Author Archives: Nikos Kritsantonis

About Nikos Kritsantonis

Nikos Kritsantonis has been working in international education the past 10 years. His experience has been enriched, both professionally and culturally, by working in diverse school environments in Europe and Asia as a Homeroom teacher, Theater manager and Drama Coordinator. Nikos sees himself as a facilitator of students' knowledge. He is passionate about implementing technology and design thinking to his practice, and his educational philosophy aligns with the inquiry-driven educational movement. He believes that the teachers’ role is to create learning environments where kids will find the space to unfold their unique talents. 

HOW TO BUILD THE MOST MAGNIFICENT THING

Ashley Spires’ book “The Most Magnificent Thing”, inspired this 6 Part series looking at the power of “Growth Mindset” in Early years education and beyond each part has been “paired” with an online video reference to extend the conversation

– by Nikos Kritsantonis, Origins Education

Study after study has shown the incredible capacity of brains to grow and change in a really short time. When we talk about early years education this capacity is significantly increased. At this developmental stage the plasticity of the human brain allows students to learn much easier and be very creative. Every student possesses talents; with the right support of the environment and with experience they will shape the type of personality that will allow them to be successful in their lives. The key in this process is the development of a specific type of mindset. A type of mindset that values obstacles and sees mistakes as a learning opportunity.

Anyone who needs advice on how to build magnificent things should visit a school that promotes creativity and embraces the culture of making. Being creative, being a maker is a mindset. The learning process, especially in Early years, offers great insight on the concept of creativity  and how grown-ups have abolished it for fear of failure. At some point we all have failed at something; for most people failure is a dead end, yet for others it is a guide that shows the way.


How to build the most magnificent thing

 

Can creativity, innovation and talents be taught?  How is school responsible for students’ success?

Study after study has shown the incredible capacity of brains to grow and change in a really short time. When we talk about early years education this capacity is significantly increased. At this developmental stage the plasticity of the human brain allows students to learn much easier and be very creative. Every student possesses talents; with the right support of the environment and with experience they will shape the type of personality that will allow them to be successful in their lives. The key in this process is the development of a specific type of mindset, a type of mindset that values obstacles and sees mistakes as a learning opportunity.

Anyone who needs advice about how to build magnificent things should visit a school that promotes creativity and embraces the culture of making. Being creative, being a maker, is a mindset. The learning process, especially in Early years, offers great insight on the concept of creativity  and how grown-ups have abolished it in fear of failure. At some point we all have failed at something; for most people failure is a dead end, yet for others it is a guide that shows the way.

Developing a Growth Mindset 

Last week I took part in a teachers’ workshop titled “Teaching with 21st century skills in mind”, led by Lance G. King. The facilitator has made an impact on education with his book “The Importance of Failing Well”. In this book the author, based on his research, claims that, among other qualities, successful students demonstrated acceptance of failure, while underachievers tended to deny that failure existed for them or took steps to avoid the possibility of failure in their lives. Lance G King, claims that students with a growth mindset see failure as an opportunity for feedback, that they believe that personality and intelligence can change and grow, and that they also believe in continual improvement through adaptation. In other words, the mindset of successful students does not let failure get in their way to success!
Psychologist and Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, in her book: “Mindset:The New Psychology of Success” summarized the key findings from her research on the nature and impact of mindsets. Her decades long research showed that students with a growth mindset, who believe that intelligence and “smartness” can be learned, go on to higher levels of achievement, engagement, and persistence.

Growth Mindset VS. Fixed Mindset

Mathematician John Mason from the University of Oxford claims that all students have “natural powers” in problem solving. He claims that these powers are integral to human intelligence and are used across fields of human activity. When it comes to being a successful problem solver, it is really about learning to use these powers within the right context. Cognitive psychologist Lev Vygotsky used the example of mathematics to argue that learning is a scientific endeavour and that students need to be in the presence of a teacher, who will scaffold the process of learning. It is within that process that students make meaning and they eventually become aware of how  fundamental  is to human intelligence to follow that process.

