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2/8/13

What Makes It Meaningful?

After finishing a packet for homework, Joel pulls out his notebook. I'm wondering if he's going to write a story or maybe sketch some pictures. He's been really into that lately. Instead, he begins writing all the numbers up to 1,000, carefully trying to make sure he has it set up to work on one page.

At first glance, it feels mindless, repetitive, rote - the very things that I often rail against. I want to tell him to stop. Go run in the backyard. Go make something. Instead, I step back and watch. It's his free time and he can squander it if he wants.

At first he just writes the numbers. Then I see him finding patterns. I see him talking about skip-counting across rows. I see him doing mental math as he plans out the space.

What makes it meaningful isn't the nature of the task. I wouldn't recommend this activity across the board for all children. But it's meaningful to him. Right now. In this moment. And that's all that matters. He is setting the paramaters of learning on his own.

I am not convinced that all learning needs to be autonomous. Totally personalized learning is a recipe for narcissism. But I am also convinced that we need to be carving out autonomous times in a school day where kids can do things, even when they seem ridiculous, because that is what feels meaningful to the student.

photo credit: _Untitled-1 via photopin cc
JOHN SPENCER
Professor. Author. Speaker. Maker.
I want to see kids embrace creativity. As a teacher, this meant murals, documentaries, STEM camps, and coding projects. As a dad, this has meant elaborate pillow forts and home-made pinball machines. This is why I co-wrote Wendell the World's Worst Wizard and co-founded Write About. I am convinced that design thinking can thrive in every content area, which is why I am launching the free design thinking course this summer.

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