Saturday, November 08, 2008

1, 2, 3 on my mark... pretend

I am struggling with a piece of scribbling for a book (web2 and education, groan!) but came across some writing of one of my favourite thinkers in this hype-ridden space: Michael Wesch. He enjoys mixed reviews. The academy can be downright bitchy at times, particularly when it sees a relatively junior academic draw serious attention to himself due to some pretty clever and interesting YouTube contributions as well as some excellent presentations that have been posted online. I'm a fan as you may have gathered. Michael was contributing to a recent debate run by Britannica called Brave New Classroom 2. He was writing about students just playing a game to get by and noted a piece by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner written over 40 years ago. In a piece entitled "Pursuing Relevance: where is the problem?" they wrote about a project assignment around ancient cultures (Greek and Roman). A small portion of their commentary runs like this:

The most depressing aspect of this piece of pretentious trivia is that to most people nothing seems wrong with it. Indeed, it may even be thought of as reflecting a “progressive” idea or two. (After all, aren’t students asked to work in small groups and do ‘projects’?) Clearly, defenders of ‘high standards’ would have no cause for complaint here. The same is true for makers of standardized texts, ‘transmitters of our cultural heritage’, and lovers of ‘basic education’ everywhere. Perhaps even most of the students for whom this ‘unit of work’ is intended would approve of it. But if they do, we can be sure their approval rests largely on a carefully cultivated schizophrenia that is necessary, in present circumstances, to their academic survival. (Mencken once wrote that the main thing children learn in school is how to lie.) The children know that none of these questions has anything to do with them, and the game that is being played does not require that the questions do. The game is called ‘Let’s Pretend’, and if its name was chiselled into the front of every school building in America, we would at least have an honest announcement of what takes place there. The game is based upon a series of pretences which include: ‘let’s pretend that you are not who you are and that this sort of work makes a difference to your lives; let’s pretend that what bores you is important, and that the more you are bored, the more important it is; let’s pretend that there are certain things everyone must know, and that both the questions and answers about them have been fixed for all time; let’s pretend that your intellectual competence can be judged on the basis of how well you can play Let’s Pretend.

Which simply says that the issues that KPS-style work is seeking to address ain't new!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Setting minds or cranial concrete

The weekly newsletter came in from school the other day. On the back was a little graph and a heading about windspeed. I thought, neat, kids have been looking at wind, etc. Well, it was true that they were doing all sorts of measurements but what was depicted in the graph was data taken from the bureau of meteorology of that week!!!!

The mindset that says that kids can only do pretend stuff, stuff that no one is really interested in, stuff that no one will pay attention to is so pervasive among teachers. What possesses a teacher to discard however many days of data gathering and defer to the "official" data, taken over 100 kilometers from the school?

The "other" world is rapidly appreciating that having lots of eyeballs, minds, data collections, can in fact work pretty well in terms of tackling the interesting challenges the world poses. Crowd sourcing as it is sometimes referred to is emerging as a sometime very useful and efficient means of tackling certain kinds of problems. The one thing that schools have is lots and lots of minds, eyeballs, folk to collect, observe, record. And for the most part, this resource is ignored and made to do dumb, pretend, patently stupid activities that benefit no-one.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Wanted. A Web 2 home for KPS stuff

Most of the merry little band who skim this blog from time to time will recall the frustration we went through when we began to set up the KPS site in one of the free Wiki spaces. Much to our frustration the Education system net police that control what sites schools can and cannot access blocked access to this Wiki site. Apart from tackling these folk (the net police) we do need a place where anyone can add/edit/write about the KPS stuff in which they are engaged. So.... this is a request for suggestions, ideas. I think it is important that students doing this work also have access to such sites. I can set up a site out of Deakin (Joomla or Drupal based) but would value some reactions from others.

Producing music, producing knowledge

What is knowledge and how is it produced are pretty important questions in the KPS space. When I grew up, knowledge was something that you had, more or less, in your head. To some extent there is still an element of this today but, IMHO, that is much reduced in its importance as about a billion folk set participate in all manner of conversations and debates using various bits of so-called Web 2 software to produce knowledge. As David Weinberger of Everything in Miscellaneous fame, has argued in a number of podcasts, knowledge resides in the conversations, the email lists, the blogs, the wikis. Of course, you don't need the online stuff to do it as the post from Edutopia flags. The creative arts have always been a place to look to find KPS-like stuff happening. More often than not the teacher is also a practising artist and is thus well placed to articulate what goes on in the classroom with what goes on in the world outside.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

23 questions

I must admit to enjoying the fun Roger Schank has with the silly parts of schooling. Here he asks 23 fun questions about some improvements in Maths scores in New York city. If such testing and its consequences were not so tragic it would be funny.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Micro testing vs. Projects

A lovely post from Jeremy Hiebert's headspace via Arti's blog.

He was telling me about this new grading system he's implemented -- identical to what is described here. Every test broken down into its component learning outcomes, with remedial steps and re-tests only on the parts the students haven't performed well on. At first I was thinking, "wow, pretty innovative and individualized." Then the reality of it hit me, and I blurted out, "that's pretty much the opposite of my educational philosophy!"

