Something very few people know about me, is that I like bridges. I love the aesthetic nature of a bridge. My eyes are drawn to their symmetry, their style, their use, and how they connect from one space into another. I'm not so much interested in how they were made, because I think that is the allure. I'm more interested in the why and the when of a bridge, its history, if you will. Bridges can serve as a literal bridge between the past and the present.
Prior to enrolling in a master's degree program, I rarely gave thought as to the why I enjoyed looking at a bridge. Yes, it's art, and I enjoy art, but what is it about a bridge that I find so ingriguing? While reading Dr. Bobbe Baggio's book, "The Visual Connection" , I have learned ways in which our minds process visual information. When designing, one must think about the aesthetic nature of the design, as well as the informatin being stated. I have learned that many times, less is more. In regards to my favorite bridges, I realize now, that the simpler designed bridges are what attract me. I like the clean, rounded lines of arch-type bridges. And when I look at them from afar, I see them from left to right, as I would read in a book. Which, Baggio, also claims is something you must take into consideration when desiging in western culture.
Being under a bridge allows me to take a step away from the hustle and bustle of what is happening overhead. I find that the true secrets lie under a bridge. This is where the commoner can come to play. It's where art can take place that helps define a person's feelings at that moment in time. It's where physical limits can be stretched, or reached. And it's where nature and technology show the perfect dichotomy to meld into a visual history of the area. Dervin states that, "Typically, information research attempts to predict and explain human use of information and systems based on across-time-space formulations rather than time-space-bound formulations. The individual defines and attempts to bridge discontinuities or gaps." In my role as an educator, I'm always hoping that my students are bridging the gaps between their previous learning and new information.
In reading the book, The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner, I have come to realize that the United States' way of handling achievement gaps, is completely off target. To bridge the gap between where students should be and where they are, we need a more robust educational system that prepares these students for future jobs. We are doing the future of our country a great disservice. As the wealthiest country in the world, with $60.7 trillion dollars (as of 2018) in private wealth, we should be able to bridge that gap. Our students need technology in their hands. And they need to be taught in the ways in which they are currently learning outside of school.
TPACK, or "Technology, Pedagogical, and Content Knowledge" is a framework to round out a students' knowledge base, thus preparing them for their future. It doesn't mimimize the importance of one idea, but sees all three as equally important in the scope of a learner. Sadly, I find that many teachers across the country, and some whom I know personally, often do not spend enough time in the center of that diagram. And part of the solution, is being open to change.
For me, I thrive to know more. I want to read everything, watch everything, and share knowledge with others. I want my students to be "in the now" and "in the know" with new ways to learn and share information. I use all kinds of technology myself, why shouldn't they? Using apps like TikTok are fun and engaging, so I plan on using Flip Grid as a way for my students to mimic TikTok to respond to their content. I will ask students what specifically they are into, so I can better gauge my audience and tailor their lessons to suit their needs.
The world of education is constantly changing. We cannot hide under the bridge and hope that our world above will slow down. It's fast. It's always changing lanes, and WE have to adapt, not the other way around. Let's take off our roller skates, and race past the cars in our rocket ships to meet our learners on the other side of the bridge.
I just finished watching Eddie Obeng's TED Talk "Smart Failure for a Fast-Changing World". In it, Obeng describes our learning as being too slow for the world in which we currently live. I have said this before, making the point that we are teaching our students for jobs that haven't even been invented yet.
Obeng's diagram shows how our learning is behind where it should be. They (as I do not know this person's preferred pronouns) explain that we have known constants, or "answers", that we've held on to for decades (past). In our minds, the rules haven't changed. So our learning has stayed stagnent as the world around us has drastically changed, and has changed exremely quickly (now). Obeng jokingly states that it's because of the audience's use of technology. And honestly, I have to agree.
In one school I worked in, it was a magnet school for technology. Many of the teachers who worked there, were there prior to the magnet. They did not have a choice in becoming a magnet school. Adopting a theme of technology, for many, was out of their comfort zone. These were seasoned teachers. Some of whom had taught there for twenty years or more and never taught anywhere else. Some would say they "were stuck in their ways." Several were not willing to learn about the technology at the school. They did not go to trainings--whether during school hours or after school/weekends, or even trainings during the summer. And although I would consider some of them excellent teachers, I couldn't help but notice what a disservice this was to the students living in a modern society. After watching Obeng's video, I have to say that I would consider these teachers were excellent teachers...twenty five years+ ago.
Obeng says that there is a magical moment when all the rules changed. They call it, "midnight". In the diagram, the moment is captured as a dot where the line of the world, meets with the line of learning. Then a line is drawn with a clock added, to emphasize the exact moment.
The rules we knew about teaching and learning were flipped. I see this right now in the classes I am currently taking for my master's degree. Video games used solely for entertainment, is a thing of the past. There are many excellent video-game style educational programs. Prodigy, ST Math, iRead, and Fast Math are all examples I have seen and/or personally used with students.
Gamifying your classroom is a way to keep kids engaged without using video games, but using the elements of a video game. For example, students earn points instead of grades. They can earn XP points to "level up", or spend in the classroom store. You can create a live document on your website to allow students to see real-time stats and ranked standings. Students can be put into teams and subteams for even more game play. Gamifying your classroom to keep up with modern technology is also a fun way to add a new level of classroom management to your classroom.
We are not preparing our students for the jobs of their future. Bold statement, I know. But as I read more and more of what is needed for the future, I am becoming more aware of this as being an American issue. We need to prepare our students for the future.
Many jobs that elementary students will be in when they enter the work force, haven't even been invented yet! And although we do not know what the future holds career-wise for these students, we can guide them in becoming critical thinkers and use universal skills that will help them in the future.
One way to do this, is with transliteracy. According to Suzana Sukavic's article "What Exactly is Transliteracy?", she defines transliteracy as the ability to navigate fluidly across a wide variety of technologies, media, and context. Digital cititzenship is the rules and common practices for how to navigate the internet and e-mail realms. But transliteracy, is taking all the information from the internet, social media, books, magazine ariticles, op-ed pieces, nightly news programs, documentaries, and even newspapers, and being able to decipher what is true, what isn't, and what is neccessary for a project, essay, or even social conversations.
In my own practice, students flex their transliteracy skills when they are creating research projects. Just last week, my teammates and I were using our transliteracy skills to write a PBL unit on the music genre of the Blues. Students will be studying slavery and its effects on American culture prior to and after the Emancipation Proclamation. Students will be using articles from the district's reading curriculum, but also exploring youtube videos with examples of early blues musicians, linking current news articles about slavery's effects on today's culture and music, and then write their own lyrics and music in the style of the Blues. I grew up listening to Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and my all time personal favorite, Koko Taylor. Although these artist are considered more "modern", they helped lead the way for musicians beyond blues. I want my students to come to this conclusion as they create their own "blues riffs" using GarageBand and the standard blues progression. They will be uploading all their work to their Google Portfolio to share with teachers, other students, and their family.
"Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we..."
We loaded up in the off-white and poo-brown Ford Aerostar in the wee hours of the morning. My little sister called "First Serve" (as in "first come, first served") and chose the "way, way back". She laid down on top of the backpacks, groceries, ice chest and sleeping bags, snuggling her rump against the back of the "back seat" to look out the back window. We drove the seemingly endless eight hours to Anaheim trading off between the two sisters and little brother in the "way way back." And all through the journey, excitedly thinking about which Disney character we would see first, or which ride was the scariest, or how many churros we'd eat in the one day at Disneyland trip. The excitement, the ambition, the expectations, the full of wonder we were experiencing before even reaching the Grapevine.
I had expectations of this trip. I had high hopes of all the fun things we would see and do there. This little country girl wanted eveything to be fun and a perfect family adventure. In the book. "The Visual Connection" by Dr. Bobbe Baggio, Baggio states, "Expectations are what we imagine might be true or what we think is likely to happen...Most importantly, expectations have emotions or feelings attached to them."
Why this trip, though?
Because this trip is the epitome of my childhood and my family dynamics. What I didn't tell you, was how many times my mom had to "pull over" to yell or spank one of us. What I also didn't tell you, was that my dad's work was the reason we were able to travel to Disneyland in the first place. Oh? Did I forget to mention that we went to Soledad Prison for an hour or two prior to our journey (so my dad could interview an inmate)? Well...my dad went in. My siblings, mother, and I argued in the car and listend to Poco during long wait. I was fourteen. And all this happened on Easter Sunday weekend, 1993.
Why did I let you in on that little glimpse of my life? Because the expectations of going to Disneyland weren't quite happening the way we, kids, had expected.
Before reaching the hotel, we had to stop in L.A. somewhere and visit a dentist. Not for us, but for the piece of evidence in the ice chest we laid upon in the "way, way back." Oh, did you think that ice chest was for food? Sorry to disappoint. My siblings, mom and I, once again, were left waiting outside in the minivan for our second round of the Disney Battle Royale. That evening, my siblings were left in the care of my dad at the hotel, while my mom and I went shopping to make Easter baskets for us kids. I got a new swimsuit (mine was left at home), and the movie FernGully, along with a plethera of jelly beans and robin's eggs.
Baggio states, "The circumstances that situate an event or thought in reality are its context. Context is important to adult learning becauase it provides relevance, and relevance is what gives the information significance and importantce to the learner." If I had just said, "As a kid, I slept on evidence in a baby's homicide case", you probably would've thought that I was a few things. 1. Crazy. 2. A liar, or even 3. Raised by terrible humans. I was none of those. My parents were my biggest supporters growing up and had clear rules. My dad was a homicide investagator, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom who struggled to make dad's paychecks last, all while raising us three rowdy kids in a two bedroom single-wide trailer in a middle of nowhere trailer park.
Does this change your opinion of me? Or my upbringing? Is the new information helping you understand the context of my family's vacation?
In the S.I.T.E. Model, the sociocultural subcontext says that, "family, peers, role models, mentors, community, employer or enterprise all contribute to and influence the social and cultural context of the individual learner." This one particular vacation is being stated to my fellow classmates (and anyone else who may be reading this) as a way to discuss context. Other than family, and close friends, it never really came up. It isn't something that I'm necessarily proud of, but it happened. It's part of my context lens through which I see.
But here I am, on Father's Day, writing about how we were able to go to Disneyland because of something tragic (yes, the person was convicted). My father passed away two years ago last month. His memorial party was Father's Day weekend that year. So, it's a bit of a trigger. But, today is a day that I celebrate the wonderful husband I have who is an amazing father to our son and our three fur babies.
I will leave you with pictures of my dad and me in Disneyland over the years.
We've all been there. We've all walked into a room with a plethora of chairs and tables, anxiously looking at anyone who is already seated feeling our souls are being looked into. We make a half-second eye contact with someone as we push past. Sometimes we mutter a squeaky, "excuse me." We continue shuffling, and take our place near the back (with the way back already taken) instead of the front, so as not to appear too eager. We look to our left and right and say a quick, "hello" as we rummage through our belongings looking for our pen and notepad (or laptop/device). We breathe a sigh of relief as we wait for others to join, doing the same dance we just performed. And then...we stare deeply into their souls as they, now, push past.
I just ate a 20 year old fruitcake. I kid, I actually read an exerpt from, Qualitative Research in Information Management by Jack D. Glazier (University of Missouri-Columbia) and Ronald R. Powell (University of Missouri-Columbia). More specifically, Chapter 6 titled, "From the Mind's Eye of the User: The Sense-making Qualitative-Quantitative Methodology" by Brenda Dervin. It might as well have been a 20 year old fruitcake, it was so dense. It tasted a little nutty, had great flavor, but digesting it is something else. I had to take little bites at a time. And I'm sure, if I were to serve it to a friend or relative, they'd wonder why I was analyzing its contents.
What Dervin is telling us, is that there are constants in nature that we can assume are as "fact", and that human nature is specific in those facts. HOWEVER, our experiences are constant, relative, and individualized. My friend and I may be attending the same concert as we stand and sing together while watching the show, but we are experiencing it differently. My musical background, for example, might allow me to hear that the lead singer is singing slightly flat, while my friend, without that same knowledge, is enjoying the show totally oblivious that my fine-tuned ears are burning in disgust.
Which brings me to my next bite off the ol' fruitcake.
For Dervin, this is referencing again, that the human experience is relative. It's constantly happening, and it's also constantly changing. Change is a constant. As philosopher Immanuel Kant said about metaphysics, as quoted by Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "The reason that knowledge has these constraints, Kant argues, is that the mind plays an active role in constituting the features of experience and limiting the mind’s access only to the empirical realm of space and time." School curriculum is constantly changing. Technology is constatnly changing. People's interests are constantly changing. All this is human behavior mixed with individual human emotions and individual experiences. We calibrate writing scores across a grade level, school, or district before we begin grading, so we can put our experiences and emotions aside. We do this to accomplish, as best as we can, an objective approach to subjective ideas.
If I were to teach this fruitcake of an exerpt to high school students, I would certainly break it down into small chunks. I would be highlighting it with the kids, allowing them to make a mind map of each section, cut pieces of it apart and then allow them to illustrate their sentences. I would even allow them to use youtube to show us clips of sci-fi movies!
Sarah Magallano teaches 5th grade. She also coaches teachers on integrating art & engineering into their lesson plans.