Taught to Question

When I was in graduate school, the professor in my very first class session began by instructing us to question everything. He was passionate about this declaration, clearly evident in the spraying spit as he glared out at us. This was an exercise science, physiology and biomechanics program based heavily upon peer-reviewed research. He instructed us to question each and every word that he vocalized and assigned in our class meetings and readings. Let me reiterate… we were instructed to question the very research that would instruct and inform us during our time in the program. I learned that this is precisely what happens in any reputable field of research. Again, question that which most people look to as authoritative and primary source documentation of a subject.

I was taught to question.

Lately, Twitter is failing me. Today I had an exchange on Twitter where I put this to practice in my own community of practice. While the exchange was hardly equivalent to the research mentioned above, I had a question in regards to the practice of creating fake Facebook walls for historical/fictional characters. I didn’t “get it”. I questioned it. I stated it seemed contrived and also seemed like an online worksheet. I also asked what was next… what action/learning experience follows the creation of and discussion around a “fakebook” profile?

I wanted to know.

Back to my mention of peer-reviewed research. I believe a community of practice (made up of peers in a practice) should allow this line of questioning in whatever spaces are available/used. I respect those that were posting the information, they’ve taught/shared a thing or two with me before. Because of this I felt comfortable tweeting my questions. Apparently it was not welcomed and received as me merely liking to argue. Nothing could be further from the truth. You can imagine my disappointment.

I claim no expertise in any niche or corner of education or the EdTech community of practice. What I do claim is the right to question, as a participant in a community of practice and for the benefit of those in the community and those I work with/for, the content that is posted within the community. Since we are striving to teach our students that posting on the Internet results in feedback and critical questioning, I think we would do well to remember this as we post there as well. I certainly try to. If I don’t, it is your right to call me on it.

Being taught to question was one of the most important and powerful lessons I will always remember. It has served me well and will continue to do so.

I will still question. You should too.

Digging Deeper

29 years ago Dr. Seymour Papert wrote the text below.  It was recently shared again over at my daily dose of sanity, The Daily Papert.

“I know. I think schools generally do an effective and terribly damaging job of teaching children to be infantile, dependent, intellectually dishonest, passive and disrespectful to their own developmental capacities. I think that the examples I have  given of learning in a computational environment provide a glimpse of a context for learning in which socialization would be based on a potentiation of the individual, an empowering sense of one’s own ability to learn anything one wants to know, conditioned by deep understanding of how these abilities are amplified by belonging to cultures and communities.”

Papert, S. (1982) Tomorrow’s Classrooms?. In Times Educational Supplement March 5, 1982 (pp. 31-32,41)

I think these words reveal how we can start to use technology to help us think, not just different, but deeper about what real learning looks like.  They also provide a guiding light that schools can use to navigate along a path of teaching and learning that is more meaningful and valuable for everyone involved.

What we need is visionary people who step out of the ordinary and lead with their heads, hearts and hands (Lehmann, 200?). For examples of Papert’s thinking and learning click through to his work.  Don’t take it for face value (i.e. – just programming), dig deep and think about the learning process and ask yourself how it might look in other contexts.


Moving on…

I’ve moved this blog over to http://briancsmith.org.  I will no longer be using EduBlogs.org for hosting my blog.  Thanks for the memories, I just wanted a little more control.  Now, I need to write more.

If you’ve been subscribing, thank you and change your subscriptions to this new feed… http://feeds2.feedburner.com/bcsmith.  If you haven’t please consider doing so… kthxbai.

What’s Not on Wikipedia?

I took a recent trip to Wikipedia to search for “21st Century Learning” and “21st Century Skills“.  As of this posting, there isn’t an article for either. 

So many are sharing and preaching 21st century learning and skills for our schools and yet neither is documented on one of the best examples of collaboration for learning?  What gives?

Constructivist Celebration Takeaways

Constructivist Celebration - Playing with the XO Laptop

It has taken quite awhile for me to really piece together my experience at NECC. I’ll be honest, I’ll still be piecing it together for sometime to come. I went into the conference expecting to meet new people and meet face to face with those I’ve connected with on-line over the past year or two. Both happened and the discussions that took place taught me a good deal and confirmed some of my beliefs as well.

However, what has been bouncing around in my head the past few days is my experience at the Constructivist Celebration put together by Gary Stager and the Constructivist Consortium. Here are a few takeaways from Sunday’s experience that made me look a bit differently at the sessions I chose to attend and the conversations that took place throughout the conference.

Real and authentic learning in a digital world may be more important than ever
There’s a lot of talk out there. Since
learning is doing, I’d personally like to see more students blogging about what they are doing, rather than what they are studying. Simply blogging or creating a wiki about a concept or topic does not prove that a student understands or is able to do anything.

The right brain, left brain war of signifigance is bogus
The interplay within the brain’s hemisphere’s is what it’s really all about. Creativity and logic can co-exist.

Open-ended Software
Most computer software available is not truly educational or built on learning theories. Open-ended programs such as the Inspiration series, Microworlds, Tech4Learning‘s programs, Scratch, Starlogo TNG, etc. allow users (this includes educators, parents and administrators) to create from a blank page.

“A good prompt is worth 1000 words”
When Gary Stager shared this point in his opening talk it reminded me of my graduate studies grounded in constructivist theory. The Constructivist theory is not solely about programming.
Constructing one’s own knowledge and skills is very personal learning as it engages emotions through doing rather than listening or simply sharing what is learned.I learned during that work that asking questions is an essential skill for teaching and learning. We must learn to communicate with our students in ways that get them thinking rather than regurgitating.

