Erik Richardson

Teacher, Richardson Ideaworks, Inc.


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How do we re-embody the education system?

We are embodied. We are not just minds but our education system (and the cubicle farm waiting at the end of it) treats us as if we are. Exploration and adventure were once ways that the more restless souls among us could break out and push back our frontiers in one way or another. As many of the talks above show, that particular part of our worldview has been lost-even when talking about explorers. (Wolfe's attempt to compare microbiology research to exploits in Egypt or the rainforest are a good encapsulation of that loss.)

As a teacher, I constantly see students who are restless and brilliant but are stifled by being trapped in a room, in a desk, listening, or scribbling words and numbers down on paper. These restless kids are all too often our best thinkers, our future innovators, our Columbuses and our Florence Nightingales; but we hold down their bodies and that holds down their minds. Ken's talk is great, but it misses it's own best point: it's not creativity that saved the dancer - it's recovering the body.

The question is, besides just adding more physical education classes back into the curriculum, how do we create an education system that is embodied? How do we recover physicality to open up our mind's real potential?

  • Jul 2 2012: Increased parental involvement and accountability for training children. Supplement lessons at school with experiences, doing things as a family, particularly working together. Life involves a lot of work. The sooner this is realized and learned the better.

    Decreased time indoors being entertained by whatever.

    Learn proactive thought, planning and to weigh the consequences of decisions made. Chess is good for this. Learn that if you are put in a situation where pre-planning or proactive thought can not or did not occur, that staying calm, working through problems, and acting responsibly is the best course of action.

    Participate in activities that increase the breadth of your experiences, such as scouting.

    Live below your means and expect to earn what you need and want. Understand and employ deferred gratification rather than credit buying whenever possible.

    As children get older, identify the subjects they need to learn and ask them to first try and develop a cirriculum to learn the material. Those that can, will move forward with more gusto. Those that cannot will come ask for help and be much more receptive to the curriculum proposed by others before them.

    Find opportunities to learn by doing. Take apart simple objects to show how they work. Go around the house to show how systems work and how science is used to make life more enjoyable. Visit city, state and federal government buildings and organizations so the kids understand what it takes to have a particular service or benefit.

    Provide opportunities for collaborative and self-paced learning at school. Use projects to teach group behavior lessons as well as science and math.

    Visit construction sites and manufacturing facilities to show how things are made.

    Encourage volunteering and mentoring at all levels.

    Encourage activities that promote self-discipline, hard work, good health, and good citizenship.

    I think much of this needs to start at home.
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    Jun 30 2012: First of all just to make you mad, get rid of the teachers unions.

    For the most part I think the question is the answer.

    Some people are really done with school at about 16 so let them go to work.

    I think the subject of education boils down to a balance of the tangible(hands on) and the intangible (ideas that are not directly related to the objects ). An example is 2 brothers who were contractors one who ran the office (intangible) the other brother ran the field (tangible), the brother who ran the office had a hobby of woodwork (tangible) the brother who ran the field had a hobby of computers and reading (intangible ideas). My accountant loves hands on stuff, the Psychologist at local diner goes on about his exploits in construction (which I find quite amusing)

    To me the above is the pertinent subject regarding education. Some students crave the intangible some crave the tangible and they change as well.
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      Jul 1 2012: Interesting ideas. For the record, I'm not in some posh teachers union, and have mixed views about the good/bad of doing away with them. A lot depends on the context and the alternatives being put in place.

      You're certainly right about people having different loves/aptitudes/etc, but I don't think our current system really prepares them to make good, informed judgments in that regard.
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        Jul 1 2012: So you chose because of a passion? I salute you. In Calif the teachers are one of the highest paid with almost the worst scholastic scores (47th) In this context the teacher union is not good.

        My main point was aimed at the balance between tangible and intangible which I think goes unnoticed.
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          Jul 1 2012: Sorry, no time to talk, Pat. Have to get my hands on a job listing for CA. :-D j/k

          I think you're right that in our normal lives people try to find more balance. That's harder to do for kids who are in school all day, though, I think - especially in today's world where "go outside and play" is becoming an archaic term.
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        Jul 1 2012: On the other hand look at people who do not go outside and play compared to those who do? There is a lot to be said for out side this too is an area of the tangible verses the intangible.
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    Jul 21 2012: I recently listened to an Audio book on "How to think like Leonardo Da Vinci" it was a little cheesy, but got to the root of creative thinking and a good way to go about it. That along with listening to Sir Ken Robinson prior to that, got me thinking about the internet age and how it can transform paradigms. For those who have used Facebook, Craigslist,, and I especially like These are all free, and they bring people together for a focus (social, commerce, learning/hobby; traveling) they are all cooperatively lead/developed. So with all the news about the indebtness of our country with school debt, I posed the question on facebook:

    "IN this internet age, why isn't there an accredited alternate to the expensive higher education system that we have, one that is co-operatively lead from the bottom up, and not the top down. Anyone can afford this education, and can be replicated throughout the world, so that poor and rich alight can experience and foster their minds to a greater cause. I wonder if this will ever happen. Something I have been thinking about with the great debate about student debt in this country.

