Education R & D – The Need To Move Forward


creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta

(This is part of the work I am doing for my Masters course “Conceptualizing the Learning Sciences” at the University of Calgary as part of my Design Learning program. I am planning on posting my work here, as well as on the site that my course is based on. This may not interest anyone beyond me, but when it comes to reflections, I like to post mine on my blog regardless of whether they are simply for me, for my PLN, or for another purpose like my Masters coursework.)

Advances in educational know-how are likely to remain slow and uncertain until educational institutions follow suit and devote funds to supporting their role in the production of educational PPK (Principled Practical Knowledge).” (Bereiter, 2014)

16 months ago, I was lucky to take part in a trip down to Cupertino, California with my school division to meet with Apple at their headquarters. One of the presenters was a key individual from their financial department, and a key point of his presentation that stuck out for me was when he mentioned the immense amount of their budget dedicated to Research and Development (R&D). I leaned over and asked a member of our division’s senior executive and asked her what portion of our budget was dedicated to R&D?

This quote above from Carl Bereiter suggests to me the need for our field to have research and development happening. At what level? People will point to universities and say that it is these institutions that should be handling that. My thought was that this should occur at the division level, and whatever departments we currently have should include one that is either renamed or created as “Research and Development”. My professor Dr. Sharon Friesen suggested that in fact this should be happening in the schools. I think maybe a hybrid of the two might be the answer.

I think too often we spend our time thinking about how we can apply what others have applied, or bring canned programs in from other people and places, but what do we do to foster new ideas in our organizations? Doesn’t the idea of “Best Practice” in itself strictly refer to what has been done? And what better way to ensure we bring research in to our practice then to have a department that focuses on what research is telling us?

I also think there is power in the title itself – “Research and Development”. If I was working in a department that was called something like “Learning Services” or even “Curriculum”, and suddenly we changed to something along the lines of R&D, it would change the way I thought about the work I did, and the goals I had for myself and my work. Maybe changing existing departments is too much to ask, and maybe a division could start with a small R&D department or even a person who’s job it was to bring that type of thinking to the division or schools. I would love that job.

We are in a time of change for education, no doubt, so if we are changing how we teach, how we assess and how we learn, maybe we should also look to change how we move our profession and our practice forward. What do you think? Does your division or school have some way to bring this type of thinking and ideation into the organization?

Resources:

Bereiter, C. (2014).  Principled practical knowledge: Not a bridge but a ladder.  The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 23(1), 4-17.

 

 

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Misconceptions: Do We Really Understand Them?


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(This is part of the work I am doing for my Masters course “Conceptualizing the Learning Sciences” at the University of Calgary as part of my Design Learning program. I am planning on posting my work here, as well as on the site that my course is based on. This may not interest anyone beyond me, but when it comes to reflections, I like to post mine on my blog regardless of whether they are simply for me, for my PLN, or for another purpose like my Masters coursework.)

In the readings for my class today it talked about two Learning Sciences researchers who had fundamentally differing points of view when it comes to conceptual change. Kuhn wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1970 and suggested that science moves forward through periods of radical change that differ greatly than the periods of relatively little change, which he referred to as “Normal Science”. He talked about scientists who thought the way everyone thought before the radical change and people who changed their thinking via the radical change ceased to see the world the same way. He referred to the change in terms of incommensurability, which referred to the inability of the new way of thinking to be stated in the old way and vice-versa. (Sawyer, 2006)

Conversely, Toulmin wrote Human Understanding in 1972 and it rejected Kuhn’s theory and presented an idea that suggested that the before and after wasn’t so different or defined, alluding to  metaphor of a moving picture rather than two distinctively different images. (Sawyer, 2006)

diSessa, who wrote the chapter A History of Conceptual Change suggested that the two helped form a fragmentation vs. coherence way of looking at conceptual change. Now I am no expert, but I took this, after doing a bit more digging into other articles, to mean that change can happen on the whole to an entire system of conceptual organization of knowledge, or by putting together and organizing all the little pieces of knowledge into a new and more informed conceptual model. If that sounds confusing then I have helped you join me in the same boat.

I found another article, which also written by diSessa, “Coherence versus fragmentation in the development of the concept of force”  which provided a bit more insight into the debate mostly because it suggested the debate was ongoing. Below is taken directly from the writing, and lists the three aims of  the paper:

1. We aim explicitly to articulate and explore an important and broad division among conceptual change theorists. We wish to contribute to the relatively sparse body of literature that self-consciously contrasts different views, and pursues an avenue intended to bring the debate to conclusion.

2. We aim to find common empirical grounds with other researchers, both in terms of age level of subjects and in terms of conceptual focus.

