So let me briefly review what we have considered up to this point, and then I will tell you what I have in store for you today.
In lecture one I told you the three branches of governments story. This story, of the second grade student memorizing the three branches of government for Wednesday’s test suggested to us that our thinking about education and schooling might be incomplete. It seemed obvious that the child wasn’t being educated. That led us to question what education even means
It was at that point that we tried to get a clearer, and more precise definition of what education means by consulting the dictionary. But that didn’t seem to help all that much.
After consulting the dictionary we listened to the analysis of analytic philosopher Dr. Barrow. After considering what he had to say, we arrived at what seemed to be a more adequate definition of education — at least for the time being. . . . We left with the definition that education had to do with the development of a depth and breadth of understanding.
With that definition in hand, we considered the idea of narratives — or stories. The reason for this was to emphasize the point that the way we interpret our lives is through stories, and schooling is no exception. Schooling practices are based on narratives that tell us how to teach, how to learn, how to interact with each other in school, etc. But, we are reminded, these are stories. And, if the story or the narrative is incomplete, we might be doing our students, and ourselves, disservice. The child’s teacher was operating on an incomplete narrative when she was having the second grader memorize the three branches of governments if she thought she was educating the child. I will often use the term narratives when I talk about education and schooling. I wanted you to get a good sense of what I meant when I used that term. And I want you to understand that much of what we do in schools is really based on stories. For example, someone made up the idea of using grades. Before long we have all sorts of stories that we hear that tell us how important grades are. The way we think about education is largely based on the narratives, or stories, we hear. So that’s the point behind narratives.
The next big idea was the idea of the importance of understanding context. Things have meaning because of the context in which they are situated. In lecture two, we, hopefully, solidified the idea that context confers meaning. I tried to make the point of how context confers meaning with my Bill and Mrs. Jones story. Understanding that context confers meaning will open up a way of approaching our analysis of education and schooling. It suggests that we have to examine the context if we want to understand educational artifacts and processes. In schools we will administer grades because the context is such that grades seem to make sense. In some contexts, such as a play school, grades might seem very inappropriate. The context is, in part, what makes grades meaningful.
To help you start thinking about context, I introduced an initial frame for us to work with. It is an adaptation of Aristotle’s four causal modality frame. . . . To help you understand the frame, I used a cup, a statue, sushi, and a Big Mac as examples. It became apparent that the McDonald’s context brings forth a very different food product than the sushi restaurant. Context confers meaning.
In our third lecture, I introduced the importance of the body in the way we perceive and interact with the world around us. The way we experience the world around us with our bodies is another big idea that will become very important when we start to analyze schooling.
I also introduced you to two distinct narratives that will also become important when we dig into the nitty gritty of the foundations of education. These two narratives, the lived view and the spectator view, are in part responsible for two very different narratives about education and schooling. It isn’t quite evident yet just how important these two different narratives are, but we will need to recognize these two different narratives in our future analyses so it will make a lot of sense soon.
Now in today’s lecture I am going to help you develop an even deeper sense of how our whole bodies perceive the world around us, how our whole bodies experience the world around us, and how our whole bodies are necessarily intertwined into the way we learn. We will start to understand how our body neurons contribute to the development of neuronal webs, or assemblies, from our past experiences. A neuronal web is simply a web of neurons. Neurons are the cells in our body and brain that receive and send sensory signals through our body. So a neuronal cell assembly is simply an assembly of cells. We will begin to learn how these cell assemblies, or neuronal cell assemblies, connect with each other in such a way that when we do perceive something, we actually re-activate those neuronal cell assemblies so that we, in essence, are always re- experiencing what we experienced in the past. . . . That idea of re-experiencing that which we already experienced will become evident as we learn about grasping neurons. By the time we finish this lecture, you will realize just how important bodily experiences are in our development of understanding. Once you begin to understand the ideas in this lecture, you will be very well positioned to start to interpret and evaluate many educational and school practices. We will be a a great position to talk about understanding, and to also begin to dig into the foundations of education and schooling.
