Friday, July 23, 2010

Time To Get Moving

A recent article by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in Newsweek examines what works in fostering creativity. Right at the top of the list is movement.  “Almost every dimension of cognition improves from 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, and creativity is no exception. The type of exercise doesn’t matter, and the boost lasts for at least two hours afterward. However, there’s a catch: this is the case only for the physically fit. For those who rarely exercise, the fatigue from aerobic activity counteracts the short-term benefits.”  The entire article can be found here:

Reading the Newsweek article sent me back to Dr. Stuart Brown’s excellent book Play – How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.  In the last chapter of the book Brown makes the bold statement that “nations may well rise or fall on the basis of their ability to honor our evolutionary prerogative to play.”  One of his concluding bits of advice is Be Active.  He writes:  “One of the quickest ways to jump-start play is to do something physical.  Just move.  Take a walk, do jumping jacks, throw a ball for the dog (a double pay boost).  Motion is perhaps the most basic form of play.  We are designed to start moving when we are in the womb.  (The underlining is mine.) …We are alive when we are physically moving.

“Neuroscience research is showing that the fundamentals of perception, cognition, and movement are very closely connected, and that the circuits for higher functions such as planning and recognizing the consequences of future actions require movement.”

Gregg Fraley, creativity and innovation expert, consultant and writer wrote in his blog  ( recently about the need for movement activities in the one and two day brainstorming/ideation workshops he leads for corporate clients.

“Resist the urge to cut these activities.  In fact, add more.  These games and energizers are exactly what the brain needs to get into, and stay in, imaginative mode.  According to Pierce J. Howard, author of The Owner’s Manual For The Brain, physical exercise is highly effective in improving the speed of recall, and much research points to an effect on the quality of mental function and the amount of recall.  It releases endorphins, the neurotransmitters that relax us into a state of cortical alertness.  Humor works as well.  Tests of problem-solving ability yield better results when they are preceded by laughter.
Many of the games/exercises used for energizing were originally designed for the theater.  The intent is to bring the actor into the present moment, enabling him or her to respond to stimulus authentically.  These exercises are time tested and they work well to bring people’s minds into the room – instead of cranking away on other problems and challenges in their lives.  Once a state of “presence” is achieved you will have more effective ideation.  This state is hard to maintain, however, and that’s why about once an hour you need to refresh.  You want people to play with ideas, and these games help establish the environment of playfulness that allows those magic ideas to pop up and be heard by the conscious mind.  If you want the magic bullet, play with the magic ball.”

Will our nation get a move on?  Or will we continue to sit anchored at desks in schools, boxed in cubicles at work, glued to a screen at home?  I don’t believe we can teach creativity.  I do believe we can practice it.  The challenge is how to incorporate that practice, including the movement that encourages creativity, into our lives.  One hopes that in years to come, a creativity consultant such as Gregg Fraley will not be necessary.  People will have learned long before, especially in schools, the value of activities and practices that heighten our creative potential. 

Or we can be like our ancestor, the sea squirt.  Stuart Brown tells us that young sea squirts use their primitive brain to navigate their environment and find food.  Then they attach themselves to a rock or a piling and spend the rest of their life there.  That  “life” includes digesting their own brain.  Firmly rooted to one spot for the rest of its life, the creature derives sustenance from consuming its own cerebral ganglia!  Can’t be much sustenance from such a little brain.  Nonetheless, will our nation get a move on?  At the very least, we must help our “squirts” cherish the value of movement and play.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

DEMOTED to teacher

DEMOTED to teacher

The tragic death of a 12-year-old pupil on a field trip with The Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science, and Engineering in Harlem to a beach last month has now been investigated and punishments have been meted out.  The first year teacher who was on the scene and allowed students to go into the water despite signs indicating there was no lifeguard on duty has been fired.  That’s not surprising and may well be appropriate, though news reports suggest the teacher’s colleagues feel she has been made a scapegoat. 

However, as written in The New York Times, the principal and assistant principal, while disciplined for failing to obtain required permission slips and not planning the trip properly, still have jobs.  The principal faces probation.  The assistant principal was demoted from his administrative role….TO TEACHER!

Demoted to teacher.  Both the Times and the New York Post used the word demoted in their reporting. Where does this language come from?  Does anybody realize what they are saying?  Guess we know what people really think about teachers, despite empty rhetoric to the contrary.  Sounds like the military.  Cut the stripes off and return the offender to the lowest possible rank, in this case teacher.  Certainly lets teachers know where we stand.

Wonder which lucky kids will have this embarrassed, resentful ex-administrator teaching them next year.  He loved teaching so much he became an administrator?  What an inspiring message this sends to teachers and students alike.  What a fine way to help attract, nurture, and retain outstanding teachers. 

Do we now change the old adage to, “Those who can’t administrate, teach?  “     

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Teach For America  This piece by Sam Chaltain raises some good questions about Teach For America.  I'm not quite sure where I stand, though it sure is nice to have talented people attracted to the profession. I know a few who have stayed on as teachers/leaders.  We're lucky to have them.     I'd like to hear what people think.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Arts for the Economists

"...get them to use the entire body and not just words to express themselves."  This in an article in The New York Times about a week-long theater workshop for 50 World Economic Forum fellows.  Play used to help  train world leaders. Who's next?  Business leaders?  Teachers?  School administrators?  Baby boomers?
Read the article.   Then contact me at  and set up YOUR workshop.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sam Chaltain

I just discovered this man yesterday, when I read this piece  Saw it in a Tweet from Sir Ken Robinson.  One of those, "Where have I been?" moments. Check out his website too. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

40 Years and Growing

It's hard to believe, but forty years ago, along with my teaching colleague, Peg Sawyer, we started Andy's Summer Playhouse.  Andy's is a summer theater for children, children performing for children and adults.  It was named in memory of children's author and illustrator, C.W. Anderson - who lived in Mason, N.H., where the theater began.  "Andy" died in the winter prior to our first season, and the theater was named in his honor.  Here is a newspaper article from the Monadnock Ledger Transcript about the theater.  The picture is from our second season, a production of Alice In Wonderland.  There were no great dreams when we started the theater.  Something to do for a summer.  And then it became next summer, and the next, ...pass the baton, and here we are forty years down the line.  Little did I know at the time that theater would become what I teach, that I'd meet my wife in acting class, that my daughter would be an actress and that theater would become an important part in the lives of Andy's alumni and the students I've taught elsewhere.  Here's the link to the article:

Monday, July 5, 2010

Charles Leadbeater on TED

Listen to this new TED talk by Charles Leadbeater on education.  One of the most important, encouraging talks I've heard in a long while.   Tell me what you think.     

Interesting Curriculum Thoughts

Found this post on Twitter, posted by Gerald Aungst, a school administrator.  Happy to read these thoughts from an administrator.  Check out his blog.