By George Couros with Katie Novak
Excerpts from Innovate Inside the Box: Empowering Learners Through UDL and the Innovator’s Mindset, Chapter 10, “Creators.”
GC: Here is a little confession: I have a gigantic #ManCrush on Ryan Gosling. I think he is amazingly talented and love his range in so many roles; La La Land is in my top ten movies of all time! He is one of my favorite actors in the world and has been for a long time. And he is Canadian!
That is why I laughed hysterically when I saw a series on the Vine app (I miss you so much, Vine!) called “Ryan Gosling won’t eat his cereal.” In segments no longer than six seconds each, someone would find clips of Ryan Gosling in movies and try to feed him a spoonful of cereal by standing in front of a screen and slowly moving cereal to his mouth—that he would ultimately deny. It was amazing how many different ways Ryan Gosling would deny the cereal (he is so versatile), from making faces of disgust to actually making movements to swat the cereal away from his mouth. Every six-second video would bring me to tears as it was so random yet funny.
The mastermind behind the videos was Ryan McHenry, a Scottish film director. With each short creation, he brought joy to the world and smiles to a ton of people. Ryan Gosling even acknowledged in an April 2015 tweet that one thing people didn’t know about him was that he actually loved cereal, a little nod to the meme created by Ryan McHenry.
In 2013, Ryan McHenry was diagnosed with a form of cancer, osteosarcoma. Through his diagnosis, chemotherapy treatments, and remission, he continued to make short videos that connected a community to his story. The cancer eventually returned, and McHenry passed away in May of 2015. I didn’t even know about McHenry’s passing until I saw a strange video of a bowl of cereal on Vine, with Ryan Gosling taking a spoonful of cereal, making a slight nod, and eating cereal in front of the audience. Gosling actually created a Vine account just to take a moment to eat cereal and acknowledge McHenry.
Gosling then followed up with a tweet: “My heart goes out to all of Ryan McHenry’s family and friends. Feel very lucky to have been a part of his life in some small way.” Seriously, Ryan Gosling? You have to be gorgeous, talented, and sweet?
I share this story of Ryan McHenry and Ryan Gosling often as something that seems so ridiculous and minute, but actually has a very powerful underlying message. Little creations that may seem insignificant can have a big impact on the world. In education, we talk about developing the next person to create “Facebook,” but the little cereal videos McHenry created brought smiles to so many people in a time when it seems we need more light in the world.
When my daughter was born, I played a song titled “Growing Up” by Ryan Macklemore on repeat. My favorite lines from the song are:
Don’t try to change the world, find something that
And do it every day
Do that for the rest of your life
And eventually, the world will change
What McHenry shared in his short twenty-seven years embodied this lyric to a tee. What we create doesn’t have to be “big” to have an impact. Small gifts continuously shared over time can make an incredible difference in the world.
Why the Word “Create” Is So Crucial to Education in Our World Today
A quote from Thomas Friedman has shaped a lot of my thinking:
The world only cares about—and pays off on—what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it).
In other words, it isn’t what we know that matters; it is what we do with what we know—what we create—that matters. I believe that to be true, and yet I remember reading a Wikipedia article on “Internet Culture” that said only 1 percent of people online create content, and 99 percent consume. I have no idea the validity of that statistic, but let’s think of it in terms of school. How often do high school students in school consume information from Wikipedia versus contribute to a Wikipedia article, in a serious manner? Even in classrooms, we confuse regurgitation of information with creation.
Chris Lehman, the CEO of the Science Leadership Academy Schools in Philadelphia, makes this point brilliantly:
If you assign a project and get back thirty of the exact same thing, that’s not a project—that’s a recipe.
Are our students clamoring to “create” in schools? Maybe in kindergarten. But too often the need to create gets “schooled” out of them before they leave elementary school. I have worked with students in schools where their own mobile devices are not allowed in classrooms, and I ask them, “If you could bring your device, how would you use it in the classroom?” The typical answers I hear over and over again are “to Google stuff” and “as a calculator.”
It’s always disheartening, because I know there is so much students can create with technology! Information searches and calculations don’t even scratch the surface of what they could do with even a device as simple as their smartphone. But when they aren’t encouraged to create or to explore the possibilities for creation, “to Google stuff” and “as a calculator” are the best they can come up with—at school. The story might be completely different at home.
KN: Embracing Student-Centric Creations
In Universal Design for Learning (UDL), we want all students to be creators and makers. I asked my second-grade daughter what she wants to learn to make in school. Her answer: “I want to learn how to make robot puppies.” Now, how many classes are providing her with the skills to make those robot puppies?! In all seriousness, our kids have passions and interests, and when we align our goals and standards with personalized assessments, magic happens. Assessments need to move beyond worksheets, essays, and presentations to more authentic applications that include student-centric creations.
We are much more likely to persevere when we know our goal and are empowered to choose what we create to reach it. One of the UDL guidelines reminds educators to “optimize choice and autonomy.”
Provide choices. Options and choices are often used interchangeably, but they are not always synonymous. Too often, teachers give students options, but they do not give them choices. Students know what their options are. They know they can write blogs, produce videos, create projects, or work alone or with peers, but often they don’t have a choice in what they create. After you have your why, consider taking the time to tell students, “This is what you’ll be learning about in the next week. That is non-negotiable, but you get to decide what you want to create to show me that you met your goal. Let’s list four possible options together, so you can make a choice about how to best meet your goals.” (Innovate inside the box!) In a sixth-grade science class taught by the brilliant Caitlyn Morris, students had the following choices to express their understanding of the similarities and differences between solar and lunar eclipses:
- Create a poster (use any art medium you wish or graphically design on your Chromebook)
- Create a sketchnote (by hand or on Google Draw)
- Create a slideshow
- Create a Flipgrid video demonstration, and the link will be posted on Google Classroom (this could also be in homage to the Ryan Gosling cereal videos!)
Innovators need to be creators, not just consumers. With that in mind, teachers need to provide numerous opportunities for students to create by providing options and choices for students to collaborate, examine exemplars of creativity, find solutions to problems, use non-traditional formats to consume new information and content, and have the flexibility to put the ideas together to create and express new and better ideas.
George Couros is a leading educator in the area of innovative leadership, teaching, and learning. He has worked with all levels of school, from K-12 as a teacher, technology facilitator and as a school and district administrator. firstname.lastname@example.org
Katie Novak, Ed.D., is an internationally renowned education consultant as well as a practicing leader in education as an Assistant Superintendent of Schools in Massachusetts. email@example.com