I hope you enjoy the lecture
Today, let us develop greater understanding the way our bodies experience our environments and see what a bodily perspective might offer us in terms of how we understanding schooling and education. By doing this, we might become more aware of how the body plays a crucial role in the educational process. We might become increasingly aware of narratives that support, neglect or even suppress the human body.
Ultimately an understanding of the importance of focusing on the body might help us develop more appropriate narratives when it comes to our own interpretations of education and educating ourselves.
Bodily Consideration Part I:
Back in the Day
In the 80s and 90s I was working a lot with music recording.
Not this far back.
About this far back:
Cedar and colorful carpets were the rage — as were 24 track tape recorders and lots of outboard gear.
And then this happened:
For those of you too young to know what this is, it is an Apple II computer. What a beauty. Look at it sitting there, with its big old 5 1/2 in floppy disk drives.
For someone like me, who grew up with typewriters and “Lost in Space” this beauty was a real bad a . . . . Apple. A blast into the future.
By the way, speaking of space, do you know why the astronaut couldn’t book a room on the moon?
Because it was full.
Okay, back to my story. Oh yes — the computer. Digital computer-based technology. The promise of the future. Better yet, why don’t I just tell my story to you.
My Music Story
Finally I could create music tracks with sampled sounds that replicated brass instruments, string instruments and percussion. More amazingly, from a teacher’s perspective, I could have my students orchestrating songs—as young as elementary—and that’s what I did—I created one of the first music keyboard labs in the Province of Alberta. I received a rather prestigious award for my work. And, I was getting just enough praise from others to cloud my judgment. Feeling confident in what I was having my students do, I published an article in a music journal detailing my (or should I say my students’) accomplishments.
And then it happened—a turning point in my understanding of learning and schooling. You see, upon publication of my article, I received some quick critique from other musicians. “These children should be in band and orchestra, not playing keyboards,” was the typical response.
Here it was, the first challenge I had received to my work. Darn, maybe I wasn’t so smart after all. (I wasn’t)
None of the critiques said exactly what children were missing. Perhaps it wasn’t entirely clear at the time. Perhaps at the time it was more of an intuition. But according to many other musicians, something did seem amiss. At first I tried to convince myself that what I was doing was in the best interest of the students. By looking at the school system’s music goals and standards, my students were achieving more music knowledge faster than other traditionally taught students. I could argue that conceptually my students were learning more. I suppose I could have left it at that.
Notice I said ‘conceptually.’ That’s a problem. It was then, and it is now — especially when we are thinking about bodies and not just brains.
Now, from our current perspective, it might be immediately obvious to you just how clouded my judgement was. But keep in mind, this was riding the the wave of the future — like a cool surfer dude. I thought I was the Andy Irons of teaching music. Things always look a little different when we look back.
It took me a long time to realize that what I was doing to my students was actually a disservice. You see, I didn’t take into account that my students had bodies.
Bodies, you don’t say!
Yes, bodies! I didn’t take into consideration that learning and understanding begins with the body and becomes conceptual later. This seems so obvious now that it almost seems hardly worth mentioning. But when you are living in a language discourse that privileges one form of thinking and action over another, it is easy to overlook what should otherwise be obvious.
How could I have overlooked the obvious? Well you see, I was an experienced musician using computer-based digital technologies to replicate what I had already experienced. Every time we perceive something we are actually re-firing (so to speak) established neuronal cell assemblies (to put it simply).
One more time–this is actually a very important statement: Every time we perceive something we are actually re-firing (so to speak) established neuronal cell assemblies.
I already knew how to play percussion instruments, brass instruments and string instruments. I knew what playing these instruments felt like. I had neuronal cell assemblies already established in my brain that re-fired when I heard a particular sound. You can’t be the Andi Irons or Bianca Valenti of teaching if you forget people have bodies.
Bianca Valenti and Andy Irons have bodies. How could you surf without a body?
