Thursday, September 29, 2011

'Living Your Way into the Answer'

Feet.  (Reilly, 2009)
I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.

Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything.

Live the questions now.

Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903
in Letters to a Young Poet
Finding an answer is inherently different than living your way into the answer, especially for matters of the heart.  The first, finding an answer, may well be more a product of impetuous behavior; an attempt to dismiss the ambiguity and uncertainty that seems to frame human dilemma. Think of it as action that  rushes one to a contrived sense of certainty.

The latter is about living deliberately and sometimes coming to notice that you have arrived at the answer without any announcement of such happenings. What happens in the spaces between now and the ubiquitous, then depends a lot on whether you are living atop your feet or trying to navigate an imagined world that has yet to arrive. The it might be world.

Living in the present takes courage, and perhaps for me even practice.  It may well mean losing what I think I need, like money or position, and having to grapple with the attending fear that often masquerades such loss.  I know this firsthand and even alongside experience, fear is a formidable force.  It absolutely means deeply acknowledging that where I am situated offers only a partial and incomplete view of the present, let alone any future.

Not rushing to an answer (any answer at that) allows me to forgo excuses (regardless of how sound they sound) in order to situate a truth: I don't know the future. I do know now. Can I determine for now what makes sense and live on this parcel of land where I place my feet?

Living my way into an answer means forgetting the question and in doing so seeing what is and taking the small rather local steps of being. There is a clarity that accompanies such action and a feeling of being centered. In such a series of moments I have recently come to realize that I have been knowing for a long time without knowing that I have confused salary and position with satisfaction.

It is an important answer and I am most surprised to come to name it. Being satisfied is largely about the nature of work I do, not the salary I am paid.

 Living my way into an answer is about accepting the may ways I am powerless and living deliberately as I might each day.

Be you, as my friend Monika reminds.

Feeling lost, bereft of answers you seek?  Look down and make sure you can still see your feet. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

We are Pando: Rhizomatic Learning*

Candid (M.A. Reilly, 2011)
It is an unbearably hot day as my husband, son and I slowly motor home to New Jersey from Washington D.C.  From the back of the car I can hear my son talking and I turn and see him hunkered down in the seat, wearing headphones and holding his phone in one hand.

Who are you talking to?



Yeah, Tom from London.

‘Tom from London’ is a 13-year old who plays Minecraft on my 12-year-old son's server.  He and a dozen boys, ranging from 9- to 15-years-old from North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia, are avid Minecraft players on the server. Their play represents a contrasting way to think about learning from what is offered as usual fare at schools.  James Gee and Elizabeth Hayes (2011) might classify the boys’ play as an example of a passionate affinity space where “people organize themselves in the real world and/or via the Internet (or a virtual world) to learn something connected to a shared endeavor, interest, or passion” (p. 69). 
I think of passionate affinity spaces as rhizomatic and want to suggest that such learning offers us an alternative to schooling.  A rhizome, the horizontal stem of a plant, usually found underground, sends out roots and shoots, each of which can be self-sustaining.  Margie Driscoll (2004) defines rhizome as:
a tangle of tubers with no apparent beginning or end. It constantly changes shape, and every point in it appears to be connected with every other point (p. 389).

