Friday, February 15, 2013

Constraints Create Creativity

Aza Raskin was named the 2011 Master of Design and one of the top 40 influential designers by Fast Company. Aza is the founder and CEO of Massive Health, and was until recently Creative Lead for Firefox and a founding member of Mozilla Labs.

In his talk at Webstock Aza stated 

“it’s not about thinking outside the box. It’s about finding the right box to think inside.” 
Much of what he discussed can be directly mapped into our thinking for education.

How do we ask the right question? The way to solve a problem is to know how to ask the right question, turn a difficult question into an easier question by changing the way you ask it. Most of the time we are trying to solve the wrong problem because we don’t understand what the problem is.

Aza challenges us to ‘fail forward’. He says it is going to happen so we should plan for it.

The main idea here is that Constraints Create Creativity. So how do obstacles change perceptual and conceptual scopes? Take a look at this example:

Turning an unused crack between two houses into a home
World’s narrowest house video

Constraints force us to think differently. A research report apparently found that if you encounter a detour on your way home you are more likely to eat something different for dinner. Constraints change habits.

It is via the constraint that we can overcome the mundanity and banality, it forces us to break our habits. Focused obstacles and questions are just constraints.

So … what questions lead to a good question? 

  • The ones that preclude reliable, already recognized answers
  • That promote novel ones
  • That help you fail forward
How fabulous to have the mindset that revels in constraints, and embraces challenges that change habits. This would be a great way to approach our schools and our classrooms. 

This brings to mind the story of three teachers who embraced their constraints and created a new way to teach their students.

Collaborative teaching in a traditional environment from EDtalks.

Industrialised ignorance

I am at the Webstock conference in Wellington. 

This conference covers everything from empathy in design to HTML5 and CSS, to the future of education, and how tech makes us human.

The first speaker of the day was Clay Johnson (@cjoh) who is best known as the co-founder of Blue State Digital, the firm that built and managed Barak Obama's online campaign for presidency in 2008.

Clay talked to us about industrialised ingnorance. He began the session with an activity that really brought home just how much the media around us can drown out what is important.

Please stand if you know the name of one Kardashian …

Please stand if you know the child poverty rate in NZ …

Imagine which of these statements most people stood up for. 

How are we supposed to cause an impact in this world, in our lives, if we are not fully informed of what the actual issues are? How can we cause an impact if we don’t know that we can?

So how did this come about, how do we know the name of a Kardashian and not the extent of issues such as child poverty? Clay demonstrated how the popular media aims to affirm people rather than to inform them. People are looking for evidence that they are right in their beliefs rather than being challenged and informed of the facts to be able to make informed opinions. For example look at different newspapers and their left and right leanings. A lot of people choose the news they consume because it reflects their ideology. Clay stated that confirmation bias is the new H1N1 virus

We need to manage our information intake like we manage our food intake.

More and more we are aware of what is healthy for our bodies, how we should eat. We manage that carefully and know when we are having too much sugar or fat. Can we do the same thing with our information intake? Can we distinguish the sugar and fat? Treat your life like time is important. Schedule social media time rather than losing time to it.

How do you spend your time online? Rescue time  is an app that can help you check out your digital life.

One suggestion was to stop using your iphone as an alarm clock. What is the first thing you do after you stop the alarm? You check your email. You become a consumer. Take the challenge to begin your day as a producer - sit down and write, think, plan - before you become a consumer.

So Clay’s four points were:
1. consciously consume
2. subtract junk
3. be a producer
4. enable a ‘whole’ news movement

The whole news movement is a push to be able to consider all angles of a story, to find out the facts. Journalists should link to sources so that we can validate their statements. Data enables us to create a less biased media. (No one questions whether the weather man is biased).

Clay finished with this quote:

It circulates intelligence of a commercial, political, intellectual, and private nature, with incredible speed and regularity. It thus administers, in a very high degree, to the comfort, the interests, and the necessities of persons, in every rank and station of life. It brings the most distant places and persons, as it were, in contact with each other; and thus softens the anxieties, increases the enjoyments, and cheers the solitude of millions of hearts.
 Joseph Story - talking about the post office

This is still true today.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Inquiry learning: from knowledge to understanding

This video is from NZC Online 

How do you use inquiry learning to move from knowledge to understanding? Vic Hygate, from Windsor School in Christchurch, explains how she carefully focuses her planning, then uses events and provocative statements to make inquiry relevant and fully engage her students.

