How the learning and teaching is changing

Pedagogy – the art and science of teaching, the method and practice of teaching, an understanding of how humans learn best. This is what educators are interested in.
What has ICT got to do with that.
For too long ICT has been sold to us as an essential with little linking to why. How does it make us learn better?  How does it relate to pedagogy?

When we talk about ICT we need to move beyond the tools. I get sick of hearing one presentation after the other espousing the latest greatest, shrunk down, sped up, oversized, undersized piece of plastic that supposedly will change education forever. It won’t.

Education has never been about what pencils you have in your pencil case it is about people – it is about understanding how we learn. I also get tired of hearing that ICT will make your lessons more engaging – it wont – I’m sure they are already engaging and teachers all know that shiny bells in the corner only maintain engagement for a short time – what are you going to do then?


So why talk about ICT at all? The reason is that the way we learn as humans has fundamentally changed because of the digital world and as educators we need to be aware of that.

Lets quickly look at some of the more exciting current thinking about learning.

Social Learning - For too long in western education there has been the over emphasis on the individual. We see children coming to us as empty vessels that need to be filled by us with whatever information (content) we think is important. This learning is done independent of others.
Rather knowing (or knowledge) is about who you are, what you are doing and it unfolds within a social environment – never independent from it. ICT allows for connections, communities of practice and social learning to occur like never before. How are schools prepared to deal with Social Networks (Facebook, Twitter etc) and utilise them for a new approach to learning? baby

Constructivisim / Experiential Learning – This is not a new theory, its been around for over 100 years, but still many schools regard it as radical. We learn best through experience. The worst way to teach is to stand at the front of the class pass on “content” in a lecture style. If you think you can hold more information than the internet well keep teaching this way – if not lets find new ways. This is not to say that explicit skills based teaching is not at times necessary. But the internet holds many repositories of content and millions of examples of good explicit teaching. For example see the Khan Academy, or just type your question into Google or ask Youtube and someone will have uploaded a video teaching you how to do it. If it is a simple explicit fact that needs to be “learnt” in order to achieve a greater purpose, point the student to a place where they can find it (or better still teach them the strategy to do it so you never have to point them again). This frees you up to provide far deeper experiences for your students to learn. Gaming is one great way to develop experiential learning. Digital games such as Sim City or Civilisation or a host of others can be used to give the students the experience previously unavailable to them. For example in SIM city they experience being a Mayor with all the responsibilities and consequences involved with decisions made. Use it to teach ai Civics and Government Unit. The axiom of experiential learning is “I can teach you about swimming or I can let you go for a swim.” Which one is is the most powerful learning experience. ICT now provides us with potential experiences previously unavailable.

Connectivism – this is a relatively new theory that is entirely relevant to the digital age and in particular, the Internet. It claims that all knowledge is now residing in the online networks. Moving on from experiential learning, Connectivism claims that the world is now moving so fast that we can no longer experience all the things we need to in order to keep up. I’m sure we can all relate to this feeling. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge. “I store my knowledge in my friends” is an axiom for collecting knowledge through collecting people.

This theory is very relevant for the why and how we would use ICT. You can see evidence for it in Social Media, the use of Nings, Wikis, Blogs and many other devices that help students connect to whatever networks they need to to assist their learning. It is our job as educators to encourage participation in these networks. That includes publishing work, expressing opinions, asking the network questions, commenting, tagging information and sharing it to a networked group such as Diigo and so on. Active participation is the key.

This is what makes ICT so exciting, no longer are students locked in to the reductionist methods of closed classroom doors. Rather there is a whole diverse world to navigate, to collaborate with, to co-create with to learn how to communicate with. Use whatever tool you want but keep this deeper principles in mind.

 

Minecraft Project 2 – A Very Complex System

Evidence of Emergent Phenomena in the Minecraft project.

Complexity Theory – the science of all sciences. It is a theory that has been used (amongst many other things) to study the stock markets and traffic conditions in an attempt to try to explain stock market crashes or traffic jams. Complexity theory states that when you have a complex system a thing called emergent phenomenon will appear (or emerge). A complex system can be defined as a collection of interacting objects competing for a limited resource.