Now think about the boys and their play. They hail from across the globe and horizontally connect with one another in this passionate affinity space where they learn deeply.
For more than a decade, I have been considering how the rhizome might function as metaphor and model for education.  The traditional view of education situates schooling as a function of transference of expert-determined content from teacher to student. U.S. school systems tend to rely on hierarchy as the privileged school organization method used to distribute content and pedagogical practices, most often in the form of sanctioned programs developed by external experts and then purchased for teachers who are told to transfer the content to students.
The Constancy of Waves (M.A. Reilly, 2010)
In contrast a rhizomatic learning community is a fluid collective where participants dwell in the middle of things and where learning emerges informed by a blend of explicit and tacit knowledge. In conceiving of rhizomatic learning, it helps to think of learners resembling a sea of "middles,” who are continuously formed and reformed based on alliances determined by needs, interests, directions, questions, redirections, assessments, and commitments. Unlike the design of many traditional schools, a rhizomatic learning space is based on joining and rejoining.
In rhizomatic learning, thinking resembles the tangle of roots and shoots, both broken and whole.  Problem framing and decision-making rest with all learners. Again, Driscoll’s description of rhizomatic learning is important. She writes:
Break the rhizome anywhere and the only effect is that new connections will be grown. The rhizome models the unlimited potential for knowledge construction, because it has no fixed points…and no particular organization (p. 389).
Historically, when confronted with student achievement concerns, there has been a tendency to tighten control in an effort to increase learning largely because what has counted as knowing has been limited to a perceived ‘set’ body of content.  Doug Thomas and John Seely Brown (2011) describe this learning :
…as a series of steps to be mastered, as if students were being taught how to operate a machine or even, in some cases, as if the students themselves were machines being programmed to accomplish tasks. The ultimate endpoint of a mechanistic perspective is efficiency: the goal is to learn as much as you can, as fast as you can (Thomas & Brown, Location 327 of 2399).
In this mistaken schema, knowledge has been consistently situated as stable—as that which can be listed in a set of standards and given to teachers to transfer. 
But we know that knowledge is not stable (Schon, 1983; Thomas & Brown, 2011). Thomas and Brown state, "[m]aking knowledge stable in a changing world is an unwinnable game” (Location 503 of 2399).   Knowledge actually has never been stable, but given the disruptive power of the Internet, what counts as knowledge is a shifting matter that is more easily recognized, especially by those holding power whose concept of knowing in the past was often situated as truth. One only has to think of the Great Chain of Being to understand how the sanctity of knowing was often a matter of power.
In contrast to such certainty, Thomas and Brown posit that there is a new culture of learning informed by
a massive information network that provides almost unlimited access and resources to learn about anything…[and] a bounded and structured environment that allows for unlimited agency to build and experiment with things within these boundaries (Location 63 of 2399).
This new culture of learning is inherently rhizomatic as it orients itself horizontally, not vertically, requiring us to value tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge--knowing more than one can tell--requires a decidedly different type of learning environment than what is currently favored at school where knowledge transfer is the privileged method. Tacit knowledge is not acquired from other; it requires learning through mind, body and senses and is facilitated by experimentation and inquiry.
At Play
For gamers, like my son, experimentation and inquiry are the methods most often employed when solving design and game-based problems. For the last several months I have been researching the learning that takes place inside my son’s Minecraft play with his on-line friends.  Five dominant learning trends have emerged out of this rhizomatic environment and one societal insight.
1.    Play matters and is a means by which learners come to know their relationship to others. The learning that happens between and among the boys is play-based and informed by their interest in experimenting and imagining. For example, my son developed a vending machine in Minecraft. Originally the buyer would place a coin in the machine and would receive however many items as s/he wanted.  This proved to be a bit impractical and over time rather dull and with the help of another player, my son modified the idea so that one coin would get a player one item. This idea was later modified again so that the player would also get his coin returned along with the item. To make these alterations required changing the wiring so that the machine reset after the item was delivered and that the delivery of the new item and the return of the coin were synchronized. Making these changes happen required playfulness, not linearity. As my son explained, “I had to fool around a bit and test out ways to make the pressure plate work. I couldn’t see how it would be possible.” When I asked him why he would return the coin to the player, he said that he didn’t want to exclude anyone from playing. Whereas everyone on the server had some coin they could use, not all had the same. “I wanted them to make a commitment by playing a coin, but I didn’t want to take their coins. We’re friends.”
2.    Sustained conversation represents the dominant method for inquiry and is suggestive of the boys’ emerging sense of agency. My son engages in sustained conversations via Skype with the other players in order to brainstorm, innovate, find multiple solutions, complete tasks, hypothesize, and engage in play. Talk is important and in the horizontal world of game playing, it is not limited to or controlled by a teacher. John Goodlad (2004) reported in his research about schools that teachers “out-talked the entire class of students three to one” (p. 229). Central to these learners’ Minecraft play is the sense of agency they possess. Thomas and Brown (2011) explain, "unlike traditional notions of learning which position the learner as a passive agent of reception, the aporia/epiphany structure of play makes the player's agency central to the learning process. How one arrives at the epiphany is always a matter of the tacit. The ability to organize, connect, and make sense of things is a skill characteristic of a deep engagement with the tacit and the process of indwelling" (Location 1381 of 2399).
3.    The players participate in collaborative knowledge-making (Cormier, 2008) in which they share screens, work in tandem, continue and revise one another’s tentative ideas in an effort to solve design problems and complete tasks. Engaging in trial and error, experimenting, making use of on-line and off-line resources, and altering established models are some of the ways the boys accomplish game-based tasks. Interestingly when I ask my son how something in the game came to be he is unable to attribute it to a single player. The knowledge produced does not belong to one person, but rather is composed collectively. Dave Cormier (2008) explains, "rhizomatic model of learning…is not driven by predetermined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process" (np).
4.    These rhizomatic learning spaces the boys inhabit are inherently native to their own ground even as they involve learners from across vast geographic spaces. Membership in the game shifts and changes across time and expertise is not determined by social markers such as age, race, or credentials—although gender does seem to be a condition presently.  As learners work alone, in pairs, small groups, and large collectives--new alliances form and break. The boys’ game playing represents a rhizomatic map; an open possibility that is: “detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification. It can be torn, reversed, adapted, to any kind of mounting, reworked by an individual, group, or social formation” (Deleuze & Guattari, 2002, p.12).
5.    The players choose to participate in hard work each and every day. They set tasks to be completed and establish timelines to do so. As Jane McGonigal (2011) reports: “Games make us happy because they are hard work that we choose for ourselves” (p. ). Choice matters and learning is fun, although sadly most of the boys do not seem to characterize their play in the games as learning. The exception to this is the boy from Canada.
6.    Game play leads to developing novel products in the virtual world that could have implications in the actual world. For example, a few months after my son viewed images I had made in Camden, NJ of partially demolished and boarded buildings, he showed me a self-repairing bridge and building he had designed in Minecraft. He suggested that if infrastructures such as buildings and bridges could self-repair, then people living in urban areas where poverty and societal neglect have dominated the landscape would be able to live in better conditions.
When I ask my son what he has been learning he says he’s learned how to work with others; how to search, locate, and evaluate information; how to run an effective server and negotiate a contract with a company to host the server; how to barter services in exchange for money to pay for the server; how to explain an installation process of mods to others; how to create a mod; how to anticipate a partner’s play in a game; how to build a structure with someone not in the same room; how to imagine a place and build it; how to give and take ideas; how to make mistakes in order to progress in a game; how to build a design based on someone’s idea; how to script; how to model; how to resolve social problems when they arise; how to use resources, online and offline, to guide building; how to make games inside of games; how to make films and upload them to YouTube; and how to narrow the focus of a film. During this learning, the boys are also learning about one another: siblings, where they live, currency, geography, food, politics, and all things Minecraft. My son is adamant that this playing is not learning.
It's not like school, he tells me repeatedly.
Sadly, I think he's right.
Applying Rhizomatic Sensibilities to ‘Learner’ Design

