Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Visualization and the Human Brain
(Part 4)

Several states have responded with an “innovation index” to address the uneasiness expressed by American business leaders concerning the lack of innovative thinking in today’s young job-seekers. “What if...?" and "Ah-hah!” have become unwelcome academic intruders treated with derision and disdain, and subsequently have been suppressed in our schools, where "filling in the bubble" and “teaching to the test” reign supreme. Standardized testing is quite unforgiving to creativity, although a student’s unconventional answer may reflect far more insight than the multiple-choice options presented. Even scientists don’t always agree. The novel ideas from some of the most celebrated scientists were initially rejected and those perspectives subsequently, remained unpublished for decades.

Inside the brain, there are over 1,000,000 miles of nerve fibers (the “white matter” connections), with over one quadrillion connections that can link brain cells one another. Through these connections, we develop a remarkable ability to create and invent -- the byproducts of teaching students to visualize multiple unique solutions to a stated challenge.

The European Union designated 2009 as the "European Year of Creativity and Innovation." In support of that declaration, conferences on the neuroscience of creativity, real-world inquiry, and teacher training took place. Korean students ranked first in the world in reading, first in the world in math, and third in the world for science achievement in the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) report. The former South Korean Minister of Education Byong-man Ahn, said recently “…the current administration of President Lee Myung-bak has focused its policy efforts on creating the type of education in which creativity is emphasized over rote learning.” 

The #1 “leadership competency” of the future, as identified by 1,500 CEOs, will be “creativity.” Continuing educational practices designed for top ranking in the Industrial Age should not be our national goal, when the leading nations have stepped up to the next plateau in the advancement of our species -- the Innovation Age. Global economic viability in the decades to come will be the ultimate report card for educational accountability. Even more important, Professor Yong Zhoa released a new study recently indicating that there is an inverse relationship between test scores and entrepreneurship globally.
So much for "No Child Left Behind" as a means of laying the foundation for our nation's future economic success.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Visualization and the Human Brain
(Part 3)

Recent research has shown that we learn a great deal from making errors, particularly when we can later analyze those mistakes and correct our errors. Thinking differently or creatively seldom goes unpunished in school today’s assessments for “accountability.” Regrettably, our current assessment methods have given students a perception that only plan A or “answer A” can ever exist as the single definitive “right answer.” Independent thinking today is comparable to escaping the shackles of slavery in the early 1800s. In both cases, one might pay dearly for seeking his independence.
We often arrive at an optimal answer after thoroughly considering numerous possible ideas and methods for problem resolution. Our high-stakes tests reward speed over intrinsically-motivated perseverance and the time-consuming, slow-burning creative processes that have historically driven imaginative minds to conceive of the incandescent light bulb, a vaccine for polio, the Hubble telescope, brain-imaging, the i-Pad, mind-reading computers, and brain-controlled prosthetics, each expanding human knowledge and revolutionizing life as we know it or once knew it. (Imagine the marketing challenge facing the creative salesmen charged with consummating the first sale of these new inventions!) Thinking constitutes one of the best ways to learn. There is no evidence-based research available today indicating that worksheets or standardized tests stimulate creativity although 
The future portends new models and methods for teaching, learning and assessment. Technology will increasingly influence the “classroom of the future.”

The broader goal of education should be to teach our students how to think their way through any problem, because the problems that will confront them in the future have yet to come into existence, although a wealth of feasible solution strategies can be taught today. Rather than teaching a student to solve the same problem five different times as we do in traditional textbooks, it is far more important to teach him to solve that problem five different ways.

While the 3Rs make a contribution to educational success, linking together (1) relevance, (2) visualization, and (3) creativity are the new educational essentials for future inventors now and future economic success. As educators and parents, it is our ultimate responsibility to assist our children and students in building the best brains possible by helping each of them develop a "cognitive tool chest” replete with imaginative as well as everyday solution strategies. Creativity is what intelligent people use when the problems are unconventional and the answers are both clearly unknown at the outset. The answers sometimes remain elusive and must be pursued for a significant amount of time before they reveal themselves to the learner.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Visualization and the Human Brain
(Part 2)

The Wright brothers were able to make heavier-than-air objects do precisely what they are not supposed to do. Leonardo da Vinci, Francis Crick, and Albert Einstein are time-honored men who designed and built new inventions, who made earth-shattering discoveries, and who offered fresh new ways of thinking. They found ways to solve problems that led to advancements benefiting all of mankind. In his book, Sparks of Genius,” McArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” recipient Robert Root-Bernstein, detailed an astounding discovery-- many of history’s most prominent scientists and inventors were also accomplished in the arts, where abstract and creative thinking complemented innovative traits. Creative thinking is immobilized by standardized thinking although creativity is three times stronger as a predictor of lifetime accomplishment than IQ. It is most revealing that no statue has ever been erected out of admiration of a single "standardized" thinker.

Instead of placing a spotlight on innovative and creative thinking, "standardized" thinking (making for easy assessments) has been our primary educational focus over the past two decades. Consequently, most American 8th grade students know how to multiply 9x5, but the vast majority does not know when to do so, exposing the hazardous nature of high-stakes tests masquerading under the cloak of "accountability." An important distinction must be made between possessing specific skills or knowledge, and knowing when, where, and how to apply them under routine and non-routine circumstances. Otherwise, the knowledge is of no practical long-term value.

Dynamic changes are occurring daily in an interconnected, information-rich, highly visual and complex world at unprecedented rates requiring inventive (not standardized) ideas to address our current and future challenges. The old "tried and true" approaches we embraced from the 1960s, 70s and 80s are no longer adequate in 2012, although we have held tightly onto them for decades. However, the world has changed. The world is "flat." Unfortunately for many of us, progress only goes in one direction –forwards, not backwards. In their best moments, contemporary educational practices cannot stretch far enough to cover future classroom realities.

 Teaching students (1) to understand, analyze, and visualize problem-based scenarios, (2) to explain those situations effectively in words and through models, (3) to solve problems by blending together multisensory and multidisciplinary strategies, (4) to evaluate the quality of multiple convergent solutions, and (5) to identify the criteria for selecting the best solution to a problem, as well as knowing how and when to deploy a viable "plan B," or "plan C," if “plan A” does not appear to be working.