Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Constructing Modern Knowledge

Sitting in New Hampshire at the Constructing Modern Knowledge Workshop this week, we started the program off with a short trip to Boston on Sunday going to the MIT Science Museum and followed that with a guided tour of Boston's Freedom Trail. One of the joys of walking through the MIT Museum is watching the eyes and the imaginations of the kids, young and old, light up in the museum as most of the exhibits have some type of hands on aspect to them.

After watching a young lady up on the second floor playing with the combination waterfall/strobe exhibit, I had a chance to ask her a question before she left with her parents. "What was the most interesting thing you saw or played with today in the museum?" Her response caught me totally off guard, especially given the time she took at the waterfall/strobe exhibit. Instead of talking about the strobe display with the waterfall, her response was the exhibit that talked of the use of zebra fish for cancer research which was located on the first floor and probably about the third exhibit you come across. I thanked both she and her parents for the chance to ask the question and to talk with her and we parted ways.

As Scott Floyd, Gary Stager, a young lady named Bobbi from Oregon and I walked through the museum, we came across an exhibit by Arthur Ganson. While just about every piece he did that was on display in the museum was a fascinating piece of work, Gary, Scott and I were fascinated by a sculpted piece of work with a series of connected worm gears, a crank and rice. As you moved the hand crank the rice undulated in the box and looked like a wave type machine or maybe even ground that had some type of worm getting ready to come to the surface. It was really cool looking.

The next day we sat and listened to different theories about play, tinkering and the chance to have hands on experiences and what that does for the mind and for learning. At a time when budgets are being cut in arts and extra-curricular activities, it was easy to come to understand the need for the chance to simply play and explore. When given the chance, Scott, Frances from Mississippi, with a wonderfully southern voice that was like warm syrup, and I all decided that the rice sculptor was what we wanted, but we wanted to motorize ours so that it could merely become zen like to watch. We also had to add some special effects. No different that kids would.

So off to the suitcases of Lego's, and the adventure began. Here is a video of the final product.

So what did I take away? Given the chance to think, and play and tinker brought out the ability to work with others, get frustrated, be creative, laugh, learn, try, fail, try again, succeed, fail again and retry some more. Are we giving our children that chance? Are we giving our children the chance to fail yet be supported? Do we give them the chance to tinker without punishment? Are we comfortable with the amount of time it takes to create or do we just want to cover material? We need to think about these things and how they affect the education we help our students to achieve. We all need the chance to play and "tinker."

Day two of CMK08 coming up. Scott and I are committed to tinkering with Tali from Israel and she comes across as wicked smart. Why do I say that? As she approached our setup she immediately started saying you could use that for teaching about sand dune erosion, wave simulation, teaching about weather and cloud formation and on and on.

We will see if these two Texas boys are up for the fun and the challenge of tinkering at a new level.


MikeGras said...

Looks like fun. Was that @woscholar's Verizon Air Card on the table near the end of the video? What is your most interesting find, so far?

Scott S. Floyd said...

Great project! I look forward to today's challenges.

AdinaSullivan said...

I think "Tinkering" is something that has been missing from a lot classrooms. You brought up an important issue in mentioning what Tali suggested as possible curriculum connections for your Lego project. In the classroom, there should be content standards connected to the tinkering.

Because I've been reading Rafe Esquith's Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire, I think there is another piece to this as well. Some tinkering can't be completed in one session. Allowing students to tinker, record, walk away, reflect, and return for more tinkering can teach additional skills as well.

Thanks for prodding my thought process. Your students and staff are luck to have Scott and yourself.

Enjoy the rest of the conference!