Counting (M.A. Reilly, 2010)
So, if rhizomatic learning such as my son experiences in his game-playing is not like school, how do we begin to make the necessary changes so that children choose to work hard and learn deeply?  Continuing the current push by federal and state governments for increased school standardization is not an answer. An important shift needs to occur in order for the tight grip of school standardization to be loosened.  Thomas and Brown (2011) identify three critical dimensions of learning: knowing, making, and playing. Such learning is antithetical to standardization. 

We need alternatives to the traditional method of industrial schooling.

As we begin to name alternative learning experiences, such as passionate affinity spaces, as viable learning--the idea of school as the de facto response to the question--“How do we educate children?”--will be challenged.  Certainly, there have been alternatives to traditional school raised and offered in the past.  What makes these times different is that in the past, it was difficult, if not improbable, to connect innovators who were challenging the status quo of schooling.  That is not the case today. Mass can be built by connecting those of us offering alternatives. Connecting with one another is rhizomatic.

So it is not a single reform method that is being offered. We have been too long trying to find a single reform. Rather, to disrupt the established power of schooling requires a long tail revolution. Chris Anderson explains:
The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of "hits" (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail.

As the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers.
It's not about offering the reform answer, but rather remaining in the middle where connections can be made and remade.  It's about each of us doing great work, not work that needs to be replicated, but rather work that is unique, native to its own ground.  The challenge is to know we are there and to connect our work.
To connect great work is an antidote to mass standardization.

Leveraging social media to share stories and work, to try on tentative ideas, and to establish patterns are all critical.  Connecting and showcasing the small triumphs that alone may feel insubstantial, yet together represents a mass.
This is the work before each of us. On my own, I am one person.  Alongside you, I am  Pando**, a rhizomatic triumph.