When I play a trumpet sound on a keyboard, I feel the experiences that I had experienced at an earlier time—the tightening of the embouchure, the pursing of the lips, the breathing, the other musicians beside me, the down beats represented by the arm movements of the conductor. One keyboard trumpet sound re-fires all these cell assemblies so that my experience is very rich in comparison to a novice (a child) who had not had similar bodily experiences. Conceptually a child can know and play a high G trumpet sound on a keyboard. But as far as bodily understanding, the child’s experience is barren. His/her understanding is stunted. A child, or novice, lacks the corporeal understanding (the re-firing of neurons that make the body feel something that it has experienced before) that gives “life” meaning. The understanding that a child, or novice, might achieve from playing the trumpet on the keyboard is reduced to bodiless information–nothing that could be said to represent a trumpeter’s body.
If you are a trumpet player, you will re-feel what it feels like to play high notes when you hear this. You will feel in your hands what it feels like to hold the trumpet. You will feel the breathing, the way the left hand wraps around the valves and the tips of the right hand press the keys down. You will feel what it feels like because you will re-fire neurons in your brain that you wired together when you initially learned how to play the trumpet. If you don’t play the trumpet, sorry to say, you will not have the same experience–even if you wanted to.
Since you probably listened to this a number of times because it is so cool, let me repeat: If you don’t play the trumpet, sorry to say, you will not have the same experience–even if you wanted to.
This might seem obvious in hind sight. Of course one can’t experience this like a trumpet player would. That should be self evident. Why would I have thought otherwise? Or perhaps more importantly, why didn’t I even think about the importance of previous body experiences when I was a teacher? Did I think that I could simple put something in my students’ heads? Did I think that I could just pour in meaningful information? It astounds me now why, as a professional teacher (as we are deemed to be once we are licensed), I had overlooked something that seems so blatantly obvious. But I suppose, in my defense, I was encouraged to focus on the conceptual, on the abstract, on information and efficiency. Schooling goals, standards, and objectives toward those rather abstract concepts, encourage an obscuration of the body. In other words, all of those textbooks, goals, standards and tests seem to be more concerned with students being able to state something rather than experience something.
Rock Climbing Anyone?
I have never climbed a rock climbing wall. I see lots of people doing it. My children have done it. But not me. So when I see someone climb a rock climbing wall, I can imagine what it ‘might’ feel like. But I do not have neuronal cell assemblies re-firing from my past experience. I don’t have the same ‘grasping neurons’ re-firing when I see someone grasp one of those colorful holders. I try to imagine what it might feel like, but it is only in comparison to other things I have grasped that give me some sense of what it might be like to climb a rock wall.
If you have ever climbed one of those walls, you will experience this next video differently than I do.
If you have climbed one of these walls you probably had many bodily sensations as you watched this that I didn’t have. As soon as I clicked play on the rock climbing video, I felt myself playing my old DX7 synth, tapping out the chords. That was what triggered my previous experiences.
I’ve never bungee jumped either. I can try to imagine what this feels like, but it won’t be the same feeling that those of you who have bungee jumped will feel. I didn’t really feel too much of anything. It looked as though it might be a bit frightening, but I can’t say I really felt it 🙂
Why don’t we all experience watching something the same way?
What we see is not simply a visual image. When we see something, we re-experience touching it, feeling it, holding it, being moved by it.
Question Set Number One Continued (more below)
25. When two people watch something on a video, or see a picture of something, why don’t they experience what they see the same way? In other words, what would account for their different experiences?
26. Please give me an example of something you might see on a video that you would really feel because of your previous experiences.
Let’s use an apple example — I mean a real apple–the fruit.
Consider all the experiences you have had with apples–the contexts in which you have experienced them, felt them, tasted them, the weight, fresh, rotten, color, in store bins, on tress, cut up in your lunch, in salads, etc. In a recent undergraduate class of mine, we brain-stormed different experiences we all had with apples and in four minutes we came up with over 120 completely different experiences with apples. Students came up with ways they understood apples. Every single experience was something we could all relate to. Apple sauce, candy apple, sliced apples in lunch, apples with cheese and apples on trees, and on and on and on.
