Give Them Room to “Just Do the Thing”


High school history teacher Diana Laufenberg has witnessed some amazing learning—and learned to step back and allow her students to fail along the way.

In this brief TED Talks video, Laufenberg discusses how profound changes in the information landscape have altered education, opening up opportunities for experiential, student-centered learning focused on exploration and creativity. During her father’s childhood, she explains, kids went to school to gain information; school was where the information was. When she was a kid, her parents bought a set of encyclopedias and, as the locus of information shifted to include her home, education shifted as well. Students in the public high school where Laufenberg now teaches each have a laptop that is fully connected and portable. If information is everywhere, what is school for? Laufenberg argues for learning as a creative process involving failure, processing failure, learning from failure, and trying again. School is no longer about accessing information—kids can do that anywhere; school can now be about playing with information. Want to hear more about the kinds of activities that have opened up these types of learning experiences for Laufenberg’s students? Click here for the full 10-minute video.

2nd Imagination Practice Winner Announced

Image by Orin Zebest*

We recently announced that the next winning imagination practice might find its way into the upcoming revised edition of Imagination First. Well, so might the winner of the current contest round. Let’s have California teacher Betty Cavanaugh tell you about her imagination practice in her own words:

“What is the world’s biggest secret? That is the prompt I use with students. Their imagination soars with that question because the answers are limitless. After working in a group to generate ridiculous answers, students select their favorite response to develop into a colorful drawing and written story. Some favorite answers include: All the dinosaurs migrated to the center of the earth and their movement causes earthquakes. Animals are actually alien life forms from other planets. Tiny gnomes and fairies come out at night and paint the colors on all the flowers and leaves. Students enjoy playing this ‘game’ that also generates creative, imaginative written responses and dynamic artwork. I have also used this lesson during long car rides with my children.”

Cavanaugh is also an author. For a peek at her book, Multicultural Art Activities, check it out here on Google Books.

Cavanaugh joins our first winner Randy Compton, a Colorado teacher and creator of educational toys called Think-ets, in winning an iPod as a prize. Both might be included in the second edition of Imagination First. The third round of the competition is now underway! Read Imagination First and think about other practices of possibility from your own work and life. Write them up and submit them. Our team will read and review all the practices you submit and post them online. Don’t delay: the deadline to submit your practice for the next round of the competition is November 15th!

*There is a Creative Commons license attached to this image.

Not on the Test

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Singer-songwriter Tom Chapin, who grew up in the NYC public schools, worries about the potential long-term consequences for students in cases where testing requirements drive school curriculum.

Thinking’s important. It’s good to know how.
And someday you’ll learn to but someday’s not now.
Go on to sleep, now. You need your rest.
Don’t think about thinking. It’s not on the test.

Chapin reminds us of the importance of a well-rounded curriculum—including the arts—in educating students for a future that is sure to value imagination and creativity as critical capacities.

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Sparking the Imagination

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“LCI’s mandate to empower classroom teachers calls to mind the safety instructions you often hear on an airplane: Put on your own oxygen mask before you help the child sitting next to you. In other words, a teacher has to first engage her own imagination before she can help her students tap into theirs.”



Dance journalist Michelle Vellucci has written a nuanced Dance Teacher Magazine article describing Lincoln Center Institute’s approach to imaginative teaching and learning, by way of describing educators’ experiences during a 2009 summer professional development workshop focused on the digital work of art Ghostcatching (a collaboration by choreographer Bill T. Jones and digital artists Shelley Eshkar and Paul Kaiser). In addition to providing a window on the learning process of course participants, Vellucci provides an introduction to the Institute’s philosophical grounding and interviews a classroom teacher about his and his fifth-grade students’ explorations of Ghostcatching during a successful unit the previous school year.

Read Vellucci’s full article.

Learn more about LCI’s summer professional development workshops.

Ghostcatching image: choreographed and performed by Bill T. Jones digital artistry by Shelley Eshkar and Paul Kaiser

Classroom image: Nancy Bareis

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