Works Cited:

Anderson, Chris. (2004). The theory of the long tail. Retrieved on July 27, 2011 from: .
Cormier, Dave. (2008). “Rhizomatic education: Community as curriculum.” Retrieved on 2.28.11 from .
Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix. (2002). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. London: Continuum. 
Driscoll, Marcy P. (2004). Psychology of Learning and Instruction, 3rd Edition. Allyn & Bacon.
Goodlad, John. (1984). A place called school. New York: McGraw-Hill.
McGonigal, Jane. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. New York: Penguin Press.
Schön, Donald. (1983). The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books.
Thomas, Doug & John Seely Brown. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Create Space: Kindle.

*This post is cross-referenced . It serves as the forward to the the new text, be you: [a quiet revolution] and also a slideshare of the book which is so much bigger than this single post might ever be. It exemplifies rhizomatic thinking and being. This text has been reviewed and responded to by Monika Hardy and Thomas Steele-Malley, both of whom greatly helped me to clarify my intentions when what I wanted to say was still quite cloudy. Love you guys.

**Pando: Also known as the Trembling Giant, Pando is a clonal colony of a single male Quaking Aspen located in Utah. Each genetically-identical individual tree (or “stem”) is connected by a single root system. Spreading across more than 100 acres, Pando is believed to be over 80,000 years old and collectively weighs over 6,600 tons, making it the heaviest organism on the planet, as well as one of the oldest." from Leaf and Limb Tree Service blog

Saturday, September 24, 2011

So What's a Crime? Thinking about Protesters & Market Speculators

Last Monday, I visited Liberty Park in Manhattan while making my way to catch the Staten Island Ferry.  It was the day before NYC police would arrest protesters from OccupyWallStreet for criminal acts such as: writing with chalk on the sidewalk and wearing masks on the back of their heads.  

Just down the street from Liberty Park is Wall Street, which was barricaded and had police and security presence.  Only the sidewalks remained opened for pedestrians as police and security stood behind the barricaded streets.  The sidewalks were crowded as people walked. The side streets and Wall Street were closed to most pedestrian and vehicle traffic, with the exception of some who I assume work at Wall Street.

The next day I was driving and had my iPod on shuffle when Kronos Quartet's "Sing Sing: J. Edgar Hoover" from Howl, U.S.A. album came on.  The composition is nearly 11 minutes and contains phrases and words uttered by J. Edgar Hoover during his 48 years as FBI director.  The audio files are part of speeches that were declassified.  A fuller explanation of the Kronos Quartet composition can be found here.

As I listened (again and again) I thought a lot about fear and crime and continued to wonder about the actions that get labeled and processed as criminal, as well as the myriad of actions that do not. Several weeks ago I read about Alan Knuckman,  a 42-year-old analyst with Agora Financials who in a story about how commodity traders at the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) are artifically increasing the costs of food globally in order to turn a greater profit said:

"I don't believe in politics. I believe in the market, and the market is always right."

Horand Knaup, Michaela Schiessl, and Anne Seith authors of the article, How Global Investors Make Money Out of Hunger, write:

The age of cheap food is over," predicts Knuckman, noting that this can't be such a bad thing for US citizens. "Most Americans eat too much, anyway."
For his fellow Americans, who spend 13 percent of their disposable income on food, the price hike may be an annoyance. But for the world's poor, who are forced to spend 70 percent of their meager budgets on food, it's life-threatening.
Since last June alone, higher food prices have driven another 44 million people below the poverty line, reports the World Bank. These are people who must survive on less than $1.25 (€0.87) a day. More than a billion people are starving worldwide. The current famine in the Horn of Africa is not only the result of drought, civil war and corrupt officials, but is also caused by prohibitively high food prices.

