Amidst the chaos of 2020 we lost a true leader in education in late August just as schools were trying to reopen. In the event that you might have missed it, I wanted to circle back and offer a brief tribute.
Like most of you that knew Sir Ken Robinson’s impact on education, I first learned about him through his wildly popular TED Talk in 2006. It was, of course, not the first impactful thing he said, nor the last. He was by then already declared a Knight by the Queen, so I assume the story before the TED talk was robust as a professor and leader of the arts. But, anytime something is viewed around 100 million times, it tends to define the person. So, of course, the relationship between schools and creativity, and the embedded story of a young dancer, is perhaps Sir Ken’s most defining message. If you have not watched it yet, as it is the starting place for so many others, I do of course recommend viewing.
A different message of his, less well known, has always resonated most deeply with me though. It is a metaphor he liked to use about a garden and it shows up in a few different videos that do not have a million views. Articulated more fully in his book Creative Schools (chapter 2), this is a short clip of the essence of it (start at 1:30 where he speaks of changing metaphors … at around 6:00 he begins on the distinction with industrial agriculture):
Contained in this message is something that strikes at the essence of our outdated approach to learning systems. As America, Britain, and others grew and industrialized, we adopted elements of that mentality for our schools as well. While the factory model of school narrative is certainly overused and a bit misplaced (particularly by reformers and salesmen) the transition to large-scale institutions of learning certainly shared notions of efficiency tied up with our conception of mechanization, standardization, and competition. As Sir Ken says in the video above, perhaps the better comparison is not the factory as much as it is the monoculture-based industrial farm.
I would have loved to see Sir Ken continue to explore and develop this idea further for it is something that our generation must confront. It is remarkable what was achieved by industrialization and, specifically, industrial farming. I grew up working on an industrial farm and was convinced of its efficacy. Billions have been lifted out of subsistence poverty and the American grocery store became the envy of the world. But, these industrial achievements came at a heavy cost. We burned oil and coal to power our machines and changed our climate. We cleared the forests endangering countless species. Our topsoil has suffered and now must be supplemented by lab-created chemicals. With pesticides and herbicides we poisoned our waters. We medicated our domestic animals and produced lower cost, but lower quality, meats that have been shown to have adverse health effects on the humans that consume them. I’ve personally been recently diagnosed with colorectal cancer and I can’t help but wonder what might have contributed. Sir Ken died of cancer as well. I wonder whether he might have asked similar questions.
In a comparable way, in America, our industrial schools have achieved much but at a high price. We have achieved near-universal basic literacy. Nearly nine out of ten students graduate high school. Yet, according to Gallup polling of students, more high school students are actively disengaged in school than are engaged. Our schools have shown a nearly complete inability to close achievement gaps or serve as a tool of desegregation. And, research has shown economic mobility, achieving higher standards of living than your parents, has declined as inequality in America continues to grow. This year, 2020, has shown with stark clarity the implications of these failures. Our society is dangerously scientifically illiterate. Racism continues to bring out America’s worst inclinations. A majority of us are economically vulnerable. And, perhaps most concerningly, we seem unable to share a common social purpose or work across differences to make any substantial progress. Like our farms, the dominant ideologies of our schools are good at many things but increasingly feel antiquated and ill-equipped to help us solve our modern challenges.
In this way, Sir Ken Robinson was a critical voice that, in his humorous but insightful way, brought forward the loss of the full complexity of humanity we have sacrificed for standardization. He considered our approach to be Out of our Minds, in that we only sought to develop some of the potential each mind has to offer. His passion and stories around dance and the arts were just one of those sacrifices that, upon reflection, a listener can’t help but regret. With a chuckle, Sir Ken was able to cut through the dominant narratives of education and insert a new notion that we might be capable of schools in which all children can flourish. Schools in which each child can find their Element.
He offered a different mental model through a new metaphor. “Human flourishing is not a mechanical process, it is an organic process.” A teacher’s role then is to prepare the soil, nurture it, and then let natural processes innate in each learner grow. In well prepared soil with the right conditions life of all forms flourishes. Our attempts to craft the standard educational system has worked very well for a few, but left many others for whom “the standard” was not a good fit to wither. In this sense our schools, our farms, and our society must be more organic.
For me, and I think a great many others, Sir Ken pollinated a shift in paradigm. For the millions who watched his videos, read his books, or listened to speeches, he prepared the soil and created the conditions for us to grow our own new notions of how we might help learning flourish. The task of growing the complex, organic ecosystems in which all children might flourish then is left to us. Happily, Sir Ken, and many others, have helped to pollinate these ideas so widely that a global effort to grow these more organic models of school has inspired models of Creative Schools to bloom all across the planet.
Sir Ken Robinson had a unique and irreplaceable ability to reach an audience and to open minds. His legacy is a challenge for us to be creative ourselves to empower students to engage the full range of their natural instincts to learn.
