Tag Archives: thinking

Dealing with Change

“Everything is Changing,” by amanki

WordPress just unleashed a new interface – WordPress 2.7. It features a completely redesigned dashboard that took all of the familiar old buttons and boxes and moved them, recolored them, and sometimes even renamed them. It’s a nice looking redesign and everything I’ve heard suggests that it will end up being a much more efficient design. Even so, it caught me off guard when I couldn’t find the button to create a new post right away.

As many things do, this got me thinking: how well do educators deal with change? Do I handle it well, or do we react like the woman in the photograph (a great image, I must say)?

Of all the skills we try to teach, this strikes me as the most critical for success in the 21st century – to adapt when we are confronted by change. It is difficult for me as a building technology leader to see teachers struggling to complete even basic computer tasks like opening up their email. While it would be easy for me to be critical, I wonder how I will handle the next big shift in education. Will I be able to learn how to use the next piece of state-of-the-art technology? Or will I see it as just a fad? If adabtability and flexibility are so important for us now, imagine how important it will be for our students in 20 or 30 years when the world is changing even faster.

This is why I firmly believe that our greatest goal should be to teach our students how to learn. We must help them develop an intellectual curiosity about the world around them; help them grow into being lifelong learners.


The Great Ideas

I just started reading a book that’s been on my Shelfari “Plan to Read” shelf for about a year. It’s called Six Great Ideas by Mortimer J. Adler. As I started reading this book, I realized that it touches on both of my academic passions: literature and philosophy (more of the latter, to be sure). I also realized that I would want to respond to it. A lot.

Solution: Online Reader’s Journal. I plan on posting some key quotes and my responses to the text as I read through the book. Hopefully it’s not too tedious to read, especially since I’ll start it now.

o  o  o

Reader’s Journal, Six Great Ideas, chapters 1-2

QUOTES

  1. “It cannot be too often repeated that philosophy is everybody’s business. To be a human being is to be endowed with the proclivity to philosophize. To some degree we all engage in philosophical thought in the course of our daily lives.
    Acknowledging this is not enough. It is also necessary to understand why this is so and what philosophy’s business is.
    The answer, in a word, is ideas. In two words, it is great ideas – the ideas basic and indispensable to understanding ourselves, our society, and the world in which we live.”
  2. “Ideas, as objects of thought, do exist. The idea of truth or of justice does not cease to exist when I cease to think about it, for others can be thinking about it when I am not. However, unlike the chair I am sitting on or the book you are holding in your hand, which does not cease to exist as a perceptible object when no one is perceiving it, objects of thought do cease to exist as intelligible objects when no one at all is thinking about them…Ideas exist objectively, but not with the reality that belongs to physical things.”

THOUGHTS

  • Adler’s comments in the first lines of his book (Quote 1) line up very well with what I continue to believe – that everyone should “do” philosophy. Philosophy covers the most elemental aspects of what it means to be human, and requires developing strong thinking skills and good habits of mind – exactly why I’m trying to put together a course curriculum for a Philosophy class.
  • The 6 great ideas, which he mentions in the first chapter, are truth, goodness, and beauty (the ideas we judge by) and liberty, equality, and justice (those ideas we act on). These strike me as being very elemental ideas and very much worth studying/discussing in school
  • While I found Adler’s discussion of the nature of “ideas” and the two types of ideas (subjective ideas and objective ideas) interesting, I’m not sure a lot of people would feel the same way. The writing is definitely slanted towards those with a predisposition to philosophical thinking and reading
  • The final idea, though (Quote 2) is fascinating to me. What is an “idea”? Is it a “real” thing, or just something that doesn’t really exist? Adler makes an interesting argument – that there are two distinct kinds of ideas. The first, subjective ideas, are those thoughts that only I can have. The second, objective ideas, are those “big ideas” that everyone can think about (like truth, justice, etc.). I like this distinction, though again, it might seem boring and meaningless to the average reader.

So far, pretty interesting book.


Goals for This Year

I just had my annual goals meeting with our administrator and thought it would be worth sharing the three goals I’ve set for myself this year. They’re each fairly specific and I’ll probably be inquiring about other teachers’ solutions to these in the near future.

1. Develop a stronger understanding of how to teach the writing process (rather than just the  product); specifically, methods for conferencing with students while keeping the class engaged in meaningful learning.

2. Find creative and purposeful ways to model thinking (including reading and writing strategies) in front of students. Part of this is being willing to make embarrassing mistakes in front of students.

3. Become innovative in creating and assigning papers, projects and other assignments by employing role playing strategies to raise real-world problems for students to solve.

One of the things I appreciate about these goal meetings is the opportunity to lay out my vision for my own development as a teacher, and for my students’ development as readers, writers, thinkers, and most importantly, people. I am forced to reflect on my own teaching critically and find areas that need to improve if my students are going to get the best possible education in my class – something I enjoy thoroughly.

I should note that both goals 2 and 3 are in part inspired by the book our administration has us reading: Teaching for Tomorrow: Teaching Content and Problem-Solving Skills (a link to the book’s Shelfari page – something I’m going to be doing when I mention book titles). I was pleasantly surprised to find myself marking pages with sticky notes and plowing through some of these big ideas and little strategies.


Comparing Education Systems…

I’ve been watching Ted Koppel’s The People’s Republic of Capitalism on the Discovery Channel – a program that has been both informative and very fascinating. I would highly recommend that anyone watch this series.