Knuckman refers to the fact that the poorest of the poor can no longer pay for their food as "undesirable side effects of the market." Halima Abubakar, a 25-year-old Kenyan woman, is experiencing these supposed side effects at first hand.
She is sitting in her corrugated metal hut in Kibera, Nairobi's biggest slum, wondering what to put on the table this evening for her husband and their two children. Until now, the Abubakars were among the higher earners in Kibera. The family managed to feed itself adequately with the monthly salary of €150 that Halima's husband earns as a prison guard.
But that has suddenly become difficult. The price of corn meal, the most important food staple in Kenya, is now at a record high after increasing by more than 100 percent in only five months. Potato prices went up by a third, milk is also more expensive, and so are vegetables.
Abubakar doesn't know why this is the case. She only knows that she suddenly has to pay close attention to how she spends the family's meager daily food budget of about 300 shillings (€2.30). Her first step was to switch to a cheaper brand of corn meal. It doesn't taste of much, but at least it fills one's stomach. She sometimes goes without her own lunch so that her children can have enough to eat.
In the article, the authors state:
In 2009, the US investment bank earned more than $5 billion in commodities speculation -- more than a third of its net earnings.

"What we are experiencing is a demand shock coming from a new category of participant in the commodities futures markets," hedge fund manager Michael Masters conceded in testimony before a US Senate committee addressing the food crisis in 2008.
As long as the market is not regulated, the number of speculators making money at the expense of hungry people will continue to grow, fears UNCTAD economist Flassbeck. The consequences would be devastating. According to the World Bank, an increase of only about 10 percent in worldwide food prices results in another 10 million people slipping below the poverty line. Even though there is enough food, many die of hunger simply because they can no longer afford to pay for it.
So what's criminal?
  • Writing on sidewalks with chalk?
  • Wearing silly masks backwards?
  • Making billions at the expense of hungry people?
  • Raising food prices globally in order to make money and knowingly causing human deaths?
  • Not regulating the market?

Towards the end of the Kronos Quartet piece, the voice of J. Hoover can be heard saying:
Fear, fear, fear silences the voice.
Fear, fear silences the voices of protest.
Fear, fear, fear silences the voice.
Fear, fear silences the voices of protest.
There is no place in America for vigilantes, rabble rousers, the lunatic fringe.
Fear, fear, fear.
Fear silences the voices of protest.
Fear silences the voice of our society.
Fear silences the voice.
I made the one-minute video below by remixing a small section from the Kronos Quartet piece with images I made in Manhattan of the protesters, the police, and those out and about on Wall Street.

Music from "Sing Sing: J. Edgar Hoover" by Kronos Qaurtet
Images by Mary Ann Reilly

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Basics at the Edge of Flow

Watching the River (M.A. Reilly, 2010)
I think it is comforting, albeit mistaken, to advocate for the idea of something called The Basics.  The Basics sound foundational and in a world of exponential change, a belief in something sturdy may feel reassuring.  But there is no single foundation one could name that would aptly capture the important learning for 120 million students regardless of what national movement such as Common Core would have us believe.  The metaphor, of learning as foundation, doesn't work.  It is an error to confuse what can be tested with what might be learned. The Common Core is a field guide to what can be tested, wrapped neatly in a mythology that says these lists of testable objectives represent what your child needs to learn.

This simply is not a truth.

A Bend in the River (M.A. Reilly, 5/2011)
Learning is more a river flowing and less a house one can build.  Learning is about being in middle of currents where orientation shifts and footing comes and goes. Experience matters in such rivers as one cannot convey the essentials without the experience and time beyond to name what felt essential.

We live in river time.                 

During the last couple of weeks, I have lost track of the number of times I have heard others reference the importance of The Basics or Core Subjects. These phrases are used interchangeably and I want to kindly suggest that both phrases are paradoxically empty and full--as they represent whatever is longed for/remembered, politicized, and ideologized. The Basics and Core Subjects are placeholders very much like the green light at the end of Daisy's dock insomuch as each represents a mythical sense of stability. Gatsby longed for the green light, of an imagined time where the world held still. A dream state. Consider Nick Carraway, narrator in The Great Gatsby who concludes:
I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out Daisy's light at the end of his dock. He had come such a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close he could hardly fail to grasp it. But what he did not know was that it was already behind him, somewhere in the vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.  (Fitzgerald, chapter 9, Gatsby).
Forgetfulness (M.A. Reilly, 5/2010)
The Basics, as a closed system of things to know and be able to do, are already behind us and have always been fictive, but perhaps felt less so at a time when change was not felt as keenly by those holding power.  The poor, the disenfranchised have always been subject to a world with greater flux and change than those safeguarded by money and position.  But these days all live in a world where change is exponential and faith in foundations will leave us moored--set aground.

