I attended a weeklong conference for educators last year at Harvard Graduate School of Education. One of the speakers asked the audience what kinds of things they had learned that were not from formal classes or schooling. The audience offered a wide variety of topics from investing to woodworking. I briefly considered mentioning my own hobby of fire breathing… but didn’t want to throw the topic off with people wanting to know why the heck I would take up such an activity.
The instructor asked where each person learned their craft. For quite a few, the answer was YouTube. Some learned from friends. And of course, many read books or visited websites. In my case, I hired a professional circus performer because I knew the consequences of a mistake in lighting a big breath of liquid paraffin into a massive burst of flames just inches in front of my face could be quite painful, if not fatal. But the most interesting part about this discussion was the idea that, more than anything else, Informal Education teaches us our learning doesn’t stop when school ends.
Long ago, I read a book called Teaching as a Subversive Activity (Neil Postman & Charles Wingartner). I thought that schools needed a solid dose of this concept. However, not in the common interpretation of “let the kids learn whatever they want to learn” as much as making learning applicable to something of interest to the student. As well, I appreciated the chapter that bestowed upon the teachers the daunting task of helping students develop a strong “BS Detector”. This idea has never been more important than now in the Age of (Mis) Information.
Formal schooling serves a very important function in providing a foundation upon which to build our own inquiries. You will have a hard time getting the information you need to pursue your interest if you do not know how to read and write. You won’t be able to make sufficient estimates or question internet memes that contain questionable statistics if you don’t know math. History, myth, and literature teach us about humanity through time… what we did, why we did it, and whether the climate is becoming ripe for us to repeat atrocities we thought would never come to bear again.
Children need education. And yes, they do need at least some memorization. But as the foundation is being laid, they also need something very different: They need to be encouraged to tackle problems with no clear answer. Even better: Diving into problems that no one immediately knows how to approach with certainty. This is because at the highest level of innovation they will constantly find themselves in the state of “no one has done this before”.
My youngest daughter, Gwen, is working as a Physicist for the summer at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. They have shut down the Large Hadron Collider and a large team of Particle Physicists are working on a massive upgrade. Gwen is an undergrad at Cornell University and was accepted into a small program to spend the spring semester of her junior year at CERN. This internship was then extended into the summer as she continued her research work. Gwen is the one undergrad on her entire team who are almost entirely PhDs. She was given an assignment to program custom circuit boards for the CMS detector. The upgrade she is working on will go into effect in 7 years.
When Gwen was handed the assignment, she was told that no one knew how to do what she was being asked to do. She would have to figure it out and then report back to the team. They could provide feedback and suggestions… but she was going to have to forge her own path. Meanwhile, the other team members were doing the same with their own assignments. This is because what they are trying to accomplish at CERN has never been done before on any machine, let alone the largest and most complex machine ever created by mankind.
When I talked to Gwen about this, she said that it was a little intimidating at first. Because as a student in school or college, you know you have a teacher, with answers, whom you can turn to if you are truly stumped. In this endeavor, however, everyone is in a constant state of trying to “figure it out”. Since there have been many people in the past who have used coding to accomplish goals that can be related to her project, Gwen spends quite a bit of time reading and researching what others have done. Then, building off of these resources, she combines approaches and tries different paths… essentially just “messing around” with the coding to try and see what fits her objective. She also mentioned that one hurdle she had to overcome was letting go of achieving specific outcomes in a specific time frame – which is what a lot of formal education focuses on. Instead, there are checkpoints where the teams meet and individuals give presentations on their work. The focus is more on showing progress than on having concrete expectations around what is being produced.
I recall one scientist saying that most discoveries come less from having the right answers as much as having the right questions. But having the right questions is often not the focus of formal primary and secondary education (although it tends to get into much more exploration at the college level). Innovation requires us to learn a process of forming an inquiry. We need to let go of the idea that inquiry is innate. We may all be capable of asking questions. But if we lack foundational knowledge, we can waste a great deal of time asking questions that don’t address the challenge.
I don’t think the answer to raising innovative students is to abandon formal education. We do need foundational knowledge in order to build our inquiry. However, I think the strength of Informal Education makes more space for learning the process of inquiry. The process of Informal Learning is self-directed, learner-controlled, and present in most of our lives on a regular basis. It’s part of a child’s daily life when they play, such as building structures out of sticks or containers. As adults, we still come upon this in our own life routinely. Just think of the last time you looked up a solution to a problem you had on the internet.
There are many aspects of Informal Education and Learning that deserve comprehensive discussion and exploration. For example, Formal Education uses the “Push” model of education delivery: Teachers present information that the student receives. Informal Education uses the “Pull” model: Students reach out and locate the information they need to solve the problem at hand. The former is assigned work that is often based in a grade (pass/fail). The latter is utilized by individuals who have an immediate need or interest that is based in performance (how well does it get the job done), to satisfy a curiosity, or for formulate an informed opinion. I see this repeatedly with digital natives (the generations who have grown up with the internet). If they want to know what kind of plant is in front of them, they can take a picture with their cell phone, upload it to the app called Seek, and it displays the name, genus, species, and other important information about the plant.
One of the biggest differences between Informal Learning and Formal Learning, however, is that the learning is driven by the learner and based on the learner’s desired outcome. Because of this, a higher level of motivation is often a driving factor in the learning process. It is easier to stay focused, work long hours, and be resilient when the learner has ownership over both the process and the outcome. Don’t believe me? Just watch a videogamer learning a new game. They will ignore sleep and food as they become immersed in the process.
Another important aspect of Informal Education is that failure isn’t just allowable, it’s necessary. Failure is an equivalent building block to success. Knowing what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what works… and why. Ask anyone involved in innovation and they will tell you a long history of failures that led to the resulting service, product, or discovery. Failure is part of the process – not a punishable offense.
The challenge before us is that Informal Education has to meet the needs of the Informal Learner. With the power of the internet and massive databases of information, the focus can be more about curating information than creating it. However, then we need to figure out how to best present the information in a way that the learner can find it most readily, which is essentially the largest task of most modern search engines. There also has to be a consideration for which medium the information is relayed through – written instructions, video, online mentoring, story-telling, augmented reality? The method is often determined by the learner’s problem:
There are many more questions that we need to answer. But thankfully, the topic is also the answer. So let’s move forward with the understanding that education doesn’t stop at the school exit.
Let’s explore how and why people learn – both intentionally and incidentally. Presenting information in a manner that is both discoverable and applicable will be our biggest challenge as we collect more and more answers that are stepping stones to problems we have not yet identified. Through this process, along with collaboration and non-stop inquiry, we can inspire the innovation that is necessary for solving the most significant challenges before us… whether that’s how to breathe fire, or how to upgrade a particle accelerator.
Meghan Gardner is the founder of Guard Up, Inc. which owns and operates Wizards & Warriors and Zombie Summer Camps, programs and events. These educational camps and events are the STEM and story-based experience we all wanted to attend as a kid – where instead of watching movies or playing video games about heroes, mythological creatures, mystery, and adventure, they get to live it. Kids and teens spend the summer playing a character of their own design and fighting monsters with foam swords or NERF Blasters, physics, biology, chemistry, and more.
If you’ve come to our Summer Camp before then you’ve definitely heard the word “LARP,” the common abbreviation for “Live-Action-Role-Play.” Sounds like fun! But before you can play…you must create your role. Character development is one of the most creative aspects of LARP. You can be anyone, or anything, from anywhere, or any time.
Take long-time camper Kira for example, or should we say Barrel…
The possibilities are endless. If that seems overwhelming, don’t fret! Guard Up is always here to help. Try your hand at one of the Character Creation guides. Remember to use Mythology as your resource, get as wild as you wish, and, above all, stay true to your own inner hero.
Best of luck to you all and be sure to have fun as you prepare for an incredible summer adventure! Go Go Guardians.
What do you picture when you read the word: job. Most would answer something along the lines of “the same monotonous task, day after day, fueled by coffee and ibuprofen.”
What do I picture? (yes, I’m breaking the fourth wall for this blog post) Well, let’s run through my week so far, shall we? On Monday I helped a 67 year old man sign up for weekly fencing classes and got to share his excitement of finally jumping back into his passion after a 20 year hiatus from the sport. On Tuesday I spent my break with my NERF blaster, using a Chinese gong for (loud) target practice. Yesterday I walked around our Castle…on stilts.
