Tag Archives: creativity

The Great Educational Debate: Grades vs. Learning

I’ve had a recurring nightmare for the past few weeks. Perhaps I should call it a “day-mare” since I’m usually awake when it slithers into my conscious mind.

I’m at the University, where I started taking classes in January. With shaking hands I turn in my Developmental Psychology paper, worth 60% (60%!!!!!!!) of my final grade.

In the inexplicable way that dreams often do, I skip ahead to the return of my graded essay. On the top is a giant red F.

F for fraud. F for faker… F for Failure.

The teaching staff morphs from my likeable Scottish professor into a group of angry, faceless beings. They shake their heads in disgust and instruct security to escort me from the premises immediately. I am ordered never to return again.

This neurotic little fantasy has not inspired me to greatness. I stare blankly at my laptop with the words 60%, 60%, 60%!!!!! echoing through my mind. After two weeks of false starts and half-hearted research The Impact of the Environment on the Cognitive Development of Preschool Children is no closer to being done than when I started. The pressure is paralyzing.

On the other hand…

It’s so different with my English assignments. I was thrown the first time I received one back with only witty comments and suggestions scrawled in the margins. I looked carefully through each page and even on the back. No mark.

I’ve been conditioned to work for a grade. I was slightly miffed. If I am not being measured, does it even count?

But I find myself craving these assignments. They flow easily. I enjoy them. It is some of my best work.

Because I forgot…

I attended a workshop at school last week: Study Skills for the Mature Student. Despite my penchance for slurpees and children’s fiction, the university has decided I am “mature”. It sounds so respectable. I’m not about to argue.

The speaker reminded us that we are here to collect knowledge, not grades. Marks do not always reflect learning. And my GPA is not a measure of my worth.

She seemed like a nice kid. And frankly, it’s the same advice I’ve given to my own kids. I know this. Now that I’m “mature” I shouldn’t need to be reminded of the obvious. But I do.

So I set aside my need to get an “A” on my psych paper, which somewhere along the way became a way to prove my worth to the entire academic community (who, I’m sure, are on pins and needles wanting to know just what I have to say). In fact, I chucked the whole topic and started over again. Successful Ageing: the Cognitive, Emotional and Social Effects is working out much better for me. And no, the irony of the topic does not escape me.

What works and what doesn’t…

The entire educational system is structured around extrinsic rewards; the carrot and the stick, so to speak. Jump through these hoops and you get such-and-such a number or letter to reflect your value. Do not perform according to some, often arbitrary, standard and you will be punished.

This kind of conditioning works fabulously for simple, mechanical tasks. Eat your supper, get dessert. Ignore your chores, no TV. But it doesn’t work so great for anything that requires creativity and complex thinking.

In fact, studies show that incentives, especially high value ones, have a very NEGATIVE effect on creative productivity. They are not the motivating factor we expect. Rather than performing better, people perform WORSE when a reward is on the line. The “carrot and stick” of extrinsic motivators inhibits innovation and discourages critical thinking.

People are inspired to greatness by intrinsic motivations: curiosity, imagination, creativity, and personal satisfaction, to name a few. We were designed to learn and grow. In a pressure-free, encouraging environment we do this so much better! This is the reason my ungraded assignments excite my best work, while the high pressure paper overwhelms me entirely.

Dan Pink gives a brilliant talk called The Surprising Science of Motivation which makes this point better than I ever could! He is mostly interested in its application in the business world; companies who make amazing strides by loosening control. Instead of bigger incentives, they are giving autonomy and a sense of purpose to their employees, with remarkable results.

What would happen if we did the same thing in education? Students who learn because they are interested in the discussion and excited to play a part, not merely regurgitating what the teacher wants to hear. Nurturing thinkers and artists and builders, not a pecking order based on a narrow set of skills.

I’ve had a few teachers who truly believed this over the years. They seem revolutionary, more interested in what I had to contribute, than in measuring me (or themselves). There’s a reason they make so many cheesy “teacher-inspiring-a-tough-inner-city-class-to-greatness” movies. Because teachers like that really do exist and they make all the difference.

So here’s me, 60% certain that the grade on my paper does not define me.

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Christmas Countdown: Fair Trade Style

We are a family that counts down. We start young with “Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, We’re Going To The Moon,” and it never stops. Ask my husband, at any given moment, how many days until a long weekend, our next family holiday or the massage his doting wife promised him, and he can tell you accurately without a moment’s hesitation. One wonders what he might be capable of if so much valuable brain power wasn’t constantly engaged in keeping track of the minutes and hours… but I digress.

