Direction for educational spaces...

I particularly liked the idea that came out from the readings that knowledge and intelligence is not about knowing a lot of things, but truly understanding the world and how you fit into it. Acknowledging your natural gifts and understanding the society that has formed you. The readings reminded me of material from the Museums as Media class I took a few semesters ago. We explored transitional objects and how a child can hold on to something in order to get adjusted to their new environment. So for this class, we are focusing similarly on using objects that inspire thought and put us into an environment to take risks. I think it is similar, but different and so I look forward to exploring this concept more. Another idea that I pulled from the readings in the idea of space and time. It seems that children and adults need time to explore ideas and "play" as well as let them come around full circle in their lived experiences. Children don't just take in information, they hear it and then they try and figure out what that means for themselves. Also, and I'm trying not to just summarize the readings, but I liked the idea that children are no unformed adults- the stage that they are in currently is their reality. They are in that stage of their life and are equipped to achieve at that stage. I think that in designing learning environments over the course of the class, I will keep in mind that children don't need too much structure, but instead guidance while they decide for themselves their opinion on life. It's about balance. They need guidance because they are not adults, but also, adults cannot fully mold a child because a child has a mind of their own. I also feel like the readings were leaning towards learning being and internal phenomena and that it really doesn't matter what resources are available.

The Interconnection between Play and Identity

Christian Smirnow

What is most fascinating to me about this general introduction to Ackerman’s theory of constructivism, is the relation she builds between learning & development and identity. In contextualizing Piaget’s Constructivism with the everyday experience of media, interaction, and situations – through introducing Papert’s Constructionism – it becomes clear how a person’s capacity to learn (about their identity) is heavily influenced by their interactions with other people as well as material and non-material artifacts. Or in Ackermann’s words: “(...) knowledge is actively constructed through relating to others and acting in the world.” (Ackermann, 2004, p. 15). Also Björn Franke describes the human condition in similar ways, relating it to the interactions and objects in the world, when he writes “that is, the relationship between the artificial and technological landscape and the human condition in terms of the formation of understanding, concepts, values and existence. (Franke, 2016, p. 23)

When Ackermann says that knowledge is created and exchanged in moments, when we externalize (make physical) our interpretation and perception of the world, my inner (and outer!) designer resonates heavily and positively to that notion – this is what designers do; perceive the world through research, always aware of the selective perception that we put on through our own ways of looking, listening, interpreting our surroundings, and investigating the existing components within that world through new creations. These can be (traditional) objects and innovations. But even more so, Ackermann’s argument allows for us to understand that designing isn’t only to make new things, but it is to extract, collect, synthesize, cross-pollinate existing signs, trends and indicators of a specific context, filter them through our own perception and creativity, and organizing them in such ways that new ideas emerge. These can be conceptual ideas, services and interactions, that are being put out in the world for the receivers/users to engage with them and through them, with others.

In that sense, even though Ackermann’s theory is related to children and child psychology, I see the transferable qualities in these theories to be adopted into design theory – which, of course, many progressive designers and design theorists have been doing.

Additional Reference

Franke, Björn. Design as Inquiry – Prospects for a Material Philosophy. Ph.D Thesis at Royal College of Arts, London, UK. 2016 (PDF Version)

How do you teach long division to fourth graders?

Like Edith Ackerman, I believe the optimal learning environment includes a thoughtful blend of Piaget’s constructivism, Papert’s constructionism, and Vygotsky’s socio-constructivism.  If you want to provide an education, your goal should be to set the stage with interesting tools for the students to use to interact with one another.  The classroom is a place where experiences with different people, ideas, and materials produce deeper levels of understanding.  But, this is also an improv stage, so you also need to be able to go with the flow and see where the actors take the story.  Learning, in this sense, is the adventure of the actor.  It is the “attempt on the part of people, young or old, to find a viable balance between fusion and separation, openness and closure, or in Piaget’s own words, between assimilation and accommodation” that Ackerman describes.  And when you’re surrounded by supportive people, you can really do some wonderful things.

When teaching my fourth graders some of the more abstract concepts in our math curriculum it is not always so easy to create this type of learning environment.  For instance, I’ve been teaching my students how to divide large numbers by single digit dividends.  Things like, 252 divided by 7.  There are many ways to approach solving this kind of problem, but also I’ve been trying to help my students use the steps of the division algorithm.  The degree with which the students understand this varies.  Some students, get it right away, while others can not seem to keep track of the steps and the process holds little meaning for them.  So I decided I was going to give them a choice of different materials and ask them to divide it, to use the materials to show what division is.  I put out things like measuring cups and water, long pieces of string, bags of Cheerios, and told them to pick one to divide.  Almost all of the students had difficulty with this at first.  Here they were presented with the dilemma of acting out the mathematical operation they had been working with over the course of several lessons.  It was very interesting for me to see that even students who handled the calculations with ease were puzzled by using a physical item to model division.  But I also think the experience of being puzzled by this was important too, because we got to use the material and connect it to the concept of division.  This activity didn't necessarily increase anyone's ability to compute accurately, but it was another layer in their experiences working with division. 

Time for Play?

Similarly to Mark (below) this week's readings made me think a lot about the ideal conditions required for play. In the film of children creating mechanical-drawing-devices, all the children seemed calm and concentrated - as if they had 'lost track of time. This made me question how time needs to be reformulated to create conditions for play in mainstream schools. Teacher training is often geared around managing units of time, with buzzwords like: instructional time, academic learning time, effective use of classroom time, think-time, wait-time, reflective-time, etc. How is it possible to create an environment in which play does not feel inhibited by time constraints? 

I also thought it was interesting how Ackerman references how bias shapes our definitions of knowledge. In a separate piece, she writes about how effective activities are those that encourage the learner to play opposing roles (fusion/decoupling embedding/disengaging). Take Swinging the Graph for example. This experiment forces the learner to take on the role of instructor and instructed. As well as showing us how we learn (meta-cognition) i think activities like these are particularly transformative because they uncover our own biased view of the role of the instructor and the instructed.

Student resilience was also touched on in the articles, and is a hot topic in the UK. So I've linked here to a collection of Govt-sponsored RCTs which attempt to identify best practices for developing non-cog skills including resilience:

Week 1 - Ackermann

There are so many ideas in this week’s readings that I find inspirational and on point. Doing, making, designing, interacting, challenging, and constructing are concepts that I relate to and believe are integral to learning. And sensitivity to the different ways in which learning happens in regards to how one teaches or organizes a classroom is equally vital. Community, culture, society, and all the subcategories of these groups play a role in what and how we learn. Reading passages such as: “great contribution, as an educator, is to focus our attention on how people think once their convictions break down, once alternative views sink in, once adjusting, stretching, and expanding their current view of the world becomes necessary” is exciting to me. It introduces (without saying the word) deconstruction. And, I think educational experiences can be, should be, as much about constructing as deconstructing.

            Nonetheless, as usual, I find myself stumbling over the conflict of theory and practice. In an ideal world all of this is amazing and doable. But, at least in this small selection of readings, there is no mention of all of the forces – budget, space, behavior, administration, burnout, class size, etc. that are formidable blockades of any effort to improve the way learning happens. Not to say the challenges of family and community problems that play into a young person’s ability, interest, and behavior. Again I feel that so many of the ideas elaborated by Ackermann are excellent and innovative, but I find a complete lack of connection to the realities of most schools/classrooms. This makes me feel as though the ideas, though potentially applicable to all, are classist and exist only to the benefit of theorists in ideal situations.