Everything I need to know, I learned in Kindergarten

 Learning Spiral drawn by @chezvivian

Learning Spiral from Media Labs MIT by Mitch Resnick


Learning Creative Learning

It feels good to have finished blogging the 20 Stages of the 20 Hour “Hour of Code” course for K-8.  I’m looking ahead to when my students finish the 20 stages themselves. My plan is to introduce them to Scratch computer programming language by MIT.  While browsing the Scratch website, I came across a 6 week online course they are offering called “Learning Creative Learning“. I thought it would be an online course to introduce me to Scratch!  Yes, I definitely need that! This course didn’t turn out to be a course about Scratch; it’s about learning about creative learning.

This is the first week of the course.  I enjoyed the round table discussion on video. My biggest take-away from watching the video is what I tweeted:



Now, I’m not a kindergarten teacher, though I’ve taught early childhood music to students as young as 3.  I know that kindergarten is a special “craft” in and of itself.  I’m one of those “concrete sequential” people who organizes her world in linear lines (the straighter the better!).    So, Kindergarten rather perplexes me as a teacher.  As an elementary school teacher, my work with young children (Grade 1 & 2) was to get them learning their alphabet, then their phonics, simple words, simple sentences… It was a fairly linear scope and sequences.  For math, it  would start with counting, and then adding, subtracting etc.

So, the Kindergarten is a world of 5 year olds running around the room and playing at their various play stations (The water & sand play stations.  Not the digital gaming playstations 😉 )  I’m not too sure what I would be doing as a teacher, in the midst of that chaos.

So, when the book came out called “All I Really Need to Know, I learned in Kindergarten“, I was pretty sure reading it would make me feel like an inadequate teacher and honestly, I’ve never read it!  I don’t know how to teach kindergarten!

So, how ironic it is that the statement that jumped out of me from the video is that the MIT Media Lab would like to make school and even life—more like kindergarten!

As education is going through reform and technology is turning Bloom’s Taxonomy on its head, we are starting at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy with “Creating” instead of at the bottom with “Knowing”.  That means projects and creating things have moved into the forefront of our minds as we plan learning engagements. So in educational circles we are constantly hearing the terms: projects, project-based learning, PBL, problem-based learning, maker movement, genius hour, 20% time.

The Learning Spiral (see image above) from MIT’s Media Lab puts Create at the beginning.  This is their learning spiral for kindergarten and their learning spiral for Creation in general and for life!

My students will start with the linear scope and sequence of the 20 Stages to learn how to code. I know that children cope just fine (and even flourish) in open activities where their paths might look like spider webs.  They don’t mind going off in random directions and doubling back.  I know I picked the 20 Stages more for my own comfort than theirs.  I bet they would do just fine if I threw open the flood gates and let them at Scratch without any direction.  I’d be a nervous wreck though. The thought of teaching coding is overwhelming already—let alone thinking about letting them take the reins when I don’t know how to code.

They’ll get through the 20 Stages and then it will become a weekly Genius Hour for them to muddle through Scratch wherever their hearts and heads lead them.  That sounds extremely exciting to the “student of education technology integration” part of me.  That sounds terrifying to the “school teacher” in me.

So, I think this Learning Creative Learning MOOC will challenge and support me in letting-go and letting the learning happen (Thanks to Edna Sackson who shared this phrase with me that she got from Sugata Mitra.)

I don’t think the main problem lays in the fact I can’t let-go, though.  It’s more that I feel like I need to justify my presence as a teacher and to not look like I’m idling and not doing my job.  I’m going to have to figure out what exactly a Kindergarten teacher does, if we’re supposed to be making school more like Kindergarten.

Week 1 Assignment

Reflect on  All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking), I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) in Kindergarten by Mitchel Resnick, developer of Scratch programming language at MIT.

Read Seymour Papert’s essay on Gears of My Childhood and write a short description about an object from your childhood that interested and influenced you. 


I’ve no brilliant, unique “gear of my childhood” to share. I was in kindergarten and saw my teacher play the piano.  Boom!  That was it.  I was desperate to play the piano. I was destined to do it and playing the piano would set my life towards a path so rich that I can’t imagine how bereft my life would have been without music in my life.

I’m a child of poor Chinese immigrants in Canada who worked themselves around the clock to make a middle-class living for themselves.  Getting piano lessons was a miracle, actually.  I didn’t know how much of a miracle it was until I grew up and understood that lessons were expensive and how impractical learning an instrument is to poor folks. From the ages of 5 to 8, I asked constantly for lessons.  I would collect bits of sheet music from Sunday School, thinking that I would play those songs one day.

Finally, at the age of 8, I started lessons.  We didn’t even own a proper piano.  I had seen and couldn’t live without a little brown upright toy piano.  Somehow I begged my parents enough that they got it for me.  It wasn’t the teeny toy pianos. It went up to my knee.  It held two octaves (16 keys).  A normal piano has 88 keys.

