TED Conversations

Maria Fernandez


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What specific educational experiences ignited your passion for a subject?

What grade did this occur in? What made the teacher, professor, parent, scout leader, etc different from other teachers? What memories do you still cherish from these experiences? Have you ever tried to replicate these experiences? How have you shared them with others? Have you ever thanked the teacher that provided these wonderful experiences for you?

How can we create more of them?

Did any of your most memorable educational experiences happen out of school? (e.g. field trips, scouts, robotics)

Please share your meaningful non school experiences too, but I am especially interested in school experiences because of the many constraints faced by teachers. These constraints force teachers to be very creative.

We have answers to our educational system in our midst. We simply need to take time to contemplate the bits and pieces that have worked and to share them with each other.


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    Oct 30 2011: One such experience occurred to me in 5th grade in the USA. Our teacher taught us a variety of subjects during the day. One day, I asked if I could go across the street to the Sears department store and bring back a large discarded cardboard box which had been used to transport Sears brand refrigerators. I had spied several of them behind the loading entrance to the store.

    She agreed and my friend and I lugged it back into our classroom. It was 7 feet tall and large enough for the two of us to use to create a house. Soon every other child in our class asked to do the same and she agreed. So within two days, there were 9 large cardboard containers in our classroom of 22 students. Each cardboard box became the house of 2-3 students who self-selected to build/decorate their home.

    Soon, I announced that I was offering free mail service to each of these homes. Within minutes, the students began carving mail slots in the front walls of their homes and began writing letters to be delivered to the other homes. My pal and I became very busy mail carriers for our nascent village. Soon, I offered to sell customized book covers to the village. They began buying with currency they concocted and which we accepted. Soon, someone suggested we agree to use one common currency and we agreed. Soon someone began offering to sell customized hats which we began buying eagerly.

    This village was self-directed and evolved organically. I don't not remembering the teacher's influence in this venture at all except for the very beginning when she agreed to us having card board boxes in the room and when neighboring students and teachers began poking their heads in our classroom. She patiently explained what we were doing to all visitors. We students decided when the village experience had run its course (about 5 days) and we were ready to move on to a different venture.

    What ignited me about this experience was economics, sociology, and youth empowerment. I felt validated and able.
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      Oct 31 2011: Wow!

      I love your story Peter! I can imagine what a magical experience it would have been to create such a town. You must havefelt so validated having the power to imagine and create such a village. What a wonderful interdisciplinary educational experience you created for your fellow classmates, all because your teacher was not afraid of what others may think about her unconventional teaching style. I wonder if the principal at your school was supportive of such endeavors?

      I wonder how many teachers today would allow students to go across the street to pick up a refrigerator box. I wonder if perhaps part of the problem with creativity in schools is that our society has become so litigious that many creative efforts are nipped in the bud because of lawsuit concerns.

      One thing I noticed after watching a video on the Finland phenomenon was how much the teachers trusted the students and how much the administration trusted the teachers. Your teacher obviously trusted you and her principal must have trusted her as well. How can schools get back to trusting children? Do you think this same experiment would work at the elementary school you attended? Would students be allowed 5 days of "frivolous" play. Would it be recognized as learning? Would testing trump creativity?

      Wouldn't it be interesting to send a letter to the principal of your elementary school and share with him/her the impact such an experience had on your life and see if the 5th grade teacher would be willing to place some cardboard boxes on the school grounds within window viewing. Would students see the possibilities or would their eyes see only trash? Would they feel free to pose the idea if they had it? Would they play with the boxes during recess? Do schools still have recess?

      I remember a neighborhood child that connected several refrigerator boxes and created a long tunnel in which to crawl through. It was during Halloween. Spiders hung from the cardboard ceiling! It became our 3D world.

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