014 – High Voltage Learning with Josh Stumpenhorst
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How does a classroom Knucklehead become the Teacher of the Year? From the perspective of astatewide Teacher of the Year, what skills create the best teachers? What is the relationship between Teaching and Learning? What lessons can a teenager learn from 100,000 volts?! Do small children really make the best scientists? Listen in to today’s podcast to learn the answers to these and other fascinating questions.
[dropcap]J[/dropcap]osh Stumpenhorst is a 6th grade Language Arts and Social Science teacher at Lincoln Junior High School in Naperville, IL which is part of Naperville Community School District 203. In addition to teaching, he is an athletic director, team leader, computer club adviser track coach, basketball coach, and serves on numerous curriculum and technology committees at the school and district level. He holds a Master’s Degree in curriculum and instruction as well as a National Boards Certification in early adolescence social science.
Beyond traditional professional development, Josh is an active member of the twitter (@stumpteacher) and blogging community as well as a respected presenter. He has presented at technology conferences such as the International Society of Technology Conference, Illinois Computer Educators Conference, Midwest Education Technology Conference and the Illinois Education Technology Conference. Josh has also presented on a variety of education topics at the Illinois Reading Conference, Reform Symposium, a variety of EdCamps as well as numerous other presentations to local and regional school districts and colleges.
Josh is also credited for starting “Innovation Days” based on the motivation theories written by Daniel Pink where students choose and drive their learning activities. In addition to Pink’s acknowledgment of Stumpenhorst’s work, Josh has helped numerous other classrooms around the country and internationally to start their own Innovation Days.
His work has been recognized by the International Society of Technology Educators as they named Josh a member of their “Emerging Leaders Class of 2011”. Josh has also been recognized as the Illinois Computer Educators, “Educator of the Year” for 2012 and he is the 2012 Illinois Teacher of the Year. In addition, he was recognized with a California Casualty Teaching Excellence Award by the National Education Association and was the Illinois Education Association’s Excellence in Teaching Award winner in 2012. Josh was also named as a Pearson Foundation Global Learning Fellow in 2013.
Josh is an active blogger at Stump the Teacher and his work there has received recognition through numerous EduBlog Awards nominations. In addition, you can find written contributions of his at SmartBrief Education and the EdReach Community where he is the lead on the Disruptor Channel. Josh can also be heard as a regular guest commentator on the BAM Radio Network and has also appeared as a guest on Huffington Post Live. As a connected member of the social media community, Josh regularly consults at education conferences and professional development activities as he is seen as one of the more prolific connected educators.
We are looking forward to Josh’s new book coming out in February 2015 called “The New Teacher Revolution: Changing Education for a New Generation of Learners”. From the Corwin website:
It’s time to throw out the old rulebook. Today’s classroom demands teacher innovation, embracing of new technology, and rejection of outdated practices, especially when someone tells you it’s “always been done” a certain way. His orthodoxy-challenging methods have produced outstanding student outcomes, and in these pages he details how to maximize teacher effectiveness by thinking outside the box:
Build student relationships on trust and respect rather than fear and punishment
Rethink homework and letter grades, which—in their current forms—are harming learning
Leverage technology by not treating it as a “shiny toy”, but rather understand its power as a tool for rapid progress
Educators who welcome large-scale change are about to pull ahead of those who don’t.
Episode 014: High Voltage Learning with Josh Stumpenhorst
Do you dream of a classroom where learning is natural? Can we inspire students to lifelong learning? What exactly is the purpose of an education? Inspiring students to be curious, independent, creative, innovative, deep-thinking, confident, pro-active, collaborative, determined, educated. Rise to the challenge of changing the world. This is teaching, this learning, this is who we are. Welcome to the Table Top Inventing podcast.
In This Episode
How does a classroom Knucklehead become the Teacher of the Year? From the perspective of a statewide Teacher of the Year, what skills create the best teachers? What is the relationship between Teaching and Learning? What lessons can a teenager learn from 100,000 volts?! Do small children really make the best scientists? Listen in to today’s podcast to learn the answers to these and other fascinating questions.
