I’m Running Alice…

“for an evolutionary system, continuing development is needed just in order to maintain its fitness relative to the systems it is co-evolving with

This principle was proposed by the evolutionary biologist L. van Valen (1973), and is based on the observation to Alice by the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” that “in this place it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

This is from the Principia Cybernetica Web

I feel a lot like Alice! I am interested in technology, obviously or I wouldn’t be writing a blog to begin with. I’m particularly interested in how technology is used in my community which consists mainly in three places. The school where I work, my family, and my church. I have been working on a webpage for my church which has led me to learn more about XHTML and CSS and because there are others who are interested in becoming involved I’m also looking at alternative ways for us to exchange information. Because I work with the students and teachers and their computers I am interested in creating excitement about technology in education. Because I am the parent of two high school kids myself, I am interested in how technology can help them in their education. The main purpose for the computer when you boil it all down is dispersing information. The same things can be asccomplished with pen and paper, slower perhaps but still the same end. If I wanted information in the past, I looked for a book that would have the information I needed. I still do. The best books are not necessarily for information I need so much as for entertainment. I am a night reader. Before I go to sleep I turn to fiction although I have to say that lately my Head First Css and XHTML book has served in that capacity too. The best fiction lets me get involved enough with the story that the rest of the stuff running around my brain from the day goes away and I completely relax. When my school got it’s first Apple IIc years ago, I looked for every book I could find to teach myself. When I wanted to learn to knit, after a little basic instruction from my grandmother, I hunted for books that taught me how to create different stitches. When I wanted to learn how to cook – yep, you guessed it, I bought cook books. When I found out I was expecting my first child I spent a lot of time combing flea markets and yard sales so that by the time he was born he already had a pretty decent size library. By this time you would think my husband would be ready to divorce me or that my entire family is buried by books. The best ones gave me the exact information I needed without making me hunt through a lot of excess difficult verbosity that had no other purpose than to show me how smart the author is and how dumb I am. Not that vocabulary doesn’t have a purpose, but even extending our vocabulary is usually tied to our interest and need for a particular subject. If I am truly interested in learning something, I am excited about it and constantly looking for clarity in explanations and ways to make it stick with me, become part of me. When it’s good – I go into the zone. My husband calls it one-tracking. He says it is one of the things that most annoys him about me and at the same time makes him admire me. He’s a keeper.

So how can we make this kind of thing happen for high school students and teachers? The advantage we have with the computer that is a limitation for a book is the interactivity. Kids love video games and I think I am coming back around to a place I was in twenty years ago in a middle school lab. Through a grant we were able to purchase 25 Apple computers and software for math, spelling, and language arts. The information was presented in game format and while very primitive compared to the games today, it was colorful and fun and the kids loved it. I had one behavior problem in an entire school year and saw around 180 kids a day every day. I saw a special education student learn about factoring and get an award at the end of the year for most improved math grade. The software kept a record of their scores on each principle and gave them three tries before locking up and giving them the message to see their teacher before moving on. It then had several remediation options. The students favorite thing was to turn out the lights and play in the dark. Most days you could hear a pin drop unless someone got stuck and asked for help. The computers were arranged in a semi-circle around the walls so I could see what everyone was doing and I loved it. It was the most fun place in the school and real learning took place. I usually had to warn the students that it was nearly time for the bell and the response was usually a groan and “already?” Isn’t that something every teacher wants to hear?

There is a logic principle named Occam’s Razor that states

“one should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything”

I know this blog entry doesn’t adhere to that principle but the main idea that I see is kids like music and games – it’s what they get excited about. They will hunt for lyrics and guitar chords. My own son has spreadsheets of expenditures for war and economics related to a game he plays online. Why aren’t we capitalizing on that and giving them the information they need in a way that will get them excited to the point of willingly doing MORE than is required. Why can’t staff development be FUN? How many times as adults are we entertained by a book or movie and in the process learned something about loyalty or perseverance and though we only realized the message was there after the movie, because we were engaged, the details of the lesson remain with us forever. I can’t tell you anything about geometry I took in high school but I remember a lot about my sociology class because we played games and did experiments and got to know each other in a way I found fascinating. We didn’t have a real textbook but I remember Maslows theory of self-actualization. Now here I am learning about Occam’s Razor and the Red Queen principle. I’m running as fast as I can, Alice.