A Kernel is Hidden in me…

PM TALONS Photoset on Flickr 


Fresh from the PM TALONS’ fall retreat, I woke up Monday morning with a tweet from my colleague in Singapore, Jabiz Raisdana, inviting me and fellow writers, teachers and thinkers to run with a post he shared with his class of grade eights at UWC:

I would love to see these words transformed, re-thought and remixed into some kind of art project. I know there are some amazing musicians, writers and artists amongst you; do these words inspire you to draw, sing, create? This post is like Caine’s Arcade, in that I hope it moves you in some way to create. Consider it another seed that I have planted. I will wait patiently and hope that perhaps a few trees may grow.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Hesse quote made a perfect union with some of the pictures I took while the TALONS were journaling on our three day jaunt through the British Columbian woods, where Jabiz’ own words had actually served as a meditating and writing prompt on Thursday afternoon. Before sending the group on a solo walk around the back half of Hicks Lake, I played the TALONS the first half of a song I wrote out of one of Jabiz’ poems and told them to “immerse oneself in the blossoming awareness of the moment,” and that we would meet up on the opposite shore where I would play them the second verse and we would settle ourselves to do a little writing (where I snapped the above pic).

That he would have a follow up quotation for us on Monday morning is unsurprising, of course, because this is the sort of thing I’ve come to expect from my online colleagues, these folks – some of whom, like Jabiz, I’ve never met face-to-face – who are here in our classroom from time to time whether on these blogs or in the local woods: teachers, students, learners, friends.

Open Online Philosophy 12 Start-Up and Invite

Image courtesy of @cogdog

A new course at our school this semester that I was fortunate to be tapped to teach is Philosophy 12. Originally written – by Quirien Mulder ten Kate – as a senior-level interdisciplinary approach to philosophy that would offer T.A.L.O.N.S. alumni an opportunity to continue working in a cohort of gifted learners beyond grade ten, it has taken a few years for the class to load fully and for there to be a teacher in the building with available time and skills to teach it.

Without claiming to have either the time or the requisite skills (I kid, my trusting young philosophy class), I was and am excited at the opportunity to work with so many former TALONS learners, and the other bright lights in our school who are joining the fray of the course with us. The chance to work with senior students in an interdisciplinary, academic subject is new to me (it’s been a few years since I taught English 11 Honours at our school), and with a large number of the participants being familiar with blogs, wikis and the underlying philosophy of learning in an open classroom, looking ahead at the possibilities of the semester is an exciting prospect, even if I’m not sure where our learning will take us in the coming months.

Something I am keen to experiment with is the prospect of inviting people to follow along and participate in the course as open-online learners in Philosophy 12. While the ~27 or so folks registered for the course will be completing assignments and projects for a mark and credit at our school, there is no reason that countless others couldn’t or wouldn’t enrich their own learning lives, as well as our burgeoning community, with their participation.

So…

  • If you’re someone in our school who didn’t get into the course because of a timetable conflict or poor teacher recommendation…
  • If you’re the parent, sibling, friend or (intellectually curious) pet of one of our for-credit learners interested in philosophy…
  • If you’re landing on this page because you googled “Free Philosophy Course” or “Philosophy MOOC” or “What does it mean to be human?”…
  • If you’re just curios to see where this all goes…

Fill out the following form so that we can add you as a contributor to our course blog and wiki site, and keep you up to date with what emerges from this experimental Philosophy seminar.

We’d love to have you along for the ride!

 

Tell this story.

Morning Class Retreat

Talons talking erratically

In brainstorming a way to synthesize the myriad tangents and threads being pursued in our recent study of rebellion and revolution in Egypt, as well as 1860s Manitoba, I wound up writing what began as a challenge to myself, and the Talons, to boil down the human affinity for stories of power, rebellion and freedom, and became much more something of a spoken-word take on history, storytelling, and the very purpose of life itself.

Sometimes, it can feel as though the objective of a lesson – so often a shared synthesis of ideas that comes from everyone pulling in the same direction, as we say in Talons – is elusive to even the instructor, or facilitator, whose job it is to bring about and make meaning – data – for the concerned parties (learner, teacher, parent), until each group’s unique questions can be asked, and looking ahead at the next few days and a wrapping up of the unit on Canadian rebellion, I struggled to answer a few of the ‘regular’ questions:

  • What to make of the course material (in this case history)?
  • How to connect it to our modern experience?
  • How might this unit / project connect to the group’s collective and individual self?

In this case, I was trying to make the study of history connect with the class’ consistent call to actualize ourselves in the learning environment, and personal lives as students and citizens, and in some small way perhaps echoing Jim Groom’s call to:

...make open education in praxis fun, accessible, and basically rock!! DS106 is the beginning of this movement, and it isn’t about me, just look around ds106. I mean people all over the world are doing Colleen‘s Playlist Poetry assignment, she is shaping this class not only by her willingness to create and participate, but by our ability to connect that urge with many, many others who share her desire. That is the beginning of a new dynamic that is not simply transactional. The idea of creative teaching hopefully re-imagines that locus—and I need to spend some more time framing this out more because I know it’s right. I feel it deeply in my heart of heart’s, and as Gardner notes in the discussion above, it is time to reinvest our hearts in the process of teaching and learning—I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment and I want to make it so.

I wanted the Talons to take their reading and evolving understanding of our national, and current, history, and give it voice in whatever way they might see. But it can be difficult to generate this type of inspiration without a concrete goal, or set of instructions. My vision, though complex and potentially multi-faceted as the personalities and perspectives in the class, and across the world, was simple at its heart: I wanted the class to tell the story of Louis Riel, and the Red River Rebellion, and in doing so tell the story of our class, each of us, in encountering our history, and one another, at this moment in our shared development.

