What if…

Posted on January 1, 2010. Filed under: interesting reading, leadership related, technology, thinking aloud | Tags: , , , , , |

What if I could recreate schools the way I want them to be?  Places where children experience the excitement and energy of working on that which most interests them for as long as their hearts desire. Places where curriculum, schedules, and resources bend to the whim of the learner, and not the other way around. Places where teachers learn beside students. Places where students read, write, and do math because the value of all of it is so obvious it takes no persuasion. Those are the kinds of schools I would like to see. Technology would be part of the rich underbelly of resources that make such an environment possible, not the driving force, just the enabling partner. Why not do this?

Whenever I have tried to pursue such aims in a traditional school, it has been a mishmash of half tries, and a crashing of opposing ideas.  The bells, whistles, tests, and grades of the educational establishment proceeded around and over my students as if they were standing still in their tracks.  Parents panicked at the possibility that  their child’s test scores would be harmed.  Other teachers panicked that students would come to them “unprepared” for the rigor of the next grade level. Our experiments in exploration were inevitably sidetracked by the realities of traditional school demands.  Trying to unpack constructivist practices in traditional school environments is like trying to fit an octopus into blue jeans.  Sure you can stuff its eight tentacles into the two pant legs using various implements and force, but the ocotopus’s fluid movements would be constricted beyond recognition; and why would you want to do this anyway?

Today I read a paper from Gary Stager that described exactly how I want schools to be.  I was surprised to learn that he had been lucky enough to have worked with Seymour Papert,  and yet not surprised at the results they saw through their Constructivist Learning Laboratory (CLL).  Using all the methods I describe in the first paragraph, they seemingly transformed learning for children in juvenile detention centers.  If disenfranchised children experience such dramatic changes of engagement in a constructivist environment, then I imagine all children would love having that same opportunity.  Of course, to give all children that opportunity would mean asking educational stake-holders to turn a blinds-eye to almost all the instructional practices that are presently held in high esteem.  Such an environment does not occur in the rampant bell-test-grade-rank-standards world of schools today.  Teachers wouldn’t even know how to begin to work under such free wheeling conditions as the CLL.  Where have they been trained for this sort of freedom?

We need to create some CLL experiences for teachers, full inquiry that allows teachers to experience the engagement that occurs when you have rich resources at your feet and pressing questions in your mind. To transform practice you need to first give practitioners a vision and a feeling for the real thing. They need to be learners in such a constructivist environment, or they will be doomed to fail at constructivism. They cannot be blind to where they are leading.

Unfortunately, little of professional development has truly moved teachers in this direction. Even my beloved PLCs are only a mere shadow of what true constructivist professional development should look like.


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6 Responses to “What if…”

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Thanks for the shout-out. You might also enjoy http://stager.org/articles/ICLS%20stager%20papert%20cavallo%20paper.pdf or other stuff at http://stager.org/articles or http://stager.tv/blog

Your post reminds me that I need to do a lot more publishing of the CLL research.

Happy New Year!

I hope you will get to publishing it. We need to hear more about your research results. I am assuming it was qualitative?

Yes, 100,000 words of qualitative stuff. I cut 20,000 words, of mostly kid stuff, that I’d like to recover in some form.

The research/teaching was 3 years followed by the writing.

3 years of qualitative to swim through. That is no small amount. I look forward to hearing about it. Is CLL happening for that facility anymore?

Stager is a master, to be sure. I’ve blogged about the same type of school in the past and have seen it acheived at Big Picture schools. I still struggle, at times, with the questions of “How much basic content (and from which disciplines) do students need before a purely constructivist approach is viable and does not lead to an undereducated society?
By “undereducated” I mean culturally illiterate masses who permit poor decisions to be made on their behalf because they don’t know the truth about the basics of life amd nature. Didn’t something akin to constructivist thought lead to the long-held beliefs of gods creating thunder and a flat earth?

I struggle with the same, Rob. I was always a supporter of standards in that they offered a road map so that we could be sure that certain core knowledge is shared/learned. On the other hand, with information and knowledge increasing at the rate it has, and seemingly everyone sharing a list of what is “core,” core has now replaced any hope of construction of knowledge. Sure, we can use a spoon fed form form of constructivism through opening up small windows of inquiry, like one sees in Japanese math or science lessons. But is that enough to build creative thinkers? I think the fans of info-based education fill in any spare moments or space in the curriculum and school day, making it nearly impossible to allow children room to explore.

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