The Art of Mingling Practice and Theory in Teaching

This article is the Fourth in a series on The Artistry of Teaching.  

In 1896, the laboratory school of the University of Chicago opened its doors under the directorship of John Dewey (Fishman and McCarthy 1998).  Dewey’s idea was to create an environment for social and pedagogical experimentation.  Theory and practice should mingle, and the laboratory school as Dewey conceived it would be a place for teachers to design, carry out, reflect on, and test learner-centered curriculum and practice.

What is the relationship between practice and theory, and how does this relationship relate to artistry in teaching?

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying

In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.

If you can’t explain it to six-year-old, then you don’t understand it yourself

enstein_on_bikeIn my career as a science teacher educator, I valued both practice and theory.  But in my day-to-day work with people who wanted to be teachers, it was important to give a balance between practice and theory.  Indeed, in the first secondary science teacher preparation program that I had a part in designing, we engaged students in this program who held degrees in biology, chemistry, physics, geology, and engineering with students in elementary, middle and high school during their one-year program.  As Einstein also said, “if you can’t explain it to six year old, then you don’t understand it yourself.”

So, early in the student’s first quarter at Georgia State University, they found themselves co-teaching in an elementary school working with students ranging in age from 6 – 11.  We believed that if students in teacher preparation programs were going to appreciate and value educational theory, then they had to start from the practical, day-to-day experiences of elementary age students and their teachers.  In the “Science Education Phase” program, teacher education students followed the first term with an internship in a middle school teaching students ages 12 – 14, and then in the third “Phase” they did a full internship in a high school in metro-Atlanta.  The Phase Program, which was implemented from 1970 – 1983 prepared science and engineering majors to be secondary science teachers (grades 7 -12).

Because of the range of experiences with K-12 students that these teacher education students had, it was possible to mingle practice and theory, and help them construct personal and social knowledge about teaching and learning.

In Powerful Teacher Education: Lessons from Exemplary Programs, researcher Linda Darling-Hammond focused on identifying good (powerful) teacher education programs.  According to Darling-Hammond, they are rare.  In their research, seven programs were selected for intensive study (she makes the comment that there were many other candidates).  Case studies were written for Alverno College in Milwaukee; Bank Street College in New York City; Trinity University in San Antonio; the University of California at Berkeley; the University of Southern Maine near Portland; the University of Virginia in Charlottesville; and Wheelock College in Boston.  All of these programs “mingled practice and theory,” were characterized as learning-centered and learner-centered, as well as being clinically based.

Indeed, one of the characteristics of these teacher education programs was that the curriculum linked theory and practice, and one was not more important than the other.  In successful programs, which typically take more than a year of graduate work, there is a to and fro, back and forth between courses and field work.  The programs were also based on the idea that students build knowledge about teaching, and construct meaning from experience (observation, co-teaching, teaching), reflection, advanced study of pedagogy.

In the science education teacher preparation experiences at Georgia State University, students were immersed in a program that valued practical, field-based experiences and experiential learning in university courses.  Our theory of teacher preparation was to mingle practice and theory.  And, we believed that we should move in the direction of practice to theory, not the other way around.  We accomplished this in the TEEMS Program (Teacher Education Environments in Mathematics & Science) which was inaugurated in 1994 and is the teacher education program for secondary teachers at GSU.

In the past, students took education courses, and then “practiced” what they learned during student teaching.

Little to No Mingling in Teach for America

This antiquated approach, however, is exactly how the Teach for America program trains candidates for teaching.  Most of the TFA graduates then are placed in schools in urban or rural areas, in schools that could benefit much more with experienced and wise teachers.  There is not enough time for TFA to advocate a powerful program that mingles practice with theory.  They are exposed in 5 weeks to education methods and then parachuted into schools unprepared for the realities they will face.

It is one of the great tragedies of contemporary teacher education, that the Teach for America program prepares so many teachers, most of whom do not have a commitment to the teaching profession, but instead use these experiences as stepping-stones to something else, and on the backs of many citizens in poor neighborhoods.

Teacher education programs that provide intensive preparation over time actually challenge students intellectually while helping them learn hands-on approaches that help K-12 students learn (Darling-Hammond).

Back to School

One criticism of teacher education programs is that they are staffed with Ph.Ds that know only about theory, and little about practice.

Disclaimer:  I was one of those teacher educators for over thirty years, and I must say that my colleagues were very experienced in the practical realities of the K-12 environment.  I guess we had bad press.  But that should change.  Read on.

IMG_0173In a research project which was just published by Michael Dias, Charles Eick, and Laurie Brantley-Dias, entitled Science Teacher Educators as K-12 Educators: Practicing What We Teach, sixteen science educators went back to school and wrote important and astonishing autobiographical papers about their experience.  They all stepped away from their role as a science teacher educator and entered the world of K-12 teaching. They immersed themselves into the real lives of students and teaching, and in this process, experienced the complexity of teaching, and in some cases the difficulty in being successful in the classroom.  The project was the brainchild of Mike Dias, Charles Eick and Lauri Brantley-Dias.

One teacher education researcher revealed, “I lacked the essential knowledge that contributed to my immediate failure as urban, low-track science teacher.”  Another colleague found that because students were not used to doing hands-on activities, they became too excited leading to the breakdown of classroom management.  Another teacher educator realized that not taking into account students’ diverse backgrounds could lead to problems of mundaneness and disconnectedness.  And, another colleague points out that his biggest challenge was to take the content that he knew and teach it in a constructivist, hands-on way that very young students could understand (Hassard, J. (2014). Closing. In M.Dias, C.Eich, L. Brantley-Dias (Eds.), Science Teacher Educators as K-12 Educators: Practicing What We Teach (pp. 287 – 302). Dordrecht: Springer.)

So often teacher education is viewed as an ivory tower experience, with those preparing teachers having little knowledge or experience in real classroom actions and life.  No so with these science teacher educators.

