Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.

Games and Greeks or Playing and Plato

So there I was reading John Milton’s Of Education (why is probably another post) from one of my college books and I read the following line that had a notation reference at the end.

“At the same time, some other hour of the day, might be taught them the rules of arithmetic, and soon after the elements of geometry, even playing, as the old manner was.”

When I looked up the reference at the back of the book it said

“Both Plato…and Quintilian recommend the use of games as pedagogical tools.”

Pedagogical tools from Plato and Quintilian? I just had to find out what in the ancient world they were talking about. And since it had been a very long time that I engaged with any of the classical authors, I consulted Google and via The Perseus Digital Libray at Tufts University, here’s what I found from Plato (emphasis added)…

What I assert is that every man who is going to be good at any pursuit must practice that special pursuit from infancy, by using all the implements of his pursuit both in his play and in his work. For example, the man who is to make a good builder must play at building toy houses, and to make a good farmer he must play at tilling land; and those who are rearing them must provide each child with toy tools modelled on real ones. Besides this, they ought to have elementary instruction in all the necessary subjects,-the carpenter, for instance, being taught in play the use of rule and measure, the soldier taught riding or some similar accomplishment. So, by means of their games, we should endeavor to turn the tastes and desires of the children in the direction of that object which forms their ultimate goal. First and foremost, education, we say, consists in that right nurture which most strongly draws the soul of the child when at play to a love for that pursuit of which, when he becomes a man, he must possess a perfect masteryPlato, Laws, Book 1, 643b-d.

And from the research of Lee Honneycutt, Associate Professor in the English Department at Iowa State University from Quintilian (emphasis added)…

There are some kinds of amusement, too, not unserviceable for sharpening the wits of boys, as when they contend with each other by proposing all sorts of questions in turn” Quintilian Institutio Oratoria Book 1, Chapter 3, line 11.

It seems that the Greeks were talking about games in education in the 340’s BC and the Romans in the 1st Century AD. We’re still talking about them today. Now they are framed within the context of video games or edugames. Both David Warlick and Gary Stager have offered their (mostly) differing opinions. The comments on David’s post have some interesting takes as well. Whether it’s Gary Stager’s ignorance arguments, or David Warlick’s thoughts about counter-pedagogies or the approaches that gaming might take in schools from the people over at The Games, Learning, and Society Group, we still have a long way to go in this gaming discussion. Just a couple of days ago, Scott McLeod wrote his latest entry about games and cited a stat about only 15% of “teachers have a more difficult time seeing how platforms generally associated with entertainment -i.e., video games, MP3 players, and cell phones -can be used as educational tools” (slide 15). Definitely a long way to go.

Just how much video games will influence (or not) our current systems of education remains to be seen. However, gaming is pushing its way in and it is having rippling effects, seen and unseen. Perhaps that’s what concerns some now just as it concerned Plato 2400-ish years ago “that those children who innovate in their games grow up into men different from their fathers; and being thus different themselves, they seek a different mode of life, and having sought this, they come to desire other institutions and lawsPlato, Laws, Book 7, 798c.

May 17, 2008 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

David Warlick Keynote -4.21.08

Today, as part of some ongoing staff development, our district is hosting David Warlick who will be doing a keynote and several roundtable sessions. Pardon the writing as I took notes during the presentation.

From the keynote…

One of the things I appreciated immediately was that he set up a blog entry with some links that he would be referencing through his keynote. During the keynote, David Warlick brought all the tech down to the level of students and teachers. That’s his mission, passion, and purpose. It’s not about the stuff; it’s about making meaning and making education meaningful.

Web Sites

Items of Note

  • Information has changed. What it looks like and what you can do with it and how we interact with it.
  • We’re spending too much time teaching our kids to use paper.
  • We’re preparing our kids for the future they are going to invent. We know almost nothing about the future we are preparing them for. “For the first time in history our jobs as educators is to prepare our children for a future that we cannot clearly describe.”
  • We should stop integrating teachnology and integrate literacy. Being suspicious about the information they find. Investigate and become a digital detective.
  • If all we have taught our kids is how to read, are they literate or dangerous? Adults were taught to read what was handed to us. Our kids are not reading this way. They are reading in a global electronic environment.
  • We can’t rely on the gatekeepers to be the sentries of information. It must become a personal skill.
  • Find information, decode it, critically evaluate it, organize it into personal libraries.
  • We should not just develop literacy skills, but literacy habits.
  • We should not just develop lifelong learning, but a learning lifestyle.

