Monday, February 16, 2015

7 conditions for 7 things kids need to succeed

Thank you CBC for the article entitled ‘The 7 things kids need to succeed: Character traits include grit, self-control and social intelligence.’
This piece is based on the work of journalist and author Paul Tough, ‘How Children Succeed—Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.’

There were a few thoughts that immediately popped in my mind when I read the article. The first thought was ‘how do we define success?’  I appreciated the mention of what ‘becoming successful adults’ means, according to Tough and that is ‘being successful in achieving their goals.’
Great! We are on the same path here. But where our paths separate is in how to achieve their goals.

Don't expect school to teach the 7 personality traits for success, as outlined by Tough: grit, curiosity, self-control, social intelligence, zest, optimism and gratitude.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Failure is the new winning: Discovery, innovation and growth come from learning from our mistakes

Happy New Year! I have to be honest, I have neglected my blog, but I promise, I will post weekly from now on, even if that means reposting (it likely will until things slow down in a few months).
In the mean time, check out my latest article in the Hamilton Spectator on failure; a reflection for the new year.

Jan 12. 2015

Hamilton Spectator
By Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko

A running joke in our family goes that growing up, we were supposed to be born knowing how to do things well. At the family's "haute couture" tailoring establishment, mom would throw something random at us, like embroidering an elaborate design on an African boubou and expect it to come out perfectly, beautiful stitches evenly distributed.

"I can't" was not option. You learned, and quick about it. Sounds tough, but I believe mom's 'can-do' attitude, helped foster resiliency to cope with life's challenges and failures, keeping us trying and not giving up easily.

Failure. Everybody is talking about how failure is not a bad thing, it's the new winning: discovery emerges from failing, innovation comes from failing, growth develops from making errors. In business, failure can be a stepping-stone toward fortune. In education, we're hearing how kids ought to be encouraged to explore and make mistakes.

In fact it's got to the point that admitting to mistakes, especially as a public figure has been twisted into one cheeky way of letting yourself off the hook: "I'm sorry. I'm human." (I like to make a distinction between making mistakes and wrongdoing. Mistakes are made unintentionally; they are errors of judgment. Wrongdoing is intentional — like cheating on your taxes or having an affair).

At a Toronto conference last month, the keynote of a very successful British Columbia nonprofit shared his failure story, complete with the yearly "failure report."

"Canadians don't like to admit failure," he commented in passing, he himself a born- and-raised American.

Whether or not we take offence, it's worth looking at: what is the cost of focusing solely on good points? At all levels, be it personal, at work, in the community or in the country, by not examining when or where we fail, we give up opportunities to figure out how we can improve and be better. Hiding or ignoring our shortcomings, hoping they'll go unnoticed is self-deception. We end up stunting ourselves.

In our high-speed world of constant change, that price is too high.

We are still acting and thinking in a way that doesn't correspond to the reality of today — whether than means social justice, economy and work, environment, education. The two aren't jiving.

School is still largely about getting the right answer, business carries on mostly seeking to make maximum profit (screw future generations) and being right is better than doing right.

But now more than ever, with the global-size problems we face, remaining uncomfortable with failure is not an option; we need to practice "smart failure," trying over and over again, striving for the changes that need to happen.

For change to occur, we have to risk failure — which of course is at the heart of the matter. The feeling of shame that failure can bring and the desire to avoid shame at any cost keeps people from risking failure.

However, we can't face failure without talking about shame, and we can't talk about shame without talking about vulnerability.

"Adaptability to change is all about vulnerability," writes Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston. "It's the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change."

Furthermore, "Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage, not weakness," Brown says.

Brown's message is that if we accept vulnerability into our lives, failure (which is inevitable at some point if you are breathing) won't look so bad when it occurs.

Young children can teach us a lot about overcoming failure. Fear of embarrassment is not on their radar. A young child will keep at it, until they get to where they want to be, or learn the skill they are after. Creative people and innovators share this unbending focus.

