083 – The Longterm View with Peter Skillen

The Longterm View with Peter Skillen

“Honestly through high school and those levels of school, I wasn’t a great student.  I was an average student, not a great student.  It wasn’t ’til I started teaching that I fell in love with learning.” –Peter Skillen

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[In This Episode][Guest Bio][Additional Notes][Text Transcript]

In This Episode

  • Do kids really secretly enjoy hard problems?
  • What happens when we let children control their own learning?
  • What can US educators learn from Canadian educators?

Join us for some perspectives from the other side of our northern border.

Welcome to the Table Top Inventing podcast. I’m going to begin today with an excerpt from Marvin Minsky’s book, The Society of Mind.

“Why are processes so hard to classify? In earlier times, we could usually judge machines and processes by how they transformed raw materials into finished products. But it makes no sense to speak of brains as though they manufacture thoughts the way factories make cars. The difference is that brains use processes that change themselves and this means we cannot separate such processes from the products they produce. In particular, brains make memories, which change the ways we’ll subsequently think. The principal activities of brains are making changes in themselves. Because the whole idea of self-modifying processes is new to our experience, we cannot yet trust our commonsense judgments about such matters.”

Minsky goes on to describe how difficult it is to study the brain, and conjectures that with further research, we will discover that the brain is simply a very complex computer with billions of small, interconnected parts.

I’m not sure if I agree with Minsky or not. We used to believe that cells were amorphous, gelatinous corpuscles, but the closer we look, the weirder they get–unlike atoms and elementary particles. In recent years, we’ve delved deeper into cells and their nano-processes than anyone ever thought possible… and cells are still… mysterious.

But I digress. Today, I want us to focus on the main job of learning: helping the brain become better at building itself.

Today’s guest is an expert at helping children learn to build their brains. Peter Skillen is a truly fascinating individual, and I think you’ll agree with me by the end of the podcast.

From our experience at Table Top Inventing, the approaches and ideas Peter shared are spot on, and Peter has decades of experience letting kids take charge of their learning. If you want to see what happens when kids grab their learning by the horns and charge off in unexpected directions, find an Inventor Camp near you. Signup now at ttinvent.com/InventorCamp.

Parents AND students both tell us, “We can’t believe how much learning happened in just 4 days!”

We want to help you and your kids create the future!

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Guest Bio

Peter Skillen is a learner & he is a teacher. Simple. The two, for him, are inseparable and part of the whole.

After 4 decades in the K-12 field, Peter is now the Manager of Digital Age Learning with the YMCA of Greater Toronto. This is similar to his previous role in planning the professional development for teachers in a school district in Toronto.

However, he still is deeply involved in educational practice through the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), the Ontario Teachers’ Federation (OTF), the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario (ECOO) &, of course, in online learning spaces.

Peter has been using computers with kids & teachers since 1977. He has seen many ‘saviour’ technologies come and go. So he sticks to his roots although he enthusiastically welcomes new developments. He advocates models of learning which engage a learner’s natural ‘desire to know’ &, therefore is focused on social-constructivist uses of ICT in education.

In the early 80s Peter introduced project-based telecommunications to the Toronto school district through such applications as: FrEdMail, National Geographic’s Kids’ Network, GlobalLab, I*EARN, ThinkQuest, Orillas, CitySpace, Canada’s SchoolNet & Global SchoolHouse.

In 2000, Industry Canada & LCSI contracted Peter as Lead Designer of Journal Zone – a collaborative online journal – software that he conceived earlier in his studies.

In 2003, the YMCA of Greater Toronto hired Peter as curriculum leader for the YMCA Academy – a new secondary school focused on an holistic, constructivist and equitable approach to learning and teaching.

The difference between ‘learning in school’ & ‘learning outside of school’ has always been a passionate interest – although this dichotomy often has led him into conflict with the ‘system’. Nevertheless, Peter tries to retain optimism and sense of humour.

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 Peter Skillen Snowshoeing_edit

Additional Notes


Connect with Peter
:

Additional Links:

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Favorite Quote…

“If the role of the computer is so slight that rest can be kept constant, it will also be too slight for much to come of it.”
–Seymour Papert

“You can’t separate intellect and feelings in the work of the mind.”
–Eleanor Duckworth

“When students are treated as Pawns they don’t learn, they misbehave.When teachers are treated as Pawns they don’t teach, they become drill sergeants.”
–DeCharms, 1977

A Teacher Who Inspired…

Seymour Papert has probably had the biggest impact on my approach to education — complemented by my studies of ‘knowledge building communities’ with Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter.

It was really an intersection of these people that informed my practice over the last 35 years.

Seymour spoke eloquently of system change and advocated for kids to construct ­ both artifacts and meaning. He also, of course, developed Logo and turtles (along with others) to help kids to realize this reality. Marlene and Carl also developed systems and cultures for classrooms which empowered kids to build their own meaning and, indeed new knowledge, not just as individuals—but, as a community of learners.

I am fortunate to have spent much time with these three folks and learned to struggle to build such environments in my own way.

Something Peter Made Recently…

The last thing I made was a picture story book for my granddaughter for Christmas. ;­)

Something Peter Learned About Recently…

The most significant thing I learned to do in recent times was to ‘flare’ as you are coming in for a landing when paragliding. I learned that lesson by not doing it effectively! ROFL

Peter Skillen in Switzerland_editText Transcript Coming Soon!

“[Peter talking about programming with little kids] These little kids were standing around together, and when it worked, their eyes lit up, their shoulders squared, their heads raised.  When it failed, they said, ‘Let’s figure it out.’  They’d solve it, and there’d be cheers.  This was a moment when I realized that hard stuff was ok.  They liked hard stuff.  They just didn’t like the ‘school hard stuff’ which was totally disconnected from their lives.” –Peter Skillen


“Honestly through high school and those levels of school, I wasn’t a great student.  I was an average student, not a great student.  It wasn’t ’til I started teaching that I fell in love with learning.” –Peter Skillen


“Why are processes so hard to classify? In earlier times, we could usually judge machines and processes by how they transformed raw materials into finished products. But it makes no sense to speak of brains as though they manufacture thoughts the way factories make cars. The difference is that brains use processes that change themselves Ñ and this means we cannot separate such processes from the products they produce. In particular, brains make memories, which change the ways we’ll subsequently think. The principal activities of brains are making changes in themselves. Because the whole idea of self-modifying processes is new to our experience, we cannot yet trust our commonsense judgments about such matters.” –Marvin Minsky, Society of Mind


“The principal activities of brains are making changes in themselves.” –Marvin Minsky, Society of Mind

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