Tag: creativity

Shouldn’t the Madhatter be a Girl? He’s Having a Tea Party After All!

Shouldn’t the Madhatter be a Girl? He’s Having a Tea Party After All!

I have really been grappling with the idea of “girl stuff” vs. “boy stuff” lately and it’s a conversation that I have had with many of my friends who are likewise trying to navigate the concept of gender with their children in our modern age. In an effort to make sense of this, I reached out to fellow International Baccalaureate educator and creativity wizard, Tim Fletcher to help me explore this idea in a guest blog post. Tim is an avid dancer and Middle Years Programme (MYP) performing arts teacher at The Inter-Community School in Zurich, Switzerland. I am excited to share his ideas and I hope they are as thought-provoking and insightful for you as they were for me. Enjoy!

 


 

I knew I was different. I thought that I might be gay or something because I couldn’t identify with any of the guys at all. None of them liked art or music. They just wanted to fight and get laid. – Kurt Cobain

There is something incredibly sad with this quote from Cobain, a guy that went on to make music that defined a generation and most likely resonated strongly with those that he could not identify with growing up. What it does show is the huge disparity between the perception of gender role play and the reality. What Cobain found interesting was disregarded by his peers as not being ‘masculine enough’, yet his through his own path he became a revered figure. It is a complex subject which I can reflect on from a personal perspective, having started ballet in a small rural city at the age of six, but it has many wider implications about how our brains are wired, how society reinforces that wiring and what we can do to change those perceptions.

What gave me the desire to ask my mother to start ballet so early? Why was I driven to dance, that it became such a driving factor in my life that it turned into a career? To be perfectly honest I have no idea, I must have seen it – and that was it, I had to dance. It is a decision that shaped my life, took me travelling, introduced me to my wife, etc. My whole being was attracted to movement and moving, and still is.

Not to say I didn’t like doing the boy things too. I ran around with toy guns and built spaceships, I just did ballet as well. Now I got lucky, my friends accepted that ‘Tim just did ballet’ and never questioned it or its masculinity. But in lots of situations it is questioned, take this anecdote, for example, the given starting point for this blog post: During a recent sleepover, my daughter creeps over to me and whispers “I think when I grow up, I’m going to be a boy”. My eyebrows raised and a curious grin comes to meet her gaze. “Really, what makes you say that?” She confesses, “Well, I like boy stuff like robots and remote control cars”.  “Ah, I see”. “and I don’t think it’s fair that boys get to have all the fun, why can’t us girls play with those things? And furthermore, I don’t think it’s fair that us girls only get to play with Barbies. Maybe boys would like to play dress up as well. What do you think?” My 7-year-old explains what prompted this revelation–her girlfriends prefer to play with Barbies all day and she gets bored with them after a while. So she feels like she’s not “girl enough”. The socialisation of this situation is frightening in that seven year old questions herself and feels she may not be “girl enough”, like Cobain, when we don’t fit – we feel ‘unnormal’.

As soon as young children figure out the difference between being boy or girl (we’ll stay with the binary for sake of not exploring another theme) they start to play out roles. Although, the exact cause of gender identity remains unknown, biological, psychological and social variables clearly influence the process1. These are reinforced by older siblings, peers, education, media, toys, marketing and most of all parents. Very quickly children fall into what they hear in the playground, like ‘boys are dumb’, ‘girls aren’t strong’, etc… and let’s not start with the parents who bolster these attitudes.  

