Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Perspiration versus Inspiration: Cultivating Cross-Curricular Habits of Mind

"Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration."
Thomas Edison

What is the “real world” relevance of Inquiry, Persistence and Industry? In this post, I explore several ideas, from the role of persistence in inquiry to how we can design learning experiences that require and motivate kids to invest the “sweat equity” needed to be successful knowledge producers. One goal is to confront the Talent Myth of “Getting It Right First Time”. Another goal is to examine how today's digital technologies both enable and require us to move from industrial to knowledge building learning experiences.

Industrial age, mass education focuses on compartmentalization, inputs and outputs - curricula and fields of study are broken down into digestible portions that teachers present to students whose task is to memorize and repeat the content back. Learning is framed as acquisition of known facts and information. Teachers present questions that have ready answers and success is defined as being correct and fast. Technology is used for the sake of technology, to develop skill and speed with the software, not because technology will enhance the learning.

Education in the knowledge age, described by some as 21st century learning, is characterized by ready access to ever expanding knowledge and to people around the globe. 21st century education requires that students and teachers engage with directly with disciplinary problems, issues, questions and ideas, and with perspectives from around the world. 21st century learning requires that learners be engaged in meaningful and relevant knowledge building work using today's digital technologies. Sustained inquiry into questions, problems and issues that have relevance beyond the classroom, beyond the learners' immediate context, that are the same as questions that scientists, historians and educators pursue in the discipline, takes time. Accessing multiple perspectives and external expertise, analyzing and synthesizing historical data, gathering empirical data, interpreting first and second hand accounts, creating a multimedia representation of one's new knowledge, takes sustained effort, social interaction and connection, access to rich and reliable and current information and knowledge, and responsive and knowledgeable teachers and peers. Technology is used in a purposeful manner, and demonstrates an appreciation of new ways of thinking and doing, and IT is essential in accomplishing the task. 21st century learners determine which technologies they need to accomplish the task.

Good creative work, from Writing, to the Fine Arts, Music, and Film, results from disciplined inquiry and multiple revisions over time. Revision, reflection and revisiting a work is a crucial part of the writing and creative process. Rarely do polished forms of writing, such as scripts or songs or poetry or essays, or other fine works of art, drama, sculpture and cinema, emerge from a first draft, a first brush stroke, a first take. Rather, good writing, creative works, art and music composition and film-making, and other forms of expression and representation often take repeated effort, multiple revisions/takes/tries and ongoing refinement. Understanding the creative process as an iterative form of disciplined and bloody minded effort contrasts with the ready, but often inaccurate, image of the inspired and manic artist creating a masterpiece in mere minutes. Appropriate use of technology supports creative work, enables multiple revisions / takes, and enables learners to return to work in progress at anytime to make improvements, to take the work in a new direction.

Multiple experiments, Progressive problem solving in the Science & Math – The scientific method is a set of techniques for investigating phenomena, creating new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. The natural sciences involve field work, gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence (data, information) subject to specific principles of reasoning. Scientists collect data via observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses. Mathematical reasoning and problem solving require analysis, judgment and meaning making, not just getting the “right answer the first time”. Across these disciplines, digital technology enables learners to make sophisticated use of visualization tools, geographical information systems, multimedia/hypermedia software, video conferencing, digital games, online simulations, databases or programming. How often do schools require this kind of engagement in scientific, mathematic inquiry?

Inquiry, Persistence and Industry in Sport: The Beijing Summer Olympics gives us a timely opportunity to think about the years of disciplined practice, training, competition, and refinement that goes into the 100 meter sprinter's 10 second performance; the BMX rider's 30 second trip around the track; the precision and elegance of the 10 meter diver's splashless entrance to the tank. It is great to have talent - but ask any of these Olympians about the value of persistence, discipline, multiple takes, revisions and tries, and it becomes clear that to reach the top of any sport, that inspiration and talent are essential but not enough -- it takes perspiration and discipline to cross the finish line.

All Physics – Honda Advert” - I find the following video a useful way to think about the habits of mind that 21st century learners need to be successful - [¥ouTube].

