Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘collaboration’

1
Dec

Pedagogy before Technology: Not a New Thing

unacceptable

Don’t say, “We are finally paying attention to the pedagogy!”

It is unacceptable.

Pedagogy is why we started so many years ago!

How many times do we hear the following these days?

“It’s not about the technology, it’s about the learning.”

“We have to think about pedagogy instead of focusing on the tools.”

But the most disturbing claim suggests that ONLY NOW are we thinking about pedagogy before technology—that everyone in the 70s, 80s, 90s and early 2000s paid attention only to the hardware, the software and ‘teaching the tools’—devoid of pedagogy.

…ONLY NOW are we thinking about pedagogy before technology

quiet-150406_1280Please don’t say that. It’s absolutely incorrect—and, in fairness, rather hurtful to many who have had dreams of the kinds of things we are hearing more widely today. We have fought, and fought hard, for effective uptake through those decades in the face of those who ignored, and dismissed, us as outliers.

…some veteran, and influential, educators ignored us in the past…

And, it is not only some who are new to education who are guilty of this. We are seeing some veteran, and influential, educators who ignored us in the past, now moving us all forward with discussions of new pedagogies.

How we wished for their voices three decades ago. Imagine where we might be now.

Build Upon the Past

However, now we have a new generation of educators who, in many cases, have embraced the affordances of technologies. We welcome your enthusiasm, your energy and your building of effective classrooms for our learners.

…we must build upon that which has been done in the past

questions-1328465_1920I believe that it is important that we must build upon that which has been done in the past and move forward from there. If we start fresh—as if it is all new—we are not leveraging the successes and failures of previous times. We must learn from our experience.

To do this, one needs to know the history of educational computing.

I will share some of my experiences and observations having started on this journey in 1977.

This will require a series of posts. 🙂

A Series of Posts

I could do this by topic—coding, global projects, inquiry, science and math investigations, leveraging productivity software for inquiry, and so on. Or I could do it chronologically—which is the way I shall choose to approach this very rich history.

Logo Maze Poster(sm)Over this series of posts, you will read about:

  • Developing thinking and metacognitive skills through programming (coding) with grade ones in 1977, the Logo movement of the 80s, programming in HyperCard and HyperStudio in the 80s and 90s, teaching kids HTML through the 90s
  • Connecting kids through global projects in the early 80s with a command line interface on our computers, a Day in the Life project run with the Soviet Union via fax machines, National Geographic Kids’ Network collaborative science investigations in the 80s with teams of students from around the world, Global Schoolnet, FrEdWriter and FrEdMail (free wordpro and email networking for kids in the mid-80s), iEARN (International Education and Resource Network)
  • Being mathematicians, scientists, and engineers through building robotics and making in the mid-80s with Lego TC Logo robotics kits
  • collaboration – in addition to the collaborative global projects mentioned above, we had the development of CSILE (Computer Supported Intentional Learning Environments) in the mid-eighties; ThinkingLand (late 80s), and Journal Zone (early 2000s). These were environments focused on creating knowledge building communities in our classrooms
  • Inquiry-based uses of productivity software (mid-80s onward)—using drawing tools, databases and spreadsheets for mathematics & science inquiry of geometry, speed, acceleration, etc.
  • Exploring, tinkering and creating in Virtual Reality (Mandala and CitySpace) in the 90s
  • Multimedia creation (HyperCard, HyperStudio, Web Creation, desktop publishing, Laser discs)
  • Beginning in 1982, we deliberately focused our formalized professional learning on curricular implementation by including curriculum and/or pedagogy in the workshop titles (Math Investigations using Spreadsheets; Planning Ahead with Outliners; Metacognition and Programming in Logo)

This is just a sampling of topics.

girl-and-hammerNext Post: Pedagogical Stance of the 1970s: Piaget In! Skinner Out!

The next post will tell the story of how—and why—we got involved with microcomputers in the late 1970s. It will include a description of the educational context of the 1970s—the student-centred, inquiry-based, open-classroom, student-in-charge environments where we were believers in a Piagetian constructivist approach and had dismissed the Skinnerian behaviourist, operant-conditioning principles of earlier decades.

 

5
Sep

Learning Out Loud

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 8.28.52 AMAn e-Book from TeachOntario

This thoughtful e-book, Learning Out Loud, is a collection of thoughts written by Ontario teachers and produced by TVOntario.

Lest you think it is all text—it isn’t! In addition to links to many relevant blog posts, there are many video clips included—it is produced by TVO after all. 🙂

There are four chapters:

  1. Shifting from Teaching to Learning
  2. Who Owns Learning?
  3. What Conditions Support Learning?
  4. How Do We Share Learning with Others?

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 8.34.56 AMIt is not possible for me to even suggest selected snippets from this book because it would be unfair to highlight some people and not others.

You have to read it yourself!

I am proud to be an Ontario educator—and to have been part of this (r)evolution into digital age learning since the early 70s.

SEPT TeachOntario-e-Book

17
Jun

Teaching is a ‘Way of Being’ — Part 3

Implications for Professional Learning

So what might be the implications for professional learning? There are four points that stand out for me.

1. Learning Stance

A major difference between Cynthia and Margot (hypothetical teachers referred to in my first blog of these series) is their learning stance. Margot is a progressive problem solver – a seeker of new learning, a questioner. We need to always encourage and cultivate these attitudes and behaviours.

2. Both Pedagogy & Practice

All professional learning opportunities should deeply embed both learning theory and practical applications. Providing techniques and recipes devoid of context – or with a cursory overview of pedagogy is ill-advised. We need to focus on pedagogy and develop deep understandings and beliefs in our teachers. The exemplars and strategies should illustrate and demonstrate excellent practice and should be the basis for teachers to generate their own strategies.

3. Differentiation

Both of these models really focus on individual growth. So, as with our students, we must differentiate! This can be a challenge if we are offering ‘sit‘n’git’ or ‘drive-by’ workshops.

And, who decides how to differentiate? Who decides what professional learning that I, at this particular time, for this particular purpose, should get? Likely me. So learner agency and metacognitive skills are important.

4. Both Collaborative and Individual Opportunities

I have been an enthusiast of substantive collaboration for many years – so it is with that caveat that I say the following. Provide both individual and collaborative professional learning opportunities. Don’t negate the individual in reaction to the collaboration as holy grail phenomenon we are currently experiencing.

David Thornburg, in his book, From the Campfire to the Holodeck, suggests that ‘learning institutions should offer a balance of Campfire spaces (home of the lecture), Watering Holes (home to conversations among peers), Caves (places for quiet reflection), and Life (places where students can apply what they’ve learned).’

There are many excellent initiatives and I will briefly introduce two Canadian examples: Teacher Learning & Leadership Program (TLLP) and Minds On Media (MoM).

Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP)

File 6179

TLLP is an annual project-based professional learning opportunity for experienced Ontario classroom teachers.

“The three goals of the program are to create and support opportunities for teacher professional learning, foster teacher leadership and facilitate the sharing of exemplary practices with others for the broader benefit of Ontario’s students.”

In a nutshell, teachers receive funding to pursue an action research style project in an area that is meaningful to them. All participants in the program are provided with professional learning sessions that will help them develop the skills necessary to manage their project and effectively share their learning with colleagues. They go through the year-long process out loud in that they share their process, learning, results, and promising practices with fellow TLLP educators and others (intra/inter-board and provincially) via conferences and through the online platforms provided.

The TLLP model develops ‘Margots’ by supporting teachers in generating and researching problems at the edge of their expertise – at the cusp of their competence.

The project overview, project archives, support materials, research results and stories, and videos can be found on the TLLP website.

Although TLLP is only open to Ontario teachers, it is a well-documented model that invites replication in other jurisdictions.

Minds On Media

 File 6180

Minds On Media (MoM) is a model of professional learning that also respects the learner’s desire to knowBrenda Sherry and I developed this model based on theories of expertise and knowledge-building blended with anappreciative inquiry and evocative coaching mindset.

It has been implemented mainly in professional learning related to constructionist approaches to information technology use in classrooms.

