RSA Animate offers us a visually compelling view of an important talk by Robinson, who continues to emerge as an incredibly valuable global voice for new forms of education.   The video speaks for itself, in many places; the history is familiar, but still informative.   The 75 second digression upon ADD/ADHD I find less well informed, and less illuminating, than other parts of the video.  Robinson’s questioning of age-level groupings in school also leaves me conflicted; of course he has a point that it is is odd and problematic to group kids by age rather than ability, but he doesn’t acknowledge either the incredible social value of age groupings, nor the dramatic downsides to ability grouping.

But there are many essential points.    One is that as the world becomes more stimulating and fascinating, (and distracting), and as there are more and more “channels” by which students can acquire and process information and learning, school is going to become duller if it stays the same.   It mustn’t stay the same.

Robinson’s discussion of divergent thinking is intriguing and disturbing.   It adds to many other voices in making the point that young children are indeed already fine scientists and thinkers, and that schooling must advance, not retard, those strong young minds in a way that is not now often enough the case.   Standards and testing which compel children to search for the one right answer may well diminish the power of divergent thinking, and we need more (many more) tests and assessments that ask students for many right answers, and analysis of each, rather than one right answer.

I like his discussion of the centrality of collaboration in growth and learning: “most great learning happens in groups.”   School cultures which view collaboration as cheating, or don’t actively act to advance student collaboration, are setting us backward.

Finally, a big appreciation here for his argument that separating out the intellectual from the practical is a myth.   We need to embrace more practical learning in our classrooms where students can apply and reinforce their academic learning.   I love it all: I love to see students discuss symbolism and imagery in Shakespeare, and I love to see them building robots in Tech Design class.  I fear too often our schools never allow space for the latter.   I remember visiting a school and chatting with a teacher teaching AP Chemistry, and being told that there was never time for students to design their own labs, only to follow the pre-sets labs from the AP curriculum.   I remember being told in another science classroom at another school that it is a waste of time for students to design their own labs– they couldn’t do that until grad school.

Our schools must be labs and studios as much, or more than, they are lecture halls and seminar rooms.  (Again, I like both; I am writing as a former and future teacher of philosophy!).   But as an Atlantic  article discussed recently,

The ideal educational environment for kids, observes Peter Gray, a professor of psychology at Boston College who studies the way children learn, is one that includes “the opportunity to mess around with objects of all sorts, and to try to build things.” Countless experiments have shown that young children are far more interested in objects they can control than in those they cannot control—a behavioral tendency that persists. In her review of research on project-based learning (a hands-on, experience-based approach to education), Diane McGrath, former editor of the Journal of Computer Science Education, reports that project-based students do as well as (and sometimes better than) traditionally educated students on standardized tests, and that they “learn research skills, understand the subject matter at a deeper level than do their traditional counterparts, and are more deeply engaged in their work.” In The Upside of Irrationality, Dan Ariely, a behavioral psychologist at Duke University, recounts his experiments with students about DIY’s effect on well-being and concludes that creating more of the things we use in daily life measurably increases our “feelings of pride and ownership.” In the long run, it also changes for the better our patterns of thinking and learning.

Unfortunately, says Gray, our schools don’t teach kids how to make things, but instead train them to become scholars, “in the narrowest sense of the word, meaning someone who spends their time reading and writing. Of course, most people are not scholars. We survive by doing things.”

Change the paradigm, unite the practical and the theoretical, and let’s make our schools places of messy experimentation and theory become actual.