenter quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I wrote down that quote because I thought that my homeroom boys might benefit from hearing it and thinking about it.

Now, one might think that vowing to “do something with everything” might lead to a firehose of “stuff.”  Not really, as long as you’re content that something might include grasping an idea, chewing on it for a few minutes, long enough for it to stick in your memory, dumping it, then going on with your day.  You never know when that little chemical pulse in your bright join another to form a neural network, and idea, an inspiration, a movement…

So, in the spirit of doing something with everything, I came across Will Richardson’s Ignite presentation from ISTE.  There are a whole bunch of somethings in this presentation, but I call dibs on two:

Something #1: “This is an amazing time to be a learner in this world.”

Amen.  We are at a point where technology has caught up with know-how has caught up with technology.  (Not a typo…I’ll explain).  First, there was technology that only few knew about and even fewer were able to use.  Then as knowledge and understanding increased among the laity, technology began an outward ripple to bring user experience to EVERY level of technological comfort.  I think that ripple has now extended to every user that WANTS to use these technologies.  (Hold-outs remain, but you know what they say about horses and water…)

So, TED, MIT, and millions more make compelling content public, connectivity is the default setting for most canonized technologies, and technological easy and embellishment are in a “sweet spot.” (A techno-rube can develop very slick product with a modicum of time and know-how.)

An amazing time to be a learner indeed.  So why is each and every teacher out there NOT actively engaged in making their learning public?  Blog, microblog, wiki, webpage, whatever!  Just get out there, share what you’re learning, what interests you, and make connections.  Who knows how it might affect your teaching, your learning, or your life?

Something #2: “Stop delivering curriculum.  Curriculum is everywhere.  It’s not ours to deliver.”

I just might scrawl this on my desk when I go back to school in August.  If I allowed my students to discover their own reason for speaking a second language, what might that look like?  How might that affect buy-in?  And how might buy-in affect the effectiveness their learning the so-called “important stuff?”  I suspect this will be the subject of a future post.

The Tiered Technology Toolkit #li12

Today I attended Elizabeth Helfant’s “1:1 for Everyone” session at the Lausanne Laptop Institute 2012 #li12.  We talked a great deal about the content, pedagogy, and technology needs that may be addressed alongside a school’s decision to go 1:1.  A common (or not-s0-common) practice is to create a “canon of  technology” for the whole school.  It’s a great idea!  However, I suspect that the messaging often comes across as “The powers-that-be have deemed permissible the following applications:….”

What if, rather than a “list of sanctioned and supported technology,” we created a tiered technology toolkit?

  • Tier 1: “In order to be employed here, you must know these.”–This would include your classroom management software, email platform, and grade reporting mechanism.  This should include VERY few applications (those that you need in order get done the bare minimum with and for your students).  These need to be few in number because you want the emphasis not to be on what they must learn; rather on what they may learn.
  • Tier 2: “Try to learn two of these applications…”–We want to encourage exploration, experimentation among our faculty.  So rather than mandate and limit opportunities, present them as…opportunities!
  • Tier 3: “We (the school) lift you up as a leader-learner if you integrate some of the following into your teaching practice.”–We need to celebrate those who venture into the unknown, who’s choice of technology leans toward the surrender of “sit n’ get” learning, an emphasis on student content creation.  Put those wonderful web 2.0 tools in this category that put students in the driver’s seat.

Creating a tiered technology toolkit makes sense for many reasons:

  • It limits the firehose of websites, software and apps.
  • It allows the school to benchmark technology literacy for faculty and students.
  • It gives faculty an idea of how and to what extent they can stretch their own learning.
  • It allows interest-driven networks to grow organically among faculty.