No.11 - Finding the Core
in the Doorway
Life into Another
Words Can Capture
Front and the Back
to a Scientist
Welcome to edition # 11 of The Creative Teaching Space.
This edition is a tribute to the concept of finding the core – getting to the heart of a topic. Based on conceptual learning it is the process of finding the heart of an issue, in other words what is most important, and exploring how those ideas can be further explored through a variety of subject areas.
Getting to the core means that an idea comes to life. It is engaging for students. It is engaging for the teacher. Together students and the teacher can explore that idea. It can be connected to our daily lives. We can see the history of the idea as well as exploring how it might connect with a range of disciplines such as maths or science.
Any powerful idea has many expressions. Regardless of whether it is a metaphor or a fact students can explore how it came about and how that idea has impacted upon our culture. This is a great invitation to transdisciplinary learning as students can find connections across the curricula. This encourages interest as students are encouraged to draw connections and translate ideas into other forms. Getting to the heart of a topic encourages one to ask fundamental questions e.g. "Why do songwriters or poets choose metaphors?" "What other disciplines choose to use metaphors?" "Why?"
Too often we go through life without seeing connections between subject areas. Science is separated from the arts in a false duality. Conceptual learning asks us to find core questions. It asks us to find links across disciplines. In an information overloaded society it compassionately encourages us to discover links. We are no longer burdened with facts and information. We see connections. The world is simpler, more holistic, more interdependent.
I have seen some excellent online videos recently at the site www.learner.org. (All you need to do is download Real Player.) The videos explore key concepts in learning and reveal much of the truth by which students learn. Too often students enter learning with preconceived concepts and often these cloud the interpretation of a subject because they are not challenged. Misconceptions continue. To be told doesn’t constitute learning – the teacher must audit and challenge conceptions via discussion and ongoing assessment.
In one video example, Harvard graduates are asked ‘what makes a tree?’ What becomes apparent is that while students can recite a series of scientific facts they haven’t really tackled fundamental questions. This video reveals something alarming – students can go through training and recite the facts yet to what extent do they really grapple and grasp fundamental concepts? Learning isn’t just about facts, it is about understanding those facts, challenging them, and taking central ideas and relating them across a wide range of areas.
To the get to the heart of a topic means that students learn to ask questions. They develop key strategies that allow further ideas and synthesis to evolve. Getting to the heart means that we experience the fluidity of knowledge and in doing so become an active and creative participant. Knowledge is constructed. To learn is to do, and the student takes that learning well and truly beyond the walls of the classroom.
The Creative Teaching Space is part game part curriculum exercise. It is an attempt to open curricula and learning. It is an invitation into a creative space where ideas fly, reform and reveal new possibilities. It is also a space where teachers or students can see new connections or reapply information to their settings. Above all the space is not definitive. It is just a place to reflect and find new teaching and learning possibilities. Part wacky, part poetic, it is an attempt to find new languages for teacher professional development, well and truly beyond the sometimes-limited language of academia.
I am standing in a doorway, looking out, behind me is a room draped in many stories. Am I waiting? Am I watching a friend leave? Am I about to move inside or out?
A doorway is a crossing between two worlds. One is an inner world, a world of fittings, fixtures and/or memories. The outer world, the world at large, is what can be seen from the doorway. It is the world that always takes us, the world from which the inner is a defense or a nest.
The doorway is a crossing or a threshold, that which metaphorically defines a home. It can be the rising of emotion: anxiety, expectancy, sadness or loss. It is the hero standing at the doorway waiting to leave, the anxious one watching a loved one leave, or the one about to enter, terrified, anxious or happy; a flood of emotions with a reality about to be revealed.
But then a doorway can just be a fixture – no thoughts, no emotions. It is a ritualistic crossing defined no more than the many other doorways we cross in our daily lives.
So often we think of the world outside or the world within. Rarely do we consider the point of crossing. Simply look at a doorway and consider the many stories it can tell. When does a doorway become significant? How can doorways be perceived: maths, architecture, science, geography, history, literature, and music?
‘These doorways are very small. Were people smaller in those days?’ This doorway is a secret entrance, a magical gateway, a glass fixture blurring the distinction between the outside and in. This doorway is guarded; it is monitored by security cameras. Each doorway has a different colour, as it is the only way in which we can stamp our individuality on mundane architecture. This doorway is always open. A small figure creeps through the doorway. The interior is dark. The builder is measuring the doorway – is there a regular height, width and ratio?
Doorways become metaphors. They become the points by which we move through realities, through our minds, or stand at a point of junction not knowing whether to move backward or forward.
Standing in the Doorway by Bob Dylan
night I danced with a stranger
Explore the many ways in which we use the word ‘doorway’ in our culture. Think of how everyday objects can carry many meanings. We are surrounded by meanings and possibilities.
We fill our streets with traffic. We love movement, pace, noise. Onlookers watch the faces in the street. Our streets are spaces to fill. The car backs out a drive, a lady empties her letterbox, and a child runs into the street chasing a kicked ball. Streets have many stories. They present us with activity.
