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Inquiry Book Study: Week Five

Another weekly post for our Inquiry Book study. You can get to all the posts and comments through this link.

Week Five: Uncover the Hidden Game
Writer: Sarah MacGregor I am a U of C grad, BGS and soon BEd, specializing in Early Childhood Education. I am passionate about inquiry and enjoy practicing on my three year old son. I'm currently in my last semester and looking forward to an exciting career in teaching. I have a sole publication to date and you can find it here. I live by the mantra, become the lesson you would teach.

You can follow Sarah on twitter and read more of her ideas on her blog.

I would like to start by saying that I was very hesitant to write a guest post for this book club. I am, after all, a preservice teacher with limited experience attempting to make intellectual connections with a group of very experienced, and probably outstanding, teachers. So what can I possibly offer?

It’s my hope that two years of theoretical learning combined with practicum experience have left me with a strong platform upon which knowledge can be built and extended via this book club. So far, I have found that the creation of this post has deepened my learning experience and understanding of Perkins’ chapter five: Uncover the Hidden Game. I hope that my interpretations and ideas will promote further knowledge building in this group as the chapter indeed has the potential to provoke a lot of reflection.

In my practicum experience in a grade one/two split, I was asked to teach the Boats and Buoyancy unit. As should be expected of a student teacher, I got very excited about this and began brainstorming exciting ways to introduce the unit. My partner teacher and I soon realized that all of my ideas involved boats sinking!

Somehow I thought that boats were only really interesting when they sank; when they failed to do what they were designed to do. This is because of the interesting questions that a sinking event leads to: What went wrong? (Mechanism) Why? (Interaction Pattern, Probability) Who is responsible? (Agency) How has this impacted the lives of the people involved?

There is more complexity in a sinking event than a successful voyage. There are emotions, opportunities for heroic demonstrations, triumphs, failures, and human struggle. The excitement and epic nature of a sinking boat makes the game worth playing, as Perkins would say.

To add to this, just days before the planned opening, the Canadian Class Afloat ship, Concordia, sank off the coast of Brazil. This was a GREAT story. They were students, they were Canadian (many even from our city), and they all survived because of their successful training (working on the hard parts) and courage.

Based on feedback from my partner teacher, I decided to play it safe in the introduction a
nd tell the class the story of the great Canadian Blue Nose. They enjoyed the story and began to take up the unit with a racing mindset. The next day we got into the Class Afloat story and the unit really took off.

Over the following weeks, students worked in groups with various materials in water, referenced boat designs/types in books, drew designs for their boats (new class afloat prototypes), had their work teacher and peer edited, and then began building. When they were done we tested the boats as a class, providing group feedback on improvements and evaluating relative buoyancy. Then they had the opportunity to go back and improve their boats.

In reading chapter five, I was left with the question: What is the hidden game in this unit, and did we uncover it? Throughout this learning process, students discovered the importance of shape in a boat. This happened initially in their discovery that plasticine would sink unless they changed its shape, and then later in their boat building. Shape is the mechanism by which the boat stays afloat. However the anomaly weather system that struck Concordia overcame the physical capacity of the shape to exist in its upright position. The probability of this weather system was extremely low which leads to the complexity of the interaction patterns in weather systems. The agency goes all the way back to the boat builders and the complexity of their task to combine shape with masts, sails, rudders, etc. In answering my question, no, we did not get into the complete realm of the hidden game. However, I like to think that we played a successful junior version by discovering the importance of shape.

As an early childhood specialist, I had an appreciation for Perkins’ Kindergarten example in this chapter. The teacher notices her students beginning to dwell on one topic, in this case animals, and directs them to open up new ideas. This reminded me of how my class began to dwell on racing boats. The way O’Hara’s students are able to participate in this flowing dialogue speaks to her disposition and how these class experiences are regularly lived out. Furthermore, Perkins touches on the very important topic of developmentally appropriate practice. To what extent do teachers need to become experts on human development? This is a very important question in ECE in particular, where the rate of development is generally really fast (i.e. you can see massive differences between September and June in the lower grades, which are not always as apparent as you move up the grades). Perkins’ example provided me with a great model of how critical pedagogy can live in ECE. This will include a lot of junior versions, priming students for a future of intriguing ideas that they can approach with a critical, self-aware eye. Not an easy task.

Perkins speaks a lot to intentional teaching in this chapter. When describing an example, he states that “the particular anomaly is calculatedly chosen to push the learners further along the dimensions of complex causality”. That is, the teacher knows where the students need to go and is intentional in guiding students toward this discovery. The discovery itself, perhaps even just by being a hidden game, leads learners toward a more universal understanding. At the very least, students will discover that hidden games exist and things are not always as they seem. In moving away from teacher-centered pedagogy, this is a crucial step because it asks students to question their own discoveries, leading to more robust understandings.

As adults and teachers we can often fail to notice universal understandings that we now take for granted. They have shifted into our unconscious (tacit) knowings about the world. This is clear in Perkins’ words, “it’s easy to imagine that these sorts of distinctions are obvious, but they are certainly not”. I was intrigued by Perkins’ section on tacit knowledge. An example of this occurred this morning when my son questioned why I had to close the bag of bread. This is common sense to me. Obviously if I left the bag open the air would dry it out. So I began to try and explain this and it proved to be much more complex knowledge than I realized. Not only did he have to understand that air makes the bread dry and it doesn’t taste as good, but when I put my hand up in the air and said “air” he was looking for the thing I was referencing. Then we had to have a conversation about what air is! This leads us to a relatively difficult scientific concept (he’s three after all) that had entered the realm of my inert knowledge –or so I think. There is a complex causality for the bread drying out and this is the hidden game.

Ultimately, I think that Perkins refers to a level of self-awareness in teachers to the extent that we can take on student perspectives relative to our own. With that understanding, we can guide students to more complexity. If I had planned to teach my son about this topic, I could have well predicted the difficulties he would encounter with it and scaffold the steps accordingly. Indeed I probably would have concluded this information is beyond his realm of readiness, outside his zone of proximal development, and not developmentally appropriate. So what’s the junior game of drying out bread?


Unknown said...

You raise a very good point--is there a developmental level at which no junior game exists? Is there some atomic-level game that cannot be reduced further? Cause and effect for young children is a very new game.

Sarah said...

Thanks Mark. You just made me think: at what point is engagement diminished by moving too far beyond a junior game (if there is one)? Are there times when we just say "we're going to have to discuss that later", i.e. when you're older and better able to understand? Or maybe there is always a junior game of some interest to a child but we cannot move beyond it yet.

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