Do our schools kill creativity?

*This article was contributed by Courtney Hartnett*

Creativity guru Sir Ken Robinson is deeply concerned about our schools. He believes that the industrialized model of education is squandering the creativity and potential out of a large segment of our students, with devastating effects. An educational system that runs on standardization and conformity functions at the expense of individuality, imagination, and creativity.

If this sounds familiar, it should. In case you’ve been living in a bubble for the past 11 years, Robinson introduced roadblocks to creativity and human potential in his TED Talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?, the most widely viewed TED Talk in history . In his talk, Robinson makes a convincing case that we are “educating people out of their creativity.”

So what do we do about it? His newest book, Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education, is Robinson’s empowering response. Robinson illustrates how a number of schools and even entire districts are rethinking education. Change is happening, and it is possible for all of us to get involved.

Robinson confronts the standardized, one-size-fits-all model of education with actionable steps, research, and vignettes from a number of stakeholders that are creating educational change in their communities. This book is witty and entertaining, but most importantly, timely with inspiring ways to take part in this educational revolution!

If you’re playing catch-up, check out Ken Robinson’s TED Talk:

Monkey See, Monkey Do: How kids learn through observation and immitation

Have you ever watched a toddler mimic their father shaving in the mirror? Or have you seen them carrying their mom’s purse around the house as they pretend they’re busy shopping for groceries? If so, you’ve observed authentic socialization in action.

It’s easy to gloss over the terms socialize and socialization because we often use them interchangeably. Although the terms are closely related, it’s important to notice how they are distinguished in academic theories and research.

The word socialize is a verb used to describe social activities among groups of people. For example, we socialize when we play games, go to work, build relationships, engage in conversations, etc. While also a verb, the term socialization is used by sociologists to describe the process of inheriting the norms, customs, and behaviors of a larger social group.

When considering the terms in these ways, socializing is what leads to the socialization of individuals within any given society. As adults who work with children, it’s important for us to understand the social nature of child development and to question how our interactions with children are contributing to their socialization.

With these ideas in mind, it’s interesting to consider how our actions affect how children perceive the world and interact with others. In 1961, psychologist Albert Bandura conducted an experiment in which children observed an adult beating up an inflatable clown. Then, the children were given the same toy and observed as they interacted with the clown. Not surprisingly, the children who observed the adult abusing the clown were likely to show aggression, too.

Bandura’s study confirmed that children can learn by observing and imitating others’ behaviors.  Since children act out the behaviors they observe from others through their interactions with other children, the adult world strongly influences the socialization process.

Want to learn more about Bendura, the Bobo Doll Experiment, and child socialization? Check out this video by Crash Course:


Three Excellent Documentaries About How Children Use Technology

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve witnessed the phenomenon of children online. As a generation who’ve had access to screens before they could even crawl, today’s children are digital natives. Despite its undeniable benefits and endless possibilities, the effects of technology on children’s physical, mental, and social development is a hot topic for researchers and adults across multiple arenas.

Not surprisingly, some excellent documentaries have been produced that explore the ins and outs of how children are using, consuming, and interacting with technology in different ways.

Here are five of our favorite documentaries about children and how they are using technology:

  1. Minecraft: The Story of Mojang   There’s just something about kids, computers, touchscreens, and pixelated building blocks. If you’ve ever wondered why in the world kids spend so much time building worlds on Minecraft when they could be playing in the woods, this documentary will show exactly what this game is all about and why it’s all the rage with kids and adults alike.
  2. Screenagers: Growing up in the digital age   When kids grow up with constant access to screens, do the benefits outweigh the risks or should we be more concerned about the influence of screens on their development? In Screenagers, the filmmakers ask these questions and explore issues like social media, internet safety and cyber-bullying.
  3. #BeingThirteen: Inside the Secret Lives of Teens  Do we really understand the effects of growing up online for today’s kids? That’s the question explored by CNN as they studied the social media use of a group of 8th grade students across the United States. They collected over 150,000 social media posts and investigated the content to better understand the online language today’s teens are developing.

These documentaries are not only eye-opening, but they share insights into the digital lives of children in the 21st century. As adults, we must be aware of the multiple ways children are using technology within their social groups so we can provide the skills and tools they need within these digital social settings.

**Disclaimer: These documentaries should be previewed by adults to determine how and if they should be viewed with children.


How to use Technology to Engage Kids

Recently, we explored the question of how much is enough screen time. Through this discussion, we learned that adults should play an active role in children’s screen use so that we can guide and support them as they encounter new ideas and technologies. Using technology with children provides us with opportunities to engage with them in real-world contexts as they experiment with technology and view media.

Here are FOUR suggestions for using technology to engage children:

  1. Observe kids as they use technology. Kids quickly develop preferences for games, shows, and websites, which provides the perfect entry point for adults. When children are using technology or viewing media, adults should ask them to tell us about what they’re doing as we observe them using the media.
  2. Use technology with kids. We can take this engagement to a deeper level when we participate in media activities with children. Are they connecting worlds on Minecraft? If so, join in. Are they streaming their favorite youtube channel? Become a subscriber and watch with them.
  3. Show kids how adults use technology. Instead of always peering over their shoulders, adults can let kids in on the ways we are using technology. Invite them to observe and use technology with you, but be sure to choose media that is appropriate for young audiences.
  4. Understand who kids are and what they’re trying to achieve. In his insightful Tedtalk, researcher Maurice Wheeler discusses the importance of understanding who children are and what they’re trying to achieve with technology. He argues that until we understand these key points, we can’t authentically engage with them. Check out his talk to see the three developmental groups that children fall into online and how this effects how they consume and use online media: