Alina Colton is the Co-founder and CEO of Arcadia Math, a startup devoted to unleashing children’s mathematical capabilities through gaming. She is an award-winning educator with 25 years of experience in promoting STEM Education, developing innovative tools to make math, physics, and engineering accessible to youth, and enabling teachers to inspire and excite their students. She was previously the Pedagogical Director of SpaceIL, who reached the moon with the first privately funded spacecraft.
We are almost a quarter of a century into the third millennium and the long debate about the role of the new educator seems to be getting more complicated. To throw another spanner in the works, generative AI reshuffled all the cards. How do we grade papers that might be a result of 20 seconds of work? What are we even grading? What skills will be required of these kids and how do we figure these answers out if we have no clue what world we are preparing them for?
Despite the uncertainties, some answers remain clear. First -The unknown will require the ability to cope with rapid changes. And second -these kids will have to keep on learning a long time after we’re not around. Therefore, the greatest asset we can give them is the confidence and capabilities to pursue their dreams.
How does this translate into practical tools our students will need?
I bear no news when I list: Creativity, confidence, curiosity the willingness to embrace mistakes and learn from them, the ability to work as a part of a team, foresight and accountability.
Give or take a few elements, there is a wide consensus regarding these elements. So why is the challenge still great? The reason is the gap between what we’ve known for years would be our job and the circumstances that make it difficult to do it. Reality brews many pitfalls that stand between what we truly believe to what we feel we can do about it.
Let’s examine two of these challenges:
We all realize the importance of creativity and aim to nurture it. But putting it to practice is challenging. When we teach in a classroom children need to be aligned. Aligned to the same pace the same interests the same learning path. The conflict this pauses with our desire to promote creativity is obvious but the challenge goes even deeper than that.
Creativity is celebrated once it is a proven success. Yet, the early stages of creativity by default meet opposition. Why? Because creativity presents changes, and human beings are wired to resist change. Nurturing creativity requires two skills. The first is the ability to learn from criticism without being deterred by it. This is tricky! It means we shouldn’t avoid criticism. We must expose children to it. But avoid crushing their confidence. Exposing children to criticism in a manner that empowers them is an art. I humbly promise to offer one option to deal with this challenge as this article unfolds.
The challenge doesn’t stop with creativity. Another obvious example is grooming a healthy approach towards mistakes. On one hand we wish to teach children to embrace and even celebrate mistakes. In practice each mistake is fined with points that are taken off the score. It is registered remembered and even highlighted as if it is the most important part of every feedback.
So what can be done to counter these challenges.
There are many tools for bridging this gap. I will focus on the role of game-based learning in this task.
The advantage of games is often thanks to the high engagement they offer. For this to be true, pick games kids genuinely love.
When kids are engaged with games, we are relieved of that need to align them. They are encouraged to be creative, and progress at their own pace. General creativity is always great. Yet, examine the context of the creativity required. Many games are unrelated to the topic kids are learning. They play – and to continue they are required to answer some traditional questions about the subject. This has little contribution to their approach to the subject. But the game can be about the subject itself. For instance, when the classroom is a shop of cards of puppies, cars rockets and whatever else comes to mind. And the kids have different notes of “game money” I’ve seen teachers inviting kids to figure out alliance with other kids to get what they wanted. There was mind blowing mathematical creativity along practice of persuasion negotiation and more.
Earlier I promised to offer one tool for dealing with the challenge to gradually building children’s ability to handle criticism. This is where games can play a major role. Kids are used to be criticised by their peers during playtime. An analysis of our conduct during a game is often a valuable starting point. We can set rules for the person who is criticising:
Always look in the eyes of the person you wish to criticise.
Avoid hurtful words.
Describe what happened and what you felt.
Describe what better alternative you saw to your opinion.
Use words like to my opinion instead of “Nonsense” or “You’re wrong!”.
Practice these rules consistently as kids voice their opinions in the classroom. Offer opportunities for kids to express their feelings and reflect on what had happened. Teachers are artists. Their instincts are carefully tuned tools. Once used with love they are the most valuable thing the educational system has.
Regarding mistakes there is an opportunity to dive even deeper into the world of games. Often gamified tools offer an encouraging statement like: “That’s ok, try again!” It is the nicest way to do the same thing we do when we take off points at a test. How do the giants of gaming get kids to persevere and master skills without giving up even when they start off with games they do very poorly at?
- They give unlimited second chances.
- The final score registers success not mistakes!
- Mistakes are often met with humour!
Choose games with a similar approach. Allow as many chances as possible whenever you can. Share your own mistakes, laugh about them and use humour instead of judgment to embrace mistakes.
Earlier I’ve mentioned that building the confidence to face criticism is a form of an art. Allow me to take it further, Teaching is an art and teachers are artists. I solute what educators do and commit myself to offer as many tools as I can to allow them to focus purely on their job.
We can’t address teaching without asking ourselves what is learning. And the issue of machine learning and generative AI sparks many thoughts and concerns regarding this issue. Allow me to share my own opinion of the subject:
Learning is about: observation, analysis, imagination and the generation of original thoughts and ideas. It goes beyond the requirement to repeat other people’s ideas or knowledge of their actions. We can not groom those without promoting creativity and the courage to make mistakes. I am far from being able to predict the full scope of the way recent evolvements in technology will impact us. I have no doubt the impact will be immense yet, relationships authenticity and imagination will forever keep ‘teachers and educators at the heart of learning.