John Seely Brown (JSB) in the closing keynote to the 2010 New Media Consortium Conference said that "We're at a moment in time where many of the ideas that made us successful in the 20th century are actually going to work against our ability to perform in the 21st century."  JSB's speech focused on defining and explicating the shift from a predictable world of equilibrium to an exponential world of constant flux and disequilibrium and how the shift influences and (in)forms learning.
This game is one of constant, constant change. And I want to argue that in fact the big claim is that civilization has never seen a game like we're now entering where there is no termination that we see ahead in terms of these rapid flux, rapid changes...If this world of constant and accelerating flux is true, guess what? The half life of any particular skill is shrinking, shrinking, shrinking and in fact today as we teach our kids most of the skills we teach them may have a half life of around five years. Perhaps more importantly virtually every strategic architecture in our corporate world is based on how to preserve the current value of stocks. I want to argue that, in fact, we're now in a big shift where we're moving in taking our eye of the view of just preserving, safeguarding, protecting stocks, keeping things as they where, to now how do we really move to embracing change in terms of learning how to participate on the edge of interesting flows. The shift from stocks to flows. The shift from saving the old and protecting it to actually moving into a new kind of participation of things on the edge. (JSB)
Hudson. (M.A. Reilly, 1/2011)
JSB's talk pushes us to rethink how we learn, what we need to learn, and how new media changes both.  On the edge of any flow what is understood is that "basic" can only be contextual, learned more often tacitly while on the move and later codified.  Helping learners occasion experiences and codify experiential knowledge represent important learning tasks and where one practices is no longer owned solely by the institution we know as school.

The river is not a building.

There is tension between what we have historically named as important learning (lists of objectives) and what are important ways of knowing in these times. Lists of knowable and testable objectives do not include what JSB says is most critical.  
Basically learning has a lot more to do with creating the new, rather than just learning the old. But if you're constantly creating the new, much of what you're creating has a very strong tacit component. We are used to saving, passing around, delivering, teaching the explicit, not the tacit. It takes time to codify what can be codified from an experience in order to pass it around in terms of the explicit. If we're living in a world where more and more of the things that need to shared are the tacit,  how does this change the very notions of how we want to build systems? How does it change how we want to think about immersive learning and so on so forth... If we have a world of constant flux, of constant change we shouldn't overlook something. Maybe the most important thing we have to worry about in our students, etc. is how do we afford curiosity?  Because basically if you're not curious you're screwed in a world of constant flux.  In fact many of our kids start out in the world incredibly curious. How do we honor that curiosity in the way we run our own school systems?  (JSB)
If curiosity is another basic, how does the structure of schools support learner curiosity? How can one be seriously curious if the entire school year is not only mapped and determined, but via institutional imperatives such as standards, the educational experience is mapped?  Where is the room to occasion, to create, to wander and wonder?

As a beginning teacher with a few years of experience, I remember thinking that when the course structures I began with failed often about 5 weeks into the school year, that my thinking had not been sufficient. I later realized that the structures failed out of necessity as I made room for students' voices, curiosities, interests: I could not name these ahead and had at the time no adequate language to place hold the tacit--the experiential when I planned.  I grappled with how to occasion learning at a time when belief in causality reigned supreme. I grappled with both content and context.  It is rarely, if ever, a singular matter of content.

JSB suggest that a blended epistemology of knowing, making, and playing of both content and context represent a new culture of learning.
Soar (M.A. Reilly, 1/2009)

So 2 questions I know I am pondering:
  1. How is curiosity engendered where I/you work and who gets to do the engendering?
  2. If new (not the) basics include: knowing, making, and playing--how am I/you how are these represented to learners? Parents? Teachers? Administrators? Local and State Board of Education members? Secretary of Education?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Where None is the Truth - Photographic Essay

I went with a colleague (John Madden) to Manhattan the other day in order to walk the High Line in anticipation of taking learning walks with high school students throughout this school year. While there I set a single task for myself: to shoot candid images and see what I might learn about perspective and truth.