There are 16 examples of teacher educators mingling practice and theory.  I don’t have the space for all of them, but I would like to highlight a couple of them here to support the importance of mingling practice with theory.  The following two accounts are based on (Hassard, J. (2014). Closing. In M.Dias, C.Eich, L. Brantley-Dias (Eds.), Science Teacher Educators as K-12 Educators: Practicing What We Teach (pp. 287 – 302). Dordrecht: Springer.)

Charles Eick: Realistic Teacher Education

IMG_0163Charles Eick gives us his insights into realistic teacher education, a model of teacher education based on the work of Korthagen and Kessels (1999), that draws upon constructivist and inquiry-oriented science education in which teacher education moves from practice to theory, instead of the norm for teacher education in which prospective teachers learn theory and strategies first, followed by practice during internships and student teaching.  In reality, theory and practice are entwined, and Charles provides ample evidence of this.

Charles Eick asked Michael Dias, from Kennesaw State University, to work with him as the lead collaborator in documenting his experience in the classroom.  The Eick/Dias collaboration provides a model for other science educators planning to return to school to “practice what they teach.”

Working together reflectively, Eick and Dias were able to describe for us how they modified the curriculum to meet the needs of their students by including more practical activities, activities that characterized Charles Eick’s middle school teaching when I visited him more than a decade ago, and Michael Dias’ high school biology classroom.  Together they decided that activities and projects including problem solving, engineering, societal issues, and seeking creative solutions by means of technology and creative arts were just the ticket to engage the students.

One of the important aspects of this chapter by Eick, and the others is the goal of democratizing teacher education by encouraging the “mingling of minds” (Robertson 2008).  By going back to the classroom, these teacher education professors show a willingness to change one’s views on teaching, and perhaps move away from ”ivory tower” disconnectedness to the real fulfillment of teaching which arises from daily interactions with youth.

As Eick points out, this is an important aspect of realistic teacher education. Eick explains how perceptions change when one commits to a realistic teacher education approach:

We learn to accept that the classroom teacher is the expert in practice and we are the experts in theory on how to improve the practice of others to maximize student learning. They live in the ‘real world’ and we live in the ‘ivory tower’. However, when one has become both the professor and the teacher through recent classroom teaching experience, this arrangement changes. These traditional lines begin to blur. Teachers in the classroom begin to see you as having expertise in both areas. You have earned the respect as someone who ‘walks the talk.’ And this fact not only enhances your professional credentials, but also allows entrée into further school-based research, collaborative work in teaching and learning, professional development, and many other possibilities for innovative arrangements that benefit both school and university programs.

Ken Tobin: Students as Partners

Students have a source of wisdom that many teachers value in their own practice.  Research by Ken Tobin shows how collaborative self-study can mitigate the top-down reform efforts that as he suggests, “ignore structures associated with curricula enactment and seem impervious to the voices of teachers and students.” Tobin’s discussion of co-teaching (cogenerative dialogue or cogen) is a model that is relevant when we think of mingling theory and practice, but more importantly of professors’ willingness to learn from others who typically would not have been considered sources of knowledge about teaching–high school students and teachers.  And in Tobin’s case, it was a teenager from an urban school, whose population was 90% African-American, and many of them living in poverty, that provided a way forward.  Tobin is quite open about his initial failure as an “urban, low-track science teacher,” and as a result recruited a high school student (as he had asked his teacher education students) for ideas on how to “better teach kids like me.”  Respect (acceptance & trust), genuineness (realness), and empathic understanding appeared to be crucial aspects of the cogen activity that emerged from Tobin’s struggle to work with urban youth.  Tobin puts it this way:

 Although it took us some time to label the activity cogen we created rules to foster dialogue in which participants established and maintained focus, ensured that turns at talk and time for talk were equalized, and that all participants were respectful to all others. The end goal was to strive for consensus on what to do to improve the quality of learning environments. In so doing all participants would endeavor to understand and respect one another’s perspectives, their rights to be different, and acknowledge others as resources for their own learning.

One intriguing notion to take away from Ken’s research was his willingness to give voice—listen–if you will, to students. Are we willing to listen to our teacher education students?  Could our courses at the university level integrate the principles of “cogen” such that students voice is lent to determining the nature of syllabi, agenda topics, and types of investigations?  Should our teacher education courses be co-taught with experienced science teachers?  As Tobin explains, “cogen is an activity that explicitly values the right to speak and be heard.  It is also implicitly based on democratic values, and on the ideas of Roger’s theory of interpersonal relationships.  Being heard is a progressive or humanistic quality that can create an informal classroom environment enabling students who struggle in the formal straightjacket of the traditional class, a meaningful chance of success.

Return to Dewey

I started this article referring to John Dewey and his wish to create environments for social and pedagogical examination.  A contemporary science educator who speaks the language of Dewey is Dr. Christopher EmdinEmdin is an urban science educator and researcher at Teachers College, Columbia University.  His research on teaching science in urban schools focuses on Reality Pedagogy.

Here is a video of Dr. Emdin in which he takes us inside of schools to show how the practical realities of students’ lives can be a part of school science.  Here practice and theory meet in real classrooms.

Like Dewey, Emdin’s pedagogy extends beyond any existent approach to educating urban (hip-hop) youth.  Emdin’s approach is a biographical exploration of how he mingled theory and practice in urban science classrooms (Emdin, 2010).  One of his ideas that resonates with Eick’s and Tobin’s accounts is this:

Becoming a reality pedagogue not only requires an understanding of the hip-hop students’ ways of knowing, but also attentiveness to the researcher/teacher’s fundamental beliefs.  This involves awareness that one’s background may cause the person to view the world in a way that distorts, dismisses or under-emphasizes the positive aspects of another person’s way of knowing.  This awareness of one’s self is integral to the teacher/researcher’s situating of self as reality pedagogue or urban science educator because an awareness of one’s deficiencies is the first step towards addressing them.  The teacher whose students are a part of the hip-hop generations must prepare for teaching not by focusing on the students, but focusing on self.  The teacher must understand what makes her think, where the desire to be a teacher come from, and what the role of science is in this entire process”(Emdin, 2010).

