Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Seamless networking

Last night, my son asked me to help him with his maths homework. He had to solve some simultaneous equations, and was struggling (his assertion in this post notwithstanding).

The first few had to be solved using the elimination method. Neither my husband nor I were familiar with this method, so the three of us looked it up in the Internet, then we sat together and applied the new knowledge to the problems. Note: we did not do his homework for him, but alternated between the roles of cheerleader and sideline coach.

The next few had to be solved using visualisation. I had never heard of this method, so was preparing to try the same site we had encountered before, when my son turned to his laptop which was beside him on the table. Via msn, he contacted a friend who could be relied upon to know all about it. I had to grin as the IMs from the friend took the form of xy graphs (charts) drawn using a mouse. Could you draw an x and a y axis complete with numbers using just a mouse... and keep it legible? Not only is there a new literacy, there's a new dexterity.

These two lads discussed the problems using the usual IM shorthand (interspersed with questions about girlfriends and such) and soon the penny dropped. At this point, my son dropped the msn conversation and began to use us as random number generators so that he could solve the remaining problems. It was just as well that nothing more demanding was required at this stage, since CSI Miami was on telly, and we had adopted the slack-jawed pose required to suspend credulity enough to be entertained by Horatio and his sunglasses-of-justice.

One of the elimination approach problems just would not resolve, however, and my son chose to leave it and discuss it with his teacher in class today. Ha! Long after he had gone to bed, several sheets of paper were passed back and forth as my husband and I tried to figure out where the mistake was. I hate not having the answer! Today, when he gets home from school, my son will be expected to explain the problem to me, so that I can put it to rest.

I summarised this incident on Dave Warlick's Social Networking for Teachers wiki, in response to his question about how learners use social networking today, compared with the way their teachers might.

Just think for a minute about the ebb and flow of networks and communities (both on and offline) who have been involved in, exposed to or influenced by this one single incident in the learning journey of a 14 year old boy.

Doesn't it just rock?


Anonymous said...

Karyn that is such an excellent and concrete description of the skills and strategies young learners use now. Makes me wonder how I ever managed to learn anything during my almost single (teacher-centric) channel education.
Take a look at for some new developments in educational practices (Disclosure: I am doing some knowledge facilitation work with them).
And thanks for making me start my day laughing - "Horatio and his sunglasses-of-justice" :-D

Anonymous said...

Cheryl: Thanks for the encouraging feedback. Looking back, I can see how some of my teachers in high school exercised enormous resourcefulness, while others made no effort whatsoever (our grade 8 history teacher used to read the text book to us!!!).

I will certainly swing by the site you have recommended - thanks for the pointer.

Happy to have given you a smile to start your day. My whole family waits in anticipation for the scene setting cliche from the team leader at the start of each episode of CSI (in all its flavours), and then roars with completely inappropriate laughter. Horatio's posturing has got to take the biscuit, though!