Richard Avedon said:
“A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth. ”

Calling (M.A. Reilly, 9/2011)

Crossing (M.A. Reilly, 9/2011)

Parts (M.A. Reilly, 9/2011)
Continuum (M.A. Reilly, 9/2011)
Aligned (M.A. Reilly, 9/2011)

The Sketch (M.A. Reilly, 9/2011)
Something Temporary (M.A. Reilly, 9/2011)

Writing on the Street (M.A. Reilly, 9/2011)

In Between (M.A. Reilly, 9/2011)
Cross Walk (M.A. Reilly, 9/2011)

Shadow Light (M.A. Reilly, 9/2011)

Busy (M.A.Reilly, 9/2011)

Talking with Hands (M.A.Reilly, 9/2011)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Moral Decision Making & Standardized Learning: A Reply to David Brooks

Today in David Brooks's column, If It Feels Right, he shared findings researchers (Christian Smith, Kari Christoffersen, Hilary Davidson, Patricia Snell Herzog) report about the capacity of 18- to 23-year-olds to think about moral dilemmas. The news isn't encouraging.

Brooks states:
Smith and company emphasize, they have not been given the resources — by schools, institutions and families — to cultivate their moral intuitions, to think more broadly about moral obligations, to check behaviors that may be degrading. In this way, the study says more about adult America than youthful America.
Marchers at SOS March (M.A. Reilly, Washington D.C. 2011)


Well not if you are a public school educator in the United States toiling beneath the push for greater and greater standardization. We have been raising our voices to say what the researchers found for  more than a decade.

Frankly, I find little surprising in what David Brooks reports and want to suggest that on the current course of standardization we can only expect diminished capacities for learners to think deeply about moral issues. Cultivating 'moral intuition' requires imagination and will always reflect the depth of thinking/feeling and the practices inherent in the institutions (schools, family, communities, religion, workplaces) in which our young people come of age.

Mr. Brooks, for nearly 30 years I have been an educator and have opposed the forced standardization of thinking that is clearly framing how learning occurs at public schools throughout our country.  Each time you feature in your column a superman-type school reformer, I cringe knowing the whiplash response will be to lessen what little remaining control I and others who actually reside in public schools will have to make local decisions.  It is ever so trendy to get on the reform bandwagon, but know this: learners' diminished moral thinking is one result of such trendiness.

It's difficult to occasion deeply thinking young people when schools are forced to become more and more standardized through common core curricula, commercialized curriculum products and programs that are forced into schools in receipt of grant monies, and mistaking scientifically proven programs for teachers. Thinking the teacher can be removed as thinker and replaced with "scientifically researched" programs and then ordered to teach from prescribed scripts written at another time in another place by someone else is faulty.  This epic construct kills children's aptness and will to think.

Moral dilemmas require flexibility of thought, the capacity and willingness to recognize other, and the practice of embracing ambiguities. None of these dispositions fit neatly in multiple choice tests or in a nation that overly privileges standardized lessons, programs, curricula (see Common Core) and believes that testing children 9 times a year in mathematics and reading and ignoring everything else is an evolved practice. Consider that we have rested in the hands of a few people (elites similar to the composition of the Committee of Ten) the decision as to what should be taught to150 million children annually and they have returned to us via the Common Core State Standards the edict that story, yes story Mr. Brooks, should be severely lessened in what young people read and compose.

Lind Darling-Hammond Speaking at SOS March (M.A. Reilly Washington D.C. 2011)
Only fools fail to understand that story is the means by which  all cultures, all people here on earth transmit and have transmitted values, beliefs, fears, theories, concerns, joys, sacrifices--all potential examples of moral decision making in action and rendered through written, visual, musical, movement or hybrid/remixed forms of text.


And the Common Core folks would order across all public high schools a reduction of story making so that at the high school level it represents only 20% of what young people compose. Similarly, high school learners will be limited to reading 8 full length literary works for their entire high school career. 8 works.

Mr. Brooks, we cannot occasion young citizens who think carefully about moral dilemmas and have participated in moral decision making when we routinely strip agency from teachers and students, story from schools, and decision making from all who actually reside at the school house and instead value business models, business leaders' ethos, market values, superheroes, and the very narrow and standardized curricula that is remaking American education into routinized factory experiences where one curricula fits 150 million learners and decision making is not allowed.

Moral decision making arises from local context. Remove the local and what are you left with? William Carlos Williams told us years ago that when we are controlled by vacuous laws we are left with "a corpse wrapped in a dirty mantle."

Winding Home (M.A. Reilly, South Dakota, 2010)
It is time for every learner to say no through the political process at the local, state, and national levels to the dehumanized practices associated with school reform. We must offer alternatives that rebuke the single idea of school as THE place of learning and our alternatives need to be local to their own ground--ones that value the funds of knowledge citizens bring and engender.

