Posts Tagged: #social_learning

QQ: Does this mean the end of (strict) subject-based teaching in schools?

Corey Hesse


Source: John Seely Brown quotes Hesse in his presentation, Reimagining the University.

Or, maybe, K12 education is about subject-based teaching and universities are the place to step free of that? Dorothy Sayers wonderful essay, The Lost Tools of Learning, suggests something like that. I say something like that because organizing curriculum by chronological age, rather that developmental age, is a problematic assumption.

This has big implications for well-established programs such as the International Baccalaureate program. Maybe we will see it’s excellent inquiry-based approach in Primary Years Pr0gram extend all the way up to its Diploma Program?

What Developing States Might Teach Modern Edu About Mobiles

on mobiles, in MISC mag

Inspirations reading Collings, Patrick. “Africa: Innovating the Mobile Consumer Experience” MISC Magazine. Fall 2014: 65. Print.

On the African continent, “Education is the second largest application of mobile connectivity behind messaging.” So, the question I have is whether that means the phenomenon of mobile delivery of education is simply better than nothing–and so give their druthers, Africa states would adopt our brick-and-mortar model–or if their might be something we in the developed West can learn about thinking differently about what it means to be going to school.

Several things make me wonder:

This 1964 CBC Massey Lecture series, The Real World of Democracyby C. B. Macpherson. Delivered at the height of the Cold War, Macpherson’s lecture explored the rival ideas of democracy–communist, Third World and Wester-liberal–and suggested that the West has nothing to worry about if it is willing to change its values. I read the transcript back (way back, but not that far back) in university and need to reread it now because the details of his argument have faded. Nevertheless, the Real World of Democracy was a bucket of cold water in my face. The seminal read made me look for the first time at the contextual complexities of the real world and the possibility that my world view and my values might not be as neutral as I believed. That idea transfers to ideas about education, too.

This is reinforced by this morning’s reading of Carol Black’s Occupy your Brain: On Power Knowledge and Re-Occupation of Common Sensea critique of introduction of centralized control of education in traditional cultures and, by extension, of our own modern culture. It’s not easy to stand against the idea of a global standard (or any standards in education)–there are some things that every human ought to know, aren’t there? But Black isn’t taking issue with what people should know but about who controls that knowledge and the delivery of it:

Once learning is institutionalized under a central authority, both freedom for the individual and respect for the local are radically curtailed.  The child in a classroom generally finds herself in a situation where she may not move, speak, laugh, sing, eat, drink, read, think her own thoughts, or even  use the toilet without explicit permission from an authority figure.  Family and community are sidelined, their knowledge now seen as inferior to the school curriculum.  The teacher has control over the child,  the school district has control over the teacher, the state has control over the district, and increasingly, systems of national standards and funding create national control over states. In what should be considered a chilling development, there are murmurings of the idea of creating global standards for education – in other words, the creation of a single centralized authority dictating what every child on the planet must learn.

We’d be wrong to take say Black fails to appreciate the social contract that is public education. To see the danger, Black asks us to look at the difference between public-supported education and centrally-controlled education

The crucial confusion here is between the idea of publicly supported education and the idea of centrally controlled state-administered education.  To really get your hands around this distinction simply replace the word “school” with the word “radio” in the following sentences and see what you get:

I am in favor of publicly supported radio.

I am in favor of centrally-controlled state-administered radio.

Not the same thing, are they?

This brings to mind an old post, Public Education is Like the Roman Empirein which I say schools ought to run more like cities and less like empires. “Cities work because they create conditions, rather than outputs, and because civic governments largely stay out of the way of the people they govern.”

Macpherson’s and Black’s message takes a sharper edge in this video, Why is my curriculum white?

And the same message gets a laugh from my friend, the very witty Yong Zhao, who calls standards-based education, sausage-making:

Zhao keynote

First thoughts on @FiftyThree’s fantastic new #Mix

With FiftyThree’s new Mix launch today I am already starting to think how might I draw my sketchnotes in such a way that I am not merely sharing them–I’ve been doing that for a while on Pinterest–but so I am actually inviting collaboration. I mean, how would I capture a keynote presentation, for example, while leaving room for others to add their sketches?

