Hi Everyone, welcome back to Part 2 Week Three of our ED Foundations Class.
Let us continue on thinking about questions, questioning, and the power and importance of questioning. Let us see if we can deliberately tie this to curriculum.
We should, however, first become familiar with the definition of curriculum. Here is the definition from the “Glossary of Educational Reform.”
The term curriculum refers to the lessons and academic content taught in a school or in a specific course or program. In dictionaries, curriculum is often defined as the courses offered by a school, but it is rarely used in such a general sense in schools. Depending on how broadly educators define or employ the term, curriculum typically refers to the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn, which includes the learning standards or learning objectives they are expected to meet; the units and lessons that teachers teach; the assignments and projects given to students; the books, materials, videos, presentations, and readings used in a course; and the tests, assessments, and other methods used to evaluate student learning. An individual teacher’s curriculum, for example, would be the specific learning standards, lessons, assignments, and materials used to organize and teach a particular course.
When the terms curriculum or curricula are used in educational contexts without qualification, specific examples, or additional explanation, it may be difficult to determine precisely what the terms are referring to—mainly because they could be applied to either all or only some of the component parts of a school’s academic program or courses.
In many cases, teachers develop their own curricula, often refining and improving them over years, although it is also common for teachers to adapt lessons and syllabi created by other teachers, use curriculum templates and guides to structure their lessons and courses, or purchase prepackaged curricula from individuals and companies. In some cases, schools purchase comprehensive, multigrade curriculum packages—often in a particular subject area, such as mathematics—that teachers are required to use or follow. Curriculum may also encompass a school’s academic requirements for graduation, such as the courses students have to take and pass, the number of credits students must complete, and other requirements, such as completing a capstone project or a certain number of community-service hours. Generally speaking, curriculum takes many different forms in schools—too many to comprehensively catalog here.
It is important to note that while curriculum encompasses a wide variety of potential educational and instructional practices, educators often have a very precise, technical meaning in mind when they use the term. Most teachers spend a lot of time thinking about, studying, discussing, and analyzing curriculum, and many educators have acquired a specialist’s expertise in curriculum development—i.e., they know how to structure, organize, and deliver lessons in ways that facilitate or accelerate student learning. To noneducators, some curriculum materials may seem simple or straightforward (such as a list of required reading, for example), but they may reflect a deep and sophisticated understanding of an academic discipline and of the most effective strategies for learning acquisition and classroom management.
Third Question Set
5. In your own words, how would you define curriculum in one or two sentences?
So we have a pretty good idea what curriculum means. But before we consider curriculum and questioning, let us take a brief detour and give some consideration as to what happens in the brain when we encounter a question.
What Effect Do Questions Have On Our Brain? What Happens In The Brain?
(By Neil Cooper)
When we’re asked a question our whole brain is stimulated and serotonin is released. This release of serotonin causes the brain to relax and makes it most able to find answers and develop solutions.
With the conditions set for the brain to respond to the question, there’s a rush of dopamine. This can have two opposite effects. On the one hand it might trigger our reward mechanism and we are motivated to go in search of the answers. On the other hand we might fear giving the wrong answer which makes it more difficult for us to think in a way that will help us provide a worthy response to the question.
Irrespective of our ‘fight or flight’ response, the question will trigger a mental reflex known as instinctive elaboration. When our brain thinks about the answer to a question, it can’t contemplate anything else
The Practical Effect Of Someone Asking Us A Question
If you’re the person asking a question then power to you. Your question is the only thing the respondent can think about. Even if you think you’re someone who can multitask, think again. Research has shown that humans are not adept at multitasking; even if we think we’re someone who is.
Have you ever asked someone a question and straight after another person asks ‘your respondent’ something else? In that situation, whose question did the respondent answer? In this situation, the respondent is not being rude if they answer the second question first; they are hardwired to respond to the most recent stimulus. Only a conscious decision to respond to the first question will change the instinctive order of things.