Imagine a room full of educators who are experts in information and communications technologies (ICT) and learning theory. Each of these facilitators manages a centre on a particular topic – one that is pedagogy focused. They spend some time before the event thinking about practical ways to support self-directed learners at a hands-on session.  As mentioned earlier, differentiated learning is equally important for adults as for our students. This requires the creation of a wide variety of materials, strategies and access points and so, facilitators create a wiki replete with tutorials and classroom exemplars.  This is useful for the Minds On Media day but also serves the teachers well when they return to their schools.

Teachers come to a conference to learn and we respect their choices in how they wish to do that. We want them to take a minds on approach. They choose what to learn based on their own needs, learning styles, interests, levels of expertise and are able to move freely throughout the day from centre to centre if, and when, it suits them.

They might be absolute beginners or comfortable with technology. They choose their entry point. Teachers build their own plan for the day or may seek guidance from one of our facilitators or pedagogistas. Pedagogistas also serve to keep the thinking and learning at a higher level—to keep tying the skill learning to the pedagogy and to help bridge to classroom practice.

The facilitators at the centres have the skills to support all learning styles with awesome classroom projects as exemplars! (Click on one of the Events in the sidebar on the site to get a flavour of a MoM event.)

What are our core beliefs?

We believe that:

  • the locus of control for learning should be in the hands of the learner
  • the facilitator must be aware of, and respond to, the learner’s desires, needs and expertise
  • the learner should leave empowered to learn further—beyond the MoM event
  • there are always experts among us

Note: MoM is not a commercial program at all. We simply developed it in response to how we believe people learn and our experiences with most professional learning models didn’t match up. It is our intention to more fully document the process so that it can be easily replicated. In the meantime, feel free to contact us if you’d like to run such an event.

A Shout Out to Powerful Learning Practice

I would like to give a big shout out to Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall of the Powerful Learning Practice (PLP). They both had a significant influence on our thinking in the area of evocative coaching and appreciative inquiry. PLP is an excellent professional learning experience based in these principles.

So…

So this is one of the challenges of professional learning activities. Do they develop expert teachers or skilled nonexperts?

TLLP and MoM are working hard to develop expert teachers rather than experienced nonexperts by supporting and empowering them to take charge of their own learning.  There is a genuine effort to help teachers to learn significant educational theory and practice that is relevant to each person. Both programs are grounded in knowledge-building theory and are using appreciative inquiry and evocative coaching methodologies to build capacity.

What professional learning programs are you seeing that help teachers to develop a way of being rather than merely transferring a set of skills that doesn’t really develop expertise?

Related Reading

Teaching is a ‘Way of Being’ – Part 1
Developing Expert Teachers vs. Experienced Nonexperts 

Teaching is a ‘Way of Being’ – Part 2
So How Do We Develop Expert Teachers?


This blog post was first published as part of CEA’s focus on the state of Teacher PD in Canada, which is also connected to Education Canada Magazine’s Teachers as Learners theme issue and The Facts on Education fact sheet, What is Effective Teacher Professional Development? 

11
Feb

To Question IS the Answer!

Respecting the Student’s Desire to Know

questionsIn this climate of standards and assessment, can we afford to respect the student’s desire to know?

Or, can we afford not to?

I would suggest that respecting the student’s own ‘driving questions’ is a major strategy in the achievement of those standards.   Following this assumption, we need also to provide the tools for investigation and to create a school or classroom culture of support and expectation. In order for this model to work, students must learn the requisite metacognitive skills.

“If students are not able to assume control of their own learning, we do them them a serious injustice.”

Who is Pulling my Strings? CC by mellyjean  NC-ND

Who is Pulling my Strings? CC by mellyjean NC-ND

Where is the ‘locus of control’?

I have always been amazed at the arrogance with which we as a society assume control of a child’s learning as they enter school.  From birth and before entering school, children are immersed in a complex, unstructured learning environment.  And assuming supportive caregiving, these children learn a wealth of information.  They learn the major part of a language (or even more than one!), much about mathematics, science and the world around them.

“Please consider the amount a child learns before s/he enrolls in school.”

