“If we can trust and empower schools, then we are more likely to unleash creativity, to expand thinking, to provide meaningful and relevant opportunities and experiences for their communities.” – Adam Nye, USA
Adam Nye knew early on that he wanted to be a teacher. But his journey – and his destination – changed along the way. “I wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember,” says Nye. “I always loved to help my teachers and realized early on that I was good with children. When I was ready for college, I enrolled in a teacher education program without any hesitation.”
However, Nye found that he didn’t like the program as much as he had hoped. “I was highly interested in helping to change education to suit the needs of students who face inequality and a failing education system, but the teacher education program wasn’t giving me that,” he says. “At the end of my sophomore year, a new undergraduate program was announced. They described it as a program for people who wanted to be involved in education, but outside of the classroom. I signed up immediately.”
As one of the first students in the program – and a very small program at that – Nye was given flexibility to pursue his interests. He ended up taking courses that ranged from education theory and practice to policy reform, human development to inequality issues. “It was a wonderful exposure to a wide range of topics and issues, and helped me to continue my education and career,” he adds.
It was perhaps this exposure and experience that fostered his interest in how informal learning institutions, specifically museums, can serve as community resources, both inside and outside of the museum, for children, families, and educators. And as the Associate Director of Education at the Thinkery, Austin’s new children’s museum, Nye’s interest and education work in lock-step.
An evolution of the Austin Children’s Museum, Thinkery is Austin’s newest informal learning institution, giving visitors the opportunity to explore “why” and “how” through innovative learning experiences where people can connect with ideas and each other by doing, making, and experiencing.
Nye’s passion for experimenting and thinking differently is infectious. Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Adam Nye!
Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?
I have been fortunate enough to have so many wonderful educators in my life, but I also had some lousy ones. I think experiencing the drastic differences in educators is what inspired me the most. We have a problem in the way that we prepare and trust educators in this country, and we often stifle their creativity and ability. This is one of the major reasons why I am so passionate about empowering educators, especially pre-service educators, to think differently and try new things.
Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education. What has changed as a result of your work?
I think the path to innovation in the education sector is one filled with small victories and minor changes. I am fortunate enough to work in the informal learning field, which allows us more flexibility to be creative, try new things, and challenge the status quo. I believe that the way we are educating children is changing because of the influence of informal learning environments. In our museum, we are constantly thinking of ways to be better, to refine what we’re doing, to be creative. We do this because we have a commitment to our visitors and our community to not only excite them about learning, but to show them what’s possible. We want to be exemplars of innovation. We want to inspire children, parents, and educators, to prepare them for the future of education, and to take something that they learned or witnessed in our museum back home or to the classroom. If we can be a source of inspiration for our community, then we are able to influence change in a very organic and authentic way. The real change that happens isn’t just a result of our work, it’s the result of the work that we help our community to do.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
Technology is embedded in everything that we do. We use a lot of modern technologies to enhance physical learning experiences. These include tablets, 3D printers, laser cutters, robotics, circuitry, and more. We place a major emphasis on active use of technology. We don’t just set up a screen and ask visitors to play. Instead, we engage them in understanding how technology works, to take apart something and see what’s inside so that they can understand how it was made, and to use technology as an extension and supplement. We also try to shift the way that people think about technology, and to embrace technology in all forms, including low tech such as sewing and woodworking. We think that this will inspire our visitors to be active participants in technology use and consumption, rather than passive consumers.
In your opinion, how has the use of apps, cellphones, and mobile devices changed education? And your work?
It has changed the way that we learn and socialize. We now have the ability to connect with people and information instantly and at all times. We are constantly being distracted by being pulled away from our present environment. Students have been bored in lecture style classrooms for many decades, but especially today. How can we expect students to break away from the constant stimulation of their device to concentrate on a boring lesson on a chalkboard? We simply can’t. I am excited by the small shifts that we are noticing. We are now seeing classrooms shifting from lecture arrangements to flexible spaces that embrace collaboration and communication. We are seeing the digitization of books and enhancement of online resources so that we can not only better educate our students by updating information more quickly, but also by making it more accessible. We are starting to see the use of devices as ways of exploring and understanding our environment – sensors, tracking devices, digital storytelling, and design. I think the most significant shift is from delivering content to refining skills. Students can access the information that they want when they want, simply by googling it. Instead of delivering content, we must prepare our students to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, collaborators and communicators who are compassionate, strong-willed, and excited.
In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?
I am most excited about the idea of connected learning because it is built on some classical educational theories and practices, but updates them for today through the use of technology. Connected learning is an attempt to link all of the different learning environments and resources that we can access. It serves to create linkages between schools, homes, libraries, museums, and other places of learning. In addition to those physical spaces, the use of technology to openly share resources and connect people makes it easier for learners to find connections and make meanings between those different learning experiences. Connected learning is learner focused and driven, playing off of individuals’ personal interests and motivations as the source of empowerment for a learner. It believes that a learner will become an active citizen and doer if we can connect something that s/he is interested in with something that is supported by his/her academics, and then reinforce it with technology in a variety of environments.
Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?
I think it’s impossible to pick one of these skills to be most passionate about. They are all so important and so dependent on each other that I think it’s important to embrace and cultivate all of them.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
A circuitry kit that includes a soldering iron. Circuits are in everything around us these days, and if a child is given the opportunity to explore and create then who knows where it might take them!
What is your region doing well currently to support education?
I think that Austin is in a really interesting position right now. We are a rapidly growing city, but a city that has a very vibrant creative class. This energy, coupled with the technology industry that is booming in our area, provide us a unique opportunity. We are able to utilize the tech industry, get support from the transplants flocking to our city, and build off of the interesting and diverse community that exists here. The Thinkery is a great example of that. We went from a very traditional children’s museum to a sparkling new building that is packed full of interactive science and technology experiences, all with the support of our community.
How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?
We need to give the power back to the educators and schools. We have to trust them with their students – that they will know what is best for their communities. If we can trust and empower schools, then we are more likely to unleash creativity, to expand thinking, to provide meaningful and relevant opportunities and experiences for their communities.
About Adam Nye
Associate Director of Education
Thinkery, the new Austin Children’s Museum
Austin, Texas USA
- Birthplace: Ellwood City, Pennsylvania (outside of Pittsburgh)
- Current residence: Austin, Texas
- Education: B.S. Education and Public Policy (Pennsylvania State University), M.Ed. Sociology of Education (University of Pittsburgh)
- Website I check every day: makezine.com
- Favorite childhood memory: I spent a lot of time with my grandparents when I was younger and I learned so much from them. I loved to help my grandfather in his garden and my grandmother with her cooking and baking.
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): New York City for a music festival.
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? I laugh all of the time, especially when I’m around my colleagues.
- Favorite book: The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
- Favorite music: I am a huge music fan, so it’s hard to pick just one. Right now, I have been listening to a lot of electronic and neofolk stuff.
- What is the best advice you have ever received? My grandfather used to tell me to “learn a skill and put it aside.” I never knew what that meant as a child, but as I grew up I realized that he was encouraging me to learn as much as I could, to take every opportunity and learn from it. Even if it didn’t seem useful at the time, you never know when it might come in handy.
- Your favorite quote or motto: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” John Dewey