Monday, April 30, 2012

Learning by connection

Recently, I read this article in Scientific American.  The article summarizes research in to how human memory works.  It turns out humans tend to remember things in clusters.  If asked to list animals, the majority of respondents will list them in groups say pets, then maybe farm animals and so on.  It is believed that this way of memory formation came from foraging.

Last week, I stumbled upon this article.  Scientists are studying children and the way they learn complex things, such as language in, order to create computers that are smarter.  One huge limitation of computers, as they exist right now, is they lack the complex thinking skills that involve clustering and connecting things, especially things that are random or seemingly unconnected.

 Biology has wired the human brain to seek and create connections between pieces of information.  As young children, many of the connections we make come from the environment around us.  We may learn that peas are green, that mom does not like peas from her facial expression, that grass is green too but we don't eat it, that cows do eat grass, and so on.  These connections are random and connect the information we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch together into a database we can access.

The primary limitation of most educational venues, such as schools, is that they disconnect this powerful approach to human learning,  sever subjects from one another, and remove children from the experiential world they had been learning in up until they started formal schooling.  A classroom is not a natural learning environment, it has only become the standard learning environment.

School settings lack what the real world offers, the opportunity for random information to collide and connect in unexpected and unpredictable ways.  While writing this post I thought of a quote I found in the Harvard Business Review (May 2012),
"We don't need to send kids to school to have a curriculum delivered to them.  Instead, we should be focused on helping kids become adept learners who, given the access they have on the internet to the sum of human knowledge, will be asked to create their own education rather than receive one parceled out in classrooms that in no way resemble the real world."  Will Richardson
 Doing research on Will Richardson I found this video.  It is a great time to be a self directed learner.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Gender trends: toys tell us a lot

I first heard of Sweden's new gender neutral pronoun 'hen" on the NPR show Studio Q.   Although I am not sure how I feel about a gender neutral pronoun nor do I have any idea if it would actually lead to more gender equity, it led me to think about the opposite trends I have seen in the United States.

I think it was last year my oldest daughter noticed that Wal-Mart stores have split their toy sections and labeled them "Boys" and "Girls".  Since my daughter often crosses gender lines while toy shopping, she found this development really annoying.  Since I am not a fan of Wal-Mart, I am more than happy to shop somewhere else, preferably a thrift store.

But the toy differences go deeper and perhaps say a little about how far our culture has come on gender equity, or not.  Take for instance Dizzy Dancers and Beyblades.  These two toys are essentially the same platform, a top.  The Beyblade, marketed specifically to boys, have an arena for battles.  The Dizzy Dancer, marketed only to girls,  is cute and plush and comes with a dance studio.

 Then we have Bakugan.  Dragons and insects and other creatures that roll in to a ball.  The balls pop open when they roll across a special magnetic card and pop up, to do battle.  The girl equivalent, Zoobles.  They pop up on their "habitats" or homes to look cute and some of them have babies.  Hmmm, do you see a trend here?

Apparently, Brene Brown's data was correct in this Ted Talk.  Males are admired for violence and winning in our culture and females are admired for looking good and being nice, and although it was not in the slide, raising babies.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

People who feel right...

Dr. Sears has a saying, "Children who feel right, act right."  When I first read this statement it made perfect sense to me and I have tried to use it when working with my kids.  I have come to discover that there is an additional statement that can be made here, "Parents who feel right, act right."  And one more, "People who feel right, act right."  It is very easy to look at behavior of children, parents, or practically anyone we see and forget that the behaviors they have come from what is going on inside.

Recently, many people have begun to speak out about bullying.  The part of the conversation I see being left out is that bullying is a symptom of a deeper disease.  If bullying has increased in violence and rate of occurrence it might be because kids have less freedom than ever before.  It might be the pressure kids and parents are under starting earlier and earlier to be good at everything.  It could have its roots in our cultures continued reliance on a dominance and subservience model, a model that by its nature leads to violence.  Whatever the root causes, a conversation about how to stop bullying that does not take in to account where bullying comes from has limited potential success in changing anything.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Art of Curiosity and Wonder

This big box of awesome landed on our doorstep yesterday. In it were various science kits, a molecular model set, a microscope, and ,of course, slides for microscope viewing. I greeted this box with a hearty, YAHOO!! Upon opening the box, however, a little "I have no idea what I am doing with this stuff" set in.

I spent most of my 9th grade biology class in the hall. I am not really sure why. I remember the teacher, a boisterous man who wore a lot of hawaiian print shirts. I know I had a propensity to be very social, a trait that would get me in trouble until I started applying for jobs in the real world and then it would be a huge factor in my favor. Go figure.

I remember bits of physical science class. But I think what I learned in school about science was that it involved a lot of math and required a bunch of experiments you were not interested in and really did not understand.

Over my adult life, my understanding of what science is has evolved. As I learned that so many scientific advancements were discovered by mere accident and unbridled curiosity I began to see that I am very much a scientist.

Watching the girls play with the microscope yesterday and talk about what they saw on the slides with one another was amazing. "Did you see that Mina!", Ari would say with amazement and glee. To hear Ari explain what she was seeing in terms of art. To see the girls build whatever they wanted with the molecule set- no plan, no need to actually make a certain molecule. Makes me believe that I am indeed raising a couple of scientists, no matter what they end up doing with their lives.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Happenings and Stuff

On Sunday, Mina and I went to local museum called The Leonardo. We spent most of our time in the area of the museum where you make art. Mina made a puppet using cardboard, skewers, and various markers. Her puppet reminded her of the movie Despicable Me and that was on the menu as soon as we walked in the door from the museum.