We need more people daring and risking failure in order to grow stronger, healthier people and communities.

There are many signs of hope. For example, what's exciting is a growing openness about sharing work in progress as opposed to presenting the final, "perfect" product or concept at completion.

At a recent McMaster University W Booth School of Engineering Practice 'Open Innovation Studio' session (at the Hamilton Public Library), I was in a room full of student engineers who are working on solutions to real world problems. This session was for the public and community partners to hear reports on the students' innovation challenges.

I was impressed by how receptive the presenters were to the audience’s probing questions, their willingness to engage beyond university walls and their honesty in exposing their challenges publicly.

Experiences like this are heartening — proving that it’s happening, we are becoming comfortable with exposing uncertainty and valuing the learning in failing.

Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko is a Hamilton freelance writer and blogger. Read more of her writing at

Thursday, December 18, 2014

16 Cs of Open Source Learning

I had the pleasure of presenting at Hamilton's Function Keys 2 Conference last month. My presentation was entitled 'Open-source learning: education from a wider community perspective, technology, and culture.' For the occasion, I developed 16 Cs of Open Source learning and here they are:

karlsson on the roof

  • Curiosity 
  • Creativity
  • Coolness  
  • Challenge
  • Complexity
  • Context
  • Conversation
  • Collaboration
  • Connection 
  • Contribution 

Examples of Open Source Learning:

  • Community and Communities of Practice
  • Crowd accelerated Innovation (‘cycles of improvement’ driven by people watching web videos TED- Chris Anderson: How YouTube is driving innovation).
  • Collectives and Cooperatives
  • Clubs and Circles and Cafe
  • Culture
  • Commons

I won't put up the whole presentation here but if you are interested contact me.

Friday, November 07, 2014

The child's need for complexity.

My mum gave my 4-year-old nephew a stuffed toy snake—cute for his baby sister but certainly not for a sophisticated “builder” like he considers himself to be. Without a backward glance, he tossed it over his shoulder and asked me, “Where is that other snake? The one with moving parts?”

Complexity. Something with a bit of a challenge; something that will stretch the mind, get you into the zone, require a change in perspective even.

I recall when my teens were little. With the oldest, I was reading the Lord of the Rings when she was..7. And she loved it. It became the defining book of her life for years. She memorized entire passages out of that book!
Gosh, even before that, she was 6 and her sisters 3 and 4 and they were all reciting from a beautiful children's Shakespeare film series, Macbeth (“Is this a dagger which I see before me?.....I have thee not...Or art thou but a dagger of the mind, a false creation!” I recall my then 3 year old lisping away).

It was fun and exciting for them, and I am pretty sure they understood very little of it. But they felt the grandeur, the rhythm, the depth therein, and this was enough; this was what they needed to suck on and grow a little more.

Literature was never basic. Winnie the Pooh was the original material, with all the nuances, reflections, humour and unadulterated language intact. Nothing predictable and trite--material we parents could enjoy as well.
This is what they could grasp--that there was something bigger than they, something to aspire to, some knowledge that they would get to by and by, and eventually understand.

The world was delivered to them in its entirety; there were no bit-sized pieces offered up. They bit of what they could chew—how ever they could manage it, no pressure, just their own personal interest and curiosity. They could ruminate over what they took in, they could find meaning and apply it within the context of their lives.

