Sunday, August 10, 2014

Frameworks for play / inquiry / research

"We have a responsibility to introduce children to things they don't yet know they will love." -- Edith Ackermann

Dr. Edith Ackermann came onto my radar this summer.   (See my previous blog post on "Constructing Modern Knowledge 2014" for the context.)

Such a charming, thoughtful expert on play and learning.  And such credentials! -- she worked with Jean Piaget and Seymour Papert, and has been associated with MIT for years (as well as other universities).

She loves Reggio Emilia schools, Steiner/Waldorf schools, Katie Salen and Quest schools, and Freinet schools.  A true educational radical (or realist) -- depending on where you stand.

Read this recent interview with her on creativity, talent, and intuition -- in a journal aimed at architects.

I wish I could find her CMK14 slides online.  I took basic shots into my Penultimate notes, but they aren't good enough to reproduce, e.g.,
The part of her talk that interested me the most was her description of the iterative cycle of self-learning, which she outlined as:
  • Connect -- Wow! I can't believe...  -- the inspiration - the imaginarium
  • Construct -- hands-on -- the atelier -- immersion and innovation
  • Contemplate -- heads-in -- mindfulness -- the sanctuary or secret garden
  • Cast -- play-back -- re-visit -- stage -- dramatize -- experiment
  • Con-vivire -- the sharing -- the piazza -- the agora -- expressivity
She stressed these are just guidelines for what happens along the way in different ways -- that the stages should never be used prescriptively. 

Our school is just settling on some common terminology around a research model -- one that will be differentiated for Infant (K1 to Grade 1), Junior (Grade 2 to Grade 5), Middle School (Grade 6 to Grade 8) and High School (Grade 9 to Grade 12).

A midway meeting ground has been agreed, e.g., here is a standard arising out of the articulation of the middle school curriculum:
The blog "What Ed Said" (Edna Sackson) recently had a post on her frustration with expected slavish commitment to an inquiry cycle model.  I agree.  You might as well insist everyone follow the same sequence for falling in love or grieving over death.  It's useful to appreciate typical stages, but impossible to expect everyone to adhere to them.  NB:  Kath Murdoch, referenced by Edna, is a frequent professional visitor to our school, and her phases of inquiry were key inputs to our process -- see here:

Edith was talking about Play -- and undoubtedly about Inquiry.  But our school is talking about Research.  Are they all the same thing?  Just at different age levels?  We'd like to think so.

Research, for middle/high school students, is just a game with adult rules (e.g., alluding to the ideas of others in a constructive and respectful way) -- and our job is to alert them to those rules and to convince them it's a game worth learning (after all, research is a form of adult fun, yes?).  As Edith put it, students must learn to add value in the process of borrowing.   They must become adept at massaging ideas until they are their own, rather than just functioning as an information broker, passing on ideas.  To ride others' ideas until they can feel in solo mode, not fusion mode.

I particularly like Edith's "Cast" phase, with its implicit theatrical connotation.  Something between our "Reflect" and "Communicate."  It's the part that implies the iterative nature of the process.  That you, within your own mind or in the presence of others, re-think what you have, try it out, and ask if it's sufficient, if it's enough.

(I'm also partial to Design Thinking as a basic research model; see my previous blog post: Carol Kuhlthau Meets Tim Brown. )

Other things Edith commented upon....
  • re MOOCs and online learning: 
    • the double standard:  it's the new entrepreneurial elite, who are educated onsite with constructivist methods, who are promoting education online where "others" struggle alone;
  • re today's learners:
    •  growing older younger, and staying younger older;
    • the tension between temp and "forever" work
    • the tension between professional mobility and lack of security;
  • re the role of the eye and the senses:
    • away from Piaget (the rationalist) to Papert (feeling the materials);
    • the real practitioners (e.g., architects) are always tricking people to get a different perspective;
    • to crawl out of the old ways of thinking;
    • tricks to get us off our own beaten path;
    • using objects creates resistance; 
"Learning is all about moving in and out of focus, shifting perspective, and coming to 'see anew.'" -- Edith Ackermann

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Summer camp for teachers (way beyond the old Crafts Cabin)

Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez have been holding a very special 4-day summer institute in New Hampshire for the past 7 years.

"Constructing Modern Knowledge" (#CMK14) provides teachers with a learning space and enough time to the fail -- and succeed -- at doing what we are always exhorting our students to do:  learn something!  make something!

I got involved by virtue of having put Stager and Martinez's book -- "Invent to Learn: making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom" -- on display in my library to coincide with the Learning 2.0 conference last October (see my previous blog post on it).  Brian Smith (from Hong Kong International School) immediately began to talk to me about the book -- and the related conference.  Considering I spend my summers in Maine (a stone's throw away), it wasn't hard to decide to sign up.  At 21st Century Learning in HK in December, I also had the opportunity to meet Gary, who exudes enthusiasm for messy learning and hard fun.

4 days, 180 participants.  You can see the Vimeo videos here and the Flickr group photos here.  All in a Radisson Hotel in ManchVegas.  (Yes, I guess that's what they call Manchester, NH -- as it's the region's hotspot.)