We must imagine alternatives that return agency to corpus, voice to the masses. In a few weeks  a publication will be released about disrupting the status quo of schooling.  I am pleased to have written the opening to that small book and will post a link for you here so that you can read the full text.

Mr. Brooks we need your voice. And we need it to be informed not by the trendy, but by the deep story--  that which you make your trade doing.  Please come visit schools and listen.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Apps for Grades 3 and 4

During the next week I will begin working with three elementary teachers in a culturally relevant pedagogy pilot.  To that end, I will co-teach once a week with the teachers (when that makes sense) and have recently procured high quality global multicultural texts and technology (will blog about the books soon and the methods as the school year gets underway).  In this blog post I want to share the apps that will be available to students through iPod touches.

The school was recently made wireless and a tech infusion placed some new laptops and iPads in classrooms.  In addition, the three teachers will also have a cart with 40 iPod touches and a MacBook pro. On each iPod touch, teachers and students will be trying out the following apps.

Please note: Great big thanks go to Royan Lee who told me about Angie Harrison and her dynamite list of apps and Ian Chia for his list of apps on diigo.

So here's the starting collection:

In aWorld Drama
MadPad - Remix Your LifeStoryrobe
Puppet Pals
Screen Shot from Project Noah
Notes (Preloaded on the iPod Touch)
Story Buddy Jr
Strip Design
Story Wheel
ABC for Me
Rory's StoryCubes
Sock Puppets
Hipstamatic App
Project Noah

Creating: These apps are use for creating visuals 
360 Panorama
JotNot Pro (Scanner)

Recording/Augmentattive Communciating/Communication
Dragon Dictation
Talking Tom Cat
Voice Memos (Preloaded on the iPod Touch)
TapToTalk Uploader

Mathematics: Please note that Everyday Mathematics is used in the elementary schools and as such a lot of the apps connect with that program.
Everyday Mathematics Baseball Multiplication with 1-6 Facts
From this MirrorPaint
Everyday Mathematics Baseball Multiplication with  1-12 Facts
Everyday Mathematics Divisibility Dash
Everyday Mathematics Top-It Addition
Everyday Mathematics Beat the Computer Multiplication
Everyday Mathematics Fraction Equivalents
Everyday Mathematics Monster Squeeze
Everyday Mathematics Tric-Trac
Everyday Mathematics Top-It Subtraction
Multi Tables
Montesorri Counting Board
Calculator (Preloaded on the iPod Touch)

Books & Book Apps:
Velveteen Rabbit (Ruckus mobile media): Told by Meryl Streep
John Henry (Ruckus mobile media) : Told by Denzel Washington
Screen Shot from John Henry
Untying the Knot
The Four Seasons
Michelle Obama in Pictures
Lola and Fred
Our Choice
Lana Sultan's The Amazing Adventures of Eco Boy
Lana Sultan's The Amazing Adventures of Eco Boy 2
Cucumber Soup (Pic Pocket Books)
Pocket Zoo
Who Will Rule?
Fierce Grey Mouse
A Fine Musician
Bloom App

Bloom (also composing)

Indoor Recess/Games
Fantastic Four in a Row
Fruit Ninja
Geared 2
GameCenter (Preloaded on the iPod Touch)
Yatzy HD
Myles & Ayesha Black Inventors Match Game

Word Study/Sketching & Drawing
Spell Number
Glow Draw
Chalk Draw
Graffiti Draw!

Social Studies
Oregon Trail
Maps (Preloaded on the iPod Touch)
Google Earth
Fotopedia Heritage

osmos iphone ipad game app logo Osmos iPhone & iPad Game App Review
Star Walk
Weather (Preloaded on the iPod Touch)
Weather Channel
Dinosaurs: American Museum of Natural History
The Package

Teacher Tools
OER Search
QR Code ReaderGoodreads
Fountas & Pinnell Prompting GuideTwitter
YouTube (Preloaded on the iPod Touch)

On Opening Page
FaceTime (Preloaded on the iPod Touch)
Calendar (Preloaded on the iPod Touch)
Photos (Preloaded on the iPod Touch)
Camera (Preloaded on the iPod Touch)
iTunes (Preloaded on the iPod Touch)
Settings (Preloaded on the iPod Touch)
Dragon Go
Clock (Preloaded on the iPod Touch)