Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mining the Data

One of the things that struck me in the Teacher Tube Master Class presented by Jason Smith (a good few weeks back now) was if we think in limited or old ways about learning and teaching the use of technology won't transform the learning . Jason started with an idea he wanted us to grapple with; agree, disagree, and well, just not sure. 'All student learning can be captured online.' It certainly got the discussion going and the questions coming. Initially I was intrigued, I was thinking about the many ways students could (are) demonstrate their learning and how students' understandings could be assessed and their thinking made visible and the many digital forms that could be used to capture the learning online. However as the session progressed the language he used wasn't matching the possibilities I imagined. Words like, testing, standards, mining data, activities, homework, delivering education; it wasn't the language that inspired me to think of the possibilities of capturing learning online. I began to feel that the scope of how the online spaces could be used was narrowing. While the idea of capturing student learning online has immense potential to transform learning, teaching and education more broadly, I felt that the technology he was suggesting may only offer sophisticated ways to 'mine data' that already existed or create more data that captured the same learning. Education will be transformed when we think differently about learning and teaching and seek new and innovative ways to capture learning. Technology will not only enable this but will also lead us to be innovative in this endeavor.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Catching their Meaning

Earlier this year Ron Ritchhart presented 'Discourses in the Culture of Classroom Thinking'. What I like about Ron's work is how he identifies and makes explicit the cultural forces that come into play within the classroom. In this I begin to see that what creates 'our classrooms' are patterns. Patterns of discourse, patterns of interaction, patterns in how space and time are used. These patterns communicate what is valued in the classroom. Central to creating these cultures of thinking is the student. Such classrooms are student centred and focussed on learning. Within such classrooms teachers are highly responsive to what students are understanding and how students are understanding, and as Ron suggests it is all about 'Catching their Meaning'

I've captured some of the key ideas using webspiration

Friday, February 27, 2009

'Understanding the thing that one Tames'

A recent reread of Antonine De Saint-Exupery's delightful book the Little Prince lead me back to an earlier post, The Tame and the Wild. One of the many stories the Little Prince relates to the pilot, is his meeting with the fox. The fox, longing to be tamed eventually explains to the Little Prince that to be tamed is to establish ties, to be connected and to create memories of that which has been tamed. The Little Prince however tells the fox while he would like to tame him, he has no time. Disappointed,the fox replies, 'One only understands the things that one tames.' He goes on to tell the Little Prince that this taming takes patience and perhaps very little words.

This I think adds something to my earlier exploration of the metaphor, 'The Tame and the Wild' and what it means for education. If understanding is the tussle of taming the wild, then we need to start with some wild ideas or topics in our curriculum. Like the Little Prince we should not be scared of or scared off engaging with the wild (the wild fox initially tells the Little Prince he can not play with him because he has not been tamed; he's off limits!). The understandings gained through venturing into the unknown will be of great depth and relevance to the learner, because as the fox suggests, you have to invest so much of yourself into 'the taming'. However if we keep the curriculum safe and start with the tame, well, the discovery has been done and you only come to know how someone else tamed the wild.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Is it Doing it Better or Thinking It Differently?

In recent discussions with teachers and school leaders about the kind of student learning they would like to see in their school and in turn the kind of teacher pedagogy needed to enable this learning, I have been asking that they not focus on what they want to do better, but rather how they might 'think differently' about what they are doing. What kinds of questions do they need to ask to promote different ways of thinking?

This has a subtle yet powerful effect on the kind of discussions about teaching and learning. I brings a greater mindfulness to what is already happening and how teachers are currently thinking about their practice. This then becomes the basis for critical reflections, grounded in their own context and experience, mediated by a rigorous dialogue.

When the emphasis is on 'doing things better' or 'being like the best teacher' the catalyst for change remains outside the lived experience of the teacher. However when opportunities are created for self awareness and thoughtfulness about practice that validates the teacher as researcher of his/her practice, an environment is created that is ripe for change and innovation.

UK education academic Peter Mortimore in his visit to Australia last year and more recently quoted in the Age Newspaper comments that 'You can't bully teachers into improving and wanting the very best....... it happens by getting them to challenge themselves to be critical of what they're doing and getting them to want to improve.... he warns of the less than effective 'top down' approaches to effect change in teacher practice but rather supporting and valuing critical and reflective teachers who are the creators and innovators of what is best practice.'

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


'Its actually quite beautiful' Mollly aged 5

How do we come to appreciate the intrinsic nature of something? When can we name something as beautiful, not as a judgement but as an intrinsic quality? These questions were prompted as I observed my young friend Molly using a magnifying glass to look at a fly (yes a fly) and comment to herself, 'Its actually quite beautiful' as she saw the intricate pattern of its wings and the detail of its body. In this moment she was intrigued by this life form and able to see it for herself, as if seeing it for the first time. The fly was no longer a nuisance to be swotted and sprayed but beautiful!

Whose eyes do students learn through? Are we allowing students time and space to discover for themselves, to intimately connect with what it is they discovering or are they seeing through our eyes?

This I think resonates with what D’Arcy Norman calls 'mindful seeing'(thanks to Marie Salinger for bringing this to my attention through her blog Just in Time.

“Mindful seeing is the process of turning off the filters, of seeing your surroundings unfettered and unobstructed.

When viewing the world without filtering, even the most boring and banal subjects can become wondrous and interesting."

How do we create opportunities for 'mindful seeing' within in our places of learning? As teachers we need to be very aware of the filters that we apply through our curriculum design and pedagogical practices. Are opportunities created for students to really see their world without the imposition of our filters or perspectives?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tame and the Wild

If we want gain some sharper insights on our work or take a different perspective on what we do, where do we look? Perhaps we need to lift our gaze and look beyond our familiar terriority. This was the challenge David Perkins from Harvard University presented to us at last year's Project Zero Summer Insitute. He presented two constrasting images for us to grapple with; the tame and the wild and asked how and why do these ideas matter to education.

To my mind came the image of the par terre, a garden form with its ordered and sculptured appearance, trimmed and tranined; a top down order being imposed to create a tamed, but beautiful form. In contrast I imagined the overgrown, self seeded garden that has an emergent order, its own synergy where things find their place rather than being put in place.

Education tame or wild? Is what we offer today in education tame? Has it become an ordered and predictable venture that rarely strays from the plan? If so what is needed to 'wild the tame'? Conversely though we could ask what is good about 'tame', what does it illuminate for us that we may not discover in a wild environment?

These ideas are presented in the following presentation, Understanding Today & Tomorrow

Also see blog post at Contemporary Learning