Galleries of Thought

5/26/2007 11:46:00 pm

I'm not happy with this post; very rough rambling thoughts. I once had a professor who said: "You don't know what you think until you write it down." When I started writing this I had no idea I was going to end up where I did ... and it doesn't really end. It just sort of stops. I decided to capture these thoughts and maybe work on them some more over the next little while. Bear with me. ;-)

I took a trip down the rabbit hole that started with Sheryl's post about the upcoming Time 4 Online conference in New Zealand. (An interesting title in light of Dean's recent post.) The conference is all free, all online and open to anyone who wants to participate. Sheryl's giving a keynote presentation and so is Derek Wenmoth. (So soon on the heels of the Webheads In Action Online Convergence there's lots of good stuff to listen to.)

As I stumbled along I found this video from the The Guardian newspaper website in the UK. They did a Weekend: Web 2.0 Special back at the beginning of November (lots to read and listen to). In the video they interview the people who created wikipedia, craigslist, bebo, flickr,, netvibes and more. They asked them: "What is web 2.0?" and followed up with what they thought web 3.0 might be.

Their answer?

(This is the way I paraphrase it.) Web 3.0 will eliminate the browser. The internet will permeate our daily lives through something like our cell phones but it will be much more powerful. The iPhone may be a faint glimmer of such a device. I think it will be smaller, easier to use and wireless access will be ubiquitous, fast and cheap (free?).

Lots of excellent educational content is being shared on the net. We have online courses for high schools (password and username: demo) and universities as well as high quality student generated content that will continue to be of value to students in the future.

Once access is cheap, fast and ubiquitous and students have access to all this content at their fingertips we will have to change the way we teach. Teachers will no longer be able to resist changing their pedagogy. There will be no more validity(?) to statements like: "What I've always done works fine. My students are learning from me. Why should I change?"

As I try to weave the use of web 2.0 tools into my teaching one of the questions I ask myself is "What can I do now that I could not do before?" But you know, we don't really need these new tools to improve our teaching. We need to ask different questions. Not "What is 6 times 4?" but "How many ways can you multiply two numbers to get 24?" Not "Are there seasons on Mars?" but "What season is it right now on Mars? Is there any time of the year you could comfortably wear a t-shirt and shorts on Mars?" Not "List the parts of a cell." but "Design your own version of a cell that efficiently takes in food and excretes waste? Include a diagram of all the parts and describe how they work together."

My children and nieces are coming home with homework questions like the first of each pair above. I ask them questions like the second in each pair. I think of Blooms Taxonomy and try to ask questions from the top of the pyramid. With the suite of new tools online this same avenue of thought leads to new ways for students to deeply and meaningfully show their mastery of material they have learned in class. Those that haven't mastered the material the first time around often do when they have to create content that educates.

Simply reframing the questions we ask can lead to powerful learning experiences. When we get kids to create artifacts that educate they end up working through every level of thought in Bloom's Taxonomy. What teacher doesn't want their students to do that?

In the classroom students erase their mistakes. They cover their work when I pass by to check in with them, embarrassed to reveal possible errors or afraid I'll uncover their lack of understanding. When kids publish their work online everyone (teachers, peers, parents, others) can peek in at a gallery of their thoughts. Learn from both the mistakes and the exemplary work others.

More and more I find the value of using blogs, wikis, podcasts and the full suite of other tools my students use rests in making their thinking transparent to me and each other. In the galleries of their thoughts we discover what they really know and the specific nature of their misunderstandings. I learn what about my teaching has added to their confusion and what metaphors provided fertile ground for their developing understanding. Wading through the galleries of their thought I become a better teacher and they become better learners.

I've never articulated it quite like this before but this notion of creating galleries of thought rings true for me. As teachers everywhere continue to explore the new pedagogies emerging in the use of new tools to publish student work online we are all creating galleries of our students thinking. We browse through these galleries, sometimes quickly, sometimes lingering over an elegant solution or a brilliant mistake, and doors open to conversations that would otherwise never take place.

Every teacher has asked questions of their classes, trying to get them to share their thinking only to be met by a wall of silence. Sometimes it's the same few students who answer every question. Contrast that with them all publishing their work online, wandering through each others thinking, asking questions of and getting answers from each other, engaging in discussions where every voice is equal and every voice is heard.

In the past I've used two guiding principles for orchestrating my students learning ecologies:

(1) What can I do now that I couldn't do before?
(2) Watch it. Do it. Teach it.

And now ...

(3) How can I get them to make their thinking transparent?

I've got to do some more thinking about this ...

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