Teaching is not tidy.  It involves a willingness to try multiple approaches, to collaborate with professional colleagues, and students to work through the realities of teaching and learning.  Mingling practice and theory is a powerful approach to prepare any professional, including teachers.



The Ecology of Innovation in Teaching and Learning

In this post I want to show that innovation in teaching & learning is a form of deep ecology in which collaborative relationships among teachers and students opens the classroom to new ways of thinking. These actions and subsequent innovations can be local and global in nature.  For most of my career I majored in bringing the local to the global and vise versa through the Global Thinking Project (GTP), headquartered at Georgia State University.

Innovation in teaching results from a process in which democratic principles are put into practice to foster experiential and collaborative work.  The innovative teacher takes a holistic view of students and the world they live in, and engages them in projects and activities that help them make sense of the world, and applicable to their own lives. Thinking in wholes was beautifully described by the Russian scientist Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky in his book, The Biosphere, published in Russia in 1926.  It wasn’t until the time of Gorbachev’s perestroika that Vernadsky’s ideas came of age in the West.  I began my collaboration with the Soviet Union in 1981, and later in the decade, I met Dr. Anatoly Zakhlebny, a leader in the Russian ecological movement.  He introduced me to Vernadsky’s ideas.  Vernadsky viewed the biosphere as “a region of transformation of cosmic energy,” and as such the biosphere is a life sustaining space born of innovation and transformation.  The concept of biosphere as explained by Vernadsky became an organizing principle for the Global Thinking Project.

In 1993 I met Narcís Vives a teacher in Barcelona who was using the Internet to make education more humanistic and creative.  In 2013, I came across the work of Grant Lichtman, an innovative educator from San Diego who is exploring the creative and leadership qualities that are essential for education in a democratic society.

For these educators, innovation in teaching and learning is a progressive ideal that each has worked on for decades. Narcís has been engaging students, teachers and citizens in global communication to instill democratic thinking from Catalonia to other cities and nations globally.  Grant has worked locally within his school in San Diego to foster thinking conducive to learning in a democratic school and society, and has expanded his reach to other schools in this nation through his outreach and writing.

In February of 1991 I received an e-mail message from Narcís Vives, who at the time was a teacher and director of a telmatics project in Barcelona. He said he had learned about the Global Thinking Project (GTP) from his involvement in another telecommunications project (iEARN) and since Barcelona and Atlanta were linked via the Olympics, he wondered if we would be interested in some form of collaboration. At the time I was director of the Global Thinking Project, a hands-across the globe environmental and Internet-based program.  In May he traveled to Atlanta to visit the GTP project, as well as schools he had made contact with through his telecommunications activity. After visiting some of the project schools, and examining the Global Thinking materials, he suggested that some Barcelona schools join the project for the 1992-1993 school year. Nine schools joined the project. The GTP Center in Barcelona grew to include many schools across in Catalonia.

Two Innovators

Narcís Vives now is President of  Fundació Itinerarium and a Spanish Ashoka Fellow. Each of these organizations works with teachers, students and citizens around the world to promote innovation to solve local problems.  Since I have known Narcís he has been instrumental contributing to a humanistic paradigm shift, especially in informatics and cooperative learning.

I have met Grant Lichtman through his writing, and I have viewed his TEDx video that he presented to teachers in Denver.  Not only do we share a background in geology, but we also believe that the progressive ideas of John Dewey provides many answers to some of the pressing issues facing education in the U.S.

For each of these educators, I will show how their progressive views have resulted in the transformation of the thinking of many educators, and provided students and their schools with an innovative approach to teaching and learning.

Telecommunications in the Service of People and Innovation

In  1993, the Global Thinking Project held the first of many summer institutes for teachers at the Simpsonwood Conferences Center in Norcross, Georgia.  Teachers from the U.S., Russia, Czech Republic, Australia, and Spain participated in these conferences.  Narcís made arrangements for Anna Pinyero, a teacher in Barecelona, to attend the conference.  When she returned to Spain, she and Narcís recruited teachers from schools in and around Barcelona.  Eventually, more than 30 schools from Spain joined the project.

Ramon Barlam, Unnamed colleague, Anna Pinyero, and Narcis Vives in a school in Callus, Spain
Figure 1. Ramon Barlam, Unnamed colleague, Anna Pinyero, and Narcis Vives on our first visit to Callus, Spain, 1996.  We returned two years later for an international telecommunications conference organized by Ramon Barlam’s school.

In 1994, I made my first visit to Barcelona at the invitation of Narcís and the teachers in the Barcelona area. The schools in the Barcelona and Callus are part of Catalonia where the language spoken is Catalan.   During that trip, Narcís and Anna took us to Callus, a small town about 60 miles northwest of Barcelona at the foothills of the Pyrenees. We were going to Callus to visit a school, and there we met Ramon Barlam, who was coordinating and directing a global communications and Internet project far more advanced than any I had been associated with in the U.S.  Here in this small school, students were engaged as leaders of a telecommunications project bringing together schools throughout Europe to find how the Internet could be used to foster collaboration and innovation.  The school was staffed with teachers from across Europe, and there was an atmosphere of creative and progressive thinking.  The principal of the school provided the administrative leadership and realized that she needed to enable Ramon and the other teachers to work with students to develop new skills, and new knowledge.

Innovation can take many forms, but at the heart of innovation in teaching is the humanitarian aspects engaging students in real issues and problems.  Narcís and I were brought together because of our interests in using new technologies to humanize teaching, and provide an environment for students in different regions of the world to collaborate and work together to deal with real issues.

For decades now, Narcís Vives and other educators in the Catalonia region of Spain have been on the forefront of using new technologies in humanistic ways.  At the center of their work with technology was the goal of enabling students and teachers to participate in and contribute to solutions of real problems facing the world.