The emergent phenomenon arises generally without the help of a central controller. It would be almost impossible if a central controller had to recreate a traffic jam. As Neil Johnson says in his great little book Simple Complexity:

“A universal feature of Complex Systems is : emergent phenomena can arise without the need for an invisible hand. Instead the collection of objects is able to self organise itself in such a way that the phenomenon appears all by itself – as if by magic.”

As the phenomenon is emergent it has not been predicted or planned for, it is generally surprising and can be extreme.The precise nature of the phenomena depends on how the individuals objects in the system interact and how interconnected the are.

One thing observed in this new science is that the behaviour of the objects involved in the complex system is greatly effected by feedback and they can adapt their strategies dependent on their history (through memory). One final and interesting point is that a complex system always shows a complicated mix of ordered and disordered behaviour.

I love this theory for it’s slap in the face to nonsense that is the traditional reductionist approaches to understanding the world.

In our Minecraft project (which I spoke of in my last post) we have 140 students building a new world in a MMOGing (Massive  Multiplayer Online Game). They are all in there building at the same time. I would describe this a complex system and the observance of the emergent phenomenon has been eye opening.

As the students are in total control of this Minecraft world which they are creating, the project has become very student driven. This has had the unusual effect of driving the content we are teaching to a much deeper place. Our initial aim was to cover some science based curriculum teaching about our solar system but the demands bought about by the conflicts and collaborations naturally forming up within the group of 140 new citizens has taken the “science learning” to a far different and more relevant place.”

For example the children demanded that districts were forms in order to maintain some sense of organisation on the new planet.  This was never planned for or expected. Those districts have taken responsibility for the tasks that they see as important to survive on this planet eg the technology district has seen the need to create energy to power the planet. This has lead to confrontation as some students wanted to develop nuclear energy while others wanted to go down the wind farm, green energy rout. To overcome this confrontation both sides have done extensive scientific research into their relevant areas. This research has led to some students changing their minds, others sticking to their guns but solutions have been achieved. The teachers involved were suddenly required to assist in new scientific study far beyond what they had originally predicted – we are now assisting in the learning about desalination plants, the use of methane as a source of energy, how is nuclear energy actually created and so on.

For this style of learning and teaching to be successful it requires teachers that are very adaptive, open to new learning, operating as facilitators and able to drop their own egos and needs for power. In an ideal world all teachers would have these fundamental skills.

There are literally hundreds of other examples of emergent phenominum being driven by the group which I will report on over the next few weeks.

Now lets talk about one of the other points I Mentioned earlier and have blogged about previously – feedback. All of the students research and work has been reported in a wiki space. I find this to be an extremely effective feedback mechanism for our COMPLEX SYSTEM. Every child can see every other child’s work and ideas, they can take ideas from others they can input into other students pages, they can survey the citizens when needed, they can communicate effectively – they provide powerful feedback to each other and the network drives itself to deeper learning. Screen Shot 2012-12-01 at 6.59.19 PM

I cannot express how exciting this project is for staff, students and parents because of the emergent phenomenon we are observing which has the effect of driving the network or system (or student body and teachers) to a very interesting and exciting place. The evidence of deep and personalised learning is overwhelming. Have a look for yourself. AURORA 5/6Z WIKI

Creativity In Education 8. Reflection

I have been thinking a lot about the type of reflection we ask our students to do and why we do it. In context of attempting to create an educational culture that’s enables and fosters creativity, reflection is an important tool. At the moment when our students reflect on their learning it is in a journal form, mainly written in a book. This has obvious limitations. The most noticeable one is that the only people that will see this reflection are the child who has written it and (maybe) the teacher.

We are attempting to create an environment where each child is inundated with as many ideas as possible. Creativity is often born from the individual’s ability to take two or three disparate ideas, join them together in a way no one else can see and by doing so create a brand new idea.

If a child is not constantly accessing different ideas then the opportunity to do this is limited. If only using the reflection model of a journal in a book, spoken of previously, as only 2 people will be inputting into the reflection, there is the potential that neither the child nor the teacher has any good ideas what so ever and therefore that creative process becomes limited.

I have been working with Richard Olsen from Ideas Lab on this matter and together we have been experimenting with a reflection template built in a Buddy Press platform.This emulates a social network eg Facebook which allows for a flow of ideas, plus other things such as peer to peer learning.

Reflection Template

At the moment I am using this template in a project I am working on (alongside Kristen Swenson) using the game Minecraft. The students driving question for this project was “can you teach an area of our schools curriculum through the game Minecraft” (yes – they were doing some research for me). When it come time to reflect they login to their template where they have all created their own profile and they fill in a fairly simple form.

The power of this system is that as it operates as a social network each child can go to any other students reflection, read it and leave a comment with some advice, something they had noticed, some encouragement etc. Furthermore all of the groups that are forming up around the project question are listed down the left hand side. Each student can go and look at the other projects reflection and read, comment etc. At any stage a student is able to leave their own project and join another group if they realise that it is more suited to them or they have more to add in that project than their current one. A number of students have done exactly that over the term strengthening the new projects they have joined as well as inspiring their own creative thinking by having an influx of new ideas coming at them all the time.

As the teacher at no stage have I had to limit the students by my own lack of knowledge.

This reflective template also draws ideas from the iterative reflective cycle used by software developers using the Agile Methodology as their base.

Creativity in Ed 7 The Chair Project

At the recent MOTM conference I was involved in a very interesting discussion with a friend of mine and a couple of other teachers on how to make her class project more creative. She was teaching design and had her students all making chairs

The more I contemplated this project the more I started to think of the Agile methodology to project development, specifically it’s  non linear approach and wondered if it could have any benefits to this particular project.

I started by contemplating the notion that if you value a solution over an objective you are compromising potential and creativity. If you already have a solution or answer eg you will make a  a chair you have removed the creative process and they will come with a  preconceived idea of what a chair is.

They could potentially just say, look I have $20 in my hand I will just buy one.The problem here is that we haven’t stated the objective – why do we want a chair in the first place - what is the purpose of having a chair etc

Instead maybe the project could have been worded as “we want to make this communal space more comfortable, go for it kids”. This would allow for a much wider area of potential for creativity. It hands over power to the students, it broadens it, it opens up collaboration, it avoids the sheep effect – everyone copying the best chair, and you will potentially still get a couple of chairs out it.

The key is to always go for the higher-level objective, the bigger picture , have I presented a project opportunity to the students that has the widest possible opportunities or have I already given them an answer - a chair.

If you look at software development projects liner approaches could be likened to hard coding changeable elements – when you hard code elements into your software project that are potentially changeable down the track ( eg Hard coding  url’s, into the code over time these might change).  This adds a lot of risk to the project, you are not making your project scalable, and your limiting the bigger picture. If you have a project which is really hard coded and you need to make changes it will take a lot of time $ and it will limit your opportunities to make changes in the future. The chair might be an example of hard coding. An example of a linear project might be  “I love superheros. I have 5 superhero figurines which I am going to place in an order of importance on a poster I will stick on the wall.”

1. Batman

2. Superman

3. Spiderman

4. Aqua man

5. The Hulk

At your next birthday you get given an Iron Man and you decide you would actually like to put him in number two on your wall list but that list has been locked down in texta. Your only option is to rip the project down and start again.

Another approach would be “I’m going to create make something in my house or on my wall that represents my love for superhero figurines.” Do I need to create a list that locks me down or is the point of the project to represent your love for superheros. You might go back to the list but it might come in some crazy way

Sometimes when you ask a question it may not be immediately evident to you that you are proposing a linear project that already has an answer. People tend to get stuck on solution under the delusion that is the objective of the project

You should put out the idea and start zooming out, broaden your question broaden your question broaden your question until you potentially might get to a place where you cant even see the question anymore, it dissolves. Instead you have a very high level guiding objective (is that the right word). That potentially could create a very messy project but thats OK. The zooming out can be very hard to do because we are often blinded by the first answer that raises its head at the first layer of zooming.

Another example

My objective is to get a twitter site – No thats not the objective its the solution. My objective is perhaps I am wanting to build a network, is this even an objective or should you ask why do I want to build a network? To impart knowledge, to learn, or maybe  I want to get more people to visit my blog etc etc etc. Well twitter might be one way but potentially if creativity sneaks in, there might be many better unthought of ways.

If you already know the answer you have limited creativity and potential for a very interesting project/learning.

Creativity in education Part 5 – The Creative Personality

I recently read an article presented in Psychology Today written by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talking about common characteristics found in the creative personality – or to be a little more specific “how creative people live”.
Many of these characteristics initially appear to be dualistic in nature and excited me when contemplating them within a classroom setting.
I think some of them are important to be aware of if we are to be encouraging the idea of creative thought within our students. As educators it is important to consider the wider impact of decisions we make and if it is to foster creativity, which I believe we should be then we should also be aware of exactly what it is we are talking about and how that is likely to impact upon our classrooms.
A summary statement of the article is that creative people are incredibly complex. This in itself can create stress for some classroom teachers. I have witnessed myself attributes of a creative student causing great stress and misunderstanding within a teacher leading to perceptions of threat within the said teacher. This then had the follow on effect of punishment for the creative student. If some understanding of the complexities of the creative process were demonstrated by this particular teacher I am sure the outcomes could have been far different and much more positive for all involved.
Here are a couple of great examples
1. Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest. They work long hours, with great concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm. The physical energy is something that can disrupt a quiet classroom environment if not properly focussed.

My art collective "andeverythinginbetween's" 2011 show - Fugitive Piano

2. Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time. They can be both divergent and convergent thinkers. The divergence is needed for the new ideas, the convergence is needed to realise that one iea is good and the other is bad.

3. Creative people combine playfulness and dicipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility. There is no question that a playfully light attitude is typical of creative individuals. But this playfulness doesn’t go very far without its antithesis, a quality of doggedness, endurance, perseverance. They can fluctuate and often need to do so.

4. Creative people alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality. The whole point of art and science is to go beyond what we now consider real and create a new reality. At the same time, this “escape” is not into a never-never land. What makes a novel idea creative is that once we see it, sooner or later we recognise that, strange as it is, it is true.

5. Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted. Most people fall into either one or the other categories, creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously. I imagine that this makes them harder to pigeonhole within the classroom environment and can make their behaviour seem erratic.

6. Creative people are humble and proud at the same time.

My art collective "andeverythinginbetween's" 2011 show - Affinity

7. Creative people are both rebellious and conservative. It is impossible to be creative without having first internalized an area of culture. So it’s difficult to see how a person can be creative without being both traditional and conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic.
I think this trait is a huge one for educators to understand. The creative person will swing between the two and is therefore hard to pigeonhole when it comes to writing up your personal teacher plan to accommodate every learning style. An iconoclast is often viewed in the negative but they are usually that way because they have a better idea and therefore would see the tearing down of a structure as a positive thing to be encouraged.

This dualistic nature is something that should be understood and encouraged in our education systems. Initially dualism always appears to be chaos but with a little investigation and patience the apparent stress of the chaotic can be channeled into the fantastic. And why should we encourage creativity in our education system?

To quote from the same article “Of all human activities, creativity comes closest to providing the fulfillment we all hope to get in our lives. When we’re creative, we feel we are living more fully than during the rest of life.”

Creativity In Education 4

I just completed and interview with The Edtechcrew. A fantastic podcast the talks all things education technology and more. Here we got talking about creativity and education and some thoughts around it.

If your interested here is the link for the podcast

Edtechcrew Interview with Kynan Robinson – In a state of cognitive flux

 

 

 

Creativity In Education Part 3 Agile Methodology?

Creativity In Education Part 3

Over the last year I have been participating in an interesting study entitled PLPConnectU. Set up by the department of education and in co run by a group Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) it has been tremendous for my own thinking in regards to education.

I am placed in a group called Creativity (which suits me just fine) and as part of our learning we were required to set up a project for our students under the guidelines of a PBL (project based learning) structure.

Together with my colleague Kristen Swenson we developed a unit of work around game creation. If you are interested in reading about the planning for this unit and how we are trying to fit it into the PBL structure Kristen has written and excellent blog charting the planning our big question, learning aims and sub questions as well as and our own reflection.

But to quickly summarize the students had developed a criteria chart for what made a good game , they had rated a few games then we just let them loose on a couple of online game making sites (stensyl, gamesalad and scratch) and they started going for it.

The following week we had an expert come in from a successful game making company and present. His presentation enforced the notion that before and coding (or making of the game) happened everything had to be completely designed to the enth degree.

This approach not only disappointed the students but got me thinking.

In the corporate world there are 2 primary methodologies for software development.

Waterfall – a Sequential linear design process using the following methods.

Requirements, design implementation, verification, maintenance.

Agile is a relatively new methodology that many companies are trying to use to create product (mostly software development). Agile Methodology, came about after waterfall and was an attempt as addressing some of its shortcomings,

While there are many different Agile methods (eg, Scrum, XP, Agile Unified Process) they all embrace the following manifesto as their foundation:

Its manifesto is as follows

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.

Its Principles are as follows

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer
    through early and continuous delivery
    of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in
    development. Agile processes harness change for
    the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a
    couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a
    preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work
    together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals.
    Give them the environment and support they need,
    and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of
    conveying information to and within a development
    team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development.
    The sponsors, developers, and users should be able
    to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence
    and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount
    of work not done–is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs
    emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how
    to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts
    its behaviour accordingly.

The expert seemed to be presenting to us from a waterfall approach. I got to thinking how much my approach to education fitted so much more with the agile methodology. It encourages continual change, it encourages the idea that the imagination will develop with the approach and therefore the project needs to be adaptive to flow with the imagination of the creator. It also emphasises the need to work quickly and have many small victories – continuous creative work and searching is going to stimulate the mind allowing for the environment for the big idea to push out (see my last blog).

My personal favourites are principle 5. The environment and support and trust must be provided that in order to get the job done. If we are moving into a more creative education – one that moves away from the dominance of left brain centred literacy and numeracy, we must change our environment. I have spoken many times of the need to find time in order to enable students to develop creative thinking, we must trust them which means as teachers we remove ourselves from the position of authority and rather into one of facilitator – find the resources that the students are going to demand in order to get there ideas out. Help shape their learning but be aware that they will move into areas you have no idea about and be comfortable about that. (I know very little about game programming but am comfortable that I can help guide the students to places where they can find the knowledge they need.

Other points that the above principles talk about that appeal to my sense of good creativity are the use of collaborative teams, reflection and the pursuit of excellent design.

The Agile approach also speaks about the need to be fearless in the constant pursuit of ideas but it gives you the means to respond to change.

By breaking things down into smaller deliverable packages it makes itself adaptable. To use an Australian context, Myki and the Ultranet are two examples of Waterfall methodologies that might have had better success if they had taken more of an Agile approach.

In regards to education I like setting up creative projects for students that allow for ideas to develop, change, be dumped and ultimately, hopefully allow for a new creative thought to pop out.

I think in regards to the game making project we are working on we aren’t going to plan it down to the finest detail before letting kids get into the making – if nothing else it would bore the kids to death.

Creativity in Education Part 2

What are we talking about when we say we are trying to encourage a complete creative approach to education. Why is the desire in all man to create so powerful and therefore so important for our education system to support.

Creativity is a new thought, but as we all know there is no truly new thought. Every new creation or thought has such strong links to all preceding thought, new thought can be thought of a merely development of existing thought.

Copyright becomes more and more of an issue in education as it has been for the arts since the ridiculous notion of intellectual property came into common thought. There are many many good papers written presenting counter arguments to our current selfish and ignorant copyright laws so I wont go to far into that except to say the laws show complete ignorance of the process of the creative idea, how it is always linked into a historical context and how all creative acts require a lineage of previous. (If you are truly interested in finding develping some understanding about copyright than this would be a great place to start http://www.plunderphonics.com/xhtml/xplunder.html) Sampling or sample based music is a good example of the truly creative act that requires previously existing work to reference. Without the previose work which can be taken and rearranged there would be no sample based music or art. And sampling is no new idea, Rembrant referenced his preceding masters, Beethoven quotes previous composers work in many of his compositions in fact everyone who has ever created anything in some way samples. Quotation in your work , as well as being a form of flattery is also a means of acknowledging the ideas that preceded yours. Without them your creative work might not exists. Ones take on the preceding idea is where things become interesting. Or to put it another way, what you do with that already existing idea is what is truly original personal and creative.

Our schooling systems need to encourage this “personal take” idea. Where does this happen in our current timetables?

As a composer I know there are many times in my life I have no ideas and there are other times when the ideas are pouring out of me at a rate that is almost to fast for me to get them all written. These are the times when it feels everything has fallen into place and life is in some sort of Zone. I am experienced enough in my own life to recognise these periods. When they are occuring I work very hard to produce as much as possible. I do this because I know how hard it is to get to these Zones. I also recognize that when I am not in these Zones I do everything in my power to try and get back there. This includes, investigation, experimenting, trying new ideas, failing, listening, looking at everything with my eyes open, reading, searching and basically hunting for the next idea.

My musical ideas these days rarely come from listening to other music, instead the concepts come might come from the reading I have done. For example I have recently read a lot of Cormack McCarthy novels. Rather than the stories contained in the novel it is the atmosphere he manages to create with words, the deep philspohical concepts behind his words that triggered my mind and ignited musical ideas that I have been struggling with for perhaps the last 15 years. It also triggered a more thorough investigation into a couple of composers who I had flirted with in the past, Morton Feldman and Olivier Messiahn. It was the novels that allowed my head to finally make sence of a musical and conceptual problem I hadn’t been able to resolve for years. This then lead to me studying other artists working in a similar area which ultimatly culminated in a body of work being composed. This work has recently been recorded and will be released. The actual period of high creativity lasted 2 weeks but the work period I did to get there took about a year and a half. The process for the creative act actually involved a long period of creative thinking.

It takes time.

School needs to be encouraging this and providing the time. Our school timetables are ridiculously over crowded. Our almost religious belief in numeracy and literacy as being subjects of the highest importance is a lazy lie that we choose to believe because it makes our jobs easier. It takes great courage for an educational institution to back away from the current importance given to these subjects because you now enter into a fight with society, parents, data managers bureaucrats looking for something to present to the politicians above them etc but it needs to happen. I love technology because it provides almost endless platforms for children to create in, or to express themselves. That is why at the school I work at we have invested hugely in technology – because it can be personalised. A child can do whatever he can think of with it. An education system that encourages and fosters creativity is a system that is working on a far deeper level than the one that places numeracy and literacy at the top and virtually ignores everything else.

We have a workforce crying out for innovation – how is our education system working to provide for that. At what point are we teaching the thinking process that leads to the creative act?

In a study by Eysenck (1995) and Martindale (1999) they proposed that creativity is characterized by cognitive disinhibition. Cognitive disinhibition is hypothesized to underlie many of the cognitive processes that have been associated with creative cognition, such as defocused attention and wide associative horizon. Whereas Eysenck (1995) argued that lower cognitive inhibition is a relatively permanent characteristic of the thinking style of creative people, Martindale (1 999) has argued that creative people can focus or defocus attention depending on task demands. At what point in our numeracy and literacy focused curriculum do we allow for DEFOCUSED ATTENTION. or is it all just about learning the skills required to get to the next level?

For a more academic read of what I have been writing about please read Andrew Williamson’s essay.He talks about similar ideas with strong references to academic research in the area. Particulate of interest is where Andrew writes about the thinking process required including Cognitive acceleration and cognitive dissonance. Link To Andrews Essay

Creativity in Education Part 1

Currently I am involved in a fantastic project titled PLP Connect U a joint project with the Department of Education and Powerful Learning Practice. It is a fairly open ended project designed around creating better learning and teaching practice through the development of networks and communities of learners. The approach seems to be a fairly organic one where outcomes are not set in stone but are variable dependent on where the groups push or pull them. This approach creates some fairly messy as well as interesting discussions as well as generating confusion. Confusion is one of my favorite states and a state I thoroughly endorse when it comes to teaching practice as it seems to allow for new models of unexpected thinking to push through. I was recently at a conference where clarity was the buZZ phrase. Students must have total clarity of the desired learning outcome at all times to better enhance their learning ability.