3. We deliberately seek to minimize differences in methods, rather than pursuing paths of investigation natural only to our own theoretical and empirical tradition. (diSessa, Gillespie and Esterly, 2004)

So it would seem, that at the time in 2004 when this paper was written the interested researchers were still trying to develop framework that would make studying conceptual change comparable. I notice a number of variables that they speak of, and that doesn’t even include the idea that maybe conceptual change occurs differently in different disciplines, as one of my classmates brought forward today. It would be interesting, when all the papers are done and I find myself with some time to dig, to dive in a little deeper and see what has occurred in this area of research since diSessa’s paper in 2004.

What I connected with in reviewing the article and seeking out further understanding, is the idea of studying something that, I think, is still trying to be resolved. It really brings the “Sciences” in Learning Sciences to life for me to think that I am looking in on research that pertains to my field and is ongoing, still searching for what could be considered some form of agreement or resolution. If my understanding of conceptual change remains a foggy, I can handle that, but it has caused a stir in me to look into it further, and maybe that’s a big part of what this experience is about.

Resources

diSessa, A. A., Esterly, J. B., & Gillespie, N. M. Coherence versus fragmentation in the development of the concept of force. Cognitive Science, 843-900.

Sawyer, R. K. (Ed.). (2006). Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences.  NY, USA: Cambridge University Press.

 

 

 

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A Radical Shift – Learning Sciences and Transformational Learning


creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Jiuck

(This is part of the work I am doing for my Masters course “Conceptualizing the Learning Sciences” at the University of Calgary as part of my Design Learning program. I am planning on posting my work here, as well as on the site that my course is based on. This may not interest anyone beyond me, but when it comes to reflections, I like to post mine on my blog regardless of whether they are simply for me, for my PLN, or for another purpose like my Masters coursework.)

To foster conceptual change, learners need to deeply engage topics in ways that may radically shift their concepts, even while building on their existing conceptions.” (Hoadley and Van Haneghan, 2011)

…as all human beings in any society will experience situations where what they try to accomplish cannot be carried through, and if they cannot understand or accept the barriers they will naturally react with some resistance.” (Illeris, 2008)

Sitting at my table group with three very insightful classmates that brought different points of view, we had a discussion about how we are going to use what we have learned over the course of the two weeks in our classes when we return to our schools. In a lot of ways, helping move forward the teaching and learning in our buildings or classrooms will be a lot like a conceptual change as Hoadley and Van Haneghan talk about in their quote above. Our thoughts and applications will face resistance, as Illeris says, when our colleagues and in our own practice we run into a lack of understanding.

Taking the quotes, I have isolated three ideas that may be able to help guide our thoughts about taking back our learning:

Learning that is Deeply Engaged

For conceptual change to occur there needs to be deep learning and engagement, as stated in Hoadley and Van Haneghan’s quote above. All you have to do is think about how you looked at everything before you dove into your learning. Understanding that your colleagues have not just taken the same course you have, and probably haven’t experienced the readings and research that was part of the course, you can’t expect that everyone will take to the research the same way you do. Sharing some of your learning and then offering resources so that they can dive in a little deeper if they want is probably going to give them the best opportunity to join you in your learning, rather than meeting them with a blast of all that you have encountered, or dismissing practice because “The research says…”.

Overcoming the Resistance

Illeris suggests a lack of understanding can cause resistance to learning, and we need to take this into account when we share with our colleagues. If you go back to your school, stand in front of everyone, and then proceed to tell everyone how we have to change everything based on the research you have read, you are going to maximize the resistance you meet. If instead you introduce some ideas in discussion, maybe sharing interesting ideas along with the sharing that your colleague brings, you might find a spark of interest and find they want to learn more.

Support the Radical Shift

It may be a lonely feeling if your work environment doesn’t have a lot of people interested in the Learning Sciences, but in time opportunities will present themselves where you can offer insight you have gained from your learning to help a colleague. Maybe its a book club you open up to read How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school by Bransford, Brown and Cocking, a book I found on my principal’s shelf, or maybe you support a colleague on a project by providing a resource that will help them with their practice, whatever it is you do, be a supporter of professional learning. When you find people interested in what the Learning Sciences has to offer to our profession, support them and learn with them, and maybe your group of two will grow in time.

 

I am excited by what we have been reading, discussing and learning, but I am also well aware that back at my school, I can’t expect that everyone will be as excited as I am about it. Having our cohort online as a community to bounce ideas off of and to share stories with will help me see how best to bring the Learning Sciences in to my school, and to support what I hope will be a radical shift in my practice and, in time, the practice of others.

 

Resources:

Hoadley, C. & Van Haneghan, J. (2011). The Learning Sciences: Where they came from and what it means for instructional designers. In R. A. Reiser & J. V. Dempsey (Eds.) Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (3rd ed., pp. 53-63). New York: Pearson.

Illeris, K. (Ed.). (2008). Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists…In Their Own Words. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge.

 

 

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I Was Angry – Audience, Research and the Learning Sciences


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(This is part of the work I am doing for my Masters course “Conceptualizing the Learning Sciences” at the University of Calgary as part of my Design Learning program. I am planning on posting my work here, as well as on the site that my course is based on. This may not interest anyone beyond me, but when it comes to reflections, I like to post mine on my blog regardless of whether they are simply for me, for my PLN, or for another purpose like my Masters coursework.)

