Breaking Some Rules

Are you a rule-follower? I am. After all, I was an Army officer’s first-born daughter, raised to curtsy and and speak when I had something “nice” to say.
Now that’s not all bad. Rule followers and nice people can get pretty far in this world, so I don’t hold this against my parents too much. But after reading a recent article in Scientific American, I realize there’s much to be said for being a rule-breaker, or at least one who isn’t afraid to follow her own path.
Andrea Kuszewski shares her two hypotheses in the article:

1) Teaching and encouraging kids to learn by rote memorization and imitation shapes their brain and behavior, making them more inclined towards linear thinking, and less prone to original, creative thinking.
2) Teaching kids to ask questions and think about problems before receiving the solution encourages more non-linear, divergent and creative thinking, to produce better innovators, problem-solvers, and problem-finders.


My own schooling was much of the first. Teachers who told me what and how to think. Schools where I was either ahead or behind because of yearly moves with my family (I attended 13 schools in 12 years!) Few opportunities to think on my own or, worse, fail and recover.

Years later, I remember the first time I really had to figure something out, and I almost didn’t make it. After staying home with my children for a few years, I decided to go back to the classroom. But first I had to renew my teaching certificate, which had expired. I signed up at our local college for two courses, one of which was BASIC programming.This was 1986, and I had never seen a computer. An English major who preferred humanities to math and science, I was taking these courses while I was teaching full time again with two small children at home. Not a pretty picture.

After three weeks of working in the college computer lab, I came home one day and said, “I quit. I don’t get it. It’s too hard.”
But something in my head said, no. Don’t.
So, I tried again, making my brain understand the code, the symbols, that needed to speak to that darn machine. And soon, I had created a short program that worked.

Yes! Such satisfaction.
The next week, I bought my first computer. I then taught myself DOS, and learned how to add hardware and software (do you remember installing the first Windows program that took about five hours and tons of disks?)

Most of my exploring happened as I said, “I wonder what will happen if I….” Sometimes in my playing around, I had to reformat the machine because I got myself in so much trouble. I figured out how to use Pagemaker and was the first teacher in my district to self-publish our school’s newspaper, and I moved online when the web was only text based, opening myself up to a world of research and global awareness. More often than not, I had no one to tell me what to do as I explored this new world. Technology became my window to becoming a self-confident, self-directed learner.

As Kuszewski said,  “students that are more actively engaged are more intrinsically motivated to learn—no bribes or artificial rewards needed, just pure enjoyment of learning.” I was “in the flow.”

Over the years, I’ve continued to find ways to break rules and take risks. I don’t find it easy, and often retreat to safer places. But I know my journey from passive to active learner has resulted in greater work and life opportunities and general all around feelings of accomplishment.

I agree with Kuszewski who wonders why, with so much evidence, we continue to subject children to the kind of schooling I had. I love how she closes:

What is supposed to be the most critical learning period for shaping children into the leaders of tomorrow has evolved over the years into a stifling of the creative instinct—wasting the age of imagination—which we then spend the rest of our lives trying to reconnect with. The time has never been more ready for systemic change than right now, and we’ve never had better tools to achieve this level of creative disobedience, to successfully prepare our children for the big challenges that lie ahead. It might be uncomfortable and take a bit of work, but our future depends on this radical change in order to survive.


My life changed when I realized I could do whatever I wanted to do, and I didn’t have to wait for instructions. Don’t we want that for all our children?

Social Media Ennui, And Yet….

Do you ever get tired of connecting? Every once in a while, I have to step away.

I’ve never liked Facebook (PLP’s Sheryl Nussbaum Beach was giving me a hard time because I said I don’t use it much). Of course, I do jump on for PLP, but frankly, most of my connecting is for professional reasons. I have not been able to get into FB to connect with friends, and sometimes that makes me feel like a luddite, despite my propensity to be online connecting for all hours of the day! Twitter has been my go-to app for finding resources and getting to know others in my field. And I also connect on Flickr, diigo, and delicious.

But now there’s a new player, and I’m finding it fits in nicely with my work flow. Google Plus, Google’s new attempt at social networking, seems to have what I need so far. I like the Circles, and I like the ability to have threaded conversations. The novelty may wear off, and I do find that it’s now one more place to go. But I’m going….and curious.

What are your thoughts so far?



Books to Share

A friend stopped by unexpectedly last night as I was about to go to bed. (I do turn out the lights pretty early these days.)

“I was on my way to the library,” she said. “And then I realized I could go to Susan’s house instead!”

I laughed, completely understanding what she meant. In my years of teaching, I was also a reader. I collected books on writing, thinking, pedagogy, and leadership. On my shelf I have Shirky, Gallagher, Kohl, Li, and Wagner. During my days at FA, I tried to share as many books as  could, handing out Godin, Dweck, Boss, and Wheatley to name a few. My friend, a former colleague who was working on a philosophy of teaching essay for graduate school, wanted to reference something, and she knew  I would have resources.

After handing over a few books, I said good night. And then I realized how many more I have on my Kindle now.

“That’s a shift,” I thought with some regret. I can’t share my books any longer.

But wait–yes, I can! I remembered hearing about lending books from my Kindle, but I hadn’t tried yet. A couple of clicks later, and I was there:

There are a few restrictions from Amazon:

Eligible Kindle books can be loaned once for a period of 14 days. The borrower does not need to own a Kindle — Kindle books can also be read using our free Kindle reading applications for PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android devices. Not all books are lendable — it is up to the publisher or rights holder to determine which titles are eligible for lending. The lender will not be able to read the book during the loan period.

I can live with that, though unfortunately books can only be lent once. I don’t know why I am so late to this game, but I’m glad I learned something new.

image credit: By jblyberg