In an article written in 1995, but only recently published online, A Telematics Forum on the Family in Countries from Around the World, Narcís Vives explains one of the most powerful and humanitarian ways that the Internet is being used to enable “boys and girls in far-away places to join together in educational projects.”  That way is to use the Internet as a way to make it possible for people to connect with each other; to talk to each other; to act together on a project.  And it doesn’t matter where one lives, access to the Internet is far reaching, and has since 1995 grown exponentially.  In 1995 we had email and electronic bulletin boards.  Today we have smart phones, tablets, Twitter & other social networks, the World Wide Web, blogging, podcasting, and on and on.

My point here is that collaboration is one of the most potent tools of the Internet, the tool that Narcís and many colleagues in Catalonia have been pioneers in working out practical ways to this kind of participation to people around the world.

Participation has local and global components. Action locally is based on a view of environmental education which is described as “education for the environment.” In this view students not only become knowledgeable about their environment, but aware of environmental problems, how to solve them, and motivated to work toward their solution (Michel, 1996). The design of learning experiences includes an action-taking component that is fundamental to the idea of participation. The other component of participation is global. The use of telecommunications enables students to extend participation beyond their own communities. Telecommunications sets up cross-cultural partnerships, global communities, and global summits for studying common global concerns. Dr. Jenny Springer, Principal of Dunwoody High School, suggests that telecommunications used for dialog with peers on the other side of the globe is based on the work of the Russian psychologist Vygotsky. Vygotsky viewed knowledge being constructed in a social context, with student’s ideas being influenced by the ideas and interactions with others (Springer, 1993).

In this context I want to describe an example of how Narcís Vives used telecommunications to engage students around the world during the Bosnian War, 1992 – 1995.

I received the following email message from Narcís Vives on December 20, 1992 (please see Figure 2).

Screen Shot 2013-05-19 at 1.53.25 PM
Figure 2. A 1992 E-mail message from Narcis Vives asking the Global Thinking Project schools to join his effort in reaching out to children in a refugee camp in Zagreb, Bosnia

This message was forwarded on to all of the GTP schools in Australia, Czech Republic, Russia, and United States.  Narcis’ proposal to the Global Thinking Project resulted in bringing together students and teachers from three continents to focus their thoughts and actions on a refugee camp in a remote location in Bosnia, thousands of miles from their schools. The events that followed Narcís’ original invitation reflect the humanistic potential of global thinking in general, and telecommunications in particular. Here are some of the events that followed.

1. Message from a Young Bosnian Boy. On January, Narcís Vives posted a message on the Global Thinking bulletin board written by a young Bosnian boy, Sanel Cekik who lived in the Veli Joze camp. The original telecommunications message was written in a Servo-Croatian dialect and was translated by three American high school students from the Coldspring Harbor High School (New York). The message written by Sanel was as follows:

The war slowly but surely came over our city. After some time, it happened; Serbs took over the city as everywhere they started with their terrible torture. My incident is next. One night in my apartment where unfortunately was my father, came four Serb soldiers. First they beat him (my father is 60 years old). Then they made horrible wounds on his back, on his forehead, and his hands with razor blades. The next day when I came and saw him in this condition, I was very shaken. This picture is going to forever stay in my mind as the pictures of many other people and children who were killed by the Serbs. A message to the whole world from me and all the children, my friends, and from all other refugees. Thank you for all the help. Stop this damned war!!

2. Solidarity Day.  In early February, 1993, Narcís announced on the GTP electronic bulletin boards that Friday, February 26, 1993 would be a Day of Solidarity for camp Veli Joze. He said this:

We are planning to organize a solidarity day on Friday the 26th February. A very well known Catalan clown is traveling with two teachers to act for the Bosnian children. I have received a lot of drawings and writings from Veli Joze which will be exposed at Centre Educatiu Projecte on the 26th. Student from the eight schools in Barcelona will meet together to see these drawing, see slides from the camp, sing peace songs and know each other. Till now they have only used telecommunications to coordinate the campaign in favour of Veli Joze.

The Solidarity Day.  Barcelona schools met and celebrated a solidarity festival among eight schools. The day before Solidarity Day, three Catalan teachers and a clown left Barcelona for the camp with a lot of school material. In the morning of the 26th, Veli Joze and the Catalan schools participated in a live teleconference. All the Catalan schools and the camp were connected by computer seeing each others’ messages at the same time. Narcís posted this message a few days later:

It was very moving to start receiving messages from Bosnian children and then sending them solidarity messages which they read at the moment. They also answered questions posted by Catalan children. Half an hour later I was invited to a radio program to talk about the solidarity day. We could also talk to a Catalan Volunteer in Veli Joze who explained what they were going to do during this solidarity day. All the Catalan schools were listening to the radio and happy to listen to the impact that their project is having not only in Catalonia but also in other countries (I have received messages from Australia, Israel, Chile, Russia, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Croatia, and different states in the United States). In the afternoon the Catalan schools were invited to Centre Educatiu Projecte where they could see an exhibition of drawings made by Bosnian children at Veli Joze. They could also attend a Lumaphone conference between Veli Joze, two schools in New York, and Barcelona. It was very moving for them to see Sanel Cekik’s picture on the screen and listen to him and to other Bosnian children.

3. Moscow School 710.  Teachers and students in GTP School-Gymnasium 710, Moscow joined the Barcelona schools on the Day of Solidarity. They sent this message to the children in the Bosnian camp via Barcelona and posted it on the gtp.earthconf.

Dear friends!

Teachers and students of school-gymnasium #710 in Moscow, Russia send you our best greetings. From radio, TV and newspaper reports all of us know about the events in your country. We are very much concerned about the situation. We sympathize with you. Please, mind that in this difficult hour you are not alone, you have many friends on our planet. Today, we have talked about your beautiful country, recited poems, thought about you and about the hard life you are living now. We don’t want any war to happen and we hope, that very soon people all over the world will live in peace and friendship. Women and children will not cry; men will not fight. Please, be brave and don’t lose your heart. We are sure that the smoke of war will disappear and peaceful sun will shine again above your country.