Now consider this: what could you learn about and understand about apples if your only access to them were the experiences you could have with the iPad? It is easy to realize the limiting nature of the two-dimensional visual medium. Think about your expertise at picking out bodily senses.
Daphne Bridgerton: Simon, your love is as sweet and juicy as a ripe red apple picked from our apple tree.
Simon Basset: My dear, I have no idea what you are talking about. I have only witnessed apples on my iPad.
This is interesting thought, how many of curricular standards could ostensibly be met by interacting with a two dimensional screen? Notice I said ostensibly. I guess we will have to talk more about curriculum and standards in a future lecture. But rest assured, there is an odd belief that children should have access to technology like iPads. I wonder who gave them that idea?
Daphne Bridgerton: But Simon, why are you so fixated on using iPads.
Simon Basset: Well my dear Daphne, there is a few vendors in town who have been saying that we should all be using technology. It is the wave of the future.
Daphne Bridgerton: Oh my, please fetch me my horse and carriage.
The Glorious Cinnamon Bun
My Cinnamon Bun Story
You probably have some memory of the cinnamon bun. As soon as you hear the words “cinnamon bun” your brain is firing neuronal cell assemblies that allow you to not only perceive cinnamon buns, but to also re-experience some of what you previously experienced with the cinnamon buns. Your brain does that quite naturally. Cinnamon-bun-sight-neurons are wired to cinnamon-bun-taste-neurons are wired to cinnamon-bun-touch-neurons are wired to cinnamon-bun-kitchen-neurons etc. etc.. (These, by the way, are not the scientific terms:) .
As soon as these neurons are firing you perceive cinnamon buns and are ready to learn something new as long as we can fire neurons that will connect to your already established cinnamon bun neurons. For example, you already have neuronal cell assemblies that fire when you hear the word cinnamon bun. Your body re-sees a cinnamon bun, it re-feels a cinnamon, it re-holds a cinnamon bun, it re-smells a cinnamon bun. Those webs of neurons are re-activating to help you re-experience the cinnamon bun.
You also have background experiences with hats. When you hear the word hat, those hat neurons fire so that you imagine hat. You have neuronal cell assemblies that re-fire to help you re-experience the way a hat looks, feels on the head, its weight, its texture. Now, we can get both those sets of neuronal cell assemblies to fire at the same time by saying Cinnamon But Hat. Now all of those neuronal cell assemblies fire at the same time, the cinnamon bun neurons and the hat neurons, so that you can imagine a Cinnamon Bun Hat. If we think of a Cinnamon Bun Hat enough, we will eventually get those neuronal cell assemblies to connect together.
Here is another example. Consider this:
The first cinnamon bun was created in the 1920’s just after the First World War. Because Sweden was a neutral territory during the war, there were heavy restrictions on the import of goods including sugar, eggs and butter. By the time the 1950’s rolled around, the average Swedish household was pulling in more money, meaning they were able to purchase the pricey ingredients necessary to make a cinnamon bun. It was around this time that the pastry began to really become more popular.
If you happen to be Swedish, or you have been to Sweden and have neuronal Sweden-related cell assemblies already created, or if you have First World War neuronal cell assemblies, or if you have sugar-eggs-butter neuronal cell assemblies already wired, you would have, quite likely, activated those cell assemblies along with the cinnamon bun neurons when you heard the little story about cinnamon buns that I just told you. And, given adequate time and strength of neuronal firing, your neurons will wire together. It is something that happens quite naturally. Your brain does it without you even having to work at it. That’s why learning is easy as long as we have sufficient and appropriate experiences to make sense of what we are perceiving and learning. But if you have no experiences with sugar, eggs, and butter, or you have not had the opportunity to learn about the First World War and have no neuronal cell assemblies developed, and you haven’t even seen a cinnamon bun, you won’t be wiring together any neuronal cell assemblies. Furthermore, it is unlikely you will remember, or have any interest in, the history of the cinnamon bun.
This should be a clue to you why some students will learn something easily in class, while others might struggle and not seem to “get it.”
Whenever I see cinnamon buns I have neuronal cell assemblies fire that have me re-live my childhood experiences of laying on my back on the floor with my feet pressed up against the window of the oven door while my mom baked cinnamon buns. You see, growing up in Canada, we would play outside in the winter cold until it felt like our feet were frozen. So it was common to warm up standing on heater vents or pressing your feet up against the oven door. Those life experiences are, in part, the way I perceive the cinnamon bun. We understand the cinnamon but, not as something separate and removed from us. It exists within a social setting, with multiple bodily experiences being reactivated.
We don’t experience the cinnamon bun as discrete information that can be acquired by sight alone, or even by simply being told what a cinnamon bun is. This seems to obvious to us. We wouldn’t have a second grade child learn the definition of a cinnamon bun, and then test her on Wednesday thinking that she really had any understanding of cinnamon buns. And real learning about cinnamon buns isn’t difficult. We can learn about cinnamon buns with our whole bodies, effortlessly, without any testing, without memorizing.
Is it possible that some of our teaching models are wrong? Isn’t part of our teaching narrative suggesting that we can simply tell students something new and they will be able to learn it? Does our teaching narrative suggest that communication is linear –- passing ‘information’ back and forth as if through a pipeline? Do our narratives suggest that children can learn without much interaction with their body? What if that is all wrong?
What if we believed children could learn about cinnamon buns on an iPad? No, we wouldn’t believe that, would we? How could then wire all those wonderful neurons together that would let them know how cinnamon buns taste, smell, feel? They would have a sort of blindness toward cinnamon buns. No taste, smell, or feel, no proprioception.
Let us let the cinnamon bun be our guide.
If we want to develop a depth and breadth of understanding, we need to use all our senses. We come to understand the cinnamon bun with our bodies.
Marge: I don’t know why Dana can’t seem to learn about cinnamon buns. He has been doing worksheets all day, and I have tested him four times.
Jack: Perhaps he has cinnamon bun blindness.
Marge: I don’t know. He wears a cinnamon bun hat.
Question Set Number One Continued (more below)
27. I used the cinnamon bun to explain why we use all of our senses to develop an understanding. Please choose another object that you are familiar with and explain why we would need all of our senses to understand your example.
Bodily Consideration Part II:
Let’s take a quick look at neurons
What is a neuronal cell assembly? A web of neurons. Neurons form webs as a result of bodily experience. These webs are distributed throughout the brain.
Migrating Neuronal Cells
What is learning?
Neurons and Memory Formation
Neurons That Fire Together Wire Together: Excerpt from Joe Dispenza
Question Set Number One Continued (more below)
28. What does the phrase, “Neurons that Fire Together, Wire Together” mean?
Bodily Consideration Part III
A Grasp at Grasping Neurons
If you will, please look at each of the following photographs. Look at each one, individually. Pause. And then after a couple of seconds, move on to the next image.
You have an understanding of each image. You have a familiarity with each object. But, you don’t simply have a picture of the image in your brain. Your understanding of the object is created in your brain, or woven throughout your brain. When you see the object, you fire a web of neurons that allow you to re-experience the way you interact with the object. In very simple terms, when you look at each object, shape neurons fire in one part of the brain, color neurons fire in another part of the brain, texture neurons fire, and (the topic for the beginning part of this lecture) grasping neurons fire. All of these different neuronal cell assemblies fire to allow you to make sense of what you just saw. (Its more complex that simply shape neurons and color neurons, etc. But that is the idea).
When you looked at each image there were grasping neurons in your brain that fired. As soon as we see the mug we have neurons fire that trigger our previous experiences of grasping mugs of this shape. Our wrist neurons fire to indicate a particular twist of the wrist, our finger neurons fire in such a way as to indicate wrapping around the handle, and our arm neurons fire so that we recognize the weight of the object. All of this, just by looking. It is as if our brain fires the same neurons that previously experienced objects like this.