    Basically if you can boil down what employers like in a college education and re-spin it so that it can be accomplished by a group that is co-operatively lead? I think the internet could be a huge boon for cooperatives and eduation is one of those focuses that it could revolutionize

    What I have been thinking about is groups of like minded thinkers wanting to learn subjects (ex. architechture, sculpture) and having them learn from their peers, the information is out there, they just need to have the will and put the time/effort? Perhaps along the way creating portfolio's of there accomplishments, and distinctions from there peers, along with having a way to accredit their efforts. A group of DaVincian thinkers! I hope I see something develop with the new internet age that helps people around the world like these other website
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      Jul 21 2012: Outside of the issue of accreditation of degrees, we do have Harvard and MIT's edX just starting up as well as Stanford's Coursera, which is a collaboration that includes Princeton and perhaps a dozen other great universities.
      We have indeed entered an exciting time in first quality, free online education.
      These institutions are accredited, of course, but the open programs do not involve awarding of degrees, in part because a degree usually signifies that the student has demonstrated a "passing" level of understanding of course content. Evaluation of how much students have learned rather that what they enrolled for or their attendance requires someone to make that assessment- to read the essays or lab reports. This is where the challenge lies in terms of open availability of cost-free college credentials.
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    Jul 2 2012: As a child...I was one of these "BAD KIDS" always up and moving about. I always did well in all my classes but my teachers were surprised by this fact. They would say "Ryan, how can you listen when you never sit down". I would dance as I did work. Talk while the teacher was know a modern day rebel (from K-4) I was never sent to gifted classes because I didn't "fit the gifted mold". The great thing about my education though was that I was a pre "No Child Left Behind Act" student for about 5 years of my education!

    At my school, I was taught the love of learning, especially the love of reading and was always pushed to be a PROBLEM SOLVER! They told us at this age (I was only about 8 or 9 I believe....a 2nd grader that "THE WORLD NEEDS PROBLEM SOLVERS! WE WANT YOU ALL TO CHANGE THE WORLD!!! AND YOU CAN DO IT!" I never forgot those messages! I never forgot that "I could change the world through problem solving."

    I think that this MUST be an emphasis on education. That we challenge our students as soon as possible. That we play the devil's advocate and make our children think outside the box!

    Whenever, I get to speak to an educator I always tell them my story. The story of how I became a thinker. As the bad kid that never sat down. Never stopped talking.....unless it was book reading time! =]
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      Jul 2 2012: Great story. lol that your picture has you up a tree - that's perfect! Actually, sad story with a happy ending. Your teachers encouraged you to solve problems, but sounds like they were still stuck thinking inside the box - so it's good you turned out well. :-D

      The trick is to have kids solve problems that sometimes require more than thinking while sitting in a desk.
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        Jul 2 2012: Agreed and I know not much changes besides my ability to follow social norms. lol

        You seem to be on the right path I'm glad there are critical thinking educators! We need more of you Erik! Good luck!
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    Jul 1 2012: Erik, 1) Go to a competent / non-competent system that allows kids to advance at their own speed and remain with their peers for social development. 2) Up grade to 21st century needs and tools. 3) Get the feds and state out of the education business 4) re-think the funding criteria. 5) Stop the accumulation of knowledge and start the application phase. 6) Unions and tenure are part of the problem and were never part of the solution. 7) Do away with textbooks driving education and testing 8) return the power to the district .. all schools do not fit a preconcieved ideas of needs 9) Stop teaching the answer is the goal when application is the correct goal.

    On line for profit schools are encroaching on funding for brick and mortar schools. Public schools have built a nest and are raping the system, if they do no change then they wiill disappear and on line will be what is left ... these are now called diploma mills ..... can you guess what they would be like if there were no altenatives.

    Eric, I do not see either on line of brick and mortar schools as the problem. I think that the people have lost faith in all of the systems and fail to want to get involved. As an example the parents that show up for parent teachers night are never the one who you need to talk to. Approximately 10 percent of the people are involved in 90 percent of the activities. That must change.