Your friends: students of the 7th class, and teachers Galina Zhuravskaya and Vera Rizhova

4. North Heights school, Rome, Georgia. The Global Thinking class at North Heights posted this report on May 21, 1993.

North Heights recently completed a project to help Camp Veli Joze.

We did three projects. One was a school dance. The way we raised money was we charged $1.00 per head. We also paid to see the teachers dance! The students were responsible for planning the details for the dance, for collecting money, and selling refreshments. We raised $156.74. The next thing we did was a charity softball game at the school during field day. We raised $99.00. We also put out money jars in local stores. We designed posters to tell the story of Veli Joze and Global Thinking to display in the businesses to encourage people to donate their money. One 5th grade student thought of the slogan “Your Change Will Change Camp Veli Joze” to put on the canisters. We haven’t gotten the results from this yet. Messages from Narcis Vives about Camp Veli Joze, the sad message from Sanel Cekik, and the poem “I’d like to go alone” inspired us to try to do something to help the camp. Within two weeks, our teacher will be sending a check and some photos to Narcis Vives for the camp.

5. Melbourne Girls Grammar School, Australia. The GTP class at the school posted a message on June 7, 1993.

Topic 157. The Bosnian Boy

Peg:mggs: Global Thinking Project

This poem is our reaction from the letter from Sanel Cekik who is a Bosnian boy who at the time was living at a refugee camp called Veli Joze and we hope through this poem that he and everyone else can see we care.

Boy, in your room I heard you weeping,

Boy, in his room you saw him sleeping,

Then from his peace he was awaking,

Only to a hell that today is creating.

Boy, with all the terror you must be sinking,

I wonder how many lives they are


The Veli Joze experience was considered by many students to be an important event in their lives. Brief reports written by students from schools in Australia, Russia and the United States at the end of the school year supported this assertion. As Springer noted, global thinking facilitates interactions and partnerships that allow students to experience the social nature of knowledge.

When we began our work with Narcís Vives and other educators in Catalonia, Russia, Australia, the Czech Republic, and later other countries, the telecommunications technology available to us was primitive.  In the beginning we used e-mail and electronic bulletin boards to send, receive and read each other’s ideas.  We sent pictures to each other using slow scan TV.  We did not have browsers and the World Wide Web, and clearly we didn’t have FaceBook or Twitter.  But we were able to launch and carry out telecommunication projects that were grounded in cooperative and collaborative learning, and mutual trust and support of teachers and students in different countries.

Narcís Vives has for more than two decades promoted innovative global collaboration amongst students and teachers.  Most recently, he participated in the Global Education Conference, a collaborative, world-wide community initiative involving students, educators and organizations at all levels.  Narcis presented is most recent efforts in connecting students and educators through Fudacio Itinerarium.

Searching for Innovation

Grant Lichtman, (author of The Learning Pond blog), for 15 years, has been involved with independent school education, as trustee, chief of finance and operations, teacher, parent, and volunteer at Francis Parker School in San Diego, one of the largest independent schools in the United States. He recently completed an 89 day automobile trip to visit and explore schools across the U.S.  At present he is working on a book based on that experience.

In his book, The Falconer, Grant Lichtman explains that few problems and issues in life and learning are “clean and linear.”  As he says, we all learn better  by experience than instruction.  Dewey wrote about experience and thinking many years ago, and it seems that he and Lichtman are on the same wavelength.  Dewey explains that experience has two parts, an active and a passive which are “peculiarly” combined (Dewey, 1924).  Experiential learning is not simply an activity or simply hands-on learning.  Experience means on the one hand, trying, and on the other hand undergoing.  So when we have students experience something, they act upon it, or what might say we do something with it.  Then, as Dewey says, we “suffer or undergo the consequences.  Participation in experiential learning activities does something to the participants, and what happens will determine the value of the experience.  Lichtman’s book is an experiential account of his journey as a teacher.  Dewey would suggest that Grant’s book is a good example of his experience as a teacher.

But you can learn about Grant’s ideas garnered not only from that trip to these schools, but from his experiences as a educator for many years.  Included here is a video of the talk that he gave at the TEDx Denver Teachers event.

Grant Lichtman’s ideas are rooted in a number of progressive thinkers from the past, including John Dewey.  In fact, in his talk in Denver, he asked where do we want to be in education in the future, and his answer came down to one word: DEWEY.

His philosophy, much like Narcí Vives’ is rooted in experiential and humanistic conceptions.  Grant is involved in working with educators around the country who are interested in transformational education.   He was recently named a Senior Fellow of The Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence in Memphis.

According to Grant Lichtman, in order for schools to evolve to offer transformational education that is relevant the present world “we must change the ways we are structured and oriented, and we must change how and what we teach. These changes will involve all aspects of our schools, and some aspects that are not even present today. (Lichtman, 2013)   According to Grant Lichtman, we will have to:

  • Question the sacred cows that drive our budgets and define the parameters of our teaching corps.
  • Fundamentally change the relationship between teachers, students, and knowledge.
  • Adopt the lessons of innovation and change management that are now foreign to our ivy towers.
  • Engage the world outside our classrooms in fundamentally different ways.
  • Re-write curriculum.
  • Learn to embrace risk rather than fearing it…

Innovation in education, according to Grant Lichtman and Narcís Vives, involves teachers and students working collaboratively, and in an environment in which taking risks, and working at the farther reaches of human nature are essential components.

What do you think about the ideas of Narcis Vives and Grant Lichtman?  What is your view of innovation in education?


Dewey, J. (1924). Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. New York, The Macmillan Company.

Hassard, J. (1990a) The AHP soviet exchange project: 1983-1990 and beyond, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 30 No.3, Summer 6-51.

Hassard, J. (1992). Minds on science: The art of teaching middle and high school science. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Hassard, J. (1990b). Science experiences: Cooperative learning and the teaching of Ssience. Menlo Park: CA: Addison-Wesley.