Who were we?  The informal hands-up survey at the beginning indicated mainly teachers from private schools, from all over the US, plus a few internationals.  I quickly found Tina Photakis, from Australia, to hang out with.  The crowd was seeded with plenty of highlighted helpers, like Brian Smith (and his daughter), young Super-awesome Sylvia Todd (and her father), Peggy Sheehy (one of the few librarians), Dan and Molly Watt, Cynthia Solomon, etc.

How did we decide what we were going to build in our 4 days?  By shouting out suggestions that got put on giant post-it notes on the wall, followed by a massive gallery walk and sign-up.  Then we gathered by our top favorite post-it -- and groups were formed.  It worked admirably, better than most unconference events I've experienced.  I loved the range of ideas:  a light-sensitive chicken coop, a robot dog, an interactive recycling bin,  an interactive tree, an interactive garden, interactive clothing, etc.

One proposed project was "wearable speakers" -- and having attended two conferences this summer, I wish there were a smart-phone app for that right now.   How can it be that we don't have a way to make ourselves heard in big groups, e.g., questions from the floor, where no one can hear the question.

I wanted to work on a noise meter of sorts, as I'd had a Design and Technology IB student create a (unfortunately non-working) prototype for my library, using an Arduino.  So I knew I wanted to play with sound input creating some sort of visual output.  (Imagine: students in a supposedly silent study room with windows, where I am outside and can't tell how much noise they are actually making; when decibels go above a certain level,  colored lights began to flash -- indicating to both them and me that the room is no longer silent.) 

In the end, I went with a group interested in "sound sculpture", which eventually split into three or four smaller groups.  Gordon, Wendy, and I decided to see how we could get sound through an Arduino to display different colors, based on volume and frequency.  Gordon and Wendy wired the 3D matrix of lights, while I fooled around with programming an Arduino Esplora (a device which can take a variety of input).  We didn't get a fully-functioning integrated model, due to time and other limitations, but we sure learned a lot.  For me it was such a throw-back to my programming days.  Oh, the frustrations of imperfect code!

A major highlight of the conference was a field trip to the fabled MIT Media Lab, thanks to Gary and Sylvia's connections.   A talk by Mitch Resnick, founder of the Lifelong Kindergarten group.  (Here's a recent video of him doing a talk that is similar to the one we heard - on Projects, Peers, Passion, and Play.)  A chat with 87-year-old Marvin Minsky, one of the three pioneers immortalized in the lobby of the impressive building, the other two being Seymour Papert (represented at CMK14 by his daughter, Artemis, and granddaughter), and Muriel Cooper, who died 20 years ago.

Marvin regaled us with memories of his time at Bell Labs with Claude Shannon.  Re his artificial arm.  Though he lamented that no one wants to work -- nowadays -- on something so pedestrian as a former invention.  So no improvements are forthcoming.  He talked about being enthralled by nanotechnology.  The wave of the future.   He talked of computer games, and his belief that 4 year olds might play games, but 5 year olds should be moving on to making games.   His advice when getting stuck in life?  Ask the experts.  Which for him were Claude Shannon and Robert Oppenheimer.

We took advantage of the chance to wander down through the building.  So many windows into projects and the learning going on.  It was a wonderful evening in Cambridge/Boston.

Click here to see all my photos of the conference -- including plenty taken inside the Media Lab.

Back in Manchester, there was plenty of time for work, for reflection, and for inspiration from speakers interspersed in the schedule.

Edith Ackermann, an MIT stalwart and "play" expert, gave a fascinating presentation.  She talked of so many things -- she deserves a separate blog post.

Pete Nelson is famous for building treehouses.  I didn't know about him before, but now I appreciate he has his own reality TV show, Treehouse Masters and a treehouse center where you can go and stay.

He told the story of how his childhood passion for treehouses eventually led to a very public and remunerative vocation.  (Creating a coffee table book on treehouses of the world was an important first step!)  I'm sure most of us sitting there were thinking of old trees we wanted to create houses in.  He made it sound all so feasible.
Overall take-away thoughts:
  • Re the sharing of resources:  the organizers had an incredible array of materials available to us, but the trick was, whatever we took, we needed for the four days.  There wasn't much that you just needed short-term access to.  So the sharing was limited.  I wondered how libraries with a makerspace would cope with this.  Would someone be able to check out or reserve, say, an Arduino Esplora, for three days?  What is realistic for what time period of exclusive use?  It makes me think that individual hardware, such as Raspberry Pi's and Arduinos, is better suited to a teacher-class situation, where a learner can work with one set of materials over time.
  • How best to handle differentiation?  In this situation, some of us at a table had NO experience, and some had CONSIDERABLE.   I was conscious of trying to balance the time I spent floundering on my own and the time I spent getting help from others.  One thing for sure: we were in charge of our own learning.  It was fascinating to wander around, seeing the vast range of projects and skills on display.
CMK library:  There was a room at the conference where Gary and Sylvia laid out all their personal collection of books related to making and creating.  I took photos of most of them -- and have searched Amazon, making a "list" of them.  See the booklist here:  The Maker Movement and Constructing Modern Knowledge.

Also see this Reggio Emilia bookshop for more.

p.s.  Just discovered Gary and Sylvia maintain their own recommended booklist on Amazon -- see here.

p.p.s.  Here's another related booklist -- one from the International Design Technology teachers' conference, held at our school in May.  These were all the books I had on display during the conference.