    We need to divide curriculums into college prep and manual trades with some common core necessities. There is much to be done or the feds will take over as Arne Duncan has stated is his goal.

    I am passionate about the future of education and also out of space.

    All the best. Bob.
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    Jul 1 2012: I'm not just talking about another structured class, like a hand-on intro to engineering principles (an awesome substitute for part of the regular science curriculum at every level, btw), but also about physical expression, outdoor exploration, maybe changing how classroom environments are configured, and hands-on learning.

    Why don't/can't we give kids the opportunity to use the shop class tools to build a project for math class?

    Why don't/can't we include hiking as a part of gym?

    Is it really so hard to require living, breathing, green spaces in our classrooms?

    Fill out a moon-journal or weather journal, connect kids to the outside world. Don't pretend they magically teleport from a room in their house/apartment to a room inside the school building.

    No, 15 minutes is not a real recess and a parking lot is not a playgroud.

    Give me more, 'cause that's just barely getting started. :-D
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      Jul 1 2012: Me thinks that if you focus on the idea that education be directed to application you will solve a lot of what you are talking about.

      I remember in high school when they showed a slide show for construction technology I lit up as this was the promise of something I could get my hands on.

      I'm not sure that a prerequisite to education is getting mentally squished? As with the librarian or a bookeeper.
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      Jul 2 2012: I love all of your ideas to get kids thinking!

      I think that a way that we can restructure the class room is by finding a new way of holding teachers accountable. I grew up in Florida and although my early childhood education was amazing as I got older a thing called the FCAT's came about. A standardized test that you were forced to pass to graduate. This test was taken from elementary school to high school.

      I understand holding teachers accountable to make sure the kids are learning at the right speed but from the teachers I know they are losing the freedom to teach in a way that is creative and it's all about passing these tests.

      Find a new way to keep teachers accountable and bring back creative teaching!

      Example: my uncle is brilliant. Started out in journalism and is now a 5th grade teacher. He has to follow strict regiment of curriculum that stifles his brilliance and love of learning in his class room. He spends so much time trying to sneak fun creative activities into a mundane curriculum that he's starting to feel like his choice to teach was a bad one. We might lose a GREAT TEACHER!

      My suggestions are:
      -new way of keeping teachers accountable
      -bring creativity back into the teachers hands with open approved curriculum (hopefully by a principle not a bureaucrat)
      -Put emphasis on critical thinking and innovation in the classroom!
      -(Cliche as it sounds) connect problems in the world to things that we students are experiencing TED videos and let students understand issues that we are facing! Even at a young age I feel like some of the videos can connect to the students. Especially the one's on technology. Younger students are much more tech. savvy than most people would like to think!
      Everyone loves space!

      I want to see less content and more substance in the classroom! More thinking less calculating but you know like everyone I want them to learn stuff too. =]
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        Jul 23 2012: Research is showing that a little laughter and happiness can have a big impact on performance across a range of subjects and skill sets. (Anyone who hasn't seen Achor's TEDx presentation on happiness really should!) If we can leverage that a little, and give teachers room to put some of the fun back into the process, we might create a snowball effect.

