Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Private Universe

How many times have I thought I knew something and when asked how it works or the basic concepts, was at a loss for the explanation? Unfortunately, too many times! Sometimes I feel I should know it and what I end up doing is explaining the same thing over again but with different words. It doesn't change the fact that I didn't know or only knew enough to discuss it shallowly.

I feel this was the case in "A Private Universe." I wonder if the fact that the first students interviewed were Harvard students was meant to shock viewers in some way. The reality is just because someone attended Harvard doesn't automatically grant them intellectual knowledge in all fields - any more than a child born in the 90's is automatically a genius with technology. Beyond that, it wasn't necessarily surprising that the Rindge and Latin students weren't able to "flesh" out seasonal shifts, the earth's rotation and moon phases correctly. My own particular bias is that I feel that when confronted by a "deficit," we are apt to fill it, especially if pressed for an answer.

If we're filling a deficit, how did we get the information? This is just pure speculation backed up by my own personal experience, with absolutely no empirical data... Now that I've issued that caveat, let's move on...

The Knowledge Building article discussed iterative idea improvement with the thought that students engaged in knowledge building will continue to explore and expand their thinking about topics over longer periods of time than just the span of a traditional unit. In a traditional class and school, however, students study topics over a set period of time and then move on to other topics. Many of the points made during those units that a student "learned" fall by the wayside but some remain, becoming vague over time. Discussions with others outside of class, perhaps at home with parents or siblings might add more detail. Books, even fictional ones, on that topic may add more information. None of these "sources" may be completely right or wrong but the information may be remembered, if somewhat altered. Is it possible that, years later, when asked about that particular topic, the student is able to pull all sorts of extraneous, half remembered facts together, piece it together, and present a viable theory? Chances are there will be a memory of studying something in class but the information that is now present may be the compilation of sources - spun with that individual's personal theory or bias.

The part that was startling in all of this was that the teacher was surprised. She seemed shocked at their theories and that they came in with incorrect knowledge. Considering the age of the student, it wasn't shocking at all. Once could be reasonably certain that the topic of the sun, the earth and the moon had come up in earlier grades.

Speculation like this makes it clear why I called this blog "Musings from Tis..."

1 comment:

  1. Sally - I think as teachers we may not put enough emphasis on understanding those bits of extraneous information children come in with about a topic. Those little bits they hear from a television program, a game, or family members can often be absorbed in bits and pieces - and even if that information was initially correct it may have only been partially absorbed leading to misconceptions. Sometimes family members try to help children learn and with perfectly good intentions they help to create misconceptions based on their own incorrect knowledge or based on the fact that they try to simplify the presentation. One example I gave in my discussion post was that of a Kindergaretn student who was CERTAIN that the first letter of his name WAS his name. As parents how often do we say "A is for ***" in trying to help children make associations with letters. Well this young man took it for it's leteral meaning and his teacher is having a hard time moving on to incorporate all of the letter into his name. "This is my name - that teacher is wrong."

    I thin it is important that we get a feel for all of the things our student know or THINK they know about a topic before we begin teaching it. I suspect the teacher in the video was taken aback because she assumed that the children came in with the correct background knowledge needed to learn the new information she was going to present - but she never probed before begin her teaching to be sure she was correct! I think she would have quickly found some misconceptions in their prior knowledge that she could address when teaching the new information leading to better understanding in the end.