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"Seeing," Self-Realization and Social Networking – More on Making Meaning

Who Am I? from licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license (http://www.flickr.com/photos/paurian/3707187124/)

Who Am I? licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license from http://www.flickr.com/photos/paurian/3707187124/

Two conversations I have had lately have really made me think about students, teaching, technology and 21st Century skills. Added to that, a number of my former students have friended me on Facebook and have talked about what they remember about my class. Basically, my thoughts have been directed to the difference between what we, as teachers, want them to remember, and what they actually remember. Then, I am led to ponder how that melds with the specific memories that lead to success in their lives. Deep, huh? So, once again, I am on the trail of making meaning.

The first conversation occurred in a grocery store with a private college math professor with whom I collaborated with in the 90’s, helping teachers understand more about fractals, chaos, and dynamical systems. We talked about how students are coming into class more prepared to visualize complex concepts, and how a few of his graduates have made a business out of creating incredible visualizations. One example he shared with me was based on the confluence of Obama’s inauguration and cell phones. The first, simple visualization dealt with looking at the national map and a kind of dynamic graph that showed the number of outgoing cell phone calls at any particular time. The map had all these jiggling little points that were cool to look at, and then the “bloom” of calls being made from the Washington D.C. area over the days of the inauguration. Pretty neat, and the results were all to be expected. Then his eyes twinkled as he described the second visualization – the same national map, but the little jiggly points represented the destination localities of those same cell phone calls. Wouldn’t that animation have been valuable to Political Action Committees and lobbyists! I thought about this as an example of how our students may “see” beyond our ken, and how we need to recognize that visual literacy is crucial part of literacy in general in the 21st Century.

The second conversation was during a family gathering talking about all our children as young adults and how they have found their niches. Not all of them enjoyed school, feeling as if they were overlooked because they weren’t necessarily the kids who were good at “doing school.” Conversely, many of their teachers were not skilled at recognizing students as individuals with different interests, talents, and abilities. But these kids grew up, found jobs, and raised families in spite of the way they were taught. When we tried to analyze their successes, we came to the conclusion that they were able to look at problems in a methodical way, and they were mostly self-taught. Yes, learning to read and do math were important – don’t get me wrong. But we agreed that their scores on common assessments generally made less difference to their success than their experiences in authentic learning. To them, learning how to learn made all the difference, and they love to learn in their own milieu. What helped them the most was their ability to adapt – a very important skill in the world of today and the future. I have yet to be convinced that most of the assessments given nowadays to gauge student achievement actually measure the skills needed in the world they will inherit. I thought about this as an example of how universal design and the ability of technology to individualize will help today’s students to show their interests and talents in a way that was not readily available last generation and prepare them for their roles in the 21st Century.

Then, there have been my Facebook conversations with former students as “friends.” I would agree that it has been a small, self-selected sample, but it has been both a pleasant and provocative experience to “hear” them. They have shared a bit of their journeys through life and I can’t help feeling a little pride in having had a small part in their successes. When I think back to my interaction with most of them and their classes, I realize that usually they had “permission” to be themselves and they took full advantage of it. Then I recognized that Facebook actually promotes a similar kind of self-realization. Web 2.0 social networking can educe personality and individualism in ways that old-school education often couldn’t. What users choose to reveal about themselves is a reflection of what they think about themselves. This kind of reflection and connection with others can lead to a higher level of personal interaction that has the potential of enhancing learning as individuals and in groups. So, finally, I thought about this as another example of how we, as teachers, need to appreciate how the world outside of school has changed, and how we need to adjust our practice accordingly to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

So, to take all these random thoughts and apply them to making memories and meaning, let’s try to consolidate them. 1) This generation of students can visualize in ways we might not have appreciated before, so we can try to take advantage of that “open door” to their learning to help them remember what we think is important. 2) Our students are definitely distinct individuals, with different experiences, talents and learning styles. Providing them with relevant avenues for learning and assessment will allow for better retention of processes and content. 3) The potential for self-realization that social networking provides is important to include in the 21st Century classroom as another avenue for constructionist teaching and learning.

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