The OCDE Ed Tech News Feed Now Has Comments!

Woo hoo! Our intern, UCI Computer Science (and Film Studies) student Scott Harris, has added a comment feature to the web site and news feed he created for us several months ago.

I am amazed and proud to announce that our administrator, Sandra Lapham, was happy to move forward allowing annonymous comments on the site. Apparently Scott got them up and running last night. I’m excited that our site can now facilitate two way communication between our department and our visitors (and between visitors), and so serve as a better model of the read/write web in education.

So, I am trusting our visitors from Orange County and elsewhere will be generous with constructive feedback and tactful with any criticisms. Though I know a “teachable moment” may be in my future, I am hopeful about this.

John Dewey on The Psychology of Occupations, The Development of Attention, and The Aim of History in Education

This is the last of my posts based on my transcriptions from The School and Society. After this I will move on to my reflections on Democracy and Education, which will not include such large block quotes for the very pragmatic reason that I had no need of transcribing large chunks of the book… because I own a copy I can annotate. I really hope we sort out a good electronic (searchable and cut and paste-able) way to read and annotate books… soon.

At any rate, I took fewer transcriptions from the final chapters of the book. Still these are themes that I have recognized in Democracy and Education also, and of course I find them relevant to Educational Technology in general, and Games in Education specifically.

The Psychology of Occupations

“By occupation I mean a mode of activity on the part of the child which reproduces, or runs parallel to, some form of work carried on in social life.” (p. 132)

The important thing here is that students’ work aught to be driven by a social context.

“The work is reduced to a mere routine or custom, and its educational value is lost… wherever… the mastery of certain tools, or the production of certain objects, is made the primary end, and the child is not given, wherever possible, intellectual responsibility for selecting the materials and instruments that are most fit, and given an opportunity to think out his own model and plan of work, led to perceive his own errors, and find out how to correct them – that is, of course, within the range of his capacities.” (p. 133-134)

Educational technologists struggle to express this to other educators (and administrators) today. I am thrilled to have this quote now. This happens to also be the antithesis of many of the content standards. The California English Language Arts standards can accommodate something very like this, but many of the others are much more prescriptive… and I can’t speak for other states’ standards.

“Thinking… arises from the need of meeting some difficulty, in reflecting upon the best way of over coming it, and thus leads to planning, to projecting mentally the results to be reached, and deciding upon the steps necessary and their serial order. This concrete logic of action long precedes the logic of pure speculation or abstract investigation, and through the mental habits that it forms is the best of preparations for the latter.” (p. 135)

Here we again see a hint of what would become Piaget’s stages, but the important thing is the articulation of why we might use problem-based learning.

The Development of Attention

“True reflective attention… always involves judging, reasoning, deliberation; it means that the child has a question of his own and is actively engaged in seeking and selecting relevant material with which to answer it, considering the bearings and relations of this material – the kind of solution it calls for.” (p. 148)

This then extends the previous quote to provide a statement of why we might advocate inquiry-based learning.

The Aim of History in Education

“To study history is not to amass information, but to use information in constructing a vivid picture of how and why men did thus and so; achieved their successes and came to their failures.” (p. 151)

Not only is this something I’ve heard countless times in reference to the history classes of our time, but this ties together many of the points above, including the need for a social context, and the need for students to learn the tools (and content for that matter) while using it.

Finally, it is also worth pointing out that Dewey was clearly interested in students studying occupations, and leaning through adopting the identity of an occupation, not unlike the theories espoused by Jim Gee. :)


John Dewey on Froebel’s Educational Principles

This will be a brief entry on this chapter of The School and Society. The first two of [Dewey’s renditions of] Froebel’s educational principles bear repeating on this blog:

“1. The primary business of school is to train children in co-operative and mutually helpful living; to foster in them the consciousness of mutual interdependence; and to help them practically in making the adjustments that will carry this spirit into overt deeds.

2. The primary root of all educative activity is in the instinctive, impulsive attitudes and activities of the child, and not in the presentation and application of external material, whether through the ideas of others or through the senses; and that, accordingly, numberless spontaneous activities of children, plays, games, mimic efforts, even the apparently meaningless motions of infants – exhibitions previously ignored as trivial, futile, or even condemned as positively evil – are capable of educational use; nay, are the foundation-stones of educational method.” (p. 117)

Could a school ask for a better mission statement than that first principle? I suppose I am slowly becoming something of a social activist… what with 2 and a half years of learning with the purpose of “transforming society” at Walden Univeristy and more recently with reading Michka Assays’s amazing Bono on Bono.