Want To Know What Your Brain Does When It Hears A Question?
Questions hijack the brain. The moment you hear one, you literally can’t think of anything else. And that can be a powerful tool.
(By David Hoffeld)
What color is your house?
After reading that question, what were you thinking about? The obvious answer is the color of your house. Though this exercise may seem ordinary, it has profound implications. The question momentarily hijacked your thought process and focused it entirely on your house or apartment. You didn’t consciously tell your brain to think about that; it just did so automatically.
Questions are powerful. Not only does hearing a question affect what our brains do in that instant, it can also shape our future behavior. And that can be a powerful principle in the workplace.
QUESTIONS ON THE MIND
Questions trigger a mental reflex known as “instinctive elaboration.” When a question is posed, it takes over the brain’s thought process. And when your brain is thinking about the answer to a question, it can’t contemplate anything else.
When your brain is thinking about the answer to a question, it can’t contemplate anything else.
Research in neuroscience has found that the human brain can only think about one idea at a time. So when you ask somebody a question, you force their minds to consider only your question. As neuroscientist John Medina puts it in his book Brain Rules, “Research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.” Likewise, Nobel Prize–winning economist Herbert Simon has written that human beings consciously “operate largely in serial fashion. The more demanding the task, the more we are single-minded.”
INQUIRING YOUR WAY TO INFLUENCE
So why do questions have such influence on the decision-making process? First and foremost, they prompt the brain to contemplate a behavior, which increases the probability that it will be acted upon.
In fact, decades of research has found that the more the brain contemplates a behavior, the more likely it is that we will engage in it. That’s not all. Just thinking about doing something can shift your perception and even alter your body chemistry. For instance, imagine sipping some lemon juice. What does it taste like? As you briefly think about lemon juice, notice the sensations occurring in your mouth. You’ll find that something totally beyond your control occurred—you began to salivate more and you could almost taste the tartness of the juice.
Now, you have been considering questioning. Can we, or should we incorporate questioning into the curriculum? And, furthermore, to what extent might this be a viable endeavor?
Teaching as a Subversive Activity
What’s Worth Knowing? From Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner’s book Teaching as a Subversive Activity
Suppose all the syllabi and curricula and textbooks in the schools disappeared. Suppose all of the standardized tests – citywide, statewide and national – were lost. In other words, suppose that the most common material impeding innovation in the schools simply did not exist. Then suppose that you decided to turn this ‘catastrophe’ into an opportunity to increase the relevance of the schools. What would you do?
We have a possibility for you to consider: suppose that you decide to have the entire ‘curriculum’ consist of questions. These questions would have to be worth seeking answers to not only from your point of view but, more importantly, from the point of view of the students. In order to get still closer to reality, add the requirement that the questions must help the students to develop and internalize concepts that will help than to survive in the rapidly changing world of the present and future.
Obviously, we are asking you to suppose you were an educator living in the second half of the twentieth century. What questions would you have on your list?
Take a pencil and list your questions on the next page, which we have left blank for you. Please do not be concerned about defacing our book, unless, of course, one of your questions is going to be ‘What were some of the ways of earning a living in Ancient Egypt?’ In that case, use your own paper.
Now, if one of your questions was something like ‘Why should you answer someone else’s questions?’, then you undoubtedly realize that we will submit our own sample list with some misgivings. As we have said, the ecology of the inquiry environment requires that the students play a central, but not necessarily exclusive, role in framing questions that they deem important. Even the most sensitive teacher cannot always project himself into the perspective of his students, and he dare not assume that they necessarily share his perception of reality. With this limitation in mind, we can justify the list we will submit on several grounds. First, many of these questions have literally been asked by children and adolescents when they were permitted to respond freely to the challenge of ‘What’s worth knowing?’ Second, some of these questions are based on our careful listening to students even though they were not at the time asking questions Very often children make declarative statements about things when they really mean only to elicit an informative response. In some cases, they do this because they have learned from adults that it is ‘better’ to pretend that you know than to admit that you don’t (An old aphorism describing this process goes: children enter school as question marks and leave as periods). In other cases they do this because they do not know how to ask certain kinds of questions In any event, a simple translation of their declarative utterances will some times produce a great variety of deeply felt questions.
Our final justification rests with our own imagination. We have framed – as we asked you to do – some questions, which, in our judgment, are responsive to the actual and immediate as against the fancied and future needs of learners in the world as it is (not as it was). In this, we have not surveyed thousands of students, but have consulted with many, mostly in junior and senior high school. We have tried variations of these questions with children in primary grades. By and large, the response was enthusiastic – and serious. There seemed to be little doubt that, from the point of view of the students, these questions made much more sense than the ones they usually have to memorize the right answers to in school. At this point it might be worth noting that our list of questions is intended to ‘educate’ students. Contrary to conventional school practice, what that means is that we want to elicit from students the meanings that they have already stored up so that they may subject those meanings to a testing and verifying, reordering and reclassifying, modifying and extending process. In this process, the student is not a passive ‘recipient’; he becomes an active producer of knowledge. The word ‘educate’ is closely related to the word ‘educe’. In the oldest pedagogic sense of the term, this meant drawing out of a person something potential or latent. We can, after all, learn only in relation to what we already know. Again, contrary to common misconceptions, this means that if we don’t know very much, our capability for learning is not very great. This idea – virtually by itself – requires a major revision in most of the metaphors that shape school policies and procedures.
Reflect on these questions – and others that these can generate. Please do not merely react to them.
What do you worry about most?
What are the causes of your worries? Can any of your worries be eliminated? How? Which of them might you deal with first? How do you decide? Are there other people with the same problems? How do you know? How can you find out? If you had an important idea that you wanted to let everyone (in the world) know about, how might you go about letting them know? What bothers you most about adults? Why? How do you want to be similar to or different from adults you know when you become an adult? What, if anything, seems to you to be worth dying for? How did you come to believe this? What seems worth living for? How did you come to believe this? At the present moment, what would you most like to be – or be able to do?
Why? What would you have to know in order to be able to do it? What would you have to do in order to get to know it?
How can you tell ‘good guys’ from ‘bad guys’? How can ‘good’ be distinguished from ‘evil’? What kind of a person would you most like to be? How might you get to be this kind of person? At the present moment, what would you most like to be doing? Five years from now? Ten years from now? Why? What might you have to do to realize these hopes? What might you have to give up in order to do some or all of these things?
When you hear or read or observe something, how do you know what it means?
Where does meaning ‘come from’? What does ‘meaning’ mean? How can you tell what something ‘is’ or whether it is? Where do words come from? Where do symbols come from? Why do symbols change? Where does knowledge come from? What do you think are sane of man’s most important ideas? Where did they come from? Why? How? Now what? What’s a ‘good idea’? How do you know when a good or live idea becomes a bad or dead idea? Which of man’s ideas would we be better off forgetting? How do you decide?
What is ‘progress’? What is ‘change’? What are the most obvious causes of change? What are the least apparent?
What conditions are necessary in order for change to occur? What kinds of changes are going on right now? Which are important? How are they similar to or different from other changes that have occurred? What are the relationships between new ideas and change? Where do new ideas come from? How come? So what? If you wanted to stop one of the changes going on now (pick one), how would you go about it? What consequences would you have to consider?
Of the important changes going on in our society, which should be encouraged and which resisted? Why? How? What are the most important changes that have occurred in the past ten years? Twenty years? Fifty years? In the last year? In the last six months? Last month? What will be the most important changes next month? Next year? Next decade? How can you tell? So what?
What would you change if you could? How might you go about it? Of those changes, which are going, to occur, which would you stop if you could? Why? How? So what?
Who do you think has the most important things to say today? To whom? How? Why?
What are the dumbest and more dangerous ideas that are ‘popular’ today? Why do you think so? Where did these ideas come from?
What are the conditions necessary for life to survive? Plants? Animals? Humans?
Which of these conditions are necessary for all life Which ones for plants? Which ones for animals? Which ones for humans? What are the greatest threats to all forms of life? To plants? To animals?
To humans? What are some of the ‘strategies’ living things use to survive’? Which unique to plants? Which unique to animals? Which unique to humans? What kinds of human survival strategies are (1) similar to those of animals and plants; (2) different from animals and plants? What does man’s language permit him to develop as survival strategies that animals cannot develop?
How might man’s survival activities be different from what they are if he did not have language? What other ‘languages’ does man have besides those consisting of words?
What functions do these ‘languages’ serve? Why and how do they originate? Can you invent a new one? How might you start?
What would happen, what difference would it make, what would man not be able to do if he had no number (mathematical) languages?
How many symbol systems does man have? How come? So what? What are some good symbols? Some bad? What good symbols could we use that we do not have? What bad symbols do we have that we’d be better off without? What’s worth knowing? How do you decide? What are some ways to go about getting to know what’s worth knowing?
It is necessary for us to say at once that these questions are not intended to present a catechism for the new education. These are samples and illustrations of the kinds of questions we think worth answering. Our set of questions is best regarded as a metaphor of our sense of relevance. If you took the trouble to list your own questions, it is quite possible that you prefer many of them to ours. Good enough. The new education is a process and will not suffer from the applied imaginations of all who wish to be a part of it. But in evaluating your own questions, as well as ours, bear in mind that there are certain standards that must be used. These standards may also be stated in the form of questions:
1) Will your questions increase the learner’s will as well as his capacity to learn?
2) Will they help to give him a sense of joy in learning?
3) Will they help to provide the learner’s with confidence in his ability to learn?
4) In order to get answers, will the learner be required to make inquiries? (Ask further questions, clarify terms, make observations, classify data, etc.?)
5) Does each question allow for alternative answers (which implies alternative modes of inquiry)
6) Will the process of answering the questions tend to stress the uniqueness of the learner?
7) Would the questions produce different answers if asked at different stages of the learner’s development?
8) Will the answers help the learner to sense and understand the universals in the human condition and so enhance his ability to draw closer to other people?
9) If the answers to these questions about your list of questions are all. Yes, then you are to be congratulated for insisting upon extremely high standards in education. If that seems an unusual compliment, it is only because we have all become accustomed to a conception and a hierarchy of standards that, in our opinion, is learner’s simultaneously upside-down and irrelevant We usually think of a curriculum as having high standards if it covers ground, requires much and difficult reading, demands many papers, and if the students for whom it is intended do not easily get ‘good’ grades.
Third Question Set
6. Is there value in creating schooling environments, and specifically a curriculum. that honors and privileges questioning? Why or why not?
So, what if a school were to focus on big ideas?
Here are some schools focused on “the big ideas.” As I listened to these videos, not once did I hear the word the delivery of information (something we hear a lot in our public schools). But I did hear a lot about passion, interest, purpose, individualization, mentors, possibility, understanding, synthesis, professional, responsibility, relationships, inquiry, care, trust, honesty, fulfillment, growth . . . ).
Big Picture Learning
Big Picture Learning: A Look at the MET School
Innovations High School and Big Picture Learning
How does Big Picture Learning define personalization?
Learning Through Internships: Connecting Students’ Passions to the Real World
Advisory: Building Relationships for Student Success
Third Question Set
7. What are some of the most important aspects of Big Picture Schools?
8. Is there a Big Picture Schools narrative? You might talk about student narratives, or teacher narratives, or even curricular narratives?
Project-Based Learning at High-Tech High
Third Question Set
9. What are five things that you (or other students) find particularly appealing about the High-Tech High Project-Based Curriculum?
10. Please pick out three examples from Weingartner and Postman’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity that are apparent in the Big Picture Schools or the Project-Based High Tech High.
Until next time.