Saturday, February 24, 2007

Shifting Paradigms . . . Again!

I can feel my thinking shifting (finally) . . . bits and pieces here and there. In the classroom, I moved from thinking about teaching to thinking about learning. Here, I think I've moved from thinking about learning to thinking about living. What a paradigm shift!

On a practical level, those thoughts have changed the questions I ask. Instead of saying to myself, "What am I going to teach today?" I've moved to asking, "What are students going to do today?" That moved me much more toward the idea of student-centered instruction. However, since that time, I've started thinking more about the importance of experience in learning. That has transformed my question to, "Why should it matter to students?"

Yesterday, I realized that I might be on the verge of still another shift . . . . what if instead of focusing on knowledge, we focused on needs? Teaching to their needs is very different than teaching a set curriculum . . . which, if the goal is that the curriculum reflect the field, shouldn't ever be all that set anyhow because the field is always shifting and changing.

So now it becomes a question of integrating the students into the experience and the experiences into the students. And THAT leads me to ask why we spend so much time "creating" experiences when there is a whole world out there just waiting for us?!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Conversations Make It Real?

I was reading Danah Boyd's latest post in which she muses on the ways that the "public performance" of our lives in socially networked spaces change the "reality" of our experiences. I love the quote with which she begins her post and it makes me wonder if this isn't what makes the Web 2.0 world go ‘round:

"The presence of others who see what we see and hear what we hear assures us of the reality of the world and ourselves." -- Hannah Arendt

Like the Velveteen rabbit . . . people all “esforzandose” to ensure that their desire to “become real” is fulfilled.

Leads to all sorts of interesting questions . . . who do we spend our time talking with in “real” life? Are those people different from the folks we spend time with “virtually?” Are our goals for both sets of relationships the same, or do they meet different needs? Are there people who play in both worlds who aren’t so interested in being heard by the world at large, but rather, are content for a small minority of a chosen few to “witness their worlds” . . . and if so, why is that?

Sigh. Probably another conversation I'll never have . . .

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Universes In Translation

So I'm back to thinking about Quantum Physics again, and it occurs to me that the paradox of truth is that it is both self-evident and veiled at the same time. Why? Perhaps because there is so much power inherent in truth that it must be carefully protected so that only those who have been adequately prepared to wield it can fully access it? Ahhh, I love to speculate, don't I?!

Back to my point, though . . . take hypercubes, for instance. Their "truthfulness" is elegantly obvious . . . intuitively, you can "feel" their realness . . . yet so much of our understanding of them is veiled . . . in that fourth dimension, in those pesky mathematical symbols that I don't understand . . . (and it suddenly strikes me that symbols seem to be a principle way of conveying truth, making it more accessible, and transmitting it, as well as a major means of obscuring it from prying eyes).

And so for me, it becomes an issue of learning multiple languages . . . I cannot understand the math without recourse to visual representations which immerse me in the aesthetics and the geometry of the principles . . . and I cannot understand those without recourse to prosaic explanations. So in order to pursue truth, I have to work across and through at least 3 languages (art, discourse, and math), pursuing all three through multiple pathways, all of which will hopefully converge (as they did in this article on Electricity, Magnetism, & Hypercubes--an article in which I finally see that a hypercube is simply what 3-D space looks like when you add the dimension of time--like Step 4 shows in the video Imagining the 10th Dimension. All the lattices that I've been fascinated with lately--vedic math, lattice math, the axonometry image used at the bottom of this page, and Drawing Gravity in 3 Dimensions--also are suddenly relevant, as are the thoughts in Godel, Escher, Bach and my triangles (Pascal's triangle, the Sierpinski triangle, etc. This stuff is finally starting to connect and I cannot WAIT to see where it will lead me!)

I'm captivated by this thought of translation . . . and that of translating all these ideas and experiences into social contexts and situations. Then I wonder if that isn't exactly what is happening through social software such as and social networking sites like Facebook? Lattices (a.k.a. networks) are being created across dimensions of time that are generating electromagnetic (a.k.a. social?) forces that have physical and social consequences. I wonder if anyone has studied the geometry of social networks to see if patterns like hypercubes emerge? ;-) I wonder if anyone has thought about how sites like Facebook are actually networks of translation?

Perhaps I should give Malcolm Gladwell a ring and let him know that I have stumbled upon the concept for his next book . . . the ways in which mavens and connectors and salesmen thin-slice not only domains or people's nonverbal expressions, but also conversations across those domains AND conversations . . . and then package them and deliver them to the masses through social networks that are really just multiple hypercubes! Maybe Madeline L'Engle was more on target than anyone could have possibly realized?! ;-) It must be getting late b/c I am getting very silly!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Conversation as Improvisation

What a joyful thing it is to listen to the improvisation of a gifted musician! Experiencing the synergy that arises when multiple musicians, freestyling poets, dancers, or comedians improvise dynamically in response to one another is even more compelling.

So why don't people improvise more often? Improvisation can certainly have negative connotations (as in situations where one has to improvise or "make do" because one lacks sufficient resources of some kind or another). However, I find that I tend to associate it more with a competence that yields flexibility, fluidity, and spontaneity. In order to improvise, one must possess a broad, deep, internalized understanding of not only the fundamentals of a field, but also of its intricacies, its subtleties, and its nuances. One must know the rules so well that one can consistently and accurately predict the effects that breaking them (and thus, the expectations they engender) will have on one's audience. All of humor rests on this principle (of setting up expectations and then purposefully deviating from them in ways that engender a well-spring of surprise that produces an involuntary emotional reaction). One must also know one's audience.

From the point of view of the improviser, I imagine that it is most fun when one discovers someone who not only understands the improvisation one has just finished rendering, but also has the competence, sensitivity, and wit to reply in a meaningful, but novel way. This makes me wonder about conversation as a form of improvisation. What makes some conversations so much more satisfying than others? Are fabulous conversationalists those who bring tremendous stores of knowledge to the table--both in terms of the topics of conversation and also of the audience, context, and culture of the conversation? Or is knowledge less important than finely honed observational skills that allow one to recognize opportunities within the conversation for novel contributions, recursions, or new iterations? Or is it simply the flexibility that such knowledge, skill, and understanding provides that makes it work?

Whatever the case, scintillating conversations are unmistakable. I always know when I'm having one, and it is easy to recognize when others feel they are engaged in a similar experience (irrespective of the actual content of the conversation).

So, once again, I raise the question of improvisation. Are scintillating conversations merely the product of skillfully manipulated elements and patterns of conversation? Are they the result of agile and flexible participation? Or is something more aesthetic in nature at work . . . a sensitivity to natural rhythms, the ebbs and flows of the tides of a conversation, and an ability to weave balance and harmony into the composition? Certainly there is an element of risk involved in improvisation . . . a willingness to let the composition emerge, unfold, and guide. There is also an element of play at work . . . a willingness to experiment, to explore, to be surprised by one's own discoveries, and to pursue them to see where they might lead. That requires tremendous confidence (or a strong sense of security).

Perhaps we don't improvise because we don't feel competent enough, confident enough, or safe enough to do so? Yet, in some ways, isn't improvisation what leads to some of the most creative and amazing breakthroughs in science, in art, in mathematics, in poetry?

Things of Eternal Consequence

I've moved from thinking about teaching, to thinking about learning, to thinking about living. This is the comment I made to a friend today--and I was shocked by the profundity of its implications as I heard it escape my lips! What I was really saying is that as a result of experience, my perspective has expanded, and I am able to see that the most important aims and objects of educational experience ought to involve things of eternal consequence. By implication, I was also admitting that I have allowed trivia to consume more of my time than it merits, while neglecting things far more deserving of my attention.

On the other hand, the connotations of each of those three words (teaching, learning, and living) also imply that I have undergone a powerful transformation--one that has helped me to reframe my role as a teacher, students' roles as learners, and the purposes of the time that we spend together each day.

I think about Deloria & Wildcat's Power and Place and their insistence that we should consider every action through the lens of the impact it will have seven generations after it is initiated. I think of Tom Barone's book, Touching Eternity, and the impact that the teacher whose career it chronicles had on the adult lives of his students. Then I think about the people and ideas that have most influenced who I am, what I value, and where I'm going. How do I actively invest my time in building relationships with ideas, people, and things of eternal consequence? How do I use my personal influence to purposefully design places and set aside times and spaces that will catalyze, nurture, and sustain such work? What would happen to my students if I could accomplish that in ways that riveted our mutual attention on the joy of living instead of on the task of learning or the responsibilities of teaching?

The trick is developing a sense of discernment sharp enough to distinguish what matters and what does not. Saying is different from seeing, and seeing is different from doing. Saying that things of eternal consequence matter is a far different endeavor than seeing which things those are, and identifying things of eternal consequence is far different from knowing what to do about them once they have been named.

For me, I suppose there is a simple pleasure in recognizing that the words I chose represent at least the beginnings of an enduring personal transformation!