For me that is a method that while having some merit some of the time is not necessarily something that will lead to new thinkings within the students mind so therefor has it’s limitations.

I am part of a group within the PLPConnectU Project entitled Creativity and it is full of great thinkers trying to deepen their students educational experiences and allow for a more creative approach to learning. We were recently asked to comment on the subject of what we were wondering about and I replied with the following.

I am wondering about the following things I’ve read recently. While sounding esoteric they might actually be relevant in a group with the title creativity,

The first is a short statement by Arthur Rimbaud a French Poet

“I say a man must be a seer

Make oneself a seer

The poet makes himself a seer by a lengthy, massive and deliberate disordering of all the senses”

1871

Secondly a statement which follows similar lines found in a book called The Art of Looking Sideways.

“Creativity is a compulsive human urge which demands ritual actions or routine responses and is valid only when one is trading beyond experiences.

The word creativity is frequently appropriated to enhance the mediocre or justify the mundane. That ceaseless and frenetic activity -easy to mistake for purposeful action – which without anything new to say only produces noise and aggregate. No new thoughts no magic moments just more activities in which process becomes product. The true creative act is something else it produces something which never existed before. Whether of small consequence or great significance. A glimpse of the blindingly obvious ignited by the heat off the wires caused by short circuiting thoughts. Insight is unreasoning.

Of course what might appear to be a spontaneous thought may well have been a long time cooking in the unconscious.”

I think these two comments make powerful statements about true creativity requiring alot of work and space and dedication and support to allow it to find it’s way through because to “deliberately disorder all the senses” is a courageous and difficult thing to try. Reordering of the sences is talking about realigning meaning to everything or reassigning different meaning to things.

This is something I personally do alot of and it is something that has come to influence almost all of my art practice. I know how difficult it is to do and the consequences of doing it are sometimes very confusing. Sometimes by reassigning meaning you actually rub up against society and the norms of society which can be very powerful things. But generally out of that confusion comes a moment of absolute inspiration. This is the creative thought. This is the new thought, this is what allows me to percieve the future and this would never have come to me if I had been told the intention of the lesson. Confusion can be a good thing and I wonder how much of it do we allow our students to live in it. Creativity is so much more than providing an art lesson or finger painting or whatever other process based work you would like to see an outcome to.. it is about a commitment to original thought and the difficult process that actually is.

Feel free to comment, these are just thoughts I am trying to better formulate in my own mind when it comes to teaching practice.

If your interested in my art practice I have documented some of it here http://kynanrobinson.wordpress.com

