Tuesday, June 11, 2013

HEAR Chicago Talk heard and talked about; or, A Mad Attempt to Transform a Moth Into a Caterpillar

HEAR Chicago Talk 1.1 went off, pretty much without a hitch.

Here's the room where we had it.
Photo courtesy of Schubas

We had four presentations, starting and ending with questions. Mine was about the possibility of experiential learning in the local outdoors.

Yoli Maya Yeh, who teaches yoga in CPS schools, spoke about reducing violence among Chicago youth through yoga, meditation, and peace activities.

Kids gain valuable character, skills, and techniques from Peace Within YOUth

Ari Frede, founder of arts charter the Orange School, spoke about pedagogical underpinnings and everyday examples of giving children authentic choices in the classroom.

Christine Krumsee reminded us that the importance of reaching people through meaningful activities does not stop at age 18. She spoke about her work with Helping Hospitalized Veterans, an organization that brings crafts kits to veterans as a sort of informal art therapy. 

Photo from VA Maryland Health Care System

After each presentation, the audience had one minute to ask questions. As we got into the third and fourth presentations, audience questions started focusing more on connections among them, especially Yoli's and Christine's. That was unexpected and perfect.

The one-minute-question part is just questions, no answers. That way, questioners feel freer to ask wide, deep, or speculative questions--ones that can't be answered right away, but can be thought about--and presenters get more to chew on without the pressure of having all the answers. After the structured part of the evening was through, folks had plenty of time and opportunity to find each other and discuss the questions if they wished.

Following Christine's presentation was a brief open mic portion where audience members could chew for one minute on their own edu-questions; and then, people settled in for drinks and chats.

So--I think it worked! People ate and drank. Technical equipment operated. The presentations provoked thought and interest. People introduced themselves to others and traded contact information. I hope that with regular installments, HEAR Chicago Talk becomes a go-to place for educators and other communicators to reflect on their practices, articulate their goals, and trade and test ideas with others. The next one is September 18, y'all! Mark your calendars and contact me here or here if you're interested in presenting.

A reporter from Medill (Northwestern University) was there and wrote this cool little article (which content makes it clear to me that I must immediately work on articulate and pithy pitches about the format, the goal, and the reason for the not-Q-&-A part. Dear god).

True to the format of the evening I'm going to end with a question (well, several). Ironically, or something, really nothing presented was new by a longshot--rather the opposite. Learning through experience in the outdoors dates to the dawn of humans; yoga has been around for thousands of years; Dewey's work on student choice was done at the turn of the last century (as was Maria Montessori's); and Helping Hospitalized Vets was founded in 1971. What's happening here? Is the "innovation" actually the stuff that's not working: forcing kids to sit in seats all day, thoroughly separating out subjects, testing to the point that teaching and learning are punishing instead of transcendent activities?

Hey--what IS innovation when it comes to a timeless practice integral to every human society, anyway? And is wanting to transform it to be authentic, relevant, enjoyable, and equitable as naive as wanting to transform a moth back into a caterpillar?

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