Have schools in the U.S. and in the Wake County school system drained creativity from students and become too focused on standardized testing?
As noted in today's article, the high-stakes testing culture came under criticism at Wednesday's announcement that the Wake County school system has received grants from LEGO. It was repeatedly touted how the use of LEGO products to promote problem-solving skills can counter how traditional education is draining creativity away from students.
Muriel Summers, principal of Combs, told the audience that her “aha!” moment came nearly five years ago shortly after the schools began using LEGO as a teaching tool. She said a student using the LEGO blocks told her “thank you for letting us use our imagination.”
“It made me think: What are we doing for a child to thank me for letting him use his imagination?” Summers said. “What have we done to our children?”
Summers showed the audience clips from the documentary "Race To Nowhere," which charges that the U.S. education system has become overly competitive, is overscheduling children's lives and stressing rote memorization over critical thinking.
Summers contrasted the situation showed in the film with the improvements that she says has happened at Combs since they began working with LEGO. She said it has reduced discipline problems and raised the confidence of her students to speak out.
In the process, she said it has also improved how the students are doing academically.
Combs gave tours to show how they've put the LEGO bricks to use.
In one first-grade class, students talked about the children's book "The Great Kapok Tree," which encourages rainforest conservation. Pam Almond, the teacher, then gave the students their build challenge of using the LEGO blocks to express how they’d feel if they were animals living in a rainforest whose tree was in danger of being cut down.
Among the "rules" she gave them was that "there are no wrong answers." It's in line with the idea that students are encouraged to try to come up with more than one way to solve a problem.
That point was also demonstrated earlier, before the classroom visits, when the audience was asked to use LEGO pieces to build a duck. Afterward, it was noted that the crowd wasn't told how to build the duck because there was no right way or wrong way to put it together..
The Combs students who were doing the preseantions also said that encouraging creativity didn't mean there were no rules. They said they're using disciplined creativity.
In the media center, older students showed how they’ve been building mini-catapults firing tinfoil rocks. It's part of how the program will promote the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) theme.