Let’s Make Time for the Big Ideas!

This week, as part of the Creative Computing Online Workshop, I decided to complete some of the recommended reading.  In particular, Seymour Papert‘s 2000 paper, What’s the big idea? Toward a pedagogy of idea power, formed part of a very special week for me in discovering the “heart” of my beliefs about creativity and technology.

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I’ve started reading, Invent to Learn: Making, tinkering and engineering in the classroom by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager.  In chapter 1, there’s a beautiful photograph with the caption, “Seymour Papert delights in a kid’s computer programming”.  This first chapter of Invent to Learn prompted me to take a journey back to the first time I used a computer.  I decided to deviate slightly from the Creative Computing activities for the week and work on a digital storytelling project using Scratch to illustrate my first interaction with computers.  It was this experience as a teenager that would not only influence my career but my beliefs about teaching and learning.  (More about that in a future post!)

As I read Seymour Papert’s paper, I had mixed feelings.  From the enthusiasm of “light bulb moments” to the sadness of the many ways we have failed as educators.  Although this paper was published in 2000, Papert could have been writing about any number of schools today:

(We need) a new direction for innovation in education: re-empowering the disempowered ideas.

Educators faced with day-to-day operation of schools are forced by circumstances to rely on problem solving for local fixes.  They do not have time for “big ideas”.

The most neglected big idea is the very idea of bigness of ideas.

Many (students) react badly to school because its emphasis on memorising facts and acquiring skills that cannot be put to use is like a prison for a mind that wants to fly.

A kid who cares about ideas finds precious few of them in elementary school where he is expected to learn fact and skills that he experiences as excruciatingly boring.

Papert also gives a specific example showing how educators opt for the “dumbed down” version rather than offering their students the opportunity to embrace “the big ideas”.  He illustrates how the concept of probability can be taught at various year levels, using programming as the tool for teaching and learning.  This reminded me of Dan Meyer‘s well-known TED Talk, Math Needs a Makeover, where he talks about students becoming “impatient problem solvers”.  Many students are the product of their education – they have been “dumbed down”, become “impatient problem solvers” and had very little opportunity to develop the “big ideas”.

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So, why is it that many of the issues raised in Seymour Papert’s 2000 paper are, sadly, still current?  What are we doing about it?  For me, my “light bulb moment” occurred during a presentation at the Australian Computers in Education Conference in 2010.  Steve Collis, Director of Innovation, from Northern Beaches Christian School, said, “I don’t think of myself as part of a school. I’m part of a global movement.”  I framed this quote and it is now displayed in our eLearning Room.  It reminds me everyday that, whilst I am working hard to assist teachers to use technology at my school, I am part of something greater.  What I do can not only have a positive influence on those at my school but also my colleagues around the globe.  I share a common goal with educators around the world.  It’s a goal that’s worth all the ups and downs, frustrations and even disappointments.  Why?  Because when you “delight” in a student’s achievements, just like Seymour Papert did, you know it’s worth it!

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Click here for more information about Invent to Learn by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager.

Part of the Global Movement at ACEC 2010

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Two years ago, I was extremely fortunate to travel to Canberra for the Australian Computers in Education Conference 2008.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the entire conference this year in Melbourne but, none-the-less, was excited to attended the final day of ACEC 2010.

It was like the final day was tailor made for me, with wonderful sessions to assist and inspire me.  And, after such a frantic and sometimes frustrating first term, I felt I needed some inspiring! 🙂

I had heard so much about Gary Stager and was keen to see his keynote presentation, You Say You Want a Revolution?
I know that Gary is sometimes controversial and his “straight talking” approach doesn’t appeal to everyone.  However, I was in the right frame of mind for some straight talking and “tough love”, as he put it.  Although Gary was direct in his presentation, I felt it was beautifully balanced with lots of humour.  It was a reminder that, although there are some worrying things occurring in my school and in education in general, I must not give up.  Not wanting to settle for an average 1:1 program but striving to help teachers create an excellent 1:1 program is paramount.

My next session, Virtual Worlds – their roles in learning, teaching and professional development, was with Lindy McKeown who “planted the virtual worlds seed” after her incredible keynote at the VITTA Conference in 2006.  I was truly amazed at what she showed us years ago in Second Life and I continue to be amazed today.  My school is currently in the process of setting up our private grid, Begonia Island, so seeing how Lindy conducted her session entirely from her “Terra Incognita Island” was fascinating.  Lindy was not physically present at the conference but “in-world” with Dr Bron Stuckey directing proceedings in the actual conference room.  We examined the roles of virtual worlds, their potential and explored active or passive forms of learning.  Getting the balance right when it comes to active and passive forms of learning in virtual worlds is important as we prepare to introduce our private grid to our students and staff.

In Virtual Worlds for Education – don’t just imagine the possibilities, experience them, I was excited to meet Kerry Johnson who I had previously met via Twitter.  Kerry has been a real inspiration to me as I have followed her OpenSim journey.  She is as friendly, caring and delightful in person as she is on Twitter!  Six months ago, I knew very little about OpenSim and the work of ReactionGrid, let alone how to actually setup a grid for our school.  Now I am coordinating the development of our private grid and loving the steep learning curve!  I owe a great deal of this progress to incredible educators like Kerry.  I was amazed to hear that Kerry also had very little experience when she started her work to establish the ImmersED grid and I came away with lots of tips and a greater confidence in my abilities.  Thank you Kerry!

My final session for the day was Professional Development and the Web with Steve Collis.  I have followed Steve’s work for years now and find him to be one of the most inspiring, innovative and giving educators I know.  Without fail, he will prepare wonderful resources for every presentation that he conducts, making it possible for people to participate from anywhere in the world.  Steve always speaks with such passion and I found myself with tears in my eyes as he invited Henrietta Miller to speak about how Twitter has inspired her in her role as a primary teacher.  It confirmed for me the need to continue developing my Personal Learning Network and the importance of introducing wonderful online tools such as Twitter to my colleagues.  Something that Steve said will stay with me…

I don’t think of myself as part of a school, but part of a global movement.

I need to stop thinking of myself as the Staff ICT Trainer at an Independent School.  Perhaps that is why I lose faith and feel frustrated when progress is slow or does not occur.  I am part of a global movement in education and that is a wonderful thing!

Of course, there is so much more to a conference than keynotes, presentations and workshops.  Having the opportunity to meet members of my Personal Learning Network is always exciting.  These are people who assist, encourage, share and make me laugh.  I’m not sure if they realise just how far reaching and valuable something as simple as a tweet can be, but it is something that I truly appreciate.

To the conference organisers, presenters and participants – thank you! 🙂