That’s why we are taken aback when we come across people – educators or otherwise – who put their ideas into the world without ever inviting feedback or engaging in dialogue. Reflective practice is one of the most valuable parts of our work as educators. Every opportunity to engage in online discussion is an opportunity to work together towards lasting change. When we shut down those lines of communication, we risk locking ourselves into echo chambers of our own beliefs.
We recognize that it’s scary out there. Each time an educator posts their thinking on social media, they risk being chastised, dismissed, or verbally attacked. Time and again, we come across thoughtful questions posted in online discussion groups that devolve into an emotionally charged war of words. Triggers include anything from the wisdom of worksheets to outdoor learning; invitations vs. provocations; rewards and punishments; the value of loose parts; and a whole host of other contentious topics.
The loose parts debate in particular is a biggie for us. We’ve looked very closely at the concept of loose parts – as tools for learning and engagement; as vehicles for memory recall and internalization of skills and knowledge; and as a logical solution to the shortsighted, wasteful, and divisive culture of consumption that exists in education. We’ve spent years testing loose parts – in our own labschool environments with people of all ages, cultures, genders, and economic backgrounds – to develop a deeper understanding of the inherent properties and limitations of materials. We’ve created systems to help manage loose parts in the classroom and reduce our impact on the environment. From our objective position outside of the traditional education system, we work to explore passion projects that support free access to materials for all educators – including the building of shared material libraries and an open marketplace for exchanging materials and ideas.
Our intimate and intense study of loose parts offers us a unique position to speak to The Theory of Loose Parts. We know there are many educators who define loose parts as junk. They insist that loose parts must always be found objects, sourced for free, and made available to children at all times. There are also many educators who believe that loose parts deserve the utmost respect and reverence – the kind usually reserved for expensive treasures and living things. While we certainly lean towards the latter, we recognize the learning value of junk as well. When we come across debates like this, we always look for neutral ground – something we can all agree on before anyone adds their own layers of meaning and interpretation. A key word in the Theory of Loose Parts is “Loose” and so, if we’re looking for neutral ground, we should all be able to agree that materials must remain loose – moveable, unfixed, untethered – to be considered loose parts. This means not permanently marking them with numbers or letters, not altering them with glue or tape or anything else that would impede their ability to remain loose. It also means where they’ve been sourced from – the base of a tree, a store, your grandmother’s basement – is irrelevant. As long as the materials remain loose, they retain their inherent power for exploring curiosity and wonder, for building and debunking theories, for questioning assumptions, developing skills, making meaning, thinking critically, innovating ideas and so much more. This is the higher level thinking we always look for in a learner who is authentically engaged with loose parts.
When purists on both ends of this, or any other discussion, weigh in with their counter-arguments, their extreme positions can create false binaries that effectively shut down the conversation. The message is clear: My theory is right and yours is wrong.
It’s time to lift the chill in the air. It's time to end the War of Words. Our world needs less extremism and more neutral ground – a space where we can all take a deep breath and consider a wider range of possibilities. The space that exists between two extremes is where we actually stand to make some progress. That’s why we are SUPER excited to announce that we will be inhabiting that in-between space with a new online radio show! The podcast is called Beyond Words, and it’s an extension of our Beyond Words exhibit where our research into the power of language literally moved us beyond words. Each week we'll host a live (yikes!) discussion about a word that confounds, frustrates, or inspires us. We'll deconstruct its meaning and origin, chat about its current usage and limitations, and consider how it might look and feel in our learning spaces. We’ll introduce new words we think belong in education – words that have the power to shift our thinking, lift us out of our current fog, and spark a true (r)evolution in education. We hope to challenge your thinking, share some tweetable quotes, and maybe even toss in a few surprise guests. And most importantly, we’ll provide a space to invite feedback from our listeners and keep the dialogue open. We’re incredibly grateful to Stephen Hurley and voicEd.ca for offering us this platform where we can add our voice to redefining how we talk about education. We have no way of knowing where all of this will lead but we invite you to tune in and enjoy the ride!
Got something to say on this topic? We welcome your comments!