How often though do we consider the emptiness of streets? An empty street challenges us – our sense of what a street means or what is important to capture in art or photography. To capture an empty street makes us look even more closely at what surrounds us: light poles, electricity cables, signs, fire hydrants, bins, manholes, etc.
Too often we people our world without realizing that our world is full of fittings that echo the journeys of those people. This light pole needs repairing. It was once made and set in place. This bin will sometime be emptied. Who placed it here? These lights keep shining. These traffic lights keep changing despite no traffic or people. Our streets can be automatic. They can be full of distractions. They can deceive us by their movement until a person comes along, camera swinging, sketchbook in hand, and captures a moment that makes us look even harder at the mundane with all its multifarious meanings.
For some, art is a peopled street, a world of movement or action, to others it can be a lone dog sitting at a corner, a plane flying in the distance – a world of people who have left their fittings, their fixtures and spaces.
Look closely at your streets. Look at their emptiness. What stories can be told?
the end he sailed into an extraordinary mildness,
He is a teacher, she is a chef, their lives are very different. Yet somehow their actions creep beyond the workplace. Meanings cross boundaries. He becomes her nourishment, she his tutor. Life presents each with metaphors. Slowly both begin to realize that experience doesn’t stop at the doorway – not at the doorway of a workplace neither at the doorway of their home.
Where there is engagement so there is emotion. Interests are carried well and truly beyond walls and into many aspects of our lives. Maybe true love presents us with many echoes – she is now waiting for something to brew, he no longer feels the need to teach, just to stand back and let her discover for herself what he was once so keen to explain.
What concepts underlie our everyday work? Where do we carry them? How do they show themselves? How do they transform? By placing so much emphasis on division do we fail to recognize that there are many links and unities in life? How is our perception of the world shaped by deep concepts? When do these link with other aspects of our lives? To what extent do they enlighten or hinder our understanding of the world around us?
Explore how metaphors can be used to explain the subtleties of teaching.
I see the relationship between educators and architects because we're builders also. We're building cognitive skills. We're building knowledge. We start with the foundation and work our way up. (Quoted in above site)
Read a paper discussing how metaphors are used in teaching: 'Academics' metaphors and beliefs about university teaching and learning': Kim McShane,The University of Sydney.
Man Ray Dust Breeding
Yes we have been asked many times who we would like to have for dinner if we could ask anyone.
And we have heard stories of artists who have met and socialized. Movements have sprung up, great albums have been cut, and many stories have been told that find endless expression in biography.
How often though do artists – artists characterized by individual expression – work together to create some other product?
Here Marcel Duchamp creates The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1915-23). Man Ray photographs it years later. It becomes another work of art.
How can artists, of differing media, work together to make even newer works of art? What can we find? What can we imagine? What can we create by adding new perceptions to other artistic perceptions? Yes this has been done in the spirit of DADA. How can it also be done in a spirit of cooperation where two living artists work together?
Suburbia lies in the back of photographs, traced in the images of super eight movies. Far different from the elegiac countryside this is the stuff of footpaths, letterboxes, lawns, gardens, mowers, paths and often-repeated architecture. It is the sound of sprinklers, the washing of cars and rotary clotheslines turning with clothes. It is edges to lawns, manicured gardens and defined spaces. Suburbia is one of the twentieth century’s most vivid yet under-recognised inventions; spaces established for communities in the imaginings of developers and town planners.
Suburbia is often scorned or satirized in the arts e.g. the famous song made popular by Pete Seeger.
boxes on the hillside,
and music by Malvina Reynolds.
Barry Humphries satirises and part celebrates Australian suburbia:
Beauty is found in the patterns of gardens and lawns and in the ordinariness of decor. What suburban patterns are your students surrounded by? How can these be celebrated in arts, literature, poetry, letters, photography, etc?
How is land represented? In a recent exhibition at the State library of Tasmania I saw a tremendous collection of advertising material that represented the shape of Tasmania. In some posters the shape of Tasmania had become a face or a caricature. In others the design became an elaborate frame filled with all sorts of pictures.
Consider how the area in which you live is represented. Is its shape played with? Does its shape carry a range of meanings? Your students may like to create designs working with the shapes of lands. How can these shapes be incorporated into posters, postcards, etc? How can the shape of the land reflect what is being advertised?
One can always play games with shapes and many meanings are possible. Would you believe that Tasmania was once represented as a pair of underpants hanging below a garmented Australian mainland? Would you believe that Tasmania's shape is also an analogue for female pubic hair? How on earth did this make its way into Australian slang? Maybe Barry Mackenzie popularised or invented it. Yet another link to the wit of Barry Humphries.
Read this discussion about the shapes of American States.
Perhaps students can make the shapes of states or land into characters who interact with each other. What stories can develop?
I am staring at a bar code – a design of many lines on the product that I have just bought. And I am borrowing a library book with a card that represents my name in a series of lines. Tomorrow I will post a letter to a bank. I notice a series of lines above the address. Surely this must be an address that can be read by a machine.
Just stop and think. How many times do we encounter bar codes in our daily lives? What do they mean? Why were they invented?
Just how many bar codes are carrying information about us?
