We’ve all seen TED Talks. Sometimes they make an impression. Sometimes they don’t. This TED Talk by Phil Hansen made an impression on me. I watched it the first time while working out on our elliptical trainer. Then, I watched it again. I watched it a third time with my 8th grade son when he came home from school. He was riveted by it. I watched it a few more times as I edited it down and thought more about how it applied to education today. Here is the pared down version with key ideas made visual:
If you want all of this next bit to make sense, I suggest you take the time to watch the Phil Hansen’s full TED Talk. It takes all of 10 minutes.
What struck me the most was the connection between limitation and creativity. In education today, we hear about resources, resources, resources. Discussions revolve around how we can get more/better hardware, more software, more access, more and better PD, better teacher training, increased technology integration, less testing, blah blah blah…. Now, don’t get me wrong – these are all important things. BUT… and this is the big “but” – lately I’ve been feeling that rather than being great in spite of our limitations, educators are more likely to use these limitations as reasons to be less great.
“I can’t get to the websites that I need because of our stupid school filters, so I guess I just won’t use the Internet and we’ll go back to worksheets.”
“Every time we use the computers, there are so many problems. I just won’t use them and we’ll go back to our outdated textbooks until all of the bugs get worked out.”
“We don’t have enough computers for everyone to use often enough, so I can’t do any really creative projects with my students.”
“Because of all of this standardized testing, all I do is prepare for the next test. There’s no time anymore for anything fun or creative.”
“If we had some nice video editing software, we could do digital storytelling. But, we don’t. So we’ll continue on with just handwritten stories.”
”If our district would let us use Skype or increase or bandwidth so that it would run better, we could actually connect with an authentic audience and partner with others around the globe.”
“If Twitter wasn’t blocked in our district, I could actually learn during the day with my PLN.”
Sorry for the blatant examples, but I hope you see the point that I’m trying to make. Maybe rather than focus on the limitations , we could dig deep and get back to being creative with what we have. Maybe worksheets aren’t the only option with filters get in the way of those “interactive” games and websites. Maybe just using textbooks isn’t the only fallback solution when computers don’t work properly. Maybe creative projects don’t have to be limited to sufficient computer access. Maybe there are ways to make stories come to life and energize students without digital storytelling. Maybe we could be drawing upon our local communities more (remember when we used to do that?), inviting them in, and developing local partnerships and relationships that would bring authentic audience and authentic purpose to learning activities. Do we really need to wait for things to get better, for Skype to become available, for increased bandwidth,… for this to happen? Do we really need Twitter [insert any social network] to develop learning communities? Are we failing to care for our local PLCs in exchange for virtual ones? Why don’t we gather more as a local school community to learn together?
At times, I feel like we have forgotten that we have the ability and permission to remain creative, personal, communal, innovative,… IN SPITE of our limitations. We’re waiting for permission to get “out of the box” when there are so many ways to make “in the box” so much better. Are we starving ourselves and our students, drooling over how green the grass is on the “other side”? Just look at what one can do with some cardboard boxes. Phil points out that most of what we do takes place inside the box with limited resources – that learning to be creative within the confines of these limitations is the best chance that we have to transform ourselves and our world. Bigger, better, faster, more open, more fluid, more mobile, more ubiquitous… are all great, but we can’t sit around griping and complaining and wishing for these in order to be better.
Phil Hansen’s video has reframed the notion of “back to basics” for me. It may not speak to you in the same way at all, but I felt compelled to share. I know full well that there are countless fantastic teachers who remain creative and engage their students in meaningful ways despite the limitations around them.
We need more.
Embrace the box and stop waiting for a nicer, bigger one. We all need to re-learn to be creative within the confines of our limitations. What can you do to bring more joy, more creativity, more meaning, more relevance, more power… to the learning of your students… today?
WOW! INCREDIBLE!! You have hit the nail on the proverbial head for me. I have not embraced the shake and I need to. The video is phenomenal and your comments based on it have taught me more about myself & my practice in the last 15 minutes than an entire year of struggling through an online course about technology integration. There’s work to be done and it starts with me.
Pam, I’m so glad that the video and my thoughts related to it spoke to you as they did. I think it’s true in so many areas of our lives that we look for “solutions” to problems that don’t require us to examine ourselves first and take needed action.