        For that to work, though, we also need teachers who-themselves-see that math can be a lot more ice cream and lot less lima beans than they usually see it. That, too, means giving them some room to play with a project or game, rather than racing to slog through another section of the exit expectations grid. (Don't even get me started on that bureaucratic whale-bone corset!)
    • Jul 23 2012: I moved from teaching in a private high school to teaching in a private middle school and thought that I would be free at last from having to prep my students so much in SAT skills. I was thrilled to get the chance to let my middle school students explore all sorts of mathematical relationships outside of the class room as well as build models for bridges, towers, buildings, catapults, etc.......actually PLAY with math. As it turned out, I found myself having to cover too many skills in too little time in order to prepare my students for the SSAT to get them into competitive high schools....which 70-90 percent of my parents wanted!! Changing entrance requirements by eliminating standardized tests would go a long way toward freeing up teaching/mentoring time.
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        Jul 23 2012: Yes, I think it's sad that we measure teaching success 100% based on math scores on entrance exams and 0% based on whether the students would ever, say, voluntarily tackle a math puzzle in their free time, or look for a creative new way to explain a concept. There's obviously some room to move between 0 and 100, but there's a bootstrap problem, because - as you point out - there are parents and politicians driving the system. Since they don't love or play with math, they don't see the importance. (We could transpose this same point to other disciplines.)
  • Jul 24 2012: Soooo.....given the political clout of the teacher's unions......why can't they act to educate those parents and politicians, and universities to make a more balanced testing/evaluation process?
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      Jul 29 2012: Because rebuilding/improving the education system is a long-term project and politicians need to show short-term improvements - especially to their corporate supporters who, in turn, have to show short-term improvements to their stockholders. Hence, the tax money disappears into things like tax breaks for new corporations instead of for upgrading teacher salaries/education. When teachers' unions have anywhere near as much power in the political process as multinational corporations, then we will see some change - like you're suggesting.
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    Jul 24 2012: I'm researching how people inspire others about Space. That's because I believe we need to start early. Really early. Young children should be growing up wanting to go into space. And they should be growing up familiar with the incredible wonders of our universe. I'm creating as a way of doing this and I would love anybody here to get in touch and explore ideas with me. I'm starting with an App but I want it to be so much more. Inspiring children about Space is key.
  • Jul 23 2012: Give our students research and presentation assignments that requires them to learn skills along the way but also allows them to freely move, interview, collaborate, in large part just the way an investigative journalist or research scientist might work. Don't just lock them up in a desk for hours at a time memorizing facts in books.
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      Jul 25 2012: This view of the status quo in schools is extremely out of date. What you propose- research and presentation assignments as well as opportunities to interview and collaborate- have been standard fair in school for decades.
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    Jul 21 2012: Think outside the box (classroom), as these cost money to build/upkeep, the paradigm will not shift unless they are recognized via an accredited system, or review, basically something people will trust. Perhaps peer reviewed or expert reviewed or getting it to TED like popularity where everyone can look at their learnings/portfolio and give credit to their hard learning work or project....
  • Jun 30 2012: I'm 17 years old, i live in poland and i had just finished my another year of education and i'm dissapionted. I think it's global problem that the children don't value thing that they are learning. Looking past in my last 10 months is hard for me to remind knowledge that have propability of being usefull in my future life. I belive that we should be learning things like genius reading or improving our memmory, math sholdn't be about repeatly using formulas, but about improving our capability of counting as it is for example presented in Arthur Benjamin's talk in witch he explain his "mathemagic". Five hundred yers ago one man could be specialized in every path of science, right now we have to spend half of our life learning to become specialized in one branch of many fields of science. This is why we have to learn how learn things faster.

    I belive that future of education system is to improve possibilities of our brain , to improve our inteligence.
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    Jun 29 2012: I have heard of a high school that has partnered with local businesses. They have a warehouse next to the school that houses building skills, carpentry, electrical, HVAC. Students at this school spend only part of their time in a class room then they move to the warehouse. To participate in the warehouse, they have to keep up with their studies. All classes they take relate to the hands on learning in the warehouse. So math, English, even history relate to the psychomotor application in the warehouse.

    I heard this very third-hand and do not know if this school actually exists but it would be one way to address the problem you identify. Otherwise those kids will drop out.
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      Jun 29 2012: That could be a great program. The trick would be to make sure it is part of everyone's education, not just the result of separating out college-bound kids versus "shop-class kids."
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        Jun 29 2012: In my experience we have to stop trying to teach everyone the same things in the same manner. It makes no sense. You end up teaching to the herd and the fringes fall away. Amd in my neighborhood, about 50% fall away. You are talking about fringe here.

        If students want to go to college, they should be able to choose that curriculum - or not. If students have no intention of going to school again ever, they should be prepared to contribute to society. But there is no generic curriculum that is going to do both.

        You can't teach everyone everything. At least not in 4 years.
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        Aja B.

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        Jun 29 2012: I remember being very frustrated by the separation of classes/schedules between the "college bound" vs. "shop class" kids at my large public high school, as a college-bound student who very much wanted to learn more about working with tools/etc. I suppose they just didn't have the resources to offer everything to everybody.

        I ended up having a similar experience in college, though, where there certainly were enough resources to offer an impressive variety of courses to students. I was again very interested in hands-on practical knowledge... as a film student, I wanted to learn to actually MAKE films. I'll never forget the meeting I had with the faculty of the film department near the end of my senior year, when I was told I would have to drop a production class I was taking and replace it with yet another film analysis class... "If you wanted to make films" they said, "why didn't you just go to a trade school?"

        From what I've seen, opening classrooms up to different ways of learning is going to take more resources, definitely, but in many cases it's also going to require leaders in education to take a more open-minded approach to what's educationally valuable. Physical or practical knowledge shouldn't always be second-class to theoretical and academic knowledge.