How do they do this?  Inquiry.  Natural inquiry.  Curiosity.  Questioning.  Problem solving.  Resolving discrepancies.  Trial and error.  They are in charge of their own ‘curriculum’.  They set their goals…ask their questions… generate their strategies… invoke them… and consider the outcomes.  This is obviously an extremely powerful recipe for success.  Please consider the amount a child learns before s/he enrolls in school.

Mark Brannan on Flickr NC SA

Mark Brannan on Flickr NC SA

What is learning? Cognitive and…?

Think of learning, if you will, as having two major distinct aspects.  One is cognitive.  The other is ‘other aspects of self’ – including social and affective. In this latter area I would include passion and motivation… the ‘heart’… the ‘fire’.    Often learning has been divided into ‘process’ and ‘product’.

However, I wish to propose that we consider both the ‘product and process’ as ‘content’ – in some ways the cognitive aspect.  Perhaps we as educators still spend too much time on the ‘product’ aspect of this false dichotomy, yet we do acknowledge and attend to the ‘process’ to some degree.  We do address to some extent ‘how to learn’ and we teach strategies for this to students.

We turn process into product!

The humorous part of this, of course, is by the very nature of doing so, we turn ‘process’ into ‘product’ as well.  It becomes something else to be tested and measured.  Please understand that I do not negate the importance of high standards for either product or process.  I have incredibly high expectations for students and would expect high quality results in both these areas.  It is how we get there which I question.  And the theft of the locus of control for learning in order to focus on curriculum delivery is not the way to get high standards in either the short term nor, in fact, for our larger goal of life long learning.

“The theft of the locus of control for learning…is not the way to get high standards.”

Bring Love - Gain Expertise!

Bring Love – Gain Expertise!

Don’t steal. It’s not nice! 🙂

It seems that what we need to do is more fully support the project-based learning model.  It is a ‘natural’ model that can be improved and enhanced through some formalization at school. But we shouldn’t rob those children of the most powerful and necessary attributes of learning – those of passion and being in charge of self… of all the meta aspects… of all the ‘fire’ and intrinsic reasons to learn.

So imagine a child as she moves from a world in which she has been the author/producer/director and actor of her own learning to that of mere actor… taking direction from others as to what to learn… to say… to perform.  And it is for the next 12 or more years that this is the case… except for glimpses when she is asked to ‘do a project’.

“Children enter school as question marks and leave as periods.” (Neil Postman)

Wide-eyed radical?

Lest you think I am some sort of wide-eyed radical who would like to see the curriculum tossed out the window, let me assure you, that is not the case and it would be simplistic to dismiss me as such.  It is not I who is the radical one.  It is, on the other hand, radical to take a healthy, inquisitive, self-motivated learner and to institutionalize that learner to the extent that robs them of their passion and motivation in the name of ‘curriculum delivery’.

“It is not I who is the radical one. Those who institutionalize healthy, inquisitive, self-motivated learner are radical.”

Take time to find your way

Explore the landscape.

Curriculum as a landscape to be discovered

Do I disagree with the curriculum content that exists in government documents?  That is a question for another discussion, but for purposes of this article let me answer ‘no’.  I believe it is necessary to have this breadth and depth of a knowledge base articulated and available in some organized fashion.  It provides a landscape to be discovered, explored and understood through the school life of a student.

Who manages the learning?

What worries me is the way in which it is approached.  Let me continue with my previous description of kids before school.  Before kids enter school they essentially command both aspects of learning – ‘cognitive’ and the ‘other’.  Upon entering school, the ‘cognitive’ is the focus.  The ‘other’ is essentially taken over by the teacher.  The management of learning is under the teacher’s jurisdiction.  It then becomes necessary to contrive activities to engender ‘motivation’ or ‘passion’.  And this gets to be the case progressively as the student proceeds through the grades.

Things people assume about me.

  • Don’t assume I negate the benefits of ‘direct instruction’.
  • I am not laissez faire.  I expect and demand high quality work.
  • Don’t think I let kids run amok.  I am a strict disciplinarian… in that I do not tolerate ‘slacking off’.  But I do like a certain amount of ‘chaos’ in my classrooms.  But that chaos relates more to ‘active learning’ than to ‘fooling around’.

So… how do we do it?

So how do we start towards this vision?  As I suggested, we need to perhaps further adopt a project-based learning (PBL) model.  And I believe that students’ driving questions are at the heart of many types of project-based learning.  This blog contains many posts related to PBL, questioning, the zone of proximal development and the role of information and communications technologies:

Just how powerful is the role of one’s own question in learning? It may be the single most important factor in learning… both in school and outside school.  Passion – the emotional force of a driving question – raises one’s motivation, increases energy and focus, carries one through uncertainty and difficulty, and heightens one’s own expectations.

“Once you have learned how to ask relevant and appropriate questions, you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.”
Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner//

27
Aug

Critical Thinking using “Skype in the Classroom”

Skype in the Classroom!  Sweet!

Back in the Day

It was difficult to connect kids electronically when I first started back in 1983. We didn’t have a graphical user interface (GUI)!  And the modems! Oh my goodness. Information traveling at the speed of snails! Things got a little easier when old friends, Al Rogers & Yvonne Andres, created FrEdMail.

My Apple lle used for FrEdMail & FrEdWriter

Three early and successful online learning projects were NewsDay, Tele-Field Trips, and GeoGame. In 1993, FrEdMail became, and still is, Global SchoolNet Foundation (GSN). In 1996, GSN launched CyberFair, GSN’s premier collaborative project.  In this collaborative project, students researched their local communities in various categories and published their findings to the Web. This was well before the Read/Write web (Web 2.0) we know today!

I remember Al coming to my school in Toronto in 1995 just as we were having our CyberFair culminating activity. It was so exciting as we connected our students with students in Australia – via CUSeeMe!

Primitive – but awesome nevertheless! And it was deep and meaningful.

Al had just read my publication ThinkingLand–Helping Students Construct Knowledge with Multimedia and we agreed that as these new technologies become popular that there is a danger that they will be used in trivial ways. ‘Connecting for the sake of connecting’ for example – because it’s cool to do so.

Our students deserve more than the cool factor. We want kids to have rich collaborations – to think deeply and to think critically.

Critical Thinking

“Critical Thinking” has many definitions – depending on the lens with which you see the world!

(I must admit, I am not one that easily holds to the packaging of these kinds of constructs*.  However, I find the definitions useful to think more significantly about the notions. Guess I’m being a ‘critical thinker’!  😉 )

Nevertheless, I have spent most of my career focussed on helping kids become better thinkers – both individually and collectively. There are many posts in this blog about all of that!

Having said all that, Skype has a new program available to schools and students. It is called Skype in the Classroom.

Skype in the Classroom

Skype in the Classroom is free and its easy. You can connect with other classrooms with ease. You can join existing projects. You can have ‘experts’ come to visit your classroom.  Check it out!

Skype Guests?

Having an ‘expert’ visit? Here is a link to a PDF based on a ‘critical thinking’ model provided by TC2 – The Critical Thinking Consortium. It will guide you and your students in creating criteria for developing powerful questions to ask a guest whom you might have into your classroom via Skype (or any other way for that matter)!

Student Collaboration?

If you are engaging in student collaboration, then kick it up a notch from ‘social’ conversation to substantive, cognitive collaboration. I have given some thoughts on how to do that in Scaffolding for Deep Understanding.

So, get connected! But do it with a critical eye! 


* I often wonder, “Is that construct that we are describing a reality, or are we just making categories because we have language to do so”? Read: James Gleick’s Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood for more about that perspective!

27
Jul

PBL? Am I Doing it Right?

…in collaboration with Brenda Sherry

This post was first published in Voices from the Learning Revolution of the Powerful Learning Practice.  It was also published on Mind/Shift as What’s the Best Way to Practice Project Based Learning?


Do you want to engage your students in Project Based Learning (PBL)? Maybe you are asking yourself what is PBL really?  Am I doing it right?

Well, first of all, the most important thing to understand is that PBL is a construct made up by human beings and so there are lots of variations!  And you are entitled to construct your own version, too, within some parameters. 🙂

My suggestion is to study many of the great resources that are available to you and then create your own working definition and effective PBL practice.  (I’ve included some of my favourite resources below.)