I was hot. And I don’t mean temperature, although my emotional response seemed to cause my temperature to rise as well. The readings I had for my class included one, that no doubt had profound and powerful ideas to put forth, but involved some pretty dismissive language towards current practices in schools. (Our class discussion today helped me understand how a lot of this had to with how I took the article and probably not the intent of the author) I found myself getting angry and defensive as I read, thinking of how the language was putting down my teaching, and more importantly, of the work the teachers in our school had done. As I worked through the paper, which I did finish, I found my ability to take in what the article said very limited.

I was really upset. This learning I am undertaking is important to me, I see it as a method to help teachers improve their teaching, and help our school improve student learning. When I read these articles, I read them from perspectives of “how can I bring this to our teachers?” and “how can this improve the learning for our students?”. I found the language in this particular paper turned me off, and I would imagine could turn off others. I am in a program to explore the learning sciences because I believe in research guiding practice, and I want to help bridge the research to the practitioners. I feel like my position, as an assistant principal, puts me in the perfect spot to be a bridge for the research connecting with our teachers. So then why would someone write in a way that would have such a negative effect on a person who could help spread the impact of their research?

After discussing  with the class, and with some very gentle assistance from my professors Michele Jacobsen and Sharon Friesen, I was helped to a place where I could see that the researcher was not writing to offend, but rather to challenge and improve practice. The conversation helped me better understand the valuable information from the article and I was at a place to move forward. I even saw a post on twitter about The 12 cognitive biases that prevent you from being rational  that suggested that I was letting my connection with the staff of my school cloud my judgement:

Ultimately, the ingroup bias causes us to overestimate the abilities and value of our immediate group at the expense of people we don’t really know.

In the end, I am glad I experienced this with the reading, as it will be something to be prepared for in future readings and will help me take a less subjective stance when I read.

BUT…

Is there not something to be said for the importance of audience when academic writing takes place? I understand that the writing has a much broader audience than just practicing educators, but we do make up a component of that audience. Can the academic writing of the Learning Sciences purposely take that into account to help teachers utilize their research, and maybe consider them in their writing? Maybe I am asking too much, but I know that as my learning causes me to get excited about the potential the Learning Sciences has for improving our practice, I struggle with how I am going to help others see this potential. I would hate for anything to get in the way, even something like the emotional response that reading can have on the learner.

 

Sources:

The 12 cognitive biases that prevent you from being rational. (n.d.). io9. Retrieved July 15, 2014, from http://io9.com/5974468/the-most-common-cognitive-biases-that-prevent-you-from-being-rational?utm_content=buffera0e2c&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

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Optimising The Learning Of An Organization – The Learning Sciences As A Guide


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(This is part of the work I am doing for my Masters course “Conceptualizing the Learning Sciences” at the University of Calgary as part of my Design Learning program. I am planning on posting my work here, as well as on the site that my course is based on. This may not interest anyone beyond me, but when it comes to reflections, I like to post mine on my blog regardless of whether they are simply for me, for my PLN, or for another purpose like my Masters coursework.)

We had an interesting exercise for today’s class – take a paper by Davis, Sumara and D’Amour (2012) on how three school divisions in Alberta administered their resources from the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) project, and read it up against a paper we had studied earlier by Sawyer (2009) about Optimising Learning and the implications of what has come from the Learning Sciences. Seemed simple enough, but it lead to some interesting dialogue in our groups and with our class.

To use what we learned from Sawyer’s paper, we had to look at the three school divisions (which were kept anonymous by the authors) as learners themselves. Davis, Sumara and D’Amour speak in their paper about how they used the work of complexity science to study these divisions:

Informed by complexity science, in this article we work from a different perspective, arguing that any evolving system that maintains its coherence through time by responding and adapting in manners consistent with its own history can be properly construed as a learner.

Well this had my head spinning a bit, but further on in the paper they helped the reader understand a little better:

Complexity science is itself an example of what it studies: an emergent phenomenon in which similar but nonetheless diverse elements coalesce into a coherent, discernible unity that cannot be reduced to the sum of its constituents.

And furthermore providing a scope of complexity science for the paper and their research on the topic:

As educators and educational researchers, we find a particular resonance with the notion that a complex system is a learning system (see Davis et al. 2008), and this “definition” figures prominently in this writing.

So now to think of these three divisions as learners, we could apply what we learned from the Sawyer article on learning to these divisions as we would to a student, a classroom or a school. I have to admit, I was kind of excited by this exercise at this point, and I’ll talk more about why later.

So looking at the way these three divisions developed their AISI projects and the structures they set up in the management of the projects, we were able to apply a couple principles of Sawyer’s article to them.

Customized Learning

Sawyer (2009) suggests in his paper that the learning that takes place for a “learner” benefits from it being meaningful to them.

