Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ten influential books: or at least ones that I found profound

Okay, I'll play....

Here are the ten most influential books I can come up with right now off the top of my head:

Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden, a book that I read as a teenager that has forever remained in the base of my brain as an affirmation that humans are animals and often (always?) act as such.

Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections: this spiritual autobiography gave me, as a very young man, permission to take "spirituality" seriously, even though I think religions are mostly about power and domination.

John Dewey, Art as Experience: taught me that the aesthetic qualities of experience are more important than the cognitive ones, both for education and for life.

David L. Norton, Personal Destinies, the book that convinced me that paying attention to Joe Gauld's concept of "unique potential" was worthy scholarship.

Henry Perkins, An Imperfect Panacea, a history of American education that focuses on the degree to which the core purposes of schools are so often diluted by the demand that they handle other social problems.

Arthur Powell, et al. The Shopping Mall High School, a book in which the authors describe how the educational system really works to influence who "wins" and who doesn't. (I read this book together with Ted Sizer's Horace's equally revealing book that also offers the benefit of pointing toward some solutions to the ways that high schools get away from their core intellectual mission.)

Thomas F. Green et al., Predicting the Behavior of the Educational System, a wonderful analysis of the ways that educational systems can be expected to evolve over time...I believe the principles enunciated there have pretty much proven to hold true in most cases.

Duncan Kennedy, Legal Education and the Reproduction of Hierarchy: A polemic Against the System, a little book that convinced me that my decision to drop out of Harvard Law School wasn't as ignoble as some people thought at the time.

Ian Pears, An Instance of the Finger Post, an amazing historical novel in which the story is told from three different perspectives...leaves one being pretty sure that we have no idea what's really going on much of the time.

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, simply the best novel of all time? Has the added benefit of showing in a viscerally resonating way the social forces that create and reinforce poverty.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"If I have learned nothing from this class, I have learned I am not sure of anything"

I think it is instructive to look at the “final reflections” by my TIE 512 students for the Winter Quarter to see some of the ways in which my efforts to push their comfort zone with my complex modeling assignment may have paid off. 

Create a model of a complex, real-world problem or system utilizing the concepts and techniques described in Jonassen. This model must be created using application software (or other software/tools as approved by the instructor, including Google Maps or Sketch-up). While you can (and probably should) use a concept map or word-processor to collect ideas about your model, the final model should be dynamic and interactive, in the sense that variables or factors can be changed with the effects of those changes seen in the model. The model must both explain why a current situation exists (given data that represents the current situation) and provide a way of predicting what will happen if certain conditions change (given data that reflects those changes hypothetically). A proposal must be submitted to the instructor by the start of class on February 2, and the final model will be demonstrated to the class on March 16. 25% of grade.

>Note that I myself wasn’t sure how this assignment would play out.  I told the students the first day it was an “experiment.” Along the way, I modified my expectation to require a beginning brainstorming, and then the initial attempts at creating a model, with evidence that shows the student has struggled with the system, its factors, and the issues of modeling it.  All the students met that expectation.

But one thing is clear: student frustration is part of the learning process

Here are the links to their blogs with reflections:

This project has lead me down a long curvy road, with many bumps, twists and detours that lead be back to where I started. It took me a very long time to wrap my head around what I was being asked to do- create a model of a complex (unsolvable) problem. With some assistance, I finally came up with a topic; how having students with ADHD in a classroom affects the classroom environment and the teacher’s ability to service the other students in the class…I choose 5 categories that seemed to have the most impact. They were parents, resources, severity of ADHD, strategies and class size…..Although I feel like the five categories are strong and have a lot of influence on the classroom environment, there is not actual data to support my choices.”  (Student made enormous progress in identifying key factors, but had no data to test the model she had created.)

“But, in making this model in Inspiration I realized that this was just a picture of our system as it is now. I know that there is a problem with the way our system is but I decided that I needed to see how other more successful (in my humble opinion) healthcare systems around the world worked. I scoured the internet for sources comparing different healthcare systems. I found some really interesting resources that helped me piece together the differences between our system and other systems. I found a really great report that compares six different healthcare systems around the world across different categories. I used their data to create an excel file that I was going to use to find averages and such.   But then I found where they had simplified their data into a ranking system on different aspects. I took that and then added aspects from my model that I thought would be important to weigh the differences between healthcare systems. And I came up with this so far ... 
Now that I have conquered the where to begin question and have gotten a good jump on the data, where should I go from here... I plan on making a healthcare program that will show how the money being spent, people involved, and government involvement changes the way the whole system works. Hopefully by inputing different values into this program one can find the best balance of all the aspects for all involved. I don’t think that there is any perfect answer but I do think that a change might be a good thing.” (Student gained new understanding of the complexity of the problems with the healthcare system and the difficulties of comparing different systems in terms of their effectiveness.)

“In creating my model on the factors that influence a school meeting or not meeting AYP, I came across many hurdles….I discovered that the factors I included in my model didn't really help me understand why a school preformed like they did….Overall, creating this model helped me to better understand how schools make AYP and what factors contribute to it. If I were to expand on this model, I would include more specific factors such as reading/math scores, scores from previous years, Safe Harbor scores, etc. When first creating this model, I thought that the information I included in the database was sufficient, but looking back, I realized that I would need to look at more factors.”

