Saturday, October 31, 2009

Just what is school for any way?

What is school for in the 21st century and what do we ask of its teachers? On one hand, we have aspects of our society craving higher standards, with a deep need to be more efficient about collecting data that proves growth. This side tends to seek technocratic solutions to its questions and technology is a means towards an end. Yet, at the same time school curriculum is asking teachers to make a fundamental shift in their practice from a teacher centred delivery of content to a more generative, collaborative exploration into content. This shift requires a major adjustment of the traditional power relationship between teacher and student. This side tends to seek democratic solutions to its questions; technology can be used to connect us. As a classroom teacher, I find myself uncomfortably squeezed between the two. Do teachers find themselves trapped in a paradoxical profession? Do we as a society have a clear request of its teachers or has teaching in the 21st century become so complex we are confused?
If explanations contain the seeds for solutions, can I as a researcher explain for the world the some of the complexities of the 21st century classroom, as teachers try to be responsive to all learners?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

We are all connected

Found this thanks to Stephen Downes. It must be shared.

We are all connected... The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A pragmatic thread

While reading Michael Crotty’s chapter on Interpretivism, he reminded me that the pragmatic world that I place myself in is one of optimistic possibility. It is a world to explore and made the most of, not a world to be subjected to radical criticism (p.74). It is true that some times the world does need to be criticized and there are aspects of human life that make interesting subjects, but on the whole human life is ripe with potential both good, bad and every thing above and below. To look at human life with a subjective view while it can be helpful it is limiting. At best it only tells us half the story. To look at the world this way we must also look at how we as humans connect to each other. We are a people connected through culture and language. To effectively participate in this culture we must see ourselves as social beings capable of a connection (some don't). This bond to our culture and thus to each other is made possible when we use our imaginations, when we put ourselves in a new place, a place that has potential, it is a place of many possibilities. The world is bountiful, teeming with possibility (p.85). What makes us human is the ability to take the role of another. We are capable of placing ourselves in someone else’s shoes and walk around a while. We can think inside our heads and wonder what it must be like over there. I see children do this rather successfully in their play. They think, believe then become like the character they want to play. This link we have with each other has been called symbolic interaction (p. 75). I have discovered that the notion of symbolic interaction while having its origin in the pragmatic movement is not unique to it. It is a thread that runs from pragmatism through ethnography, interactionism, phenomenology and right into hermeneutics, the path that I feel my research will take.

Crotty, M. (1998). The foundations of social research : meaning and perspective in the research process. London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif., Sage Publications.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Be strong, be brave

Today was an emotional day for me. My 20 year old daughter got on a plane today to leave for Michigan to go to school there. I will not see her until Christmas. This was hard for me some how. I mean we all know as parents that they will grow up and leave. It became a little unsettling when she texted me to say that she missed her plane while customs grilled her over her going early. I received the text while I was teaching my grade two class. I talked to them about my concern. One child said to me quite clearly and profoundly. "I think it will be ok. You are big and you should be brave and you should be strong." Oh, I said to myself I guess I will then since you put it that way. We as teachers need to remember that children can teach us. They can remind us of what we need to know to make everything ok. My daughter got on the next plane. She did leave and everything is going to be all right. I will miss her but I will never forget the lesson one 7 year old taught me today. Be brave and be strong and everything will be all right.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Thinking, creating, and invention?

Imagine teaching and learning as an environment or a place with rooms to play, and in this place picture the focal point being thinking, creating, and invention? Could we then think of technology as being the medium for this work?

Marshal McLuhan (1967) alerted my generation of a shift of philosophy four decades ago. “The environment as a processor of information is propaganda. Propaganda ends where dialogue begins. You must talk to the media, not the programmer” (p.142). What I gather from this wisdom is that if I want to understand what is happening in education with regard to technology I must dialogue with teachers not the system they work in.