Learning sciences research suggests that more effective learning will occur if each learner receives a customized learning experience.

This gave us a scope to reflect from in looking at how each division handled AISI. One division honoured the need for customization in the way they allowed projects to be developed in schools that were customized for that building, while others kept the development centralized at the division level.

Diverse Knowledge Sources

Sawyer points to how the Learning Sciences research  talks about diverse sources of knowledge and not simply the teacher delivering knowledge. When looking at this example, the “teacher” would be the people providing the training for the AISI project such as division staff or an AISI lead.

Learners will acquire knowledge from diverse sources: of course, expert support from the teacher can facilitate these learning processes, but the teacher’s involvement will not be one of transmitting knowledge.

I thought of this speaking to the potential connections between teachers, and between schools as they worked on similar AISI projects. The connections with other teachers/schools would facilitate further learning by adding another source of knowledge. When it came to the three school divisions, fostering this culture of sharing and opening up networks for this sharing to occur wasn’t always present.

This exercise was a good one for me, because as a school administrator I live in two worlds, my school and then the division as a whole. We often talk about how we want things to change divisionally, and this exercise helped with my thinking when it comes to this topic. The first way it changed my thinking was in the way Davis, Sumara and D’Amour talked about just how difficult it was to study a school division:

Further, these rules can be volatile, subject to change as the system changes. Such precariousness arises from the fact the “components” of the complex system are themselves dynamic and adaptive.

We talk about how we want things to change and we are sometimes pretty dismissive when things don’t move quickly enough for us. When you consider this quote, and this paper, you realize that there is a reason why changing a system as complex as a school division is difficult, there are so many components that are evolving and changing. When I apply this to an even larger system, such as a provincial system of education, it helps me to temper my impatience.

The second way this exercise helped my thinking was in this idea of the division as a learner. Its not an easy idea to get your head around, but once you get there it opens up a whole world of possibilities in how we work from a division perspective. We can apply the Learning Sciences to the division the way we would a classroom of students, as we did in this exercise. We can reflect on the practices of the division that may be improving or impeding its learning. We can even try to apply strategies to ensure that the division is maximizing its learning, again guided by research.

This opens the door to many conversations, and in my studies, another scope to reflect from when I consider theories and research as it applies to learners – the ones in my school and the larger collective learner I am a part of.

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Where We End And I Begin – A Question About Learning Sciences & Learning As A Social Event


creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by marsmet543

(This is part of the work I am doing for my Masters course “Conceptualizing the Learning Sciences” at the University of Calgary as part of my Design Learning program. I am planning on posting my work here, as well as on the site that my course is based on. This may not interest anyone beyond me, but when it comes to reflections, I like to post mine on my blog regardless of whether they are simply for me, for my PLN, or for another purpose like my Masters coursework.)

We started this course with a reading from Knud Illeris’s book Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists…In Their Own Words which is a collection of writings from himself and 15 other authors. In the first chapter, which he writes, he spoke about how learning happens on two fronts:

…learning implies the integration of two very different processes, namely an external interaction process between the learner and his or her social, cultural or material environment, and an internal psychological process of elaboration and acquisition.

This represents a break from earlier behaviourist and cognitive theories that focused on learning as happening only inside the learner.

In an article we studied in the next set of readings, a similar message came from Sawyer (2009)

“Situated” means that knowledge is not just a static mental structure inside the learner’s head; instead, knowing is a process that involves the person, the tools and other people in the environment, and the activities in which the knowledge is being applied

As the week went on, we would learn more and more about theories that seemed to develop on the idea, and maybe even the magnitude and impact, of the outside world on learning. Whether it was the impact of our interactions on our learning or thinking (Kegan & Engestrom) or the impact of the context/situation in which we are learning (Lave & Wenger), the social component of learning was introduced more and more.

As this duality of spaces where learning occurs was investigated, I found myself thinking about a line, or barrier, where one set of processes stopped and the other started. Was the idea that my senses took everything in, and then once in, it was all about me? That made sense to me, seemed simple enough, learning is a process where I take in my environment, which includes my interactions, and then I process and organize it inside my head.

It is simple, and when I read more, my assumption was of course challenged and had to be reformed. In our project for this course I am working with two classmates on a way to change the instruction in a undergrad first year science class and we are reading a lot about ideas including cognitive apprenticeship and situated learning. In the same Sawyer paper (2009) that I read for class earlier in the week, these points came out as clearly useful for our project:

Factual and procedural knowledge is only useful when a person knows which situations to apply it in, and exactly how to modify it for each new situation.

When students gain a deeper conceptual understanding, they learn facts and procedures in a much more useful and profound way that transfers to real-world settings.