Another influential educator and mathematician Jo Boaler,  in her book “The Elephant in the Classroom” claims that ” one of the most damaging mathematics myths propagated in classrooms and homes is that maths is a gift, that some people are naturally good at maths and some are not”

It is not only academics and mathematicians who are making the point that success is something you learn. Writers and artists as well are argue that what most people refer to as talent is the result of perseverance, resilience, self-awareness and systematic work, qualities that are at the core of 21st Century learning skills.

So, if we all have the power to be creative what’s getting in our way? Here lays the importance of  Early years education. It is at this developmental stage that kids shape their mindset and it is really vital to make positive connections about their abilities and build trust on themselves.

Problem solving in the life of young learners

As an early years teacher I see pure creativity in my classroom every day and my role is to support the students’ “natural powers” . A book that I love to use as a reference about the beauty of making and the power of  perseverance and resilience is  “The Most Amazing Thing”.

Author and illustrator Ashley Spires in this book  writes about a little girl who, alongside her best friend, her lovely dog, has a wonderful idea of making the “most MAGNIFICENT thing!”.  The little girl starts with enthusiasm.

but when things don’t go as she has planned she feels such a disappointment that she decides to “QUIT”.   

The little girl didn’t know back then that this is a phase of problem solving which is called “Being STUCK”.  

If you are a maker you sure know how it feels! Writers and artists call this stage “creative block”. John Mason claims that “being STUCK” is a honorable and positive state from which much can be learned. There is a major physiological impact when we are creating something. Stress comes with creativity and creativity as well as stress are  physical, a matter of hormone secretion that produces that special feeling. In that stage, positive reinforcement is crucial.

And this is what our little heroine did.  After a long walk with her best friend and after she treats herself a muffin, the mad gets pushed out of her head. It might take some time but, as all teachers know, with the right support makers will go back to work. It is that time where reflection turns “Stuck” into “AHA!”.

Dr. Ken Atchity, whose work is part of very prestigious creative writing curriculums in universities around the world, claims that in that stage of creative block our mind is testing us to see how serious we are about our desire to be disciplined and to get the best from reflection.

Understanding how the process works is what converts anxiety to elation. As a learner and a maker, the challenge of  been successful in pursuing your passion is not to avoid anxiety but to cope with it and turn it in positive energy.  

Back to our story, the girl, who is now calmer, starts ” to work carefully and slowly, tinkering, hammering, gluing and painting”, or in the problem solving language, she entered the ATTACK phase,

and in the end :  

The little girl in the story is a maker, she had the growth mindset to see the opportunity where others would have “failed bad”.

Her early failures enable her to gain control over her mood or the effective skill of emotional management. She also demonstrated perseverance and resilience. All these are part of the 21st century skills that modern education sets at the core of the teaching practice.

Once the environment supports the cognitive and physical growth of every child and learning is designed to scaffold learners capacity to be creative and develop their super powers innovation happens in the classroom every day.We can see it as long as we know where to look and how to support it. If we don’t recognize it, we are the ones that are failing, not out students.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

China Educational Equipment Exhibition

Recently I attended  ‘China’s Educational Equipment Exhibition at Beijing’s Conventional Centre.

As an educator with a keen interest in technology integration, I was able to get a clear picture of the market and the plethora of educational resources that were available.

Together with Grace Yang we presented Origins vision on how technology changes teaching practice.

I was delighted with the high attendance and the engagement from the visitors but most importantly I was very glad to interact with other educators who share the same concern and ideas about  21st century learning and modern teaching.

Our presentation was an introduction to what Origins has to offer as a learning institute in the rapidly changing field of education. After the end of the presentation, we had the chance to exchange experiences with other educators and explore ideas on the ways we can implement tools like robots and drones in students’ learning.

 

Coding in early years, why and how to start

Coding in early years, why and how to start

There is an increased demand for technology integration in the early years’ curriculum.