Thank you, Sir Ken, for opening my mind and engaging my own natural instinct to learn, grow, and find a better way. We have lost many precious things in 2020 and we will dearly miss your presence, wit, and insights. But, you have left us a powerful metaphor from which to find our way to a better place.
Guest Post by Justin Bathon. Associate Professor of Educational Leadership, University of Kentucky. Director, Center for Next Generation Leadership.
As Worlds came to end, I realized something: experience is everything. In your life you will feel an endless amount of emotion and all of it will have been caused by the experience. We ended up only winning two matches and loosing the rest. The floor mats were squishy because they were new and so the wheels on our robot would sink into the ground. There was a team (The Pandas) and a group that was there (a sponsor) who let us borrow their wheels so that we could drive a little bit better. The rest was just being paired against teams who were better than us, and that’s completely okay. Robotics and the FIRST program isn’t about winning. Yes, it is nice to get an award for being the best but there is so much more to it.
Aside from the arena, there is also the pit area. Think of it like NASCAR for a minute and you will understand. In between matches, if something really bad happens to the robot (Linda,) she will come to the pit to get fixed…and quickly. The pit area is also a place for judges to come talk to us and a place for us to present ourselves to the general public/other teams. We decorate our pit area pretty heavily like many other teams there. It attracts many little kids and a lot of adults too… our theme is pretty much “any-age-friendly.” Gillian and I decided to mix things up this time and we would dance and sing for teams along with statue standing. We had stamps, buttons, key chains, stickers and pamphlets to give out. The team was interviewed twice while down there. Once by the people of FIRST and another time by Student News Net! The FTC played our interview on the live stream and Student News Net will publish our story tomorrow (Monday!)
At closing cerimonies Dean Kamen, Woodie Flowers, and many others gave speeches, handed out awards and introduced new technology to us. They gave a senior recognition and a small speech to all of us…we got to stand up. In a stadium of thousands it was intimidating. It was exciting and made everyone jittery for the next couple of years. It got me pumped up for the next couple of years. After that, we had the “after party.” We got to hear Christina Grimmie perorm along with BoysLikeGirls a pop punk band. We didn’t end up getting back to the hotel until around 11 PM-ish and I got home about 5 minutes about (6:00 PM.) It’s really nice to be back in Iowa around familiar things…like my bed. It has been a long but extremely successful week for the Sock Monkeys. We hope to do this all over again next year-even though I nor Logan, Caleb, and Giovanni will be there.
A HUGE thank you to Scott McLeod for letting me share the experiences of FIRST again and a HUGE thank you to my community/school for helping us get to where we are now! f
As the day continued, they started matches. If you were watching on the live stream, you would have seen us in action! If not: You will see photos at the bottom and I will start to explain. The pit area is set up and ready to go! We will take some video tomorrow of what will be happening and why. It will you guys a more “behinds the scene” look of how much work it actually takes!(in the photo to the left, we are talking to Dark Matter…one the three teams from our Iowa Trio at the North Super Regionals. The three teams together were Finalist Alliance Award)
Our Qualification Matches are: 9, 25, 47, 57, 78, 91, 101, 122, and 132. Tune in tomorrow to the live stream. #Support Lets do this!
We only got to play the first two with the time allotted and we are currently in 8th place! We are 2-0 and extremely excited for tomorrow. Tomorrow will consist of many more matches, scouting, and going to the big dome (we are currently at Union Station)! At the Edwards Jones Dome we will have opening ceremonies, a college/scholarship row, and we will be able to see the FRC (First Robotics Competition) and the FLL (First Lego League)… We will also be able to see the companies who helped sponsor this event and get a lot of one on one information from them.
I don’t really have a lot of information except for good news. The robot is still working great as well as the team members. Just remember: Gracious Professionalism and Continuous Improvement!
Thank you so much to the community/business’s who helped get us here! You guys mean SO much to us! #MonkeySwag #WorldChampionship #International #SUPERCOOL
Hey guys! So today has been crazy and it is currently only 11:11 (make a wish!) I’m sitting upstairs in Union Station, away from the pit area so that I can blog. We can’t have wifi or hot spots in the pit area OR the arena because it will interfere with the robots and the game. We haven’t started playing matches yet, but we did have judging this morning! So, in the FTC judging happens at different times at every competition. This year is happened at 9:30 AM….bright and early. In judging we have the whole team, our engineering notebook, our robot, and anything extra that we think we might need to show to judges. The judging room is usually 2-4 people, our coach and obviously…us! Every team has a different idea or strategy that they use to talk to judges. Public speaking can sometimes be really nerve wrecking so we practice before we go in and make sure the team knows what they are saying. It is cool to see how the team becomes more confident and bold with speaking as the season goes on. For the World Championship we chose to set up our blogging like this:
1. Everyone will walk in and shake the judges hand while lining up saying “hello” or “how are you?”
2. We will the the judges stickers, buttons and key chains.
3. Logan Gross (one of the main speakers/a senior on the team) will be a key speaker along with me (Molly…who is also a senior) He will help transition from one topic to the next and I will help with forgotten or missing information.