So it comes down to how the learning is organized, or conceptualized, for the learner. What started to emerge, or what I started to understand, was that a lot of our readings spoke to how “experts” aren’t necessarily so much better at recall of knowledge, but are far better at organizing and accessing the information, and making connections in a new learning situation. This quote from Bransford, Brown and Cocking’s book How People Learn illustrates the point well:

Experts’ knowledge is connected and organized around important concepts (e.g., Newton’s second law of motion); it is “conditionalized” to specify the contexts in which it is applicable; it supports understanding and transfer (to other contexts) rather than only the ability to remember.

So, how the information is organized is important, and by the sounds of it, far more important than just attending to it or remembering it. And in our last set of readings for the week from Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, which were on Communities of Practice mostly, a lot was said for the impact that these communities have on learning. This quote from Wenger’s chapter put it nicely:

My assumptions as to what matters about learning and as to the nature of knowledge, knowing, and knowers can be succinctly summarized as follows. I start with four premises: We are social beings. Far from being trivially true, this fact is a central aspect of learning. Knowledge is a matter of competence with respect to valued enterprises – such as singing in tune, discovering scientific facts, fixing machines, writing poetry, being convivial, growing up as a boy or a girl, and so forth. Knowing is a matter of participating in the pursuit of such enterprises, that is, of active engagement in the world. Meaning – our ability to experience the world and our engagement with it as meaningful – is ultimately what learning is to produce.

But it was this line that has brought me to my big question:

Participating in a playground clique or in a work team, for instance, is both a kind of action and a form of belonging. Such participation shapes not only what we do, but also who we are and how we interpret what we do.

So if, as Sawyer says,

  • that we conceptualize the information more effectively when we know how to use the information in authentic situation,

and, as Wenger says,

  • our interactions effect how we interpret what we do,

and finally, from Bransford, Brown and Cocking,

  • that an expert’s real advantage in learning is how the knowledge is conceptualized

Then aren’t we seeing the outside world, our interactions with others, the models provided by authentic learning having an effect on how we conceptualize the knowledge in our heads? Isn’t what is outside shaping how we handle things on the inside? If that is the case then is there a line to separate the learning outside our heads and the learning going on inside our heads?

I’m glad I have another week to read, to listen and to hopefully gain a better understanding.

Resources:

Illeris, K. (Ed.). (2008). Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists…In Their Own Words. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge.

Sawyer, R. K. (2009).  Optimising learning: Implications of Learning Sciences research. Paris, FR: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school (Expanded edition). Washington, DC: National Research Council.

 

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My Community of Practice


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(This is part of the work I am doing for my Masters course “Conceptualizing the Learning Sciences” at the University of Calgary as part of my Design Learning program. I am planning on posting my work here, as well as on the site that my course is based on. This may not interest anyone beyond me, but when it comes to reflections, I like to post mine on my blog regardless of whether they are simply for me, for my PLN, or for another purpose like my Masters coursework.)

Reading academic articles is not something I am well practiced in. I find myself feeling very confused and, at times, even distraught over my lack of understanding of what the author(s) is trying to convey. I am trying to use all the tools I have to deal with the difficulties but it has been harder than I expected.

Take for example this quote from Chapter 4 in Illeris’s book Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists…In Their Own Words written by Yrjo Engestrom entitled Expansive Learning where he presented this about the insensitivity of a version of Activity Theory to cultural diversity:

Michael Cole (1988) was one of the first to clearly point out the deep-seated insensitivity of the second-generation activity theory toward cultural diversity. When activity theory went international, questions of diversity and dialogue between different traditions or perspectives became increasingly serious challenges.

I had trouble with this, because I needed an example. I thought why not provide an example right there in the text? That’s probably not something that often happens in academic writing, maybe because the people reading the journals don’t need the analogy and probably even find it patronizing. One of the tools I believe I learn well with is analogy, and find that an analogy can help me understand the concept being put forth more easily. I was really pleased when I saw an article from the journal Cognitive Science by Joel Chan and Christian Schunn about the impact of analogy on creative concept generation. (of course I found it a lot easier to understand in the article that summed it up on Business Insider.) Here is a quote from the journal article:

In technological innovation, analogies have been associated with innovative outcomes in protocol studies and retrospective studies of expert and prominent inventors and designers , experimental studies of design processes, and computational models of design.

Luckily for me, my classmate, Kate, had wrote an amazing reflection about an experience she had while teaching in Northern Ontario, that worked very well as an analogy for difficulties in understanding that can arise from cultural diversity:

I had just finished my Bachelor of Education and had taken a job teaching grade one in a remote, fly-in reserve community in Northern Ontario. I thought we would start the day off with a read-aloud, so I brought out a classic, Stone Soup. The book’s opening page had an illustration of some soldiers walking through the woods, and the text said something about how the soldiers were very hungry and had no food to eat. A six-year-old in the front row raised her hand timidly.
“There’s a bird right there,” she observed when called upon. “If they have their slingshots, they can eat that.” I tried my best to keep the puzzled look off my face, acknowledged her idea, and started to turn the page. A young man near the back piped up: he pointed out that, though it wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice, there was also a dog in the illustration. If they had to, he told us, they could always eat that. I was flustered and confused. This worldview was completely contradictory to my own, and probably to that of the illustrator of this folk tale. Yet, to my students, it made perfect sense. How could the men be starving if they had sources of food right there in the forest? The punchline of this book (namely, that the three desperate soldiers tricked the townspeople into cooperating and feeding them a hearty meal) was completely lost on these students, who couldn’t understand why the three men – presumably capable hunters – weren’t fending for themselves.