Multiple Takes: There are no computer graphics or digital tricks in the All Physics video. Everything that you see happened in real time exactly as you see it. The video required 606 takes and in the first 605 takes there always was something, usually of minor importance, that didn't work. It was necessary for the recording team to install the set-up time after time and it took several weeks working day and night to achieve this effect (emphasis mine). The recording cost 6 million dollars and it took 3 months to finish, including the engineering design of the sequence. The duration of the video is only 2 minutes. This commercial has turned out to be the most displayed in the history of the Internet. When Honda senior execs viewed it, they immediately approved it without hesitation-including costs.

The Honda advert video illustrates the real world value of inquiry, persistence, revision and multiple experiments – Edison's idea of perspiration versus inspiration -- both are needed, but one really takes an idea to the finish line.

Reflection on Industrialized versus 21st Century Learning

21st century learners need opportunities to engage with mathematics in the same ways, using the same technology, as mathematicians. I question what we are teaching students when we quiz them, over and over, using "Mad Math Minutes", fill-in-the-blank worksheets, and recitation. From kindergarten to grade twelve, learners need opportunities to think like mathematicians whose work with problems and ideas might stretch over weeks or months, and even years -- often with no one "right" answer.

I question what we are teaching children when we give them photocopied pictures to "color in" or pre-cut, pre-colored shapes to "decorate"? How will we convince children (and parents) who have become accustomed to hallway bulletin boards covered with cookie-cutter "artwork" to value free drawing, creative expression, inquiry into multiple art forms, or to develop the patience , persistence and discipline demonstrated by artists, carvers, musicians, or sculptors?

Seymour Papert argued that learning should be “hard fun” (and in Papert, 1996 - The Connected Family). "My whole career in education has been devoted to finding kinds of work that will harness the passion of the learner to the hard work needed to master difficult material and acquire habits of self-discipline." Think about this idea - the hard work that is needed, the value of self-discipline, and how we can design engaging learning experiences to support the development of these habits of mind.

21st Century Learning - The Galileo Network

Inquiry, multiple drafts, continuous improvement, peer and self assessment, problem solving, scientific and mathematical reasoning, and yes, even active living are all well supported and facilitated by the meaningful and academically rigorous use of digital technology and social networking tools. The Galileo Educational Network offers hundreds of classroom exemplars that answer the following two questions:
  • What does authentic inquiry and assessment look like in the classroom?
  • What can happen to learners and teachers when technology comes to school?
Working alongside Galileo professional developers, classroom teachers have created a number of inquiry-based studies which are freely available online. One of these, a project co-created by Neil Stephenson and Candace Saar, is the Calgary Science School - Virtual Museum.

What the Virtual Museum and hundreds of Galileo supported inquiry projects demonstrate is that:
  • 21st Century Learning that is situated in a larger context of a discipline and body of knowledge
  • 21st Century Learners are designers and knowledge builders
  • 21st Century Learners can and do engage in work that is personally important and meaningful
Inquiry starts with Essential Questions -
Essential questions allow us to explore what knowledge is, how it came to be, and how it has changed through human history. An essential question engages the imagination in significant ways. EQs arise from people's attempts, throughout human history, to learn more about the world(s) we live in. An essential question reaches beyond itself.

The Inquiry Rubric, developed by the Galileo Network, demonstrates an proven approach to designing and developing rich inquiry, and articulates the essential conditions of meaningful and engaging "hard fun" learning using eight criteria: authenticity, academic rigor, ongoing assessment, connections beyond the school, appropriate use of technology, active exploration, connecting with expertise and elaborated communication. The primary purpose of assessment is to improve student learning. Using the Inquiry Rubric, conversations about the relationship between inquiry and technology in 21st century education can occur using a shared language.

1 comment:

Chen's Blog said...

Yes, I think we do need a change or revolution of pedagogy, especially for young learners. For me, a person who have been immersed in the Chinese-style education for almost 20 years, find it hard yet confident and worthwhile to have a refreshing way of learning. This is also benefitial to my future career, no matter what it'll be, in that I can learn and create like a professional practitioner. It's like a preview of what's going to happen in the future. Sounds interesting.