Intro and Shout Outs
Hey there Innovation Nation! The holidays are upon us! I hope that you are enjoying this time of year as much as I am. My kids are being all secretive, and we’ve always got a roaring fire burning in the fireplace to drive off the chill. It does strike me as funny that a tech guys like myself heats with wood, but actually I am also a frontiersman at heart. So the idea of 4 feet of snow and wolves and Grizzly bears scratching at the cabin door always makes my heart race a little and fires up a little wild look in my eye. But then, I remember I only live 10 minutes from the nearest Target shopping plaza!
Anyway… Let’s shift gears today to give a couple of shout outs for giving us a review in iTunes. WebDevInst says, “This is a diverse and rich set of perspectives on education and innovation. Very worthwhile podcast subscription.”
Last week, Geoff Wiggs dove pretty deep into the murky waters of bad experiences in the educational system. This week, we get to hear from Josh Stumpenhorst (aka StumpTeacher) who was named Illinois teacher of the year in 2012. Before we dive into today’s interview, this juxtaposition begs a question:
What exactly is the Table Top Inventing podcast position on the state of education and the value of formalized education?
The honest answer is that the jury is out on the state of education. We’re only 15 episodes into an exploration of the question, “What is the purpose of an education?” However, I do have a couple of thoughts. First, I myself have been a product of the American education system all the way into graduate school and beyond. I would have to say that my experience was mixed. I had good teachers and bad teachers. Second from the guests on our show, we have heard from those who have been very successful as a result of their education, while it seems that others have done very well in spite of their educational experiences. One of the main purposes of this podcast is to shine a spotlight on the US education system and ask the hard questions.
However, I need to stop right here, and point out a critical difference between the education system and the educators who make it run. I have had the privilege in my career of knowing hundreds of K-12 educators. My overwhelming opinion is that they are the only reason the US education system is still standing today. Without the dedication and hard work of the teachers I know, the system would come apart at the seams. I personally know educators who spend thousands of dollars a year on their classrooms and their student’s education because the system is not providing what they need. It isn’t that the resources don’t exist, the resources just seem to be often mis-allocated. So in honor of the hardworking American teacher we offer today’s interview with the award-winning Josh Stumpenhorst. Long may dedicated teachers stand between students and the devastation of ignorance.
Guest Interview – Josh Stumpenhorst
Steve: My guest this week is Josh Stumpenhorst. Josh is first and foremost a teacher at Lincoln Junior High in Naperville, IL. In addition to being a junior high social sciences and ELA teacher, he also coaches 8th grade basketball and the track team and does a little consulting and traveling on the side. But he really wanted us to emphasize that he is a teacher. Josh, why don’t you tell us a little bit more about yourself.
Josh: Thanks Steve. You’re right. I’m a teacher, I’ve been teaching, this is my 12th year. I’ve been in the same situation, capacity since I’ve started. I’ve been a 6th grade Social Studies, Language Arts, ELA, English teacher that entire time, same building, same team. You know I’ve been coaching like you said for 12 years. I really like what I do. I have to wear a lot of hats but you know that’s really who I am. I’m a teacher. I’m surrounded by my two small sons, a third grader and a first grader, my wife is a teacher so education is what we live and breath around our house.
Steve: Excellent. So how long did you say you’d been a teacher?
Josh: This is my twelfth year.
Steve: Twelfth year… What is your favorite part about teaching?
Josh: You know, whenever I get asked that question, it is kind of a difficult question because you know the generic, I love working with the kids, but I kind of take it a whole different level than that. I love getting to know the kids. I feel good when I get to connect with a kid on a personal level because there are, you know you always see that famous quote about everybody kind of fighting a battle and you never know what it is. I kind of take that personally with every kid that walks through my door. And that’s when I get the greatest joy, when a kid knows they can connect with and trust in what we’re doing in school and trust in me as their teacher. That does give me my greatest joy because I recognize, everybody says that lightbulb moment, well some kids aren’t gonna necessarily master my content, due to a wide variety of reasons. But if I can connect with that kid and make learning and make school a positive place, to me that is the greatest part about my job. You know, when I have that kid that would never come to school, was absent 20-30% of their 5th grade year, and he or she finds a connection with me or with the school, and wants to be there, to me that’s the greatest thing about what I do. It is finding a way to get kids to be positive about school and positive about learning.
