Note: Ramble and snark quotients: +99
When I was a student, I was taught to scratch paper. I scratched lines and loops and did it well or poorly, properly or improperly. I hide all of my scratched paper in my notebooks until it was time to give it to my teachers, who measured its correctness by marking what was incorrect. If there was no incorrectness, then a got a 100 or an “A" ––––– 100 what? "A" what?
The hope was that if it was ever necessary for me to write, in order to communicate across time or space, I would remember enough correct scratching to be coherent and compelling.
When I graduated from high school, writing was still a “just in case” skill. A sizable portion of my class went to work in one of the local textile mills, planning never to ever have to scratch anything again that was any more important than a shopping list.
This is an profoundly inefficient and disrespectful way to educate free people.
To say, "One day you'll need to know this," is to admit appalling lack of commitment and creativity. This is especially true when insult to injury is what's not said, "You'll need to know this for the government test in May."
What conjured this internal conversation in me was a brief exchange in the backchannel transcript from a National Science Teachers Association conference in Charlotte a couple of weeks ago. Diane Johnson tweeted:
..to which I commented in the transcript wiki,
That last sentence came from something that David Jakes said at ISTE last year in San Antonio. He said,
“We need to shift from a focus on’Engagement’ to focusing on ‘Empowerment.’“ (Jakes, 2013)
I, in my schooling, was neither engaged nor empowered, as I learned to scratch paper. Of course, there were those who were engaged, or acted engaged. They scratched eagerly and more correctly than I did, because they received more 100s and As. I don’t know how their scratching was better than mine, because I never saw it. I couldn't learn from their example, because their scratches were hidden in notebooks as well. It had no more value or power than mine did.
I don’t scratch any more. I write. I put words to paper or to screen, and clarify their meaning with punctuation and capitalization, because I am writing to someone for some purpose.
I’m still learning to write better. I question what I write and I Google things like, "proper placement of commas in sentences” or "italics quotation marks and titles." I also use an array of digital tools to help me spell and choose the best words – tool that my teachers, 50 years ago, could not have imagined. Their notions of our future needs and opportunities did not reach much further than cotton mills and the college that the “engaged" would attend – as well as a few of us who were not “engaged."
Today, engagement has become one of our most earnest pursuits, because we’re teaching children who are accustomed to being engaged. ..and we continually ask, "How do I measure engagement?"
You can’t, at least in any way that even suggests the quality of learned.
But empowerment can be measured. You do it the same way that our value is measured after we leave classrooms, teachers and textbooks behind. Learners demonstrate what they’ve learned, by what they’re empowered to do with it – what they produce, the problems they solve, the goals they accomplish. Look at a produced video, crafted animation, clear and compelling article, or a creatively designed and marketed bird house, and you can see what was learned.
It's not clean. It's not clinical. But what does precision grading mean when the names of state capitals, the chemical symbol for magnesium and the proper placement of the comma can all be Googled. Why are we so pressured to test our children's ability to live without Google.
Lets face it. The only ones who want this for our children are those who would politicize and monetize education.
Yesterday, Tim Holt wrote “Why I am At a Science Conference,” describing his work at this week’s Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching (CAST), and why it is so important that we edubloggers and techspeakers should be sharing our messages into other communities of interest, science teachers for instance. I agree. I’ve tried, for years, to get into social studies conferences. When I succeed, it’s to do a concurrent session, and only 12 teachers showed up. It’s part of the nature of the profession, that we owe our professional identity to our particular area of specialty.
I have keynoted foreign language conferences, library conferences, administrator, and even book publisher, real-estate developer and farmer conferences. Perhaps the most receptive to my particular message are school boards conferences. But Tim is right. Little of this actually makes it into classrooms, especially the “Common Core” classrooms.
Holt referred to the fact that I too will also be speaking to Science teachers this week, in Charlotte, at one of the regional conferences of the National Science Teachers Association – and my efforts to tailor my presentation to that audience. I admit some concern about speaking to science teachers, because I taught social studies, and my examples tend to be more social studies oriented – though I would maintain that any good social studies teacher is also teaching science, math, health, literature, and everything else. It’s all societal.
Tim mentioned me because of a string of posts I made to Facebook and Twitter yesterday, reporting my progress in playing with Kerbal Space Program, a sandbox-style game that has the player designing, building, and flying space craft, on missions from the planet Kerbal. It’s been fun, regardless of my immigrant clumsiness with video games – though I am experiencing some pride in finally getting a manned (well a Kerban-piloted) space craft into orbit. It cost the lives of 12 fellow kerbans and several billion $kerbols worth of hardware.
And although (David’s) message is VERY general, it is at least a start. He is trying to tailor the message to the audience by demoing the Kerbal Space Program online game (https://kerbalspaceprogram.com) so good for him. But those opportunities are few and far between.
These opportunities rare and priceless. ..and forgive me if I seem overly sensitive and even defensive, but there is nothing general about this. The message is singular and it is revolutionary. It has nothing to do with, “Look, here’s something that you can do in your classroom with technology.” It is,
“Look, here’s what many of your students are doing outside your classroom. It’s fun, but it’s work. It’s hard work. And it is entirely about learning. The energy of our students’ youth culture is not based on how high you can jump or fast you can run. It is neither wit nor the appealing symmetry of your face. The energy of their culture is the ability to skillfully and resourcefully learn and to inventively employ that learning.”
