Dr. Elizabeth Zelinski of USC was recently interviewed about an extensive memory study of older adults by the authors of the SharpBrains blog. In the interview, Zelinski stated:

The physical fitness analogy is a good one, in that cognitive enhancement requires the engagement in a variety of activities, those activities must be novel, adaptive and challenging-which is why computer-based programs can be helpful. But even at a more basic level, what matters is being engaged with life, continually exposed to stimulating activities, always trying to get out of our comfort zones, doing our best at whatever we are doing. A major typical misconception is that there is only one general intelligence to care about. In reality, we have many different cognitive abilities, such as attention, memory, language, reasoning, and more, so it makes sense to have different programs designed to train and improve each of them.

These views make a strong case for learning environments in which both students and teachers are exploring new avenues for communication and collaboration. It supports the idea that rather than simply doing “school as usual,” human beings learn best when there is novelty and challenge in the learning environment. Anyone who has taught K-12 students for any length of time understands the importance of classroom routines, especially for some students. Routines and tradition, however, should not entirely direct the day.

Amanda and Yaj

As an adult, think about the reasons you enjoy reading and sharing information in the blogosphere. The opportunity to learn about a new tool, turn over a new or old idea in a novel way, or make a connection you hadn’t experienced before are all compelling reasons to read, comment on, and write blog posts. The students we teach are no different. Rather than oversimplify the world into scenarios with four possible multiple choice answers, we need to embrace both the complexity and the novelty offered by many aspects of our digital learning environment.

The predominance of FEAR in our classrooms, as well as in U.S. society in general today on a variety of fronts, is not conducive to learning. Filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s observation about fear and schools, shared by David Wahl a few days ago on his blog “Creative Creativity: A Daily Guide To Creativity And New Ideas,” is thought provoking:

I think the big mistake in schools is trying to teach children anything, and by using fear as the basic motivation. Fear of getting failing grades, fear of not staying with your class, etc. Interest can produce learning on a scale compared to fear as a nuclear explosion to a firecracker.

I wouldn’t personally say “trying to teach children anything” is “a big mistake,” but I do think we often fail to take student interests into account when formulating assignments and learning tasks. It’s much easier to simply give students an assignment without differentiating it to meet their needs, skills, and (to an extent) their interests. Striving to ignite interest and fuel natural creativity with students should be an essential element of 21st century teaching.

For ideas and inspiration related to creativity and learning, check out David’s past posts “Increasing Creativity: 5 Tips On How To Trick Your Brain Into Taking A Fresh Look At The World,” “Becoming Creative: 6 Easy Steps Toward Becoming Creative,” and “10 Ways To Prevent Writer’s Block.”

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3 Responses to Novelty and curiosity essential for engagement and learning

  1. SaharaStone says:

    In our age of technology, we have encountered a trade off of stagnation and sedentary behavior among adults and children who remain glued to the PC screens. This is especially important when shaping our youth and fostering good health and behavior early on in their growth periods. I feel there is a great balance that must be achieved when it comes to allowing children to be online as opposed to them being outside playing or otherwise engaged in physical and other stimulating activities. This site does a good job of outlining this balance. There is also a wonderful site for kids that is kid-focused and user friendly. At http://www.kabillion.com/littledirector, the little artists in your family can draw, animate, add music and voiceover, and create their own storybooks. When the artistic tike is done, the end product can be purchased on DVD to keep for all prosperity. I work for them so I tried out the site and really enjoyed it. What a delightful way for parents to bond with their child and it’s a great creative release for the kids.

  2. David Wahl says:

    Wow, thanks for the link!

    I often get overly grumpy about education just because I had so many terrible teachers growing up. I had a few good ones and two great ones that taught me quite a bit, but the rest seemed to want to doom me to live in the same tiny, dark world that they had already been doomed to themselves.

    Have you read Keith Johnstone’s book Impro? It’s supposedly about improvisational acting, but really it’s about what the educational system does to stifle imagination and creative impulses and what you can do to “unlearn” what you’ve been taught in school.

  3. Wesley Fryer says:

    David: I haven’t read that book, but at your recommendation I just added it to my Amazon Wish list! Thanks for the suggestion, as well as the ideas via your great blog!

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