“Moments happen quickly, and changes come slowly.”

Summer school

The title of this post, and its contents are synthesis and reflection of my thoughts while reading James Nahachewsky and David Slomp’s book chapter “Sound and Fury: Studied Response(s) of Curriculum and Classroom in Digital Times,” originally published in Beyond ‘Presentism': Re-Imagining the Historical, Personal, and Social Places of Curriculum (2009).

Similar to Borges‘ introduction, “like all men, he was given bad times in which to live,” we find ourselves in complex times that have yet undeniably coalesced into a present “moment” that might be described as a Digital Age. The arrival of these digital times has arrived with

“a shift in perspective that recently has thrown many modernist educational boundaries and underlying assumptions into doubt – including constructs of learner and teacher, and schooling itself (Gee, 2004; Knobel & Lankshear, 2007). This shift is due, in part to young people’s own fluid, de-territorialized meaning-making afforded by the consumption and, perhaps more importantly, the production of digital texts.”

Nahachewsky and Slomp present the problem of how confronting these new realities of the digital age reveals a contradiction in that “digital texts, as created by young people become sites of action and agency [while] Arguably, brick and mortar classrooms are not.” The language arts, the authors note, are uniquely situated to reveal the particular opportunities such times present the study of pedagogy, as new media arise, changing the relationships between students, teachers, and even broader educative communities beyond our institutions. Using the shift brought to text by the digital age as a corollary, the authors begin to outline a structural transformation that is beginning to be seen in literacy education.

“The spaces of classroom and educational digital texts create complex dialogic ‘contact zones’ (Bakhtin 1981), where we may witness the representation of learner, teacher, and curriculum in interesting, complex, and non-traditional ways.”

Highlighting the example of the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol for Collaboration in Basic Education, Nahachewsky and Slomp note that democratic governments have engaged the collision of the 21st century and its burgeoning technological revolution to provoke discussion around the revolutionizing of curriculum itself, though the section of the paper begins with a quote from Jerome Bruner’s Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (1986):

“Language- can never be neutral, it imposes a point of view not only about the world to which it refers, but toward the use of mind in respect of this world.”

Because while the governments of the western provinces strive toward a collaboratively determined common curriculum that will best prepare young Canadians for the digital and globalized 21st century, “The primary issue the Ministers [of education from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon and the North West Territories] identified in the agreement was the need to optimize the limited resources of the provinces in improving education [emphasis from the original].” The point of view “imposed,” and which frames the narrative of educational reform contextualizes the task as one of necessity rather than aspiration.

One needn’t suggest that fiscal responsibility shouldn’t constitute an aspect of educational discourse; but by beginning from this foundation, the “authors” of our curricular narratives – granted such voice by the democratic processes guiding public policy in Canada – limit the possible iterations of curriculum that might better contribute to education’s guiding purpose(s) than those created solely out of financial necessity. With the broad focus of literacy, the authors summarize the purpose of language learning expressed in the WNCP, which presents literacy as a tool:

“To facilitate thinking, define culture, develop personal identity, build interpersonal relationships, extend experience, facilitate reflection, contribute to a democratic society, construct and convey meanings, and facilitate metacognitive awareness.”

But while even optimists among us might appreciate these strokes of application that these democratic processes have sketched out on our collective behalf, the authors emphasize what is not included in this discussion of education’s future, what is not part of the narrative authored on society’s behalf: “the question, To what end?”

“…to what end do we use language to facilitate thinking or to construct meaning?”

In other words, what is understanding? And what is it for?

The affordances of new media in these digital times has further contributed to the disruption of the narrative of the singular author, a process that has been at work throughout the modernist period and which dates back to the Enlightenment period. Such philosophical movements are congruent with Bruner’s suggestion “that our use of language has a constitutive role in creative social reality and concepts of our selves.” 

To paraphrase Michael Wesch, our digital times present us with the opportunity to witness Marshall McLuhan‘s edict that “we shape our tools, and then our tools shape us,” in real time, largely through the critical study and experimentation with different forms of texts encountered in the language arts classroom. Indeed, Nahachewsky and Slomp point out that “this has important implications for the culture of education and the concepts of self that teachers and students co-construct.”

As the revolution of text online has challenged the notion of a single authorial rendering (even of an original work or act), so too might the digital age present the opportunity to consider the direction and construction of meaning to be a collaborative act between students who are guided in this process by a teacher. However well intended, our present schools are places where

“students are seen as participants who are given a role as ‘performing spectators who play out their canonical roles according to rule when appropriate cues appear.”