In another instance, I was having difficulty with a reading by Robert Kegan What “form” transforms - Chapter 3 from Illeris’s book, when he talked about the difference between the self-authoring mind and socializing mind, like in this paragraph:

But when the adult education experts tell us they want students to “understand how to separate what they feel from what they should feel, what they value from what they should value, and what they want from what they should want,” do they take seriously enough the possibility that when the socialized mind dominates our meaning-making, what we should feel is what we do feel, what we should value is what we do value, and what we should want is what we do want?

I couldn’t separate this from my thinking of a person maturing or developing, I wasn’t making the connection to learning. Then in discussion today, my classmate Andrea made the connection to how Jarvis talks about the impact of learning on a person, in Illeris’s book as well (Chapter 2):

Fundamentally it is the person who learns and it is the changed person who is the outcome of learning…

This really helped me understand, and her assistance in making this connection was pivotal to my moving past this difficulty in my thinking. In Illeris’s own chapter of his book he talks about how social interaction plays a major role in learning, making up an integral piece of his learning diagram below:

Illeris Learning Triangle

And he describes the role in learning that this interaction dimension plays:

The interaction dimension provides the impulses that initiate the learning process. This may take place as perception, transmission, experience, imitation, activity, participation, etc.. It serves the personal integration in communities and society and thereby also builds up the sociality of the learner.

This really connected to our readings for today’s class when the topic of community of practice was brought up and Engestrom cites:

Recent theories of situated learning (Lave and Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998) and distributed cognition (Hutchins, 1995) tell us to look for wellbounded communities of practice or functional systems, such as task-oriented teams or work units, to become collaborative subjects of learning.

I think my class is acting as a community of practice, one that is making learning possible for me. I feel like I’m living the analogy for what we are studying and it is the ultimate connection to aid in my understanding. Reflecting on my learning and myself as a learner is really helping me connect more easily with the material, and I need all the help I can get.

Resources:

Illeris, K. (Ed.). (2008). Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists…In Their Own Words. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge.

Chan, J. and Schunn, C. (2014) The Impact of Analogies on Creative Concept Generation: Lessons From an In Vivo Study in Engineering Design. Cognitive Science, 1(1), 1-30.

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So How’s This Going To Work? – Learning Sciences and Schools of the Future


creative commons licensed ( BY-NC ) flickr photo shared by SomeDriftwood

(This is part of the work I am doing for my Masters course “Conceptualizing the Learning Sciences” at the University of Calgary as part of my Design Learning program. I am planning on posting my work here, as well as on the site that my course is based on. This may not interest anyone beyond me, but when it comes to reflections, I like to post mine on my blog regardless of whether they are simply for me, for my PLN, or for another purpose like my Masters coursework.)

Well our professor Dr. Michele Jacobsen talked about how there may be a reading that really speaks to you, and that it may create a very enthusiastic response. I believe I have found my reading and this post will try to capture my response. I can tell you that it was one of those moments where I debated putting the paper down and start writing before I was finished, and I had trouble sitting still until the end.

In our second reading from Sawyer, his 2009 paper entitled Optimising learning: Implications of Learning Sciences research I found myself with a better handle on a lot of what I read in our first reading from his  Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences. He outlined a shift to an innovation economy, he highlighted key learning sciences findings and how they contradict with the “standard model” of schooling and then he put forth a discussion of design principles from the learning sciences that he thought could:

“…be used to guide the development of new models of schooling that are more closely aligned with the innovation economy.”

These design principles included:

  • Customized learning
  • Diverse knowledge sources
  • Distributed Knowledge
  • Curriculum
  • The role of the teacher
  • Assessment

From this discussion he suggested four key findings:

  • The importance of learning deeper conceptual understanding, rather than superficial facts and procedures
  • The importance of learning connected and coherent knowledge, rather than knowledge compartmentalized into distinct subjects and courses
  • The importance of learning authentic knowledge in the context of use, rather than decontextualized classroom exercises
  • The importance of learning in collaboration, rather than isolation

And he suggested four characteristics that effective learning environments will have:

  • Customized learning – Each child receives a customized learning experience 
  • Availability of diverse knowledge sources – Learners can acquire knowledge whenever they need it from a variety of sources: books, web sites, and experts around the globe.
  • Collaborative group learning – Students learn together as they work collaboratively on authentic, inquiry-oriented projects. 
  • Assessment for deeper learning – Tests should evaluate the students’ deeper conceptual understanding, the extent to which their knowledge is integrated, coherent and contextualized. 