So, advent calanders, ya – we’re all over that. We hang a tiny little ornament on the quilted tree Oma made each night. The girls faithfully cross the days off their calanders. And we fight about which daily christmas devotionals we are going to use for the month. Right now it’s a throwdown between the cheesy, but beloved “Adornaments” and “What God Wants for Christmas”.

But the MOST crucial countdown of all is the cheap cardboard chocolate calander we get each year. I’ve been informed by experts in the field (a 9-year-old girl and her Dad) that it is not really Christmas without it.

One of the very first wails of protest when Mom’s fair trade crusade began was about this very important issue.

I was tickled to learn that there are, in fact, fair trade chocolate advent calanders to be had (Divine). Not only that, but these contain ACTUAL chocolate to pop out each day. As opposed to the brown coloured, chocolate scented ear wax we are used to. Not a bad option.

But as committed as I am to my family’s happiness and the end of child slavery, there is another virtue very near and dear to my heart.

I am cheap.

At $8-12 each, these are not unreasonably priced. BUT when each member of the family (including the one with facial hair) must have their own, that’s 8…16…24… way-too-expensive-for-mom-to-swallow Dollars.

This is not a blog where you will learn how to turn a shoebox and 4 pennies into a fully functioning shoe rack. I cannot tell you how to create the perfect turkey dinner for under $10 – I have never even roasted a turkey at all. But this is one crafty/home project that fits my profile: simple, fast and foolproof. So here it goes:

I bought this advent cupboard on impulse (it was on sale and I’m a sucker for deals I don’t really need). But a stack of envelopes would work just as well. There are SO many amazing advent projects that it is overwhelming. I say, keep it simple. Who need another reason to Grinch out this Christmas.

In each “day” I put:

  • a mini muffin cup
  • filled with 5 Cadbury’s FAIR TRADE chocolate buttons (1 per person)
  • an advent verse and/or prayer (free printables)
  • a fun family activity, outing or service project for that day (written on a strip of leftover wrapping paper)
Glen and I had fun brainstorming simple things to do as a family to honour Jesus and teach generosity, without driving us to drink (well, anymore than usual).
  1. Call GiGi (great grandma) and sing her a Christmas song.
  2. Christmas party tonight – have fun!
  3. Decorate the Christmas tree.
  4. Bake Gingerbread Men with Mom.
  5. Collect as much change as you can find around the house to give to the Salvation Army Santa at the store (winner gets hot chocolate to share with everyone).
  6. Drive to Candy Cane Lane to look at the Christmas lights.
  7. Go to the store and buy food for the Food Bank.
  8. There are 12 cherry Candy Canes hidden throughout the house. Ready, set, go!
  9. Draw a picture/write a letter to our sponsored children (World Vision and Compassion).
  10. Create an e-vite and invite friends to our New Year’s Eve party.
  11. Make Christmas crafts with Aunt Judy!
  12. Everyone give a foot rub to someone else tonight.
  13. Christmas Shopping date with Dad.
  14. Paint your own pottery at the ceramics store – make a special gift for someone you don’t normally exchange gifts with.
  15. Celebrate Grinch Night – everyone wear green, eat all green food and watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Invite the neighbours to join us!
  16. Pick a project from the World Vision Catalogue to donate your charity money to (our kids save some of their allowance each week to give).
  17. Plan games and food for our New Year’s Eve party.
  18. Create a “Welcome” banner for all the family that are coming to stay with us – especially your brand new cousin.
  19. Pack for our trip – we are driving to the timeshare today. Pick your favourite carol to sing in the car (even Dad will join in) (Dad’s Note: he will??? Doesn’t sound like something he’d do.).
  20. Movie night with the Aunties – wear pajamas, eat cararmel corn and watch Sound of Music.
  21. Choose Christmas e-cards to send to Grandma Lindsay every day until Christmas.
  22. Play Christmas song charades.
  23. Chowder Party at Oma and Opas.
  24. Build a Gingerbread house with Uncle Miguel
  25. CHRISTMAS!

Advent Box – $20.00

Muffin Cups – $1.00

Cadbury’s Buttons (2 packages) – $8

This is the part where I should say “Advent family fun….ah…priceless!”

But it was actually $29.00 plus tax, which is a pretty good deal in my book and can be used for years to come.

So here’s me, 18 days until I get to snuggle my brand new nephew for the first time, 32 days until I pack it all back in rubbermaid containers and 366 days until we start it all over again.