These bar codes are amazing things. In recent times there was an attempt in New Zealand to kidnap a senior executive. In a lockup, intended for the kidnap victim, police found a supply of food. The bar codes traced the products back to shops and security footage identified the kidnappers. Police were able to trap the kidnappers before the kidnap was attempted!
Recently in Geelong, in Victoria, I came across an artwork – a fountain come channel – where water could be seen running over a long version of a bar code. What works of art satirise or comment on the use of bar codes? Explore this site celebrating the art of the bar code.
How do bar codes impact upon our lives? What maths surrounds the use of bar codes? To what extent do they define products? Does this now include people? Can bar codes be used inappropriately? Just how did we process goods before the current days of computers and scanners? How have bar codes affected our ability to move through and interact with the world?
Explore this Multi Media Installation involving the interactive use of bar codes. Can students make one of their own?
Alas another reference to Spam. Here though it’s the rather strange, poetic, almost automatic writing style, in some messages. I know this is probably to trick servers yet it is quite interesting.
Explore the use of word generators in the following computer programs. The post Modern Thesis Generator is hilarious. Words are scrambled and a thesis is written. This is a great satire on some postmodern writing.
This is echoed in a relatively recent text – Intellectual Impostures – by Sokal and Bricmont. The writers took a knife to the writings of many famous French intellectuals. Many of these writers were praised worldwide. Sokal and Bricmont showed how a lot of the writing, while including mathematical and physics propositions, was in fact posturings with little anchoring in scientific fact. Sokal was also involved in a famous hoax in which a pseudo article was accepted by a respected journal.
Similarly explore how texts can be cut up and coughed back in particular styles at the following database.
Here is Dr Seuss editing the foreword of this magazine:
Here is a Poetry random generator playing with the style of Dylan Thomas.
How do these databases work? How can words be played with?
How do we see the world?
I can imagine that there was a time before wide media coverage where people's impressions of other countries was very different. Perhaps these impressions were formed by radio coverage, images in newspapers and simply impressions within our imaginations.
How did our grandparents view the world? How have people's views changed over time? How do we view the world? How have our perceptions changed over time?
Each of us carries a world view; an impression of other countries and how people may live and think. Impressions are shaped by films, television, literature, travel, discussion, photography, etc. Each of us carries a rather distinct picture of other countries as well as an image of the whole world. How interesting it would be to explore these impressions. Where have they come from? What do they tell us about ourselves?
It has only been in the last forty years that we have been able to see real images of the earth. These evolved from space travel and were very instrumental in beginning environmental and ecological movements. The world was seen as one. Differences faded. We all seemed somewhat responsible if the world was seen as one.
Explore photos of the earth from space. Look at the history of Earth Day. Apparently the release of NASA’s first famous photo of the earth was deeply influential in raising an ecological consciousness. It is also deeply ironic that of the three astronauts on this mission none could remember who took this photo – an example of a very famous photograph where the photographer’s name is missing.
NASA also provides the opportunity for us to look at views of the earth from Space Shuttle missions.
And when did we coin the word ‘space’? This term carries with it its own history.
Words capture meanings. Those meanings become enshrined in the language. We try to explain our world using those words. Sometimes it is easy, sometimes words seem to fail us – we haven’t captured the subtlety of what we wish to express. We long to find other words throwing them round in our heads. Occasionally we find a word. At other times we draw a blank. There just isn’t the word to express what I was trying to say.
Danish, adjective. Pronounced HUE-geh-li. A winter evening with a warm wool blanket and a quiet fire and the dozing cat and close conversation with good friends is hyggelig.
Discuss why we use words. When do they fail us? When are they helpful? Are our thoughts shaped by the words we use? Are we prisoners within the language that we use?
The following website – example cited above – reveals words from a range of languages used to express concepts that are not clearly expressed in the English language.
Explore subtle concepts that don’t seem to have a word. Perhaps one can be find expressions within a Thesaurus. Otherwise play a game in which you make up words for specific concepts. Words had to be invented somewhere. How have subtle expressions within the English language been formed?
Read about obscure words and their meanings.
Read John Montague’s poem.
I really like his poetry and have a number of his books. I like the simplicity within his poems. The concepts are often rich and moving.
Consider how we may present two faces to the world – the seen and the hidden. Consider how in this poem a family presents a front and the back of their house. One is for ‘beauty’ and one is for ‘use’. How does this view apply to our homes or how we present ourselves to the world? What riches are within each? Imagine your family home. Did it have two worlds? How did they differ?
Maybe there are songs of the sirens – are there songs of the scientists? The internet allows us to explore many new possibilities and here we can find songs about science. Music and science merge. Lyrics and verses are written expressing the great achievements of scientists.
Explore how song can express scientific concepts. Write humorous songs. Work with music students. Adapt lyrics to established melodies. Is it possible for science to become a musical? Are there any examples?
Greg Crowther specializes in songs about science.
Richard Thompson has recently written a song about Alexander Graham Bell. It is good fun. I saw it performed a few months ago at an excellent concert in Melbourne.
© Copyright In Clued - Ed 2009