Tag Archives: Learning Skills

In Praise of Boredom and Daydreaming

6 Jul
The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house on that cold, cold, wet day.
I sat there with Sally. We sat there we too. And I said “How I wish we had something to do”
Too wet to go out and too cold to play ball. So we sat in the house and did nothing at all.
So all we could do was to
And we did not like it, not one little bit.

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss is one of my favourite children’s books. It is superficially simple but complex underneath with layers and many possible interpretations and meanings. What you take from it probably says a lot more about you than it does about the author.

One of the themes I see in The Cat in the Hat is the role of boredom in creativity. Sally and her brother are sitting at home, obviously very bored, and out of that boredom the story of an incredible cat springs forth. Like Sally’s brother (he’s never named) I spent many days of my childhood staring wistfully out of rain streaked windows (it rains a lot in Lancashire). I too became bored and from that boredom sprang daydreaming, creativity and a rich imaginative inner world. Science is now confirming what Theodor Geisel and many of us intuitively knew; boredom and daydreaming are a useful and necessary path to creative thinking.

Benjamin Baird and Jonathan Schooler, psychologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara put daydreaming to the test in a 2012 study. Baird and Schooler’s research discovered that subjects were more creative if they daydreamed before tackling a creative thinking task than if they spent time thinking or did a physical task. Baird and Schooler believe that daydreaming (or “positive-constructive daydreaming” as they call it) allows us to engage in “…future planning, sorting out current concerns, cycling through different information streams, distributed learning (vs. cramming)…” as well as creativity.

Dr. Teresa Belton of the University of East Anglia researched the role of boredom in creativity by interviewing a variety of creative individuals. She concluded that boredom is “…required for the development of a capacity to generate and pursue ideas. To be creative we need time for thought, free of the bombardment of attention grabbing external stimuli to the eye and ear.” Belton encourages children who are bored to engage in creative activities rather than devices, that “tend to short-circuit the development of creative capacity”.

Over this summer vacation I hope that children have an opportunity to say “I’m bored!!” without an adult immediately trying to distract them. I hope they’re in an environment where they can’t just grab a device or turn on a screen. I hope they have the chance to sit with boredom and see what comes next, to find out what they can create on their own. The chance to be productive rather than consumptive.

This summer, and into the school year, I want kids to have the opportunity to develop their creative skills, to go through the creative process. They are growing into a world that increasingly needs and values their creativity and it’s critical that they understand the role of boredom and daydreaming in that process. As the Cat in the Hat said:

 It is fun to have fun
But you have to know how

The “Apatow Model”: 21C Learning as Improv?

9 May

I was just listening to an interview with veteran actor Jon Lithgow talking about making a new movie with Judd Apatow. Apatow is the director of most of the funniest movies made in the last 10 years. Lithgow talked about how different Apatow’s movie making technique is from other directors he’s worked with.

In Apatow’s method, he starts with a basic idea in the script. He brings the actors together and has them start performing. Apatow then sits behind a black screen and encourages the actors to improvise with the basic premise. He prompts, offers suggestions and encourages them to experiment with different approches. The cameras are rolling constantly as they do this.

Lithgow reports they may record 20 minutes of film to produce just 50 seconds of actual on-screen work. They can do this, of course, because the filming is digital and the technology facilitates the exploration. No need to worry about wasted film.

It was interesting to hear Lithgow, a classically trained actor, contrast this with traditional theatre, where the emphasis is on learning the lines and trying to reproduce them perfectly, according to the writer and the directors will.

This is a lot like the contrast between traditional education and 21C learning. In traditional learning the teacher (director) tells the students what they need to know and the students try to learn it perfectly and reproduce someone else’s vision.

In the “Apatow Model” students are co-creators. The teacher (director?) starts with a question, a problem or premise and then supports and guides students as they solve the ‘problem’ through trial and error. After lots of error and experimentation the best ideas are selected and it is shared and ready for evaluation. Our use of technology allows for and facilitates experimentation and trail and error because the resources we use (information, knowledge, etc.) are no longer scarce.

Interesting to see these changes being applied  in other activities. I may have to get myself a black screen for the classroom 🙂

“Tebowmania’ and “Linsanity” in the Classroom

15 Feb

Ontario Teachers foster six key learning skills, Responsibility, Organization, Independence, Initiative, Self-Regulation and Collaboration. Students need all these skills to be successful, but none are more important for the 21st century citizen than collaboration. We are increasingly understanding that, effective immediately, we need to work together.

That’s why the Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin stories resonate so deeply. There’s been a lot in the media lately about the paralells between the popular rise of “Tebowmania‘ and “Linsanity“.  As Jason Whitlock points out, these are two very different situations and popular comparisons are misleading. Tim Tebow, quarterback for the Denver Broncos, is a white, first round pick from a powerful football program, while Jeremy Lin is an undrafted, Asian-American from Harvard. Lin is an underdog while Tebow only appears to be.

But the two stories feel the same, and that’s because they are, in one key way. Both Tebow and Lin owe their rise to prominence to their ability to collaborate.

Tebow is quite flawed as an NFL quarterback. He isn’t Aaron Rogers or Tom Brady, who can win the game on their own brilliance. He has outstanding physical gifts but can only be successful in the right situation, with the right supporting cast.

Jeremy Lin is an even better example of the power of collaboration. Lin got to play when Carmelo Anthony, one of  the best individual talents in the NBA, got hurt. Lin succeeds because of his ability to work well with his team mates. He can’t win a game on his own, but he puts others in the best situation to win and makes his team-mates better.

This resonates deeply with us, and this signals a growing awareness of the importance of collaboration. In more and more ways, our culture is again celebrating the value of teamwork. In sports, this looks like ‘Linsanity’ over a one-vs-one offence or ‘Tebowmania’ rather than the ego driven Terrel Owens or Chad Ochocinco.

Pointing these examples out to students helps to rebalance the all too pervasive messages of popular culture that’s “it’s all about me”. Jeremy Lin shows the power of collaboration, and is celebrated for it.