We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the centre of the home with things that reward skill and active engagement. Andy Crouch
A few days ago, I was struck by the quote above while reading Andy Crouch’s book called, The Tech-Wise Family. Creating more than I consume sounds simple but it’s difficult to put into practice. As I watch my son practice the piano, I’m reminded of how much harder it is to make music than listening to it. Creating music takes time, effort and skill, but it’s much more fulfilling than pushing a button to upload a song. I also love to make pizza for my family but it takes work. Shopping for fresh ingredients, making the dough in advance and preparing the toppings takes time, but the final product brings people together–and tastes delicious.
The reverse is true of the time I spend consuming information. Scrolling through updates on my phone doesn’t require any skill (our three-year-old can do it) and it’s a relatively passive process that doesn’t engage my imagination. It’s not that I always want an overly engaging activity that requires effort. Watching a movie at the end of the day can help me relax. On the other hand, I think over-exposure to unengaged, uses of technology keep me from experiencing some of the best things in life.
In the second chapter of his book, Crouch makes a similar contrast. He asks the reader to think about the things on the main floor of their house that promote active engagement. He gives musical instruments, books, board games, and wall paintings, as examples of things that require kids to engage, develop skill and potentially take a risk. He contrasts these things with other electronic devices in our homes that almost work by themselves. He describes these items as, “…those toys that work on their own–that buzz and beep and light up without developing any skill.” Crouch’s commitment to shaping his space with engaging things means these devices must be put in their proper place–on the outer margins of the space.
As a teacher, I couldn’t help reflecting on how the educational space I create in my classroom can either shape my students into passive consumers of content or engaged makers and creators. I learned this the hard way in my first couple of years of teaching. In my second year of teaching grade one, I decided to do a pilot project involving digital learning centres. The plan was to attach two or three smart TVs to my classroom wall and create interactive centres using iPads that were wirelessly connected. The idea seemed good in theory but when the TVs were actually installed, they overwhelmed the space. When the parents in my class saw the barrage of screens hanging on the walls of my room, they were horrified. Not completely understanding their response, I asked one parent why she was disturbed by them. She said, “It just looks bad having so many TVs as the focal point of your room.” Looking back on it, TVs completely dominated my classroom. It wasn’t like I could close the curtains on the TVs for story time. They were constantly inviting the kids to passive consumption of information. Even though I didn’t intend on using these devices simply for entertainment, my classroom space was sending the wrong message.
On the other hand, last year, the computer lab at our school was converted into a Maker Space. The rows of desktop computers were taken out and replaced with shelves full of tools, construction materials, robotics kits, breadboards, snap circuits and Keva blocks. The space itself was inviting kids to create. It was providing a learning environment that invited students to design or try to make something for the first time. It invited students to activities that required skill and active engagement.
One engaging feature of my own classroom that rewards skill is a large shelf full of books beside the door. The commercial fluorescent lights don’t invite reading but I was recently inspired by one of our grade six teachers who opted to use three or four lamps to light her room instead of the tube lights. As a result, her room has an ambient Starbucky feel that makes you want to curl up with a coffee and a book.
Living in a culture so focused on consuming, it’s easy for me to forget how important it is to fill the spaces in my life with things that reward engagement, skill development and problem-solving. As an educator who embraces an inquiry-driven approach to teaching, I’m endeavouring to shape the space of my classroom in ways that invite engagement creativity and imagination.
- Does your classroom space reward skill and active engagement?
- Are there a few things you could add or subtract to make it more engaging for students?
I would love to hear any of your thoughts, reflections or feedback in the comments.