The museum 'kid curators' have been continuing to attract positive attention for their self directed and child led project. Their latest claim to fame is that they have been invited to present at the Museums Aotearoa conference in Palmerston North this month. They will also be speaking at the WRPPA conference in Wellington and I am speaking about them at the Mana's principal meeting very soon.
What makes these children and this project so special is that they seem to reflect all of the goodness that comes with student led learning. They are truly passionate and reflective about their learning. And when they are learning it is clear that they are in 'flow'. I learnt the term flow from one of my team teachers Matt Ives. When I talk about flow I mean the magical state that children (and adults) get into when they are really engaged in their learning - that state that we get into where time is lost. We often see this when children are learning through play. Unfortunately 'flow' does not really adhere to a timetable and sometimes there has to be a period of non-flow so that the flow can happen. This means that true learning is difficult to achieve in a traditionally structured school environment.
Why is this? This could be explained by Nathan Wallis' neuro-scientific research where he claims that we learn best when the thinking part of our brains are not having to compete with our survival, safety, and emotional brains. Therefore if we are happy and feeling safe we are much more likely to be able to perform cognitive tasks. He uses this example: If we are being chased around the house by an angry man with a knife we would be highly unlikely to be able to perform a cognitive task such as a simultaneous equation while we are being chased. Likewise when we hear tragic news about a loved one - our emotional brain kicks in and we are unable to think about anything else. Conversely, if our brains are relaxed, we are very able to perform cognitive thinking which could be why we get those great inspirations when we are in the shower, or drifting off to sleep.
These examples are why it is enormously important for our learning environments and learning relationships to be amazing if we are to expect our children to be able to undertake quality learning. A child who is constantly told that they are lazy, below national standard, and naughty is more likely to be concentrating on their emotions and safety as opposed to focus on the learning that they are supposed to be doing at a certain time. In a similar vein, if a child is coming to school feeling bullied or scared of their peers and/or their teachers, they too will not be able to function at a cognitive level. Similarly they will find it near impossible to learn if all they are thinking about is the hard time that they are having at home. Children will often display this by fighting, fidgeting, yelling out or showing off. All of these behaviours are not much fun for the teachers.
This is why it is extremely important at our school that we focus on Relationships. And not just at the beginning of the year, but all of the time and every time. Sometimes it can take up to 4 or 5 months to establish a decent learning relationship with a child. Sometime is can take 4-5 minutes. This is why we must stop doing 'relationship stuff' for the first two weeks of the year and then get into the 'real learning'. What we have found that the 'relationship stuff' is actually the 'real' stuff. We also need to stop shuffling children from teacher to teacher every year. We also have to stop making children be in classrooms where they have bad relationships and telling them that they just have to bear with it.
So back to the Museum children. They went through a huge period of non-flow. Possibly a whole term of it. Why? I think that it was because they were forming a relationship with the environment (the small dingy dusty book room). They were forming a working and learning relationship with each other (they were all in different classes owing to their differences in ages) and they were forming an understanding with the fact that they would not be told what to do and how to do it by their teachers. But after a term of non-flow - oh how they flowed.