4. As we step forward to speak, we will introduce ourselves.
5. After we all talk about what we have done/presented everything to the judges, we will ask if they have any questions (assuming there is time left..)
We only have 20 minutes to tell them about 9 months of progress, so sometimes it can get kind of tricky and we have to choose the more important topic. And today…for the FIRST time this season, we were able to finish judging AND answer questions from the judges which is a huge accomplishment considering we have a team of 17. Now that judging is over, the robot has to go to judging. She has to pass hardware/software inspections and she has to be able to fit in a 18×18 inch box. Only 4 or 5 of the team members go to robot inspections though. It is usually our main programmer, and our drive team. While they are doing that the rest of the Sock Monkeys have time to take pictures, scout, have some free time, or sit in the pit area. I usually sit in the pit area, but right now I am blogging. 😛 The people who sit in the pit area always smile, and say “Hi” to as many people as possible. A lot of other teams will come and scout us out, asking about our robots abilities, strengths, and weakness’s. We will have a lunch break from 12:30-1:30 and then we will continue on our day. Today isn’t very exciting because we haven’t started matches yet. We have gotten to meet the South Korean’s, the Australians, the Middle Easterners, and the Canadians though! Everyone else has been from the United States so far.
I’ll post tonight again with all of the pictures, etc!
Hey guys, it’s Molly again! And for those of you who don’t know who I am…well, I am Molly. I am a senior in high school this year (12th grade.) I am a part of Team 4443: Sock Monkeys and we are a robotics team through the FTC.
What does FTC stand for/mean? The acronym FTC stands for First Tech Challenge, which is part of the FIRST program. FTC consists of students grades 8-12 and allows students to experience parts – small or large – of the engineering world. Robotics teams start the competition season by learning what that year’s challenge is; they then immediately get to work on designing and building a robot that is best suited to that year’s challenge. The robot also has certain limitations, in parameters such as size, materials, and shape. There are also other regulations that must be followed, like certain restrictions on modifications to parts and rules in the competition. Teams have a lot of freedom with their designs, and many teams use 3D printed parts designed using programs like Creo or AutoCad. In addition to the physical aspect of building the robot, participants also sharpen their minds by solving the problems presented to them (both in robot design and during competition matches) and by building relations with other teams and their community. The core principle of FTC is “Gracious Professionalism” – giving respect and help in order to make the FTC program fair and fun, while bettering all those involved. FTC and FIRST provide participants with the tools they need to build useful skills that will help them succeed, whether they pursue engineering or any other path in life.
Why are we blogging? We are blogging because we sent an email to Scott McLeod (who talked to us last year when we went to Worlds the first time) and he asked us to post updates on how we’re doing. We also update our adventures on our website and other social media:
Facebook: search “Sock Monkeys”
If you have any personal questions, email us at
How did we get here? We got here (to the World Championship) because we qualified at the FTC North Super Regional competition, but our story stretches back further than that. We hosted a competition at our high school on November 15th, where I was volunteer coordinator. We qualified for the State competition at our league championship on January 10th, and this meant that we were moving on to the big leagues. From there we competed at State (March 6-7) and moved on to the North Super Regional (March 26-28). There, we qualified and moved on to the World Championship!
Where are we right now? Right now, we are at the FTC World Championship in St. Louis, Missouri getting ready to compete with 128 teams from countries around the world. Between April 22nd and 25th, we’ll compete like we have all year, but we’ll be with (and against) the best FTC teams across the globe.
What is the game this year? The 2014-2015 season FTC game is called “Cascade Effect.” Robots drop different sized whiffle balls into tubes of varying heights to score points. Two alliances of two teams each have 2 1/2 minutes to score the balls, move the goals, and overall try to outperform the other team. Here’s a link to the full explanation of the game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABmBxCwHV94
What are some accomplishments we have made this season other than in competitions? FIRST is much more than just building a robot and competing in matches. Teams also build lasting friendships with other teams and help out their community. The Sock Monkeys have an address book containing many of the teams that we’ve met, which allows us to keep in contact with them throughout the season and help them with any problems they may have. We have also featured as stories on several different news outlets, one being CRI (here’s a link to the video! ) and the other being the Oskaloosa Herald, our town newspaper (here’s an article they wrote about us ) We have also done a lot of outreach!
Please watch the posts and stay updated!
Just a heads-up that Team 4443, The Sock Monkeys (@4443sockmonkeys), from Oskaloosa, Iowa will be returning to this blog to share its experiences at the First Robotics Championships in St. Louis, Missouri. Molly Bleything will be sharing out this year’s challenge, photos and videos of the team in action, and other items of note. Hope you’ll leave her and the team some positive encouragement!
Image credit: Sock Monkeys