Christopher Flaherty

BPS Boston Arts Academy, Boston MA

Film in Japan a documentary on Tetsuya Miyamoto, inventor of the KenKen logic puzzle, to document for fellow educators the concepts of lesson structures and cognitive load and also create related learning for film, math and humanities students in an arts magnet high school.

Where I've Been

  • Tokyo, Japan

My Fellowship in Images

2nd Graders work silently on KenKen puzzles for 60 minutes.
Miyamoto sensei talks about the failures in his life and then all subsequent successes through trial and error.
Miyamoto sensei only uses his very own handcrafted KenKen puzzles in class. This particular puzzle is a variation on the tradition KenKen we play in the United States.
Chris Flaherty, fund for teachers fellow, interviews one of Miyamoto sensei's alumni students. How often we ignore the wisdom of our former students in the world of education!
Part of Miyamoto's sensei morning routine is to pray to the local Yasukini shrine. Other parts of his routine including airing out the classroom. A true master of his classroom, the sensei speaks about fresh air, but also "nervous air" for learning.
Miyamoto sensei creates and tests his own puzzles. 99.9% of all KenKen puzzles completed annually are created by a computer-generated software. Miyamoto sensei rejects the machine and believes that each puzzle tells a story.

Your Personal and Professional Growth

How have your knowledge, skills and capabilities grown?

We gained invaluable experience as videographers and amateur filmmakers, which will allow us to continue to function as a film crew in our own school and in the Boston Public Schools as a whole. We both returned from the trip feeling like we could--and should--continue to capture teaching and learning for all types of audiences. But what was perhaps most impactful to the two of us as teachers, was how we were able to meet with, observe, and interrogate a pedagogy.

As a result, in what ways will your instructional practice change?

What was perhaps most impactful to the two of us as teachers, was how we were able to meet with, observe, and interrogate a pedagogical philosophy that feels so foreign. We intend to interrogate our own personas and instructional practices to see if we are, as Miyamoto would say, “teaching too much.” Whatever changes we do make to our own work, we will be thinking critically about the importance of intrinsic motivation, self-fulfillment, and the role of the competitive spirit in schools.

What is the greatest personal accomplishment of your fellowship?

We will be thinking critically about the importance of intrinsic motivation, self-fulfillment, and the role of the competitive spirit in schools. There is much to reflect on as teachers, but the greatest accomplishment of our fellowship is still in the works: a finished film. As we now enter the post-production phase of our film, it is hard to predict an exact finishing date. With so much exciting work now behind us, we still know that our greatest accomplishment will be when we finish the film.

Impact on Your Classroom, School and Community

How will your experiences positively impact student learning in new ways?

We are thrilled to share what we have learned with our own school, Boston Arts Academy. Miyamoto’s philosophy on learning has innumerable applications for our school’s work in arts education. I have seen how Miyamoto can hold his class without ever speaking to the students, without ever encouraging them, with no interventions. He does not need to do these things, because the design of his learning environment is perfected--for him. He is obsessed with what he calls “the air in the room.”

What are your plans for working collaboratively with colleagues?

We will be pushing what Miyamoto calls “healthy anxiety” into the conversations around classroom and curriculum design. Much of this work will happen in our small curricular teams, but upon the release of the film, we hope to provoke larger conversations for whole school meetings and, perhaps, to the district level.

Imagining the Future

How do you envision celebrating of your students’ new learning?

Much of Miyamoto’s teaching philosophy is about individual struggle and perseverance. Celebration is important for the individual. But Miyamoto would again argue that for a teacher to take ownership of even the individual’s act of celebrating would indeed be “too much teaching.” While some successes around this philosophy may indeed be cultural-based, butif our students can begin to approach learning the way that Miyamoto’s students do, the celebration will be a raising of collective confidence.

Are there issues or challenges in your school, community or the greater world about which you and your students might try to make a difference?

We believe that Miyamoto’s philosophy has merit, and we feel that many American schools could learn from this model of self-improvement. And yet, we also recognize that the landscape of American education, and American society as a whole, is complicated. Miyamoto sees no merit in differentiation, in pep-talks, or even student-teacher relationships. In the context of our school, those beliefs are practically blasphemous.

How would you describe to a friend or a grant funder the most fundamental ways in which your fellowship has changed your personal and/or professional perspective?

And, so maybe good teaching isn’t really about tenets and principles and techniques as much as it is about simply creating spaces for people to improve--on their own. At the moment, we feel inconclusive about our own trajectory as educators, but we would certainly both agree that there is an art to teaching without teaching, and in one classroom on the other side of the world, it seems to be working really well.