Bruner notes further than “this role causes the child to only identify himself as owner, as user, never as creator; he does not invent the world, he uses it.” However much this framing might offer a shift in perspective to today’s educators, it has been more than one hundred years since Maria Montessori lamented that while “it is true that some pedagogues, led by Rousseau, have given voice to the impracticable principles and vague aspirations for the liberty of the child [...], the true concept of liberty is practically unknown to educators.” (Montessori 1912)

More than one hundred years ago, Montessori wished

“to direct the teacher to awaken in him[self], in connection with his own particular field, the school, that scientific spirit which opens the door for him to broader and bigger possibilities. In other words, we wish to awaken in the mind and heart of the educator an interest in natural phenomena to such an extent that, loving nature, he shall understand the anxious and expectant attitude of one who has prepared an experiment and who awaits a revelation from it.”

However as we look to the educative narrative presented in Canada today, we might note the Federal Harper Government’s discussions of scientific discovery have similarly limited its scope to invest “scarce resources” in research that offers a practical return on investment, thus affirming the broader cultural narrative of perpetuating an infinite growth economy as our highest purpose.

As it is in education, the question To what end? is not included in the discussion of why we ought pursue scientific discovery (if not to achieve predicted economic outcomes), and the omission represents an abandoning of principles around which our cultural, social, artistic, political and moral traditions each originate and continue to revolve, those traditions which coalesced and were articulated during the dawn of the era of mass-printed texts.

Following the invention of the printing press, Europe witnessed the transformation of its public sphere(s) (Habermas 1991), with paradigmatic shifts visited upon religion, politics, science, philosophy and the arts. The ability of greater and greater numbers of people to encounter and freely share new ideas delivered a cataclysm upon the singular narratives of public affairs constructed with absolute power by monarchs and churches, and is the overarching arc of justice which guides foundational schools of western philosophical thought to this day. Broadening the base of authorship in the creation of a collective narrative led directly to the transformation of the existent structures of the preceding paradigm.

We might learn from these events, as the advent of our modern, digital technologies presents what may constitute an analogous ‘moment’ of cultural revolution where the discussion of what might be is at least as relevant for discussion as the prospects of what must be. In fact, we have learned much from those who sought to uphold the mantles of chalice and crown throughout the various Enlightenment revolutions employed various arguments to make their case, and should proceed skeptically with those who would tell us what “must be.” With the traditions of scholarship and tools we have acquired in the age of empiricism, the test to establish what “must”…

must be of the strictest rigor.

In the meantime, it is equally important that modern educationists explore and discover what can be, as it is central to the task of creating a fuller perception of nature and humankind which the traditions of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and political philosophy demand of us.

Précis: A Critical Consideration of the New Pedagogy in its Relation to Modern Science

Dr. Montessori in the garden of the school at Via Giusti. Image courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania

Maria Montessori presents a critical consideration of the “New Pedagogy” (1912) by discussing the advent and implementation of the “scientific pedagogy” that took root in Italy around the turn of the 20th century. Montessori’s critique focuses on the shortcomings of scientific pedagogy to address the human subjects (and observers) involved in the study of teaching and learning.

In establishing her critique, Montessori finds fault with an overemphasis on the instrumentalization of pedagogy which comes at the expense of a more authentic manifestation of the spirit of learning. This spirit of learning is connected throughout her argument as part of the same pursuit of knowledge that has sustained human progress since the beginning of civilization. She cites examples of rigid student desks and behaviourist means of doling out rewards and punishments as elements of “scientific pedagogy” that run counter to the spirit of discovery that is central to learning.

For a new pedagogy to emerge within this context, Montessori argues that teachers ought to be prepared to engage the act of teaching as one oriented toward “a conquest of liberty” that provides an education in which pupils are seen as future agents of human regeneration. To this end, she proposes educationists elevate the study of pedagogy to that of its own scientific exploration: part of the larger narrative of human progress that is embedded within the histories of science, technology, and the broader humanities, and yet informed by its own unique contexts and possibilities.

Montessori, Maria George, Anne E. (Trans), (1912). The Montessori method: Scientific pedagogy as applied child education in “The Children’s Houses”, with additions and revisions by the author. , (pp. 1-27). New york, NY, US: Frederick A Stokes Company, xlii, 377 pp. doi: 10.1037/13054-001

A few thoughts on the return of Chris Hadfield to Earth

It’s over, already?

This glorious stretch of time when everyone and everything “anyone ever knew” was being photographed, watched over, and sung to sleep by a Canadian hurtling around the planet a dozen times every day, has come to a close. But then, it seems a beginning, too.