Regarding the second principle, I think it captures the constructivists concern with the internal thought process of the learner, and also touches on the importance of play. One could easily imagine this excerpt being in relation to video games in education. The following, though, is more explicitly about the importance of play…

“Play is not to be identified with anything which the child externally does. It rather designates his mental attitude in its entirety and in its unity. It is the free play, the interplay, of all the child’s powers, thoughts, and physical movements, in embodying, in a satisfying form, his own images and interests. Negatively, it is freedom from economic pressure – the necessities of getting a living and supporting others – and from the fixed responsibilities attaching to the special calling of the adult. Positively, it means that the supreme end of the child is fulness of growth – fulness of realization of his budding powers, a realization which continually carries him on from one plane to another.” (P. 118-119)

This reflects the difficulty I’ve seen many theorists have in defining play – and in defining games. This is also what Henry Jenkins III is getting at when he says in our webcast, “when I do my job at MIT, I am engaged.”

“The teacher must be absolutely free to get suggestions from any and every source, asking herself but these two questions: Will the proposed mode of play appeal to the child as his own? Is it something of which he has the instinctive roots in himself, and which will mature the capacities that are struggling for manifestation in him? And again: Will the proposed activity give that sort of expression to these impulses that will carry the child on to a higher plane of consciousness and action, instead of merely exciting him and then leaving him just where he was before, plus a certain amount of nervous exhaustion and appetite for more excitation in the future?” (p. 120)

Here I wasnt to point out the importance of teacher freedom in the games in education movement… and in educational technology in general! Also, these questions are important when it comes to selecting specific games or technologies for use with specific students.

“The materials, then, must be as “real,” as direct and straightforward, as opportunity permits.” (p. 124)

We live in a society where this is quite a bit less possible than in Dewey’s day, yet simulations and game technologies can now provide a powerful alternative to lectures and traditional school experiences.

Through the end of the chapter Dewey discusses the importance of unity (in the curriculum), the concept of constructive or “built up” work, and quite a bit about the kindergarden, which, as my wife is a kindergarden teacher, I am plenty interested in despite having only taught in high schools myself.


John Dewey on The Psychology of Elementary Education.

This is the last chapter of The School and Society that I took such copious notes for. I transcribed 11 quotes, so I won’t bother with cutting that down to 10. Here they are with annotations:

“At present the tendency is to conceive individual mind as a function of social life – as not capable of operating or developing by itself, but as requiring continual stimulus from social agencies, and finding its nutrition in social supplies.” (p. 99)

This sounds like the genesis, or at least the essence, of the social constructivist movement. The following quote contributes to this feeling as well. I also appreciated the reference to the then much newer and more exciting theory of evolution.

“The idea of evolution has made familiar the notion that mind … is developed in an environment which is social as well as physical, and that social needs and aims have been most potent in shaping it.” (p. 99)

The next bit seems to address the distinction between the stimuli-focused behaviorists, and the constructivists that would follow Dewey.

“Nature must indeed furnish its physical stimuli of light, sound, heat, etc., but the significance attached to these, the interpretation made of them, depends upon the ways in which the society in which the child lives acts and reacts in reference to them.” (p. 99)

Here Dewey is talking about our still familiar subject areas.

“That these classified sets of facts were simply selections from the social life of the past was overlooked; equally so that they had been generated out of social situations and represented the answers found for social needs.” (p. 100)

Given what I’ve already read in Democracy and Education I know Dewey is interested in putting the subjects back into a social context. This is what we might call problem-based learning, particularly if the answer to the problem is actually important to somebody other than the student.

