The great upheaval

exploring: The Blue School & The Blue Rider
engaging: art and play
learning: the change of expressions leads to a change of paradigms

18. April 2011 by Bea Beste

I’m in New York City and this time I won’t just present a place of learning, but share a thought inspired by my visit of one of Manhattan’s most discussed schools and the current exhibition at the Guggenheim.

I believe that we are about to create a movement in education comparable with what happened in art just a century ago: The great upheaval – “die große Umwälzung”.
Franz Marc

The period of modern art came to life because the artists formed groups and strong movements, like The Blue Rider in 1911, encouraging each other to be more adventurous. There was an extraordinary output of manifestos. They spread their styles and their messages across artistic and geographic boundaries, finding new means of communication, using media like they have never been used before. They went for deconstruction and change of perspectives, of tools, colors, creating new shapes and expressions.

What now happens in education is very similar. Innovators are out there, creating a whole new world and perspective of learning. It’s mostly creative, escaping the old boundaries and overcoming fossilized beliefs. So are the people at the Blue School – and they have created a unique learning environment, full of creativity and passion for kindergarten and primary school kids.
Welcome to the Blue School
After having been to many schools, here again I found the patterns of what Sir Ken Robinson calls “bring on the learning revolution”. As many other school founders who have the guts to do something new, the creators of the Blue Man Group and Blue School founders refuse to fill up kids with information but want them to become effective and self-motivated learners for a complex world full of change.

Brad Choyt, the director of the school, explains that its mission is to cultivate curiosity and life-long learning by finding out what the children are interested in and creating learning situations along the “blue 3 Rs”: reflection, relationship and resilience. There is a whole educational framework about how they do it, and this can be found online. The subjects are, like at almost all innovative schools I have visited so far, interlinked and connected to real life in order to let another R came into play: relevance. The common element connecting everything is art – kids express, play and create, and the results are visible along walls, corridors, floors and ceilings. Have a look:

Blue School Corridor Blue Light
A dark long corridor gets transformed into a gallery of blue art and a place to learn maths in motion: Kids get an arithmetic problem at one end and then run down the corridor to find the solution.

Blue School emotion station mood board
4 to 5 years old learn to reflect emotions, such as anger, through mood boards.

Blue School Bird House
5 to 6 years old plan, build, place and maintain bird houses – and use all the instruments that grown-ups would also use, and nobody is overprotective.

Blue School Map Manhattan
Firstgraders work themselves through Manhattan – their result is a quite precise map of the different districts. Brad Choyt explains that they have done and redone it until they got it right and it was good enough. At the Blue School, kids learn to fail safe.

Stepping out of the school and reflecting on the playDUcation journey so far I get the feeling that a great upheaval in education is within reach as well. What the Guggenheim describes as a “period of collaboration, interchange, synthesis, and innovation” is what I see happening in the field of learning. New approaches to learning like at The Blue School, new concepts like the blue 3 Rs and a new emphasis on emotions and relationships have the chance to radically shift our view of how we learn. And who knows, perhaps the Guggenheim will one day dedicate an exhibition to this shift of perspective as well.

Many thanks to Brad Choyt for the tour through the Blue School and to Steph Jansen and Basti Hirsch for sharing the revolutionary thoughts!

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