Steve: So when did you first know you were a teacher?
Josh: You know, it’s kind of funny. I actually went to college not to be a teacher. I went to college to play basketball and get a journalism degree, because I just wanted to be a sports writer. That was kind of my, that’s what I wanted to do. I wrote all through high school for our local paper under a pen name. That was a good time, I enjoyed doing that. When I got to college I kind of did some volunteer work. One of the programs I got involved with at the college I went to, which was North Central College, which is in Naperville, I did some volunteer work with a group they had called Junior- Senior Scholars. It was kind of like a summer camp but they had these kids come to the campus during the school year as well, once every other week or so. And these were kids that were from the Inter-city of Chicago as well as another neighboring high- poverty suburb. So these were kids that had seen and experienced things that I never had growing up in a very very rural town of about 900 people. I worked with them and I got kind of involved in this program. And I just kind of realized this is what I want to do.
I loved working and helping kids and connecting you know with them and learning with them and just something about it just you know unlocked something within me. I could be a teacher and write. I always had a love for history so I just went that route and I went down that road and then became a teacher. Really because when I got into that setting it was one of those things, it’s tough to describe, a calling or whatever you want to call it but it was kind of a lightbulb moment working with those kids that this is what I was kind of, I felt good about it and knew that this was what I wanted to do.
Steve: Wow. That’s a powerful way to get introduced to teaching. So did you go back then and change your major?
Josh: No. No, the good thing was it was freshman year so nothing was really settled anyway. Freshman year is so much gen ed anyway so it really didn’t set me back I still got out in the four years. I went through and did all my observations and practicums and student teaching in the building that I currently work at. The beauty of it is that when I graduated there were eight or nine teachers that were retired in the building where I was student teaching and two or three coaches so I was literally able to walk into a position teaching and coaching my first year out and I had a lot of that kind of rapport built up with the staff because I’d been there for two years essentially. My full senior year of student teaching and the year before as a junior doing these observations in that building. It was just a perfect kind of situation. I continued working with the junior/senior scholars for all the four years I was there. I still look back on those initial moments with those kids very fondly.
Steve: When you first started teaching the students did you find it was natural or did you find that you had to spend a lot of time adjusting your natural interactions with the students?
Josh: You know it’s funny that a lot of people say you know when they get out of college and they go and start teaching say “Oh man, I knew what I was doing, I was an expert” and I didn’t feel that way at all. I was scared out of my mind. I remember my first class because I was predominately a history teacher. That was what my degree was, technically, it was social science. And I had an endorsement in English because that made me more marketable and in the district I work in, all of our junior high teachers are duel subject, so every junior high teacher teaches two subjects. I was language arts and social science.
You know, I remember back to one of my very early education classes in college where they talk about that survival phase. You know, your first year or two or three, depending on how long it lasts, where you are just trying to keep your head above water. I felt that and I wish I could go back and shake myself, my first-year teacher self. Some of the things that, you know, I think as teachers when we start in our profession we look at our own experiences. Whether that’s survivor’s bias, or whatever, we look at how we were educated. In a lot of those, the pedagogy, the philosophies we put into place with our own classes. I wish I wouldn’t of done that. I wish I had known what I know now, you know, in the way that I approach the kids, approach the content, and everything. But I think that’s just kind of the evolution of the process of being a teacher. You start and you hope that you continue to evolve and stay relevant, stay in the best interest of the kids.
Steve: Well, I have a confession to make. So if you go google me, you’ll find out that I’m a physicist. We started this little company a couple of years ago. I’m actually a reluctant teacher. It took me a while to come back to teaching. If I’m any good, and I’m not convinced that I am, it’s because of my wife. She’s a natural born teacher and after listening to her, sometimes you can just tell someone, they belong as a teacher.
Steve: Sometimes it takes an experience to figure it out. It sounds like that’s what happened to you.
