Passion, collaborative thinking and creativity dying by first grade

Critical 21st-century skills start draining out of young minds early if not nurtured, according to one educator

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Image credit: Flickr/Bill David Brooks

What did you want to be when you grew up? How did you get that idea? Many times, that flash of knowing who we want to be happens because an adult – a parent, teacher, relative, or a role model – creates -- by accident or design -- an experience that says to our developing mind that this feels good, right for us. As I pointed out when I launched this blog, many of the IT people who've changed the world, can look back and point to this moment.

Steve Wozniac's father taught him about circuitry. One of the creators of the Roominate building toy that teaches engineering concepts to girls was inspired by a father who gave her a hammer when she asked for a Barbie. Every time I meet someone who has created something amazing, I ask them for their origin story. And everyone has one. Those moments are usually random."But imagine if it's not happenstance -- those moments that when a child's dad or teacher inspires the child to fall in love with technology, math or science." asks Dr. Craig Bach, Vice President of Education for The Goddard School.

"That doesn't happen that often. But if you intentionally build it into a curriculum, you can intentionally build – from a very young age -- a positive feeling toward technology and engineering." That's what the Goddard School – a national chain of preschools that incorporate technology and building toys into a play-based curriculum for young children.

"We build technology into all the other learning domains as a tool and as a fun thing for them to do. One of the key things in early learning is building an attachment to different kinds of learning. We do that by keeping it in a playful and enjoyable context." For example, at the Goddard school, math is taught using online games. Then the kids apply what they learned with blocks and toys. "It is enjoyable and fun and it is integrated into real work," says Bach.

Before Bach joined the Goddard School he was at Drexel University where he tried to recruit students into STEM subjects. But by that time, it's a bit late, he says. "At the University level," he says."It is hard to find students who are still passionate and creative, though they are quite willing to sit and copy things."

In fact, he can see the passion, collaborative thinking, and creativity – 21st century skills -- start to get drained out of the young minds almost as soon as they get to first grade."One of the big tensions we see is when our students enter into the public system and some private systems. If you take kids who have learned in a project-based, playful environment and put them into a classroom where they have to do four pages of worksheets whether or not they have mastered the concept ...." The kids remain creative and asking questions for a while."But we find by grades three or four, it starts to die," says Bach.

Sound familiar? It certainly did to me. That pretty much describes how I remember going from home to school. It tracks exactly with my experience as a tech-wielding parent as well. I watched my bright, curious son from asking so many questions no one could keep up with him to simply giving up on asking anymore at about the fourth grade.
This isn't exactly news. Albert Einstein said,"It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education."

So, if you think you don't care about education, think about this: Who do you want to work with? People who bring a sense of play, the ability to create, and a willingness to work collaboratively or someone who can copy things over and do as they are told?

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