What I Learned from a Fourteen Year Old Mathematics Genius

Today during my morning Facebook ritual, I noticed a few of my friends had posted something about a fourteen year old genius who had been placed in special education.  As someone who spent two summers working with teenagers with mental disabilities, I was intrigued.  This young man has Aspbergers and the school he was in did not know how to facilitate his learning so eventually he left school to be home-schooled then take some college classes.  This experience inspired him to do a talk for TEDx Teen.  Although he can be a bit brash (he is a fourteen year old boy with Aspbergers, after all), I think his message and his story definitely make this video worth watching.  [If you’re really pressed for time and can’t make it through the whole thing, start 17 minutes in and you can at least get his final message]


Stop learning and start thinking and creating – it is such a simple concept, but one that is so often ignored.  How many famous artists, musicians, scientists, and other historical figures can you think of that changed the world by just learning and doing things the way they were told?  Few names come to mind.  On the other hand, there are a slew of movers and shakers who stopped learning for a while to start thinking and creating and that is when they managed to change the world.  Go back through your knowledge of music history and you know this to be true – the most innovative and memorable music is not a simple compose-by-numbers (except in the case of Arnold Schoenberg, I guess).  If I was talking to an administrator, I could even put it in this Bloom’s Taxonomy inspired way: eventually one has to stop learning and put that knowledge to work by applying and synthesizing it.

That’s great Erin, but what does all this have to do with Orff?  Everything!  As Orff teachers, we are supposed to give our students knowledge then get out of their way so they can create something all their own with it.  I know I can easily get caught up in wanting to teach all these different musical concepts, talk about important composers and musicians, and make all those interdisciplinary connections.  I get so caught up sometimes that I forget to let the children think for themselves by creating their own music.  We have to stop being teachers and start being facilitators in music-making.  Only then will students truly make long-lasting connections and have a vested interest in their music education.

Erin Clevenger

Erin Clevenger has been teaching K-5 music in University City, Missouri since 2011, has completed Orff Levels I and II, and is active in the St. Louis Orff chapter. Before that Erin had a variety of professional experiences, including substitute teaching for a variety of grade levels and subject areas, teaching general music to fifth and sixth graders, working with teenagers with developmental disabilities, and teaching English at summer camps in Italy. Erin attended Truman State University where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Voice and Master of Arts in Education.

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