Josh: Yeah, I think a lot would, at least the honest ones would.
So I think that the really good teachers, some of them aren’t necessarily natural, they’re reluctant, they don’t think they can do it. But there are some people that just have that natural ability to connect with kids and with other adults too. I find that those are the people that make the best teachers because they are constantly looking at ways to connect the kids to that content. And yet, there are people that are super, super brilliant content experts that sometimes miss that connecting with the kids, which I think would take their content knowledge to a much deeper level. And so, yeah, I think it is the process, and I think a lot of teachers would probably look back, or at least I would hope, look back at their first year and go “Man, I kind of want to apologize to all of those kids.” You know, at some level I realize that I could have done better. I think that every year. I look back at last year even, and say “I could have been better.” You know, and I look forward to next year thinking I want to be better and I am going to be better. That’s just kind of a philosophy I have and that’s where I try to push other people to see that way as well.
Steve: So I’m going to take a little bit of a left turn on you, but stay in the subject of teaching here. As you look back over from the time you started teaching until now, do you feel like there’s been any changes in the system? Is the system easier or harder to work in now, or the same than when you started?
Josh: Oh, that’s a good question. If you would have asked me last year, it’d would have been a much different answer. This year, I would say, I’m going to sit on the fence and say that it’s easier and it’s harder. I’ll explain both. I think it’s harder depending on your situation because of the new evaluation tools that a lot of districts are going to. Not saying that’s good or bad, but it’s definitely harder. From a very simplistic, I’m doing more paperwork now than I ever did and I don’t know if that’s good or bad yet. I’m in a lot more meetings. I’m analyzing a lot more standard work with the new common core. So the system, it’s harder right now to be a teacher. And I sadly see a lot of teachers I work with or interact with that because the system has become harder, are leaving the profession or are considering leaving the profession, which I find, obviously incredibly upsetting and sad because there are some fantastic educators leaving.
On the other end of that, in terms of easier, I think that in this, or better, a lot of it, and I always use this kind of example of it’s about the people and not the programs or the systems because I have a fantastic administration. I’m not just saying that, I really actually mean that. My superintendent, my principal, and everybody in between them, are incredibly supportive of what teachers do. I have worked for administrators that have not, I would not define that way. And so, when you have a situation where you have that leadership, then the system is incredibly difficult to navigate because they’re not there to help you. With all of the changes going on right now with common core, with PARK assessment, or whatever. Pick your poison there. Having great administrators and great colleagues makes navigating that system a little bit easier.
Steve: Well, l mean, I don’t know if this is different than any other industry or time in history. I think that you can always trace things that are going well to good leadership. You know, by the same token, you can kind of flip that around and when things are not going well, it’s probably a result of bad leadership. It’s hard for us as leaders to take that seriously. I actually didn’t take it that seriously until I started a company and then realized that wow, if things go badly, it’s my fault, and if they go well, it may or may not be up to me. It may be that I have good staff. If I don’t take responsibility when things are bad to turn it around, no one else is going to do that. That’s a hard place to be sometimes, particularly if you didn’t create the problem.I’m sure a lot of administrators are finding themselves in this position where they’re finding themselves with teachers that are frustrated with some of the current systems and they’re having to figure out how do we navigate this to help teachers be able to survive. It sounds like in your district they are doing a good job of that. They’re actually coming up with systems that work, and helping teachers navigate and setting up systems that allow teachers to do what they do well, which is teach.
Josh: Yep. And I think that we often confuse that, that, you know, when you look at that, the top down stuff that’s coming down.
Steve: Yeah, I hear this a lot and, well I don’t get to talk to people as much about this as I’d like to but hearing what you said about being treated like a professional. I mean, teachers go to school for four years just like everybody else, or they have a master’s degree just like everybody else. Then you get into a teaching situation and you’re not always treated like you know what you are doing, which is kind of, you know, you get micromanaged just a little bit. It’s not the only industry where people are micromanaged, but it happens to be a particularly important one for us to pay attention to not micromanaging. Simply because, I never thought of it the way you said it, but if you’re micromanaged, the tendency is to micromanage your kids. The problem is that education breaks down when that happens.