You really have to care about kids. Really.

Peter Reynolds spoke about an experience where a student reflected on how a teacher “noticed me”. Students see right through superficial “care” and the way we care for students needs to be more then just protecting them on-line or in the physical setting. Konrad and I spoke about this as well in regards to how he interacts with students in the hallway. He comments to students in the hall about their work, progress or a thought shared in class. Small signs of caring add up to a lot.

If you can’t do something well, do it well-ish
Peter Reynolds wrote a book called ish that gets at the idea that we don’t have to be experts at everything. He described this by talking about a drawing of a tree. If you can’t draw a tree draw it tree-ish. We’ve made the word “fail” too negative and halting. Learning is a process, we try things and they don’t always come out “right” the first time, we must be okay with working through stumbles.

Time to play is important
Thanks to Bud Hunt, Scott Swanson and April-Hope for the play time with the XO laptops during the day. While mine wasn’t working well at the time due to some updates needed, these three folks allowed me to play and learn from them. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to make the Birds of a Feather session due to other conflicts, but I’m sure more playing and learning will go on after connecting with them here. We don’t allow ourselves to “play” with the concepts or skills that we teach and I think it’s critical that we do from time to time to remind us what it’s like to really learn.

I welcome your thoughts and push-back to further my reflection and learning here.

NECC – Pre-Conference

I often receive rolling eyes when I mention
conversations I’ve had with others. Well, NECC is here and a lot of
it is about conversation. Conversations in the halls of the conference
center, the Blogger’s Cafe, before, during and after concurrent
sessions or at dinner. Tonight’s conference kicked off well for
conversation with Brian Crosby, Bud Hunt, David Warlick, David Jakes, Dean Shareski, Jeff Utecht, Laura Deisley, Wendy Smith, and Will Richardson.
You learn a lot through conversation, but as much as I like to
converse, I’m reminded of a quote from Plato I loved to share with students and

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.

To be honest, I’m here for the conversation and to play. I enjoy most the
conversation where I listen and my previous thinking is challenged. I
am also here for the play. I intend to use the XO laptop as much as I
can to hopefully get others to join in and play on this machine.

So what/who will you play with this NECC conference?

Gaming & Education

Today, I woke up, grabbed some coffee and settled into my ritual of reading my daily feeds of news and blog posts. First in my aggregator as this post by Sylvia Martinez related to gaming and education. My comments on her post were from the perspective of professional development and how sometimes we don’t think deep enough about what we, as educators, can learn from games or anything else for that matter.

That said, next week I’m co-teaching a Gaming in Education workshop for teachers in our area. We’ve invited a high school senior (and gamer) for this workshop who will be introducing our participants to the world of gaming via a LAN experience. He will
also lend his perspective to our discussions planned throughout the session. We’ve planned a spectrum of games for our participants to
experience, but the meat of this workshop, I hope, will come through in the conversation.

I’m iming for experiences and dialogue that start subsequent conversations back in faculty rooms, hallways, classrooms and homes. I don’t mean the ones that imply that more educational games need to be created or that we need to implement games in the classroom. I plan to throw these questions at our participants. What would you add to the list?

  • What level of engagement is necessary for learning?
  • How can game design impact instructional practice?
  • What aspects of gaming can we use to build engaging learning experiences?

Theories, Approaches & Teaching

I’m currently reading Communities of Practice by Etienne Wenger and as I began a question popped into my head. Do most educators knowingly base their practice within a particular theory or approach?

A web search for theories of learning turned up a site that categorized learning theories into Paradigms:

Behaviorism – Based on stimulus-response and can be explained without considering conscious thought.

Cognitivism – Mental function can be understood where the learner is seen as an information processor.

Constructivism – Learning is an active, constructive process where students expected to construct understanding and knowledge from information.

Humanism – learning is a personal act to fulfill one’s potential where learner has affective and cognitive needs.

I imagine that most educators use a variety of these in their practice, but I wonder if most educators identify with one more than the other, if at all. Should an educator base themselves within one of these paradigms?

Does identifying one’s practice within one of these paradigms provided a entry point for a joining a community of practice?

Meme: Passion Quilt

I’ve been tagged by Sylvia for the Passion Quilt Meme.  I’ve decided to pull from my personal collection for this photo meme.  The photo above is of our daughter after helping me to find a geocache almost 3 years ago.

Often times when we go geocaching we don’t find a cache because we see something more interesting.  Be it animal tracks, a scurrying animal or a odd looking tree formation, a learning opportunity presents itself.  When she inquires about the discovery, why would I squander that with an agenda to find a box of trinkets? 

Far too often I hear students say that they there is nothing to do, that they are bored.  They’ll sit and do nothing, but stare at the flashing of a computer screen, television or their video games. Hogwash.  (Note: While I advocate for each of these in educational and entertainment value, however, we must remember moderation is key.) 

So my passion is about active learning, learning by doing.  Learning by doing things, not just spewing what they know.  When we are out and about, we open opportunities for play and discovery resulting in learning.

Directions: Find or create an image that captures what you are most passionate for kids to learn about.

  • Post a picture from a source like Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn…and give your picture a short title.
  • Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt” and link back to this blog entry.
  • Include links to 5 folks in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce.

I’m tagging these folks from my regional network:

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