Alan Levine marks the occasion by wondering:

How sadly strange and unique does it seem to find a public figure who inspires, yet is humble, has fun, and lights that spirit of optimism. It doe snot happen in politics, our sports figures and pop culture celebrities ring more as ego focused money chasers. Why are there so few who humbly inspire by example?

Countless times in the past few months, I’ve been moved to goosebumps, lumps in my throat, or the overwhelmed sensation that brings the unexplained tear to the eye by Twitpics, – you can see my house from here! – Soundcloud recordings, and of course, the Youtubes. And I don’t know if it’s necessarily that the idea of ‘space’ itself is so awe inspiring, or that this opportunity to behold the life and times of an astronaut has been transformative in some way that interviews and newscasts and Discovery Channel documentaries offered in the past weren’t.

Rather, an article shared by my Twitter friend Sava posits that our collective wonder at the glimpses Commander Hadfield offered us might be the result of our gathering familiarity with the near cosmos, and what this might portend for the future:

“Communications tools don’t get socially interesting,” Clay Shirky has argued, “until they get technologically boring.” The same may be said of space. As a destination — as a place, as a dream — space may be, ever so slightly, losing its former mantle of foreignness, its old patina of awe. Instead, the final frontier may now be experiencing the fate that befalls any frontier: It stops being a frontier. Its settlers come to think of it, more and more, as an extension of what they know … until it becomes, simply, all that they know. Until it becomes the most basic thing in the world: home.

Space is becoming ordinary. And that means it’s about to get really interesting.

Whatever the reason though, it has been a marvelous ride to share in, Commander Hadfield. You showed us our home planet and took us with you into space, showed us pieces of the future, and broadened the boundaries of our imaginations.

Thank you for all of that, and that which lies ahead.

BCIT Woodlot Visit

BCIT Forestry instructor Jonathan Smyth has been kind enough to spend a few days in the last few years teaching the TALONS about land and resource management in the Maple Ridge research forest. This year we are spending two days with either of the cohorts and Jonathan in the fresh onset of autumn rain in the coastal woods, conducting tree inventories and learning about the complex interplay of ecosystems and the various knowledge and practices that humans use to manage our relationship with them. Supporting science, socials and physical education curricula in the same activities, we are always grateful to be doing our learning outdoors, and to Jonathan and BCIT for having us out again.

Along with the photoset embedded above, I also captured a few audio samples of Friday’s exercise in taking a tree inventory:

TALONS Worldbuilding Project

“Overhauling how we teach science…”

blood sample overview

A colleague of mine sent me an email that I thought I would attempt to crowd-source some responses to in advance of our conversation sometime in the next week.

I would enjoy talking to you about how you think science classes could be taught differently, especially biology. I ask my students to refrain from asking questions that Google could answer, yet, I’m teaching content that they could Google for themselves. I’m not sure if I can re-vamp my system to keep them busy for a semester though. I think that Chem and Physics are pretty much dialed in because you need to go through the process of problem-solving with the students but in Biology, it’s so much memorization. What do you think?    


And, really: what do you think? How would you revamp / rebuild / and revolutionize a biology classroom? How have you moved away from the Google-able, and delved into higher levels of thinking beyond memorization?

We would greatly appreciate any love and input you might offer in the comments.

 

 

Today we run for Terry

Part II, Part III, Part IV

Today our school participated in the Terry Fox Run, and remembered the truest of Canadian heroes, who makes each of us see ourselves as individually capable of greatness, and collectively capable of achieving the impossible. In him, Canada imagines itself, a fact that was brought home to me a few years ago when I drove past the stretch of highway where Terry’s run ended, just east of Thunder Bay, Ontario.

As far as Terry gotI was 22 and driving across the country, the year I graduated from university, down south, and my sister and I had spent the summer working at a Boy Scouts of America summer camp in the Ozark Mountains. We had flown to Toronto and bought a car that we filled with WalMart camping gear and headed west, out through the Great Lakes and the immensity of Ontario on an odyssey across our homeland after stretches of time away (a few months for my sister; five years for myself). After living in Arkansas, and living in the woods on the edge of Damascus, Arkansas (pop. 307), we had come to feel ourselves as something of ambassadors for Canada, and encountered the North with fresh eyes that let us see the unfolding miles of highway, and rock, and sky with a deep appreciation that This is what we were. The country – as I’ve written at some length before – is spread out: the only thing we share resolutely no matter where in Canada we live is that – to varying degrees – we live far from everywhere else.

And Terry chose to run across it. To dip his leg in the Atlantic and set out running toward Victoria. To go town to town, and ask people to raise money and awareness for cancer research.

