Thursday, November 6, 2014

There is SO much good to do!

"There is no time for apathy or mindless distraction. There’s so much good to do, much to be mended and healed. One lifetime isn’t enough and less than our everything is too little".

Monday, October 13, 2014

Brain - Heart - Hands: The triple intersection that makes learning a transformational process

It is true that we learn by doing and that the hands are a key element in learning. What is lacking in this image however is the heart. It do us no good to have hands without a brain or a brain without a heart. Brain-Heart-Hands, that is the triple intersection that makes learning a transformation process, not only for the individual but for society as a whole.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Our Entry to the Re-Imagine Learning Competition

In past months we submitted an application to the Re-Imagine Learning Competition organized by the LEGO Foundation and Ashoka. Here is a more detailed description of our proposal. Our entry can be viewed here.

The LEMAs use the learning games we have carefully designed, structured and tested across three decades of work, in a variety of social contexts and with diverse populations. The author of these games has achieved international recognition for his work and innovation as an Ashoka Fellow and a Schwab Social Entrepreneur.

Our entry to the competition includes, the creation of a “Learning Box” containing a small set of LEGO bricks to assemble four (4) distinctive games intended to develop numerical systems, factorization, coding, systematization, logic and analytical thinking. To date we have used wooden elements, in conjunction with workbooks we have already edited and published, to teach these concepts. 

LEGO bricks materialize, in a clear and unique way, a highly important concept in our teaching method: the understanding of “the part” and “the whole” in a system context. For instance, we see how something small like a LEGO brick becomes something larger when other small pieces are added, creating a new configuration.  This principle is fundamental for any systematic and critical thinking process to occur. In viewing the "whole," a cognitive process takes place; the mind makes a leap from comprehending the parts, to realizing the whole and its relationship. It also makes possible the capacity to construct and deconstruct structures. The understanding that there is a relationship between “elements” that gives form to complex structures, has all kinds of implications in a diversity of fields such as social, economic, architectural, philosophical. In the area of our interest, the development of the linguistic and mathematical brain, this is fundamental because it allows the learner to recognize that with a finite number of characters that can  be letters or numbers, we can create the infinite, and that the relationship of the parts are key elements of a system; in turn allowing us to understand concepts like the context, the global, the multidimensional, the complex (Morin, Bohr, others). 

Thus, the learning box containing LEGO bricks will offer children new tools and opportunities to develop the ability to think, play, question, explore, construct and deconstruct knowledge. In this order of ideas, we teach literacy and numeracy, but most importantly, we aim at developing the ability to think in the context of today. Through play we are able to create an environment where the learner can achieve higher order thinking skills. 

In sum, the LEMAs will use LEGO bricks in addition to our other learning tools namely, the “ABC DE la Matemática“ (ABC of Mathematics) and, in the case of Spanish speaking countries, the “abcdespañol”, or their adaptations in English, Portuguese, Mam, Quechi, Katchiquel, or the forthcoming French version, depending on the country or population where the LEMAs are implemented. With these learning tools, the LEMAs will ensure that children everywhere will achieve the fundamental thinking skills and the basic tools necessary for lifelong learning and a better opportunity to succeed in life.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Our Vision for Education

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" - Frederick Douglas

Language fails to describe the enormity of our dream. Allow us to dream, or as John Lennon’s said, to imagine, a world where every human being has from birth the conditions to make effective the right to basic literacy as an instrument and precondition for achieving other rights, including the right to play.

Imagine all the knowledge that would spark from children having access and enjoying the basic ability of reading, writing and thinking in mathematical terms? Frederick Douglas said it beautifully: “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”  

There are some dangers that come with romanticizing literacy as a solution for all problems, while ignoring the intricacies of society that limit the conditions of many. However, in todays world, basic literacy can no longer be the source of social and economic exclusion. Despite that, 798 million adults in the world can’t read and understand a sentence. 123 million youth are illiterate and 150 million children do not attend school. Of the children who attend school, nearly 3/4 lack basic reading and writing skills even after completing 4 years of education, thus making them unable to continue their education and limiting their prospects in life.    

So we envision a world without children “failing” basic literacy and numeracy classes, or unable to achieve these fundamental skills. We imagine a school where the role of the teacher is that of a partner in playful discovery. We imagine a whole new paradigm of classroom, beyond walls and calendars, where every park, every tree shade, every home table, any floor carpet or mat is a school beyond the school, a classroom beyond a classroom and a lesson beyond a lesson. We imagine a world where math is no longer a punishment but a joy, and where children go to school to teach as well as to learn from their classmates and adults, and vice versa.

Yes, we like to imagine but to go beyond the dream and take every day actions. We work every day to make sure that one day, in the very near future,  every child, everywhere, has access to developing effectively, enjoyable and in a timely manner the most basic tools required to read the world and write its future.

“You may say I am a dreamer but I am not the only one. I hope one day you’ll join us” to make illiteracy for young and adults obsolete.

Learning through Play

Learning through play incorporates the three most critical elements that make humans “human”: the brain, the hands and the heart.

