Open Thinkering


Tag: culture

On the importance of ‘real-world learning’

Hot air balloon above clouds

Image BY-NC ms4jah @ Flickr

As with many things I write about on this blog, three things have come together recently to make me think about an issue in more detail. Briefly, these are:

  1. Discovering Courtenay Bird’s blog (via @Stammy) where she posts links to interesting and useful infographics.
  2. Reading @mortenoddvik‘s blog mortempo – and in particular his post Didactical Project: Cultural or Intercultural Competence?
  3. Revisiting Dan Meyer’s excellent work at dy/dan – especially posts like Graphing Stories (from a couple of years ago)

I don’t know when or how it happened (I suspect high-stakes testing had something to do with it) but we’ve managed to completely disconnect teaching and learning from real-world experience. There’s a few pockets of good practice and glimmers of light, obviously, but behind a lot of what happens in classrooms is “you’re doing this because it’s on the test.”

Thankfully, the three examples above point to something different. Here’s how:

1. Infographics

I came across Courtenay Bird’s blog just before I intended to head off to bed one evening this week. Courtenay’s interests lie in sales, marketing, project management and technology. Hence her interest in infographics. Here’s an example:

No more fish in the sea.

It got me thinking about project-based learning and how fantastic creating an infographic would be as a learning experience for students. By their very nature infographics demand a level of expertise by the person who creates them. Look at the research David McCandless at Information is Beautiful carries out before producing one of his masterpieces!

Infographics have to reflect real-world issues and do things with data that interests people. They have to be relevant and meaningful. That’s why I think they’re great for what I would called ‘real-world learning’.

There’s more wonderful infographics below:

2. Cultural references

I’ve only just come across Morten Oddvik’s work. Morten is an innovative Norwegian educator who focuses on learning outcomes rather than activities. A recent blog post of his – Didactical Project: Cultural or Intercultural Competence? – caught my eye because he’s doing something very difficult: using media-focused cultural references to enhance students’ learning about important (and quite high-level) concepts.

Take a look at this:

[googleapps domain=”docs” dir=”present/embed” query=”id=dd6hg9pn_328cswgwrhn&size=s” width=”410″ height=”342″ /]

As you can see, Morten hasn’t simply taken the rap-music-is-a-form-of-poetry route. Instead he’s done something infinitely more valuable; he’s using something students are already interested in to help them learn about a range of concepts. This is another example of project-based learning. Morten’s focused on learning outcomes and using the content as a scaffold towards that. Great stuff! 😀

3. Real-world problem solving

Finally, I’ve revisited the work of Dan Meyer recently. Dan blogs at dy/dan and is well known within the edublogosphere for his high work rate and high-quality resources. As my Dad’s recently gone to the UAE as a consultant Maths teacher, I’ve been showing him some of the stuff Dan’s been up to.

I think one of my favourite posts by Dan is one from 2007 entitled Graphing Stories. In it, Dan chronicles not only a formidable amount of work on his part as if it were nothing, but how his high-quality resources and use of human interest led to huge learning gains by his students:

Elevation v. Time

I’ve seen some really bad, disconnected-from-reality lessons during my teaching career thus far. And it has to be said the worst one I ever saw was a Maths lesson. Dan shows on his blog how even the most abstract of concepts can be taught visually, kinaesthetically, and engagingly. That, to me, is what it’s all about!

You should definitely check out his series What Can I Do With This? where Dan takes images and uses them to teach mathematical concepts. Inspiring! :-p


The above shows that if educators focus on learning outcomes rather than activities to take up lesson time (and the high-stakes examinations at the end of a course) then real progress can be made by students. As a subject specialist it paints me to say it, but I think it’s time to move to a project-based curriculum where skills and competencies are focused on rather than simply ‘knowledge’.

Tracey Rosen has a new blog called Teaching is a Verb which focuses on collective action to improve teaching and learning. I’ll leave you with a post she shares in a post entitled Teaching 101:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea. (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

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Four ways to make your organization live long and prosper.