We are quick to jump on the bandwagon today and blame marketers, toy manufacturers and tv producers that create gender specific products and content for today’s youth, not to mention the sickening phenomenon of pink for girls, blue for boys (which only took hold in the early eighties). In fact, we have been going in reverse with gender neutral toys, so much so, that when you wade through the mass selection in a toy store it represents more a vision of the 1950’s than the 21st century.  Surprisingly, it’s only the last three decades though that the toy industry has made massive strides backward, making a buck and greed has driven this trend. But it wasn’t always this way, check out this letter from Lego that came with a set of bricks in 1974.

lego to parent

Marketers and our environment contribute to this problem of gender identity and what is “normal” or not. All that being said, there is now some growing evidence to suggest that we may actually be predisposed to certain types of toys based on our gender. Recent studies with rhesus monkeys showed how female and male bias may be biological in what types of toys they preferred to interact with. In this study, male monkeys took to the trucks and females to the dolls. And there is a lot of historical reasons to support this, men hunted and built the shelters, woman cooked and bore children. Then these roles were repeated and repeated, and repeated, until very recently. It provides us with a framework of why the world is constructed as it is and why some people have trouble surrendering to modern structures.

This creates what we call ‘norms’. Most males probably have a predisposition to building and most females to nurturing, within a bell curve of sorts. Most people fit into (more or less) this type of behaviour, which is fine. Although, these norms can be twisted. We know through psychology that we categorise and compartmentalise as a coping mechanism. It is impossible for me to think of every person as an individual, with uniques traits, likes and dislikes, etc. So my brain groups them by their ethnicity, nationality, gender, clothing, etc. These rough categorisations have associated attributes from my specific environmental socialisation, i.e. my opinion, based on my experience, to a particular ethnic group, gender, etc – determines that… and violà I have a sweeping inaccurate impression of someone I saw for a second on the street. Although it is inaccurate, our impressions of others defined by this categorising, creates cognitive comfort.

What is not fine is giving into it and judging people for not fitting into the stereotypes we have built of the world, like when a girl prefers to play with robots and a boy prefers to do ballet. Even worse berating them for being different. Many parents who insist and tell their child that they are an individual, special and can do anything often struggle when the child falls from the realms of normal gender play. This cognitive dissonance must also cause some discomfort for the child “Mum says I’m special and can do anything… except, as long as I don’t play with dolls and stick with trucks”.

This is why we have a responsibility to educate, establish acceptance and shape a new set of norms, which is the responsibility of all those I listed above that contribute to this predicament. So, what can we adopt to remedy this perception problem?

Asking children why they think one way to challenge the stereotypes is a good place to start. Why is it stupid to brush and stylise the doll’s hair? What could you learn from doing it? Could the plaiting of hair give them ideas to build in different ways? This could be supported by showing innovative building designs but also showcasing successful male hairdressers. Breaking down false stereotypes can be done rationally, and emotionally. There can be an appeal to the emotions in the context of a game or competition. Children facing gender opposite tasks during a game will often “get on with it” because of the nature of competition and through doing, their actions may appeal to their emotions – that actually, it feels alright.

What can happen by observing different toy vehicles in action? The tyres make different patterns which could be the formation of an eventual print on the material. There are an unlimited amount of ways we can look at using gender specific toys in a variety of ways if we allow ourselves. In terms of creativity, it is a well-documented technique that putting odd things together can have very productive and unique outcomes, as I have covered in this post. It could be introduced as a rule of playing with gender opposite toys at home or in the classroom. How can I apply this toy, or playing with this toy, to an area of interest for me?

But most importantly we must be installing a new ‘norm’ of acceptance with what children are drawn to and indeed prefer to engage in. If that interest manifests it could shape their lives, so we have more female physicists and male midwives. I hate to think what would have happened if I had not been allowed, and indeed encouraged, to follow my passion for movement and attend ballet classes.

  1. https://www.cliffsnotes.com/study-guides/psychology/development-psychology/psychosocial-development-age-02/gender-development

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If you would like to read more from Tim and his research more specifically into creativity and education, check out his blog, Learn Creatively. He has a lot of interesting ideas about the intersection of art, learning, and inspiration.

