Two 2×4 Lego bricks, of the same color, can be put together in 24 different ways. Three can be connected 1,060 different ways. Six can be combined in 915,103,765 different ways. ..and, of course, children (and adults) have enthusiastically assembled them in nearly as many. It’s when useful and reliable resources can be used in so many ways that creativity is invited.1
The best use of Legos, in my humble opinion, never involved lessons or even instructions. You do not sit down and teach children how to creatively make stuff by clicking Lego bricks together. You simply given them the bricks and let them play.
Might we achieve more inventive-minded students, if we could redesign curriculum to simply give our children the prescribed resources of mind, and then encourage and free them to play, construct and learn. One example occurs to me, something that I witnessed in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada many years ago.
In early 2007, I participated in a provincial conference there and in addition had an opportunity to visit some of the area schools with my friend and NB educator, Jeff Whipple. At the time, the entire province was engaged in some pretty innovative initiatives. I wrote about that visit here and here.
I was overwhelmingly impressed with everything that I saw in the schools around Fredericton, but the visit that came to mind as I started thinking about Legos was Chad Ball’s civics class. He had decided to approach it in an entirely different way that year, based on a summer morning brainstorm. Rather than present the content to his students in teacher mode, he simply made it available to them, the vocabulary and concepts of Canadian government, mostly through a wiki.
Students were then assigned to work in groups, to create a new political party. They were to develop a platform, write speeches and even establish a mascot and logo – and required to appropriately and effectively utilize every vocabulary word and every concept of Canadian government in the process. Chad taught in consultant mode, though he reported that he api;d often refer students to classmates who seemed to have a handle on the concept or practice.
On the day of our visit, Mr. Ball had asked, on the class wiki, if there might be ways to extend the project. Even though the posting initially evoked complaints from some of the students, within a half hour there were 102 comments on his posting, mostly suggesting ways that they might take their political parties to the next level.2
This style of teaching and learning is about empowerment, not compliance,
because learners are given access to building blocks,
..and invited to build something.
Technology changes with time. As one piece of technology becomes superior, another becomes inferior. This infographic portrays something interesting, iPod sales and iTunes songs purchased increased together until the mid and late 2000s, but by 2010, iPod sales were decreasing while iTunes sales continued to increase. What could have caused this?
Discuss with your students other things that occurred during this time. Could it be related to other technology, such as the iPhone that became increasingly available. There could also be the issue of the economic crisis, and people buying music just to listen on computers.
What other technology has affected the sales of other items. For instance, the record player and the record, the 8track player and the 8track, the tape player and the tape, and so on. Did any of these follow any similar trends. What could be the next technology that makes the iPod obsolete?
I’ve been worrying over what’s to become of my 2¢ worth as I come to pay less attention to the education debate and less effort on promoting my own value to that conversation, which is at least a small part of what my pennies’ worth has been. Do I continue to have my children publish their video and infographic contributions, or drop the blog all together.
What continues to play at the edges of this conundrum is what was perhaps the most resounding nail I’ve hammered on during the final years and months of my professional career – that there is a distinct and crucial difference between learning and being taught. I suspect that there has been no time in human history where the ability to skillfully, resourcefully and continuously learn has been such an essential life long working (and playing) skill — lifestyle.
It’s a profound notion that begs the question, do we need an education system to teaches children how to be taught, or that helps them to learn to teach themselves? And if this is a question worth asking, then what does its answer mean to the pedagogies of our classrooms, libraries, school schedules…
As I have turned my attention away from writing about education and preparing for three keynote addresses a week (mostly not an exaggeration), I will must insist to you that I have not stopped learning. To treat my wife, I’ve taken on more of the cooking — applicable learning. I've started practicing the martial art of Aikido — reflective learning. Digital photography and the art and technique of post-production — information-rich learning.
I wonder if it might be useful to write about these learning experiences, removed from formal education. Though I've done a lot of thinking about my martial arts learning, the injured my coccyx (tail bone) from a bicycle accident, has prevented me from visiting the Raleigh Aikikai Dojo lately. I’m not yet mended enough to go and repeatedly fall down again. So let's look think about my photography learning.
I bought a descent DSLR camera several years ago, as an incentive strategy for getting me out of the hotel rooms of the interesting and sometimes exotic places my work was taking me. The scheme worked, and I now have a wealth of snapshots going back close to twenty years. It’s afforded me a richer memory of my global wanderings, but also given me a virtual warehouse of digital images with which to learn and play.
I am mostly using three software tools: Photomatix Pro, to enrich photos by blending different exposures together; Photoshop, to shove pixels around with; and Lightroom for the finishing touches. They are all three, rich and powerful tools for working in a field about which I have no formal training. I simply look at the work of better photographers, watch videos and read blog articles about how they accomplished their masterpieces, pick out a particular technique of interest or need, and teach myself to do it.
And I play.
