Oct 182013
 

iStock_000026852527XSmallThis weeks topic for my #tiegrad class was inquiry based learning and how technology can facilitate it. I have to admit, I have not been caught up in this new fangled method of teaching yet. Perhaps it is just because I am just too long in the tooth or that back in the day, inquiry learning was known as being a kid.

As a result, I was not sure what I was going to write this week but as luck would have it, a colleague and I ended up having a bit of a chat on the subject and lo and behold! My blog post was born. He is much like me, a miserable curmudgeon who looks at education from more of an Eeyoresque point of view and quite frankly, neither he or I quite get this whole inquiry learning movement. 

We talked about the good old days when “inquiry learning” was a simple endeavour. Give something a go, fail, then try something else. There was always the alternate scenario as well. Give something a go, have a brush with failure’s evil twin success and get a pat on the back from your adoring fan. Either way, it was rarely planned. It just happened, no adults needed.

My concern here is why are we trying to apply rubrics and quantify that which was once called life? As well-intentioned as the inquiry learning model may be, why do we have to formalize learning that was once just part of growing up?

When I was a kid I learned all sorts of good things without an adult looking over my shoulder

Meteorology:  When your hair stands on end while standing in the middle of a baseball field as thunderheads are rolling in from the South, lightning is about to strike.

Physics & Firearm Safety: Don’t shoot a pellet gun at a power line insulator in -40 degree celsius weather.

Environmental Sciences: Don’t  play with matches, in the middle of a grass field during dry season.

Mechanics and family dynamics: If you crash your new moped into the side of a car, don’t try to hide it from your dad and fix it yourself.

Physics & Gravity: Jumping off your roof with hefty bag parachutes does not work.

Anatomy & Emergency Medicine: You break multiple bones when jumping off your roof with hefty bag parachutes.

I shudder to think of what we might have come up with if we had the internet at our disposal but even without the internet, the things we accomplished were monumental. All we had at our disposal was our imaginations our bikes, some sporting equipment and a couple of dogs. I guess what I am trying to get at here is that we didn’t need someone to set up learning opportunities, instead we discovered all on our own. It was just part of our daily lives but now, it seems that life has to be a curricular objective.

After our maudlin bit of meandering down memory lane, I did a Google search for: “what is inquiry based learning” and I found a site where I found this one line.

Inquiry based learning is mainly involving the learner and leading him to understand.  Teachnology, Inc.

I really don’t mean to be a buzz kill here but after reading that, I have two burning questions.

  • Is it true inquiry if students are being led to understanding?
  • Are we now trying to create curriculum to replace life experience?

Perhaps this is just the brave new world but I am sad for our children if we have come to a point in our society where everything in their lives has to come from a lesson plan.

JMHO.

Cheers!

Further Reading

Free Range Kids

Parenting Old School

Jan 052013
 

2012 was once again an interesting year for Public Education. From Delaware to Chicago to British Columbia and back to Ontario, pundits and the politicians sold the story that all the struggles our youth encounter can be laid squarely on the shoulders of every teacher that has ever walked this earth. Just short of being the spawn of satan himself, teachers are source of all that is wrong in this world, especially as it pertains to today’s youth. unemployment, failure to launch, mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems… you name it, it is the education systems fault.

I however, would beg to differ. Yes I know, as one of satan’s classroom cronies, my objection is predictable but read on, I might actually make some sense by the end of this post.

I see education as being waaaaay down on the list of roadblocks the youth of today face. From the bedroom in which our kids are conceived, to the boardroom in which they are received, our children have more stacked against them than just what people perceive as an inadequate public education system. In fact, I would say there is simply one roadblock our youth face and that is, we have stolen their adulthood or at least postponed it indefinitely.

The obvious question then becomes, who is an adult? and I found a satisfactory answer in a Psychology Today article entitled Who is an “adult?” The path from adolescence into adulthood. March 3, 2010 by Jennifer L. Tanner, Ph.D.

…it became apparent that becoming adult was about, well, becoming. Across cultures, Arnett’s findings have been replicated. Accordingly, an adult is someone who-accepts responsibility, makes independent decisions, and becomes financially independent.

