Monthly Archives: April 2010

From ‘citizens-in-waiting’ to a true appreciation of the ‘now’ in the classroom

In the last week or so I have been trying to find some time to read Children as Philosophers: Learning through Enquiry and Dialogue in the Primary Classroom. What I have read so far is excellent – perhaps just a deeper, richer look at inquiry method rather than a whole new thing, but we shall see.

Something that struck a chord was Haynes' observation that “[c]hildren are not citizens-in-waiting, they are members of their
communities, with the capacity to actively participate” (p. 21). In a recent lecture, a point was made (Hi, Kate) about using the term 'students' rather than 'kids' (in contrast to much political discourse that is trying to sound 'of the people'). I agree that when discussing education, that kind of language helps us focus on facilitating quality learning rather than babysitting. The trade-off may be that we develop a one-dimensional view of the people in schools as purely students. Feel how oddly that word, 'people', sits in that last sentence. It's so much easier to think of them either as qualitatively different and lesser beings ('children'), or to think of them as a being transitioning into people-hood ('students').

A core part of engaging students (I will continue to use the term, but under erasure as Derrida would have it) in meaningful philosophical discussion is to stop seeing them as 'becomings' and start seeing them as 'beings', as Haynes puts it. "What is important is to preserve the value of childhood as a period that exists here and now in its own right, whatever the social and cultural expression, and not just as a period of preparation for the future." (p.14)

No doubt this is an occupational hazard for teachers, whose focus is generally on the transitional experience that is learning. I know my own thinking about schools (and the students in them) usually sees this as a step toward something rather than a worthwhile experience in and of itself. Going forward I will have to try to challenge myself to appreciate the 'now' of the classroom as well as considering the learned destination.

The Quite Astonishing MLC Junior School

This evening I listened to Barbara Stone (Principal) and Ed Lippman (Architect) talk about the creation of the new building that houses the MLC Junior School as part of Sydney University's Thursday Night Lectures. The school looks amazing, as close to my dream school as anything I have seen in Australia. You can see a little of the layout and sketches on the Lippman Partnership site.

Some of the things that I found fascinating were;

  • the school's philosophy (behind both the architecture and the pedagogical approach) draws heavily on the Reggio Emilia approach. Look it up, I did – food for thought
  • 'classrooms' per se are pretty much gone. Space is organised into uber-flexible 'studios', but these are generally not walled – one contiguous space may be made up of three 'studios', each with a different class and teacher. The result is 'collaborative teaching', requiring staff to dramatically adjust the way they plan and manage activity
  • renaming of spaces (remember the importance of language, people) – 'classrooms' are 'studios', the 'library' is the 'information hub' (or 'hub' for younger children), the 'sick room' is 'health center'
  • extensive use of glass and open-able spaces that remove the segmentation typically seen within a school and the delineation between inside and outside (complete with a large central piazza)
  • a very modular, flexible and organic approach to the design and fit-out that accommodates both day-to-day change, as well as longer term evolution of needs 

Oddly enough, the story that I found most compelling was one that Barbara Stone told about students in the school a number of years ago being involved in the design process. At the time they were in standard classrooms ('egg crates' as Stone described them), and two classes were asked to consider what alternative ways there might be of organising their classroom. They had to develop four possible models, and then they restructured their classroom into each of those patterns for several weeks, taking note of what it was like to be in that space. They worked together to integrate their findings, and each class presented back their recommendation for classroom organisation. These kids were six.  

‘How Tech is Making Kids Smarter Everywhere’ (Fast Company)

This month Fast Company magazine has published a cover story ‘A is for App’ on technology in (and out of) the classroom. While the article has an obviously pro-tech spin, it’s a fascinating look at several projects (mainly US) that are exploring how evolving technologies are being used to improve learning outcomes and access.

The article focuses on the technologies and the innovators, but the last few paragraphs provide some interesting context in terms of the educational environment;

“…the biggest challenge tp [personal learning devices] may not be the business model. The same possibilities that make these technologies – the sight of [kids] pushing the buttons, controlling their own destiny – make them threatening to the status quo. A system built around tools that allow children to explore and figure things out for themselves would be radical for most developing-world schools, which emphasize learning by rote. In the United States, which is currently in love with state curriculum benchmarks and standardized tests, it could be hard to sell as well.

“What is at issue is a deep cultural shift, a fundamental rethinking not only of how education is delivered but also of what ‘education’ means. The very word comes form the Latin duco, meaning ‘to lead or command’ – putting the learner in a passive position. …

“This idea [of ‘putting children in the driver’s seat’], common among these tech-driven educational entrepreneurs, imagines a new role for teachers. ‘The main transformational change that needs to happen is for the teacher to transform from purveyor of information to coach. … Up until very recently, most communications were hub-and-spoke, one to many. The Internet is a many-to-many environment, which is in the early stages of having a major impact on education. It involves a fairly major change in the concept of what education is, which is one of the reasons we use the term ‘learning’ as distinct from ‘education’. It’s student-centered and student-empowered'”

– Anna Kamenetz in Fast Company, Issue 144, p.77

‘in love with state curriculum benchmarks and standardized tests’? Makes you feel just like home 😉

Another View of Remote Indigenous Education

Today I listened to a recent radio interview with author Kate Grenville, talking about her visit to remote indigenous community near Katherine called Manyallaluk. I was fortunate enough to visit that part of the NT earlier this year, and Manyallaluk is indeed looked as wonderful as she describes it. Unfortunately I didn't get to see the school in action.