Hassard, J., (1994). The global thinking project: Linking students together around the world through the communication highway. Curriculum Perspectives, 14, 19-23.

Hassard, J. & Cross, R. T. . (1993). The global thinking project: Shared concerns and shared experiences across the continents.Australian Science Teachers Journal, Vol. 39, No. 3, 18-23.

Hassard, J. & Kolb, S. (1996). Citizen scientists: Student experiences in the gtp– georiga/russia exchange project. Paper presented at the conference on Telecommunications and Education, Callus, Spain, April 27.

Hassard, J. & Weisberg, J. (1995). Global thinking Teacher’s resource guide. Atlanta, GA: Global Thinking Project.

Lichtman, G. (2008). The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School: A Primer for 21st Century Education. New York: iUniverse, Inc.

Maslow, A. H., Maslow, B. G., and Geiger, H. (1993). The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Penguin

Michel, Rachel (1996). Environmental education: A study of how it is influenced and informed by the concepts of environmentalism. Doctoral Dissertation. La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia

Robinson, W. (1996). The Effects of the global thinking project on middle school students’ attitudes toward the environment. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia.

Springer, J. L. (1993). A principal’s perspective of the global thinking project at dunwoody high school: Implications for adminstrators. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, The Union Institute, Cincinnati, Ohio

Vladimir I. Vernadsky. The Biosphere: Complete Annotated Edition (Kindle Locations 127-128). Kindle Edition.


The Standards Emerged from the Progressive America Playbook: I Don’t Think So

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In my previous post, Are the Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards Progressive Ideology, I argued that the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards are not the kind of movements that would attract the freethinkers that I discussed.  The K-12 Standards movement is a top-down, authoritarian system that is polar opposite of the kind of action that progressive teachers would see as improving the education for children and youth.  Indeed, as I pointed out, freethinkers then, and today, were attracted to John Dewey’s educational philosophy because of his view that learning was rooted in observation and experience, not revelation.  Education should not only be based on experience, but should be secular.  Progressive educational programs were learner-centered, and encouraged intellectual participation in all spheres of life. Dewey suggested that the Progressive Education Movement appealed to many educators because it was more closely aligned with America’s democratic ideals.

I concluded that any thought the standards movement is an idea hatched by progressives is without merit. Indeed, the idea of standards is a conservative idea that proposes  what students learn is out there, and that what is out there can be expressed as discrete sentences or standards. Further, the idea is that not only can we tell students what they should learn, the standards spell out when.

A comment related to the progressive ideology blog post, indicated that the standards “is a page right out of the current Progressive American playbook.  The writer also suggested that 100 yrs ago Democrats fought to save slavery and Republicans supported Darwin.

Click on Darwin Two Pound Coin to go to Evolution as Design

Well, that might be so about the Democratic party then, but the Republicans did not support Darwin’s original ideas; instead they supported “social Darwinism,” which was an ideology that applied Darwin’s evolutionary theory to sociology and politics.  Darwin didn’t accept this, nor did other biologists. However,some sociologists and biologists invoked the term “survival of the fittest” as the fundamental concept of evolution and used it to further the idea of “social Darwinism.”  The problem is that cooperation is a more significant behavior in Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

The freethinkers that I documented in the last post were not Democrats. The foremost progressive of the 19th century was Robert Ingersoll, a Republican.  He was active in the Republican party, especially in years after the Civil War.  Professionally he was a lawyer, and held the post of Illinois Attorney General.

But Ingersoll also had radical ideas on religion, slavery, and woman’s suffrage.  He was one of several prominent freethinkers who wrote and talked openly about the economic, legal, and social injustices that were inflicted on women, but also the poor.  Susan Jacoby connects the 19th century progressives with their 18th century American “founding brothers,” by the declarations that they wrote.  The 19th century Progressives wrote their own declarations (using similar language that we read in the Declaration of Independence), including the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments.  This declaration stated in part: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal.”  (Jacoby, Susan (2005-01-07). Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (p. 90). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition).

The progressive movement was about inclusiveness.  It was grass-roots movement that fought to change the economic, social, legal and educational problems that many Americans endured.

Progressive education, as envisioned by John Dewey and other progressive educators, was experiential.  They believed that learning is embedded in experiences when the student interacts with the environment.  Dewey believed that learning was natural, not a process limited.  He would say that we are always in motion trying to resolve or seek a goal, or working on something intently.  Establishing a set of goals or standards that each child in America should reach is the antithesis of a progressive education.  Education should be in the hands of local boards of education and the faculty and administrators of their schools.

Dewey documented the work of progressive educators in his book, Schools of To-Morrow, published in 1915.  According to Lawrence Cremin, Dewey’s book showed what actually happened when schools put into practice, in their own way, progressive theories of education.  A number of schools around the country are featured in Dewey’s book including The Organic School at Fairhope, Alabama, the Experimental school at the University of Missouri, the Francis Parker School in Chicago, the Kindergarten at Teachers College, and public schools in Gary, Indiana.  Dewey documented not only the inclusiveness of progressive educators, but he developed a body of pedagogical theory that could explain the diversity of the progressive education movement.  (John Dewey and the Progressive-Education Movement, 1915-1952 Lawrence A. Cremin, The School Review , Vol. 67, No. 2, Dewey Centennial Issue (Summer, 1959), pp. 160-173 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Article Stable URL:

It is important to note that the progressive movement of the early 20th century was according to Malcolm Cowley, as quoted in Cremin’s article, an individual revolt against puritan restraint, as well a social revolt against the evils of capitalism (Cremin, 1959).

The goal of education in a progressive context would be moral reasoning integrated with values, human concerns, and scientific literacy. Limiting education to the achievement of canonical knowledge of science, mathematics, social studies and English/language arts is contradictory to progressive education.

To suggest that the standards are part of a progressive ideology simply without merit.