Warp Field

Image by Trekky0623 (Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve been reading Arie de Geus’ The Living Company: habits for survival in a turbulent business environment. It’s somewhat tangential to my role at the Academy, but nevertheless contains some great metaphors and insights.

Arie de Geus spent most of his career working for Shell, the oil company. During his time there, Shell commissioned a study about what makes a long-lived and prosperous organization. They found the following were true of the longest-lived organizations:

  1. Sensitivity to the environment – this represents an organization’s ability to learn and adapt.
  2. Cohesion and identity – aspects of a organizations innate ability to build a community and persona for itself.
  3. Tolerance – de Geus’ term, but actually as much to do with decentralization. Both are symptoms of a company’s awareness of its ecology and its ability to constructive relationships with other entities (within and outside itself)
  4. Conservative financing – this enables an organization to govern its own growth and evolution effectively

To sum this up, de Geus talks about organizations being ‘living organisms’:

Like all organisms, the living company exists primarily for its own survival and improvement: to fulfil its potential and to become as great as it can be. (p.11)

In terms of the relationship of the above to educational institutions, although they are all (theoretically) applicable, the one most applicable to my mind is cohesion and identity. It’s really important for educational institutions to build a culture of inclusion and achievement as this helps towards both implicit and explicit reasons for their existence.

What would you add to the above list? Would you take anything away? 🙂

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Digital Literacy and the ‘Digital Society’


Sometimes you come across a passage in a book or article that puts into words what you’ve been thinking for a while. Today, whilst studying for my Ed.D. that’s exactly what happened. I’m working my way through Lankshear & Knobel (eds.) Digital Literacies: concepts, policies and practices at the moment and am up to Allan Martin’s excellent article entitled Digital Literacy and the “Digital Society” (hence the title of this post).

In it, Martin hits a nail firmly on the head when he talks about the crumbling of existing structures that give meaning such as family units, church and, to some extent, the state. In the place of these, he quite rightly asserts, individuals tend to define themselves by what they consume – usually in the way of media. It’s a lengthy quotation that I’m going to share, but definitely worth it!

Society is being transformed by the passage from the “solid” to the “liquid” phases of modernity, in which all social forms melt faster than new ones can be cast. They are not given enough time to solidify and cannot serve as the frame of reference for human actions and long-term life-strategies because their allegedly short life expectation undermines efforts to develop a strategy that would require the consistent fulfillment of a “life-project.” (Bauman, 205, p.303)

For those who do not belong to the global elite, life has become an individual struggle for meaning and livelihood in a world that has lost its predictability… Consumption has become the only reality, the main topic of TV and of conversation, and the focus of leisure activity. The modes of consumption become badges of order, so that to wear a football strip of a certain team (themselves now multinational concerns) or a logo of a multinational company become temporary guarantors of safety and normality.

In this society, the construction of individual identity has become the fundamental social act. The taken-for-granted structures of modern (i.e., industrial) society – the nation state, institutionalized religion, social class – have become weaker and fuzzier as providers of meaning and, to that extent, of predictability. Even the family has become more atomized and short term. Under such conditions individual identity becomes the major life-project. You have to choose the pieces (from those available to you) rather than having them (largely) chosen for you. In this context, awareness of the self assumes new importance, reflexivity is a condition of life; a life that needs to be constantly active and constantly re-created. And care is needed, because each individual is responsible for their own biography. Risk and uncertainty have become endemic features of the personal biography, and individual risk-management action is thus an essential element of social action (Beck, 1992, 2001). The community can be no longer regarded as a given that confers aspects of identity, and the building of involvement in communities has become a conscious action-forming part of the construction of individual identity. Individualization has positive as well as negative aspects: the freedom to make one’s own biography has never been greater, a theme frequently repeated in the media. But the structures of society continue to distribute the choices available very unequally, and the price of failure is greater since social support is now offered only equivocally.

This certainly resonates with my experience, especially of teenagers. I believe, as Martin later argues, that it’s our job as teachers to instil in youngsters the digital literacy/competence/fluency (whatever you want to call it!) to be able to critically and reflectively deal with media and the digital world.

Does this resonate with YOU too? 😀

(image credit: mesmerised by Joe Thorne & Flickr)