Over the past four years our school has an intensive blogging program. Every child from grade 3 up has a blog. This has been incredibly useful in regrads to us skilling up both students and staff in web 2.0 tools. Skills such as uploading, posting, embedding, dealing with templates and so on are all very effectivly taught through blogging. Our students were mainly using their blogs as digital portfolios. In this format students are uploading content but not really doing much else.
While this skill learning is very important it is really only  very basic learning and I was looking for a way to deepen both the learning experience as well as  teaching using the blogging platform.
I met <a href=”http://me.edu.au/p/richardolsen”>Richard Olsen</a> at a recent forum on blogging and he presented a model which does exactly what I was looking for. This is a model that he along with his team at <a href=”http://www.ideaslab.vic.edu.au/”>Ideas Lab</a> had constructed along with <a href=”http://21stcenturylearning.typepad.com/blog/sheryl_nussbaumbeach/”>Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach</a> of <a href=”http://plpnetwork.com/”>PLP Network</a>.
The four interlinking circles all show a different phases that a learner would move through while blogging. Each phase offering different skills and learning potentials. I imagine that the phases would be moved through seamlessly. Each phase also has implications for the teacher. For instance the connecting phase would result in the teacher having to teach methods of research as well as critical consumption of information.
The communication stage which has the role of sharing information and repurposing information would lead to the implication of understanding copyright and so on.
The real power of blogging comes when linking into these ideas. Practical examples of things you can do to link into these ideas are
1.Blogs have much more power when they are niche blogs as they allow the blogger to connect to a community, they set up stronger parameters for an audience for the blog, beyond the child’s parents and grandparents making it much more authentic.
2.When the comment box is used effectively it also allows for greater connectivity, it leads to deeper discussion, potential for questions and perhaps even debate. We need to teach our students how to comment effectively in order to create discussion.
3.When tagging and categories are done correctly the same happens. Children should be taught to tag for others not just themselves.
4.Blogs allow us to work collaboratively – there is always more knowledge in the group than the individual.
5. We also need to teach our students how to link effectively – this creates a broader knowledge base.
6. Students should be taught how to subscribe to other blogs, thus deepening their knowledge base and community base.
I presented these ideas to my staff and received overwhelmingly positive response. The model that Richard and his team has come up with is a good one as it provides a language that allows us to talk about blogging relative to our teaching practice, it also gives both pedagogical and practical ideas on how to take the idea of student blogging and transform it  or develop it to a deeper learning experience. It is also a model that I feel can be translated to alot of digital literacy’s. Many teachers are STILL unaware of how to apply ICT into their classrooms and see it as being some sort of nuisance rather than required. Models like this one provide substance to those teachers and are very beneficial.

Getting grade 5/6 kids to compose using dissonance and consonance

Over the space of a term (ten weeks) Andrew Williamson and I work on a number of composition ideas with our grade 5 and 6 kid.

The ideas are both conceptual and practical

The first idea we look at is the notions of dissonance and consonance in a musical perspective.

As a listening exercise I play the kids two obvious examples such as Penderecki’s Threnody to the victims of Hiroshima to emphasis dissonance and Erik Saties Gymonpedie Number 1 to to look at consonance. These pieces can both be found on youtube  Penderecki . The Penderecki piece always starts great conversation with the kids on the role of music, why the sounds have to be so harsh, what is dissonance (clashing) when and where it is necessary, when it is to much, how does music effect our emotions, why do some sounds make us feel certain ways and others make us feel differently.

Following this I move the lesson into a class composition piece. It’s important to model this to the kids, how you want them to compose as the idea is for them to break into small groups and replicate the processes in the coming weeks.

On the electronic whiteboard I would bring up a picture of a haunted house that has the obvious connotations and leads well to a combination of dissonant and consonant sounds.

This picture has been taken from the Music Express Series

A discussion would take place about the intention of the picture. It is to scare the viewer or leave a dark feeling. How has this been achieved? Through the use of dark colors, through the various elements in the picture, where they are placed, at the front or at the back. These are all concepts that can be transported to a musical setting. Do the elements clash or flow freely.

Placing a number of instruments in front of the kids they would choose instruments that they think might match the various elements they would see in the picture. They would then be given a  short time to come up with a quick pattern that they could teach to a small group who would all be assigned to that instrument. Once five or six different parts had been composed and groups of 4 had been formed around those parts I would place those into some sort of visual arrangement on the whiteboard.

This is where the piece gets fun because the kids can now try and change the various arrangements to see if they were effectively achieving their original stated aims, to musically replicate the picture, to have some definite dissonant sounds involved. To get a sense of darkness in the music etc. When inventing the melody you will notice in the video the kids had a simple melody and each new part comes in mimicking the same melodic shape but moving it away by a semitone creating a fairly obvious and easy to hear dissonance.You will also notice there is a mixture of melody, rhythm as well as some textural elements to the piece. We also spoke of how tempo changes a piece, originally the bass  was quite fast but we found it was much more effective to slow the whole thing down. This class should take no longer than 2 lessons. Following this the children would have a class to compose their own piece in groups of no more than 5. Because we have worked on these ideas for an number of years with the kids they feel completely comfortable in their role as composers.

Finally we filmed the whoe class performance and here is an example.
http://fnps.fliggo.com/embed/gVxr6kO9