Saturday, 30 August 2008

Tickle the Mickle

The kids and I invented a new game today, called "Tickle the Mickle".
  1. A player announces, "I am the Mickle!", and lies supine (tummy up) on the couch or floor.
  2. Everyone else says, "Tickle the Mickle!", and starts tickling the Mickle.
  3. This continues until the Mickle says "Stop!".
  4. Someone else takes a turn to be the Mickle.
In a competitive game the winner is the Mickle who can endure the most tickling.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Alan Kay on Research into Learning and Teaching

SecretGeek asked Alan Kay about the paper "The Camel Has Two Humps", and received a fascinating reply. Excerpts:

Notion 1: Good science can rarely be pulled off in an environment with lots of degrees of freedom unless the cause and effect relationships are really simple. Trying to assess curricula, pedagogy, teaching, and the learners all at once has lots of degrees of freedom and is *not* simple.

So for example we've found it necessary to test any curriculum idea over three years of trials to try to normalize as much as possible to get a good (usually negative) result.

Notion 2: Most assessments of students wind up assessing almost everything but. This is the confusions of "normal" with "reality".

For example, in our excursions into how to help children learn powerful ideas, we observed many classrooms and got some idea of "what children could do". Then I accidentally visited a first grade classroom (we were concerned with grades 3-6) in a busing school whose demographic by law was representative of the city as a whole. However, every 6 year old in this classroom could really do math, and not just arithmetic but real mathematical thinking quite beyond what one generally sees anywhere in K-8 [kindergarten and grades 1 through 8].

This was a huge shock, and it turned out that an unusual teacher was the culprit. She was a natural kindergarten and first grade teacher who was also a natural mathematician. She figured out just what to do with 6 year olds and was able to adapt other material as well for them. The results were amazing, and defied all the other generalizations we and others had made about this age group.

This got me to realize that it would be much better to find unusual situations with "normal" populations of learners but with the 1 in a million teacher or curriculum.

Kay gives two examples of quite famous teachers who have written books about their methods:

I found Tim Gallwey [Inner Tennis, Inner Work, etc.], who could teach anyone (literally) how to play a workable game of tennis in 20 minutes, and observed him do this with many dozens of learners over several years.

I found Betty Edwards [Drawing with the Right Side of the Brain] who could teach (again literally) anyone to draw like a 2nd year art student in one intense week.

It is also an interesting social question as to why it is ok to celebrate amazing teachers in film -- e.g. Jaime Escalante in Stand and Deliver -- but not to look more closely at their methods and try to work with them to re-jig teacher identification, training and school curricula.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

My Virtual Museum of Modern Art

You can create your own modern art at museumr.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Science at Home

In our current home arrangement my kids share a bedroom, and have a separate toy-room. The spare bedroom is my dearest's sewing room, although it often reverts to junk-room state. We use the dining-room as a kind of study.

My son would like a room to permanently set up electric train tracks. The toy room isn't big enough so he uses the floor in the "good room", but we make him pack it up at night.

I have said for some time that I would like a home dojo (martial arts area), preferably in a basement so as not to frighten the neighbours. As something of a homage, I would call it The Dungeon.

Additionally, there is the prospect of "doing science at home". Now, when I did year 12 chemistry I was fortunate to have a skilled laboratory partner, Steve Alcorn, who led the experiments while I took the lead on the calculation. However, my general experience at school and later at Uni. was that lab. work was dull, except on one occasion when I re-designed an experiment to make it work. That was a blast; the creativity and imagination were re-injected.

Reading Oliver Sacks's memoir Uncle Tungsten conveys the joy (and obsessionality!) of designing and performing one's owns experiments. In my case, as a teenager I satisfied that desire in the more abstracted world of exploratory computer programming, but I would like to expose my kids to the more concrete worlds of chemistry, electronics, and -- probably -- robotics first. Biological experiments can wait until they are older!

Apparently chemistry sets don't come with chemicals anymore. Here's a link to The Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments, which sounds like a great place to start. Apparently you can get in trouble with the authorities for daring to do Science at home, so perhaps I should secrete "The Lab" behind the Dungeon.

Of course I don't really need a bigger house to do all this great stuff, just time, a little discipline (for cleaning up) and more importantly the patience to wait for the kids to show sparks of interest. Here's a nice story of a parent engaging a child in learning. For now, I'll try to encourage the kids to keep messing around with play-dough and paints, and try not to gripe too much about the mess.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

What can go wrong with Agile approaches

Over the years, most (competent) software developers discover that an iterative approach -- Prototype; demonstrate; modify; demonstrate; rinse and repeat -- is essential for successful software development. In recent years this kind of approach has been formalized and elaborated as the Agile family of methods: XP, Scrum etc.

Here Gojko Adzic reports on a talk given by Henrik Kniberg -- author of Scrum and Xp from the Trenches -- on how software development can be screwed up anyway. He presented a long list of issues that have cropped up in Agile projects and -- interestingly -- had audience members hold up cards to signify how much of a problem each pathology was to them.

A good professional development exercise would be to go through a subset of the list with red/green/cards, and talking about the whys, wherefores, and possible remedies.