It’s more challenging than it sounds: I can easily capture what I learn from the keynote and almost as easily leave room for what I know I don’t know–a point I missed or term that needs defining or elaborating, for example. But how do I leave room for what I don’t know I don’t know–those infamous unknown unknowns? Where do I leave space? I think that instead of seeing my notes as a sort of record, I have to see them as an invitation. What does that look like?

I don’t even have to answer that question to appreciate how it shifts our idea of knowledge itself from something like a collection of discrete facts, passed on like objects, to something that is much fuzzier and uncertain and malleable, and socially constructed.


Maeda on Gardner

@JohnMaeda sent this out Sep. 16. How do I draw a set of notes that says I am interested? If I captured notes as questions, would that work? That’s an interesting idea, now that I think about it: what if we asked students (and ourselves) to write questions, instead of the usual trivial data they capture. I will try that and post the outcome.

Reclaim Teaching as a Creative Profession

This is my Appitic webcast with Mike Amante. I talk about how the shift from what John Seely Brown calls the Cartesian model of education to a socially constructed model makes teaching and learning a creative act.

A big thank you to Mike for inviting me to talk. We mostly cook up our ideas in isolation and it’s wonderful to get feedback from outside the four walls of our school buildings. Thanks again Mike for the opportunity to put thoughts out there.

Do You Teach Persons or Individuals?

persons and individuals

After I wrote Resetting the Case Against Standardized Testing, my Twitter sparring partner, Chris Long, asked just what I meant by the distinction between persons and individuals. So here goes: Above is an old sketch (using Adobe Ideas, I think) from 2011 maybe, illustrating an idea we largely ignore but is nevertheless a fundamental to understanding some of the problems we face in education: we are in fact two creatures in one. Each of us is–first of all–a unique person. There is no one like Chris, and never has been, and never will be. That’s quite a remarkable thing, really: the world has never seen anything quite like him before and never will again. (A bittersweet thing, to be sure.) At the same time, he is an individual in society. With the exception of hermits, we live out our lives in each other’s company. Chris is a pretty humble guy so I think he is likely OK with the idea that there are lots and lots of other individuals a lot like him. We might slot Chris into a race, creed, or some socio-economic strata–but there is nothing particularly unique about Chris as a member of society. Chris’s job–as an individual in society–is to contribute to that society so that it becomes better. Chris is actually pretty good at that. But he does it, not for society’s sake, but for his own. He wants to goods of society–security, health care, culture and so on–to flow back onto him allowing him to become a larger, better version of himself, able to contribute yet more to society so that even more good flow back on him and so on. It’s a positive feedback loop of sorts. Liberal education understood this relationship, promoted the growth of the person while preparing him or her for public service. Modern public education, in contrast, focuses on the public good, developing skilled individuals, yes, but often at the expense of the person. If you doubt this, note that with the exception of a few gifted or learning challenged children, we consider all students–and teachers, for that matter–to be interchangeable; they can be assigned to each other almost at random. Problems arise, I think, because teachers are more often talking about the development of the persons in the classroom with them, while districts and states and so on are talking about the development of individuals. I am not sure I can yet say how, but I have a strong hunch that social media will allow us to bridge that gap and solve one of the great problems of the social sciences.     (Incidentally, it helps explain the problem with totalitarianism and communism, namely both subsume the person under the state, and conversely, with capitalism which exalts the individual over the society.)     Now, in order to do my job–become more you–you make contributions to society. Yes, so that society is improved, but ultimately so that the goods of that society flow back on you, making you

#tok students map knowledge with tools they created themselves #tokrew11 @sharpcomposer

Note dump

On Monday #tokrew11 (our hashtag for our Grade 11 Theory of Knowledge class) went into a Grade 10 Physics class to observe how knowledge was stored, moved and processed during a lab. As knowledge ethnographers, we were looking for the following:

