Saturday, September 23, 2017

Kindergarten Forever

A friend recommended a book last weekend, and I ended up thoroughly engrossed by it. Mitchel Resnick's Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play (Cambridge & London: MIT Press, 2017) addresses the question of how to foster creative thinking--although Resnick's focus is on children, as he points out, it's also relevant for anyone "who is curious about kids, learning, and creativity" (4).

Prior to the invention of the first kindergarten in 1837, teachers typically practiced what Resnick calls "a broadcast approach to education" (7).  They stood at the front of the classroom and "broadcast" information to students who in turn copied it down and perhaps recited it back later.

By contrast, the first kindergarten opened by Friedrich Froebel in 1837 operated on the assumption that "young children learn best by interacting with the world around them" (7). Resnick extends this assumption to argue that "the rest of school (indeed, the rest of life) should become more like kindergarten" (9). 

In particular, Resnick considers the creative process as a "Creative Learning Spiral" like the kind pictured below:

Mitchel Resnick, Lifelong Kindergarten (Cambridge & London: MIT Press, 2017), p. 11
This is the creative process typically fostered in a kindergarten classroom: children create the things they imagine, play with them, share their creations with others, reflect on any problems that arise, and then re-imagine, re-create, re-play, etc.

Unfortunately, Resnick notes, this process often ends when kindergarten is over. In order to develop more creative young thinkers he argues, we need to follow four "guiding principles": "projects, passion, peers, and play" (16).

Resnick also takes the time to dispel numerous misconceptions about the nature of creativity. Too often, we think of the creative process only in terms of artistic expression--in fact, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs (among others) need creativity as well, and creativity is not, as we so often assume, something that only a select few can experience or practice (18).

Perhaps more importantly, creativity isn't about instantaneous inspiration or insight: instead "creativity is a long-term process" (19) and one that can be nurtured and, to some extent, taught--"so long as you think about teaching as an organic, interactive process" (20).

I think the reason that I found Resnick's book so engrossing is because it both echoed and expanded my own thinking about the nature of creativity. When I teach writing, I often have to alert students to the fact that papers take time to emerge--ideas and arguments don't spring forth fully formed, and it can take a while to figure out not only what you are going to say, but how you are going to say it.

Both of these steps are part of the process of creativity, and perhaps thinking about them as moments of "play" is a useful way to break out of the worry that we aren't going to sound "smart" or "sophisticated" from the very moment we put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard).

Maybe we'll sound downright silly sometimes. Maybe what we create in writing will be very different from what we imagined.

And maybe that's okay. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Labor of Love

I planned to write this post on Labor Day, which was nearly two weeks ago now. That's how the time has been going.

But as the title suggests, it's been going well. The semester is back underway, and it's going along swimmingly (and in my world, anything involving swimming is a good thing).

We're still cranking along, raising money and racking up miles for Ezra's Entourage. I'm proud of myself, because I made my mileage goal only ten days in to the challenge, so everything from this point on in terms of miles is just additional fitness--which I can very much use.

I've done my best with the fundraising, but I'm still well short of my $$ goal on that front (as our all of our team members), so any love that anyone can show to any one of us, in the form of donations, great or small, I'm more than grateful for.

I'm also finishing up a donation project for Knit Aid. It's turned into a bit of a last-minute scramble (doesn't it always, when it comes to knitting?), but I'm hoping to add one last cowl to a box of hats, scarves, mittens, and cowls that I will be sending to support refugees in Europe.

I'm putting the finishing touches on a syllabus for a new course on representations of disability in literature that I'll be teaching this spring--this means that, in the upcoming days, I may actually have a few books to blog about, for a change. I know I've slacked off on that front a bit in recent months, so my plan is to try to do a bit more of that, since it will be a way to crank out a few more blog posts more regularly.

And this is something--blog writing--that I think I'll be able to recommit to in the upcoming months, if only because all of the various articles (there were 3 this summer) are now either in print (the one on Hersey's Hiroshima is available here, if anyone is interested), poised to appear in print (the second one on Shalamov's Kolyma Tales is due out in October), or under review (the one about Capote's In Cold Blood and Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace is awaiting a second-round decision).

So the only academic writing that I'll be doing over the next couple of weeks involves a grant proposal (which I have essentially written, I just need to attend a workshop, get input, and put the finishing touches on that) and a possible conference paper proposal, which I'm not entirely wedded to--I may just give myself a break and let that slide. We'll see.

But before you think I've done nothing but work for others, rest assured: my labor of love has born fruit--literally--in other ways.

After so many summers of unending struggles and more or less constant disappointment when it comes to growing tomatoes, this summer feels like quite the triumph. Yes, I had less luck with other veggies (broccoli, I'm looking at you), but I finally managed to swing it when it comes to the tomatoes.

Needless to say, I'll be saving the seeds and dreaming of doing it all again come next year.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Starting September

It was only 63 degrees in the house this morning--just a wee bit too chilly for an early morning bike ride--so I'm making a virtue of necessity and writing a (long overdue) blog post instead.

It's been a busy couple of weeks. Classes started this week, and they're off to the wonderful start that always seems to occur.

It's a way of making me less sad to see summer go, getting the chance to see students' bright new and in some cases familiar faces again.

I've signed up to participate in Alex's Million Miles, a fundraising drive to benefit the search for a cure for childhood cancer.

With that in mind, I acquired a low-tech Fitbit, so I've been enjoying getting familiar with that (I can see how people can become obsessed with such things).

For my part, the advantage of the Fitbit, besides logging miles for my fundraiser is simply that this winter, I will no longer be able to delude myself that I've been active when I'm clearly not. 

Since it's late summer right now, though, I'm active. And how. Today's plan is to clean the gutters and take a bike ride. Yesterday was a massive yardwork day, documented in the following "before" and "after" photos:

It was a task that took several hours, needless to say (and racked up all kinds of miles on my Fitbit). I'd been dreading it from the moment I decided "those bushes need to just GO" a couple of months ago.

There was just no trimming them in a way that made them look better, because their innards were dead. In my experience, that's a pretty common phenomenon when you inherit evergreen bushes put in by a previous owner. People like them because they're "low maintenance," but don't realize that "low maintenance" is not the same as "no maintenance."

This particular bush was a kind of "weeping evergreen"--my neighbor called it "the Cousin It" bush. When I bought the house, it had grown halfway up the lower windows and wept its way over and onto the lawn. Which it was slowly killing, as acidic evergreen needles will.

I trimmed it, and at first, it looked okay. But here's the thing: if you don't trim and cut evergreens back regularly, right from the time you plant them, eventually, you have bushes that are just a mass of empty branches inside, with no growth, hidden only by the outside branches, which just get longer and longer.

This summer, I was pretty much done with dealing with this bush because I could no longer cut it back so that it wasn't a) killing the lawn, and b) covering half of my living room windows, without exposing the empty innards.

It just didn't look good anymore, and wasn't going to look good again any time soon. Add to that the fact that those branches are scratchy and when I trim it, I end up covered in scratches that swell up and itch (apparently, I'm slightly allergic to whatever kind of conifer it is), and it was just time for it to be on its way to that Great Greenhouse in the Sky.

I put in a pair of purple rhododendron bushes instead. They're small now, but they'll fill out, and I can prune them myself right from the get-go. They'll also do well given that the soil is still going to be acidic: I dug out the roots (yes, I really did--that was the main struggle), but there are inevitably going to be remnants around for a while to come, so this way, they'll help instead of hurt.  

And, I like rhododendrons. I already have some light purple ones in the back of the house that do quite well, so I'm hoping that the little Labor Day struggle this year will yield something nice come spring.