Literacy Amplified: Using Technology Tools Effectively

Literacy Amplified: Using Technology Tools Effectively

Technology has the ability to enhance learning with positive results. That said, we need to be careful not to assume all technology is good technology or that just having access to technology automatically equates to higher learning outcomes. Strong leaders in education carefully select technology tools and implement strategies so that the tool will not distract or take away from the learning goals, which can easily happen.  -Elizabeth Moje-

I can completely relate to that piece of wisdom, as we have explored 1:1 iPads in our primary classes. Sometimes classrooms can be overzealous in the use of technology, and the point of its use gets lost in using this “shiny tool”. We’ve had to reflect, is it the app/tool that drives our instruction or is it the curriculum? And I think to refine our choices through this filter (the curriculum) is helping us to make better decisions when selecting technology tools.

Studies by Harold Wenglinsky and other researchers from the US Department of Education have indicated that there are criteria that we must consider in our decisions with effective technology use in the classroom. Educators have to ask themselves the following:

  1. Does it elicit higher-order thinking around the contenttechnology-in-class or just an over consumption of content?
  2. Are their social interactions between students, which help build student knowledge. Collaboration is a key skill in developing digital literacies, so keep that in mind when selecting tools.
  3. Does it provide quality over quantity when it comes to practicing skills so that critical thinking is being developed?
  4. What is the “value-added” element of the tool?  Is instruction more personalized and/or differentiated; and can the students develop a more sophisticated understanding of the content?

 

When it comes to developing literacy skills, we have to remember that whatever the tool we choose, it should augment what we already know is critical in developing good readers. So what do we know about good readers?

  • They are active, with clear goals in mind and a purpose for reading.
  • They are constantly evaluating the text, asking questions and making predictions.
  • They can peruse the text carefully, noticing the importance of text features and structure.
  • As they read, they are engaged in making meaning of the text, constructing and revising their understanding.
  • They are making decisions as they read, reflecting on what to read carefully, what to read quickly, what not to read, what to reread, and so on.

When it comes to good writing, we want to make sure the tool reinforces what we know is vital to cultivate in our learners:

  • Writing that is focused, with an obvious topic or idea.
  • Ideas that are detailed and flow clearly.
  • The student engages in a process of revision, elaboration, and editing so that the writing improves.
  • The student sees themselves as an author and is aware that their writing is meant to be shared and appreciated.

Keeping in mind, what we know about good literacy instruction, then we can use technology to amplify the learning in our classrooms. I love what Eric Johnson says about using technology in his instruction, as he explains how teachers can discern what makes for enhanced literacy teaching and learning with technology.

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These four-year-olds work together to create a simple story. Each selected a character and then recorded their characters’ expressions to create a dialogue between them.

Considering this, when we want to amplify the results of our literacy programs, we need to make sure that students aren’t sitting alone, swiping mindlessly through an app or game, but instead, we have a clearly defined purpose for using the tool, and then demonstrate how to use these tools through a Think Aloud or Read-aloud. We may have to model how to work collaboratively in order to apply certain literacy strategies and/or complete a project.  This could include even how students should be sharing their knowledge, and reflecting how well they are doing in meeting the standards of the task.

In our classrooms, we want our students engaged and their learning enhanced as they work with technology. Even at home, I’m a huge advocate for showing students and their families how iPads are tools and not toys so that there is more thought put into the use of this technology. We want our students to be empowered and innovative so that there is a shift from consumption to creation when it comes to content.

So before you start app smashing or sit your student down to a website, ask yourself what impact will this technology REALLY make in the overall learning? And if you can’t identify that, then move away from the “shiny tool” syndrome and take more time to either find a more appropriate tool or use a time-tested traditional method to meet the learning goals.

 

Teaching Patterns

Teaching Patterns

I love teaching patterns, particularly in the beginning of the year so we can keep referencing them throughout the year. However, this year, my programme of inquiry had patterns being taught last with my homes unit (Where we are in place and time: People make their homes in different places and in different ways). Since I do a balance of integrated math and stand alone, the student really enjoyed going on pattern hunts as we looked at different homes, along with discussing and creating brick patterns. I thought I was doing a pretty good job when one of my 4 year olds turns to me and says, “You know Ms. Judy, we learned patterns last year in EY3 and we are pretty good at it. I think we should learn something else.” Krikey! Out of the mouths of babes, I was properly told off. So I reflected on what we were doing and decided to add symmetry into the mix.

