Steve Steigman: Blown Away

It’s a beautiful thing when ideas converge. When connections are made. It makes us believe that we are smart, and that our connective neural pathways are functioning as they should.  Classroom teachers have long known this – that connecting ideas promotes learning. Chemistry relates to biology. Shakespeare relates to Atwood relates to Chomsky. Those connective understandings create a holistic internal management of content, but also link issues and concepts that become meaningful when we can relate them to prior learning or lived experience.
Anyway, one of the SpaceRace reading list choices has hit me like a ton of bricks (but in a good way…maybe chocolate bricks?).  I’ve just finished Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, which was an experience a bit like being the person in the old Maxell print ads. Every section inspired an emotional reaction. Drive made me confront my past employment choices/situations, make amends, and commit to moving forward to contributing to the world.  Pink examines traditional theories of motivation and brilliantly contrasts them with groundbreaking research and analysis in psychology and behavioural economics.  Much of this groundbreaking research, it turns out, isn’t new.  It’s just that now, the conditions are ripe for examining a new way of thinking about work.  Institutions are crumbling. The “sure things” got fired. Organizations and managers encounter the retirement of the baby boomers, and the rise of GenY and the millennials.  Our hyper-connected, yet precarious world creates opportunities for collaboration, but also demands collaborators.  Artists. Creators.
Traditional work environments/employers have had a hard time dealing with the likes of collaborators, artists, and creators, who eschew carrots and sticks, incentive pay, algorithmic tasks, bureaucratic layers and shitty management in favour of more intrinsically rewarding activities.  The proof is in the science. Now business needs to catch up.

The solution?  Create work environments that promote Three Elements: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Reimagine “rewards”, from fair pay to time devoted to projects of passion. Encourage Type 1 behaviour, and intrinsic, deep satisfaction and fulfillment.
Here’s where it gets personal.  And what about schools?
The conditions are also ripe for examining a new way of thinking about education, and Pink’s Three Elements apply in an exceptionally convergent way to imagine schools and learning.
Don’t get me started. OK, I started.  I happen to know that my kid does approximately 5 photocopied worksheets a day.  Endless algorithms. Memorizing vocabulary. Silent reading.  She’s touched a computer twice since the school year started, which was almost 7 months ago.  Each week she has a spelling test, and scribes sentences she’s had to memorize. Sentences seemingly connected to…nothing.  Her progress is reported to me thrice yearly, through a letter grade and a selection of generic comments. The best worksheet she does, and the worst, are photocopied and sent home in a folder the teacher never writes in.  She doesn’t love school.  Yet she comes home and, with her buddies, turns our second floor into a library, complete with a check out, plot synopses, and clever marketing strategies.  She’s 7.
My kid, spending 7 hours a day at school, doesn’t fulfill her daily potential as a collaborator, artist, and creator.
I’ve been keeping a close watch on the research of the McArthur Foundation, and their research on digital learning and participatory culture.  The beautiful convergence with Daniel Pink’s Drive lives here – in the educational research that supports and complements the behavioural and psychological theories highlighted in the book.
From the MacArthur Foundation:

At its simplest, participatory learning refers to young people’s learning that: is intrinsically motivated because it is connected to their interests and passions; is inherently social in nature because it involves interacting, providing feedback, and sharing with others; and typically occurs during tangible, creative activities, that are open and discovery-based, involve tinkering and play and are not highly prescriptive.
Participatory learning is often facilitated by digital media because they significantly lower the barriers to production and distribution, invite social engagement and interaction, promote the possibility of contribution, and challenge traditional notions of authority and expertise.

Sound familiar?  Familiar enough to light a fire under your bum?  This is what’s keeping me up at night, long past the thoroughly enjoyable hours I spent tucked up with Drive.  And Linchpin, but more on that later.


The full report is ready for download. So are other local government action resources.