As soon as we see the tea cup our finger neurons trigger in a very different way from when we look at the mug. Our finger neurons recognize the different grasp. The use of the forefinger and thumb. A slightly different wrist action. We experience the object in a very different way than when we look at the mug.
When we see other objects, our neurons fire as if reaching for a hammer, a tennis ball, or a pencil even though we just look at the object on the screen. To see the object meaningfully, all sorts of different neurons all fire together to bring meaning to the object.
But what about this next object. ( I picked an object that you likely have not experienced before. If you have, your observation will be just as rich as the former images. If you haven’t experienced this next object, your experience will be shallow in comparison).
Without previous experience with this object our experience is shallow. Fewer neuronal cell assemblies are firing than if you had had experience with this object. When you look at this object you don’t feel the rich sensations that you feel with the other objects. Not knowing the size or weight, how do we pick this up? Is it heavy? Our arm muscle neurons don’t fire. We have not established neuronal cell assemblies to give this meaning. In essence, you are experiencing the object as a child would when experiencing an object by iPad alone. It is a sight response without accompanying bodily responses.
We have neurons that fire that help us understand the shape and possibly the texture. But is it made of plastic, metal, ceramic? Does it feel smooth, rough? Is it flexible, stiff?
We might say, “Objects move us.” In other words, when we see an object, we are moved (even though our bodies don’t actually move) to re-experience the way we are with the objects. Visual objects–that are familiar–move us.
Do you know the story about grasping neurons? This is so interesting.
In 2005 Giacomo Rizzolatti (2006) and some of his graduate students were working in a laboratory in Italy. In their midst was a Macaque monkey, strapped to a chair with fMRI electrodes glued to its head. The researchers were looking for specific neurons that would fire when the monkey performed a specific task. After some time the researchers were able to pinpoint neurons that would fire when the monkey grasped an object. While this was an interesting discovery, a more notable phenomenon occurred when one of the graduate students reached for, and grabbed, an item from a table within the monkey’s sight. The monkey’s grasping neurons fired again even though this time the monkey had not moved. This set off a series of experiments that have suggested that understanding is, in part, related to having action neurons re-fire when witnessing other’s actions. In addition, further research has found that hearing words will trigger the firing of action neurons. If this is the case, we might well be convinced that not only do the sight of objects move us, but words speak us as well.
We learn more about grasping neurons here. You will notice that the talk is about mirror neurons. I should mention that there is dispute whether or not “mirror” neurons exist. “Mirror” may be the wrong term. Perhaps we should stick to thinking about re-firing established neurons that were assembled during past experiences.
NOVA scienceNOW : 1 – Mirror Neurons
Giacomo Rizzolatti on the discovery of canonical motor neurons
Giacomo Rizzolatti – Mirror neurons: from monkey to human
Question Set Number One Continued (more below)
29. Please explain what we mean by grasping neurons.
30. What do grasping neurons have to do with learning?
Bodily Consideration Part IV
Mrs. Jones has a particular way about her. She is, what we might say, very proper. She never leans on the table in front of her. When she writes on the white board, she holds the marker delicately, but her strokes are quick and precise. She has a particular way of speaking, enunciating each syllable of her words. Her ‘p’s are slightly plosive. And she seems to hang on to the endings of words–especially the end of Billllllllll. Her hands waive about as she talks, as if she were pointing out objects, and molding shapes right in front of her. And joke! She loves to joke! Along with each joke comes a little chuckle, that delicately shakes her body with each sound.
Bill, is quick to laugh. And he seems to hold on to what seems to be a perpetual smile. His back is straight–though not supple. When he turns to look at something behind him he twists from the waist, as if his head were fastened to his shoulders.
Ah, those two.
Here is a picture of Mrs. Jones, and a picture of Bill (or at least a neuronal representation).
If only we thought of this entire body as our brain. If only we hadn’t gotten caught up in the discourse that suggested that body and brain are separate. We might have a better realization of how our perceptions and understandings depend on our bodily experiences.
Let’s cut the head off this neuronal body. Not so easy. Even this cropped image shows the mass of neurons that connect the face to the brain
When you read about Mrs. Jones and Bill, you could feel them as I described them–assuming you tried to twist from the waist or puff your p’s. You could feel their actions if you have picked up a marker, or laughed both a delicate and deep laugh. But you need your entire body to know the way those movements feel.
When you watched the series of video clips I shared with you in Lecture Three, you felt what the characters were experiencing because you were re-experiencing the same sorts of movements with your own bodies.
Would our schooling be different if we really believed that students required their whole body to learn? Is there a problem with the school narrative?
Did you know there were some researchers in Sweden who suggested children were becoming finger blind because of their decreased use of their hands and fingers in exploring the natural world around them. In other words, children were thought to be overly engaged in technology-barren environments (environments that did not sufficiently develop bodily neuronal cell assemblies. Did these researchers recognize the importance of touch in the formation of neuronal cell assemblies? Perhaps.
Has our schooling discourse somehow lost sight of the fact that our bodies and brains are connected? Have we inadvertently obscured the fact that our body is instrumental in the development of our neuronal cell assemblies? Have we lost the realization that learning happens with the body and not just the brain? Have we neglected the fact that the body is covered with neurons (our nervous system) that sends signals to the neurons in our brain? Are these signals not instrumental in the formation of our neuronal cell assemblies?
When we think of the importance of having our bodies experience our surroundings so that our brain can develop neuronal cell assemblies, perhaps a bit more time outdoors is important. It might alleviate some of that “finger blindness.”
The more we witness children spending an exorbitant amount of time behind two dimensional screens, finger blindness doesn’t seem like such a stretch.
What have we here, a child developing finger blindness because he is no longer allowed to play outside. The institutional requirement is that all children should be able to connect two shapes. Fortunately we have the technology to help this child achieve these educational goals. Look at the dexterity in those fingers while he connects those dots!
Of course putting a child on an iPad is a good instructional practice if we are trying to see how many dots the child can connect in a certain amount of time.
Teacher: “I am very proud of your child Mrs. Smith. His dot connecting ability increased four fold over the span of two weeks.”
Mrs. Smith: “Well he takes after his father you know.”
Easy to research, easy to count, easy to observe, and easy to relate to district, state, and parents. The narrative calls for such. But isn’t this a big part of the problem? If we are asking questions and developing instruction around things we can quantify, are we actually doing our students a disservice? It is not easy to know exactly what students are learning outdoors. So just eliminate it. In fact, good schools are eliminating recess altogether I have been told.
Reducing questions and testing to quantitively observable behaviors can even lead people to believe that all students should be spending a substantial part of the school day on a typewriter.
Bodily Consideration Part V
But what happens to the narratives if?
But what happens if we look at our students’ learning and the environments we create from the perspective of the body? What happens if we concern ourselves with how well we can help students wire together neuronal cell assemblies–assemblies derived from bodily experience? Then the efficiency, information, factory model no longer makes sense. I can’t expect learning to take place simply because I have students do a task. Each student has different neuronal wiring and I have to be very sensitive to what they already understand and how they understand it. I can’t follow any predetermined timeline moving on just because it is Wednesday. Furthermore, how could I possibly even say what they understand? Another point Smith makes.
Perhaps we should always give consideration as to how the brain doesn’t develop when it is prevented from having bodily experience.
Question Set Number One Continued (more below)
31. According to the Colin Blakemore experiment, what happens when animals are prevented from having visual experiences?
When we think of the importance of having the body experience it’s surroundings so that the brain can develop neuronal cell assemblies, perhaps a bit more time outdoors is important. It might alleviate some of that “finger blindness.”
Should we be asking, how are we using the peripheral nervous system to develop neuronal cell assemblies?
Forest Kindergartens Video
Question Set Number One Continued (more below)
32. What do you see as some of the advantages of having children participate in Forest Kindergartens? Please list four advantages.
If we think very seriously about the way the body experiences the environment, with touch, movement, thought, sound, smell, etc. can we begin to sense how one environment might be better suited to develop neuronal cell assemblies?
Example One: Modern play ground picture.
The Land Video: A really modern playground (just like the good old days).
Question Set Number One Continued (more below)
33. What do you see as some of the positive outcomes of allowing children to play in Junkyard (or Adventure) playgrounds? Please list four potential positive outcomes.
Once you are finished these responses questions (1 – 33), you can email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coffee Break Two
Sure. We started with the story of the three branches of government. From there we questioned whether or not what the child was learning was of value, given that she simply forgot the definitions she memorized. That got us thinking as to whether or not the activity was educational. And then, after looking at some definitions of education and educated, we found that the dictionary didn’t really provide us with a sense of what education means. We then consulted the work of Dr. Barrow and listened to the way that he defined education. It seemed to make good sense — a depth and breadth of understanding and the ability to discriminate between concepts and ideas with some degree of clarity and precision. With this definition in hand we are in a better position to evaluate schooling environments. If schools are in the business of educating, which we presume they are, they will be helping students develop a depth and breadth of understanding. This will also help us see if schools have some practices in place that are advancing or hindering students’ education.
From there you moved into Frames.
Adopting a frame will help us visualize and analyze that which we explore in terms of schooling. Our initial frames, based on Aristotle’s four causal modality helps us visualize how things are invented, or come into existence. We have a framework in place now so that we can visualize how things come into being. And, we can presume that one would have to have some understanding of the causal modalities to claim understanding of any artifact or process. Recognizing these influences also help us develop a deeper understanding of the background context of the thing in question. Keep in mind though that we have only started examining the Frames. We will do more now as we move forward. We will also incorporate some additional strands to this four causal modality frame that will help us incorporate bodily experiences into the frame.
Can you tell me what you mean by incorporating bodily experiences into the frame?
The next step in our journey will be to begin to question how it is that we are able to perceive these artifacts in question. Perception is a necessary condition of understanding. If we are unable to perceive something, we will be unable to make sense of it and understand it. We are able to perceive things, and find things intelligible, after we have had sufficient bodily experiences to make sense of that which we perceive. That will make sense in the next few lessons. Suffice it to say, you can’t make sense of something if you haven’t had previous experiences to allow you to perceive it. When you see a picture of a cube, it is intelligible to you because you have had experiences with objects that are cubes or have similar attributes.
You also talked a bit about a visual bias. Can you explain what that means?
Now that we have had a chance to explore our senses, we should have a pretty good understanding that we make use of all of our senses to understanding something. Not just one or two senses. We will find, as we move forward that schooling practices are heavily biased toward visual metaphors and visual ways of thinking. Our quantitative research is visually biased. The way we talk about information is visually biased. The way curriculum was created was had a visual bias. We will get to these ideas as well. But I wanted to at least begin to plant the seed of the idea of visual bias in schools. As we move forward, I will continue to draw on examples that I have already given you.
Is this why you showed us the video clips of the motocross riders and the mountain bikers?
Our schooling narratives lean toward objective, visual explanations. We talk about things that we are trying to teach or that we are trying to learn as if they exist outside of us. . . as if they exist at a distance. Knowledge and information are often perceived to exist as distinct entities separate and distinct from our bodies. We can contrast those narratives with narratives that talk about personal experiences of things — as if we live the experience. The child who memorized the three branches of government didn’t have bodily experiences with the content. To develop a depth of understanding, we have to experience it with our bodies. I can’t develop a depth of understanding of Mama Davila’s cupcakes if I only look at them from a distance — especially if I have never had any experience with cupcakes in the past.
Is there anything you can say about neuronal connections?
Perhaps the most important point here, at this point, is that we are biological animals. Even though we have had a long history of being defined as machine-like, we are biological. And, our learning must reflect the biological nature of our being. As we start looking closely at schooling practices, we will find many references to students as being automatons or machine-like. This, as you might imagine, distorts what might be considered good educational practice.
Great! I am looking forward to learning more about that.
I think you’ll like it.
Have a great rest of your day 🙂