Sunday, March 24, 2013

Beyond the Textbook 2013

When you walk into the Discovery World Headquarters, as I have now several times, you are greeted by an amazing piece of sculpture that gongs, clanks, boings, and sings out all kinds of sounds as balls travel along mazes built into the piece.

I have watched it for embarrassingly long periods of times, following various pieces, searching for sources of particularly engaging sounds, with the same fixed gaze I've seen students use with their iPhones.

There were other things there--a ridiculously cool motorcycle, a Tyrannosaurus rex, and a piece of a mastodon--but the sculpture spoke to me. And in a few days, I get to chat with it again.

If I could bring that awe into my classroom, I'd never have a late student again...

I have the great fortune to be invited back to Discovery's Beyond the Textbook Forum 2013, a chance to help generate ideas for their Techbook, surrounded by some of the best heads in the business. I think they ask me to shore up the Luddite end of the spectrum--I may be the only one in the building who does not own a cell phone.

I enjoy going for a few reasons, not the least being the incredible generosity of the Discovery folks and the wonderful conversations that flow through the discussions. Steve Dembo, the ringleader, is a mensch, and last year's crowd was full of folks who could simultaneously hold strong opinions and listen at the same time.

You don't get that often in traditional professional development.

There is no question I get a lot out of the deal--I get jazzed by ideas and kinetic sculptures, and I return to my classroom with more bounce in my step. What do I hope to give in return?

I want every child in every classroom to feel the same awe I feel when my brain is engaged with the world, the wonder I feel each time I walk along the bay or into the atrium of the Discovery building. When they do, incredible things happen.

The image above comes from the Discovery Education page extolling the benefits of the Techbook--it is simple and profound, a child's hands holding a small plant in a upful of soil, a microcosm of our living universe.

A picture of a plant cannot teach a child much about a plant's (or a child's) place in the world. Textbooks cannot deliver the world, and I have serious doubts electronic textbooks can either, even with flashy images and moving music. But that's not what Discovery is trying to do.

Last year we experienced their vision firsthand--we rotated through various hands on stations under the watchful eye of Patti Duncan. Things got a little out of hand when we jammed up the more interesting tables and abandoned some others.

 Given the constraints imposed on public education today, the impending NGCC standards, the obsession with tests, not sure how far the Techbook can stretch classroom boundaries.

But I wouldn't bet against a company that made Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman from Mythbusters household names, melding passion and science into entertainment.

I have a few ideas I will share, but here's your chance to contribute yours. Think big, think broadly, and let me know what you want me to bring to the table.

Disclosure: Discovery is covering my expenses for the conference.


Sue VanHattum said...

Do they do any math related stuff? I'd like to get invited for next year. May I send you a copy of my manuscript, in case it suddenly seems like a good idea to hand it to someone (electronically)?

doyle said...

Dear Sue,

Math will be part of the discussion this year!

Send it along!

Anonymous said...

Then have your kids build their own Rube Goldberg (sp?) machine. They will be even more fascinated. And so will you :-)
I think that we have to integrate science and math. Until we do, kids will continue to get turned off by math, and filtered out of the science pool.

doyle said...

Dear Anonymous,

Not sure what's happened with math, but I have classrooms full of kids who think they "know" algebra because they can manipulate algorithms yet have very little number sense.

You are dead on right.

Barbara said...

This is very neat that you are able to work with Discovery...(We also love MythBusters) Discovery is bringing science into the home for discussion and is making it cool again. My comments to them would be to develop some teacher/parent training for those who work with young students...I have watched science discovery disappear from the early childhood classroom while math and language curricula abound and hands on experiences make way for more screen time. Guided learning with open ended questions, hypotheses, inference, experimentation and making mistakes is how we should all learn (I know I am preaching to choir here) but if someone has an open ear at Discovery we have to teach teachers and parents to let kids experiment and discover when they are very young so they will continue until they are very old.

Oh and Eric might have a memory of a sculpture like the one you describe in Salmon Run Mall near his Godmothers house in Watertown NY. Found a YouTube link, but it doesn't do it justice ;) Could have sat there for HOURS!!!

Kathryn J said...

I love those Rube Goldberg contraptions - I loathe malls but used to visit a local mall that had one just to watch.

Mythbusters is great BUT my students now expect me to blow something up everyday. I don't have the budget the Mythbusters have so I need ways to leverage some of the interest and excitement generated by the show into my classroom. Maybe Discovery Education can come up with extensions and hands-on materials rather than video and screentime options.

I do occasionally use Discovery Education videos but there is not a lot for Chemistry that doesn't have the man with the drone-voice narrating. They put me to sleep.

doyle said...

Dear Barbara,

I will (gladly) share your thoughts--indeed, I bet folks have already read them.

I think maybe we need to drop the word "textbook" in any shape or form from the discuxxion. Heck, Discovery Education is as good a name as any for what works in the classroom.

Dear Kathryn,

I's an interesting dichotomy--I wander around Discovery, meet incredible people, get exposed to wonderful ideas, and we know what they're capable of doing. OTOH, they are bound by the same constraints we, as teachers, are--but it is my hope that they/we come up with something that makes us forget the droney science voice that seems to be ubiquitous in sciency videos.

Some days the dog and pony act part of what we do can be wearing. Anyone in the classroom knows this.

(This business is harder than it looks--at least to do it well.)