On Monday, we spent some time working with light and various things like sheets and cereal boxes to try and create a shadow puppet theatre for her puppet creation. Cereal boxes with sides removed and a piece of paper over one side work well if your puppet is small, a sheet over a table works well if the puppets are bigger, in case you want to try this at home.
On Tuesday, Ari began the first of what will be a rather long journey in orthodontics. She was pretty brave. Then we came home to do some science with peeps.

Peeps were injured. We melted them in the microwave. We soaked them in vinegar and water to see which would dissolve faster. Peeps were smashed and cut in to tiny pieces. We expect to be having a visit from the Peep Authorities anytime know. We have no excuse for our behavior, other than no one in our family will actually eat these nasty things except Mina.

Oh the carnage, the horror, the ummmm, well humanity is not quite right here I guess.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Broken Vases

I remember how I felt the first time I held my oldest daughter in my arms. I am going to be completely frank and say the words in my head were, "Oh my God, what have we done". An armadillo on a desert highway as a big rig convention was coming in to town could not have been more afraid. Back then I did not realize that somewhere in the folds of my brain I had latched on to an idea that I could ruin her. Over time, through doing a lot of work on myself, I have come to the idea not only that I cannot ruin my kids, but that no parent is responsible for how their kids turn out. The way I thought of to illustrate this point is the vase and the seedling.

When my oldest daughter was handed to me, the thought process in my head was comparable to being handed an expensive, irreplaceable vase. Vases have no potential, they have already become what they will be, they have no will of their own, a vase will not spontaneously jump of the table. The keeper of the vase is solely responsible for what happens to the vase, if the vase breaks it is all your fault.

Children are more like a brand new hybrid seedling the world has never seen. The keeper of the seedling is going to have to guess at first what the seedling needs. Does it like a lot of water,a little light, or a little water and a lot of light? The keeper of the seedling has no clue. Only by interacting with the seedling and then experimenting as the seedling grows can the keeper know what the seedling really likes and what the seedling really needs.

One thing we know about seedlings is that some can grow anywhere. Some can withstand absolute negligence, drought, wind, some can even live if uprooted and turned upside down. Some seedlings can survive anything.

This is not my way of saying that it does not matter if kids are neglected, abused, and mistreated. As full human beings in their own right, kids have a right to be treated with decency and respect. My point is that I no loner believe that parents can break their kids. Parents are part of the picture but they are not the whole and I believe that often parents take too much credit and too much blame surrounding how their kids "turn out". If we want to enjoy the parenting journey, it makes more sense to study our little seeds, give them what they need, and watch them grow.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Kitten Theory of Parenting

I am a mad scientist and all of life is my petri dish, beaker, and lab. I used to be horribly afraid of making even the slightest error. I thought if I could be absolutely perfect in every way, I would be safe from harm and criticism. Perfection and striving for it are a straight jacket and I put that jacket on myself and then waited for life to get better. And it didn't.

I am not sure how I got from the straight jacket to the mad scientist. I can say it took a lot of inner work, a ton of support from my husband and friends and a recognition that life is uncertain and unpredictable. Recently, I have seen the mad scientist in me busting out all over the place. I hear myself saying things like, "Let's just try it." Or "What can we learn from this no matter how it turns out." Or even, "What is the worst that can happen." Some of the time I don't recognize myself and it stops me in my tracks and then I remember that I am a mad scientist in my own life experiment and I see Dr. Horrible in my mind and I giggle, cause I find myself really funny sometimes, and keep on going.

About a year ago I was at the veterinarian with our two cats. There was an article on the wall about kittens and kitten behavior. One particular line of the article struck me. The gist of it was that kittens fight to know their own limits, know how strong they are, and that this behavior helps them to be better cats. It helps them to be a cat who knows when to stop or in other words knows where the line between playing and hurting is and then can learn not to cross it.

I remember coming home and sharing this idea with my husband and because humans are animals, whether we want to accept that or not, inquiring whether or not this might apply to kids. And then I forgot about it completely, because I get distracted by shiny objects, oh and digital ones too.

The girls have been getting to a point where they were fighting about everything all the time. John and I were getting in the middle because we thought it was our job. We have modeled problem solving, walking away, and other ways of handling differences. We have sent them to their rooms, asked them to sit for a minute and think about it and other strategies. Nothing really seemed to be helping.

Last night we talked about what our next strategy was going to be. I call this strategy The Kitten Theory of Parenting. We know our kids really well. We knew that Mina, although only 5, would not back down from Ari. We knew that if it came to blows Ari would run, quickly. We knew that they both had safe spaces to go to and we knew we would be here if it went bad fast.

This morning the girls got up and started to fight. John and I remained radically silent, offering no options, opinions, or judgements. When Ari asked me for my input I observed that each of us has to manage the only thing we can manage, our own behavior and got in the shower.

By the time I was out of the shower they were playing together. John and I are a little dumbfounded and we know that The Kitten Theory of Parenting might have just worked by fluke this time. But the mad scientist in me is pleased that once again we saw life for what it is, a grand experiment, and gave it a try.

(Bwahahahahaha, I will clean you my nemesis. You will rue the day we met.)