As I watched the second episode (on my DVR – something I’ll post about another time), Ted Koppel was interviewing a young man (who now goes by Alan) who spent most of his life in China, save for one year in Washington state as an exchange student. Listening to him talk seemed to shed a different light on an issue that is a really big deal on this side of the Pacific: education. Since “A Nation at Risk,” the motivation for increased standards and testing has typically been global competition. It’s not hard to find articles and statistics touting the superiority of the Chinese education system – just look at all the jobs that have been outsourced to China (which was the main subject of the first episode).

During his interview with Koppel, Alan seems to disagree with the contention that American education is failing. “Everything is developing and the focus now, here, is economic development…I sometimes just feel that my imagination, my mind, is blocked and I feel it’s very terrible – my mind is empty; I cannot create anything…I think it’s a result of the Chinese education because the Chinese education does not encourage students to create or imagine. They just tell you 1 is 1, 2 is 2 and don’t forget it. 1 and 1 is 2. Yeah, so, no imagination.”

Are we so sure that our students are failing? Are we really at risk? If we truly believe in what we call the 21st century skills – most notably creative and critical thinking – doesn’t Alan’s statement suggest that we’re on the right track?

I’ll have more observations from this series over the weekend, but until then, I’d recommend watching it – it’s worth your time.


Tech Conference Day 1

Just finished up with the seminar portion of our first day.

In the first session, I attended a seminar on Creative Design – making documents more attractive and professional. It was a nice combination of the technology portion (different features in Word) and art/visual theory (where to locate important information on a page, for example). Very cool seminar that I’m already implementing in my documents for next year.

The second seminar I attended was on a fantastic program – Inspiration. I hadn’t really played with this program at all, though it’s been on my laptop since I got it in the fall. I have to say – it’s awesome. Essentially, it’s a tool for diagramming ideas – “making thinking visual” as the presenter said. It uses features that are just beautifully integrated – a visual/graphic organizer, an outline, various word processing tools, drawing tools, clip art, etc. As we were walking through the program, it was hard not to think of all the different potential uses in my classroom – outlining essays, constructing arguments, analyzing poetry, interpreting literature. Definitely a potentially exciting program.

Right now, we’re in perhaps the most exciting part of the conference – the collaborative planning time. Unfortunately, my department-mates aren’t here, so it’s pretty much my own implementation time. Even so, it’s paid (clock hours) time to work on putting our learning into action. I love this district.


Guilt By Omission

Let no one when young delay to study philosophy, nor when he is old, grow weary of his study. For no one can come too early or too late to secure the health of his soul. And the man who says that the age for philosophy has either not yet come or has gone by is like the man who says that the age for happiness is not yet come to him…

- Epicurus, “Letter to Menoeceus

 As I mentioned in the last post, I’m reading a really cool book called Little Big Minds, which talks about doing philosophy with children. The chapter I just finished was especially good because it was on happiness – a subject I’ve written about before. One of the philosophers the author cites is Epicurus, an Athenian thinker. The above quote by him sums up one of my strong feelings about K-12 education right now – where’s the philosophy?

  I would (and did, in fact, in my Master’s thesis) argue that philosophy is one of the most important subjects students can study, yet is glaringly absent from schools. While we demand that students be great thinkers and intelligent citizens, we omit the field of study that would most profoundly affect those changes. In a sense, we in the education system, are largely culpable for students’ lack of thinking and empathy skills because we are omitting the subject that teaches them.

  Moreover, Epicurus argues that philosophizing – “doing” philosophy – is the key to a happy life. Many others, including Plato and Cicero, would concur (I have quotes to back that up if you like). Of course, that’s just my own trivial opinion.


Future Gadflies of America

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates

One of the greatest philosophers to walk the face of the earth was Socrates. He was inquisitive, patient, curious, and wise. He attacked the dogmatic assumptions and beliefs of his culture and encouraged citizens of Athens to truly think about what they believed and what they did. My favorite example of this is the great story of Euthyphro, who was prosecuting his father, and whom Socrates asked to define what is virtuous and good. Socrates, merely by asking Euthyphro a series of probing questions, was able to show Euthyphro that he had no idea what he was talking about.

Two thoughts cross my mind as I think about this. First, as an educator, it is my role to be the gadfly in my classroom – to fly around and bite at students’ assumptions and dogmatic ideas and get them to think independently and critically about their ideas and beliefs. If that’s my role, however, I can’t help but think I’ve been failing.

The other thought that crosses my mind as I think about this is that I should be encouraging this sort of “gadfly” behavior in my students. I shouldn’t let them just sit here and be “armchair” philosophers. Instead, they should be going out into the world and encouraging others to go and do likewise. Students should be poking and prodding at the assumptions and dogmatic beliefs of American society and encouraging those around them to think about those things as well. Each student should be a little Socrates: thinking about big topics and irritating the status quo.

As I look around my classroom, I don’t see this. I see a room full of students who are the status quo. I see students who are happy with their own unquestioned beliefs and shallow thinking processes. I see students who have no idea that there is an enormous world of ideas they have yet to be exposed to. I see students who are so into their own little world that they don’t even see the the other little worlds in this one classroom. And when I see all of this in my class, I can’t help but feel like I’ve let them down – like I have failed them.

Fortunately, there are still several weeks left before the end of this school year. Hope, as they say, springs eternal, and I still have a chance to get the students to begin examining their lives, their ideas, and their beliefs. I still have a chance to help them become the future gadflies of America. The question is simply, how badly do I want that?


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