“A print-based culture, as writer Neil Postman pointed out, demands rationality. The sequential, propositional character of the written word fosters what Walter Ong calls the “analytic management of knowledge.” But our brave new world of images dispenses with these attributes because the images do not require them to be understood. Communication in the image-based culture is not about knowledge. It is about the corporate manipulation of emotions, something logic, order, nuance and context protect us against. Thinking, in short, is forbidden.”—Chris Hedges: Retribution for a World Lost in Screens - Chris Hedges’ Columns - Truthdig
An essay in the Ideas section of the Boston Globe this weekend, entitled The Me-Sized Universe, discusses how to bridge the gap between the scale of the universe and the scale within which humans exist. It’s an exploration of some fun facts about the cosmos that are within our grasp and that don’t threaten to overwhelm us too much.
While it is a fact that natural selection weeds out unhealthy genes from the gene pool, there are many cases where an imperfect organism has survived. Some examples of this are fungi, sharks, crayfish, and mosses – these have all remained essentially the same over a great period of time [millions of years]. These organisms are all sufficiently adapted to their environment to survive without improvement.
My problem with how “reform” sometimes manifests itself.
Programs and teaching methods geared towards finding “right answers” for decontextualized test items do not promote critical thinking nor leave room for exploration of nuance, paradox, contradiction, multiplicity, shifting perspectives, and complexity —skills that are needed in the fast-paced, interconnected global world in which they live.
I’ve been thinking more and more about what “critical thinking” really means or should mean. I feel like I’m honing in on that idea. Couldn’t be more excited.
Today, I started teaching students to work in groups to accomplish a creative task (building straw towers, okay, somewhat creative). I tried to train students for the various group work roles. (Riley’s got a great post on this). I felt really great about the lesson, and in some classes it worked extremely well - students were engaged, talking with each other about the task at hand, etc.
The bold words above are becoming a more central idea in my teaching.
The first solar sail ever to be used by a spacecraft has been deployed. Awesome.
My favourite part is with regards to how they deploy it:
The key difficulty with such a thin and large object is that it’s hard to deploy. “The things we’re watching for are all their dynamical behaviors that you ultimately can’t model and that might cause undue stress on the material,” Friedman said. In the IKAROS design, the sail was unfurled by using centrifugal force generated by spinning the craft.
Group work should be structured to promote positive interdependence, a situation where in order to be successful, the group must work as a team and complete the task with every member participating.
Social skills, such as taking turns, active listening, and sharing can be built into the task. Others such as compromise, agreeing to disagree, and encouraging others, which are particularly important with a difficult class, may need to be purposefully modeled and assessed in order to become part of the classroom vernacular. But deliberate teaching of these skills early on will enhance learning for the rest of the year.
Teaching students to think metacognitively about their own behaviors is also an effective strategy because it forces them to take ownership of their feelings and reactions to others.
"Ownership of feelings" can get thrown around a lot. But so many students today described their past actions and attitudes as though they had no control. This is worth devoting some thought to.
Our ancestors were eager to understand the world but had not quite stumbled upon the method. They imagined a small, quaint, tidy universe in which the dominant forces were gods… In that universe humans played an important role if not a central role. We were intimately bound up with the rest of nature….
Today we have discovered a powerful and elegant way to understand the universe, a method called science; it has revealed to us a universe so ancient and so vast that human affairs seem at first sight to be of little consequence. We have grown distant from the Cosmos. Is has seemed remote and irrelevant to everyday concerns. But science has found not only that the universe has a reeling and ecstatic grandeur, not only that it is accesible to human understanding, but also that we are, in a very real and profound sense, a part of that Cosmos, born from it, our fate deeply connected with it. The most basic human events and the most trivial trace back to the universe and its origins.
Carl Sagan, from the introduction to the mass market edition of Cosmos