February 2, 2013 § 1 Comment
Educational Leadership is the flagship publication of ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development). It has a circulation of over 160,000 and is regarded as “an authoritative source of information about teaching and learning, new ideas and practices relevant to practicing educators, and the latest trends and issues affecting prekindergarten through higher education.”
Their February 2013 issue is titled “Creativity Now!” and has a series of articles from some of the top scholars and researchers in the area of creativity and education, including Robert & Michele Root-Bernstein, Ronald A. Beghetto and James C. Kaufman, Yong Zhao and Alene Starko (among others). More selfishly, the online version of the journal has an article by Danah Henriksen and yours truly.
January 28, 2013 § Leave a comment
This is a paper that had come out a while ago, and I just didn’t get a chance to post it (actually I just forgot). Anyway, here it is:
Mishra, P., Koehler, M. J., Zellner, A., & Kereluik, K. (2012). Thematic considerations in integrating TPACK in a graduate program. In D. Polly, C. Mims, & K. Persichitte (Eds.),Developing Technology-Rich Teacher Education Programs: Key Issues (pp. 1-12). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.
January 27, 2013 § Leave a comment
In a couple of previous blog post (Student engagement in school, the tale of 2 graphs and Understanding student engagement) I wrote about the findings of a recent Gallup Poll on student engagement. The first post was concerned with how the data were represented and the second focused on the actual items to measure student engagement.
@ewilliams65 (Eric Williams, a friend and a Superintendent in Virginia and one of the more innovative and forward-looking administrators I know) wrote a blog post (Gallup’s five questions regarding student engagement) in which he takes me to task (mildly, I must add) for questioning whether “the five items that Gallup used were the best measure of student engagement.” Now I respect Eric a great deal and when he questions me, I look inward, since I know he comes at his conclusions extremely thoughtfully — and also because his blog is titled Promoting Student Engagement, which makes him an expert on the topic, more than what I can say about myself :-).
January 22, 2013 § 1 Comment
I had posted recently about a Gallup poll on student engagement. Essentially the poll showed that student engagement dropped precipitously (though as I wrote, not as starkly as their graph indicated) as students moved from elementary to high school. My friend, Gaurav responded with a comment, as follows:
Engaged for how much percentage of the school day? Most of the day may be boring, but some parts may be engaging for many students. I haven’t seen the original poll that you highlight, but the data that you picked doesn’t say anything, and as you said, the graph is misleading there too.
This got me to thinking as to how engagement was measured in the first place. A bit of digging around led me to a couple of pieces by Dr. Shane Lopez. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 21, 2013 § 3 Comments
Gallup recently released a poll on student engagement – and the main finding is that “the longer students stay in school, the less engaged they become.” As the post says:
The Gallup Student Poll surveyed nearly 500,000 students in grades five through 12 from more than 1,700 public schools in 37 states in 2012. We found that nearly eight in 10 elementary students who participated in the poll are engaged with school. By middle school that falls to about six in 10 students. And by high school, only four in 10 students qualify as engaged.
January 13, 2013 § 4 Comments
Our latest article on the series Technology and Creativity is now available (link and the complete reference given below). Co-authored with Chris Fahnoe, Dr. Danah Henriksen, and the Deep-Play Research group, this paper builds on Chris’ practicum research study and investigates whether students embedded in technology-rich, self-directed, open-ended learning environments develop self-regulation skills? This is an important question because:
Creativity and in-disciplined learning requires balancing the forces of order and chaos. Learning environments need to provide students a flexible structure within which students can experiment, collaborate, and problem solve. These are contexts that allow students to learn from both success and failure. Such open-ended environments, however, can be challenging to learners as well. They can appear chaotic and offer little guidance to students on how to navigate them.
September 8, 2011 § Leave a comment
Education is always about leadership and leadership has always been about tensions—navigating through them and seeking to find the right balance between them. Leaders often feel a tug from individuals with conflicting interests or needs, with ideas that often tug in different directions. Often these tensions are conceptual and abstract. Have you ever wondered how could you represent these tensions in a visual way? What would that look like? We, in the MAET program, set out to find a way to illustrate these conflicting viewpoints. « Read the rest of this entry »
August 10, 2011 § 1 Comment
Jim Garrison and A. G. Rud have a wonderful article on TCRecord on Reverence in Classroom Teaching. Though, reverence may be “too exalted a word to associate with the practical and often mundane activities of teaching,” it appears to me that ignoring these deeper impulses impoverishes us as individuals and as a society. Framing teaching as being just about imparting skills, and knowledge, aimed at achieving instrumental goals (jobs, career and the like) misses something crucial. As they write: « Read the rest of this entry »
February 7, 2011 § 4 Comments
May years ago I wrote an essay titled On becoming a website. It was about my experience on teaching online and I suggested somewhat facetiously that in order to be a good teacher online I needed to actually “become” the course website! I started the essay by describing the idea of a cyborg:
A cyborg is a cybernetic organism — a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. It has been argued that we are all cyborgs now (Haraway, 1991). Be it a pacemaker installed in our hearts or a pair of contact lenses in our eyes, technologies are now an integral part of our bodies and our consciousness. … Of course these socially (and increasingly biologically) embedded technologies often become transparent and, in some sense, so deeply intertwined with our existence that we don’t even realize they exist (Brooks, 2002).
Now this idea of a cyborg was somewhat of a rhetorical move, to generate interest in the topic I was writing about. So imagine my surprise when I read the following paragraph.
They gave her The Device when she was only 2 years old. It sent signals along the optic nerve that swiftly transported her brain to an alternate universe—a captivating other world. By the time she was 7 she would smuggle it into school and engage it secretly under her desk. By 15 the visions of The Device—a girl entering a ballroom, a man dying on the battlefield—seemed more real than her actual adolescent life. She would sit with it, motionless, oblivious to everything around her, for hours on end. Its addictive grip was so great that she often stayed up half the night, unable to put it down.
When she grew up, The Device dominated her house: no room was free from it, no activity, not even eating or defecating, was carried on without its aid. Even when she made love it was the images of The Device that filled her mind. Psychologists showed that she literally could not disengage from it—if The Device could reach the optic nerve, she would automatically and inescapably be in its grip. Neuroscientists demonstrated that large portions of her brain, parts that had once been devoted to understanding the real world, had been co-opted by The Device.
What a terrible terrible story. How and why did the parents give the device to a 2 year old! Is this kind of brain damage reversible?
So what IS this device? Well turns out it is a book!
Go back and read the passage again, making that switch! How does that feel?
I had written earlier about Douglas Adams’ rules about technology
- Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
- Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
- Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things. (p. 95).
It seems to me that this quote, which incidentally is taken from an article in Slate Magazine, reviewing Sherry Turkle’s latest book, captures the manner in which new technologies are often seen to go against “the natural order of things.”
Whether we like it or not, we are all cyborgs now.
November 19, 2010 § Leave a comment
The Dubberly Design Office has created a series of models of innovation, play and design. These are terrific resources and I just found out about them by chance. I see these as being quite significant in the classes I teach, including CEP817: Learning Technology by Design; CEP818: Creativity in Teaching and Learning; and CEP917: Knowledge Media Design.
I am including links to a couple of their models – but I do recommend visiting their site to see more…
What is cool is that they have created a whole series of posters that can be downloaded as pdfs.
I haven’t had the time to look at all their work in detail… I but I anticipate going back there multiple times in the future.
October 1, 2010 § 3 Comments
Slate Magazine is running a series on Creative Pairs, or why Two is the Magic Number! Written by Joshua Wolf Shenk the series seeks to understand:
What makes creative relationships work? How do two people—who may be perfectly capable and talented on their own—explode into innovation, discovery, and brilliance when working together? These may seem to be obvious questions. Collaboration yields so much of what is novel, useful, and beautiful that it’s natural to try to understand it.
The series is an excellent introduction to the research on creative collaboration has most interestingly has a series of case studies of creative pairs. The first pair studied were John Lennon & Paul McCartney and followed their careers over time and how the “push-pull” between these two creative personalities led to some of the greatest music of the 20th Century.
The next set of profiles focuses on Matthew Swanson & Robbi Behr, the couple behind Idiot’s Books. Joshua Shenk inflicts on them “a series of experiments, stunts, and adventures” with the goal of shedding “light on the nature of their collaboration—and on the broader questions of relationships, psychology, and creativity.” So far the couple has been given a battery of psychological tests, tolerated a tour of their home and studio, sat on a couch for a psychoanalytic session, and finally, created a verbal/visual map of their creative process. As Shenk says, “What they came up with turned out to both nicely illustrate how they work and to perfectly embody their Idiocy.” I completely and totally recommend anybody interested in creativity to take a look at this somewhat interactive feature: Idiot Books, Creative Process Diagram.
July 23, 2010 § 15 Comments
A few weeks ago I posted a note about an assignment I gave my students in the on-campus version of the MAET program. They had completed an unit on motivation and had watched the RSA / Daniel Pink video and their task was was to create demotivational posters, (along the lines of those on despair.com) using ideas either from their readings/discussions or from the Pink video.
The posters were a huge success. In fact Daniel Pink tweeted them (Thanks Daniel) and lots of his followers ended up on my website to see the work done by the students, which is all very cool.
Well, I am now in Rouen, France, meeting with the students in the off-campus MAET program. I got a chance to work with each of the groups (representing year 1, 2 & 3) and had them create similar posters as well. So now we have a total of 17(!) posters. It is interesting to see just how different they are, even the ones that tackle the same concept do it differently.
I have included all of the posters below — the one’s from East Lansing as well as the one’s created here at Rouen. Click on the words to see the posters (the names of the students who created them is provided below each of the posters).
Rawad Bon Hamadan
January 24, 2010 § 1 Comment
Hot off the press:
Schmidt, D. A., Baran, E., Thompson, A. D., Mishra, P., Koehler, M.J. & Shin, T. S. (2010). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK): The development and validation of an assessment instrument for preservice teachers. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 42(2), 123 – 149.
Abstract: Based in Shulman’s idea of Pedagogical Content Knowledge, Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) has emerged as a useful frame for describing and understanding the goals for technology use in preservice teacher education. This paper addresses the need for a survey instrument designed to assess TPACK for preservice teachers. The paper describes the survey development process and results from a pilot study on 124 preservice teachers. Data analysis procedures included Cronbach’s alpha statistics on the TPACK knowledge domains and factor analysis for each domain. Results suggest that, with the modification and/or deletion of 18 of the survey items, the survey is a reliable and valid instrument that will help educators design longitudinal studies to assess perservice teachers’ development of TPACK. (Keywords: TPACK, instrument development, preservice teachers)
January 17, 2010 § Leave a comment
Steve Wagenseller, a student in my 817 Learning Technology by Design seminar wrote something so cool in the class forum that I felt that it was worth recording on my blog…
December 31, 2009 § 5 Comments
Jordy Whitmer over at the Birmingham School district forwarded me this link to this really cool video by George Kembel on Awakening Creativity. There is a lot in the video to ponder and discuss but I want to focus on something he said about music learning that really hit home with me. Citing some research on music learning he describes a strong link between speaking a tone language, such as Mandarin, and having perfect pitch. A search on Google led to the following article: Tone Language Translates To Perfect Pitch: Mandarin Speakers More Likely To Acquire Rare Musical Ability. As this article says:
Perfect, or absolute, pitch is the ability to name or produce a musical note of particular pitch without the benefit of a reference note. The visual equivalent is calling a red apple “red.” While most people do this effortlessly, without, for example, having to compare a red to a green apple, perfect pitch is extremely rare in the U.S. and Europe, with an estimated prevalence in the general population of less than one in 10,000.
Image credit: Tom Carmony
So think about this for a second. Here is an ability that was once thought to be extremely rare, within the capability of just extremely talented musicians. People born with this talent, as it were. This research, however, shows just how mistaken this view is.
December 16, 2009 § 11 Comments
There is an article in today’s Chronicle titled Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students.
I have been somewhat skeptical of the learning styles literature for a while, not the least for hearing the phrase being bandied about without much thought. I have heard people claim without much evidence, that today’s kids are visual learners. I have heard a teacher say that as a consequence, that visual learners prefer reading text from a Powerpoint slide, rather than read it on a blackboard! (Those who know me that I am rarely at a loss for words, but that statement truly struck me dumb! In Wolfgang Pauli’s words, that statement was not even wrong.) I have also had students claim that they did not do well in a certain course because it did not match their learning style!
Anyway, the study reported in the article
… does not dispute the existence of learning styles. But it asserts that no one has ever proved that any particular style of instruction simultaneously helps students who have one learning style while also harming students who have a different learning style.
What does this non-finding mean for practitioners (teachers and professors)?
November 13, 2009 § 10 Comments
Patrick Diemer commented on my previous posting, All you can cheat, the web & learning by saying:
Do you have any words of wisdom or resources on how to create appropriate questions? This sounds great, but easier said than done in my humble opinion.
I started writing a response to his comment, but as I wrote on, I realized that it was better as a post in its own right. So here it is…
« Read the rest of this entry »
November 9, 2009 § 1 Comment
October 23, 2009 § 3 Comments
One who knows and knows he knows is a wise man, Follow Him
One who knows and knows not he knows is asleep, Awaken him
One who knows not and knows he knows not is a child, Teach him
One who knows not and knows not he knows not is a Fool, Avoid him.
— Attributed variously to Confucius, Socrates and others
I was reminded of this quote while reading an article by Ken Friedman titled, Design Science and Design Education and came across a section that described a view of learning. Friedman describes a framework on going from incompetence in a domain to mastery in the same domain. More specifically, Skoe talks of this process as having four key stages. These four stages are: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, unconscious competence. Here is Friedman:
« Read the rest of this entry »
October 19, 2009 § 3 Comments
In a couple of previous posts I had talked about the idea of postdiction (see the posts here and here). The argument being that good teaching (among a long list of other good things) is postdictable, i.e. it walks the line between predictability and chaos, and most importantly makes sense post hoc. To make my point I had posted a couple of videos that were good examples of being postdictable.
Closely connected to the idea of postdictable is the idea of creating anticipation and suspense. Once again other artists (particularly those working in temporal media such as film, and advertising) seem to have grasped the importance of this earlier than educators. Good film-makers can create suspense out of pretty much the flimsiest of materials. Think of the first scenes from Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. The way the scene builds tension out of a disagreement over whether or not to tip is pitch perfect. There is more tension in that scene than in dozens of other “suspense” thrillers.
However making suspense work is difficult. Navigating this line between predictability and tension over the unknown is a fine art. (This is where, of course, the connection with postdictability becomes most clear.)
Check out the two videos below, which highlight just how fine the line is between succeeding at creating suspense and anticipation and failing to do so. Both of these videos are interesting and well made – both have pace and rhythm but one of them builds anticipation while the other just happens. One tells a story, the other doesn’t.
« Read the rest of this entry »
October 16, 2009 § 4 Comments
Carole Ames, Dean of the College just sent out this note regarding the sad news of Jere Brophy’s passing. She has asked for it to be shared with our broader networks, so I do so.
Note: The memorial service for Jere Brophy has been scheduled for Monday, October 19th 2009, from 10 – 12 at the MSU Alumni Memorial Chapel
It is with great sadness that I write with the news that our dear colleague, Jere Brophy, died last night from an apparent heart attack. There are no words to express the loss of this intellectual giant to the field of education, but more importantly, we have lost an esteemed colleague, a cherished friend, and generous mentor. Jere’s warmth of character was apparent in all his interactions. He always had an inviting smile, was known for his laid-back manner, and greatly enjoyed a good chuckle. He had a genuine interest in other people, their families, lives, work and ideas. To the world, Jere was an internationally-renown scholar whose writing informed researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners alike. To us, he was all that, but, in addition, we had the privilege of having him as our beloved colleague.
« Read the rest of this entry »
October 15, 2009 § 5 Comments
I had written earlier about the idea of “postdictable” which was defined as something that is “surprising initially, but then understandable with a bit of thought.” It lies at the spot between predictability and total chaos. The movie Sixth Sense is postdictable in the best sense of the world. Good teaching I believe needs to be postdictable. That is what keeps us engaged, keeps us waiting for more, the payoff as it were. And best of all, once all the pieces are in, we can’t wait to go back and review everything again, to see just how beautifully the whole thing holds together. There is a strong aesthetic component to this – a sense of wholeness, closure, elegance, and inevitability. Good poems have this quality, as do mathematical theorems. A well crafted lecture or a lesson plan has this quality as well. In my mind these ideas are closely tied to the Dewey’s idea of experience and to the idea of design. Hopefully I will have a chance to explore these connections in a later post but for now, here are a couple of commercials that I think were postdictable in a really cool kind of way.
« Read the rest of this entry »
October 11, 2009 § Leave a comment
As readers of this blog know I love examples of seeing things in new ways. That to me if often the crux of creativity. Anyway here are two examples. The first curtesey of Leigh Wolf is a new advertisement from some credit card company. The ad is actually pretty average but what is really cool are the visuals.
« Read the rest of this entry »
September 20, 2009 § 1 Comment
Have you heard of the marshmallow experiment? It is a pretty famous experiment conducted at Stanford back in the 60’s. Walter Mischel a psychologist conducted this experiment on four-year olds in which the children were given one marshmallow and promised a second marshmallow if only they could wait 20 minutes before eating the first one. Turns out that some children could and others couldn’t wait. Following up on this study Mischel and his collaborators found that those who waited were better adjusted, dependable and, on some measures, more successful than those who could not delay gratification. In fact they found that these children scored an average of 210 points higher on the SAT!!
You can read more about this experiment and its findings in this New Yorker article titled Don’t: The secret of self control.
I had read of this experiment a while ago, it had also been the focus of a recent RadioLab segment and then I began running across a video titled Oh, The Temptation. As the director describes it he used, 2 Hidden Cameras, A bunch of Kids, 1 Marshmallow each to create this movie. He agrees that this was “not an original idea, but very fun to make.” And it is great fun to watch…
September 8, 2009 § Leave a comment
In an age where experts are a dime a dozen, willing to pontificate at the drop of a pin, it is hard to tell whom to believe, and whom NOT to believe. In comes Phillip Tetlock, an academic who has made it his mission to evaluate the prognosticators! This is described in his book:
Tetlock, P.E. (2005). Expert political judgment: How good is it? How can we know? Princeton: Princeton University Press.
I recently came across a review written by him, titled Reading Tarot on K Street (in the September/October 2009 issue of The National Interest) and I thought it captured his work in this area quite nicely (and would be worth preserving).
When we score the accuracy of thousands of predictions from hundreds of experts across dozens of countries over twenty years, we find the best forecasters tend to be modest about their forecasting skills, eclectic in their ideological and theoretical tastes, and self-critical in their analytical styles.1 Borrowing from philosopher Isaiah Berlin, I call them foxes—experts who know many things and are not finicky about where they get good ideas. Paraphrasing Deng Xiaoping, they do not care if the cat is white or black, only that it catches mice.
Contrast this with what I call hedgehogs—experts who know one big thing from which likely future trends can be more or less directly deduced. The big thing might be any of a variety of theories: Marxist faith in the class struggle as the driver of history or libertarian faith in the self-correcting power of free markets, or a realist faith in balance-of-power politics or an institutionalist faith in the capacity of the international community to make world politics less ruthlessly anarchic, or an eco-doomster faith in the impending apocalypse or a techno-boomster faith in our ability to make cost-effective substitutes for pretty much anything we might run out of.
What experts think—where they fall along the Left-Right spectrum—is a weak predictor of accuracy. But how experts think is a surprisingly consistent predictor. Relative to foxes who are less encumbered by loyalties to an all-encompassing worldview, hedgehogs offer bolder forecasts and, although they hit occasional grand slams, they strike out a lot and wind up with decidedly poorer batting averages.
The implications for people who make projections about technology and schools and learning is quite obvious to me. It is the hedgehogs we need to be careful of, mainly because of the vehemence of their beliefs which can sometimes override our “foxy” nature. I say inherent because I think that educators, for the most part, are pragmatists, sensitive to the limits of arm-chair theorizing and big ideas. A hard nosed approach to reality, that recognizes its complexity, that demands multi-faceted problems solving approaches is what is needed, not being wedded to one, just one overarching idea.
September 6, 2009 § Leave a comment
Imagine controlling machines, typing text or juggling balls using nothing but the power of thought. What sounds like far-fetched science fiction is gradually becoming possible, providing hope for disabled patients — and new gimmicks for the computer gaming industry. Read more in Playing With Your Head: The Dawning Age of Mind-Reading Machines
What implications do these new technologies have for learning and education? I mean even Mattel is getting into the action… As the article says
The new system Mattel is introducing at computer trade shows is called “Mindflex.” According to the company’s fact sheet: “A true mental marathon, Mindflex exercises the brain in an entirely new way as players learn to continuously control their brain activity.”
So, you ask, how does it work? To train the brain, the user puts on a headband with sensors at the temples and a cable connected to something that looks like a mini miniature golf course. Then the user tries to master the first task: balancing a small ball above an air current, causing it to levitate and making it pass through a plastic ring.
At this time these interfaces work only in one direction, from the brain to the computer. But can the reverse, from computer to the brain be far behind? The power being discussed here is truly revolutionary. We have all known that computers are cognitive tools i.e. working with them changes the way we think. However, at some level changes in brain states are mediated via our senses and through movement, a somewhat inefficient process. What these technologies indicate is the future is in a merging of our brains directly with the computer… where the distinction between us and the machine will be increasingly blurred till we won’t be able to tell one from the other. Imagine having access to Google like search engines whenever a question pops up in our heads? How can we tell where the brain ends and the machine begins?
July 20, 2009 § 1 Comment
Just came across this on the Ph.D. design list (a listserv for discussion of PhD studies and related research in Design) from a posting by Charles Burnette. He quotes Donald MacKinnon, author of a large study on creativity in the arts, sciences and professions:
If I were to summarize what is most generally characteristic of the creative [individual] as we have seen him (sic), it is his high level of effective intelligence, his openness to experience, his freedom from petty constraints, and impoverishing inhibitions, his aesthetic sensitivity, his cognitive flexibility, his independence of thought and action, his high level of energy, his unquestioning commitment to creative endeavor, and his unceasing striving for creative solutions to the ever more difficult … problems he constantly sets for himself.
The question to ponder is, how many of these correlates of creativity are amenable to teaching (i.e. can be taught / nurtured) in the classroom or other contexts and how many are completely outside of our control?
Charles Burnett also provides a couple of references to MacKinnon’s work:
MacKinnon D W. (1962). The nature and nurture of creative talent. Amer. Psychol. 17:484-95.
MacKinnon, D. W. (1978). In Search of Human Effectiveness: Identifying and Developing Creativity. Creative Education Foundation.
July 11, 2009 § 2 Comments
One minute design ideas…http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x93dzc
I had posted something similar here (from Bic to vase).
There is something deeper here than just cool design ideas though. What this video highlights is improvisation, creativity and a sense of play to repurpose artifacts for purposes other than what they had been designed for. In fact some of these designs find a use for what most of us would regard as trash.
It is this creative repurposing that is critical in this new world of teaching and technology (Technology Integration 2.0 and the TPACK framework). Teachers often look for the perfect technological solution to pedagogical problems they face. The fact is that there is no such perfect solution. In fact I argue that there is nothing like an educational technologies. Most technologies we regard as being educational in nature were not designed for this purpose. And yet, everything from a Excel spreadsheet to a Wiki; a GPS device to Audacity can serve as an educational technology, if appropriately repurposed! The sooner teachers realize that we live in a world where nothing is an educational technology…. and yet, everything has the potential to be. the better if will for all.