After the topic was introduced, out came the mirrors and rulers, and the children began exploring how to create mirror image patterns: symmetry. They were absolutely captivated. Although I don’t have any pictures of the early explorations (I was too busy helping them hold mirrors) , I would like to share some of the later activities.

In the first set of pictures, we clamored upon the playground, drawing lines of symmetry with some chalk, and then the children worked as partners, taking turns making patterns with various manipulatives, which the other had to copy. They did a great job, and even helped to create the PicCollages that you see.  Later on, we worked with the app, Geoboard, by The Math Learning Center, to create symmetrical patterns. Again they did fantastic job, and worked very cooperatively, much to my chagrin. At last, we just got plain silly and used the app Photobooth by Apple to create symmetrical pictures using the “mirror”. Some of the kids took those images and recorded ideas and stories using the app Fotobable. It was a wonderful way for them to extend their idea of patterns, and they did such a wonderful job working together to collaborate on the images.

Teaching Creativity

Teaching Creativity

Since I have been teaching in the UAE, I have noticed a stark difference between American (ergo western children,in general) and my Arabic children when it comes to creativity. I might easily shrug it off to teaching ESL, but I co-teach so I get to observe their behaviors during Arabic and Islamic Studies.   Indeed, the children here spend more time running feral in play than plopped down in front of cartoons and computers, but that certainly wouldn’t account for the muted expression of curiosity or creativity, in fact, it would have made me think just the reverse since they have so much free play. Thus, it makes me beg the question: are we born naturally inquisitive and creative or are those attributes acquired through our culture?

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When given a box of legos (bricks), students rely on pictures of examples of things they can make before attempting to design something.

Many of us Western teachers have observed similar behavior in other grade levels. And, at home, when we might have been plagued with the endless amount of energy of questions and tangents of imagination our students would go on, we are absolutely desperate to get students to think for themselves, let a lone outside the box. I don’t mean for this observation to reflect poorly on our students, because they are bright and able, but perfection and high marks are what is really valued in this culture.  Whether a student writes a lovely poem or paints a beautiful painting is not as appreciated as an A on a paper. So I have to think that this is a cultural influence.

Since the Abu Dhabi Education Council is wanting to reform their schools to more western style approaches to learning, they are trying to shift from the more traditional methods into ones that will sponsor innovation and technology through critical thinking. Increasing inquisitiveness and creativity seem paramount to this task, so we have felt at a loss at how to systematically teach it.

Enter Harvard Project Zero! Through research done, they have created something called “Visible Thinking”, which they noticed that ” Often, we found, children (and adults) think in shallow ways not for lack of ability to think more deeply but because they simply do not notice the opportunity or do not care. To put it all together, we say that really good thinking involves abilities, attitudes, and alertness, all three at once. Technically this is called a dispositional view of thinking. Visible Thinking is designed to foster all three.”  (Visible Thinking)

I have been implementing many of their core routines and it has been interesting to actually gain insight into their perspectives and ideas.  Naturally, since I teach in a bilingual classroom, most of the responses are in their home language of Arabic, but my counterpart will translate their ideas to me.  It has been very helpful in cultivating a culture of deeper thinking, respect for different points of view, and looking closer at things. The easiest routine for my ELLs has been  I SEE, I THINK, I WONDER  .   I also really find Creativity Hunt to be another really interesting one that has a high level of engagement.

Overall, I really recommend teachers to take a look at their site because their are so many simple things that you can add to your lessons to increase creative thought and critical thinking–No matter the grade level.  I hope you take some time to check  out some of the material and implement some of the routines in your classroom.

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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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