Issue #65 - The Spaces in Between

Plastic Trays

Although my hay fever is rampant and my eyes are itchy, I’ve enjoyed the smell of pollen, spring rain on dry earth, showers washing dust from the streets. Everywhere white blossom is scattered like so much confetti, stuck to car windows, speckled over sidewalks. It looks very beautiful.

We are almost at the end of the semester, I think my students could tell I was a bit tired but carried the conversation and discussion throughout our lessons. We didn’t think too hard about things, there were stories and anecdotes, we spent time sharing past experiences. We talked about the learning spaces, virtual spaces, and virtual learning spaces.

I spent last weekend completing the exercises in Felix’s online course. I drew lots of cups of tea, very quickly, blind contour drawings of people and quick sketches to test water-soluble inks. The art and craft table is looking very messy, and there is high demand for its use in our household, so a few understandable grumblings that I need to tidy up after myself.

I like a messy room, but also sometimes, everything needs to be in its right place.


Teaching & Learning

I am thinking about my summer course, and have one or two, or possibly three students who are interested in taking it. As it will be a small group, I’m thinking about whether this might work as an independent study. I’m going to record a few videos and tutorials (using iorad) and see if these might help, then use 1:1’s to talk about projects. Again, this is about finding ways to service the technical content using alternative methods of delivery. I remember talking to Adam Proctor about this; you don’t want to get bogged down in Photoshop or Unity because it tends to use the time that you need to give to story, engagement, design.

I wonder what other aspects I can rethink, for instance - how much support do the students need before you can untether them from instruction? At which point do you stop being a teacher and become a consultant?

These are questions that I’ve seen elsewhere in design-thinking in particular and wonder if they can be adapted to language learning and cultural understanding. In a constructivist classroom, there is a certain point the teacher needs to retreat, perhaps in its purest way, they weren’t there at all, it’s just a table with an assortment of materials and a sign on the wall that says “build it”.

"Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting."
— Ivan Illich

That’s the quote on Adam’s website, I think it speaks to his desire to create an environment, both virtual and actual where the learner is free to explore, create and make. I haven’t spoken to him for a while, but I imagine he’s on the right track.

Another note

This morning, for the first time in eons, I drove to work to meet one of my students. They have invented a cool way to incorporate accelerometers into theatrical props so that they can be played, sort of like instruments. Think of a broom or an iron that the actor picks up and moves about so that they are manipulating the sounds that the audience hears.

This student has spent the year making these devices and playing with the interface between the actor, the audience, and performance sounds. There are so many questions here, how the audience recognizes that the sounds they are hearing are being manipulated by the actor, the effects that the warping and mixing of sound within the play itself. There is magic here, these props come to life, and there is space for the actors to improvise and play with the sound and visual presentation of the object. (Sound on for the video).

Life Lessons

In class, we watched a recording of Stephen Heppell’s visit last March, during the early days of the pandemic when he generously and graciously gave us his time to talk about his work. Here’s a different video of him recorded at Cambridge on similar themes.

His insistence on treating the learner in a holistic way, thinking about the shoes they wear (or don’t), the classroom sounds, the air quality, colors, the food they eat, is truly inspirational. While he and his collaborators set out to capture marginal gains, the benefits are often greater, these are common-sense profits. For instance, it feels intuitive that growing plants in a classroom raises overall attainment, reduces low-level disruption, and that caring for them increases self-esteem. In the case of one student; “…turns out he wasn’t naughty, he just needed a plant to care for.” Wonderful.

The food bit is super important and quite frankly, I’ve been slightly horrified by what gets served in school canteens in our local district. Some of what gets slopped up is literally inedible. We talked about this in class and one of my bunch pointed me in the direction of this clip of Michael Moore, visiting a typical classroom in France.

I like that there are real plates on the table, no plastic trays.

Lost and Found

Michael B. Horn writes The Future of Learning newsletter and published this interesting article in Forbes, asking us to go right back to thinking about the purpose of schooling. And another link about teaching after the pandemic, Promise that’s the last one for now.

A similar video to the school dinners one, but this time about Health Care. I know I’m a foreigner and I supposedly don’t understand these things, but honestly tell me what is working about this system? When the guy fixing the AC fell out down the loft steps his first words to me as he recovered consciousness were: “Don’t call an ambulance…”

Thank you

Okay, so another food truck will be parking up outside this evening, stay tuned to find out which one. I have a feeling there isn’t a veggie option.

Going into the last week of teaching this semester, it’ll be one of those heads-down weeks and coffee will see me through.

I did manage to record some audio and it is trapped in Audacity waiting to escape. Did I mention that this recording software was invented at CMU? oh, I have, apologies.

That’s me for another week, take good care of yourselves, drop me a line if you like, and tell me about things that you’re looking forward to over the summer.