The article goes on to discuss the precise thing I am talking about here and what I refer to as the Abyss of Suspended Adulthood

The funny thing is, the evidence is all there right in front of us. Most of it already identified, researched and publicized. Anyone who isn’t seeking election or is remotely sober, should be able to see that education isn’t the biggest problem our youth face but alas society is myopic. Scapegoats are easier to understand then our own miserable misdeeds.

Although the central issue here is the deadultation (new word) of our youth, the process has three parts working in concert to sideline anyone under the age of 30.

  1. Post Secondary or Starve
  2. An Economy of dependence
  3. The Engineered Child

 

Sep 062012
 

Well I am closing in on my first Friday of the school year and I survived. Ok I more than survived. I had a great week! So great I am able to sit down and peel off a new blog post on our preseason Pro D event.

Every year the Thursday before school starts; our School Board brings in some highbrow intellectual, to bestow us teachers with some tid bits of wisdom that we can take with us as we navigate another school year. It is generally a pretty good show as Keynote Speakers are always top-drawer. Some of the A lister’s who have graced the stage of our school theater, include the likes of Sir Kenneth Robinson, Alfie Kohn and Stewart Shenkman, to name a few. I have forgotten the names of the others but they were big names, I swear! So good are these speakers, I even learn a thing or two each year. (insert dumbfounded slack jawed look here)

This years Keynote was Jennifer James, a renowned anthropologist from Seattle. I obviously don’t go to Seattle enough because up until last Thursday, I had never heard of her before but I have to say she was every bit as good as Sir Ken.

The topic this year was about change and James discussed how we (society) use cultural myths and belief systems to make sense of the world around us. Up until recently our world has changed slowly enough that we could seamlessly adapt these belief systems and myths to accommodate and make sense of changes in our world. Today however, technology is changing things so fast, that we can no longer adapt our beliefs and myths quickly enough. As a result, we are seeing conflict between what we believed to be true and the realities of the modern world.

James went on to imply that the education system is based on an outdated belief system, which is simply not adaptable to the modern world or the modern student. She went on in a round about way to say that, we (teachers) need to change if we hope to continue making positive change in young peoples lives. As much as I hate to admit it, she made a ton of sense but then again I am easily convinced. I have been lead down the garden path before because of a good keynote, as my brief association with AMWAY would suggest… but I like to think I am much older and wiser now. ;-)

but James is kinda right.

In the past 20 years, technology has kicked the stuffing out of our education system and left those of us who work as educators bruised and bewildered. As a result, we have come to a crossroads in the world of education and quite frankly, no one seems really know which way to turn. The only thing that is certain, there is no going back.

The problem with moving ahead however, is that we need to let go of the belief system and cultural myths which built the education system we have. The way we teach our children is so culturally engrained that any change, regardless of how small, is going to cause some level of duress for someone whether it be teachers, parents or students.

A perfect example is changing the school calendar. The one we currently use is based on the needs of an agrarian society. In North America, the majority of us are no longer living on farms or harvesting crops but suggest changing the school calendar and all hell breaks loose. Education is a part of culture and cannot be seen as simply a service that can be adapted on a whim as the demand changes.

When we take a look at resistance to change in education, the assumption is that the resistance resides solely within the ranks of the educators themselves but that is a simplistic view.

Yes teachers frequently view the discussion around change in education as an affront to what it is they do. Some have been in the game for as many as 40 years and much of the talk around how the education system needs to change, is downright disrespectful to good people who have have spent a career doing a great job. To tell them that what it is they are doing is wrong, invalidates an entire career. To many it seems like the powers that be, simply want out with the old and in with the new. You can’t blame teachers for getting edgy at the mention of spring thaw and south bound ice flows.

Parents are a funny group when it comes to change. Here you have a situation where the majority of people’s concept of what education is like, is their own school career. Using that frame of reference, they view their own children’s educational experience. Obviously parents want what is best for their kids and that includes the latest and greatest in technology and pedagogy. If for some reason they feel their child isn’t getting it, there is hell to pay.