Any thought the standards movement is an idea hatched by progressives is without merit. Indeed, the idea of standards is conservative idea that proposes that what students learn is out there, and that what is out there can be expressed as discrete sentences or standards. Further, the idea is that not only can we tell students what they should learn, the standards spell out when.

Any thought the standards movement is an idea hatched by progressives is without merit. Indeed, the idea of standards is conservative idea that proposes that what students learn is out there, and that what is out there can be expressed as discrete sentences or standards. Further, the idea is that not only can we tell students what they should learn, the standards spell out when.

Any thought the standards movement is an idea hatched by progressives is without merit. Indeed, the idea of standards is conservative idea that proposes that what students learn is out there, and that what is out there can be expressed as discrete sentences or standards. Further, the idea is that not only can we tell students what they should learn, the standards spell out when.

attracted to John Dewey’s educational philosophy because of his view that learning was rooted in observation and experience, not revelation (Jacoby, p. 160). Education should not only be based on experience, but should be secular.

Progressive educational programs were learner-centered, and encouraged intellectual participation in all spheres of life. Dewey suggested that the Progressive Education Movement appealed to many educators because it was more closely aligned with America’s democratic ideals. Dewey put it this way:dfs

Hip-Hop Culture & Science Teaching: Progressive Education in Action

I’ve written several posts on this blog about Professor Christopher Emdin, Professor of Science Education, Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City.

Dr. Emdin has worked for years in New York City schools with urban youth to help teachers change the way they work with their students to bring real meaning to the learning of science.  The kind of teaching environment that Emdin suggests for urban schools is a communal one. Communal classrooms involve students and teachers working with subject matter through interactions that focus on interpersonal relationships, community and the collective betterment of the group. This type of teaching requires not only an understanding of the student’s culture, but the courage and willingness to create classrooms based on relationships, empathy, and understanding, and there is real evidence that to do this the best and most experienced teachers are needed.

Emdin provides insight for us as to go about being a teacher in urban classrooms. Because Emdin places great emphasis encouraging teachers to understand their urban students and he says this:

…it is necessary to understand how students know, feel, and experience the world by becoming familiar with where students come from and consciously immersing oneself in their culture. This immersion in student culture, even for teachers who may perceive themselves to be outsiders to hip-hop, simply requires taking the time to visit, observe, and study student culture.

Dr. Emdin suggests that classrooms should be viewed as a “space with its own reality.” In particular he urges us to focus on the “experiences of hip-hop participants as a conduit through which they can connect to science.” Using the concept “reality pedagogy” teaching in the urban classroom means creating a new dialogue where the student’s beliefs and behaviors are considered normal, and that the experiences within the hip-hop culture can actually be the way to learning science.

Dr. Emdin’s research and work with students is progressive education in action, and Emdin is doing the research to document his and his colleagues efforts.  According to John Dewey, learning environments that tend to be more informal than formal use elements of non-school learning that in the end bring the students closer to the [science] curriculum, perhaps making border crossings less hazardous. In this context, learning is tied to “use, to drama of doubt, need and discovery” (Fishman and McCarthy 1989).

Emdin has brought the culture of hip-hop into the classroom to create this kind of environment.   As Dewey, and now Emdin point out, in formal learning settings, scientific ideas & concepts are presented as if they were bricks, and we are tempted to try to pass out ideas, because like bricks, they are separable. Concepts are taught without a context, without connections, and without relevance to the students. Yes, there are some students who will learn science very well in formal environments. But many students, who will not benefit from such formality, thrive in informal learning environments. Working on topics of their own choice, collaborating in cooperative groups, or discussing the relevance of the content—each of these ideas will give to the informality of the classroom.

And this is the heart of Emdin’s work.  In this video, Dr. Emdin explains how he integrates hip-culture, the Obama Effect, and urban science education based on his theory of communal learning.

Recently Dr. Emdin published a ground-breaking book entitled Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation. The book provides essential tools for the urban science educator and researcher, according to the publisher. But it is much more than that.

Christopher Emdin say this about the philosophy that under-girds urban science education:

In urban classroom, the culture of the school is generally different from the culture of the students. In addition, a majority of students are either African American or Latino/a while their teachers are mostly White. Culturally, urban youth are mostly immersed in a generally communal and distinctly hip-hop based way of knowing and being. By this, I mean that the shared realities that come with being socioeconomically deprived areas brings urban youth together in ways that transcend race/ethnicity and embraces their collective connections to hip-hop. Concurrently, hip-hop is falsely interpreted as being counter to the objectives of school, or seen as “outside of” school culture.

In the current conversation about educational reform, and in particular, science education reform, the thinking reflected in Emdin’s book should be fundamental reading for science teachers and teacher educators, as well the corporate types that are aggressively pushing the corporate take over of schooling which relies on a very traditional model of teaching.

Hip Hop and Science Teaching–Reform from the inside Out

In a New York Times article , Dr. Emdin was interviewed about his new project, which will target grades 9-12, and will cover sciences ranging from biology to physics.  The program will use hip-hop to teach science in 10 New York City public schools.  In the NYT’s article, Emdin explains the nature of the innovation which will take place starting in January 2013:

 On a recent afternoon in his office at Teachers College, Dr. Emdin likened the skills required for success in science to those of a good rapper: curiosity, keen observation, an ability to use metaphor and draw connections. Moreover, he said, the medium itself provided a model that could be more effective than traditional science instruction, in which teachers stand in front of classes delivering information, then judge students by their ability to repeat it on tests.By contrast, in what is known as a hip-hop “cypher,” participants stand in a circle and take turns rapping, often supporting or playing off one another’s rhymes.

“A hip-hop cypher is the perfect pedagogical moment, where someone’s at the helm of a conversation, and then one person stops and another picks up,” Dr. Emdin said, his checked bow tie bobbing under his chin. “There’s equal turns at talking. When somebody has a great line, the whole audience makes a ‘whoo,’ which is positive reinforcement.”

The innovative approach to reform was initiated when Dr. Emdin met  a famous musician.  Here is how it happened:

Christopher Emdin is a Columbia University professor who likes to declaim Newton’s laws in rhyme.GZA is a member of the Wu-Tang Clan who left school in 10th grade. When the two men met this summer, at a radio show hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium, they started talking about science and education — particularly, why science classrooms were failing to engage many African-American and Latino students, who together make up 70 percent of New York City’s student body.

GZA had recently completed work at MIT and Harvard to develop a solo album on the “cosmos.”  The two met later. They discovered a shared interest in merging their two worlds: GZA by bringing science into hip-hop; Dr. Emdin by bringing hip-hop into the science classroom.

The project will involve ten New York City high schools. According to the New York Times article,  starting in January, the 10 schools, with support from Dr. Emdin and his graduate students, will experiment with cyphers and rhymes to teach basic science concepts — one class per school, one day per week. The students will write rhymes in lieu of papers; the best rhymes, as judged by GZA, will appear on Rap Genius, beside the lyrics of popular hits. The program fits into a broader educational movement to use students’ outside interests to engage them in class work.

Dewey’s idea was to create an environment for social and pedagogical experimentation. The school was learner-centered, and the curriculum was organized as an interdisciplinary approach to education. Teachers designed activities based on a theory of growth stages, and the activities engaged students in self-development and mutual respect. Dewey advocated the idea that thinking was an active process involving experimentation and problem solving. He also espoused the idea that the school had a political role as an instrument for social change.

In our own view, Dr. Emdin has furthered Dewey’s ideas, and created a pedagogy that engages students in science using their own cultural knowledge and experience.  Now, that’s reform.

What are your views on Dr. Emdin’s work in science education with urban youth?

Why Teacher Education is Important and How to Make It Better

Teacher education is more important today than it has been in half a century.  Education policy and practice are being radically transformed in American education, and teacher preparation programs in colleges and universities are being pressured to fall in line with the marketization and privatization of K-12 schools.  In teacher preparation this is evident by looking at proposals to privatize or deregulate the education of teachers, in the increasing reductive entry and exit tests for prospective educators, in differential funding to those teacher preparation institutions whose students score higher on high-stakes examinations, and the increasing growth of home schooling because of various reasons, but perhaps the desire to reject formal schooling and indeed professionally educated teachers (Apple, 2008).

Robertson (2008) argues that teacher education institutions need to be sustained as autonomous from social and political centers, which would turn teacher preparation toward their own interests.  The social and political context that we find ourselves in today has implications for science teacher educators, and especially if the focus of teaching is on experiential learning.   As teacher educators, we need to think about how these realities influence our work: the polarized political climate, the educational assessment and accountability movements, and challenges to schools of education (Robertson, 2008, Cody, 2012, Hassard, 2012).

Anthony Cody, a science educator and educational policy writer, recently talked about the place of teacher education in American society:

Our schools of education ought to be in a position to think clearly and freely about the challenges our schools face. They are certainly not perfect, but their ability to take an independent stance on education policies and practices is crucial for us to avoid a complete groupthink. But this sort of ideological unanimity in support of “obsession over data” is what our education “reformers” apparently want, and the foundations driving the corporate reform agenda will do what it takes to get it.

There is a new cohort group of teacher educators in the USA and other countries that approach teacher education based on clinical and experiential theories of learning.  Although the idea is not really new, there is a new and growing number of teacher educators who now have a strong research base upon which to design teacher education programs.

In 1896, the laboratory school of the University of Chicago opened its doors under the directorship of John Dewey (Fishman and McCarthy, 1998).  Dewey’s idea was to create an environment for social and pedagogical experimentation.  Theory and practice should mingle, and the laboratory school as Dewey conceived it would be a place for teachers to design, implement, reflect on, and evaluate learner-centered curriculum and practice.

Although Dewey’s ideas did not convert policy makers and education decision makers, it did have a strong impact on the Progressive Education movement which advocated active and problem based learning.  Although historians of education would agree that Thorndike’s educational and psychological ideas won out in the advancing the direction of American education, Dewey’s ideas maintained a hold on a cadre of teachers and teacher educators.  Many of the successful teacher education programs identified by Darling-Hammond (2006) are substantially Deweyan in nature.

I fell in love with teaching and being a science teacher educator when I was very young.  I arrived at Georgia State University  at the age of 29, and was embraced by my colleagues in science education who had arrived at GSU at the same time, but they were “seasoned” science educators, having had professorships at other universities.  I was a rookie fresh out of graduate school.  Even though I taught middle and high school science, and had graduated with a Ph.D. in science education and geology, many of you would agree that I couldn’t possibly be prepared for all the challenges I would face in my new position.  There is no question in my mind that the collaboration with colleagues over the years helped cultivate my identify and self-confidence in being and thinking like a teacher educator.

Over the years, I collaborated with colleagues in K-12 schools and universities and research organizations in the U.S. and other countries, especially Russia, Australia, Spain, and the Czech Republic.  We used humanistic, progressive, and experiential frames of reference in designing teacher education, and curriculum.  We closed the distance between theory and practice by co-creating programs, curriculum, experiences in teaching and teacher education.

I will explore teacher education from these experiences, and the research that intwined over the next few posts.

Do you think teacher education is important?  In what ways?  


Apple, M.W. (2008), Is deliberate democracy enough in teacher education in M. Cochran-Smith, S. Feiman-Nemser, D. John McIntyre, & K. E. Demers (Eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education: Enduring questions in changing contexts (3rd Edition, pp. 105 – 110).  New York, USA: Routledge.

Fishman, S.M. and McCarthy, L. (1998). John Dewey and the challenge of classroom practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Robertson, E. (2008), Teacher education in a democratic society in M. Cochran-Smith, S. Feiman-Nemser, D. John McIntyre, & K. E. Demers (Eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education: Enduring questions in changing contexts (3rd Edition, pp. 27 – 44).  New York, USA: Routledge.