Keynote Centerpiece

Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic expand our notions of what it means to be literate by

  • Exposing what is true
  • Employing information
  • Expressing ideas compellingly
  • Ethics -The thread that weaves all of them together

A compelling quote, “We will have achieved educational reform when no teacher believes they can teach the same thing the same way every time.”

I’m ready to learn more in the roundtable sessions…

 

April 21, 2008 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hope Springs Digital

The science assignment, in all its wrinkled, photocopied paperness, emerged from the depths of my 5th grader’s backpack. It contained, smacking of “parental involvement,” directions about how to display the results of the experiment on a tri-fold posterboard…due the next day.

The parental involvement I don’t mind, but when it comes to tri-fold poster displays, it becomes less about parental involvement and more about uh, parental guidance -and I don’t mean Mike Parent’s blog. (Although a blog does eventually play a part in this tale -read on, Digital Reader).

I dispise tri-fold poster displays and their inbred cousins, construction paper cut outs and foam display boards. They’re the so analog, so last-century, remnants of ancient business presentation expectations that have infiltrated our classrooms and science fairs. They’re very useful for the static displays of parental creativity and competition in gymnasiums converted to exhibition halls. Some may publicly look down their noses at the neatly arranged, heavily parent-influenced items on the tri-fold, but secretly covet the blue ribbon hanging on the corner of the board. And that’s where it starts. The pitiful tri-folds find themselves stuffed in the far less-traveled corners, assuming they even make it out of the classroom. So, in an effort to help our kids present themselves in a positive light, we parents make suggestions that turn into directives that turn into maddening scrambles and searches for mom’s special scrapbooking scissors that add some flare to this border. I wonder how many Sunday nights have ended with parents meticulously gluing display doodads while the kid is off in the other room playing video games. Nobody else? Must just be my house.

No longer, I resolved this time. (Plus, all the craft stores were closed and we were fresh out of foam board having used it all up on a quite beautiful State of Ohio display, which, by the way resides behind a door in the spare room downstairs as a monument to a maniacal frenzy of parental involvement.) It was time to take a chance with our kid’s education. Risky, I know, but I just didn’t have it in me to top the Ohio display.

About then I made a crazy Web 2.0pian decision and suggested that we put the required pieces of the assignment on a blog. Since this would be my son’s first foray into the blogosphere, I would set the blog up for him and give him a basic how-to after he had recorded all the required elements in a Word document. I wanted the initial blog experience to be more about the learning and less about the technical manipulation.

So he proceeded with his experiment, recording the materials and his hypothesis and the procedures and and the data and taking pictures as required. I set his blog up so he could copy and paste his text from the laptop. I made sure to make his blog viewable by invitation only because I knew I’d have to convince the hand-wringing, Internet fear mongers that this wasn’t a digital terrorism plot or would jeopardize his safety on the Internet. The really radical part was that we had several discussions about safe online behavior and what to include on the blog. We spoke about the type and amount of pictures he would be using and what he hoped to communicate with them. We talked about design and formatting and how each of those could help his audience understand him more clearly. We had more meaningful conversations that connected more of his past, current, and future learning to what he was doing just then. Certainly much better than the strained interactions of previous display-type projects. We’ll have more of the same conversations, I’m sure -and that’s just great.

With the entry edited and posted, I turned my attention to the science teacher and the district. This was going to be a surprise for the science teacher and I didn’t much appreciate those when I taught. I figured, more hoped, it was worth a shot. Just in case, I made a PDF of the blog post and emailed it to her after the blog invitation. She was able to see the blog from home and later on at school. She made some meaningful comments with questions and my son responded with thoughtful answers. I thought their exchanges were much better than a grade written on the back of the poster. Even more, she was very encouraging with the next assignment asking him to make another post.

For us and the teacher, it’s a dynamic resource easily accessible, not shoved in a corner or behind a door. We can look at the difference between the two entries and see the improvement -although he didn’t initially proof his spelling and mechanics on the second one, but we’ll work on that. His teacher shared it with some of his other teachers, who asked us to invite them so they could view it and we did. I was glad to see his excitement and his teacher’s. When the time came for the second assignment on the blog, he needed very little direction in the creation and organization. In fact he planned from the beginning how he was going to use the digital tools to accomplish his task. Score one for the Web 2.0pians.