I spent the first year or so of piano lessons practicing on this toy piano.  I advanced to the point of doing C major scale in two octaves. That exactly fit the piano.  Then, I was assigned G major scale in two octaves.  That was a problem.  The piano wasn’t long enough for me to play G major for two octaves!  After two weeks of failing miserably at my lessons to play G major in two octaves, I finally confessed to my teacher that I only had a toy piano at home to practice!  He must have thought I was the craziest kid.  I was just a child of immigrants who didn’t know better and who couldn’t afford a proper piano…  I was a bit embarrassed about my confession but I actually had no idea how weird I really was. That was par for the course as children of poor immigrants also go to school wearing the same clothes (often unwashed) for weeks on end (parents are too busy working to look after the kids). That must have been a sight!

I was probably about 9 years old at the time that I was outgrowing my toy piano. Eventually, we got a proper upright piano. I was able to pick the one I wanted too!  (I should have picked a Steinway Grand! 😉 )  It was a nice brown Kimball upright.  It looked just like my toy piano but was a real proper piano…

So, I guess at this point, I really should explain the influence of piano my childhood and beyond.  That would take a long essay to explain.  The content would be priceless to me as a remembrance of things of immeasurable value to me—things that made and make up my core-being.  But, I know it probably wouldn’t mean too much to you.  In fact, I’m afraid it would be a pedantic and boring read.  It’s one of those things that you just “had to be there”.  So, I think I’ll stop writing here.   The idea is interesting, though,  to contemplate that each one of us has some toy from our childhood that shaped our childhood and how we saw the world as we grew into adulthood.

Seymour Papert’s essay concludes by asking whether computers will be that fantastic machine that will do the same for children of today.   Yes, I think so and I’m comforted by the fact that computers are all-encompassing.  It’s not just about Math or Science.   Computers can be and are interfaced with the Humanities and the Arts too. There’s something for everyone with a computer.

My music keyboard was a piano.  My son’s music keyboard is a MIDI controller.


Toy Piano

Toy Piano that looks very similar (if not exactly) like my first piano.

MIDI controller for creating digital music

My son’s MIDI controller for creating digital music



Update March 31, 2014

I did not directly tweet Dr Resnick my blogpost, but he came across it.  I tagged him in a Tweet to clarify something to someone.  I guess that’s how he came across my blog. WOW!  Was I thrilled when he tweeted me the above!

I told my 9 & 12 year old that Dr Resnick tweeted me and now they’re rightly impressed with their Mother.  They’ve been playing with Scratch for many years.  “The founder and developer of Scratch tweeted their mother?”  I’ve reached sublime heights in their minds, now! 😀


What is your childhood object?


About Vivian

Vivian @ChezVivian is a Canadian-born Chinese, currently living in Switzerland. She has also lived in Hong Kong and Indonesia. She holds a M.S. (focus: Educational Technology Integration), B.Ed and a B.A. and graduate studies in Kodály and Orff music pedagogy. She is an elementary school classroom generalist, but has also taught as a music specialist, ESL/EAL and also in Learning Support. Most of her teaching career was in International Schools in Hong Kong. She is excited about the IBPYP and the possibilities of using technology to Inquire. Recently, she has been looking at the opportunities that computer programming gives to put #TECHXture back into the hands of children. In other words, technology need not be just about looking at screens. It can be about building things with our hands; and computer programming levels-up what children can do with the things they build---encouraging higher thinking skills. She is a Coetail Post-graduate Certificate grad ('13-'14), a former Coetail Coach and one of the co-founders of #CoetailChat. Her blog home chezvivian.coetail.com curates her assignments for Coetail and her M.S. graduate studies about Educational Technology integration and anything else educationally-related that she feels inspired to write about. Her twitter tagline sums it up: "Mom to 4, Mentor, Educator, Musician (in that order)".
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2 Responses to Everything I need to know, I learned in Kindergarten

  1. Jeff Utecht says:

    I agree…it’s funny being in a school and seeing the creativity be sucked out of students. From Kindergarten where they have free time to imagine, play and build freely to 3rd grade where they have only recess time. We quickly and quietly turn them into IB students who know how to set for upwards of 90 minutes, take notes, memorize something for a test and then move on.

    All learning should be like Kindergarten.

  2. Vivian says:

    Hi Jeff @jutecht

    How did your conference go in South America? Did you look after my “mentee” @angemolony? 😉

    I like the PYP. I have three children that have moved from PYP to MYP. Next year, one of them will be in DP. It’s kind of sad because all that free exploration and Inquiry Learning in PYP turns into very top-down, traditional delivery as soon as they are in MYP. The focus is turned towards assignments, assessments, and testing. There’s lots wonderful about MYP but I wish we could blend more of what is happening in PYP into Middle School. Having more project-based learning engagements and Genius Hour would be a start…

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting!