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Carving new pathways

April 17th, 2009

We talk about redesigning the plane while we’re flying sometimes as we focus on the change to more 21C ways of teaching and learning. So it makes good sense that I begin this blog on an airplane, high over the Southwest of the US, desert stepping up to the canyon land with layers of time exposed by the simple and enduring power of water. As far as I can see there is scrub brush dessert or the craggy layered canyons, cut through in deep, almost rhythmic patterns and then, off in the distance, snow covered mountains.

08-september-29-grand-canyon-098Flying over a land as old as this, with forces as ancient and slow as these, I am wondering about the way we will transition to more 21C ways of teaching and learning. Which are the ancient slow forces we deal with, and which are ones we can gain some distance on and eventually learn to fly over? What pieces of learning are set into the foundations of time and which are more malleable and need to react to a changing environment in order to survive and thrive? What are the rocks that are solid and hard to move? What is the water that eats away at them? How do we create the spaces and the opportunities we want without waiting for the natural forces of the world to take over and carry us away?

It seems to me that one of the things we’ve been talking about is that technology is one of those pressures, eating away at the solid rock of 20C schooling.  It is a force to be reckoned with, and in some ways it affects the way kids, parents, and community members think school should happen. But really any of these new ways of acting or thinking only sometimes actually change the shape of schooling in any real ways.  After all, there are places where rivers flow over rock for thousands of years without eating through to deep canyons. Some of this difference is probably about the water—the force and the amount of it. And some is about the rocks. The sea pounds against the shoreline everywhere around New Zealand, but it’s only in Punakaiki that the rocks plus the water create the fantastic formations of the Pancake rocks. Probably if we want to reshape schooling, we need to figure out how to help the rock change and what force the water might enact.

Punakaiki, April 2006

So what is the thing that changes the shape of the schooling? How does technology become the force that changes the shape rather than the force that glides along the current shape? I guess my bias is that it is the thinking of the teachers and students and community members that makes all the difference. The question is about whether their ideas about education are set so solidly that forces of the future cannot move them, or whether they are malleable and shaped by the context. But unlike rock, which contains its compounds and is either soft or hard by nature, peoples’ minds can open or close, can twist into new shapes, no matter what their constitution. So the non-geological question would be about what forces were most likely to open minds and help them become more oriented towards new possibilities for education? In as much as technology enables new ways of thinking for those involved in education, it seems a powerful force. But if technology doesn’t change thinking, it’s not the powerful force we need it to be. What other forces are there that help shape peoples’ sensemaking? As we make our changes, building this plane as we fly it, someday educational historians will look back at the forces of our time, etched into the future, shaping the landscape of education. Wonder what they’ll learn from the layers through time.

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  1. Ally
    | #1

    Hi Jennifer.
    I like the metaphor of the water and rocks. I’m interested in the way that rocks and water interact. Rocks might be solid but as water flows over them bits get eroded and that changes the shape of the rock which in turn changes the flow of the water, which in turn changes the shape of the rock in a different way and so on and so on. I’m wondering whether we pay enough attention to the interaction between different things in a system. Do we pay attention just to helping teachers work in different ways or do we pay attention just to what should be taught or do we pay attention to the interaction of the two? I guess what I’m saying is that I think we need to identify the levers for change as you suggest, and may be the successful levers are going to be those that in someway allow for us to pay attention to different parts of the system at the same time. I’ve been wondering whether parent, student teacher interviews might be one way of pulling together a lot of different ideas about how things might need to be different. They might be a way of engaging students, teachers, and the community in ideas about C21st learning and challenging more traditional ways of doing things. I think real change might involve more coherence within the system than we currently seem to have.

  2. | #2

    Educating students for the workforce today requires them to be skilled for the “knowledge economy”. The pace of change in the work-place requires people to continually embrace new technologies and adapt to this with new knowledge and skills. This requires both education and training.

  3. Vera
    | #3

    Technology might provide the vehicle but it is, of course, people who make the changes. So what forces might lead a critical mass of people to think that the shape of schooling needs to change: what will be the “tipping point” (an idea so eloquently argued by Malcolm Gladwell)? I find it such a puzzle that we know that we are working in a very different world from even a decade ago and yet it hasn’t led to sigificant changes in the what we think young people need to learn and how they might learn these things. It hasn’t even led to community wide debates about how we might be changing our education system so the new technologies are integral to it. In the paper this weekend there was an article about farmers being unable to operate their business without good internet access: it is an essential tool of the trade and has changed the way they work. Can we say the same of schooling? I doubt it.

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