“The third point of contrast lies in the modern conception of the mind as essentially a process – a process of growth, not a fixed thing.” (p. 102)

I suppose this is an element of constructivist philosophy, too… schema building perhaps. It sits well with me, as a philosophy of life, but I am living a century after Dewey. I wonder how… revolutionary that was at the time, or whether that sort of philosophy has always been common place. For someone who minored in philosophy, I suppose I should know that. ;)

“Now we believe in the mind as a growing affair, and hence as essentially changing, presenting distinctive phases of capacity and interest at different periods.” (p. 102)

Ah! Now this begins to sound like a prelude to Piaget’s stages. I’ve already written elsewhere that the stage theory doesn’t resonate with me, and others have certainly critiqued it much more completely. Still, in terms of connecting this to my earlier research on Piaget and Papert… and thus computers and games… this is significant.

“To refuse to try, to stick blindly to tradition, because the search for the truth involves experimentation in the region of the unknown, is to refuse the only step which can introduce rational conviction into education.” (p. 104)

Hallelujia, brother! If one accepts the importance of risk taking, then the leap to this educational philosophy should be a natural one.

“Since the aim is not “covering the ground,” but knowledge of social processes used to secure social results, no attempt is made to go over the entire history, in chronological order, of America. Rather a series of types is taken up… the method involves presentation of a large amount of detail… so the child can reproduce the material as life, not as mere historic information.” (p. 108)

I’ve heard a lot of high school redesign folks talk like this lately. Dr. Dagget suggested throwing out 2/3 of the curriculum in order to do 1/3 well. If memory serves, Richard DuFour recommended something similar. (This guy has got to have a more up to date page… if anyone knows where it is, please let me know.)

“(1) The need that the child shall have in his own personal and vital experience a varied background of contact and acquaintance with realities, social and physical. (2) The need that the more ordinary, direct, and personal experience of the child shall furnish problems, motives, and interests that necessitate recourse to books for their solution, satisfaction, and pursuit. Otherwise, the child approaches the book without intellectual hunger, without alertness, without a questioning attitude, and the result is the one so deplorably common: such abject dependence upon books as weakens and cripples vigor of thought and inquiry, combined with reading for mere random stimulation of fancy, emotional indulgence, and flight from the wold of reality into a make believe land.” (p. 112)

This is such powerful stuff, and I agree up until the last point… where, as I do with Plato, I strongly disagree with Dewey. Though I have a deeper appreciation of this point after my readings in Democracy and Education, I still feel there is a very important place for fantasy in a healthy life. My friend Benton Melbourne once said he believed that our imagniary lives (in games particularly) are at least as important as our real lives… while I know that is certainly debatable, I think there is some wisdom in it, but I will leave the exploration of that for another time.

“The problem here is then (1) to furnish the child with a sufficiently large amount of personal activity in occupations, expression, conversation, construction, and experimentation, so that his individuality, moral and intellectual, shall not be swamped by a disproportionate amount of the experiences of others to which books introduce him; and (2) so to conduct this more direct experience as to make the child feel the need of resort to and command of the traditional social tools – furnish him with motives and make his recourse to them intelligent, an addition to his powers, instead of a servile dependency.” (p. 112-113)

Wow. Read that last bit again… “furnish him with motives…” this is the answer to why we are going to all the trouble to provide our students with authentic motives, and using educational technologies, including games, to do it.

“The common complaints that children’s progress in these traditional school studies is sacrificed to the newer subjects that have come into the curriculum… (1) the more direct modes of activity, constructive and occupation work, scientific observation, experimentation, etc., present plenty of opportunities and occasions for the necessary use of reading, writing (and spelling), and number work. These things may be introduced, then, not as isolated studies, but as organic outgrowths of the child’s experience. The problem is, in a systematic and progressive way, to take advantage of these occasions. (2) The additional vitality and meaning which these studies thus secure make possible a very considerable reducation of the time ordinarily devoted to them. (3) The final use of the symbols, whether in reading, calculation, or composition, is more intelligent, less mechanical; more active, less passively receptive; more an increase of power, less a mere mode of enjoyment.” (p. 113-114)

This is a powerful argument for constructivist education. Educational technology… and video games… can help. Especially with the systematic and progressive bit. Now I just need to explicitly argue for this connection in my paper. :)

I feel I’ve struck but one chord here tonight. Still I wanted to get something on Dewey up this weekend so I’d be rolling again. I have finished this book and am a good way through Democracy in Education, which I’ll follow by Experience and Education before moving on to Bandura and the others.

I welcome comments… especially from the Dewey experts out there.