Friday, December 02, 2011

The case study: Storytelling in the industrial age and beyond

Benjamin, B. (2006). The case study: Storytelling in the industrial age and beyond. On the Horizon, 14(4), 159-164.

In this article Benjamin looks at the history of storytelling through to present times. She follows the history of the word ‘story’ and draws the conclusion that storytelling is a way to transfer knowledge from one person to another and a way to keep that knowledge alive. In the words of Wittgenstein (1933) ‘The limits of my language are the limits of my world’. With the advent of the Internet and digital storytelling, those limits are now boundless.

In the history of storytelling, stories were the way that tribes passed down important knowledge to ensure survival. “Their purpose is to ensure that, generation after generation, everyone has access to the wisdom of the past as they live in the present and move towards the future” (Benjamin, 2006, p. 161). Stories take many forms in the present day; for example the digital stories on NZC Online could be thought of as case studies. Harvard Business School’s first Dean, Edwin F. Gay, identified the value of discussing authentic business problems as a method of instruction and used the first case study in 1908 (Benjamin, 2006). Digital stories for education serve as an authentic example of what practice looks like in classrooms, and promote discussions about the practices that were built upon and what the implications are for future practice. As different educators examine the story and think about how that practice might look in their context the wisdom of the past is used to move towards the future. 

Wittgenstein, L. (1933). Tractatus logico-philosophicus. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Multimedia cases

Halverson, R., Linnekin, B., Gomez, L. M., & Spillane, J. P. (2004). Multimedia cases of practice: On-line learning opportunities for school leaders. Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership, 7(1), 30-35.

As I read around the use of digital stories for professional development, I came across the term 'multimedia cases'. This seemed like a fitting term for the stories that we produce for NZC Online. They are multimedia cases of actual events in schools and classrooms.

Halverson et al. conducted research around the use of multimedia cases to support the professional development of principals.

They assert that leaders often find it difficult to know where to start when leading change. Good leaders have what the authors term 'professional practical wisdom' which means they reflect on experience to apply solutions to varying problems over time. Professional practical wisdom also involves the ability to transfer ideas into your own particular context. Leithwood and Steinbach (1989) suggest that expert leaders rely on collaboration and information gathering to support their problem solving. This is where NZC digital stories come in.

Leaders need to access rich representations of practice in context. Video makes these rich examples more accessible. Cases can engage readers to relate the situation to their own experience and can act as a catalyst for discussion and reflection on practice. Cases can also be used to produce as well as represent knowledge.

The authors reference Banks (1994) as being skeptical about the benefits of multimedia cases, and counter with Barron Goldman 1994 and Lampert and Ball 1998 as proponents of cases being positive for stimulating reflection on practice.

Banks, M. (1994). “Interactive multimedia and anthropology - a sceptical view.” Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, 1-7.
Barron, L. & Goldman, E. (1994). "Integrating technology with teacher preparation," in B. Means ed., Technology and Education Reform: The Reality Behind the Promise. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 67-89.
Lampert, M. & Ball, D.L. (1998). Mathematics, teaching, and multimedia: Investigations of real practice. New York: Teachers College Press.
Leithwood, K. & Steinbach, M. (1989). “Expertise in principals’ problem solving.” Educational Administration Quarterly, 25(2), 126-61.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Relationships of knowledge and Practice: Teacher learning in communities

Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (1999). Relationships of Knowledge and Practice: Teacher Learning in Communities. Review of Research in Education, 24, 249-305.

In this article Cochran-Smith and Lytle examine the assumption that often guides teacher learning, 'teachers who know more teach better'. But what exactly does knowing more mean? What is teaching better? What do policies that tout this assumption actually mean? The paper breaks down this assumption into three conceptions for teacher learning:
  • Knowledge for practice
  • Knowledge in practice
  • Knowledge of practice
Knowledge for practice is theoretical knowledge is that already known by someone else outside of the classroom. This theory is what is important for teachers to know and teachers are expected to learn this knowledge and apply it. Teachers are receivers of knowledge.

Knowledge in practice is that knowledge held by expert teachers in their everyday practice. Teachers can learn from these experts and adapt their practices. In this conception the teachers are generators of knowledge and receivers of knowledge.

These two conceptions support the assumption of teachers knowing more by being receivers of knowledge from theorists or expert practitioners. The third conception turns things around by positioning teachers as creators of knowledge and architects of transformative change. 