The immensity of the task – 26.2 miles: a marathon, every day – and the enormity of his hope have spread his message and example far beyond the life he eventually surrendered after leaving the highway east of Thunder Bay. He didn’t  abandon his run, or even lose his battle against his own mortality, or the country’s highways. Being shuttled into an ambulance on a stretcher, finally, Terry apologizes.

“I’m sorry I won’t be able to continue my run,” he tells us.

But he leaves the fight in our hands, and asks that we commit ourselves to an act in his memory once a year, to not let the Marathon of Hope ever be complete until the impossible can be realized, and we can finally say that we have cured cancer.

That day is coming, and we will all have had a hand in it.

Who else lets us believe this? Who else proves it with their very existence?

And so today we run for Terry, a guy who trained for his marathon on streets near our school. We run to remember that we, too, are capable of greatness.

Douglas Coupland says it better:

We like to speak to the dead because, in a way, they’re perfect. We here on earth can only grow weaker and worse for wear, but the dead remain pure – not only pure but they do not judge those who still live.  
We tell the deceased things we don’t dare tell anybody else, because they know the worst that can happen. And if they died young, they never had a chance to lose the fine and wonderful parts of themselves.  

Maybe you’re young, and maybe you’re old. If you’re old, you know that as life goes on, we do lose a part of ourselves along the way. And maybe the parts we leave are the ones we once considered our best. But the thing about Terry is that he never lost the finest parts of himself, and because he left us the way he did, he’s always there. To many people, Terry never stopped running. Day or night he’s still near us, passing by the outskirts of the cities we live in: he’s out there in the Rockies and out there amidst the fields, out there on the Canadian highways, with his strange hop-click-thunk step, forever fine and keeping the best parts of ourselves alive, too.

 

Music and a math problem

In watching the attached video, you can hear the lunch bell ring at the end of period two about a minute (or so) into the song.

Kyle, who we can assume left Ms. Jung’s foods classroom as the bell was ringing, makes it to his place behind the drum kit sometime later (arrival time will be indicated in the player bar at the bottom).

I’m not a math teacher, but can see the problem solving involved at interpreting every level of this scenario:

  • How far is it from Ms. Jung’s class to mine?
  • How quickly do students fill the hallways following the lunch bell?
  • How fast is Kyle travelling, if he knows there are drums waiting to be played somewhere in the school?
  • As a hallway becomes more crowded (and at what rate does this happen?), how does the flow of traffic affect a traveller (and does their direction of travel matter)?

There are plenty of other metrics and statistics that can be applied to this fragment of recorded data that we have in the Youtube video that makes me wonder what would happen if our school’s various math classes were assigned to calculate Kyle’s average speed, and set out to discover the other resultant facts about the world we inhabit intimately every day.

There would need to be field researchers to look into the variables associated with gathering crowds, theorists to devise formulae, groups to brainstorm the various ways to interpret the available truths in the documented evidence, and innumerable other ways that reveal the hidden numerical, statistical machinery that lies behind things, and in this manner so to reveal the essence of mathematics.

In a matter of weeks, the fundamental elements that drive high school math could go about involving a hundred students, and more than a few teachers in statistically, probabilistically, and mathematically recreating Kyle’s mad dash between the foods and choir classrooms.

This too closely reminds me of when I briefly introduced the theory of plate tectonics to a group of Humanities 9 students setting out to discover the geography of North America. I told them that what is now British Columbia, and much of the Western continental shelf had originally been a part of Asia, and had drifted across the Pacific before colliding with Alberta, Idaho, Colorado, and creating the impact residue we know as the Rocky Mountains. After I had let this idea sink in, I happened to be standing behind two fourteen year old boys who marvelled at one another:

Can you imagine if you were standing there, when that first happened?!

It can be said that neither of the two young gentlemen in question were particularly successful in my course – and were likely not prized math scholars either. But they were excited about this: the idea of finding out what happened when our continent was formed. This characterization pleased a friend of mine, who is working toward his PhD in Geology, and spends the majority of his working year applying mathematics to the history of our continent.

“Basically,” he said, when I told him about the boys being keen to get back to that initial moment of impact. “That’s what I do.”

And what Reid does is math.

It all kind of makes me wish that our school’s didn’t have bells, or walls dividing subjects.

To be clear, I’m no math teacher – and even took Math 12 twice, earning 80% each time. But even with as much as I know about Pythagorean theorems and sin waves, I don’t find myself wondering about how far away a hot air balloon is all that much from day to day (in fact, chances are that if I had a friend in that hot air balloon, our phones could tell us our distances in elevation, the vertical ground between us, one another, Paris, France… the list goes on).

But I want to know about this.

Do you?

What can you tell me about Kyle’s run for the drums?