So what’s on the docket for today? Quite literally, anything! But enough about little old me. Let’s hear from one of our veteran Guardians, our Quartermaster, the incredibly talented Chris Wiley…
Working for a Place You Believe In
Needless to say, us Guardians never have to worry about getting stuck in a monotonous routine. There’s always more adventure to uncover at The Castle, and now it might be time for your own adventure to begin…
This is a powerful quote. Think about it. It defines exactly what a “team” is: a collective, a collaboration, a unit. When likeminded heroes work together towards a shared goal, they create something larger than themselves. Simultaneously, they become their creation. They become that unstoppable organization. An article from Positive Psychology Program lays out the core of teamwork in 7 elements:
1. Team Identity: A group with a strong team identity demonstrates belongingness, a desire to work together, and a sense of clarity around the role of each member. Groups with strong team identity also have high degrees of loyalty.
2. Motivation: A high level of motivation corresponds with the energy and responsibility levels of the team, and whether competition is working for or against the team. Having a motivated team requires knowing and meeting desires, setting stretch goals, reinforcing success, and being persistent.
3. Emotional Awareness: A team’s emotional awareness encompasses the amount of attention the team pays to notice, understanding, and respecting the feelings of team members. Emotional awareness is a critical factor in motivation, productivity, and a team’s ability to collaborate, making it central to the success of every team.
4. Communication: Intuitively, we know that communication is an essential factor for a group of people working together. It provides feedback and guidance on how well each of the team members listens, encourages participation, and discusses sensitive topics.
5. Stress Tolerance: A team with good stress tolerance knows how well it’s doing in managing the pressures of workload, time constraints, and the real need for work-life balance.
6. Conflict Resolution: Assessing a team’s conflict resolution means examining how a team processes disagreement and whether the team is able to deal with adversity as a way to enhance its functioning, rather than being caught up in the conflict. It’s essential for productivity and creativity.
7. Positive Mood: A team with a positive mood has is built on foundations of encouragement, a sense of humor, and an expectation of success. Positive mood is a major factor in a team’s flexibility and resilience, and it’s the heart of a “can-do” attitude. It influences how energized the team’s attitude is.
Our summer camps take teamwork to a whole new level with our Houses of Sidleterra. Every House is unique, supplying their own special skills and beliefs to the battle for good. From protecting the weak to conquering the ruthless, each House adds a new way of exploring the magical realm of Sidleterra.
If you haven’t already registered for camp, fill out the form below and claim your seat in your House. Space is almost gone so don’t wait to jump into the adventure…
“The universal thing we’re trying to get at is just curiosity and wonder…That excitement about the world, where you want to uncover something magical,” – Damian Kulash (Singer/Guitarist OK Go)
Since 1998, the American rock band OK Go has released an ever-changing catalog of music, from heavy headbangers to happy go lucky pop hits. However, it’s their music videos that have solidified the band in pop culture. You’ve probably seen the one with the Rube Goldberg machine, or maybe the one in zero gravity. The videos are visual stunners but it’s the magic behind the scenes that really excites us. Guard Up is a proud advocate of STEM Education and using real life to teach science, math, and technology to the future heroes of the world. OK Go has recently joined the STEM movement by releasing the OK Go Sandbox.
The Sandbox is an online resource designed for teachers to engage students, using the creativity of the band’s incredible video collection. The band allows students to step behind the curtain of some of their most popular videos and learn the science that went into every shot. Once the lesson is learned, students can experiment together, playing with what’s around them…like a sandbox! Check out this Sandbox lesson where math (and colorful explosions) meets the music:
STEM Education is an incredible tool for promoting life long learning and a love of experimentation in today’s young heroes. Guard Up’s summer camps are designed to apply STEM lessons into all of our interactive storylines, helping your kids to become the thinkers of tomorrow while having the adventure of their lives. If you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign up today as spots are filling quicker and quicker as summer approaches. Give us a call (781-270-4800) or register now at www.guardup.com/campreg.
In the meantime, take a look at what all that math accomplished for OK Go…
Close your eyes and take yourself back to the last day of school.
You’re staring at the clock, anticipating every tick, until that magical moment arrives when the bell rings and summer starts. Your head is packed with fresh knowledge. Your year has been one amazing learning experience after the other. You’re ready for the world, (especially vacation)!
But then, as suddenly as it began, summer comes to a close. It’s time to return to school.
You take your usual seat and settle in for another year of learning. The teacher asks you what you learned last year and…uh oh…now you can’t remember.
