My interest in the idea of sharing pedagogical purposes comes directly with the contact I have had with the Project for Enhancing Effective Learning at Monash University in Australia. Now each of these teachers were very active in establishing learning agendas with their classes. The impact they were having was inspiring. Each classroom tool can have a purpose beyond delivering content, and this needs to be shared.
I suppose the purpose of this website is collate, crystalise and open dialogues about how to increase this within classrooms. As the quote from Carl Bereiter illustrates this classroom methodology can empower our students.

Friday, 7 February 2014

A Beautiful Complexity. A Beautiful Metaphor?

Here are some pictures of a spiders arse.

Well, not its arse exactly, but the spinnerets, the organ that produces and then organises the silk into a web. However, for all intense purposes it is the spiders arse. We can not see the structure  of the spinnerets until we use an electron scanning microscope and to see the functionality takes detailed observation and inference, So when we see a spiders web,  we simplify how it has come into being,  and inferring in a rather basic way that it has been exuded magically from a spiders backside.

The beauty within a spider web is baffling. We can identify large groups of spiders to one of four "kinds", but,  we can not identify species or individual types of spiders. The main reason being that we can not separate the web from its builder and operator.

To fully understand the web, we must study the structure of a web and the movement (behaviour) of the animal. Although the web does "resemble" the movement of the constructing spider it does not match it perfectly. During construction the spider builds a scaffold,  that it later removes. This "frame construction" is highly variable both between species and within species ( it is why we can't identify them as species). This kind of makes sense, if spiders had a fixed pattern of building a web it would only be able to do if the exact conditions were replicated every where. So , if the branches were different distances apart the web would not fit.

Not all of the  variety in the construction of  webs can be analysed , partly because they were too dissimilar. It appears that spiders apply rules of thumb rather than some empirical mathematical model. The time taken for web construction also varies from  1 hour and a few nights , and the time the web lasts for appears to correlate, so that fast built webs lasts 1 to a few days, while longer built webs can last several weeks.

Whether a spider uses a pre-existing framework or part of an "old" web is again highly variable within and across species. A far commoner occurrence is the spider moving the "hub" of the web during construction possibly due in response to structural features of the location. Again, highlighting the flexible responsive approach taken by spiders arses.

So, what of this metaphor?
Nuthalls measures of uniqueness.

Paragraph 1.
Learning is difficult to see. This often results  in making  false assumptions about how it happens

Paragraph 2.
Learning is unique. No matter how we impose a structure, it will turn out different.

Paragraph 3.
You can't separate learning from prior knowledge.
We need to sometimes get the basics right, some of which may be not right exactly but will provide stepping stones to a deeper understanding.
The frameworks are as an important part as the web, the learning will develop to fit the framework. If the frame work is restrictive then the learning will be diminished. The flexibility in building approach is an essential part of the success, learning (ergo) teaching cannot be a one size fits all.

Paragraph 4.
Knowledge is complex and is connected.
Time is and ( hopefully immersion) is an important factor in making learning last or in quality work.

Paragraph 5.
Students will vary in prior knowledge, but may have different and relevant start points. We must find these out before we commence.