Knowledge of practice stands outside the dichotomy of knowledge as theory or knowledge as practice. In this conception "Teachers learn when they generate local knowledge of practice by working within the contexts of inquiry communities to theorize and construct their work and to connect it to larger, cultural, and political issues" (p250). Knowledge of practice is a life long learning pursuit and is conducted by teachers working together across the span of novice and expert, and working alongside students, teachers and community. This knowledge is transformative and provides more than findings, it provides change.

You can see these three conceptions reflected in different policies for teacher education, both past and present. Knowledge of Practice for me stands out as being really closely related to the NZ Curriculum Teaching as Inquiry process.

My purpose for reading this paper was to see where I thought the digital stories on NZC Online were situated. I can see that these stories fit really nicely within the knowledge of practice conception. The stories themselves allow teachers to share what they are doing in their classrooms. These stories are not expert teachers presenting theoretical concepts, they are real people doing real things and discussing the challenges and successes they face. When speaking to the teachers who make these stories, they explained to me how the process was like an inquiry cycle for them. The actual process allowed them to look at where they had been, where they were now, and where to next. And they carried out this reflective cycle as a whole school listening to each other's accounts of the same experience. They also explained that as a result of undertaking the inquiry cycle they had made plans for further changes.

By providing their stories for others to interact with these schools and teachers are "playing a critical role in generating knowledge of practice by making their classrooms and schools sites for inquiry, connecting their work in schools to larger issues, and taking a critical perspective on the theory and research of others' (p273). 

From my inquiries with educators who use these stories, many use them to stimulate discussions amongst their staff and learning networks and debate how the ideas in the stories would translate to their particular contexts. "Teacher networks, inquiry communities, and other school-based collectives in which teachers and others conjoin their efforts to construct knowledge are the major contexts for teacher learning in this conception" (273).

Here is the latest story from NZC Online:

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Teachers are important

I haven't been here for a while. I have taken some time to stop and think about what I believe in my work life. What is important.

There is one thing I hear a lot as I work with educators and professional development providers across New Zealand. And it has started to really get on my goat, so here comes a rant.

Teachers are important. They are worth the time it takes to help them be the best they can be. Whether this means bringing them up to speed or helping them race off into the distance. The underpinning of my post is that I have heard quite a few PD providers discuss the fact that it is important for our students to have access to quality ICT experiences. Exactly, I agree. But then I hear the statement that maybe we should bypass the teachers and go straight to the students. If we capture them and give them the opportunities then they will bring the teachers along. Um, ah, no, sorry I don't really agree with that. It is a deficit way of thinking. We are all partners in learning: students, parents, teachers. We work together, leaving any one out of the equation is not a thing I would like to think about. Teachers are important. Teachers make a difference, and building them up to be the best they can be is the best way to support our learners.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Professional knowledge landscapes

Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (1998). Stories to live by: Narrative understandings of school reform. Curriculum Inquiry, 28(2), 149-194.

There was a notion in this paper that captured my interest. Clandinin and Connelly talk about professional knowledge landscapes, and state these landscapes are narratively constructed. This fits with my idea that knowledge is socially constructed.

“To enter a professional knowledge landscape is to enter a place of story” (p151).
The authors state that this landscape is made up of two 'places'. The first place is an out-of-classroom place which is filled with things that are imposed on teachers such as policies and plans. They call the stories that are created in this place 'sacred'.

The second place is an in-classroom place. This is the safe place of secret stories where teachers are 'free to live stories of practice' (p151).

When teachers move out of their classrooms onto the out-of-classroom place on the landscape, they often live and tell cover stories, stories in which they portray themselves as expert, certain characters whose teacher stories fit within the acceptable range of the story of school being lived in the school. Cover stories enable teachers whose teacher stories are marginalized by whatever the current story of school is to continue to practice and to sustain their teacher stories. (Clandinin and Connelly 1996, p. 25)”
I wonder if the stories we tell when we visit schools to make digital stories cross the boundaries of these two places? We definitely fit in the out-of-classroom place as we represent government policy - The New Zealand Curriculum. However, rather than coming with a sacred story about curriculum we are asking the schools to tell us their stories. This moves the ownership of the story.

Also the story is told by many voices. We hear the 'current story of the school' as explained by leadership, however we also hear the in-classroom stories as we capture teacher practice on film. We also capture student voice and the students reveal those secret classroom stories.

I see this as the value of digital stories for sharing practice across schools. The story is no longer the 'sacred' story imposed on schools. It is a dynamic, living, changing story as lived by teachers and leaders. And in the process of telling and sharing the story the doors of classrooms are opened, the voices of teachers, students, and leaders are heard, and they hear each other. This process adds another plot line, or scene to the story.