September 19, 2020

Today

I am a teacher because I delight in being in the company of nutty kids.
 
Today, I was at a school in Tasmania where I last worked nearly 20 years ago. The campus has 714 flights of stairs and my giant classroom was at the top of them. I was a bit nervous because they wanted me to work with 70 or so 6th and 7th graders on redesigning their school.
 
Since form follows function, I decided that we should spend a good deal of time thinking about the status quo and the future of learning. We did this through outrageous videos, polling, data analysis, and experimenting with my favorite unsolved number theory problem. I introduced them to Big Picture Schools, Frank Gehry preparing architects without instruction, and my friend Pete Nelson, the Treehouse Master (since that’s not a career school prepares you for). I asked them to think of wild, but not silly, ideas about the future of schools. They broke up into teams to design and build models of future learning environments.
 
The moment to begin had arrived and a kid sat alone at my table at the front of the room. At first I assumed he was a naughty kid forced to sit alone at the front of the room, but he just chose to. I could tell that the kid was listening, but he was also drawing continuously on any surface he could find. The kid seemed truly loved by the teachers I spoke with.
 
He wasn’t big on collaboration or brainstorming. So, I handed him a copy of [easyazon_link identifier=”0976267004″ locale=”US” tag=”neweasyazon-20″]The Language of School Design[/easyazon_link] and asked him to look through it for interesting ideas he could share with his class later in the day. He inserted bookmarks as quickly as I could tear paper scraps for him. At one point in the chaos, he asked if I had headphones he could wear to listen to music.
 
I immediately thought of my great friend Peter Reynolds‘ stories of how a math teacher observed him drawing and invited Pete to make math films. Peter often talks about how that single kind gesture changed his life and made him the successful artist, author, and animator he is today.
 
So, I emailed Pete with the subject: Kid in Tasmania needs your help…
 
I asked if he would speak with the kid via email or Skype.
 
Pete wrote back right away and agreed to chat with the kid. He told me to say Howdy. When I showed the message to the kid, he literally jumped in the air and asked if he could show the email to all of his friends. I had asked a librarian to get me copies of books Pete wrote or illustrated so I could show the kid. He was already quite familiar with Pete’s work.
 
During a discussion of how we might improve education in the future, my young friend made a quite articulate case for teachers to respect kids who draw all of the time (paraphrasing, but he used the words drawing and respect).
 
Throughout the day, the kid asked me on several occasions if it was time to present his research to the class.
 
As the day was winding down, I inserted two slides into my deck:
  1. The best time of the day is… (open doorway animation)
  2. MaX Time!!!!!! (and it was time for the kid to share his architectural findings)
He was neither nervous or embarrassed by my Fozzie Bear-like introduction and managed to find some of the pages he bookmarked in order to tell us why he thought those architectural ideas were worthy of consideration.
 
At the end of the day, he shook my hand and said, “Thank you ever so much for everything today.”
 
It doesn’t get any better than that.


After six hours of working with the hordes of kids, I was driven to the primary school campus to lead a wearable electronics workshops for 30 or so kids and their parents. But, that’s a whole other set of stories…