To the right are before and after images from the train station in Basel, Switzerland, where my wife and I changed trains travel from Frankfort to Milan. The before image is a fine snapshot. It’s clear and crisp. However, there is little sense of the station itself. So a produced a copy of the photo with the exposure cranked up, revealing the high rounded roof and ribbed structure. Blending these two files, with a third lower exposure copy, not only revealed the vast size of the station, but with some play, gave the photo an antique and artistically rendered effect. Near the far end of the building, there was a hint of some open windows with morning sunlight shining through. To excentuate this, I used some techniques that I'd learned the day before to enhance the beams of light add added some extra open windows, giving the photo not only a sense of place, but also of moment.
My point is that
I learn by playing and working and then play and work with what a learn —
..and there is no clear point where one ends and the other begins.
Might classrooms be a little more like this, where students learn by playing and working (accomplishing something of value) and then play and work with what they've learned?
Might these sorts of writings be useful to you, practicing educators?
I was just scanning through a Facebook feed I have for folks I went to high school with, and an old friend posted a YouTube video of the Temptations singing, I Wish it Would Rain. Maybe you have to be close to my age to be able to appreciate the marvel of spanning the decades with a mouse click, or a tablet touch. What if it had been suggested to us, in 1969, that this sort of thing would be possible.
These thoughts reminded me of a day in 1967, when Mrs. Cole, our 9th grade civics teacher, suggested to us that by the year 2000 we would each own our own computer, and it would be small enough to carry in our shirt pockets,
..and it would be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide!
The thing is, that in 1967, we didn’t believe her. The very idea of having such a device, so soon, was beyond our imaginations.
It’s an important story to me, because we cannot begin to imagine the astounding possibilities of our children’s future, the tools and opportunities that they and their children will take for granted.
As an educator, it begs the question, “What do our children need to be learning today, and how do they need to be learning it, to be ready for an un-imaginable future,”
“..to be able to create a future • • • that’s better!”
Traveling is a lot of fun. Especially when one travels to another country or even just to another part of America, one is able to learn about another culture and different people. London may be one of the best cities in which to learn about a variety of cultures. One thing that threw me off when I visited was the small amount of British culture to be seen in London. But one could walk down nearly any street in the city and see someone from almost every country, many of whom may reside in London. And fortunately for those interested in seeing British culture, trains are easy to navigate to cities in the country, each has something different to offer, and the country is rather small in size, compared to the US, and so going from one end to the other doesn’t take nearly as much time as one would expect.
If you were to visit a new city, it is important to make a list of what you want to see. Look on travel sites, and one of my favorites is to search the city on Pinterest. What are your interests. Especially in large cities, it would be difficult to see everything in even several days, so plan accordingly. Also, create a budget and do research. Most tourist attraction are expensive, but some are free. Transportation is also expensive in the city, and I know in London the taxi rates increase during certain hours. Look into mass transit and even walking.
Many of you know by now that I have, surprisingly, become a sports fan. Although I played sports as a youngster, I’ve never been a fan of any sport, until recently – thanks to my son’s enthusiasm and nuanced knowledge of profession basketball and now soccer. We hold season tickets for Bobcat (oh yeah, Hornet) games in Charlotte and we drive down regularly to pull for our favorite team (though I’m still getting my head around my team without Josh McRoberts).
Even though there are still aspects of sports fanaticism that bother me, only one thing truly offends me. It’s when the arena features, during timeouts, court competitions for attendees, sponsored by the “North Carolina Education Lottery.” It’s that name, Education Lottery, that sends needles through my soul.
It’s no surprise to the thinking citizens of NC, that our nine year old state lottery has done nothing to improve the state’s education – nor, in my humble opinion, was it ever intended to. Even though our education budget, in dollars, has risen in the last three decades, its percentage of the states general fund has declined for the past 30 years, according to today’s WRAL.com article, NC education spending on decades-long slide.
In the 1980s, 44¢ of every dollar was spent on education. Today only 37¢ goes to schools. One would hope that a North Carolina Education Lottery would have at least slowed this decline, if not brought it to a haul. But, in fact, the rate of decline has accelerate. More than half (57%) of the 30-year decline occurred in just the last decade, since the Lottery’s passage in 2005.
The true effect (and intent) of the North Carolina Education Lottery is enabling an increasingly corporate-sponsored General Assembly to provide more tax relief to the state’s wealthiest and most privileged.
But what truly offends me every time I hear those four words, is how the lottery is perpetuating a myth, that in America, anyone can excel to the 1%, can reach a place of wealth, power and privilege – and therefore, we should all support any legislation that empowers, protects and advances the state’s (and nation’s) richest,
..and becoming a member could be as easy as a few dollars and the right set of numbers.
…and algebra is not required!
Every year Americans celebrates their independence in a variety of ways, as this infographic shows. My family used to go to join my mom’s family by a lake for a picnic and then watch fireworks across the lake. My cousins would go early in the morning to get a spot right on the lake. I remember seeing people putting watermelons in the water to keep them cool for later. We would usually bring in food from home or a fast food restaurant. There would be bands and lots of celebrations.
According to this infographic, this is a typical experience for most Americans. Most Americans cook out, although I know many who do it in their backyard, watch fireworks, and/or go see a parade. What do you suppose is the reason behind most of these celebrations. Fireworks are most likely related to the remembrance of war and bombs, cooking out may be related to older cooking habits, or simply the fact that cooking out is common in America in the summer. Parades were often used to increase moral during war times, and a way to say a last goodbye to soldiers shipping out or a first hello to soldiers coming home.