Some Parameters to Consider

I have created this diagram, enhanced by the critical eye of Brenda Sherry, which may be useful as you consider what is important to you and to your students.

We like to think with the frame of continua rather than dichotomies simply because things are rarely on or off, black or white, ones or zeroes! Flipping from one end to the other may not be the best solution for you! You may choose to slide more in one direction as suits your experience, the student’s experience, the purpose, type of project, and so on.

You could likely add other dimensions to consider as you build your own understandings and beliefs!

Trust

Who is in control? Who is initiating the project? Whose passion is being honoured with the project? Who is setting the goals, timelines, and motivation? Are you scaffolding the students’ success through templates, calendars, checklists, rubrics or are you unwittingly stealing their locus of control and micromanaging them. Been there. Done that! Thought I was helping them by giving them lots of assistance!

Questioning

Who is asking the question to be investigated in the project? The student or the teacher? Is the question a ‘deep, driving question’? Is it a ‘fat’ question or a ‘skinny’ one?

Collaboration

If the projects are collaborative in nature, you may wish to consider the amount of interdependence that students have with one another.  Are they merely gluing their parts together to make a whole or do their conversations and co-creations lead to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts?

Content

Is the content a rich, deep problem space or is it a more narrowly focused content area?  Are there natural links to other domains that provide a context or is the content deconstructed to remove seemingly distracting and disparate information?

Knowledge

Are the students involved in constructing new meanings and understandings or are they simply retelling in their own words information they have found during their research? Have you built in mechanisms (blogs, wiki, vokis, public journal writing, etc.) so that student thinking is made visible, transparent and discussable or is most student process hidden and unavailable to others?

Purpose

How authentic is the problem under investigation? Are students ‘being’ scientists, historians or geographers and so on, or are they ‘studying’ science, history and geography? How much is the project based in the real world of the student? Is it purposeful for them?

Great Resources for Project Based Learning

Brenda’s excellent Tech2Learn wiki has a Project-Based Learning page which we developed for some workshops. It includes resources from the best of the best:

Jane Krauss and Suzie Boss – Reinventing Project-based Learning

Edutopia

Buck Institute for Education

Linda Darling-Hammond – Powerful Learning

Passion-Based Learning Units

There are also links to our two blogs Learning Zone and The Construction Zone.

Chart: Effective PBL Continua by Peter Skillen & Brenda Sherry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

12
Oct

Co-creation Viewed Differently…

One of the things I have loved over the years is coming to understand the difference between novice and expert learners. I have realized that experts take multiple passes at information and often revisit the same constructs at different times – with different lenses – with new sets of experiences under their belts.

Here I am in this situation myself.  I am thrilled with these new perspectives.

Produced for LCSI’s Journal Zone

I have spent a great deal of my professional life encouraging students to collaborate – both socially and cognitively. This has taken many forms and you can browse other posts in this blog to see those efforts and strategies. As you will see, co-creation of artifacts has been central to those efforts. Co-creation of artifacts is, after all, the heart of ‘social constructionist’ theory and practice.

In studying evocative coaching in the Powerful Learning Practice’s Connecting Coaching course, I have been amazed at the power of co-creation to build trust. I guess it has been implicit in all that I have done. But, now that it has been made explicit for me, I can leverage its power in building relationships and in building even more vibrant learning communities among students and among colleagues in professional learning scenarios.

This opportunity to zoom out and to be open to new perspectives on previous themes is a lesson for us all.

Gaining expertise is a lifelong attitude.

Co-creation of content encourages and supports the building of relationships and trust.

——-

RESOURCES

See also Constructivism in Action by @brendasherry

1
Sep

Collaborative Projects: What Does It Mean to ‘Co-construct’?

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson, in their implementation of the Powerful Learning Practice,  hold ‘co-construction of knowledge’ in high regard[1].

But, I dare say, as with other constructs, each of us has different understandings, impressions, implementations, and nuances of just what co-constructing knowledge means. After all, as is said, “The reader writes the story”.