Perhaps why we struggle with this philosophy might be because our culture and school system as deep roots the industrial model and the philosophy of technology as an instrument. With it’s focus on data driven productivity, accountability and efficiency. In this place, teachers have had little choice then to break knowledge into packages; teaching then became the supplying of this information while learning in turn became the mastering of this information. In this place, there was a need to standardize in order to measure how effective teachers were being. This sort of system appeared to be functioning when we thought of information as being in short supply. However, in today’s information rich world this is less than effective. So how do we achieve this shift of philosophy?
The first step in any solution is coming to an understanding of the place the problem lives. I wish to arrive at an understanding dialogically by engaging together with teachers as a means of thinking and reflecting on the daily complexities in the classroom and experiences in the contexts of a shared social and moral traditions. I wish to have my dialogue with teachers in a deliberate and democratic manner. In this case, I wish to put my own understanding at risk and to leave myself open to possibilities.
Jourard (1978) as a voice from the past cautions, “The crisis of our time is not shortage of food, space, and energy; it is the failure of dialogue”. This makes me think not much has really changed. He describes education as a dialogue. “It is an invitation for someone, living or dead, to engage in a process which enlarges one’s perspective”. He says it implies a capacity to imagine, or "tune in to the reality of what is being said, the phenomenological reality of the speaker’s world”. Dialogue calls us to listen and to speak a truth in response. He says this sharing is not the imposing of ones own ideas on to another as I have often seen done in many situations where teachers have been asked to infuse technology in their practice. Further, he reminds us that in education everything depends upon the educators’ beliefs about who their pupils are and who they can become. Can we not also think of teachers as learners themselves? How often do we ask who do teachers believe themselves to be? (p.47). These words inspire me. In his words, “education is concerned with discovering and calling forth those human potentialities deemed valuable for life” (p. 48). “To really listen, we need to still the chronic noise of our mind, which always labels and categorizes what the world is and what we are” (p. 50). While my research will not just be about listening to teacher’s it will be a requirement of it. He reminds us that reading is also a listening as well as a looking, tasting, feeling, and smelling. All of this is just part of hearing what the world of teaching is and what it is like.

Jourard, S. M. (1978). Education as dialogue. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 18(1), 47.

McLuhan, M., & Fiore, Q. (1967). The medium is the massage. New York: Bantam Books.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Playful Experience

I do not think it is helpful to view play through the limiting eyes of subjectivity. Gadamer (2004) frees play from traditional subjective understandings. Play is more than an entity of itself and not just a state of mind or an orientation of the one playing. It has a spirit of its own. “Play itself contains its own, even sacred, seriousness…Play fulfills its purpose only if the player loses himself in the play” (p.102). In this seriousness of play, we suspend our daily connections with world. As players, we know we are playing, but the only goal other than to just play is for the player to be “played” by the game itself. This kind of focus is required in order to make play wholly play. “Someone who doesn’t take the game seriously is a spoilsport” (p.103). In this sort of manner of play, we must not look upon the word play as if it were an object. It becomes an event. Dewey might call it the action of play. Without action, there can be no experience, and it is what gives this very ordinary everyday activity its ultimate constructive power.

(Biesta & Burbules, 2003) describe that Dewey used the word experience to refer to the transaction between living organisms and their environment. It is the very way we are connected to reality and knowledge (p. 28). “Knowledge is therefore found in the happenings of experience” (p. 44). I cannot see how one could consider them selves knowledgeable without being engaged in the playful act of learning. Gadamer speaks of two different kinds of experience. An immediate experience you might have with a tool or instrument (Erlebnis) and a different deeper or more cognitive experience you undergo the result of participating in an action (Erfahrung). While I see great value the first experience, it is the playful experience of a lived experience that I am interested in with my research. I must be present but also active in my research.

Biesta, J., & Burbules, N. (2003). Pragmatism and educational research. Toronto: Roman and Littlefield.

Gadamer, H., Weinsheimer, J., & Marshall, D. G. (2004). Truth and method (Vol. 2). London ; New York: Continuum.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

More on Playful Knowledge

I am an educational technologist. The AECT Defines educational technology as, “The study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources” (Januszewski, A., Molenda, M., 2008 p.1) What that means to me is that as an elementary classroom teacher I have been able to embed my teaching and learning inside a technological framework. At times I do use technology as a tool to support instruction but I also view technology as a place for student centred exploration and construction. As the teacher I believe it is my responsibility to create and then facilitate a learning environment that my students can be interactive in. I also believe that for meaningful learning to occur they need to use technology to make connections to each other and the information that drives their curiosity. I can also say quite confidently that I now see this work through the lens of an interpretive researcher. By that I mean I view teaching and learning as deeply linked. Deep learning is personal yet socially constructed. As learners we need opportunity to dialogue with each other and what we understand as knowledge. Play is an action. We must poke, push and pull at our understanding. Interpretive work is playful work. Play is not subjective or objective but a constructed pursuit. Play is what we must do in order to make knowledge our own and not someone else’s. Interpretive research looks for culturally derived and historically situated interpretations of the social life-world (Crotty p.67). I do not wish to explain how teachers are using technology in the 21st century as much as I wish to understand it. There has already been much fine research in educational technology that explains the barriers that teachers face when trying to utilize technology in their classrooms. Yet much of this comes from a scientific tradition and has been accomplished through a natural science method focused on causality and empirical validation. While this research pool is rich with useful and interesting data, I believe it is missing something vital to help us understand the life-world of teachers today. Little is said about the complexities of today’s classroom and little is heard from the voice of the teachers who live in this complexity. For me explanations are ineffectual without being surrounded with understanding.

Crotty, M. (1998). The foundations of social research : meaning and perspective in the research process. London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif., Sage Publications.

Januszewski, A., M. Molenda, et al. (2008). Educational technology : a definition with commentary. New York, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.