To my delight, I read in the Telegraph about research conducted by the University of Liverpool (Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems) that shows how brain activity is increased by exposure to poetry or language such as Shakespeare’s.
For example volunteers read a line from King Lear: “A father and a gracious aged man: him have you madded”. They then read a simpler version: “A father and a gracious aged man: him you have enraged.”
The researchers report that Shakespeare’s use of the adjective “mad” as a verb sparked a higher level of brain activity than the straightforward prose. The study tested how long the effect lasted. It found that the “peak” triggered by the unfamiliar word was sustained onto the following phrases, suggesting the striking word had hooked the reader, with their mind “primed for more attention.”
Philip Davis, an English professor and research on the study explains, "The research shows the power of literature to shift mental pathways, to create new thoughts, shapes and connections in the young and the staid alike.”
The study also mentions that self-reflection is enhanced  and what is education without self-knowledge?
And now when I hear about parents fretting that their 4 year old doesn’t know her letters, I cringe!
“She doesn’t know the basics!” the parent wails. “Everyone else her age does! She will be left behind,” wahhhh!
There is a reason why the basics are called basic—because they are just that. They are quickly learnable.
I try to reassure parents with young children that they are exactly where they should be--playing, being read to, been taken out into nature to observe first hand the complexity of their natural world, every leaf, every rock, every cloud, a miracle unto itself.

Challenge children with ideas to mull over; have discussions with them.  Many well known people have been raised this way; young Leonardo da Vinci hung out with his uncle, who spent hours with him, examining nature and discussing their findings.  Louisa Alcott's childhood home life was filled with evenings of Concord's most stimulating minds, and walks and talks with Henry David Thoreau.  Einstein's parents encouraged his questions (once he finally decided to start talking).

Seeking out and embracing complexity with children can be a powerful experience for the both of you.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Technology, Education and Poverty

In Ontario, there's a plan to provide every kid from grade 4 to 12 with access to technology (iPad, tablet etc). There's this idea that with technology in the classroom, school is going to be the "great equalizer" at last.
We are not so naive as to believe that access to technology in education will level the playing field and poor kids will miraculously have the same opportunities their wealthier peers have.

But while handing out ipads will not overcome poverty, access to technology will empower poor students in learning. Access to technology via ipads will offer opportunities for children to work together, research, and collaborate in areas that interest them.

Take for example Sugata Mitra’s experiment in Indian villages. Mitra installed a computer in a wall and documented illiterate slum children figuring out how to use it, and then actually using it to learn and share knowledge.
Mitra has since designed ‘School in the Cloud,’ a learning lab in India, where children can explore and learn from each other —no teachers present—using resources and mentoring from the cloud. Mitra proposes Self Organized Learning Environments (SOLE), which he defines as “broadband, collaboration and encouragement put together.”

Fact is, school, as we know it is history. School is obsolete (especially relevant for poor kids). Done. Terminated.  Can I say it any more succinctly?
Today, students are called on to be the drivers of their own learning.

The internet offers an unprecedented opportunity to do so. We can find out what we want to know in seconds. We can connect in groups and across the world, with others who share similar interests and concerns.

Open Source Learning

Another way to understand where education is heading, what’s stirring in the Zeitgeist and taking hold of the imagination can be understood as ‘open-source learning.’
We have heard of the concept 'open-source' in internet circles; anything can be learned over the internet. There is a new openness to educational resources. Institutions of higher learning are offering free online course materials. MIT (Open CourseWare) has over 2000 gratuitous course materials, their motto being "Unlocking knowledge, empowering minds."
Open source learning is based on extending this idea to all learning, to everyone. It's a term that I believe was coined by none other than John Taylor Gatto.
Technology is lowering the costs of education: expensive textbooks will no longer be a barrier to education.

Joint Collective Agencies and Communities of Practice

It is happening everywhere; learning in communities, work groups and collaborations. ‘Communities of practice’—a term coined by John Seely Brown—is the new learning spaces and places representative of this new culture of learning.
Kids getting together and pursuing their passions in joint collective agency, is the revolutionary wave in education. Learning in community, engaging one another, practicing 'deep tinkering' 'marinating in the experience' are some of the ideas for a new culture of learning that Seely-Brown is popularizing.

My teen has been participating in virtual communities for years now, first following her interests in the arts and now focusing on anti-oppression, social justice activism. Exchanging conversation, picking up ideas, reciprocating with her fellow bloggers, the amount of learning she is doing through social media like tumblr is astounding.