But what does this actually mean for young learners? More screen time for young kids, and less traditional play and contact with their peers?Actually no, the goal of technology integration in the curriculum is to maximise learning and not maximise technology usage. 

Any educator who has worked alongside with young students has observed how easy it is for them to implement technological elements in their projects. From using the classroom tablets , to using software like scratch jr. and creating their own simple machines, young learners need less time to understand how to use technology.

Unfortunately, it is the case that the ability and the interest that young students have to create, to “make” things are not always met in the curriculum.

Modern education worldwide aims at developing skills connected to creativity, problem solving and communication, alongside building the characteristics connected to social  awareness and empathy. The diagram below, from the World Economic Forum, illustrates the connections.

Many researchers and organisations have given the characteristics of a revolution to the rapid progress of technology; the world economic forum describe this growth as the  forth industrial revolution.

Even though most of the time we do not realise it, digital applications now manage nearly every aspect of our lives, both in our personal and professional lives, and it is clear that we can only guess how different the world will be in the next decades. The reality is that we prepare our students for a world that does not yet exist and to do so, we are using recourses that will be considered outdated in only a few years from now.

Therefore, understanding the principles behind technology gives us the ability to easily adapt to technological changes and it gives us freedom to use it as a tool to leverage and support our needs.

Why learn code?

We want learners to create as well as consume, understand as well as use, have knowledge on how things work. A knowledgeable person can deal with uncertainty but also he is more likely to invent something new.

Learning to code is about developing computational thinking.  Computational thinking aims to prepare young learners to become computational thinkers who understand how to use today’s digital tools to help solve tomorrow’s problems. ( ISTE Standards 2016).

Some of the attitudes related to computational thinking that are essential to young learners are confidence in dealing with complexity, ambiguity, being persistent in working with difficult problems and the ability to communicate and work with others.

Learning to code is not only about computers

Computer Science is not just for the big kids in High School; coding is considered by many researchers as a new type of literacy and should be available to everyone, starting at a young age.

A common misconception that people have, sometimes educators too, is that coding and computers science in general is all about how to use computers.

Computational thinking is a problem-solving process and it is the foundation of computer science. In Edsger  Dijksrta’s words “computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes”.

Coding is a language and has its root in mathematics.

What does it look like in the early years’ classroom?

As an early years teacher a many aspects of my teaching practice are built upon the “how does it work?” question.

The curiosity of young learners is the foundation on which they will build upon the understanding of the world around them.

Coding ,as mentioned before, is a language but also is the answer to the “how does it work?” question.

Having students wonder, explore and brainstorm about the ways things work is linked to many  academic “standards” and “skills”, but most importantly it is fun and engaging.

Children love to explore how things work by observing, playing and, why not, breaking things.

Going back to computational thinking as a problem- solving process, students explore, collaborate, reflect and finally discover the solution. It is through that process that they construct knowledge. Playing games where we are “coding” each other as robots, developing a plan to programme  bee-bots to go from one place of the map to another and playing with software like scratch jr. is fun and meaningful at the same time.

When students working together in coding activities they are  not only introduced to the logic behind coding but also they are learning how to formulate problems in a way that enables them to use tools to solve problems.

When students explore the differences between different “commands” and how to use them, they are introduced to algorithmic thinking, ( a series of ordered steps).

In the classroom sometimes we organize challenges were students need to code  a Lego robot to perform a specific task with time limitation. When they are working together they identifying, analyzing, and implementing possible solutions with the goal of achieving the most efficient and effective combination of steps and recourses.

There are some great recourses for teachers who would like to start coding activities in their classrooms. Some of them help you to introduce coding and computer science without even using any computers.

Recourses:

http://csunplugged.org/

https://code.org/

https://www.iste.org/

https://scratch.mit.edu/

Start Unplugged! Coding in Early Years.

CONQUERORS OF KNOWLEDGE

The Case of Young Language Learners

Staying in contact with your former students is something that makes every teacher happy. When I received an e-mail written in English from my 8-year-old Korean student, I was over the moon. Especially when I remember his first day in Kindergarten when he did not speak English – his progress makes me really proud!

