There is theoretical learning...

...and there is consciousness expanding experiential learning.

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Proactive Pruning for Teen Brains 

The brains of adolescents are adaptable and malleable, primed for learning and creativity. However, they also begin an important developmental process of “synaptic pruning.” 

Grey matter in the PFC peaks at around twelve for girls and fourteen for boys. Right after the peak - the pruning starts to take place.

The synaptic connections are eliminated if under-used, to make way for the strengthening and fine-tuning of frequently used synapses.

This important process is partly dependent upon the surrounding environment, including the teaching environment, which can and does shape the developing adolescent brain. 

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The Aberdeen Green School

 

The Portal curriculum, delivered through various projects, was put to the test when inspected by Education Scotland. They outlined the following points:

This inspection of your school found the following key strengths.

  • Articulate and motivated young people who have a mature attitude to their learning and development. 

  • The personalised approach to learning which supports all young people to learn and progress well. 

  • The positive, caring ethos of mutual respect which is created by all staff and young people. 

  • The vision and commitment of the school’s Director in ensuring the continued development of the school. 

Please click here for the full report.

Assessment

It is important to measure the progress of young people, but it is always difficult to measure character development. 

The Portal Projects have a clearly outlined taxonomy of assessment which focuses on Self Management, Information Management and Interpersonal Skills.

There are also defined Development Phases within the project, The Individual, The Team and The Opposition. 

The full Assessment Taxonomy can be found here

The Portal Projects (TPP)

TPP do not use drama in the traditional sense, whereby the ‘actors’ receive a script, learn their lines and deliver a performance. This isresponsivedrama, whereby all students are provided with the same storyline from history. They are then given the name of a character, which they research, and then have the task of interpreting the language, attitudes and behaviours of that person.  They are also interacting and responding to the character’s of the other students, who may be aligned or opposed to their views and actions. 

 

Read more here...

FILM STUDIES

A film studies teacher from the local college came into school once a week for a term. He showed the students the basic techniques of filmmaking.  

The students used The Evictors Trial Portal Project to make a film trailer.  

The goal was to make a full film, but this became difficult, due to time restrictions with exams.

The Film School provided the students with many skills such as creative process, technical expertise, learning to use the camera and editing software, organising work schedules, collaboration within the team and the communication of ideas.  

 

All students should learn to be artists. Not only for the sake of producing pieces of art, but because it results in them thinking of themselves as creative people. This extends to intellectual creativity.

Whilst in Los Angeles, I wanted young students to retain their love of creating art, so I enrolled on a course at OTIS entitled Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain. 

 

The students took part in the Arts Award programme which was ultra flexible and counts as an A Level in England.

For more information: www.artsaward.org.uk

The students took part in The Young Enterprise Scotland” (YES) programme.

Most students at age sixteen are swamped with exams and have no time for anything else. But we only offered exams in maths, English and physics. (We would go on the following year to increase the exam offering to English, maths, physics, history, music and German).

This left time to pursue projects. Because of the experience the students had encountered through The Portal Projects, they were all, without exception, ready to take on the responsibility of being a business owner.  

Each 16-year old student became a company director, registered with Companies House. They were each assigned a role within the business including: product design and development, quality control, finance, marketing and promotion. 

Much of our educational system focuses on individualistic self-advancement, with a promise of material success.

The Sustainable Living Project encourages the study of improving the lives of others, taking care of the earth and its resources and how to work together to move humanity forward. 

We secured a partnership with the Environmental Department of Aberdeen University and arranged for a year-long Sustainable Living programme. One of the university’s students came to the school once a week to work with the students, which was also part of her course-work. 

The modules for the programme included:

  • Shelter:  How to create low cost environmentally sustainable buildings

  • Food: How to grow our own food and avoid buying food with high air miles. Agriculture, new ways of farming.

  • Health & Wellbeing:  Alternative ways of caring for our physical and mental health.

  • Energy: Looking towards alternative energy sources to supply our need for energy.

  • Environment: Local, national and international  environmental challenges.

Please follow the link on the boxes to learn more about the 5 Essential Skills. The page numbers correspond to information in: The Right To Connect . The complete PDF of the book is available on the 'Founder' webpage.