Here’s where she goes to dialogue, critic, share, challenge and be challenged. Her virtual community supports the work she does and she in turn supports the work of its members. I never realized how powerful this tool for learning is until I saw the comments and feedback she gets from fellow ‘social justice warriors’—spurring her on to further work.
Online communities can provide the support that a kid might not otherwise be able to access (for example, children questioning gender). Shared experiences all factor into building the self-esteem that is critical in order to overcome abuse and injustices and yes, the trauma of poverty itself.

Not what you know but who you know.

Do you have a linkedin account? I do. We all know that developing personal networks is invaluable for professional growth. Who knows? We might get discovered or at least, land a job.
There’s the concept of personal learning network’ (PLN) to describe the cultivating of personal networks for learning opportunities. PLNs are those connections individual learners make to suit their specific learning needs.

Connections are being made on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Blogs, Google Hangouts and more. Ahead of the adults, young people connect online in a social context as well as a more strategic, intentional way in order to share, grow opportunities and stay involved and connected

For younger children, it is important to have the guidance and support of caring, knowledgeable, and trusted adults.

To wrap this up, I’d like to offer a quote from Mitra who says, “we need to look at learning as the product of educational self-organization. If you allow the educational process to self-organize, then learning emerges. It's not about making learning happen. It's about letting it happen. The teacher sets the process in motion and then she stands back in awe and watches as learning happens.”

Hand kids the technology, guide and counsel them, support their interests, facilitate their networking opportunities, and poverty will become less of a barrier to being educated.
Education is something that you have to want to pursue; no one can do it for you. But educators can pave the way.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Book Talk about Unschooling and Autonomy in Education: September 4th.

Book talk on Unschooling and Autonomy in Education today, September 4th at 6.30pm, Westdale library.
Listen to a first hand experience of unschooling then hear excerpts from the book.

Humans are natural learners. This collection of essays challenges much of mainstream beliefs about how people learn, encouraging the reader to consider deeply the need for learners to be trusted and listened to. Many of the authors in the book begin from a learner-centered, democratic perspective. Divided into three sections, the first part of the book deals with what constitutes a learner-centered approach to education. The second section addresses how some have implemented this approach. In the last section, learners who have lived learner-centred learning share narratives about their experiences.

To read more about the book, follow this link:

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The internet is the new battleground for fighting oppression.

Have you checked your privilege today?

It's getting a whole lot harder to avoid the inevitable 'calling out' of privilege.

In response to the rise of internet culture, social justice analysis and action has migrated to the internet, where it counteracts the culture of misogyny, racism, homophobia, trans*phobia, ableism, and general bigotry.

This internet culture is examining and challenging privilege starting of course with white skin privilege to the intersectionality of all forms of oppression.

The results of all this is that social justice internet culture is helping to shape contemporary discourse and influencing popular culture.

“The internet is the new battleground for fighting oppression,” my daughter insists.

Many young people utilize the social medium of Tumblr as a platform to promote and explore social justice issues. My 18 year old daughter is a huge tumblr blogger and from her experience it seems to be young women who are predominantly what they are calling 'Tumblr Social Justice Warriors' (TSJW—a derogatory label that people who blog about these issues are called by their critics, but who are reclaiming the name).

At last, non-privileged perspectives are beginning to present in mainstream culture—I think because of the speed at which everything happens faster via the internet; and examining one’s privilege is a starting point on the road to overcoming oppression in our societies.

My daughter’s community discusses, analyses, critiques popular culture in the context of oppression. It is a community that pushes her to stretch her thinking. It's an online space that for some participants is the only place where they can openly discuss their views, their very lives—away from the omnipresent lens of white culture.

They blog, reblog, quotes, images, essays and generally get and offer others an ongoing education on oppression and getting beyond it.

John Seely Brown writes about 'communities of practice' and 'joint collective agencies' based on passions and interests and how this is the future of education. Tumblr social justice is one such example where engaging one another, the participants practice what Seely Brown describes as  'deep tinkering' and 'marinating in the experience.'
What an education they are creating for themselves!

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