Josh: I agree, but I also think that there’s no such thing as a blanket statement that’s gonna work. You know, we look at, and I’ll use an example that my own principal when we talk about. If you have our staff of 60 some teachers in our building, I don’t even know what the number is completely. Unless you have 60 teachers and there’s two teachers that are having an issue or are doing something that they shouldn’t be doing, then you go and talk to those two. You don’t make a blanket statement to the staff and lock down the entire staff. You know, we have teachers that aren’t following the curriculum, let’s say. The answer isn’t to mandate and micromanage all of the teachers. The solution is to go to those teachers who aren’t following protocol and handle it that way. You know, it’s kinda like, oh, Johnny is talking in class and the entire class loses recess. A good teacher would never do that but yet I think sometimes our leadership, they lead through the masses or direct through the masses and I don’t know that that’s always gonna be, you know, then you’re gonna burn out the people who are doing their job to begin with and make it harder for them, which is not I don’t think what you want.
Steve: Well, I’m gonna take a left turn again. One of the questions we like to get to in our podcast here centers around this issue that the digital world has significantly impacted education and students can do things now prior to coming to class, or after leaving class, and they have access to information that they just never had access to before. In some cases, that might make them look smarter than they actually are, and in some cases it gives them the opportunity to maybe learn things they couldn’t have ever learned any other way. In that environment, what does it mean to be educated in that environment?
Josh: In terms of educated in this new environment that’s there, both at home and in school?
Steve: Yeah, when we say we’re educating students. In that environment, in that context, what is an education in that context?
Josh: Well, you know, it’s funny because I don’t think, I don’t think education should be their goal. I think we’re very good at educating kids in our current system, but I don’t necessarily agree with that. What I mean
You know, it’s very easy to educate a kid through our systems and create this product, but I’m not ok with that. I think about my own children. I want them to be learners. I’ll use an example from my son, who is in first grade this year. The teacher sent home this lovely little you know, the welcome letter that teachers send home – tell us a little bit about your little sunshine at home to allow us to know them a little bit better. One of the questions on there was “What is your goal for your son for the year, your child”. And my goal I wrote on there was “I want my son Caleb to love going to school on the last day of school as much as he does on the first day because he loves going to school and he loves learning”. And as schools, if that’s our goal, if we want them to be continual lifelong learners, and that should be our goal.
When kids are going to be able to bring devices in and out of the buildings that they own, whether it’s their own personal device in a BYOD, or if your district is fortunate to go 1-to-1, and so education is going to look very different. And I’m hoping, and I’m pushing that we get back to what learning’s about. You know, I think we’re obsessed with the data. We’re obsessed with these assessments that I don’t think measure learning. I think they just measure how much content you are able to regurgitate on a test. And so, I think we’ve gotta find a balance. That’s always been my push and will always be my push is that education’s fine, but we’ve got to create learners. We’ve got to create thinkers. And I don’t necessarily think school is always doing that as well as we possibly could.
Steve: It sounds like you just grabbed the line straight out of Piaget. I was just, someone sent me a quote yesterday and this is by Piaget, that “Education, for most people, means trying to lead the child to resemble the typical adult of his society . . . but for me and no one else, education means making creators. . . . You have to make inventors, innovators—not conformists”.
Josh: Yeah, and I agree with that, and I think that a lot of teachers want students to behave as though they did when they were students because, and again, I don’t blame teachers for this. We all have our own preconceived notions, we have our own bias of what we were like when we were in school, which is why I kind of have a soft spot for the knuckleheads, because I was a bit of a knucklehead in school.
Josh: So I get those kids and so a lot of the, I think, and this is my opinion, that a majority of teachers teach in the manner in which they were taught.
Steve: Well, I will resist the urge to talk about maker tools, which is kind of my hobby horse because I’m a maker, but, yes, I completely agree with that. I don’t want to keep you too much longer here so I’m going to ask you one final question.
Steve: You already sort of answered it so maybe just help us to wrap this in a neat little package. In a concise sort of statement, what is the purpose of an education?