He goes on to suggest that some of these changes will be harder than others, citing that schools now are introducing collaborative learning, but to provide personalization means breaking free from long-standing structures of standardization, maybe alluding to age-based grouping as he mentions previously in the section on customized learning.

My reaction to reading this was one of excitement, as he suggests these changes are coming and talks about new curriculum based in research of the Learning Sciences in the next 10-20 years. I also recognize that there are great challenges to overcome and that it will require people to let go of long held ideas of what school is and what it looks like. I also thought that there are already places where these type of changes are starting.

Two years ago I was able to make a trip out to Vancouver and visit some schools to connect some educators and learn about their practices. One school I was able to visit was the Inquiry Hub in Coquitlam, B.C. and I was able to meet with David Truss, the lead administrator on site. This is a brief description of the school from their website:

The Inquiry Hub provides grade 9-12 students an innovative, technology driven, full-time program which allows them to pursue their own learning questions by shaping their educational experience around their interests instead of structured classes. Go to:

In this building I saw collaborative learning, with students working on projects, and I saw customization, as I saw them choosing inquiry projects based on their passions and interests. (See this blog post for a detailed account of the Green Inquiry school garden project developed by Grade 9 students at the Inquiry Hub, and see this site for the student portfolio site of their work.)

On the same trip I was able to visit Georges Vanier Elementary School in Surrey, B.C. to meet with Gallit Zvi and Hugh McDonald and sit in on their Genius Hour class that they team taught with two classes of Grade 6 students. (Gallit is now at Simon Fraser University but remains very involved in the Genius Hour community). In this class of buzzing young minds I saw again customized and collaborative learning at work but also the connecting with diverse knowledge sources, as some students from the class had made connections with real world experts to assist in their projects.

Now I realize that measured against what Sawyer talks about when it comes to the types of changes required to the system, these examples might be seen as change in its infancy, but we should definitely look to find examples and share them, to help prepare the public, the professionals, our students and ourselves for changes that, we hope, will be coming very soon.

Resources

Sawyer, R. K. (2009).  Optimising learning: Implications of Learning Sciences research. Paris, FR: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

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Authenticity, Motivation, and Adolescents


creative commons licensed ( BY-NC ) flickr photo shared by Mr. Physics

(This is part of the work I am doing for my Masters course “Conceptualizing the Learning Sciences” at the University of Calgary as part of my Design Learning program. I am planning on posting my work here, as well as on the site that my course is based on. This may not interest anyone beyond me, but when it comes to reflections, I like to post mine on my blog regardless of whether they are simply for me, for my PLN, or for another purpose like my Masters coursework.)

So the readings from Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists…In Their Own Words by Illeris along with a reading required for my morning course Design Based Learning from Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media by Ito have come together to form a thought for me that was cemented by a discussion my table group had with our professor Dr. Sharon Friesen.

First here is the relevant quotes from the Illeris text:

The incentive dimension provides and directs the mental energy that is necessary for the learning process to take place. It comprises such elements as feelings, emotions, motivation and volition. Its ultimate function is to secure the continuous mental balance of the learner and thereby it simultaneously develops a personal sensitivity.

However, the incentive function is also still crucial, i.e. how the situation is experienced, what sort of feelings and motivations are involved, and thus the nature and the strength of the mental energy that is mobilised. The value and durability of the learning result is closely related to the incentive dimension of the learning process.

And the quotes from Ito:

These difficulties in translating recreational media engagement into school-based forms point to persistent tensions between peer-based learning dynamics and genres and those embedded in formal education.

Simply mimicking genre or sharing an assessment dynamic is not sufficient to promote the forms of learning that youth are developing when they are given authority over their own learning and literacy in these domains.

So the Illeris quotes speak to what he calls the incentive dimension of learning, and he talks about how learning involves three dimensions – the content dimension, which refers to “knowledge and skills as well as opinions, insight, meaning, attitudes, values, ways of behaviour, methods, strategies etc”., the incentive dimension, comprised of “feelings, emotions, motivation and volition”, and the interaction dimension, which “provides the impulses that initiate the learning process… and may take place as perception, transmission, experience, activity, participation etc.”. The incentive dimension is where the content is considered from the scope of what is at stake, and what is driving the learning, what is motivating the learning.

This is an area of interest for me, as I very often try to look at whatever learning experience we are trying to bring to our students from the perspective of “why will they be engaged?” and “why should they care?”. This learning theory from Illeris dedicates one third of his triangle of dimensions to this idea, and so I can connect with it easily.

When we were discussing the readings with the table group I was reminded of Ito’s quotes that seemed to speak to authenticity, at least that’s how I took them. She talks about how the informal learning that was going on in the online communities was difficult to recreate in a formal school setting and that mimicking the learning wasn’t successful. I believe that this speaks to our students not seeing the mimicry as authentic, and that the learning that occurs in online communities outside of school is meaningful to them because the participants are motivated to seek out their interests and passions and that is difficult to force in a formal setting.