The irony in all this is that, while teachers are on the line for being current and school districts are expected to provide the latest and greatest in facilities and technologies, when things go bad the most common laments among parents go right back to their own experience in school. “School isn’t what it use to be!” “Teachers aren’t as good as they once were!” “We need to get back to basics and start teaching what really matters!”

Talk to a parent and you quickly realize that parents are as stuck in the past as teachers.

For the kids, well… They are the pawns in all this, trapped between what was and what could be but kids are resistant to change as well. Many kids are still anchored securely in the old ways of teaching and learning, just like their teachers and parents. Every year I will have kids who just want to know “What will I be tested on?” and “What do I need to do to get an A?” Ask a kid to think for themselves and they are lost. “Uh… What is the answer?” They are as stuck in the teacher centered model as the rest of us.

Of the three groups, the students are undoubtedly the most receptive to change, then I would say teachers are next and surprisingly perhaps… parents are the least receptive to change in school system. The reason for this is that parents are frozen in the past. Change that they cannot gauge or measure against their own experience is frightening. It is a classic case of, better the devil you know then the devil you don’t.

The other reason I say parents are the most resistant to change is that, it always comes back to the ultimate question. “What is my child’s mark?” Parents want to know how their child is doing and their concept of success is based on old school measures of performance. Anecdotal descriptions of what their child can or cannot do are meaningless to many. “That is great! I am so glad my kids is outstanding at working collaboratively but what is his mark?” In the end, teachers give parents what they want. Marks based solely on content knowledge is a thing of the past but who are we to argue with a parent.

Yes James is right, we need change and resistance is futile but there is more than enough resistance to go around but it essentially comes down to this. As long as our education system is a slave to the culturally engrained belief that education is all about the mark, we will never be able to build a new belief system for our Education System.

May 042011
 

Ever hear of the term Academic Inflation? It became a household phrase after it was used by Sir Ken Robinson in his now famous Ted talk Schools Kill Creativity. Academic inflation certainly isn’t a new concept but it was with this talk that its use crossed into the vernacular of the general public and out from behind the pedagogical curtain.

Academic inflation can be best described as the devaluing of the various markers with which we measure someones educational achievement. Most commonly associated with higher education, where once a bachelors degree was a ticket to the good life, we have seen its value decline and become little more than the minimum level of education one needs if they hope to be “gainfully employed”. The High School Diploma, societies previous academic minimum, is virtually useless as a gateway into today’s work world.

Now this devaluation has even extended into the sacred rhelm of Post Graduate Degrees. At one time  having or needing a Masters or PhD was a rare thing but today you can’t pitch a rock down the street without hitting someone with one of these high falutin documents thumbtacked to their workspace wall. Back in the day, attaining a Post Graduate Degree was something special, an indication of lofty academic achievement, something that set you apart from the unwashed masses but today these degrees have simply become part of the common currency we use for acquiring gainful employment.

At this point you might be asking yourself, “So what is wrong with that? People getting educated is a good thing!” Well nothing I suppose but here is the problem as see it.  At one time experience stood for something, frequently more than education. In fact experience was so important in acquiring a job back in the day, that getting a Masters or PhD without spending some time in the trenches was a major no no. No one wanted to higher a high priced know it all that had no practical experience but that was then.

In today’s world, kids power on through their education, attaining high levels of education with nary a bead of sweat on their brow from actual work. Now these twenty somethings are parachuting into senior management positions with out a clue as to how things roll in the real world.  They use phrases like “research says” and “studies have shown” but haven’t a clue how this research and or studies translate when the rubber hits the road. Where once, the phrase “experience tells us” was something to listen too and the people who use it respected, now workplaces are awash with pie eyed, inexperienced leadership with nothing but book learnin to guide the ship.

We are heading for interesting times as the boomer population begins to retire on mass and academic achievements continue to be devalued.  We are bound to get more of this kind of scenario occurring in public service and private industry but is this a good thing? Fresh thinking is one thing but theory in the absence of experience is a disaster waiting to happen.

I think what is actually going to happen as the baby boom retirement crunch starts to take hold is that we will see more hands on training by companies themselves. As man power becomes short in supply, companies will have to attract workers with on the job skills training and pay for any academic education an employee needs just to hold onto them.

Only time will tell but until then Research says…