95/365 Remember when Ivan Illich Invented Meetup?

“Both the exchange of skills and the matching of partners are based on the assumption that education for all means education by all,” Ivan Illich writes in the opening chapter of Deschooling Society.

I’m re-reading Illich as both a reminder and challenge to what I believe. This go round, I’m struck more than ever by Illich’s prescient imagining of a type of protean meetup system for the education of those interested.

The most radical alternative to school would be a network or service which gave each man the same opportunity to share his current concern with others motivated by the same concern…Each man, at any given moment and at a minimum price, could identify himself to a computer with his address and telephone number, indicating the book, article, film, or recording on which he seeks a partner for discussion. Within days he could receive by mail the list of others who recently had taken the same initiative. This list would enable him by telephone to arrange for a meeting with persons who initially would be known exclusively by the fact that they requested a dialogue about the same subject.

Illich goes on to explain these two individuals would know one another by the agreed upon texts resting next to the other’s coffee cups, and conversation would commence.

He argues that these types of meetings aren’t the domain of school, that they work against the bureaucracies of schools. I disagree. There’s room in any school with any sort of bulletin board (online or on-the-wall) to build a similar system.

Think of it as a bastardization of the much-touted 20 percent time from google. Instead of building an idea, students in school would have 20 percent of their time to explore an idea about which they are curious.

Sign up anonymously with the texts (defined broadly) you’re interested in, and check back for some sort of “like,” “favorite,” or “+1” of your posting. Then, set up a place in the school or nearby to meet and follow Illich’s instructions. The whole deal, up to the point of meeting would be anonymous, filtering out cliques and other stratafications.

When the study was done or a participant decided she’d gotten what she wanted from the interactions, the student could post again or respond to another’s post. The cycle would continue.

The key for me is the focus on questions and curiosity. The interactions are driven by participants’ wonderings. As Illich points out, the most an instructor can do is help “the pupil formulate his puzzlement.”

With the exception of a few pockets of open school and some progressive home school networks, most students find themselves participating in schooling that is antithetical to Illich’s ideal.

Instituting this type of system, for even a portion of the week, could open our understanding of students’ answers to an oft-overlooked question, “What are you curious about?”

Things I Know 183 of 365: It’s entirely possible I’ve never thought of what circle you’re in

Will the circle be unbroken?

– Ada R. Habershon

My junior year of college, Katy and I were in an argument. I didn’t know it at the time. The details remain a bit sketchy, even now. I do remember a discussion of being best friends and what it meant to me compared to what it meant to her. The values we each put on the idea of best friends versus friends differed.

I’d honestly never considered how those terms might have differing meanings in my life. I certainly had paid no mind to the idea that these terms might hold deep and abiding meaning to someone else. I learned a lot from that argument. I felt parts of how I see the world shift by the end of it.

Luke and I have known one another since I was in eighth grade. We have never lived in the same town. He is one of the people I know I can call who, if need be, will have his flight booked before we hang up. Our interactions, our social networking, take place with remarkable inconsistency.

Last week, Google threw its hat into the social networking ring with the release of Google+. Each day, I’ve been receiving e-mails notifying me of my addition to this or that person’s circles. It’s restarted the 21st century game of categorizing those I know into lists or groups or circles.

“This person is connected to you,” says the site, “wouldn’t you like to cement for us exactly how y’all know each other?” (I imagine Google+ to speak to me with a folksy southern twang.)

More than a few of the conversations feeding through my Facebook, Twitter and Google+ accounts have centered around how people were organizing their circles. They wanted to import contact groups from their Gmail accounts or replicate their lists from Facebook. Now, they needed to come up with a whole new version of how they were connected. Some, I’d imagine, even split-screened their monitors to make sure the connections were the same across platforms. I’d hate for Katy and me to be best friends in Illinois, but only friends in Philadelphia.

I’ll admit to currently having a dozen circles in my account.

The whole thing began to feel like an empty version of that argument with Katy 10 years ago.

I see the meaning of grouping those to whom I am connected online. Putting all the names in one place at one time makes the collective that much more daunting. It has value on the site, but that value isn’t something I carry around with me in life. When I get the chance to share a meal with Bud, I don’t think to myself, “Bud lives in my friend circle as well as my PLN circle, I will restrict conversation accordingly.”

The best moments are when those circles break, when the people with whom I’ve forged relationships exist in the ever-shifting cloud of relativity, when how I know you isn’t a categorical imperative.

Wave in an English Classroom (beta)

The Gist:

  • Group work can be messy.
  • Collaboration is a key.
  • I’m playing with Google Wave to try to make these work together.

The Whole Story:

If you want to see a myriad of responses, tell a room of seniors at an inquiry-driven, project-based high school that they’ll be working in groups in their final semester. The kids who are aces roll their eyes. They don’t want to carry another group across another finish line.

The kids who don’t do much breathe a sigh of relief. (Thank you, aces.)

The kids who get lost are lost.

The teacher of these 32 crosses his fingers and rolls the dice.

Collaboration is one of SLA‘s core values. I attempt to build it into every primary and secondary element of my classroom. Collaboration in the form of group work in a more relaxed, mid- to long-term assignment gets messy.

Sometimes I manage to create mechanisms that hold group member individually accountable for their contributions to the final product.

My attempts to monitor contributions during the projects has often created a paperwork fiasco that tells me a lot of but doesn’t tell the kids much.

In my G12 storytelling class, we’re dealing with a unit around the question, “How do stories tell us who we are?”

I’m having kids read multiple works, take notes, share notes, have conversations in class, see what they can learn.

I decided to use Google Wave to manage the unit’s study. Here are the basics:

  • SLA has Google Apps (incl. Wave) installed so that every community member has an @scienceleadership.org sign-in.
  • I created a wave and invited every student across both sections of the class as a participant.
  • One of the blips on the wave listed the 3-member groups (with sections intermingling across sections).
  • Each group was assigned to create their own new wave for the group adding me as a member.
  • I post the readings to the main class wave, students copy the assignment to a new blip in their group waves and take their notes.

The first reading went up last week.

This might come across as creepy, but I was able to watch students do their homework. I was able to poke, prod, question and suggest as they were working to head off problems before they became problems.

Before class, the day after the assignment, I knew who was prepared and who wasn’t. I was able to needle the kids who hadn’t done anything. I’d already helped the kids who didn’t get it.

The endgame of this assignment is for the students to create a product that answers the essential question as their knowledge stands.

With each successive reading, they’ll add blips and build their collective knowledge.

Ideally, they’ll begin poking, prodding, questioning and suggesting within their group waves prior to class. Ideally.

Here’s what was messy:

  1. Some of my kids were early attempters with wave and (not unlike many people I know) had decided wave wasn’t worth their time.
  2. It’s something new. As intuitive as much of wave is, there’s a learning curve.
  3. They didn’t realize #2 and signing up, adding contacts, etc. ate up a chunk of one class period.

I’m sure there will be more mess, but that’s learning.

My aces asked me, “What if I read my article, but my group members don’t read theirs?”

My answer, “I’ll know and work with them.”

In the end of the beginning: My aces were accountable for their work, and I was able to help them make it better as they did it. They only had to worry about carrying themselves across this finish line. The kids who don’t do much had done some more. Not all of them did something, but more than usual. The kids who get lost had been given re-direction as they cut their path into the unknown. Maybe they got lost once we got to class discussion, but they made it to class discussion.

I really like learning.