The progress that my students make in second language learning has fascinated me, from the beginning of my teaching practice in international schools to this day. Of course, it is understandable that parents worry that it can be challenging for a young student to learn a second language.

It is very common for parents to voice their concerns on language learning in teacher-parent meetings. Drawing from our experience we find that, for our adult minds, learning a second language can be challenging. It takes commitment and, sometimes, is very frustrating.

It is well documented by recent studies, however, that learning a language in childhood is easier because of the plasticity of children’s developing brains; they can use both hemispheres while learning a new language, while for most adults language learning occurs in one hemisphere – usually the left. Research suggests that being bilingual can have a positive effect on a number of executive functions of the brain, including attention control, working memory, cognitive flexibility, reasoning, problem solving and planning.

I always advise parents to give space to their children and let them amaze them with their progress. Through interactive play, children explore language in ways that we, as adults, do not practise or even cannot practise and, therefore, at times, we do not understand.

“There is so much to learn in the early years, and learning is so complex, that perhaps it would be true to say that only young children are capable of it. Such capacity for uninterrupted, unthwartable, multidisciplinary learning deserves enormous respect from adults” – Nutbrown, C. 1996

Naturally, these learning environments do not just happen. They take thoughtful planning, meaningful assessment for learning with every child’s different needs and talents in mind and, most importantly, collaboration between the school and home.

Being a teacher with experience in multicultural settings, I am always impressed by the ability of the human mind to adapt in complex settings and the effectiveness of learning through active engagement, especially in environments that promote inquiry and exploration. Young students conquer knowledge with the enthusiasm of the explorers!

Take it Further:

I find this TED Ed video very informative, as it does not only focus on the benefits of a bilingual mind, but also on the ability that kids have to learn languages much easier than adults.

 

Conquerors of Knowledge : The Case of Young Language Learners

Staying in contact with your former students is something that makes every teacher happy. If I receive an e-mail written in English from your 8-year-old, Korean student, this makes me even happier. Especially, when I remember his first day in Kindergarten when he did not speak English, his progress makes me really proud!

The progress that my students make in second language learning has fascinated me from the beginning of my teaching practice in international schools to this day. Of course, it is understandable that parents worry that it can be challenging for a young student to learn a second language.

It is very common in teacher-parents meetings for parents to voice their concern on language learning. Drawing from our experience, we find that for our adult minds learning a second language can be challenging. It takes commitment and, sometimes, it is very frustrating.

It is well documented by recent studies that learning a language in childhood is easier because of the plasticity of children’s developing brains; they can use both hemispheres while learning a new language, while for most adults language learning occurs in one hemisphere, usually the left. Research suggests that being bilingual can have a positive effect on a number of executive functions of the brain, including attention control, working memory, cognitive flexibility, reasoning, problem solving and planning.

I always advise parents to give space to their children and let them amaze them with their progress. Through interactive play, children explore language in ways that we, as adults, do not practise or even cannot practise and, therefore, at times, we do not understand.

Naturally, these learning environments do not just happen. It takes thoughtful planning, meaningful assessment for learning with every child’s different needs and talents in mind and, most importantly, collaboration between the school and home.

Being a teacher with experience in multicultural settings, I am always impressed by the ability of the human mind to adapt in complex settings and the effectiveness of learning through active engagement, especially in environments that promote inquiry and exploration. Young students conquer knowledge with the enthusiasm of the explorers!

“There is so much to learn in the early years, and learning is so complex, that perhaps it would be true to say that only young children are capable of it. Such capacity for uninterrupted, unthwartable, multidisciplinary learning deserves enormous respect from adults” – Nutbrown, C. 1996

I find this TED Ed video very informative, as it does not only focus on the benefits of a bilingual mind, but, also, on the ability that kids have to learn languages much easier than adults.

Click to watch the TED Ed presentation:

Bilingual Brain - TEDEd