Summer Learning Loss is very real. It happens to everyone, it even used to happen to you. Luckily, our heroes are equipped with everything they need to combat this common occurrence. Our summer camps are designed to keep your child active, adventuring, and above all else learning. Keeping their minds sharp boosts retention and puts them one step ahead when Day 1 of class comes rolling back. What else can summer camp do to defeat Summer Learning Loss? Check out the article below for 6 reasons why summer camp is your best ally to keep your child growing year round…
Your hero can conquer this obstacle…and we’re here to help. Drop us a line at www.guardup.com/contact-us or get registered today:
Role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons have an undeserved reputation for being somewhat … nerdy. It’s entirely unfair especially considering the massive benefits that role playing games provide. We wanted to share an article from LifeHacker showcasing the many benefits to be found in the world of RPGs.
Here are a few highlights:
When I first heard about role-playing games, I immediately thought it was something that was just for the nerdiest of nerds out there. I could only imagine how ridiculous it would feel to sit around a table with other people and act like someone—or something—else, pretending to fight goblins and dragons. The entire premise just sounded way “too geeky” for me—even as someone who was way into video games and other “nerdy” things.
Fast forward a couple years, and I found that I was completely wrong. As soon as I took a moment to strip away the facade of monsters and swords, role-playing games revealed themselves to be something far more interesting than other traditional games. Behind the fantasy adventures was a fun social gathering that required you to think on your toes, solve problems, be creative, and ultimately learn how to become a team player. Sound familiar? Yeah, that’s because it’s like every job out there. It turned out that it really wasn’t about the dungeons or the dragons at all—it’s about thinking critically and working like a team.
Playing Cultivates Creativity
Creativity is the bread and butter of role-playing games. They have a certain quality that allows you to transcend typical game interactions. You have real freedom and the ability to move the story forward how you see fit. There are rules for each game, but they are merely the skeleton to whatever story you and your team want to create.
Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to activate our brains, and role-playing games do this incredibly well. When we tell stories—or experience them—our brains have to process language, the cause and effect of events, and also relate it to our own pre-existing experiences. While you’re playing a role-playing game, your brain is firing on all cylinders.
Playing Levels Up Your Social Skills
When you think Dungeons & Dragons, you probably don’t think social skills—but once again, that’s a stereotype that doesn’t necessarily hold true. Role-playing games are 100% social. You need to be able to talk to other people, express how you feel about certain situations, all in a group of people.
Everybody plays games. Whether you’re a backgammon bandit or a Monopoly master, there’s more than just fun afoot when you roll the dice. Studies have shown that game play has a variety of learning benefits. Teachthought.com offers the following advantages to gaming activities:
1. Increase a Child’s Memory Capacity
Games often revolve around the utilization of memorization. Many popular games require children to remember certain aspects in order to solve the game, memorize critical sequences, or track narrative elements.
2. Help With Fast Strategic Thinking & Problem-Solving
Most games require children to think quickly. Moreover, they have to utilize their logic in order to think three steps ahead in order to solve problems and complete levels. This is great because it is something which helps children in later life as they develop their logic, their accuracy and their ability to think on their feet and outside of the box.
3. Develop Hand-Eye Coordination
Games that require children to use a gamepad or a keyboard and the mouse to operate the games can help develop hand-eye coordination. Not only does this get them more tuned to how a computer works, but it also helps to develop hand-eye coordination because children have to look at the action on the screen whilst using their hands to control what is happening at the same time.
4. Beneficial Specifically For Children With Attention Disorders
Research has revealed that online games can actually help children who experience attention disorders. This was concluded by a professor at Nottingham University (CNN covered it here), and is a notion which has been repeated by many in related studies.
5. Skill-Building (e.g. map reading)
A lot of games contain certain aspects which help children with specific skills. For example, a lot of mystery and adventure games contain maps which children will have to read. This obviously helps their map reading skills and practical thinking. Moreover, there are games, such as football management games, which introduce children to managing finances and general project management.
Looking for a great game? We highly recommend visiting Harrison’s Comics and Pop Culture in Salem, MA. Guard Up will be there this Friday (4/12) from 3-6 PM. Come on in and see everything they have to offer as well as learning about our Zombie Summer Camp and Wizards & Warriors Camp located at Salem State University.
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