Saturday, April 6, 2013

Pseudo Problems -v- Real Things

I came across the term "pseudo problems" last week in a keynote by Ewan McIntosh.  Then later that week, as part of an online course I'm doing called Creativity, Curriculum and Multimedia (which I have to say is the best online course I've ever done!), I had an assignment to evaluate a lesson for rigor.  This lesson plan was a real puzzle to me - the students had to invent a society, make up a story about the culture of that society, make artifacts and bury them, and another group of student would dig up the artifacts and try to work out what the culture was.  There was no formal assessment of this lesson.  Now before I go further let me say that once a very long time ago when I was a 6th Grade teacher, I did something similar based on an activity called Dig.  I can't remember much about it except that an enormous amount of time was spent making and painting pots and other things, breaking them up, and burying them in the school garden.  We then moved to an area that the other 6th grade class has prepared, gridded out the area, dug and kept records of what we found and where we found it, reassembed the broken bits of pots and so on.  We had one student record the dig on video.  I also want to point out that this was before we had an internet connection at school, and we had no way of being able to find artifacts from archaeological digs or of connecting with an archaeologist.  When I look back now I think it was a fun activity that the students learned absolutely nothing from.  This was a typical example of a non-rigorous activity that got dumped by me, along with about 70% of what I was doing, on my return from the Harvard Project Zero summer school some years later, when I decided that there was no learning going on.  This was a liberating experience and I've never looked back since.  If I was to design a similar experience today I would have students find archaeological sites on Google Earth, I would have them skype with an archaeologist, I would have them find museums with artifacts from ancient cultures using the internet and have them work out what these show about the cultures.  Most importantly of all I would have the students involved in designing the assessment of their learning.

A couple of years ago I attended the ECIS IT Conference that was held in Prague.  One evening event was a visit to Prague Castle, as the family who lived there sent their children to the International School of Prague who were hosting the conference.  During the course of the evening, the owner of the castle and some students from ISP gave a presentation about a project they had been involved in.  When the castle was finally handed back to the Lobkowicz family in 2002,  twelve years after the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia, many "unusual" objects were found in the castle.  The family had no idea what they could be.  They therefore handed them to students at ISP and asked them to investigate them.  The students did the research and eventually were involved in writing out the museum cards for the castle once the artifacts were put on display.  This to me is a wonderful example of an authentic problem and one in which I'm sure a huge amount of learning took place.

As I'm looking at numerous projects as part of my online course, I keep coming back to the same statement by Bernajean Porter, that creativity involves a lot more than using "the razzle-dazzle of digital tools".  The majority of student products that are made using technology are simply summary reports providing fact-based information - the students are information consumers who later regurgitate the same information in a digital presentation of some kind.  What we are should be looking for is going beyond that - we need to examine the learning.  We students to be involved with "real things" and not with "pseudo problems".

Photo Credit: djwtwo via Compfight cc

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