Conversation

Socrates - Photo by Ian W Scott

Did you know that Socrates was extremely upset with the invention and adoption of the written word? He made a number of claims (topic for another post!), one of which was that people would read the printed words superficially and would not – could not – come to deep understandings without conversation. He believed that words were not reality – they represented realities – and, for ideas to be deeply understood, there needed to be conversation, debate, disagreement, clarification, elaboration.

So I will suggest that one of the essential requirements for co-construction of knowledge is exactly that – conversation. This typically involves language – spoken or written – easily accomplished technically in this day and age.

So how do you facilitate meaningful constructive conversations in your classrooms?  (It’s nice when they erupt naturally and spontaneously, that’s for sure! So examine the characteristics of that at those times. Check out what’s going on!)

If you are interested in ways of supporting online conversations among students read Scaffolding for Deep Understanding or if you question the benefits of groupwork read Why Should Students Collaborate?  Read more »

28
Mar

Intentional Serendipity

Luck?

For some ten to fifteen years, I have called my computer ‘Intentional Serendipity’. I did this somewhat flippantly at the time because I had recognized how many wonderful events seemed to serendipitously occur in my professional and personal life. (In fact, my spouse has suggested that I have a well-placed horseshoe that brings me good luck!)

Whether it was in my teaching, or researching, writing, holidays, or adventures- I always seemed to have ‘good luck’ with the ways things unfolded and turned out. Of course, I knew it wasn’t really luck.

Intention

It appeared to be related to my willingness to be open and flexible to opportunities as they arose. Although I might have made plans to pursue things in a certain way, those plans were rarely etched in stone. I was on the lookout for chance events, signals, ideas that might lead us in a better direction. I believe we should maintain an opportunistic vigilance.

…maintain an opportunistic vigilance.

So often, if our plans are made in a top-down fashion, we are bound and determined to follow them. Not me. For most things. I see planning as important – but, I view the ability to change those plans rapidly as circumstances dictate, to be even more important.

The Power of “Why?”

The trick, I think, is to know ‘why’ you are making the plans. Understand the ‘why’ deeply to your core. The plans are actually the ‘how’ and ‘what’. The ‘why’ becomes your ‘intention’. The ‘how’ and ‘what’ are the ways in which your intentions are achieved. These can be flexible…and you should always keep your eyes open to changing them to better achieve your intentions.

We, leaders at the YMCA of Greater Toronto, have been asked by our CEO, Medhat Mahdy, to always start with “Why” when we are developing a new project or initiative. It is a request I honour and respect.

The Power of Pull

So after all of this time believing in the intentionality of serendipitous occurrences, whose book do I pick up but John Seely Brown‘s “The Power of Pull”1.

John Seely Brown

Image via Wikipedia

Interestingly, I have been reading J.S. Brown’s work since the eighties because he is a cognitive scientist who worked at Xerox PARC. In fact, JSB was the “Chief Scientist of Xerox Corporation and the director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)—a position he held for nearly two decades. While head of PARC, Brown expanded the role of corporate research to include such topics as organizational learning, knowledge management, complex adaptive systems, and nano/mems technologies. He was a cofounder of the Institute for Research on Learning (IRL). His personal research interests include the management of radical innovation, digital youth culture, digital media, and new forms of communication and learning.2” So as a teacher and student of ‘learning’, I worked with his extended family of colleagues at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (now OISE/UT) – including Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter.

The Power of Pull is worth the read. One of the points the authors emphasize is the role of serendipity in moving organizations to capitalize on the connections across the organization. They speak of how we can ‘shape’ serendipitous encounters; how we can organize environments so that beneficial communications and connections are more likely to occur; how we can ‘pull’ information, resources and ideas from the ‘edge’ to the ‘core’.

…we must accommodate the rapidity of ‘knowledge flows’ that stream over us.

So I believe in ‘intentional serendipity’. It is not luck. It is a way of being in the world that suggests we must accommodate the rapidity of

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

‘knowledge flows’ that stream over us.

After all, it was rather serendipitous that I discovered The Power of Pull. I had shaped the possibility that it would be discovered by me – through Twitter, blogs, conversation, and, yes, Amazon bots!


1Actually, the Power of Pull is authored by John Seely Brown, Lang Davidson and John Hagel III