April 15, 2008 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Participate in the 2008 Education Blogosphere Survey

Blogosphere_survey_button

Dangerously Irrelevant posted a link today to the 2008 Education Blogosphere Survey. The deadline to participate is January 26, 11:00PM, (GMT -6:00) Central Time (US & Canada). I took the survey; it only takes a few minutes and will help to get the word out for the educational blogsphere.

January 22, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lessons from the Music Industry for Education

Seth Godin’s post on Monday, January 7 about lessons that can be learned from the music industry turns a bit uncomfortable when you substitute “education” for “music” and “educators” for “musicians” and conceptually replace similar educational themes with his referenced music themes. Really, how many of his list below have a direct connection to education? Obviously some of them have a pretty strong connection and others you have to stretch a little for an application or analogy to education. I added a little something extra to each one for our education discussion. If I overgeneralize in some areas, it’s to make a point or point out commonly held perceptions.

0. The new thing is never as good as the old thing, at least right now.

     -How many of us have outlasted the next thing because we (or those initiating) lack the fortitude to commit to seeing something through?

1. Past performance is no guarantee of future success

     -I wonder of current performance is a guarantee of future success…

2. Copy protection in a digital age is a pipe dream

     -I can see some significant issues here. If we keep trying to protect facts, statistics, algorithms, and other outdated ideas regarding the dispensation of knowledge from the “menaces” of wikipedia and Google searches, we’re doomed. It’s not about the distribution of information anymore; it’s a raw material from which we synthesize new ideas.

3. Interactivity can’t be copied.

     -We still need our teachers and mentors. Our roles will must change.

4. Permission is the asset of the future

     -Seth describes this in part “…delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them.” The industrial model of the comprehensive (high) school can’t work any longer. If we don’t make our educational opportunities personal and relevant, someone else will. (Again see below).

5. A frightened consumer is not a happy consumer.

     -Translation: A frightened learner is not a happy learner. We are stuck on ideas like seat time = education and other assembly line principles. We make statements like “How can you give credit to someone who completes an online course in a few weeks when there are kids in school who spend 18 weeks on that?” Outdated Carnegie thinking only serves as a consequence hammer, essentially scaring families into, consciously or not, choosing the same old model, reinforcing it over and over and over.

6. This is a big one: The best time to change your business educational model is while you still have momentum.

     -Momentum feels good; it’s how we were successful. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is broke -always has been.

7. Remember the Bob Dylan rule: it’s not just a record monolith, it’s a movement.

     -One size (set of courses, times of day, methods of delivery) doesn’t fit all. Our kids are all different, will lead different lives, and need more than the canned canon.

8. Don’t panic when the new business model isn’t as ‘clean’ as the old one.

     -See 0 above.

9. Read the writing on the wall.

     -It’s been there long before a Nation at Risk, we did nothing about it then, so we have NCLB now. It’s our own fault; we should have developed our own systems of excellence and accountability. How much longer before the changes we should be implementing are legislated for us?

10. Don’t abandon the Long Tail

     -Seth says it well “Do a great job, not a perfect one. Bring things to market, the right market, and let them find their audience. Stick to the knitting has never been more wrong. Instead, find products your customers learners want (and need).”

11. Understand the power of digital

     -It’s not going away. Educators often lament their unappreciated status in society, but are the last ones to catch up with its trends. It’s almost insulting to the society to which we belong to keep rejecting its innovations. It’s definitely a disservice to the kids we release into society.

12. Celebrity is underrated

     -But we keep raising new ones up anyway. Instead of being thoughtful and purposeful and having the guts to work through the always-uncomfortable process of change, we look for the next program or method or product or, or, or. No two schools even in the same district are alike; no two kids in each school are alike. Why do we (still) make it to be that way?

13. Whenever possible, sell subscriptions

     -Those of us in public schools in public schools have to make it free (or nearly so), but we don’t have to live by the get-what-you-pay-for mentality. The power of subscriptions is in giving people what they want (and need). All good education has a solid foundation in certain essentials; let’s make the essentials great and then add some value by developing what they want (and will need).

Under #7 Seth says “…this is about taking initiative and making things happen.” Are we doing this as an industry? Is it happening fast enough for our kids?

