Play SHED

There is a lot of focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) curriculum in schools.  In some places there is a new tag-on so it is becoming STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & design, Math) instead as a disappointing attempt at bringing in innovation through arts.

First thing, I tend to have a habit of wondering, when so much money is being thrown at a problem, why does it seem like it still is not working?  An example of this is all of the money being thrown at STEM/STEAM curriculum, trying to show people how important it is for the future, etc. etc. etc.  All this time, effort and money thrown at a problem yet, there does not seem to be much headway; that tells me, it is time to reconsider.

People and organizations that promote STEM programming/curriculum always want to say that “no, but it is fun!” to kids and then make attempts to teach the STEM ideas through “fun projects” or something.  So, it seems that the STEM idea comes first and then is somehow worked into something fun.  What would happen if the fun part was first but, it built up and into STEM ideas?  Meaning, what if we cut the end-goal out and let the student(s) play first?  Looking into this idea I stumbled into the idea of “loose parts,” a short description is here.  Really, the inherent basis of science is curiosity I am pretty sure that is agreed upon.  Then, the basic elementary level teaching of the scientific method is to create a hypothesis and then test it, if I remember correctly: basically, problem solving.

Now, think back, which problems were actually worth solving for you as an individual?  Those which someone already had an answer to or the ones that no one really seemed to know and that had all paths open to you for solving?  I can say that I personally like the problems with no known answers and many options and it appears that the children I work with prefer their own problems and their own solutions instead of a problem I create and know the solution to.  When I attempt to do something like that, I usually get “I don’t know, can you show me?” from the children.  So, instead of providing the exact path to get STEM thinking in children, what if we started to let them have those loose parts and go where they wanted?

Continuing on the “loose parts.”  The Arts part of STEAM has been brought in to help promote some more creativity within the curriculum.  As mentioned in the article, loose parts promotes creativity in a material sense by their nature.  Another aspect of education that is becoming a problem is reading comprehension within schools by my understanding.  What if we started sharing “loose parts” with children in a reading sense?

These “loose parts” are actually inherently human to all of us: stories.  What if we started telling stories again?  I call them loose parts because, in telling a story, especially a story of a legend/myth style, children can pick up the parts of the story and imagine themselves as those characters in the story; they are loose, open-ended characters for them to assume and build a world with their friends with just the bits and pieces that were shared, they remember and find important from the stories they have heard.

Stories, in being told, do not have the visual aspect; that lack of visual is the primary opening for visualization.  Somebody can describe something as much as they want to but, due to the nature of communication, the mental image that a listener gets will be slightly different from all of the other listeners.  Those different images, when a child begins to try to turn them into a reality with their material loose parts, will lead to different things and creative solutions to the problem of different viewpoints.

Stories help do another thing too.  Stories help children create heroes, idealizations of an individual and how to act.  Having heroes probably leads to the children wanting to know more about them which can be the gateway to helping inspire them to read on their own, then they do not have to wait for the story to be told, they can read all they want about their hero whenever they want.  The idealizations of how to act can begin to lead to critical thinking and questioning how to be a good person, I doubt anyone has a problem with that.  So, with these sorts of thoughts I came up with a new acronym for curriculum: SHED.

Science, Humanities, Engineering and Design.  The whole thing is Play SHED.  Play first in order to have scientific thinking (problem solving with loose parts), the importance of humanities (story-telling), engineering (building with loose parts), design (art, creating something from a mental image).  Just an idea to consider.

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Considering Management

What if management is simply taking the unconscious aspects of an organization, or group making them conscious and then actively making the changes required to improve those aspects?  Sort of like life in general.

Trying to view management through this framework does a few very useful things.  The first being everyone can step back from leader worship.  Not everyone is a leader, not everyone can be a leader and not everyone will be a leader; quit trying to make it otherwise.  But, everyone can begin to learn to identify unconscious actions in themselves and each other then try to change those actions.

A manager would simply be someone who has become adept at identifying those unconscious actions and thoughts in individuals and an organization, bringing them into conscious levels and working on changing them if required.  Work cultures become what they are due to the people in them and how the relationships between those people form, grow and change.  A manager works to consciously create a work culture that is beneficial for the end goal of that organization/group/team.

Next, viewing management from this framework would lead to managers not becoming stagnant.  To become adept at identifying these unconscious habits, one needs to practice and the best place to practice would seem to be on oneself, constantly.  A framework of this sort has self-improvement built into itself without needing to specify.  A manager taking this sort of framework as their way of management would be a dynamic individual that is constantly growing meaning that they will probably constantly be finding new habits in the organization to identify and tinker with meaning the organization will also be continually growing.

