A rant on boredom in schools

The mind is as powerful and sacred as the body, but we often undervalue the former when we are nudged to become missional. In pursuit of efficiency and likely as an extension of our behavioristic and cognitivistic paradigms,  most classroom designs actively strip away the bodies, genders, cultures, histories, interests and calling of each child and demand of them, in large art, to follow an impersonalized trajectory of learning created by politicians and publishers. Everything in learning science stands against this. If we take up an embodied, social-cultural, situated, narrative, place and community perspective, we realize that schools need a radical reform – one that mentors and challenges, begins with value and curiosity,and is willing to trust that folks want to learn and will learn “good” stuff. This lack of personalized education easily leads to a lack of curiosity and therefore boredom. By stripping a learner of their individuality, we have removed their drive – we are making them play a game that has only one ending, live through a spoiled story. This is a most-grave of crimes. The mind of a learner is an incredible force when their curiosity is fueling the fire. A mind wasted, just going through the motions, is a grotesque sight. Our heart sinks when we see a child’s body wasting away due to unclean water or poor nourishment for their body. I submit, that crimes against the mind are as great of a concern. Our systems, policies and economics are attacking the mind of children. This is as bad as poisoning their water.
Boredom is not only about destroying an individual, it is also a disrespect and avoidance of the world itself. Look up into the heavens and try to comprehend its magnitude in size, energy and complexity. Look now into the smallest things, from a few grains of sand, made of countless atoms bouncing about but bound to one another by unseen forces. The world is full of WONDER. To teach chemistry or math or history in a way that does not wonder is to ignore reality itself. To “know” that y=mx+b is not to celebrate the motion of a baseball thrown during a game or the power of hyperbolic bacterial growth. It is an insult to countless persons who have discovered these field of study (as well as God himself) to strip our classical studies from their contexts. Our fields of discipline mean to reveal and celebrate the wonder of the universe we live in. Anything less is not education, it is wasting time.

Wendell Berry on Education and Scholorship

Wendell Barry: “My approach to education would be like my approach to everything else. I’d change the standard. I would make the standard that of community health rather than the career of the student. You see, if you make the standard the health of the community, that would change everything. Once you begin to ask what is best for the community, what’s the best thing we can do here for our community, you can’t rule out any kind of knowledge. You need to know everything you can possibly know. So, once you raise that standard of the health of the community, all the departmental walls fall down, because you no longer feel that it’s safe not to know something. And then you begin to see that these supposedly  discreet and separate disciplines, these, “specializations,” aren’t separate at all, but are connected. And of course our mistakes, over and over again, show us what these connections are, or show us that these connections exist.”

Jordan Fisher Smith: “So this calls into question, doesn’t it, the whole structure of postgraduate work where people find a tiny speciality to become the worlds foremost expert on it?”

Wendell Barry: “It calls into question the whole organization of intelligence in the modern world. We’re teaching as if the purpose of knowledge is to help people have careers, or to make themselves better employees, and that is a great and tragic mistake.”

Wendell Barry:” There’s a difference between thinking about problems and having problems. Where experts are thinking about problems, the people who have have problems are usually absent, or not even well represented. The only way out of this is for the teacher, the person of learning, the researcher, the intellectual, the artist, the scientist, to make common cause with a community. They must commit themselves to a community in such a way that they share the fate of that community — participate in it’s losses and trials and griefs and hardships and joys and satisfactions — so that they don’t have this ridiculous immunity that they now have in their specializations and careers. Then they would begin to learn something.”

From Conversations with Wendell Berry, edited by Morris Allen Grubbs, 2007.

Rapid Mobile Media Design and Prototyping

Last week I had a lot of fun. Chris Holden, a long term mentor and colleague in NM picked up a plane ticket and brought a student, Daniel Gosch from CO to join our team here at UW Madison for a 3 day design Jam.

We basically locked ourselves into a little room with a whiteboard, post it notes, markers, laptops, iPhones and an LCD projector and proceeded to generate piles of ideas, improvements to existing designs and prototypes of new mobile games by using a SCRUM-like process with just 2 hour iterations.

The picture above is me working with Dee, a brilliant student from Shabazz HS who is working with the ARIS crew to improve the authoring tool.

The event included a public workshop to teach folks on campus how to use ARIS, our mobile design platform, as well as a public playtest of hte designs we created during the week.

Take a look at http://arisgames.org/2010/11/madison-design-jam-postmortem/ if you are itching for more info.

What Facebook, Rock Band and iPhones have to teach teachers

A few weeks ago I taught a 2 hour workshop entitled “Re-imagining learning” to a group of 20 or so faculty of Governor’s State University. I had been down there before and was invited back, believe it or not.

Yevette Brown, a associate professor of media and director of a group that facilities these kinds of learning ops asked me to inspire their teachers to look at learning in new ways and think about how technology might be a part of that process. In the end, I gave a presentation that combined stuff from the thing I did for the Digital Salon, a demo for maclearning and the recent article for educause. The main premise I worked with is that contemporary medias have a lot to teach us about how people learn and we should investigate them. It is just silly to look down on new things and complain about how “kids these days…” but instead look at why these things are so successful and learn from them. The idea is just a less in-depth expansion on James Gee’s book, “What videogames have to teach us about learning and literacy.”

For example:

  • Social media shows us that people can do amazing things when they have the right tools to connect them, have the potential for a genuine audience/impact on the world and a task worth working for.
  • Video games show us that play makes a fantastic space for identity building, creative problem solving, and new forms of community. Games excel as learning environments because they provide a real experience that is intrinsically valuable and are capable of producing the kinds of learners we really want: systemic problem solvers who aren’t scared to fail.
  • Mobile media is changing the way we do everything because now we have a computer in our pocket all day that knows where it is, what direction it is pointing, can playpack/record/produce A/V, is connected to the internet all while still remaining a personal communications device, connecting us to each other. A new kind of learner is emerging: one that learns on the fly, in the context of doing and out in the real world – leveraging the internet as an extension of their own available knowledge.

The session was received well and was followed by a lively discussion with a few faculty/staff that may start experimenting with our ARIS platform, reading the Engage website and coming to Madison for the GLS conference. My end goal was to realize that teaching is so much more than telling a student what you know, but instead using whatever tools are at your disposal to inspire questioning, curiosity and experimentation in the real world. These are how the fields on knowledge were developed in the first place.

Here are my slides if you care to take a look.