Four Lessons We Learned From the Opal School

Susan Harris MacKay is the Director of Teaching and Learning at Portland Children’s Museum where she provides leadership to the Museum Center for Learning and Opal School. On November 20, she gave a TEDx Talk highlighting the importance of “learning to live” and letting play and curiosity drive a child’s passion for lifelong learning. Below we’ve outlined some of our most important takeaways from the video.


“A playful disposition is required for finding 3rd doors”


Our brains work by taking the input from the outside world and connecting the information in ways that allow us to make meaning from it. If we want future generations to think of new, innovative ways to view our world then we can’t just keep feeding them the same input from generations before. They must be given the time to explore the world and make new connections on their own.


“We have to be willing to not know, so we can begin to figure out because that’s the kind of play that brings joy”


Learning is not only measured by your ability to get the right answers but what you learn when you get them wrong.  What makes something magical is the way it constantly surprises you and invites you to find out more. If we embrace the magic of play in education then we will be teaching students to associate joy with learning for a lifetime to come.


“We learn that there is a danger zone and a comfort zone and we spend the rest of our lives trying to navigate between those two. It’s in that messy uncertain in between where we learn how to live”


You can not grow if you are unwilling to change. If we want our children to be able to grow and adapt to their world then educators must be willing to constantly grow and adapt to our world alongside them.


“We focus too much on the rigor of the right answer and don’t realize that this is also rigor mortis”


“Rigor Mortis” is “one of the recognizable signs of death, caused by chemical changes in the muscles after death, causing the limbs of the corpse to stiffen.” Laser focus on the right answer teaches students takes time away from a student’s curiosity. When we spend our lives trying to find the right answer, we kill our ability to embrace uncertainty.


How do you embrace uncertainty?