I was first introduced to Jane Vella’s steps of design and the world of Dialogue Education™ during my graduate studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. To say that my world was flipped upside-down would be an understatement. I found it extremely encouraging to know tools were available for teaching in an academic setting that helped to engage learners and create a strong learning environment.
Rates of anxiety and depression among teens in the U.S. have been rising for years. According to one study, nearly one in three adolescents (ages 13-18) now meets the criteria for an anxiety disorder, and in the latest results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 32 percent of teens reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
And there’s more bad news, grown-ups: The authors of two new parenting books believe you’re part of the problem.
“Kids are play-deprived nowadays,” says Katherine Reynolds Lewis, a journalist, parent, parent-educator and the author of one of those two new books, The Good News About Bad Behavior. And by “play” she means play without screens or adults keeping watch.
Your passion isn’t out there, waiting to be discovered. It’s not a mysterious force that will—when found—remove all obstacles from your path. In fact, psychologists argue in a new study that the pithy mantra “find your passion” may be a dangerous distraction.
In a study (pdf) by researchers from Stanford and Yale-NUS college in Singapore—a collaboration between Yale University and the National University of Singapore—soon to be published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers examined “implicit theories of interest.” Administering five tests, they measured the effects of fixed versus growth mindsets—belief in inherent interests as opposed to those that are developed—to determine how our convictions influence learning and resilience. “Are interests there all along, waiting to be revealed?” the researchers ask. “Or must a spark of interest be cultivated through investment and persistence?”
The answer to these questions, it turns out, hinges on our approach to interests. Based on the latest findings, people who have a fixed mindset—the almost mystical belief that passions are revealed to us magically—seem to be less curious and motivated than those with a growth mindset, who understand interests unfold as a process.
I often hear people question whether teachers are willing to embrace technology, but if we really want to transform teaching and learning, I think the better question is, “Are we willing to change our expectations for how and what students learn?”
If we only focus on the latest programs, makerspaces or the devices rather than on creating powerful learning experiences that align with the type of skills and character traits we want students to develop, we will continue to perpetuate the same norms in education with more expensive tools.
Are you spending time with the right people for your health and happiness?
While many of us focus primarily on diet and exercise to achieve better health, science suggests that our well-being also is influenced by the company we keep. Researchers have found that certain health behaviors appear to be contagious and that our social networks — in person and online — can influence obesity, anxiety and overall happiness. A recent report found that a person’s exercise routine was strongly influenced by his or her social network.
Much of modern life, though seeming to promote connectivity, has had the opposite effect of fostering social isolation and loneliness, experts say. According to the foundation, “Internet and social media engagement exacerbates feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety.”
People rarely relate intimate tales of misery and isolation on Facebook. Rather, social media postings typically feature fun and friendship, and people who lack them are likely to feel left out and bereft. Electronic communications often replace personal, face-to-face interactions and the subtle signals of distress and messages of warmth and caring such interactions can convey.
To succeed in this creativity economy, being innovative, flexible thinkers is the most important skill that students can learn, he said. Yet, creative thinking is hard to cultivate, because of something that Eagleman called the “problem of the path of least resistance.”
“The unconscious brain is ruthlessly efficient,” he explained. “It is looking for the easiest path [to a solution]. You have to shake it off of that path.”
Here are five ways that educators can help students overcome this challenge and foster creative thinking:
- Bend, break, blend. Have students practice bending (or changing) existing objects or ideas to suit a different purpose, breaking them into smaller components and blending or remixing them to create new objects or ideas, Eagleman suggested.
2. Challenge students to go deeper. Get students to think beyond their initial response. For instance, Edison would challenge his employees to come back to him with seven possible solutions to a problem.
3. Develop a culture of exploration. “Failures are the portal to discovery,” Eagleman said. He urged educators to create a culture “where it’s OK to get a wrong answer.” Educators can learn from the world of gaming, he explained, where the stakes are low and students can explore freely without consequences.
4. Build creative spaces. “Your environment matters,” Eagleman said, describing how the brains of small mammals have been shown to have more neural pathways when their cages contain more objects to play with. “What are you doing in your classroom to engage and inspire? Nothing is meant to be glued down. The key is to change things up. This is what maintains brain plasticity.”
5. Maintain the arts in schools. Whenever schools are running out of money, Eagleman said, the first items they cut are typically programs such as art and music. “We need to make sure every student has creativity as part of their curriculum,” he urged.