LCL: The maps of My Childhood

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The activity for session two of the LCL course is to read the forward to Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms (1980) entitled The Gears of My Childhood and ‘write about an object from your childhood that interested and influenced you‘.

My object is an Atlas. I have been fascinated by maps for as long as I can remember and though I didn’t follow a career path focused on geography, or become an explorer, that early and constant love of maps has provided a framework on which I have hung so much other knowledge in my life.

The atlas was only the centrepiece of an obsession with maps and flags which extended to jigsaws of maps, road atlases, the Ordnance Survey (see the picture of my wall in my old flat above) and the maps form the National Geographic. As a young child (of 7 or 8, see later in the post why I can be sure) I used to take the Atlas, and a table lamp and trace outlines of countries and continents on a glass coffee table we had. I’d then colour in each country with the corresponding flag. Different continents lent themselves to this activity to different degrees: Europe was a bit rubbish, as all the countries were small; Africa much more pleasing with lots of big countries; North America too boring with only 3 countries and South America good, but with the nearly insurmountable problem of fitting the flag of Chile.

This is a nice innocent activity, a good way for a not very artistic child to be creative. But the real value of the activity was that the constant repetition (I must have done each continent dozens of times in my pursuit of perfection) cemented in the positions and names of countries (along with lots of incidental detail) along with their flags. Having this knowledge of maps helped me begin to understand world events – I’ve got a strong memory of following the Angolan Civil War (1975 – so when I was 7 or 8), and recognising the Communist/Marxist imagery (a cog representing workers, the sickle representing the land, etc). These symbols, repeated across Africa in the flags of the other countries such as Mozambique and Zaire, gave me an awareness of the role which armed struggle had played in these countries’ emergence from colonialism (and that while much of the map was pink – British empire – large swathes of Africa had been Portuguese or Spanish. I also saw patterns in the use of Red, Yellow and Green in the swathe of countries further north, and how these were similar to those of many nations in the West Indies and surrounding the Caribbean  and how these in turn gave way to a different palette and set of symbols in the Muslim countries of North Africa and the Middle East.

From the combination of maps and flags I got a framework to hang new knowledge on but also a ‘way in’ to the political and historical changes that had occured not just in Africa but across the whole world – without ever reading a formal textbook or history book.

LCL2: Interest-based Learning

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Writing deadlines mean I am a week (or so) behind in the LCL course, but I do still hope to keep up. Session 2 was about Interest-based learning and was based on the following readings:

We were asked to structure our reflections based on the following two questions:

  • What did you find most interesting or surprising in the readings? I liked all the readings for this week, and was particularly enthused by the very readable Papert piece (I’ll save my comments on that for a separate piece on ‘the gears of my childhood‘. My research interests are informal learning, so although I didn’t know the work I know the ideas, so it is interesting to reflect on the generalisability of the underlying concepts. For example, I’m struck by how the readings this week either explicitly or implicitly emphasise ‘affect’ as a key factor. In Joi Ito’s formal vs informal blog post, he asks: ‘is there a way to support and acknowledge the importance of informal learning …?’ I think the answer is yes (I’m thinking about Higher education contexts here). One way to motivate learners is to make learning meaningful for them – so rather than imposing a curriculum, try and negotiate it (as far as your quality procedures allow) and certainly personalise it – allow each individual student to own their own learning. That’s easy to say, but what does it mean in practice? Well, you could start by helping the students think about why they are doing the course, what they want out of it, how it will contribute towards their overall goal. Then, don’t just produce content for your students to consume – get them to contribute ideas, create new knowledge, make connections. Design assessments that allow them to demonstrate what they have learned (how they have changed during the course) and what it means to them in terms of their own learning and goals. This might be more work in terms of assessment, but you will have motivated your students and given them a learning experience that is valuable beyond exam time. I also liked the ideas in the Dubai post: unpredictability drives learning – it makes it easier to identify and articulate gaps in your knowledge and therefore to start planning to address them.
  • What did you disagree with or have questions about? In Papert’s ‘Gears of My Childhood’ piece, I loved the overall idea, but I was a bit concerned that he had overstepped the mark when talking about body knowledge, and the sensorimotor schemata of the child. I think I’d have to read the rest of the book to find out, but although it worked for his ‘gears’ it wouldn’t work for the thing that spurred my interest-based learning … maps.

Learning Creative Learning: kindergarten learning

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The first week of learning creative learning (learn.medialab.mit.edu) is almost over. The course content consisted of just one paper and a google hangout, so not much to take in. I’ve not had time to watch the hangout: the format doesn’t really suit me, so i’ll probably miss it most weeks. I found some visual notes via twitter update from @ikbenjulie – https://twitter.com/ikbenjulie/status/301014444358643712. From this, it looks like the hangout talks through the paper and introduced the course.

Anyway, onto the paper: Mitchel Resnick (2007). All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) in Kindergarten. ACM Creativity & Cognition conference. [PDF]. I liked this paper, nice and simple, and thought provoking. The core idea of the paper is that the learning we encourage in kindergarten promotes exploration and creativity, but subsequent learning environments, at school and beyond are too focused on facts and measurement. Resnick argues that promoting learning approaches which focus on creativity should be extend to all ages, a simple cycle is presented: imagine, create, play, share and reflect, before a new cycle of imagine … begins.

Resnick then presents a couple of technologies which MIT medialab have designed to promote different aspects of the cycle. Crickets (physical programmable devices) and scratch (a programming toolkit) take a modular approach to promoting the type of free play and creation in kindergarten learning.

Some years ago I was involved in a project/ company / consultancy developing a software toolkit for producing educational simulations (some of the simulations are available from www.jelsim.org). The idea behind the toolkit was to separate the model from its visualisation: so a single model calculating the position of the sun in the sky could be used as the basis to create an interface to help architects decide what blinds to specify for windows (based on how much sunlight might shine through them at what time of day) or a simulation to allow young children to explore how day length varies at different times of year (see the java simulations at JeLSIM.org/applets/solar/). The jelsim tools focused on empowering the teacher (to tailor simulations to educational need), but we recognised the ultimate aim of empowering the learner to create their own simulations: supporting true exploratory learning where a learner could build an interface to test a hypothesise. If we had reached that goal, the JeLSIM tools would have been a good example of kindergarten learning.

Learning Creative Learning: Goals

I’ve signed up for the MIT media lab course learning creative learning (learn.media.mit.edu). The course started this week and as an initial task, I thought I would define some goals for myself.

    First and foremost, I hope to learn about an area that I know little about. I’d like to learn about early years learning: although I am a workplace learning researcher, I don’t have a traditional education background, so have never read the core literature, or considered some of the fundamentals. On the plus side, having a child at nursery means I have some first hand experience to relate what I am reading to
    2. I’d like to take something back to my own work. I’m not sure I can predict if there’ll be anything specific (ideas about creativity perhaps) or whether it will be something more general (a broader appreciation of a range of learning theory).
    3. Having studied moocs and participated in some of the early connectivist moocs, I’d like to reflect on my participation in a mooc that’s not filled with people primarily interested in the process, but instead interested in the content. I’ll hopefully be one of the latter.
    4. Finally. I’d like to enjoy it.