What can schools learn from skateparks?

Whilst on my way home from school this week I went past a ,relatively new, skatepark. It was a beautiful day and the park was very busy. There were people on skateboards, rollerblades, kids on scooters, even toddlers on their first ever balance bike.

CC J.Bevans 2018

I took a moment to stop and have a look at what was happening. It was amazing to see. Perhaps 50 or 60 people in one shared space.Each with a clear identity and purpose to what they were doing. Each knowing the “rules” of the skatepark. Each giving and receiving timely feedback to each other in a caring and supportive environment. Each understanding what their personalised goal is in their own learning journey. Each taking risks in a safe way so that they are able to progress to their next stage of development.

Looking on and watching in awe of these “students” owning their learning it made me wonder… what can schools learn from skateparks and the culture that resides in them?

Welcoming It was an environment where it did not matter if you were a novice or highly advanced on your chosen wheels. Toddlers on their first attempts on ramps and riders making 360`s look like a piece of cake. There was no tier system to the learning that was happening. Everyone was welcome. The skatepark was a space that made all the riders feel comfortable. 4 year olds passed 40 year olds with smiles from everyone along the way.

Growth Mindset It was a space where mistakes were part of the learning journey. There were sounds of crashes and bangs. Everytime people stopped, helped and moved on. There was no fear in failing. Only a belief in next time I will be able to do it

Autonomy Each rider was going on about their own personal journey in the skatepark. There no teachers, not one way of riding, not one way of learning. Each rider was independent. Each rider had their own self determination to know what they wanted to achieve.

Rules The lack of rules in any environment are often seen as an opportunity for things to go wrong. But in a skatepark the exact opposite was happening. 50 or 60 riders working harmoniously without rules, learning, supporting, guiding, influencing and innovating with each other to improve, to get better, to learn more in their personal journeys.

Using technology for timely and useful feedback The more experienced riders were documenting their journey. Using smartphones, tablets and GoPro`s they were recording each other trying tricks and combos.Building up their repertoire. After it was recorded it was not left on the device. Immediately they were huddles around their devices looking at what went well and what they could improve next time. A quick debrief and chat and they were off again, trying to perfect what had occured before

Personalised Learning Every rider was on their own personalised learning journey. They knew their own goals and were practicing, thinking, collaborating, getting feedback and and then using that feedback to apply their learning and meet their goals. Their goals were very different; Some were working on staying upright, others gliding, some riders were trying to do 360 turns or flips. It did not matter where each person had come from they were all unified in trying to meet their goal, in a supportive and caring environment.

Innovation The riders were all innovating. They were taking ideas, building on them, testing them and then implementing them. Innovation was clearly valued and nurtured in the skatepark. Google recently shared 5 attributes that contribute to the development and use of new ideas. They are:

Shared vision – Make sure everyone knows where the organization is heading. Autonomy – Allow employees to define their own work as much as possible. Intrinsic motivation – Hire naturally curious people who like to learn. Risk-taking – Enable employees to feel psychologically safe to take risks and try new ideas. Connection & collaboration – Make it easy for employees to find partners and work together

Two researchers (Tim Oates and Martin Johnson) recently took to one of the largest skateparks in Europe to understand how young people learn from each other. They noted that:

A Skate park is a complex, rule governed and self-created culture, where performance and learning go hand in hand. We also note that the young people in our study demonstrate the characteristics of highly engaged learners, have a high degree of autonomy in directing their own learning

How does this apply to schools?

Schools are places where we want our students to feel inspired, to take risks, to own their own learning. I think that schools need to take a leaf from skateparks and make their learning spaces more personalised. Schools need to give greater autonomy to our students so that they are in control of their own learning journey. That is not to say there are no rules in schools but is having shared values and beliefs (that we all help to create) more powerful for all of our stakeholders?

In this era of information teachers need to make a shift in their practice and become coaches who are supporting the thinking and the learning in the background, questioning, prompting and provoking so that we are making sure the students have all the equipment and the skills that they need to be successful. We need to guide and use technology as a way of giving timely feedback so that our students can try again. Teachers need to model that it is OK to make mistakes and that we don’t know everything. Taking risks in our thinking and learning is good and supports creativity and innovation. Modelling a growth mindset to our students and colleagues can make for us to collaborate more.

School and learning needs to be fun. It needs to be exciting and teachers are one of the biggest catalysts for this. Let’s make learning active, and authentic. Take this example from International Middle School math teacher Clothilde Labrousse. Her class was studying slope and the Pythagorean theorem, and she thought that a skate ramp could be a perfect representation of both concepts in the real world. Creating opportunities for our students to be creative and apply their learning in real life gives the learning purpose and meaning. It gives students that thirst for learning so that they keep on coming back for more. Just like this from Action Science in their Mathematics Extravaganza.

As I reflect back on what I saw in the skatepark this week. The biggest take away for me is the way that the young people owned their own learning. Let’s make schools more like skateparks….Who’s with me?

CC J.Bevans 2018

References http://www.cambridgeassessment.org.uk/blog/how-do-young-people-learn-from-each-other-in-a-skate-park/