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This is How Youth (& YOU) Learn

Imagine if we acted on these insights?

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Blue (School) Skies Ahead

It was fifteen years ago, but I still remember the first time I saw Blue Man Group. Watching those bald blue aliens discover how to eat a Twinkie, or investigate the queasy vibrations of a giant Jello cake, or climb the walls of the theater to learn more about the people who were sitting there – well, anyone who’s seen the show knows there’s nothing quite like it. Since that time, Blue Man Group has become an international phenomenon, and an unlikely aesthetic portal through which to vicariously experience the wonders of inquiry, discovery and mischief. And now, those same core ingredients are at the heart of a remarkable new school in New York City – a school I got to visit and see through the eyes of two of its founders, “Blue Man” Matt Goldman and his wife, Renee Rolleri. “Blue Man Group started in the 1980s as this outrageous idea,” Matt explained, shortly after we entered the school’s kinetic entry hall on a recent Friday morning and placed our shoes amidst a beehive of cardboard storage tubes lining the walls. “Our goal was to inspire creativity in our audiences and ourselves. We wanted to speak ‘up’ to the

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Fellow Parents — Time to Stop Playing Favorites With Our Children

The other night over dinner, hours after my mother-in-law had returned home to New York, I casually asked my son Leo: “What was your favorite part of the weekend?” As I watched him stare blankly back at me, struggling to find an answer, I found myself wishing I could have a parental do-over. Why do we ask children this question so often? Would it make a difference if we asked it a different way? Anyone who’s a parent knows what I’m talking about: we’re always asking kids to tell us their favorite color, pick their favorite TV show, or select their favorite relative. And our intentions are in the right place; after all, we’re trying to learn about how they see themselves and others, and to give them a chance to reflect on what feels good and pleasing. But here’s the problem: children don’t see the world as a set of isolatable favorites; we make them see it this way.  Watching Leo’s face, I realized that for him, there was no single favorite memory – just a pastiche of happy experiences that blended together to make up a general feeling I’ll call “Weekend with Nana.” It wasn’t until I asked

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Are We Putting the (Knowledge) Cart Before the (Emotional) Horse?

What would you say if I told you that all of our current national efforts to improve public education were blind to the actual way people learned and interacted with the world? Depressing, right? But it’s true. To prove it, watch this short video — just 100 seconds long — and be prepared to describe to yourself what you see: You just watched a short film about bullying, didn’t you? The larger triangle was harassing the smaller triangle, until the two smaller shapes banded together and outwitted their aggressor. Except that’s not really what happened; all you saw were shapes and lines moving around on a piece of paper. And although it’s true the subject is in the air thanks to this month’s release of the new feature film Bully, I can assure you that what you saw had nothing to do with the zeitgeist. In fact, people have been seeing that same story in that video now for more than 60 years. Why? According to Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner and the author of the current bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow, we all see the same story because our brains seek instant explanations, and the quickest way to

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Occupy Third Grade?

On a crisp fall morning in the nation’s capital, 3rd grade teacher Rebecca Lebowitz gathered her 29 public school students on their familiar giant multicolored carpet, and reminded them how to make sense of the characters whose worlds they would soon enter during independent reading time. “What are the four things we want to look for when we meet a new character?” Ms. Lebowitz asked from her chair at the foot of the rug. Several hands shot up before nine-year-old Monica spoke confidently over the steady hum of the classroom’s antiquated radiator. “We want to pay attention to what they do, what they say, how they feel, and what their body language tells us.” “That’s right,” her teacher said cheerily. “When we look for those four things, we have a much better sense of who a person really is.” As the calendar shifts to the eleventh month of 2011 – a year of near-constant revolution and upheaval, from the Arab Spring to the Wisconsin statehouse to the global effort to Occupy Wall Street – what might the rest of us learn from students like Monica? If, in short, we were as smart as a third-grader, what would we observe about

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