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.

  • Oct 30 2011: Perhaps I went to an unusual high school or perhaps it was an unusual time in history but when ever people, or groups or the entire class came up with an idea, the answer was almost always, "good idea, lets do it".
    Students did all the work, staff supervised and helped out and the school supported us whereever they could. We started a drama club, ground our own mirrors for telescopes, entered math and physics competitions, entered music competitions with the band, started drama clubs and put on plays, resurrected the talent show and produced it.
    Just about anything you could think of, but it was the students that were creative, simply, I think, because no one told us we couldn't do something. You can't do that was not a phrase I remember from school.
    Similarly in University, the first year you just keep your head down and survive the transition, but in later years, the profs were always supportive of you wanting to try something that no one had thought of before.
    For example, I have a degree in Geology, but when I was in university, there was no mathematical component to that. I thought that was a mistake and set about doing as much with computers (mostly the super computers) as I could. Even though most of the profs in our department had only a rudimentary understanding of what I was doing, no one said not to.
    It has always been my opinion that the teachers job is to protect the student from the idiots out there who insist on saying "no". There is always someone who considers preventing activity and new ideas as their job. Avoid them at all costs. The students natural creativity will take over.
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      Oct 31 2011: Gordon, your high school sounds wonderful! Where did you go to school and when? What I hear you saying is similar to Peter in that you had a lot of freedom to come up with ideas. Teachers simply provided the support and supervision.

      How did you think of grinding your own mirrors for telescopes? How did you find out about different competitions? I love that you were allowed to take initiative and produce your ideas. How do you think such experiences continue to influence you today?

      How were your classes structured? Was there a sense of excitement because anyone might lead the class in a new direction?

      Do you know what your high school is like today? Are the students allowed to express their creativity through projects. How much say do they have in their education?
      • Oct 31 2011: I went to a regional high school in souther Ontario in a little town called Aylmer. What we had were teachers with advanced degrees. They new a LOT about the subject they were teaching. The music teacher played in the near by symphony orchestra, the physics, biology and chem teachers all had advanced degrees. So, if you showed some interest in their field, they were always happy to indulge us.
        The classes were structured according to the standard (at the time) curriculum that required a set plan for covering a certain amount of mainterial over the course of the school year. What we found, when we paired with a school in Detroit (at the time it was a thriving metropolis) is that we were covering much more than they were. The lowest marking in our class beat the highest mark in theirs and I think (when we swapped exams), they all failed ours and we fell asleep in theirs.

        There were always competitions around, usually put on by the Universities, our class just jumped into them with both feet and the teachers backed our interests.

        So, to summarize, school was just school during the day, but after class is when it became interesting. Some days I wouldn't get home until 9 or 10 at night. I recall the chem teacher, leaving one night while we were running an experiment saying, "I'm going home for the night, don't blow that wall out".
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          Oct 31 2011: Gordon, how wonderful that you received such a quality education!

          Is it still common in Ontario for the teachers to have advanced degrees? Is this a requirement?

          How common was it for your teachers to stay after school so you could create your own experiments? Do you think they still do this today? Do you remember any accidents happening or were the students taught enough knowledge to prevent such a catastrophe? Did you feel safe when the teachers weren't supervising?

          How do you think teachers can bring this type of freedom to classrooms today?
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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.