Monthly Archives: August 2010

Is depth an obsession? And is obsession sometimes what you need?

Is depth an obsession?

And is obsession sometimes what you need?

Obsession can lead to deep understanding, rich skills, the ability to write the truth or create beauty, as in the meticulous illustrations of Shaun Tan.

My son, Maxim, is obsessed with music and composition. You can listen to one of his recent compositions here.

Lately I’ve been obsessed with the richness of image archives online. I could spend the rest of my life searching and saving the image sites shared on the blog BibliOdyssey.

Some of the amazing resources I’ve been discovering just this morning are:

Graphics Atlas

Beinecke Library’s photo sets on Flickr

Digital resources from the Knitting Reference Library WSA (how’s that for esoteric)

(even more esoteric) The Renaissance Curioso

Pratt Libraries Ex Libris collection on Flickr

Sometimes you have to go deep to get somewhere.  My concern is that we don’t allow for this at school. We’re hellbent on cramming the content and discrete skills in our curriculum into our students.

Teachers are often distracted by what they see as duty to cover criteria. Distracted from what, you ask? From what they might do if they had the time to think about it, if they functioned in an environment that encouraged and valued thoughtful experimentation.

But an internal voice urges us: Move on, move on…

There seems to be little or no time for our students to go deeper, no time to evaluate – let’s look at what we’ve done, could we have done it differently? No time to reflect: how do I feel about this? Does this affect me? and how? No time to celebrate – lets’ showcase what we have learned/created.

And what about us, teachers? Do we have the time to think about these things?

It’s different for me as teacher librarian (but then again it’s different for every teacher librarian). My focus isn’t marking, my driving force isn’t keeping up with the onslaught of face to face teaching.  I have time to learn, to absorb. Resourcing others’ curriculum allows me to browse, soak up what I find online. Focusing on information fluency encourages me to think about how different people learn.

When we want to reassure ourselves about the future of a young person, as educators, we say that he will be fine as long as he has one passion, something to feel empassioned by, to follow through. But do we create the environment which allows our students to find their passion? And do we provide the time to pursue this passion?

I’m afraid that we distract students by pushing them through a schedule we ourselves are not empassioned by. Are we, as educators, empassioned by what we teach? Or are we trying our hardest to cover material, texts, skill sets?

I may be speaking out of turn here, so please speak up if I am.

I think  teachers and students are in a difficult place.

Don’t you think we need a new reason to teach, a new model for schooling?

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under 21st century learning, Education, learning

It’s a book!

I thought I’d do a quick Sunday night post, nothing too deep or taxing on the brain. I just liked the simple truth of this little Macmillan book trailer –

With all the technology and options we have, there’s still something to be said about a book in your hands, take it anywhere, it doesn’t break, it’s light, doesn’t need power…

2 Comments

Filed under Books

How is Google indebted to Maria Montessori

I take this passage by Maria Montessori from a blog post in Space Collective:

“Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference.

Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society”.

I was drawn to Maria Montessori’s understanding of the natural learning inherent in all of us from my first readings, so much so that my two sons spent their formative years in a Montessori preschool and early primary school.  For unavoidable reasons, they returned to mainstream education, but I come back to Montessori philosophy of education again and again, still trusting in its founder’s views.

The author of the article cited above has made an interesting and I think, significant, discovery:

…it came to my attention that at least three pillars of the current internet were informed by a century-old educational system conceived by Maria Montessori … both Larry Page and Sergei Brin attributed Google’s success story to Maria Montessori. According to them their Montessori education taught them to be self directed and self starters, adding that their schooling taught them to think for themselves, giving them the freedom to pursue their own path, which would lead to the snowballing success of Google, which aims to provide the world with near universal access to all information known to man.

A similar background informed the career of Jeff Bezos who created the groundbreaking online retail organization Amazon.com, and another online celebrity on the list is no less than Jimmy Wales, whose Wikipedia has become the online fount of encyclopedic knowledge. Interactive game designer Will Wright also mentions Maria Montessori as his main inspiration for his seminal hit The Sims, while crediting like-minded Dutch educator Kees Boeke for the Powers of Ten metaphor that helped him create his new game Spore.

Photo courtesy of cogdogblog on Flickr

I think that’s very impressive. How can we help our students to be self-directed and self-starters? Are we helping our students to think for themselves, to direct their own path?

Leave a comment

Filed under 21st century learning, Education, learning, teaching

David Pogue – satirical medley

New York Times tech columnist David Pogue performs a satirical mini-medley about iTunes and the downloading wars. Village People fans, this is for you. Very clever and part of the TEDxMelbourne talks.

David Pogue is the personal-technology columnist for The New York Times. Each week, he contributes a print column, an e-mail column and an online video. In addition, he writes Pogue’s Posts, one of The Times’s most popular blogs.

Read more about him here or go visit his website.

Take a look at the other talks at this event. I’m impressed by these amazing vocal play artists. I hesistate to say singers because they actually sound like musical instruments.

By the way, I was very disappointed to discover that these TED talks were held in Melbourne, FL, not Melbourne, Australia.

1 Comment

Filed under TED

Facebook’s wall a consolation in death

People use social media for different purposes. The wall of Joseph McLellan’s Facebook is a touching tribute to the loving relationship between him and those family and friends who have survived him. Joseph McLellan, Archimandrite Joasaph, left this world too early for those who love him. And yet his Facebook wall is still a living noticeboard posted with regular notes to him.

I knew Fr Joasaph in my first year of marriage when I accompanied my husband to Jordanville, upstate New York, in his third year of seminary. He was a year ahead of my husband, and although I lived there for nine months only, Fr Joasaph clearly made an impression because my memories of him, his academic brilliance, his talents and wonderful sense of humour remain clear.

It was on Facebook that my husband and I were reunited with Fr Joasaph after a lengthy lapse in communication. At a time when I heard many people criticise those who ‘wasted their time’ on Facebook, we were enjoying the ease with which it allowed us easy communication with those who lived far from us.

In the short period of Facebook friendship, we learned that Joseph had decided to leave Princeton University where he had been teaching Russian and enter into monasticism, moving through the ranks of ordination quickly and being elevated to the rank of archimandrite. At the time we didn’t know of his illness and wondered what the rush was.

In December 2009 we joined many others in expressing our grief at his passing, and in expressing our condolences to his family.

And now his Facebook remains open. Family and friends continue to ‘talk to him’, to remember him, to console each other.

I open his Facebook page on and off to see how he continues to live through the comments of those who still love him. I hope it stays open forever.

4 Comments

Filed under Social media, Web 2.0

Don’t forget TED for teaching

Engagement in the middle years of school may well be an oxymoron.

This was recently confirmed for me when starting off a year 9 class of boys in their research for an effective speaking competition. We gave them a brief: talk about an event which has had a significant impact on society or has stood out in history.

Hmmm….  reading long chunks of text wasn’t something they were going to do willingly, especially during the last period of the day. What about videos? Yes, miraculously focus was rediscovered, and the boys managed to maintain their concentration for almost an hour as they browsed the list of videos I’d prepared.

Fact known by all: young people respond well to information presented in video format.

That’s why TED is such a great teaching tool. I forget about it sometimes, but really, there’s so much information to spark thinking, discussion and debate.

Today the TED blog recommended the childish thinking playlist.

Today’s playlist is about kids and their brains, which hold the dreams and possibilities of our future. How can we teach them … and how can we learn from them?

TED recommends, amongst other videos,  Adora Svitak, who makes the case that grownups have lots to learn from “childish” thinking — creativity, audacity, open-mindedness.

Here’s another one:

Who are the leaders of tomorrow? Joachim de Posada shows how to find them — with a marshmallow

Dave Eggers thinks like a child to create a massively popular after-school tutoring club — starring pirates, superheroes, time travel …

Then you’re invited to share your favorite stories about kids in the TEDTalks archive –

Add your suggestions for this playlist to the comments below, or email contact@ted.com with the subject PLAYLIST: KIDS. (Jog your memory with the TEDTalks spreadsheet.)

A brilliant way to share best TED content within a theme.

The spreadsheet is seriously informative, and lists the name of the TED talk, the speaker, a short summary, duration of video and publishing date. Very nice. I really like seeing, at a glance, the shorter videos because they are often just what I’m looking for to show students.

I found Sirena Huang, an 11 year old prodigy on violin, playing beautifully and talking about her instrument.

TED’s format is satisfying, providing biography and links, as well as transcript. Excellent for teaching purposes. It also provides relevant websites, you can bookmark the speaker on the site if you like, and you also get a list of related speakers and themes.

I think I should plan to use TED in teaching regularly.

Has anyone used TED talks in teaching? Would you like to share your experiences?

1 Comment

Filed under 21st century learning, Education, film, media, teaching

Where have I been and what have I been doing

That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. To make me feel a little appeased in my guilt for blog abandonment.

A few things have been happening, and these things would normally require a detailed and possibly time consuming write-up. Hence my blog absence. This is, sadly, not going to happen at a time when too many other things need to be done.

So…

Monday night I was one of the lucky ones to find a seat in BMW Edge for the free talk by Bill Henson (The light and dark and the shades of grey) to open the Melbourne Art Fair. Notice I didn’t say ‘the controversial Bill Henson’, the reason being that his talk was not, as some may have expected, a political or moral justification for the (fairly) recent censorship of his art (not photography, which is merely the medium). Surprisingly, his extremely esoteric talk used broad brushstrokes to paint a picture of civilisation shaped by centuries-old art, architecture, literature and music. I won’t attempt to summarise his talk but I think that one of his main themes was the need to expose young people to the history of our civilisation, to the breadth of artistic expression, in order to open up thinking, questions and discussion, and maintain a fuller context for the formation of understandings. Some may have expected a bitter, insecure man, lashing out at critics, as claimed in The Age article (written, surely, during Bill’s talk – or even before) which I read when I got home from the talk. These people were disappointed, then, because Bill’s composure and lack of defensiveness was noticeable.

We should be wary of governments and interest groupswho try to impose restrictions on the free exercise of theartistic imagination. Our zeal to protect innocence should not come at the cost of violating artistic experience.

If we believe that art is a high form of education, thatits basis is moral and its goal truth, then we should resistthe impulse that would deny the artist the right to deal with what may sometimes be ambiguous, complex anddisturbing.

Artists can seem like holy fools, they can seem likedevils. They may exhibit the cunning of the insane orthe illumination of the saint. But genuine art is the greatbridge between the inner world in each of us and theordinary world in which we live. Art shows us the truthand it should never be the quarry of the witch-hunter orthe social engineer. Any attempt to make the world betterby destroying or shackling art represents a repudiationof the truth.

(Not all reviews of Henson’s talk were unreasonable; this one wasn’t.)

So, that was that. And since then, I’ve enjoyed many conversations with various people about censorship, art and the education of young people.

The recent School Library Association of Victoria PD is another potential essay in the making. But I’m tired, so suffice it to say, I was immensely satisfied with the line-up of speakers, particularly the guest speaker, Joyce Valenza, and our own Adrian Camm.

The Bright Ideas blog has covered the main information and links from this day. I would just like to say that Joyce  is a passionate educator who surely never sleeps because how else would she have managed to create such amazing resources. It wasn’t hard work at all listening to Joyce – she’s blessed with a vibrancy and creativity which makes everything look deceptively easy. Take a look at her wikis and look up the rest of her stuff too.

Adrian, I’m not a games person, but after your talk, I might consider conversion…

What else?

Well I’ve taken up the challenge at Kew High School of running a couple of PD sessions introducing Web 2.0 tools for authentic and connected learning and teaching. Since I’m new to Kew, it’s an entirely different experience presenting to people I don’t know, feeling uneasy about the fact that I can’t read their faces to ascertain their reaction to my assault on them. My Whitefriars experiences, on the other hand, were based on relationships and the gradual introduction and integration of Web 2.0 technology, often in context of a class which I taught collaboratively over a period of time. I much prefer ‘preaching’ to people I know, so that the conversation comes from a knowledge of how these people think and with respect for their individual styles as teachers.

Well, that’s enough for this post. Apologies for the rave.

Leave a comment

Filed under 21st century learning, learning, networking, Social media, Teacher librarians, Web 2.0