Friday, August 26, 2011

Pixar Paradox

I'm not a fan of most children's movies.  However, I am often surprised by the ability of Pixar to create a collective cultural mythology.  They understand how to use the medium effectively, creating an entire multimedia world that is timeless and accessible to all ages. I'm often impressed by the paradoxical nature of their movie themes:

  • Finding Nemo: Safety is found only when you are no longer trying to be safe.
  • Wall-E: The technology we design to save our lives is the very thing that destroys our ability to live
  • Cars: Success is found only when success is no longer the goal
  • The Incredibles: The "boring" life turns out to be the real adventure.  
  • Up! Your protagonist becomes your hero
  • Monster's Inc: The only thing to fear is fear itself (sorry for the cliche there)
  • A Bug's Life: The humble are exalted and the powerful are humbled. 
  • Toy Story: You can't lead until you learn to serve

I haven't figured out a paradoxical theme of Ratatouille yet.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

From Homework to Home Learning

"Can I tell you a story?" Joel asks.


"So Santa Claus is delivering gifts on Christmas when he gets stuck."

"He can't get stuck," Micah interrupts.

"No, he gets stuck . . . "

"He has magic."

"He's not magical enough to lose weight, Micah." That quiets Micah for a moment.

"So Santa gets stuck and his feet dangle down. He kicks off his shoes and he's left there with his socks hanging down. So the kids get up and say, 'Look, we have new stockings.' And when they look inside, they scream, 'Oh my gosh, these are feet! These are feet! Santa gave us feet instead of candy!' So Santa starts yelling at them and they say, 'Wow, the feet are talking to us.' They pull and they pull, but it doesn't work. So they saw off Santa's feet. Then they never get any more stockings on Christmas, because they didn't listen to Santa Claus."

It's a violent story filled with irony and even a touch of justice at the end. I admit that I'm a biased parent, but I think the story is clever. It's possible that Joel is simply a smart kid. If so, he inherited his intelligence from Christy. Yet, it's also possible that young children are more capable of critical thinking, creativity and irony than adults assume.

So, it has me thinking about the topic of homework. Often, teachers send home practice worksheets for students to fill out. It becomes a toned-down, boring version of a rote-memorization exercise in class. I'm not opposed to children learning at home. Playing the "how did you get to that number" game or the "tell me a story" game or "make up a story that has these four topics" are all examples of learning that we do at home.

We do science experiments. At some point today, we're going to get a tub of water, weigh the tub and way an item. Then we'll add the item to the water to see if a floating item increases the weight of the water by the same amount as the item.

What if schools redefined homework to home learning? What if they sent students home with games, ideas and activities that parents could (emphasis on parent choice) use if they are struggle to engage their children in critical thinking? I hate getting a packet of worksheets. However, if the teacher sent my son home with an erector set (might be a little expensive) or a list of fun mental math games, I would embrace the idea.