Finally, taking on this framework means a manager can explain some of their practices to those they are managing.  When a manager requires some sort of meeting or training, under a framework of identifying unconscious habits, a manager has the potential to explain to an employee why they are being put through the training that seems to be ‘common sense’ or not useful. The manager has the potential to say to the employee that they had identified habit x within the team which seemed to be hindering the team so, this training was scheduled to bring this habit into the open for the team so that they can identify it and agree to a way to change it.

This sort of framework seems to be a lot like a sports training coach.  The coach gets the team together and starts working on training some aspects of the sport until they become unconscious habits.  He also watches the team and identifies current unconscious habits of team members or the team overall which are detrimental to the team during a game.  Then, the coach creates a new, beneficial habit to replace the old one and trains it into the team until it becomes unconscious again.

The most beneficial aspect of this framework, for me, is the ability to explain the reasons for something in a way that makes sense.  Having to go through different “trainings” for some of the things I have done has always ended up being frustrating.  There appears to be no rhyme or reason to the trainings and they do not tend to be beneficial due to their one-size-fits-all style and lack of context.  A management framework as I am describing will cut out the one-size-fits-all trainings and would actually be able to provide context for the trainings in the form of, “I, as the manager, have noted x habit within the organization/team.  This habit is not helpful to the team because of a, b, c reasons.  So, as a team/organization, we are going to examine this habit, consider it and agree to a way to change the habit into something helpful to the team/organization.”  Finally, an answer to “Why do we have to do this?” as I am sure many people get tired of hearing from employees.

Striking A Balance

This weekend I was in Seattle with a dear friend and we were discussing our life situations and that basically, neither one of us is entirely content with our respective situations.  There were various aspects that we discussed but one that we touched one that I am interested in is a balance of “input” vs. “output” as we phrased it.

I will skip the details of how we got to the discussion but, want to expand upon it some.  By input we were generally referencing the fact that, in our current situations, we read, a lot.  I personally have about 5 different books going right now and my friend probably has something similar.  We both take in a lot of information constantly in an effort to escape probably and to simply be learning in ways we do not get to do regularly during the week.  We end up with a problem though.

Namely, that problem is that we get lost in simply receiving information.  We get stuck in our own heads.  That ends up making us feel worse, possibly simply accepting the situation we are in without trying to affect change in it.

Then there are the “outputs” which, in essence, are creative activities which help us to end up with something at the end.  Mine is writing specifically, my friend is interested in writing more but does not do it as much.  Other things would be such as some other endeavors I want to pursue but have not yet along with goals for more physical pursuits of fitness etc. that we are both pursuing.

Another example would be the fact that both of us spent probably an hour in a book store trying to solve some of those puzzles that one can get as brain teasers the towers of Hanoi ring puzzle type.  Although these puzzles do end up leading to a “solution” I would argue that they are very poor outputs since they are not “creative” in the sense of being something original created by the person performing the puzzle.

One thing that both of us have fallen into though is being out of balance in these inputs and outputs.  We have a lot of input, insofar as we are constantly trying to find things to learn and be stimulated in somewhat fulfilling ways.  But, we do not have much in the form of friend networks or creative pursuits to have the outputs side.  As such, we end up not having a balance of learning and creating which leaves us feeling less empowered to make changes that we need to do for having more fulfilling lives.

Expanding on this idea: think about all of the entertainment we have now in the form of internet and TV specifically; what if part of our general discomfort comes from being out of balance in a similar way.  We end up watching a lot of TV, a lot of videos, reading a lot of articles but not everyone creates things after that.  What would happen if more individuals ended up creating more to balance out all of the things they are receiving from external sources?  Would it lead to more empowerment to engage with various parts of life?

Students Helping Students

There seems to be a proliferation of getting college students to help teach students how to “get into” or “succeed in” college.  Stop and really think about that: a college student must teach someone how to get through college, how to “get into” college.  Is that really, truly the sort of education we want as a society?  Once in which those “inside” have to show the secret tips and tricks to get into it?

That sort of a situation certainly makes me wonder whether universities really are places of learning any more.  If they were a place of actual learning for those with true abilities should they not be more transparent and more open to those who actually have the capacity to handle university academics? Or, if colleges are already spread so thin as to not be able to support those students who do need it, should they have so many students?  What would happen if universities simply quit taking in so many students or students quit applying to universities and went into other career streams?

Next, how is someone supposed to gain that “experience” when they are too busy trying to tutor other students so that they succeed too?  If a student is doing full time classes and doing tutoring in order to either, make a bit of extra money or hoping that they can somehow use that experience in the future, that time takes away the option of internships and other work options that may actually be useful in accruing the 50+ years of experience required for entry-level positions.

All of these prior questions end up leading to the questions: why is it that so many tutors are needed and why is it such a profitable business?  It makes me stop and begin to re-think university.