• Lee Zuk

The Human Mind: The Most Powerful Technology in the Classroom

Updated: Mar 20, 2020

Pukka’s mission to create epic learning. I’m Gabi Immelman. I am a theatre-maker and maker of learning experiences. I am also the founder of Pukka Theatre. Check out our incredible The Great Escape Holiday Workshop for Cape Town’s most creative kid!

The Pukka mission is to design and facilitate project-based learning experiences focused on developing the whole child. I believe children should be allowed the space to tell their stories and make things, including mistakes (fearlessly). “Mistakes are the worse things you can make” is fallacy that we seek to change, in fact we encourage them in the name of exploration and falling forward.

I have spent the past 3 years working in one of the most resource rich learning settings in the world, Palo Alto in the heart of Silicon Valley, which home turf to Facebook, Google and HP to name a few of the high-tech companies. It’s also home to the prestigious Stanford University. Silicon Valley is where the worlds smartest and best go to develop technology, its like the Broadway for technologists and thinkers. I spent most of my time facilitating some of the smartest people’s children’s learning. What’s more, is Palo Alto Unified school district is one of the top performing districts in the USA. This was both at times a challenge (especially when an 8 year old know more than you about the subject matter) and very exciting.

I came to realise that at any point in time a child could know more facts about one of the many things we learn and that I cover in a class or workshop. While I should have a solid understanding of content, I found it more useful that I was tuned in as to how children are learning, how connections are made and understanding built. If you are not prepared to be wrong you will probably never learn anything, because your more focused on being right than the art of discovery.

Ultimately, my job is facilitate their discovery process rather than to “fill” their brains with the things I knew, and this is something I observed from watching some excellent teachers and pedagogues from Silicon Valley to my time at the Lincoln Centre Education, for which I was selected to attend a summer lab to further my expertise.

Technology can transform the classroom, I saw how self-directed learning takes place when kids have access to devices (in fact multiple device) and in some instances the what is possible when technology is integrated into learning settings, feedback is almost instant allowing parents and learners to track their progress in real time. It’s really powerful stuff, and often I wondered what this would look in our under-resourced school in South Africa. How would we ever “catch-up” ?

With this in mind I started to realise that most powerful technology I experienced in Silicon Valley’s learning settings was not the devices or software but rather how powerful and transformative the minds facilitating the learning processes were.

Technology and knowledge are transforming society, and it’s happening faster than you can imagine. As educators in South Africa I believe we drastically need to transform our thinking about learning and we need to do so fast!

An overview of the South African schooling system from my perspective: The current schooling system is failing to prepare children with the necessary thinking tools and skills (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) for the future.Teachers are uninspired, lack motivation and pedagogical know-how to facilitate real learning. Punitive discipline is still the norm, teaching is instructional and transactional rather than transformational.Teaching to the test is dominates our schools, when in fact they obstruct learning and motivation to learn, especially if children believe that their education won’t improve their lives or help them achieve their goals.A culture of compliance has come to exist in our schools, there is little room for creativity and innovation. Sitting still and quietly in rows, behind a desk with your eyes on the teacher has been mistaken for learning.

Pukka’s Mission

Curiosity and childhood are synonymous. An excellent occurrence if you working with children ages 4–12. Children are natural learners, and incredibly curious which an excellent thing as curiosity is the engine of achievement. To wonder “What if?”, “How?” or “Why?” drives our discovery and wanting to attain knew knowledge and learn.

We use creative projects as a medium as it gives kids, with different interests and competencies, an opportunity learn in an immersive learning settings while working collaboratively on projects bigger than themselves. Our projects vary in children creating their own shadow theatres, painting large murals, to cardboard engineerings to screen-printing. We have various creative project modules that provide children with exciting and creative contexts to explore science, technology, engineering,art and math.

Teaching is a creative system, it’s not a transactional or delivery system, it is essential that education is concerned with igniting curiosity and that there is a direct connection between task and achievement. Through a variety of after-school, holiday and pop-up workshops we seek to create these kinds of learning settings. We host many of our workshops in the incredibly inspiring studio space at Youngblood Arts and Culture Development in Bree St, Cape Town. It is a hub that harbours expression, creativity and imagination in all it’s forms.

Learning with a bigger purpose

School stigmatises failure and original thinking — which hinder kids from learning to bounce back from failure and develop intrinsic motivation and a love for learning (what ever their interests may be).

Through our workshops we look at developing the whole child. Fostering children’s capacities and growing Confidence, Collaboration, Curiosity, Resilience and Body Control is at the heart of our practice. This is a pedagogy that I wish to share with other South African educators as I did at this years EduWeek at the CTICC.

We don’t need to change the entire school system to allow for this kind of learning. The good news is these skills can be learned, and the best time to do so is before the age of 12 . They can be learned quite fast — in as little as 6-8 weeks with consistent intervention. Pukka aims to foster resilience and core capacities by igniting children’s curiosity to explore and understand the world around them.When I see kids make or discover something that they didn’t expect or think possible, I truly believe that those are the magic learning moments. They’re the moment that I call hard fun, because often the biggest discoveries take place when we persevere even when its hard, and in doing so experience some kind of enjoyment.

If we can strive to create environments where we can experience autonomy, make choices and make discoveries, through mastering new skills and experience deliberate progress allows children to experience growth. Having a purpose, in other words working on something you believe matters, and being part of something that is bigger than yourself are really powerful and something we try harness through the Pukka experience.

Whether we are working with the children at under-resourced schools or with our paying parents at our after-school programmes. We strive to provide all children with world class learning opportunities so that they all discover their incredible potential.While there is no one path or strategy that guarantees learning and pedagogy that engenders intrinsic motivation, researching, reading and thinking about these ideas helps inform our practice. Understanding how we learn enables us to better design our activities and provides us for a lens to improve our facilitation of learning processes. After all, it is our domain to care about the creative lives and curiosities of learners, if they are not learning, then how can we call ourselves teachers?

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