Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Science Fictional Way of Thinking

“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.... This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman must take on a science fictional way of thinking.” -Isaac Asimov

In her blog, Musings - Just Learning, Sharon Peters commented:
"These are exciting times for educators. Never before have we had so many resources and applications available to us that are often free, easy to access and, most importantly, easy to use."

Her words both inspire and frustrate me.

Through my Google Reader and Twitterverse, I'm well aware of the powerful tools that are available to enhance learning. Clay Burell challenges his students at the 1:1 (one laptop per child) Korean International School to push their creative limits through innovative online projects. Across the world, in Texas, Carolyn Foote is encouraging students to explore new ways of manipulating and creating content with the information they gather. Mr. Mayo has "Exploded the Walls" of his classroom, using wikis, blogs, and videos to create a number of collaborative global projects.

Sometimes it is teachers' reluctance to embrace new technologies that impedes progress. Jen Wagner has been taking a "baby steps" approach as she introduces staff members to the wonders and possibilities of technology-enriched curriculum. New Jersey Tech Teacher, Ann Oro, acquaints new teachers with the "world of Internet collaboration." Her survey of class participants revealed that, although most had home computers with internet connections, the majority of the time they spent online was devoted to shopping or listening to music. Many had either "never heard of" or "heard of but never used" key tools like blogs, wikis, RSS Readers, social bookmarks and microblogging.

Clay and Carolyn, Jen and Ann, operate under the assumption that the tools they promote will be available to staff and students during the school day. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Joyce Valenza expresses frustration with
"arbitrary filtering of sites and tools, and then, specifically the national focus on AYP that moves so many educators away from what we know, and what experts and researchers tell us, good teaching looks like."
Pamela Carr cited lack of administrative support as one reason why her proposed technology workshops were rejected by a Faculty Council. She concludes by commenting:
"I can work night and day to educate the staff here about great ways to incorporate technology tools in their curriculum, but until I have like minded administrators, nothing will change."
When he requested suggestions for a column aimed at superintendents, Scott McLeod asked "What I should write about? What do you think superintendents need to know about technology?" Suggestions ranged from "update hardware more often" to "provide more and better professional development opportunities" to "model technology use yourself."

We are given a different perspective by the most involved stakeholder: a student. Teen-aged blogger Arthus advocates forming a "change alliance" between students and allies, who might be fellow students or teachers (or community members, parents, or Board of Education members - or even legislators?). Forming alliances, he feels, offers the potential to substantially increase influence and advocate for change. Arthus believes in "how very possible a meaningful and technological education is" and is willing to work to realize his vision.

Arthus was inspired by a conference at the SLA (Science Leadership Academy). There innovative principal Chris Lehmann has created a dynamic learning environment where the "core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are emphasized in all classes."

Quality of education should not depend on location or demographics. All of our children should have access to the tools and curriculum necessary for success. To achieve this, we need leaders on all levels who give evidence of a "science fictional way of thinking." It's not enough to react anymore. It's necessary to seek, to learn, to adjust, to innovate. Arthus deserves his "meaningful and technological education" just as much as the students in Philadelphia or Texas - or Korea - do. How can we make this happen?

“In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.
-Eric Hoffer

“Wisdom lies neither in fixity nor in change, but in the dialectic between the two.” -
Octavio Paz

"Bonkers Electroluminescent Clock" by zimpenfish


CB said...

Diane, I was surprised to see no mention of the students being another part of the frustration. You and I have communicated more than once about how resistant most schooly young charges are to any change in their learning.

This is one of the most damning things of all: they have learned, by high school, how to prefer not learning over learning, and to prefer memorizing over creating.

But that's another subject, I guess.

My latest suspicion? Get to them before they hit high school. (And then, maybe tell them to drop out of high school in order to keep their curiosity alive. Just kidding, although at a 51% margin.)

diane said...


The student apathy problem is one at can't see a solution for, at least not at the MS/HS level.

My -foolish?- hope is that we can energize some of them with the right tools.

But ultimately, I believe you're right: unless we get them invested in active learning from their first day of formal schooling, and consistently feed their curiosity and imagination, they are lost to us by their teenaged years.

Obviously, more of our tech money needs to be earmarked for elementary hardware and teacher training. I'm not seeing that happening here.


Scott McLeod said...

Diane, this is a great post. Thanks for the links to other resources too!

As I've said many times before, if the leaders don't get it, it's not going to happen. That's why CASTLE exists.

I love that quote from Asimov!

diane said...


Science and fiction are partners, not adversaries!


CB said...

Could we call "fiction," in terms of science, the big brother of "hypothesis"?

To steal your thunder, some quote in my Quotiki blows me away when it comes up in my sidebar. Something like, "Scientific discoveries do not begin with 'Eureka!' They instead begin with, 'That's funny....'"


I think the most lasting concept I "teach" most of my students, strangely, is "The Art of Noticing." You wouldn't believe how many of them write full blog posts about this radical (to them) concept.

In schools, shouldn't they be noticing interesting stuff in every class? What's going on?

diane said...


Sadly, many teachers only want discovery when it follows the curriculum. Making connections to "outside" topics disrupts the flow. Those "aha" moments aren't always welcome.

And learning sticks so much better when it comes about spontaneously, through wonder.

I have a wandering mind, anyway, so here's a related, non-related tidbit from our Sunday newspapers: women are irresistibly attracted to men who NOTICE them, who give them their undivided attention and comment on specifics, like eye color or the soft curve of their hair.

Just a reminder for a soon-to-be ex-bachelor! (Wives like to be noticed, too!)


Ann Oro said...


It's so hard to see (through the survey results) the types of tools that could be used in class, but are not even on the radar of teachers.

When I spoke with teachers earlier this month, my primary goal was to make them aware of possibilities that were not on their radar.

There were teachers who had limited access to some of the technology we viewed. At least now they have an idea of what is "out there".

One teacher asked how they could use the tools if they're not available in the building. My only suggestion was that if they found a tool that would provide a great learning experience for their students, it was up to them to become proponents and get involved in discussions with the principal and technology departments.

I think I had some success in showing that there was more to the Internet than shopping. A whole world of collaborative projects is available even if a teacher starts small and adds one new thing a year.