  • How is information/knowledge stored in this room? By the people in the room?
  • What kinds of information/knowledge  are stored in this room?
  • Do people use all the information/knowledge  stored and available to them or are they selective?
  • Is some information/knowledge  there but unavailable to the people in the room?
  • How do the people in this room store information/knowledge?
  • How is information/knowledge  transmitted? Capture the obvious and not so obvious.
  • How do people capture information/knowledge ?
  • How do they process it?
  • How do you know when they have internalized the information/knowledge  and made it knowledge?
  • How do you know what information/knowledge is important and not so important?
  • Who controls the information? The flow of information?
  • Anything else that strikes you as interesting?

Later, as shown In the picture above, we dumped our observations onto a white board, worked them over to be sure we had good data, and grouped them under four headings:

  • What kinds of knowledge did we find?
  • Where was it stored?
  • How was is moved from one place to another?
  • How was it processed?

When we were done, we pulled out our map of knowledge. This is an original visual metaphor the students created to model the structure of knowledge. Our map was built on hypothetical examples, but this was the first time we would test whether we could model what we observed in the physics class–a real world example of knowledge in motion.


On the map, continents represent the Areas of Knowledge (Arts, Ethics, History, Human Sciences, Indigenous systems, Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Religious Systems) sailboats represent the Ways of Knowing (Emotion, Faith, Imagination, Intuition, Language, Memory, Reason, Sense Perception) and ocean currents linking ideas such as the concepts of belief and proof.

The map metaphor held up reasonably well. We were able to model observed and inferred behaviours in the physics class: we had, for example, Memory (sailboat) bring a cargo of formula (factual recall) and Reason (another sailboat) carry a cargo of skills (mathematical problem solving) from the land of Math to the land of Natural Science. The boat, Sense Perception (we suggest), carries graphing skills from Art to Natural Science.

We have some refining to do, but we think our first real world test of our model does helps us appreciate the complex relationship between the elements of Theory of Knowledge and avoid the trap of thinking we can really talk about areas of knowledge and ways of knowing in isolation. Our next test will be to observe and map a different kind of class, a history or literature class, for example, to see if knowledge works differently in the humanities and to further test our map.

My own hunch is that our map will help also TOK students find powerful illustrations of the structure of knowledge in everyday activities instead of having to move to contentious and controversial issues which too frequently draw people away from the essence of the course.

Competition And Collaboration

I think we see competition as the end game. We work together to prepare ourselves, as individuals, to meet some personal test, examination or match. Our classrooms mirror that at least.

I am beginning to suspect that we have that backwards, that collaboration is the end game and the point of competition is to prepare us for it: I seek out (friendly) competition in order to make me stronger, not for strength’s sake, but to make my contribution to society greater.


  • My opponent’s job is not to do better than me, but to make me do better than I did before.
  • My teacher is one of my opponents.
  • I am one of my opponents.
  • My final exam is not a measure of how good I am but of how good I have made others.
  • What we currently think of as final exams are now penultimate exams.


Teach Collaborative Curation

Phillip Schmidt, in the Great Peer Learning Pyramid Scheme, suggests that peer learning can work almost because there are no experts in the room:

In order to learn, you need access to a few people around you. Some who are just above your position will know a little bit more than you, but because they are not that different from you, they can empathize with your questions or problems…Having access to the person at the top of the pyramid can be useful occasionally, but the problems and questions they care about will typically be pretty different from ours.

(The great teachers, Schmidt notes, are experts but will also “impersonate” people closer to our level of understanding.)

I think this practice might fit into the field work  stage of the field school model and help shape the curation of data.

No Textbooks Please


Schmidt’s argument at least reinforces my belief that we need to teach children how to peer learn, or collaboratively curate. I’m certain there is a toolset, a box of questions and/or dispositions that help us make sense out of the world even when we are walking into completely foreign and unfamiliar situations.

Schmidt’s post also recognizes that learning is social.

No Textbooks Please 1