02 March 2012

If learning is to be constant, Space, Time, Technology, Pedagogy, Curriculum Must be the Variables

Join us, if you can, for a deep dive into these concepts at ICT in Education Conference (Comhdháil ICT san Oideachas) in Thurles, County Tipperary, in the Republic of Ireland - 18/19May 2012

If we insist on teaching Algebra in our schools, not once but twice, the least we can do is to actually use it when we think about education. And here's the equation: If (a) (b) (c) (d) (e) are constant, x will always be the variable. In order to make x the constant,
(a) (b) (c) (d) (e) must be variable. In all circumstances where x = student achievement and (a) (b) (c) (d) (e) represent Time, Space, Technology, Pedagogy, and Curriculum.

In simpler terms, if all students are to succeed, everything else in and about the school must be flexible.

This is the easy-to-understand, mathematical way Hamilton, Michigan Superintendent Dave Tebo re-worked my thoughts a couple of nights ago on Twitter.

I have written (and talked) a lot about the history of education, and why it "looks" the way it does, but without repeating all of that, let's just say that the linear, time-constructed, subject-divided, age-organized, one method at a time, system of education does not really match with the way most humans learn. It never has, and it certainly does not in this century.


Technologies define "the school" and can either separate it from, or connect it to, education. The first technology of "school" is time. We separate "learning time" from "non-learning time." The second technology of "school" is the division of students and subjects. Boxes are created separating eight-year-olds from ten-year-olds, thirteen-year-olds from fifteen-year-olds, and then separating "language" from "history" from "maths" from "arts." The third technology of "school" is the built environment, the walls, furniture, floors, ceilings, lighting, surfaces, et al, of the place. The fourth technology of "school" lies in the information and communication system options in place, from chalkboard and paper and pencils to mobiles and blogs and cameras.

And if we are going to change "teaching places" into "learning spaces" all of these technologies must be re-imagined in wholly new ways, because the only way to make learning available to all is to re-create "school" as a constantly variable space - physical space, temporal space, virtual space, imagined space - which constantly flexes to the needs of the learners and the learning community.

Time, Space, the pedagogy of "Attention," all flex in this sixth grade language classroom
The physical spaces where students spend their time must be comfortable, adaptable, and offer a world of options. Sit in a chair or on the floor, on a pillow or on the windowsill, touching friends or consciously alone, standing at a table or sprawled across the floor, in bright light or dim, with noise surrounding, or headphones creating one's own aural place, or with the rain splashing your window view. The information and communication technology must offer the same, with information flowing via video or audio, print on paper or print on screens, through tablets and mobiles and laptops and larger touchscreens, via pens or pencils, on paper or whiteboards or washable floors or the glass of windows.

The Boeing 787, reconceiving the airliner meant
missing deadlines.
Time must change as well. We need many fewer deadlines and many more commitments to deep learning. My sister could read - and read well (as in both decoding and comprehension) - at age two. I haven't yet caught up in decoding to where she was then. Turns out, it doesn't matter in terms of what we know, or what we can do. Einstein - famously - struggled in school. Steve Wozniak couldn't handle computer science or math courses. Norman Maclean published his first book when he was 73-years-old. People have their own timelines and schedules, and we can either respect that fact, or we can do a great deal of damage. In addition, here are some projects which have arrived long after their deadlines, aircraft from the B-29 to the 787-Dreamliner, spacecraft from Freedom 7 to Apollo 11, vehicles from the Ford Model T to everything from Tesla, and a whole lot of other groundbreaking efforts. If you want your students to copy from Wikipedia set deadlines, if you want original thinking - well, that's a lot less time-predictable.

We also need many fewer "schedules." Can kids work at their desks or at studio tables with a team like adults do? Can kids work on something even when you want to move on? Can kids take breaks when they need them?

Choice in space, inputs, ICT...
Of course subject division must end. Watching that Guardian video (above) we can see how all of the artificial lines we draw are absurd. In every situation, in every analysis, in every bit of learning, the wider the context the more "entry paths" exist, and the deeper the resultant understanding. Can you read Dickens or Fitzgerald without studying capitalism? History? Can you enter either of those realms without knowledge of maths and sciences? Can you even begin to operate arithmetic without knowing culture? You can only separate these things if your goal is the shallow, "testable," understanding so prized by national educational leaders.

all students are to succeed, everything else in and about the school must be flexible. And perhaps the place to start is with this question... if it's "only in school" you might need to get rid of it. Forty years ago a German educator said, "Only in school would you find thirty people working on the same thing not allowed to speak to each other," a classic observation. Here are some others: Only in school will you find people sitting in traditional school furniture. Only in school will you find people working on computers without food and drink. Only in schools will you find absolute scheduling which consistently interrupts work... Go on, make your own list...

From gum chewing to seating, lighting to time, eating to work schedule, school is the most regimented place in our societies, training people for something which, if it ever existed, lies deep in our past, and failing to either offer all students a chance, or to help our children learn how to manage their own lives.

So the challenge is to recreate - to turn those 19th Century "Teaching Places" into contemporary "Learning Spaces" which cross the entire realm of the educational experience. Our children, our world, need us to do that.

- Ira Socol

1 comment:

Emilie Rinehart EDM310 said...


I too agree with you that in order for students to succeed, the schools must be flexible. I do see how the standards of learning and teaching have become archaic and will ultimately sway students away from wanting to learn.

I agree with your statement, "the only way to make learning available to all is to re-create "school" as a constantly variable space - physical space, temporal space, virtual space, imagined space - which constantly flexes to the needs of the learners and the learning community." I think the traditional desk and chair method of learning can decrease the motivation of students. Having a more comfortable space for students to learn will allow them to freely engage and want to embrace their education. I never thought of the "school" as a constant variable until and it makes complete sense. Looking at education in the way to which you present is so refreshing. I just wish other educators felt as you did.

As a future educator and a student at the University of South Alabama, I try to connect technology with education. There are so many valuable tools that technology gives us to embrace the world of education and to make it worth our while.

I like how you said that Time must change as well and there shouldn't be as many schedules and deadlines. I have come to find out that when you have or give a deadline, the product is not always the best it can be. Usually the product after the deadline is much more up to par.

In my future classroom I would like to have my students working in teams like you questioned about. I like this idea because it allows the students to behave as adults (in most cases) and gain an idea of working with others.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts about turning "teaching place" into a "learning space". Your blog post was thorough and quite informative. I look forward to reading more enlightening thoughts from you!

Emilie Rinehart