I'd have trouble arguing that his friend had a philosophy that warranted the adjective "educational".

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Exploring some collaborative publishing options

Given the wonderful support that EQ gives folk, i.e. bans access to Wikispaces and suggests folk use an inhouse Wiki (which makes sure no one else on the planet gets to see what is published!). I have been playing with Google docs and it might be a way around things. The Wikispaces site could still be used (it would mean editing it away for Qld schools) and kids could control just what they wanted to publish. It may be too messy. Just thought it might be worth an explore. Of course when they notice traffic to Google docs the Net Nazis might ban it also!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Not Happy!

I've gone online today at work to check access for the wikispace and blog in anticipation of getting students online to share some of the groovy stuff they are doing only to find that we have been blocked to both spaces. Oh the frustration...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Medici Effect

I just scribbled a note in my own blog about a book I have just read and ended up in a KPS end point (how unusual).

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Action research & KPS

I hang out on too many email-based discussion lists (yeah I know... indicates how bad habits are hard to kick). And I am mulling about links between what we've been calling the KPS agenda and action research. The mulling being prompted by some writing I am trying to do with Leonie. Back to the lists. One of these lists, XMCA (eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity-- runs out of U Cal San Diego via Michael Cole) has been chatting about AR and the focus of the list, which is pretty broad ranging - sociocultural ideas, activity theory etc. etc. In a long series of annotated exchanges, you know those emails with multiple replies to replies, Jam Lemke, one of my favourite thinkers in the educational space wrote (21 Jan 07):

Action Research is about solving immediate problems, but one of its strategies is to get people talking about what those problems really are. In the course of which they often re-define the key problems as being larger than their immediate symptoms. When you then start to collaboratively investigate these bigger issues, you almost always find that history has played a role in getting us into the mess we're in. And that understanding how to get out of it often depends on figuring out a way around the path that historically got us where we are.

Why are school classes only 40 minutes long? why are students segregated by age in schools? why don't teacher-student relationships in schools last more than a few months to less than one year? why are curriculum subjects separated? why is curriculum content dictated to be uniform? why do we use pencil-and-paper testing? why don't students get to learn from non-teacher mentors? why can't I take my students on a field trip outside the school? why can't they learn by participating/observing in other institutions?

Why can't we talk about the topics we're really interested in? why can't we spend more than 2 weeks on this? why can't I learn basic biology over 2 years instead of one? why can't we talk about human sexuality? or famous gay figures in history? why can't we learn about law, religion, economics, politics? why can't we discuss the causes of violence in my neighborhood? Why don't I get paid for all the work the school requires me to do?

The causes of most social headaches are institutional and structural, and the timescales across which we need to look to understand how they came to cause our headaches expand in historical time as we probe these networks of causes.

Remember: give a man a fish, he eats today; teach him to fish, he eats tomorrow too? Action research, and the CHAT perspective, is about learning new ways to eat, about looking across longer relevant timescales for alternatives and solutions, not about eating the first fish to come our way (though if you're really hungry, why not?).


PS. Short-term solutions can give us the breathing space to seek longer-term ones. But they can also exacerbate longer-term problems, or disguise them until they get even worse.

I'd like to think that a good deal of KPS work is driven by kids/teachers asking similar kinds of questions. I can recall Trudy talking about how her students at Warraburra were puzzling about water usage in the school. Don't recall the exact history but it's that sense that it's ok to ask tough, interesting questions even when there is perhaps no immediate prospect of a solution. Which brings me to related point made by James Wilkinson in the Menzies Oration last year. He was speaking about undergraduate education and making, what I thought was a strong case for students learning about the process of inquiry. He wrote:

The skill that would be of most practical value to our undergraduate students, in my opinion, as well as the key to what we mean when we speak of educated men and women, is the ability to ask good questions and to work at seeking answers based on evidence.

As I read his carefully argued presentation (you can get text and or an MP3) I kept thinking that, with a little adjusting, the same argument could and most likely should be applied to schools. I then started thinking about the early thinking around schools as sites of serious knowledge production and how research/systematic inquiry might be the way to break the interminable "kids ought to know this stuff" arguments.

The origins of KPS go back to mulling over the so-called "middle school" problem, i.e. student disengagement, troublesome teens etc. And it occurred to me that if these kids were trained up to do systematic inquiry you could hit a number of spots: one they would likely respond to moving beyond the "pretend curriculum" that they had all seen through a long time ago, they could contribute usefully to local community, they would develop skills, habits of mind that were not all that amenable to curriculum check lists and they'd produce something in which they could genuinely take some pride.

I also recall how I was chatting to a primary teacher about these ideas over the phone (in those days, distance ed. we worked with amazing teachers...never met em face to face..but I was always in awe of their energy, passion and commitment) and suggesting that this approach would work in middle school but unlikely in primary school. She berated me for about 15 minutes, telling me all the inquiry stuff that goes on in a lot of primary schools but it is not taken very seriously. It is interesting that now, some years down the track, almost all the KPS stuff has spun out of primary schools.

Just some thinking out aloud about a bunch of questions.