January 10, 2008 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Educational Technology Moral Imperative

I recently attended the Virtual School Symposium sponsored by the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL). Gene Wilhoit, Executive Director of the Council of Chief State School Officers(CCSSO) in Washington, DC spoke about “Why Online Learning is Important to States.” In his talk, he said that “online learning is the fire, the wheel, the internal combustion engine of learning.” He also mentioned that education must make online education a priority in school reform efforts. In an impassioned plea for action, he said that educators are the entrepreneurs of education and we must leverage the power of online education to improve the learning of our students as it will become the great equalizer. He track record indicates that his is not the position of rhetoric; he is a man of action who, although claiming he is not a techie, knows the potential of technology -especially in education.

It’s refreshing to see that kind of leadership regarding online and all forms of Educational Technology and we can either drive the bus or be run over by it.

Educational Technology is a manifestation of our moral imperative (to borrow from Michael Fullan) to engage, encourage, and equip our students as they prepare for an unknown future. We must reinvent our thinking to understand that the very nature of technology is to produce something new or improve something that already exists. If we approach it with that wonder and energy, we will soon find that we are limited only by our imaginations and aspirations. To accomplish our educational goals, schools must teach and refine basic skills in core areas. On a pragmatic level, schools exist to develop skills in reading, writing, speaking, and computation. These skills can be measured, recorded, archived and easily evaluated. These core skills comprise the necessary fundamentals that allow schools and society to accomplish the more abstract tasks of producing and developing a critically-thinking, relationally-effective, moral populace.

We must not solely focus on educational technology to the exclusion of the demands of these other critical educational areas, but see that it has its own importance in the organic scope of education. Educational Technology is not an end in itself no more than the pencil or pen; it is simply the means by which we accomplish our educational goals. Even more says George Siemens on elearnspace -I agree and…

One of our critical responsibilities is to make educational technology as familiar as some of the more traditional tools of education. Educational Technology holds no place higher or lower than those of literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, or problem solving, but it can and should be the means by which all these are accomplished. Educational Technology should be so transparent that the underlying messages and meanings put forth by the lesson are not diminished or divided but enhanced and balanced.

The role for all educational leaders from the classroom to the superintendent’s office is the same: to use the tools both in the ways they were intended and perhaps in ways they weren’t for the success of our students. Technology allows us to discover our true potential and that of our students. Technology can free us to pursue our passions and purposes. The problem with technology is not with its implementation, use, or mastery; it is with our avoidance, misuse, and ignorance. Additionally, the threats of technology are isolation, distraction, and fatalism; the promises are community, engagement, and optimism. The only true power of technology comes in its ability to extend our own shortsightedness. Leaders, at all levels, must concretely orchestrate urgency, direction, and vision. Leaders are obliged to demonstrate the need and opportunity for improvement and guard against the potential threats and problems of technology.

Until we realize that the people and messages behind the technology are of the truest importance, all we will see is the technology itself. We are not to set up for ourselves monuments to technology; instead, we are compelled to reach our greatest potential as a community of learners focused on building a well-fortified foundation for the futures of our kids. The focus should not be just on the acquisition of new technologies, but on the ideas that the new technologies can set loose. We hope that technology is an extension of the best we see in ourselves and, in its application, the best we offer to our children. Every technology is a type of educational technology in that it has the ability to teach us about ourselves and provide educational opportunities. We must ask and be ready to answer the question of what happens when the promise of technology meets the power of the human spirit. Then, we will have taken the first step to making technology an essential part of the entire educational picture.

November 13, 2007 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fits & Fugues

I like the two definitions of Fugue in Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1) version:

1. Music. a polyphonic composition based upon one, two, or more themes, which are enunciated by several voices or parts in turn, subjected to contrapuntal treatment, and gradually built up into a complex form having somewhat distinct divisions or stages of development and a marked climax at the end.  2. Psychiatry. a period during which a person suffers from loss of memory, often begins a new life, and, upon recovery, remembers nothing of the amnesic phase.

The blog format lends itself quite nicely to the music definition while the psychiatry definition has multiple intersections and implications to the online world and the culture it has created, which we’ll explore more here especially in the context of education.

This periodic blog (thus the “Fits” part) will explore the converging and diverging pieces of the educational world and how it will struggle to meet the needs of those in the educational community who are citizens of a constantly emergent future. I welcome your ideas, thoughts, and comments.

October 3, 2007 Posted by | Education, Technology | , | Leave a comment