Josh: Huh. What I think it should be is, and I don’t agree with the college and career readiness to be honest with you. I think the purpose of education should be to create thoughtful and engaged citizens. And I say that in that I want whatever route a kid takes when they walk out of our schools and are quote unquote “educated”, to be successful in whatever they are going to do, and be a functioning member of society. Knowing that kids are going to be in the society in various levels whether it’s your doctors, your grocery bag clerks, whatever it is, I want kids to be able to walk out of our schools and their education to mean that they can function in society in a thoughtful manner and be able to think.
Steve: Wow. I think we should probably wrap that up right about there because that’s a pretty clear goal to aim for there.
Josh, thank you so much for taking time with us. I’m going to ask you to stick around a little bit after we wrap it up here, but why don’t you let us know how people can get in touch with you and then we’ll wrap it up.
Josh: Yeah, I’m pretty easy with a name like Stumpenhorst. Google can find me pretty easily, but my entire online existence, my twitter handle, my youtube, email, is all “stumpteacher” so all one word, stumpteacher, that’s my twitter handle, that’s my youtube, and that’s my gmail. Always happy to connect. I’m a big believer in there’s always people out there doing things I’m doing, better than me and I want to learn from them, so connect with me. I’m happy to connect with you.
Steve: Excellent. Thank you Josh. I appreciate you taking some time to talk with us and share your thoughts with our audience.
Josh: Thanks for having me, Steve.
Great Inventor Secret
Steve: And now, today’s Great Inventor’s Secrets! High Voltage Learning!
In honor of today’s guest, I would like to take a few minutes discuss my passion for Table Top Inventing and what I believe to be the Greatest Inventor’s Secret of all! Here at Table Top Inventing, we seek to inspire a new generation to create, innovate, and change the world. We do this by providing exciting and engaging educational experiences such as the Inventor’s Bootcamp, teacher training for Maker Education, and great classroom Maker tools. However, this is not a plug for our products and services. You can find out more about that on the ttinvent.com website. Instead, I want to tell you my ulterior motives and, along the way, reveal today’s secret.
We will start in a very unlikely place. Between my Junior and Senior year in high school, I worked on a farm for half the summer. My job varied from day to day. Sometimes I drove the John Deere 2355 and raked newly cut hay into rows. Occasionally, I got to drive the farm’s John Deere 4030 for disking or plowing–that was my favorite tractor. Every morning, the farm hands showed up at the tractor barn, and we had what we jokingly called a “board meeting” in which we got our assignments for the day.
My least favorite job to get during the daily “board meeting” was cleaning the wheat. In the small building with an attached silo located behind the tractor barn was the wheat used by a nearby bakery. We delivered fresh wheat to be ground into flour, and the bread was to die-for. The freshness probably had something to do with us cycling the wheat through the silo periodically to make sure it dried properly and didn’t have rocks, weed seeds, or bugs in it. However, the process was REALLY boring after the first 10 minutes.We would start by auguring the wheat from the bottom of the silo into a holding bin inside the small building that held the cleaning, winnowing, sifting machine. I can’t remember what we called it, but it was about the size of 2 or 3 large refrigerators. When the machine was on, it made a terrible racket because it lifted the wheat out of the bin and dumped into top of a series of vibrating filters, trays and fans. The holes in the sifter were carefully sized so as the sifting tray vibrated the wheat would slide along the tilted surface and fall through the holes, or not fall through the holes. Anything that was too large ended up floating along the sifter to the other end and dumped in the waste bin. There were other bits where fans blew the light chaff into another waste bin, and finally the cleaned wheat would exit the machine into a tilted PVC pipe.
Now this last part of the machine was the only reason I didn’t get bored to death on these days. It was both fascinating and dangerous. The wheat came sliding down the tilted pipe into a centrifugal air pump or centrifugal blower. If you’ve ever looked at a turbo pump under the hood of a diesel truck or a souped up hotrod, it’s the same kind of pump only about 10 times bigger! The wheat was sucked into the side of the pump and blown with tremendous velocity out the other end of the PVC pipe, back outside and up into the top of the silo.
