It had been a long day. I’ve been coming down with a cold for a while, and I knew that being up until all hours several nights in a row would probably push me over the edge into genuinely being ill. I was right, but damnit, this was going to be important. And that was also right.
There were some introductions of movers and shakers in the Boston PHP circuit, and some chat about what to do. Then Dave got up. And he explored some of the concepts in his book.
Dave said in one of his Tweets today that we, as teachers, can really only lecture about things that we know; but that students need knowledge and skills for tomorrow (the future!) that are currently unknown. So it’s more important to teach general problem-solving skills and research skills and how to be a data-shark than it is to teach specific content.
One of my students asked me a few days ago, “What year was the constitution ratified?” The kid was sitting right next to our classroom reference shelf. He was sitting at an Internet-enabled computer. And he was already Googling something else. Of course I didn’t answer his question. I told him how to answer it for himself. Then I made him double-check his answer against three websites.
Dave described this as “fuzzy goals.” The sixteenth and seventeenth century European explorers were dangerous villains, but they knew how to get things done: try often, try hard, be bold. It’s a lie that Europeans thought the world was flat; they knew it was round, and about how big it was — they just didn’t have proof. Columbus sailed off into the sunset believing that he could sail to Japan… he couldn’t have done so with his technology, but there were intermediate discoveries to be made that were far more successful for his investors than getting to China ever would have been. The discoveries along the way may be as valuable, or as interesting, or as useful, as the goals you find on the way.
So then Dave set us to work doing some of the exercises — the games — from his book. One we did alone, and that was useful. But Solitaire and similar games you play on your own are really only about your own satisfaction and sense of play. The game we played with four others, and against all the other teams in the room, was far more satisfying.
Our goal was to make a poster, answering the question, “What can Boston PHP do to become a more successful organization?” We could update or revise that question, but that was the main idea we had to try to answer.
The team that I was in (including a guy from this group) — and all of the teams that wound up winning books, including mine — produced multiple drawings and diagrams and designs. We had a fuzzy goal in mind, but made discoveries about ourselves and our group and Boston PHP in general, by taking multiple turns at playing the game.
At being problem solvers.
This is at the core of what I’m thinking about as a teacher these days. Rather than give students lectures, and direct them to take notes, I want to move toward problem-solving and fuzzy goal-seeking activities. I want to teach my students to be voracious data-sharks, but also humanists, who recognize that problems need to have human-sized solutions.
This isn’t easy. I’m a voracious data-shark, and I love knowing the answer. I like that kids ask me questions, and alumni at school gatherings try to stump me, and I can puzzle out the solution.
But that’s the skill I want my students to graduate with. Which means I have to let my kids practice it, rather than just give them a demonstration of it.
And that means giving them the chance to DO, and not merely see-and-hear it being done. And that’s as much about surrender, as it is about control.
I’ve said before about Dave Gray’s work that Drawing is Mission-Critical. So is game-playing and problem-solving, though. And you can’t do problem-solving in 50 seconds a question on a standardized test.