© 2013 Marla McLean

The greatest small gifts

Last month I attended a tremendous conference in San Francisco called  Educating for Creative Minds: Using Brain Science to Ignite Innovation and Imagination.

From the conference I have a long list of books to read and pages of notes to refer to, and inspiration and knowledge to keep me busy for a long time.

I will be referring to speakers and ideas from this conference in this and subsequent blogs.

“We are unable to  measure creative and divergent  thinking in a standardized way. Nationally, we teach what we can measure so we can teach it.”

“I can force you to pass a test and memorize, I cannot force you to write Hamlet.”

“Everyone has to become creative. If you want to be managed, you are not employable. Necessary traits for creativity and entrepreneurial qualities are; active engagement, resilience, agency to believe you can do it, original ideas, passion, empathy, uniqueness, alertness to opportunity, friends, confidence,  and global competency.

Here’s how traditional schools kill these traits and qualities:

Demand everyone to be the same

Rank them

Reward and punish accordingly so children can lose interest, confidence and curiosity.

And don’t give them time to play and explore.”

“We treat Reggio, Montessori and Waldorf as boutique education. Progressive education is a NECESSITY.”

-Yong Zhao, Phd

In this blog, I want to share and convey the depth and intention of the work in the studio, and implications for learning and developing creativity.

I am trying a new approach, two short videos.


Here’s video one, Developing Authentic Creativity , an overview of what many weeks of work looks like on the Shad and Insect project in the studio.


Here’s video two, Engagement and Ability., an opportunity to be a fly on the wall for a moment in the studio, an opportunity to see what it is really like.


I’d love to get feedback on your thoughts, what you see, and the effectiveness of sharing children’s work through video.

Just a quick end-note.  In the studio, the Shad fish project  was introduced in January. Kamrin, (pictured below) completed his wire Shad fish mobile this week. He finished, and went off to explore freely in the studio. About 3 minutes later, he came running back to me, gave me a big hug and looked in my eyes and said, “Thank you Ms. McLean”, and ran back to his free-time. The importance of honoring each child’s ability individually through daily interaction and relationship can never be underestimated. These are the greatest small gifts.






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  1. Posted March 6, 2013 at 7:16 pm | #

    I enjoyed these two videos immensely. I particularly liked the conversation between you and a student about “being an expert” – great dialogue. They are our future experts! I also enjoyed watching the children “move” and “dance” their wire mobiles. Video was a great medium for seeing the action. As always, I admire how your classroom environment respects children. They work in small groups, with plenty of time for detailed and focused work. This should be replicated in all schools. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Posted March 6, 2013 at 8:25 pm | #

    Love the videos! It’s almost like getting to peek into your classroom in person for a few minutes. I’d love to see one of the process of teaching them to use the materials; I haven’t had quite the success with independent wire work that you have–I’d love to see how you got there!

  3. Pam Costner
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 6:09 am | #

    As always love the peek into your classroom. Did you feel video taping changed the environment/kids interaction in a way differently than you thought it would/has in past? I hope it is few and far between who think our teachers would do the work for the kids (as you shared on video). Thanks for all your time and effort in doing this.

  4. Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:16 am | #

    Pam, in response: I used my camera to take the video, and they thought I was taking photos (which they are used to) so it didn’t really change anything for them.
    Lise, in response: that’s a great suggestion to show the introduction of materials and the many times children had opportunities to work with the new material before becoming so comfortable with it. Thanks!

  5. Caroline Kazmierski
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 7:31 am | #

    Thank you so much for taking and posting these videos, but more importantly for developing and encouraging authentic creativity in our kids! Creative problem solving and originality are absolutely critical skills for our kids now and in the future.
    THANK YOU! This made my day!

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