What else is there in life, really?

I was inspired and enthralled in this idea, as well, by my recent drive-time listening to the Radiolab podcast episode, “Who am I?” delving into engrossing scientific radio journalism in support its episode’s thesis: “The self is a story the brain tells itself.”

RadioLab.org – “The Story of Me”

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p style=”text-align: justify;”> And somewhere in there, in reflecting on the recent action research of the class’ blogging community, and the developing narrative of the class’ collective, and individual successes and struggles, I thought that the best outline I could offer the lesson and upcoming group project was the simple challenge of the brief essay I had written the night before. It is – to date – the strangest introductory material I have given to a history class.

Louis Riel by Bryanjack

Tell this story.

Rebellion, oppression, the will of humans to be free. We are taught the nature of history, and government, communication storytelling in the name of a pursuit of knowledge, of ourselves, and the breadth of our nature to be capable of making something, and living the best life we can. If each person who was given the opportunity to express their perspective in life did so, with the tools at their disposal to record and publish their thinking across distance and time we might know some fraction of the truth in a world inhabited by a people whose singular defining characteristic is to staunchly resist the very changes which contribute to our progress. But these struggles each represent a powerful theme in and of themselves about the truth of humanity’s story: that an indominable human will inevitably overcome a beaurocratic means of suprressing it; that new ideologies can shatter the expectations and realities of the old; and that an age committed fervently to its ideals is rife with the opportunity to be exposed by people few and brave. And we well these people’s stories, and attempt to in some way understand them and the moment they ineherited, and chose to stand up, and not submit to the expectations and realities of their day, so that we might recognize, in our own selves, and our own times, those things for which we need to stand up. Throughout history, we read of continuous examples of peoples who have through violence and ignorance have had their rights supressed by regimes both tyranical and democratic. When people have acted in haste or fits of passion, incorrectly, this has resulted in many deaths. Our present moment asks that we stand and be counted as lives lived to the best of our honest knowledge about what our actions mean. We study the lives and times of men like Louis Riel to know what others have been willing to stand for, when doing so has not been easy. Because it never it easy, and surely will not be when it is our turn, whether we are standing for our lives, our minds,or own opinion in a world where everyone’s from New Orleans’ orphans to the Kings of Spain, is exactly equal.

A Week without Technology

Telramen op de bank in de klas / Counting-frames in classroom

Essential classroom technology

A few weeks ago, I wrote:

I would also be interested in establishing a school learning community that values face-to-face dialogue, debate, and experiential, first-hand learning for students and teachers alike. If we are to ask that our students are committed to the present moment of their current learning, why shouldn’t we expect the same of one another?

Blog Post as Essay: Cell Phones in the Classroom
Wederopbouw: provisorisch schoollokaal / Improvised classroom, shortly after the War

How much has changed since this photo was taken?

After writing that post, I thought about the possibilities of setting up this ultimately face-to-face school environment that would not only challenge those of us who rely on futuristic technologies – iPhones, laptops, projectors, etc – to rethink our jobs as facilitators of classroom learning, but also give those who would ban cellphones in their classroom a greater context to appreciate the current, rampant rate of technological progress.

I thought that a week without technology – without email, photocopiers, announcements and overhead projectors – would be a bounding step forward in establishing a truly local school community, and a rallying point for digital natives, and immigrants.

  • Why not turn such a week into a fundraiser, a way to promote awareness about our dependence on technology, and question our relationship with our digital (as well as other) tools?

As he has a habit of doing, Ira Socol is a few steps ahead of me:

Let’s try a week without clocks and bells. Few technologies interrupt the learning process more, and limit learning to “the shallows” more, than the school timetable. And few things belittle students more – or expose our hypocrisies more – than bells. They are not just Pavlovian, they are unfairly so. Kids are “late” when the bell rings, but teachers often insist that they get dismissal power, meaning bells are only significant when they can punish students. So take a week. Cancel the start time and the finish time. Abandon the class schedule. Let students pick which of their classrooms they want to be in – and when. Let kids spend a day working on one thing, or five minutes, whichever they need and want. Let them eat when they want, use the toilet when they want, debate Shakespeare when they want. See what happens. Our school schedule was invented by Henry Barnard to train kids for industrial shift work. Is that what are schools are still designed to do?
Speelplaats van een Rooms-Katholieke school / Schoolyard of a Roman Catholic school

How it could be.

Let’s try a week without desks and chairs. Pile them all up in the corner and ignore them. Let kids bring what they need to make themselves comfortable. As I asked one school district: “Do any of you have furniture like this at home?” The chair and desk, that contribution of William Alcott in the 1830s, might have made sense then. But we have central heating now, and carpets are available everywhere. And pillows are cheap at Ikea – so are lapdesks. And kids would rather be comfortable. And… teachers might find themselves worrying a whole lot less about controlling how kids sit in their chairs. Let’s try a week without books and paper. We know how many of our kids struggle with reading and writing – the physical acts. The word decoding, the holding of the pen, the traditional keyboarding – these things are our primary creators of disability. So let’s get “Socratic” for a week. Lets get fully digital (adaptable text, speech recognition) or simply verbal/audio. Let’s talk and listen. Let’s think out loud and work on auditory memory. We might see a whole new set of student skills rise to the top with those “Gutenberg technologies” stripped from our kids’ lives. We might see a whole new kind of learning.