My message is that children are entering our classrooms with learning skills that, although based on long understood pedagogies, they are skills that we are too often ignoring and sometimes even handicapping. When I say that we “chop their tentacles off,” it’s not about cutting them off from technology. We’re amputating their access to the learning skills that they are so effectively developing outside our classrooms – their avenues to personally meaningful accomplishment.
Perhaps those of us who have chosen to pursue education technology or have been seduced by its potentials are in a unique position to notice our children’s ’native’ learning skills – more so than science or social studies teachers. But we all must be careful to shed the glow of tech, and get right down to the point of being educated in this time of rapid change.
It’s not about being taught.
It’s about becoming a learner.
The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) will be holding a conference this week in Charlotte, The Queen City of North Carolina. It is both ironic and opportune for science teachers, from around the country, to converge on my state to celebrate science education and to learn more about their chosen passion and techniques conveying it to their students.
I had planned to explain this event’s importance as part of my address to the audience. But, alas, I’ll have only 45 minutes, so will be getting right to business. Instead, I’ll explain it all here, sitting in a Raleigh coffee shop, and proud to be a citizen of this state that owes so much of its recent success to science and education – and a state that desperately needs to be snapped out of its stupor.
Dazed by $80,000,000 worth of campaigning in 2012 (“Follow the money,” 2012), we have witnessed an arrogant government, in effect, vilify science and education. Helping to spur this backward thinking is John Droz, a retired real-estate investor and fellow with the American Tradition Institute (which is tied to fossil fuel interests). In a recent presentation [a Droz slidedeck] to the General Assembly, he called smart meters “fascism in a box” and environmentalism a “new world religion backed by the United Nations.” Among his cited sources were,
Whistleblower, the monthly magazine companion of WorldNetDaily a website that promotes conspiracy theories about topics such as President Obama’s citizenship; Quadrant, a conservative Australian magazine that was involved in a scandal over publishing fraudulent science and the Institute for Creation Research a Texas outfit that rejects evolution and promotes Biblical creationism and the notion that “All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the Creation Week.” (Surgis, 2013)
Also carrying some influence is John Skvarla, the newly appointed Secretary for the state’s Department of the Environment and Natural Resources. He apparently believes that oil is a renewable resource, saying “The Russians for instance have always drilled oil as if it’s a renewable resource, and so far they haven’t been proven wrong.“
And then there are the legislators of 20 coastal counties, where developers have been stifled by the notion of sea level rise. So to make things better for developers, They introduced a bill that outlaws the rise of the sea, or at least how it’s measured. From House Bill 819, Section 2.
This whole business prompted comedian, Stephen Colbert to say on the air, “If your science gives you a result you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved.“
The dramatic decline in Tobacco farming in North Carolina, illustrated in this graphic (North Carolina Department of Agriculture), has meant an enormous hardship for rural NC. As part of Raleigh’s efforts to find a new cash crop, the Biofuels Center of North Carolina was established five years ago, researching, developing and testing a variety of crops biomass crops.
|The now defunct Biofuels Center of North Carolina web site|
The center closed its doors last week. The General Assembly cut the center’s entire $4.3 million budget. In the words of Steven Burke, the centers CEO,
“The center, a growing biofuels community statewide, and companies considering new facilities here share dismay that North Carolina has visibly pulled back from the nation’s lead state biofuels agency and from long-term commitment to comprehensive biofuels development.” “No longer pursuing advanced biofuels with a focused, comprehensive strategy will lessen opportunity to create rural jobs, strengthen agriculture, and create an enormous biofuels and biomaterials sector.”
There’s not much that a few thousand science teachers can do, except to be mindful that science is neither fact nor theology. It’s a way of looking at the world, observing, hypothesizing, predicting, testing, evaluating and adapting. It is both personal and social, and following someone else’s standards for what’s to know (to be taught) is as repudiating to what science is as outlawing the results.
I look forward to seeing many of you at the NSTA conference this week in Charlotte. I’ll be inBallrooms C&D at 2:00 on Friday afternoon.
Follow the money. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.followthemoney.org/database/state_overview.phtml?s=NC&y=2012
Surgis, S. (2013, February 7). Climate conspiracy theorist returns to NC legislature, warns of threat from science ‘elite’. [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.southernstudies.org/2013/02/climate-conspiracy-theorist-returns-to-nc-legislature-warns-of-threat-from-science-elite.htm
(2011). Coastal management policies (House Bill 819). Retrieved from North Carolina General Assembly website: http://www.nccoast.org/uploads/documents/CRO/2012-5/SLR-bill.pdf
North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, North Carolina Agricultural Statistics. (n.d.). Crops: Highs & lows, stocks & storage, biotech, varieties, floriculture, county estimates, fruits & vegetables. Retrieved from website: http://www.ncagr.gov/stats/2012AgStat/Page061_098.pdf