Now that doesn’t sound particularly dangerous, except that, during the summer when the air is dry in Eastern TN, a tremendous amount of static electricity would build up along that second PVC pipe as the wheat went zinging along back to the top of the silo. Looking back, they had essentially created a huge Van de Graaff generator. You’ve probably seen a Van de Graaff generator but didn’t know it. It is one of those things that look a little like a mushroom with an aluminum sphere on the top, and science expo centers love to have the girl in the audience with the longest hair come up front and touch the mushroom-looking top. The girl’s hair sticks straight out from her head, and the audience laughs–I’ll link one up an example in the show notes so you can see what I mean.
Well our oversized-wheat turbo pump generated so much static electricity along the 4 inch PVC pipe that it would occasionally zap you from almost a foot away! Looking back with the wisdom of a PhD in physics, I have a sneaking suspicion the voltage on the PVC pipe reached well over 100,000 volts! It was spectacular! and somewhat terrifying to get zapped by the pipe. It hurt like the dickens, but I discovered that as the pipe exited the building to go back up to the silo, the static diminished to a tolerable but still significant level. I spent hours watching bugs land on that still highly charged PVC pipe and then extending a long blade of grass toward the bug. As the grass got closer, the bug began to feel a significant force and would try to cling to the pipe. Then when the grass was almost touching the bug, the static electricity would stretch the bug out between the pipe and the blade of grass. Then in the last instant a bright blue spark would jump between the blade of grass and the bug–unfortunately usually electrocuting the bug.
Now I’m not here to debate the ethics of electrocuting bugs because it probably falls into the category of incinerating ants with a magnifying glass. Yet as a curious 17 year old I was investigating my world and testing hypotheses just like any scientist. Somewhere in my 17 years, I had learned the skill of observing things and teaching myself through the process of forming a hypotheses, testing the hypothesis, revising the hypothesis, and testing it again. This is the exact,. same… process used by the best scientists, inventors, and innovators in the world. In education, we like to call it “learning how to learn,” and it is THE most powerful Inventor’s tool you can have. In fact once we teach a student “how to learn”, the best course is to get out of the way while they learn more. A student in the throes of curiosity will find it very difficult to do anything else, and a teacher interrupting such a moment is violating some sort of Holy Ground.
“Learning to Learn” is my deep ulterior motive here at Table Top Inventing. We don’t just think it is a good idea. We believe it is the ONLY educational idea that truly matters. That is a strong statement, but consider the pinnacle of education: a PhD. The PhD degree is a successive process of learning how to learn under harder and harder circumstances where the answers are fewer and farther between. In short, a PhD is all about “Learning how to Learn,” but there is evidence–which will have to wait for another episode–that children are expert Learners, according to Alison Gopnik of Berkeley. I can’t spend time in this episode, but Gopnik has studied children, and discovered that they are actually the best innovators on the planet. I’ll put a link to her TED talk in the show notes. Anyway, we just have to sharpen our learning/ experimenting behavior like every other good tool.
If you want to BE a Great Inventor or you want to INSPIRE Great Inventors, your number one ally is curiosity, and your number one aim is “learn how to learn.” A student that learns not just how to learn but also to inspect their process of learning will be practically unstoppable in their capacity to innovate. We often hobble students by telling them to “sit quietly, please, while knowledge is dispensed from the front of the room,” when we should really be putting them in situations where they don’t know the answer but can figure it out by building and testing and rebuilding and testing again.
If we want to inspire Great Inventors, it is high time we all “Learn how to Learn”!
It is better to know how to learn than to know. ~Dr. Suess Click To Tweet
Have you been enjoying the Table Top Inventing podcast? Have comments or questions you’d like us to address? Contact us and we’ll think through the comments and answer your questions here on the podcast. Be sure to let us know if you’d like a shout out or to remain anonymous. You can share your comments and questions at www.ttinvent.com/podcast or by emailing us at email@example.com. Let’s discuss your thoughts and questions. Join us again next time when we will again seek to answer the question “What is the purpose of an education?” and as educators, how do we awaken the inventor in each of our students.