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Resiliency

The term “Snowflake” took hold in the U.K. following the release of book entitled, I Find That Offensive!  The author, Claire Fox, is the Director of the Institute of Ideas. 

In the book, Fox writes about her experiences whilst visiting two secondary schools:

Teenagers who believe that words really hurt and that contradictory opinions to their own beliefs were the cause of real harm. And yet, despite the pupils’ apparent hyper-sensitivity, their emotional suffering was combined with an almost belligerent sense of entitlement that their feelings should take precedence.

 

In my experience, many Snowflakes wear a mesh of steel beneath their fluffy and fragile exterior. They can act in an entitled and self-focused manner when they feel misunderstood. The term “micro-aggression” is now in use, and the Snowflake will point to how a comment has injured them.  The impact on them is the important factor, regardless of the intent, which could be innocent. 

Snowflakes are going to find it difficult to navigate through the world.  We should be aiming to raise and educate Hailstones. Thunderstorms lift hailstones, through strong up-drafts, to the top of clouds. When they collide with super-cooled water they develop extra layers and grow stronger.  An increasing intensity of the updraft, causes the hailstones to become larger and stronger.

Hailstones develop antifragility.

Antifragility

Educationalists are always in search of a pedagogical approach which will ensure students develop resilience and robustness. Antifragility could be seen as an aid to this approach. However to imbue anitfragile character traits goes beyond resiliency and robustness. 

In the book, Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder, Nassim Taleb writes about the concept of antifragility, a term he coined to describe the opposite of fragility. The opposite of fragile is not, as Taleb tells us, being unbreakable, this implies resistance but not change, things stay the same. Antifragility, like bones, or the immune system strengthen under the effects of stressors, volatility and change.  The antifragile thrives on uncertainty and disorder and uses this to grow.

To evade introducing these calculated and measured stressors into the lives of young people, to neglect the encouragement of a gradual move from an immature and fragile state to a mature and antifragile one, is harmful to their development. If the capacity to encounter adventure, failure and risk is absent from a youg person’s education, then that education it is not conducive to a life of responsibility and resourcefulness.

I developed Responsive Drama Projects which allow the students to face those challenges and failures and to then be strengthened by the experience. There is evidence from the field of neuroscience which illustrates how this occurs.  

 

Coddling  

U.S. social psychologist Jonathan Haidt co-wrote a book with U.S. attorney Greg Lukianoff. The book is entitled, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.

The website for the book reports:

Something has been going wrong on many college campuses in the last few years. Speakers are shouted down. Students and Professors say they are walking on eggshells and are afraid to speak honestly. Rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide are rising. How did this happen?

The author’s put forward their theories of why the season of the snowflake has come about:

  • Political polarization and purification. Universities used to lean left but now they’re so far left and there are now hardly any conservative teachers. No diversity, no opposing views means no student exposure to different viewpoints. 

  • Rising anxiety and depression. “ZGen” or” iGen” are immersed in social media.

  • Paranoid Parenting Practices. People began raising children differently in the 80’s and 90’s. Now a culture of “safetyism.” 

  • Loss of free play and risk taking. A different attitude towards play and what is dangerous. 

  • The growth of bureaucracy at universities. “Student as consumer” mind-set.

  • Increasing passion for social justice. Subversion, outrage and  social justice warriors.

In response to his findings, Haidt set up the Heterodox Academy (HxA), focusing on viewpoint diversity, which is described on the website as:

The state of a community or group in which members approach questions or problems from multiple perspectives. When a community is marked by intellectual humility, empathy, trust and curiosity, viewpoint diversity gives rise to engaged and civil debate, constructive disagreement and shared progress towards the truth.

There are various tools the HxA site to help reach this goal:

  • Open Minds - an interactive platform designed to depolarize communities and foster mutual understanding across differences.

  • Campus Expression Survey - a self-report tool for students.

  • Guide to Colleges - a rating system for America’s top 200 universities, according to the degree of viewpoint diversity you can expect to find on campus. 

 

Jonathan Haidt reports that the coddling culture is not so evident on the continent, it is predominantly an “Anglosphere” problem within the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

Please click on the logo below to visit the Heterodox Academy website: 

  

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