Everyday Adventures

20111116-225159.jpgWe almost gave up. The wind was picking up and I could feel the damp seeping into my wool socks. We had slid down icy embankments, skirted the semi-frozen river and scrambled up the snowy hillside half a dozen times. All we had to show for it was frozen fingers and scratches from the thorny branches.

While their baby sister cried from the cold, the two big girls started bickering and I began to seriously question whether I was even fit to parent. I know Glen was wondering the same thing. Whether it was kindness or survival instinct that prevented him from voicing it I will never know, but I could see it in his eyes. This expedition into the snowy wilderness had been my idea… for fun… on our holiday.

Then it happened! The moment that changed this train wreck of a morning into a cherished family memory. Stories will be told through the ages about the greatness of this moment. It will long be lauded in poetry and song.

She found it! Nestled amongst the roots of an evergreen in the middle of the forest. A small weather-proof tube wrapped in green duct tape. C has an uncanny ability for finding things, and she cemented her place in family legend by finding our very first cache.

I have always wanted to try geocaching, and for some reason a trip to the mountains in the middle of winter seemed like an ideal time. We have tagged along with friends before, but this was our first attempt at the hobby. Basically, it’s a treasure hunt using a GPS and co-ordinates you can find on the internet. (Or, download a totally cool app onto your totally cool iPhone and it will walk you through the whole process.) Enthusiasts have hidden caches of all kinds all over the world. When you find one, you sign the log, take a “treasure” and leave a token of your own behind.

A small plastic frog is hardly booty to write home about, but to my kids it has inestimable worth. We did that! Together! Against all odds! Through rugged terrain (if you’re 7-years-old) in a harsh climate (if you are a west coast wimp like us), undertaking the daunting task of navigation with a team leader who has the directional ability of a… (what is something really dumb?).

We were so excited, we decided to keep going. While Glen and B went back to the cabin to prepare hot chocolate and compliments for my brilliant, brilliant idea, we found two more caches. The girls and I have caught the bug!

Why do something as mundane as take a walk, when you can hunt for hidden treasure? It may seem a bit silly, but that’s the beauty of it. Sometimes we get so caught up in the serious business of living that we forget that adventure lurks around every corner.

Suddenly, getting lost is a chance to explore a strange new land. Who knows what you may find? I explore a lot. See above re: directional ability.

My mom used to say that only boring people get bored. I may have repeated this a time or two thousand to my own kids. I think it’s time I took my own advice. Life is mundane only when I forget to look for the magic and the miracles.

So here’s me, finding treasures in normal life.


Imagine That

When I was a child, one of my best friends was a girl named Casey. She looked just like me; she had short red hair and even a matching jean jacket. She was tiny; in fact, she only came up to my waist. She didnt speak much at all, but she always thought my ideas were great and played with me whenever I needed her.

When I was a child, there was an elevator in our downstairs bathroom. I was the only one who ever used it. It took me anywhere I wanted to go. My favorite destination was Mrs. Kangaroo’s highrise apartment, which seemed like an exotic locale to a suburban kid like myself.

When I was a child, I lived a double life: mild mannered school girl by day, crime-fighting dog in the afternoon. It was hard work defeating the forces of evil, so when Mom starting doing afterschool care I recruited a whole team of yapping police puppies. Together we brought villians to justice and imprisoned them in the guest room closet.

One of the best things my parents ever did for me was to nurture my imagination. They did not dismiss my flights of fancy as childish and unimportant. Instead, my mom set a place at the table for my invisible playmate. She overlooked my damp socks from playing in the shower stall downstairs and holes in the knees of my pants from crawling around the house for hours at a time.

They fed me a steady diet of books and unstructured free time. My mom freely contributed old blankets, sheets and clothespins to the fort building cause. Somedays I ate my lunch in a cave of wonders than bore a striking resemblance to the underside of our dining room table. I remember her packing snacks in the backpack of this intrepid explorer and listening patiently to the blow-by-blow of my adventures.

While I grew up with fond memories of imaginary friends, my sister Esther had an imaginary enemy. We used to choke back our laughter as she would angrily recount her latest fight with The Girl. “You won’t believe what the girl did now!” I remember watching her stomping around the backyard, yelling at thin air.

My other sister Colleen played pretend in her own way – fashion shows, tea parties and impromptu concerts. She spent her childhood decked out in lace and jewels, wobbling around the house in my Mom’s shoes. There was no such thing as too fancy in her book.

I’m sure there were times it was inconvenient and downright messy, but my parents knew that this was the important work of childhood. We were flexing our creative muscles and practicing the people we were going to become: me, bossing folks around and making up stories; Esther (the law student), railing at the injustices of society; and Colleen (the musician), bringing beauty into the world.