Within an idyllic community Grenville paints an challenging picture of primary education, acknowledging the disconnect between the standard curriculum the school teaches to, and children who begin primary schooling with little or no spoken English. She talks about the oral nature of indigenous language, and the significant mental shift to working with written language. Perhaps most fascinating to me (having looked at the nature of identity as a linguistic construction), she talks about the fact that the stories written by these students were completely devoid of the word 'I'.

As a result of her visit, Grenville wrote an article that has been published in the latest edition of Meanjin, which I will have to pick up a copy of. I actually stumbled across the interview listening to ABC Radio National's EduPod podcast, a great collation of stories on education that is well worth subscribing to if you are interested.

‘Fifty Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do’

Just a quick plug for a book that arrived in my box-o-excitement from Amazon today, ‘Fifty Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do‘. Not a joke, this is actually a wonderful source book for inspiring things to do with your kids (from about age 9 and up). The list includes;

  • licking a 9 volt battery
  • throwing things from a moving car
  • super-gluing your fingers together

For me, the book is delightful in two different ways. Firstly, it is a nice counterpoint to the current vogue of cotton-balling kids to the point where they end up leaving home in mint condition. But more importantly, the activities are chosen to provide interesting learning possibilities. Gluing your thumb and finger together and leaving them like that for a few hours (when the glue will naturally release due to oils from your skin) creates an odd sensation as your brain starts to re-map your sensory system a little.

The book encourages children to attempt the challenges in a methodical, scientific way, monitoring the results (including their own experience and reactions) and document this in space provided in the book. Rather than just an excuse to do crazy stuff, ‘Fifty Dangerous Things…’ is a wonderful primer for the scientific method, helping strike the match of inquisitiveness about the world.

Highly recommended!

Multimedia Design Projects in Primary School

Engaging students with group design projects using multimedia tools is an increasingly popular approach that seems to serve a number of functions;

  • teaching familiarity with and competence in technologies that are deemed relevant
  • encourages deep, engaged research into topic area being studied
  • building cognitive thinking skills through real-world problems solving
  • collaboration and other social skills arising from teamwork

self-esteem and related personal outcomes from developing what is seen as a worthwhile product

There is little research on the topic, one piece (of limited academic value) we were provided in class was ‘Enhancing Learners’ Cognitive Skills Through Multimedia Design’. This paper did cite a study (titled ‘Multimedia Science Projects: Seven Case Studies’) way back in 1997 that looked at the outcome of multimedia projects (remember multimedia back in ’97? we are talking HyperCard here!) right through grades 3 to 11.

What interested me was that while they found support for “the popular claim that multimedia-project design increases student responsibility for their own learning”, when looking at their data by age ‘the sense of responsibility was absent at the elementary level’ (elementary being roughly the same as primary, possibly up to about Year 5). They infer that design-based multimedia projects will not be suitable for children before high school (unfortunately this was an aside, as age was not a factor they had been intending to examine).

There are many factors that may have led to this, from the approach taken by teachers to the software used. It does raise the question though, are students at that age capable of taking on the responsibility of self-directed learning and owning complex processes of production. I would like to think so, but it does raise questions about the types of environments and scaffolding that will be necessary to create classrooms where they can and will do so.

Virtuality and Scientific Method

In reading philosophers who discuss 'the virtual' (and don't mean the digital space, but a far stranger realm of conceptual potentiality), it is very tempting to think, 'well that's all very nice, but it's not real is it. by definition the virtual is something we can all waffle on about because it's, you know… virtual'.

DeLanda (primarily in the dense and wonderful 'Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy') talks about virtuality in a scientific and concrete sense that makes you wonder if perhaps the virtual may be amenable to more traditional approaches of scientific inquiry – hence this paper. It draws on scientific methodology and ideas of disciplinarity and politics to suggest how investigation into ideas of virtuality may yield practical and powerful insights into our reality. In many ways 'Virtuality and Scientific Method' suggests that incorporating progressive philosophies may be a interesting adjunct to current developments in the sciences.

Notions of Subject, Technology and Self

 “[T]echnological machines of information and communication operate at the heart of human subjectivity, not only within its memory and intelligence, but within its sensibility, affects and unconscious fantasms.” (Guattari 1992: 4)

The self “plays a singularly important role in the ongoing cognitive economy of that living body, because, of all the things in the environment an active body must make mental models of, none is more crucial than the model the agent has of itself.” (Dennett 1991: 426-427)

The self is a multiple and heterogenous cognitive model at the core of individual subjectivity, facilitating interaction with a complex environment. Recent developments in technologies that mediate our experience may have fundamental yet unanticipated effects on the processes by which the self is produced.

As a multifaceted and dynamic construct, the self plays a key role in our phenomenological experience of being. It also contributes to our operational capabilities – social, mental, and physical. The implications of engaging with mediating technologies depend on both the nature of the technologies in question, and the mechanisms responsible for the production of the self.

This project aims to present a model of the self, and to explore the potential repercussions of these technological engagements.

Notions of Subject Technology and Self‘ was the draft of the second chapter of my PhD thesis.