Thursday, December 20, 2012

Failure and Play: Keys To Divergent Thinking

Timely! Love this blog about "divergent tinkering," especially as I just finished lecturing Will on the quality of his go-kart schematics and we had a long conversation as a school about how challenging it is to draw accurate, helpful blueprints to scale.

Today, America develops innovative ideas, not manufactured goods. This means we structure our schools so our kids can work on an assembly line, while our students need the skills to draft blue prints on a drawing board.

This is an important feature of HoneyFern, and another one is the next point the author makes: how important play and failure are. I have written many blogs on failure (almost equalling the number of blogs I have written on motivation), mostly about reframing our idea of failure and pleading with parents to let their kids fail (that's a hard nut to crack).

If we guide our students to think divergently, “failing” would mean testing out new ideas. Perhaps students need to “fail” multiple times in order to come up with a creative solution to a problem.

There's no "perhaps" about it. Failure is absolutely essential. If our kids don't fail, they don't learn. I have plenty of students, gifted students especially, who suffer a crippling fear of failure, so much so that they will not try anything they don't know, which in turn causes them to fail (in a traditional setting vis-a-vis grades. Not so much at HF.). Yes, failure is frustrating. There is a lot of huffing and sometimes tears. Sicily drew probably 10 blueprints before getting the very basic floorplan right, but MAN does she now know about space plannning and drawing to scale!! Sarah is just starting her greenhouse and hydroponic system, and her first set of plants rotted and failed miserably; we went down to Atlantis Hydroponics and got some more knowledge and now we are trying again. Part of everyone's willingness to keep going is the fact that grades aren't used as a weapon here, but also that they are in an environment that encourages them to try new things without penalty.

Play is the other essential part to thinking divergently, but I move away from the article and their idea of what play does 9and should) mean a little:

“Play” has come to mean free, unstructured time; something synonymous with recess. Play can also mean investigation, experimentation, and tinkering.

Although I believe in the second half of the sentence, I feel the first is essential also; free, unstructured time to take a break, move around and hang out with friends without a task, assignment or adult hanging over their heads is essential to student well-being. This is taking care of a student's soul, not just their mind. This is the time when kids get to relax, and it is also a great way to really get to know them and build relationships. Essential.

Of course, I also love the tinkering part of this where students get a pile of stuff and have to solve a problem or complete a task. This is very Rube Goldbergian, and it makes them think, and hard. This is where cooperation and "soft skills" come into play, too.

Bottom line? To foster divergent thinkers and help students be successful in a world where manufacturing is obsolete and ideas are king, we need to change our attitudes towards two key things: failure and play.

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