How do your students families celebrate? Do you have any students who are not US citizens or were born elsewhere? What was their first impression of these festivities? Most countries have patriotic holidays, what do they entail?
Sadly, binge watching television shows has become the pastime where binge reading once was. However, this is an interesting portrayal of information. Beginning with Sherlock and going down to 24, this infographic shares how long it would take to watch a series of popular tv shows without a break (although hopefully in that time you do eat and shower).
But it does give a simple portrayal of time. Each circle stands for a day, each shaded portion stands for that portion of a day. So two fully shaded circles and one half shaded circle signifies two and a half days. How else can this time frame be used: the amount of time people of different ages use the internet, use their cell phones, and for what? How else could this shaded portrayal be used? As people, or as other objects significant to the infographic?
I know that I’ve not been blogging a lot lately, because the first thing I had to do this morning was update MarsEdit, my blog-writing software.
Yesterday, watching the tweets and status updates being posted by educators packing their bags, arriving at airports and train stations, bound for Atlanta and ISTE 2014 — well it got me to thinking. I’ve been an educator for almost 40 years and that many years in such a dynamic field makes you opinionated. ..and I suppose it’s part of the character of old folks (60+) to express their opinions.
That’s why I tweeted out yesterday…
— David Warlick (@dwarlick) June 26, 2014
There were retweets, agreeing replies, and some push-back — reminding me that this old dog will never learn to fit his thinking into a 140 character message. So here’s what I meant to say.
You will speak to vendors and listen to speakers in Atlanta who claim to know how to fix education, how this practice or product will improve resource efficiency, teacher effectiveness and student performance. Don’t ignore them, but ask yourself, “Are they answering the right question?”
I would suggest that rather than asking, “How do we improve education?” we should be asking ourselves, “What does it mean to be educated?”
Years ago, when my Great Uncle Jim, the last of my family to live in the old Warlick home, passed away, and the house was sold, we were given permission to visit and take any furniture or other items, for which we had a use. My prize was an old quilt that had obviously been stitched together during a quilting party, dated in the late 1800s.
Both Uncle Jim and my Grandfather grew up in this house, and they both went to college, Jim to NCSU (engineering) and my Grandfather to UNC (classics). But when they graduated, they returned to rural Lincoln County, without daily newspapers, monthly journals or a convenient library. They returned to an astonishingly information scarce world.
Being educated then was indicated by what you knew, the knowledge that you’d memorized, knowledge and skills that would serve you for most of the remaining decades of your life.
Today, we are swimming in information and struggling with a rapidly changing world, and the very best that any “education” can do, is provide for us is what we need to know or know how to do for the next couple of years.
Being education is no long indicated by what you’ve been successfully taught.
Being educated today is your ability to resourcefully learn new knowledge and skills and responsibly use them to answer new questions, solve emerging problems and accomplish meaningful goals.
Being educated today is no longer measured by the number of questions we can correctly answer.
It’s measured by how well we you can discover or invent new answers, effectively defend those answers, and then we them to make our lives, communities and world better.
If they’re trying to sell you something at ISTE, ask them, “How will this help my learners to become better educated?”
If they ask you, “What do you mean by educated?” Then there’s hope.
Exactly 2¢ Worth!
I just woke with a start. Did I just miss the ISTE14 ADE (Apple Distinguished Educators) photowalk yesterday? A quick Googling from my office (next to my bedroom) and I see that the event isn’t until next Saturday. Most years I’ve been blogging by now with recommendations for ISTE novices, about what gear to take and how to behave. But not this year. I’ll be mostly taking it easy at home, taking pictures, taking walks, riding my bike, playing with the dog (my daughter’s studying in Europe and we’ve got the dog) and working on a slew of personal projects.
Will I miss ISTE14? Well, I’ll certainly miss the photowalk. Last year’s walk around San Antonio was phenomenal, especially because of the talented and ingenious photographers I followed around — both the gear geeks and the artists.
I’ll also deeply miss EduBloggerCon, now called something else (HackEd), where educators go to learn from each other. I’d planned, for a while, to attend only the photowalk and HackEd, but figuring the cost and how much I’m enjoying becoming a homebody, I finally decided to forego Atlanta this year. I can’t accurately say how many NECC/ISTEs I’ve not missed, but it’s more than 20.
I’d like to say one thing here, about why I’ll be at home on ISTE week – and I’ve written about this before I submitted two presentation proposals.
One was a standup and teach presentation about games and pedagogy. It was accepted.
The other was a very strange interactive performance (see NCTIES), designed to provoke the audience to self-examine their personal ideas about information and communication technologies and education. It was rejected.
Look! The best learning that I have done, was not taught to me. The best learning came from a challenge, or curiosity, or an intriguingly inventive plot – and it involved a conscious and resourceful re-examining of my own knowledge and ideas.
Have fun at ISTE14 and question your learning.« go back — keep looking »