My final inspiration for this post, as I said was from my professor, who was talking to us about how adolescent brain development made for some very specific conditions that need to be accounted for. She spoke about how they crave a connection, they are prone to emotional outbursts (similar to two year-olds) and that they need a personal link to the learning or they will check out quickly. She said that the teenage brain is “full speed, no steering” (the inspiration for the photo choice above).

So with the ideas of motivation being an integral component of learning (Illeris), and authenticity being key to personal learning (Ito) and finally the characteristics of the adolescent brain that we need to account for (Friesen), I find a great deal of validation for focusing on student connection to the learning. Whether it is connecting to student interests or passions, connecting to their lives in a meaningful way, or providing them an audience that for them brings authenticity, these resources have helped bring a confidence for me that we are probably right to keep making this a priority in our teaching and our students’ learning.

Resources

Illeris, K. (Ed.). (2008). Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists…In Their Own Words. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge. 

Ito, M. (2009). Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.

 

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Metacognition & Feedback – Concerns and Questions


creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by illuminaut

(This is part of the work I am doing for my Masters course “Conceptualizing the Learning Sciences” at the University of Calgary as part of my Design Learning program. I am planning on posting my work here, as well as on the site that my course is based on. This may not interest anyone beyond me, but when it comes to reflections, I like to post mine on my blog regardless of whether they are simply for me, for my PLN, or for another purpose like my Masters coursework.)

The following are excerpts from Chapter 1 of “How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school” by Bransford, Brown and Cocking (2000)   

A “metacognitive” approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them.

In research with experts who were asked to verbalize their thinking as they worked, it was revealed that they monitored their own understanding carefully, making note of when additional information was required for understanding, whether new information was consistent with what they already knew, and what analogies could be drawn that would advance their understanding.

These meta-cognitive monitoring activities are an important component of what is called adaptive expertise (Hatano and Inagaki, 1986).

Because metacognition often takes the form of an internal conversation, it can easily be assumed that individuals will develop the internal dialogue on their own. Yet many of the strategies we use for thinking reflect cultural norms and methods of inquiry (Hutchins, 1995; Brice-Heath, 1981, 1983; Suina and Smolkin, 1994).

Research has demonstrated that children can be taught these strategies, including the ability to predict outcomes, explain to oneself in order to improve understanding, note failures to comprehend, activate background knowledge, plan ahead, and apportion time and memory.

The model for using the meta-cognitive strategies is provided initially by the teacher, and students practice and discuss the strategies as they learn to use them. Ultimately, students are able to prompt themselves and monitor their own comprehension without teacher support.

The teaching of metacognitive activities must be incorporated into the subject matter that students are learning (White and Frederickson, 1998).

So this collection of excerpts all speak to metacognition and its power, its validity and its importance for our students. This has been an area of interest to me from the first conversation I had with Katherine Mann about student journaling in Math. From there, I read other interesting perspectives including this one from David Coffey about “Metacognitive Memoirs” which was based on a keynote he gave at the MCATA (Mathematics Council of the Alberta Teachers Association) conference in Edmonton in 2011. The session description spoke about metacognition and written reflection:

Metacognition is the awareness of one’s thinking. Memoir is a genre usually referring to a piece of autobiographical writing focusing on some problematic event. Together they represent a powerful tool for helping learners experience what it means to do mathematics by thinking about and communicating their efforts to others. In this session we explore how creative writing supports creative thinking in mathematics – certainly a road less traveled.

So for some time, I have had a great interest in helping our students work on metacognition, but struggled with how to introduce it, how to help teachers feel comfortable with it, and generally feeling ready and confident to push it.

This past spring, our school’s Design Team met after our Ed Planning Session for next school year to decide what our focus and goals would be for 2014-2015. After a great deal of discussion we came to the conclusion that a lot of what we want for our students – peer and self assessment, reflection and metacognition, deeper learning – required us to take a long hard look at our ability to provide meaningful feedback. We felt that if we ever wanted students to be able to provide feedback to their peers, they would first need to be shown what strong feedback speaks to, and sounds like. They needed to know that feedback was not a comment on a finished product (i.e. Great work!), but rather meaningful and corrective language that helped students IMPROVE. Students need to be motivated to return to their unfinished work, and inspired to enhance it using the feedback we provide. Only after we know that we are providing the necessary modelling, can we expect students to know what peer assessment or self reflection might look, feel and sound like.

So my comment about these excerpts and to the topic of metacognition itself is that I believe we should aspire to fostering metacognition in our students because, as stated above, it is powerful and it is worth it. My concerns/questions though are that shouldn’t we consider that to model this for our students we need to put in the time and energy to reflect on the quality of modelling we are actually providing? Should we not consider the quality of the feedback we give students on formative and summative assessments, and in our daily interactions?

Sources:

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school (Expanded edition). Washington, DC: National Research Council.

 

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