Scott McCloud over at Dangerously Irrelevant in his most recent post asks “Are our training efforts helping educators or enabling codependence?” This is a great question and one that all teacher educators with an interest in technology need to confront. I have always struggled with this – and varying levels of success in my own teaching (and in the MAET program I now direct). As he suggests what is needed is to develop a “willingness to probe, investigate, and experiment … [to] learn and master the tools.
It seems to me that videos such as this one highlight exactly the kind of free-form creativity we need to encourage in teachers: the ability to see a side-table in an old magazine, and a vase in a bic pen. It is only through similar creative repurposing that technologies can become educational technologies.
July 6, 2009 § Leave a comment
I love how these interconnected pipes called the Intertubes lead to serendipitous discoveries. Here are two videos, the first I went looking for, and the second, fell into my lap, so to speak, due to YouTubes related videos section.
The video I went looking for was based on a delightful book I had picked up at a garage sale a few years ago. “The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics” is a little book (20 pages or so) with an intriguing story-line and its geometrical illustrations. The main character is a straight line who is in love with a dot – but sadly she is more attracted to a wild, unruly squiggle. How the simple line develops his talents and wins the love of the dot is told through whimsical (and mathematically sound) illustrations.
I learned later that the famous animator Chuck Jones had made this into a short film. Here it is (thanks to YouTube).
This is just a wonderful example of how mathematics and art, perception and recognition, creativity and design can come together. This book (and the movie) speak to me at so many different levels. What is most amazing is the ability we humans have to see purpose and meaning in the simplest of lines and curves. So much of art and science depend on this ability to perceive / construct patterns.
Nowhere is this more beautifully (and humorously) illustrated than in this other video I discovered. Written and narrated by Mel Brooks (yes THE Mel Brooks) this animated short film, The Critic, takes a different interpretive stance (crankier and edgier) than the previous narration. That this short animation captures, powerfully how we as humans both seek, and question, the meanings of the patterns we see around us.
I just finished reading parts of Sheri Turkle’s latest book, Simulation and its discontents, and the parallels to what she is writing about and Mel Brook’s Critic are quite strong. The cranky one man in the short recognizes or “sees” meaning is some of the abstract images he sees on the screen and yet he questions their value. The scientists and designers quoted in Turkle’s book echo some of the same concerns.
What is amazing is that the Mel Brooks short was made in 1963, the Chuck Jones movie was made in 1965 and Turkle’s book was published just this year, in 2009!
June 12, 2009 § 9 Comments
In this TCRecord piece, Daniel T. WIllingham uses what we know about cognitive psychology to explain Why students don’t like school. He suggests that
although most people believe that humans are good at thinking, it is actually the weakest of our mental faculties… Our minds are biased against thinking, because thinking is slow and effortful. In addition, it’s error-prone; it may not even produce an answer at all, much less a good one.
What we truly hate, according to him are things that are (a) either too easy; or (b) things that are incomprehensible. What fascinates us are problems that hit the sweet spot, not merely unpredictable but rather postdictable. He defines this as being “initially be surprising, but then be understandable with a bit of thought.”As he says:
… interest is engendered by an appraisal process: that is, a process by which we evaluate the potential interest of something before we delve into it. If we perceive an event to be novel and complex, but also comprehensible, we find it intriguing and worthy of continued thought. Tasks that lack complexity seem too easy. Tasks that lack comprehensibility seem too hard.
Just two points here. First, most of school, it seems to me, lies at these two extremes, either lacking in complexity OR lacking in comprehensibility. Combine this with the diversity of student interests and background it is hardly surprising that even students who like to learn, learn to hate schoo.
Second, I had never heard of this term “postdictable” before but I think it is going to become a part of my vocabulary from now on. It helps me explain and categorize educational activities that work from those that don’t. Additionally it helps me explain movies and books I like – from ones that don’t. I know I hate predictable plots and stories (something I am trying to get my daughter to realize particularly around the typical Disney fare she so seems to love). However, complete unpredictablity is also a pain – a waste of time. Movies I like are postdictable… surprising at first glance but understandable later. Cool.