Learning through play incorporates the three most critical elements that make humans “human”: the brain, the hands and the heart. Through play, humans acquire, modify and/or reinforce existing theories, behaviors, skills, values or preferences. Learning through play means recognizing that learning is a process and not a product. It also means recognizing play as vehicle and a catalyst for concrete experimentation, discovery and demonstration, in addition to enjoyment and satisfaction.

Learning through play is FUNdamental not only during the early years of development, where we commonly accept play as a key element for learning, but for people of all ages. “Play is not only the brain’s favorite way of learning” but “almost all creativity involves purposeful play”. The needs of today’s world requires people able to find creative solutions to everyday problems, with a strong sense of self efficacy and resiliency to overcome challenges, the capacity for empathy or “feeling with people”, the belief they can contribute to their own wellbeing as well as those around them, the capacity to work with others, reach agreements, collaborate. These skills are an intrinsic part of play and thus, without play, we can’t develop the skills the world needs today.

Is the world is ready to Re-imagine Learning? We think so and this is why

A few recent and very inspiring trends are taking place in front of our eyes: 1) Organizations like the International Play Association with support from others, are advocating for the adoption of a general comment on article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, bringing centrality to children’s right to play, 2) There is growing understanding that learning and play are not incompatible, and 3) Technology has made possible to learn anything, anytime, anywhere; forcing education to change from a system that encourages discipline, individuality and repetition (important during the industrial revolution), to a system that aims at developing the necessary skills to access and process information, think critically, question, analyze, synthesize, make connections, develop autonomous conclusions, collaborate, be comfortable with the uncertainty and complexity of the world we live in, live peacefully and protect the environment (important in the 21st century).
30 years later, we are excited to see that a paradigm change has finally taken place, making it possible to rethink schooling, education, play and learning. This is a great moment for us, one that inspires us to continue to work with more conviction and energy than ever, fueled by the support, encouragement and drive of our fellow pacesetters and strengthened by the commitment of international organizations and foundation with global reach, to rethink and transform learning.
Evidence that the world is ready for a change comes from two additional observations. One, the fact that 617 entries were submitted to the Re-imagine learning competition, with over 300 pacesetters already working to change the way the world learns. Second, when we first started talking about play and learning, play and literacy, play in schools, bringing learning outside of the schools, we found much resistance as teachers and parents alike thought that these were antagonistic processes. Parents in particular, insisted that children will not learn anything if they were playing. Later, they were able to discover that children using our learning games learned to read and write quicker than their counterparts and were more enthusiastic about learning and going to school than others.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

LEMA -Laboratorio de Lectura Escritura y Matemáticas

LEMA -Laboratorio de Lectura, Escritura y Matemática (Literacy Education and Math Lab), is a program for children 1st to 4th grade where every day for an hour children get together in a designated space to play, share, develop and create knowledge in 5 important areas: reading, writing, math, reflection and relationships. The LEMAs are not calendar based and can take place in or out of the school. However, partnerships with schools and educational departments allow for better continuity, greater reach, stronger support for children and overall better results.

Why children 1st to 4th grade?  Because there is ample evidence that suggests that students who do not make good initial progress in learning to read, find it increasingly difficult to master the process. These children will tend to fall into a downward spiral, in which initial lack of success in reading can develop into broader cognitive deficits, making school dropout more likely to occur and becoming a barrier for personal, social and economic prosperity. In the case of girls, their vulnerability increases two-fold due to the gender disparities that continue to permeate our society.

LEMAs are coordinated by “Learning Coaches” (LCs) who can be teachers, mothers, grandparents, community leaders. Fully literate children and youth can also be LCs. The LCs are hired, either in a paid or a volunteer capacity, to perform a very important job: motivate and inspire the learning process, and create a safe space for children to learn at their own pace.  

During each session, the LC divides the class into groups of four, and each group receives a set of games. During the “group work” children experiment, question, develop and test hypotheses, while playing and learning. Later, they record their findings individually in their workbooks.

The Learning Coaches are selected based on a list of qualities that include proven record of community engagement and commitment to education. LCs are trained by us on how to effectively use the games and on the pedagogical principles that give body to our work. The LCs are supported and coached by a local ally we partner with. The day to day services are also provided by our ally, who is usually a local organization already providing services in the community and possessing understanding of the political and cultural context and social networks to navigate the environment.  

Over the years, we have established a network of allies in seven (7) countries including schools, missionary centers, private businesses, local NGOs, and government agencies, among others. All of them possess local acceptance and recognition, which overall gives legitimacy to our programs. We work with these organizations hand in hand to structure the LEMAs, recruit and train the necessary human resources, establish evaluation, support and coaching protocols, while remaining available to provide technical assistance to the overall program.

The LEMAs use the learning games we have carefully designed, structured and tested across three decades of work, in a variety of social contexts and with diverse populations. The author of these games, Javier González Quintero has achieved international recognition for his work and innovation as an Ashoka Fellow and a Schwab Social Entrepreneur.