“I tried to brainstorm a way to show the relation of world population to the consumption of food in a system. I became stuck. I then was using the "Stumble Upon!" tool that was showed to us in class, and I came upon this amazing website called "Breathing Earth". This site blew my mind! It shows the population of each country, the birth rate of each country, the death rate of each country, the world population, etc. (Keep in mind that the death rate does not include terrorist acts, natural disasters, etc.) It has so much useful and interesting information. I then started to is the birth and death rate going to change the population of each country in the future .I then settled on my new problem statement:Problem Statement: What will the population be in a specific country on a specific date be in the future?... My finished system is so fun to use now that it is finished! I can now choose any of the countries and type in any date in the future to get a predicted population of that country. Here is a screen shot of my finished system…. The user can input data into the yellow boxes: a future date and then click the drop down box to choose a country. Then automatically the predicted population, net change, and percentage of change appears. The system takes into consideration the chosen country's starting population on February 28, 2010, it's birth rate, and it's death rate. Overall, I really enjoyed building this system. It gave me an opportunity to learn more about Microsoft Excel. I discovered many tricks and formulas that I did not know before! Students can use this system to see how population can change in different countries and see how the change is different all over the world. Students can also use this system to compare different countries around the world!”

I chose to try to model the Achievement Gap. As it turns out it is a monster that keeps growing. Every time I investigate one idea there are more and more issues that turn up. Obviously there is no simple solution to the achievement gap or we would have solved it by now. The problem that I have encountered is that every single element of the Achievement Gap intertwines and intersects with each other. You can’t isolate any one factor, it is a never-ending rabbit hole and where does it end? The more I tried to refine the list of factors the more that it grew…. My conclusion is that with No Child Left Behind and schools trying to make AYP everyone is blaming the teachers for all of the troubles of our students while not wanting to address any of the other reasons for the Achievement Gap. We blame the teachers because it is easy. No one wants to point a finger at any of the other variables because it is too hard. It is impossible to isolate all (or any) of these factors so everyone likes to point a finger at teachers and make them the scapegoat in the Achievement Gap crisis.”

It has been quite an experience trying to wrap my head around this complex model project. After I finally chose my topic, I began to brainstorm how I would model my problem: Students not involved in extra-curricular activities don’t perform as well at school. I decided to use a concept map to begin to brainstorm my ideas. The complex problem that we modeled in class together about War helped me to understand how to start to model a concept. Through building upon concept maps or flowcharts, it is easier to make progress and develop a working model….After beginning my flow chart, I realized I had no idea how I would continue with this model. I couldn’t wrap my head around it and felt completely lost. I also didn’t think I had enough research or data to support the information that I was trying to display in the flow chart. I decided to scrap the flow chart. I needed better data!  To truly model this problem, I decided that I needed to compare the effect of extracurricular activities on student performance/success for different Chicago Public Schools. After searching for quality data, I found the CPS website to be very helpful….This model isn’t complete. There are still some factors that I would like to compare. I would like to explore the relationship between the causes of low extracurricular participation and the effects that not participating in extracurricular activities has on students. I would also like to explore the possible solutions for attempting to solve this problem. I am not sure if this problem can be solved, but I think I have created a good foundation in attempting to identify and explore this complex problem.”

I made a stab at modeling the use of paper from its invention to its current high level of consumption and how to recycle said consumption. When I started the research I became quickly overwhelmed with information. The more I searched the more interesting it became…and bigger and bigger… The whole process has been frustrating, painful, fascinating, intriguing and many other descriptive epithets. I’ve learned a ton about paper, recycling and the bad habits of humans. I’m sure I’ll learn even more as I add to my model.”

“I was completely confused by the assignment; in the beginning I tried to get clarification and thought I somewhat go the “jest” of the assignment. As I sat down in the beginning it became a clear reality that I was pretty confused. I read several articles with great ideas on how to ensure successful technology integration and inhibitors to be aware of when trying to help teachers integrate technology. The barrier for me is placing value on these items in order to create a system that can be altered. I tried to brainstorm a concept map to start my project but quickly realized that that just further confused me. So I did the next best thing I procrastinated, I told myself that tomorrow I would get it. After last week’s class I started to panic, there was no way I was going to get this project completed. Completed? What exactly was I trying to complete, accomplish? I emailed my concept map to Craig to see if I was any track and after receiving his email on Sunday was convinced I was totally off track. Any hope that I understood what a system in tales - vanished. So I for the past 24 hours I tried to rework this system using the direction I received from Craig. I first tried to input a finite number of influences into excel, giving them values. I believe that maybe (because if I have learned nothing from this class, I have learned I am not sure of anything) being able to change values will help see how influences effect the outcome. Therefore, I have to be able to change the effect of the influences in order to see how the outcome may change. After many revisions of the excel worksheet I abandoned that idea and decided to try Stella to create a system. This proved to be a pretty good idea; I believe it helped me to see the flow of influences. I enjoyed learning to use this software, although I am far from mastering it. I did learn what I wanted to get out of this model of the system; I am interested in what factors make a teacher integrate technology successfully into their curriculum and what factors hinder that success. So what did I learn, procrastinated is not the way to go, it just leads to more frustration. I needed to look to all possibilities for help, classmates, reading material… Face uncertainty head on instead of avoiding it. I have not completed my system but feel that I am on my way to completing it. I hope to use the experience from this class to make me a better teacher and student. I found a lot of information about helping teachers integrate technology into their curriculum, the trouble I had was converting that information to be used into the “system”.