I’d better go now. There’s a little tiger in my living room and she’s getting hungry for lunch. I hope she doesn’t eat me!

So here’s me, years later, still talking to myself when there’s no one around.


Snake Lover

She was four years old. A tiny little thing with curly pig-tails and big blue eyes. We had enrolled her in a program called Wee College. It was a weekly program for preschoolers to teach them the bible, kind of like a beefed up Sunday school for overachievers. The system was pretty old school, but the teacher was dedicated and creative, so it worked.

We coasted through the lesson on the creation of the world, but when it came to the garden of Eden we hit a snag. It wasn’t that she was uninterested in the story, in fact, she was fascinated by it. Satan in the form of a serpent tempts Eve to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge and the innocence of humanity is lost. While all the other children learned important lessons about temptation and sin, she had a completely different take on the story.

“Mom, I like the sneaky snake. He’s my favourite.”

We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but settled somewhere in the middle. No amount of discussion or explanation could convince her that the snake wasn’t the BEST part of the story. She drew pictures of him, talked about him and dug through her children’s bibles to find pictures of him. Was this a sign of things to come? Did my precious daughter have a rebellious streak a mile wide? In a word, yes.

The year before, we had enrolled her in a community dance program. She disliked being ordered around and preferred to literally dance to her own rhythm in the corner of the room. In one situation when the teacher instructed the girls to dance around in a circle, she proceeded to pull her tutu over her face and run around in the opposite direction, knocking the poor little ballerinas down left and right. I must admit that after removing her from class and disciplining her, I had to retreat to another room to roar with laughter.

But she is also a free-thinker and a non-conformist. That same year she decided that she was a true princess and proceeded to wear a tiara at ALL times. It was with some difficulty that we convinced her she must take it off for baths and at bedtime (though occasionally we would go back in to check and it would be back on her head).

Lately she’s become more and more concerned with what people think of her. She still marches to the beat of her own drum, but it’s quieter now, less flashy. She’s gotten shy in new situations and less comfortable with being the off-beat, quirky one.

It makes me sad. I know that life is easier if you’re not the “weird one”, but I think it’s better if you are. Conformity to the norm is great for assembling Ikea furniture and making origami, but it’s not a virtue I admire. While I don’t want her to be weird for its own sake (a la Lady Gaga), I want her to find their own voice; to be the unique person God made her to be.

On a completely unrelated note, this same daughter has begun a campaign to get her own snake. According to her, they make great pets.

So here’s me, absolutely refusing to buy a snake, but appreciating the sentiment all the same.

Here’s a blast from the past on finding your own rhythm:


Get Naked

I got naked in church yesterday. It wasn’t easy, but I was brave. I decided to bare it all.

No, I wasn’t streaking in the sanctuary. Nor did I go topless to prayer meeting (that’s never going to happen, just to be clear). I only stripped in a metaphorical sense.

I’ve been organizing an art project for the past several months. Half a dozen artists each painted a canvas to represent a different name of God. The result has been eclectic and chaotic and more than a little bit awesome. Each piece is so unique, and listening to the stories behind them has been inspiring.

Most of the artists have snuck into the office with their canvas wrapped in layers of paper and clutched to their chest so no one can see it. It takes visible effort for them to hand it over. I would pat their hand and say something reassuring, all the while wondering what their problem was. These are beautiful works of art… what’s with the hesitant shuffle and apologetic explanations?

Then I decided to make one of my own. Granted, this is not my medium; I am a writer, not an artist. I knew I would be the only novice in the company of accomplished artists. But we are hoping to open this project up to everybody in the church – so someone should represent the regular folks. We all have a voice, and the purpose of this project is to give everyone a chance to worship this way.

I had a great idea. I still love that idea. The final product isn’t perfect, it isn’t everything I hoped it would be, but it’s still a little piece of me.

So now, it’s me sneaking into the office clutching my canvas to my chest, afraid to show a single person. And I realized that this isn’t a new feeling. It reminds me of the way my heart drops into my stomach immediately after I press the “publish” button on this blog.

I write for myself. I enjoy the process. All day long I scribble random thoughts and phrases on scraps of paper. I would probably do it even if no one ever read it. But the minute I put it out there for the world to see I start to feel a little bit naked.

Does it say what I want it to say?

Will they understand?

Will they like it?

Will they like me?

And there it is. The crux of the matter. To quote George McFly “I just don’t think I can take that kind of rejection.”

So here’s me, with a new appreciation for nudists and artists alike.


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