Messy Learning

Learning is messy work. Teaching “learning” is just as messy. I started off our school year with this message, “Embrace the mess.” I recently read a blog post about embracing messy learning at Edutopia, a tremendous educational resource from George Lucas (Yes, the creator of Star Wars. And yes, the new movie comes out in exactly one year. I may declare it a school holiday). I digress.

I read the article and it got me thinking about why learning is so messy. So, bear with me for a paragraph or two regarding my “two cents” on the topic. Learning is messy because there is nothing uniform about learning. Contrary to the way most of us adults were taught, in straight rows with one way to solve a problem and everyone was required to learn material the one way it was taught. While that is a mouthful, it genuinely sums up my experience as a student. The teacher taught material one way and everyone was expected to learn it that way. This is a great way to build a car, not a child.

As I write this post, I am with my math class as they take a test. They are solving division problems using the algorithm that is most comfortable to them. Some will use traditional long division, while others will use the partial quotient method. Add the lattice method in there for multiplication and we have successfully taken us parents out of the equation for “helping” in math. Can any parents solve this problem (100% of the kids in my class prefer this method)?


Learning is messy because it should be. It is messy because our brains are activated in different ways. We record, analyze, code and create (to name a few skills) differently. Therefore we should expect that learning will be different as well. Good luck trying to find a room full of adults or kids who learn everything the same exact way. It doesn’t exist (unless you are on the planet of Kamino and are building clones for the Grand Army of the Republic). Sorry, another Star Wars reference.

Kids and adults will run into walls in the learning process. We will also have plenty of “Ah Ha” moments as well. Not everyone will “get it” at the same time or in the same way, and that is hard to accept. But, it should be expected and embraced. Embracing the mess is what leads to positive growth. My two cents.



I learned a new term the other day following a hastag on Twitter. The #ASCD14 conference was happening. As I have learned, people tweet a ton from different conferences and share the “pearls” that are being presented, often from keynote speaker. Dan Pink, author and local Bethesda resident, was speaking at the ASCD Conference and was talking about ambiverts. I had an inkling as to what the term meant but needed to look it up some more. I found a great blog post on the topic and more writing from Dan Pink himself, as I did some research.

I have taken the Myers-Briggs Personality Test (MBTI) twice. The first time I was much younger and was much more of an extrovert, an E. The second time I took it was about ten years later and hugged the line, in between an Introvert and an Extrovert. I was now an I. So, I fit the profile of an ambivert, someone who stradles the line bewteen introvert and extrovert. The funny thing is, I always wanted to be ambidextrous (I spent an entire summer in my teen years trying to do everything left-handed). This may explain a great deal about me, but that is a MUCH longer blog post. I guess I became an ambivert before I became a lefty pitcher.

I took Pink’s self-assessment, which announced, “You’re an ambivert.” This only confirmed my hunch. Pink spells out his reasons why it is good to be an ambivert in an article in the Washington Post. It even looks to be more financially rewarding to be an ambivert. This is a good read, especially in the context of educators. We work with introverts, extroverts and now ambiverts every day. It is good to know it is not as black and white as introverts and extroverts. Emotional intelligence (EQ) has to play into this as well. Knowing “when to listen and when to speak and when to be outwardly assertive and inwardly confident” speaks to the ambiverts role in the Goldilocks Phenomenon. It’s not about being too hot or too cold, it is all about being “just right.”

Perspective in a Fast World

I know the school year is going fast when I see Christmas Bazaar signs up already.It’s only November 1st. All Saint’s Day it is and Fr. DaSilva gave a great homily today. “Be yourself and you are a saint.” Simple and powerful. The message provides great perspective. My take is anyone can be a saint, even you. While our saints should be celebrated and held up high, the message is they are among us. It was great to see the kids “get it” today.

Along the lines of perspective, I recently came back from a conference. It is always nice to get together with colleagues and share thoughts and ideas. The main presenters at the conference were researchers from Harvard University’s Project Zero initiative. Project Zero sponsors independent research that examines the learning process in children and adults. I always try to come home from a conference with at least one piece that resonates with me back at school.

Slowing things down to examine perspective is the pearl that stuck with me. As time seems to go faster and faster (maybe it is just me, or the fact that my daughter is turning 10 already), it is so important for us to try and slow things down a bit and gain perspective. In one of the sessions a researcher shared her story about researching global competency. She highlighted a great Ted Talk by Chimamanda Adichie. Click on the link to watch and hear her message about perspective.

As I sat and listened at the conference I felt proud of the work we are doing in this area. Our partnership with Hotcourses Primary School and the Nyumbani Community in Kenya are tremendous relationships. The kids are sharing their culture with one another, and in turn, are widening each others perspective. Hopefully this helps limit the “single story” as Adichie describes. Our world is just too flat for this to continue. A mass on All Saints Day and a partnership thousands of miles away. These are just two small (yet big) examples of how we are helping our kids gain perspective. Powerful experiences that will no doubt help significantly shape the way our kids view the world.