The Pathway
"The Pathway" by acidicDR is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you work in PreK-12 education and even beyond, pathways are something we are often talking about as they relate to children and youth. Learning pathways or trajectories come up as we think about what students need to know or be able to do to be continually successful in a discipline or in honing a set of skills or practices. There is increasing conversation about the pathways available and accessible for young people, particularly those from non-dominant communities, and how learning opportunities can stifle or nurture, respectively away or towards certain disciplines.

I am thinking a lot about pathways in my current research work - that is thinking about how teachers came to see themselves as (or not) as comfortable with science as a discipline. In a paper I'm working on, I illustrate how past learning experiences, particularly those formative experiences in teachers' K12 education had substantive implications for their identities in relation to science. However, we also observed how being part of a professional learning community engaged in doing science together started to create new pathways- one where teachers felt excited about looking through a science lens at their everyday PreK practices. (More to come on this... hopefully a draft is going to be submitted to a journal soon!)

There are no exact steps to become anybody - we all have different pathways. However, lately I have been noticing, across disciplines, from computer science to literature, to art, to science, that there seems to be a broader conversation about being prepared for these uncertain pathways. Whether you are thinking about 21st century skills, the practices of computational thinking (cf Wing, 2006; Pea & Grover, 2013), science as a practice (cf Furtak & Penuel, 2018), etc. there seems to be a return (again?!) to practice- to finding ways to solve problems, sift through data, use the right tools (be it a pencil or a computer program), to design thoughtful solutions. However, despite this, as I was made painfully aware of a few weeks ago when I was teaching a PD session on computational thinking - first on teachers' minds was the PSSA (Pennsylvania state assessments). They wondered out loud ... "when will we fit these things in?  they seem nice, but they aren't tested..." The testing culture seems not just a roadblock but has the potential to wholly re-route someone. If you are bored in class, never given the chance to do expressive work, to solve meaningful problems, to question your world, then you might think... this isn't for me.

Pathways. We need to find ways to move forward. We need to remove the roadblocks.

Is this thing still on?

One of the things about a dissertation is that you are so focused on writing and finishing that at times the joy of writing begins to flicker and fade. At least, that was the case for me. I couldn't have imagined writing more when I was writing my dissertation, writing for publications, and writing job applications. However, I am excited about the idea of starting to write and think about education again. I have so much on my mind that I want to work out and blogging seems like the right way to do it. At least as a start.

So here I go...Hello (again), world!

Over the last two and a half years, a significant portion of my research work has been related to game design for learning. I do this work under the auspices of my research assistantship work with Dr. Yasmin Kafai at UPenn GSE. Four our research, I have designed and facilitated several workshops for middle and high school aged youth, that always include a Scratch component and more recently, different ways to integrate tangible design with game design.

Recently, Penn News came to learn a little more about a partnership we have with a local middle school. Here is the print piece and here's the short video. In a later post, I'd like to reflect more deeply on another aspect of this experience - the use of visuality to bring some of this work to life and what it felt like to be in front of the camera versus behind it. As I think more seriously about incorporating visual methods into my own research work I was again struck by how nerve racking being on camera can be, especially initially. Thankfully in a room full of students and with many goals for the day, the nervousness melted away for the most part but it gave me pause and reminded me of all the rich discussions we have had in the past about reflexivity and what it means to do participant observation on film. More on this soon.

As I slowly make my way into the world of film and filmmaking as a research method - I have had my first encounter with a classic observational film: Fred Wiseman's High School. The film was shot during five weeks in 1968 at Northeast High School in Philadelphia. There is no narrator, no titles or explicit plot or characters and yet the film is able to portray aspects of school culture and community. This, according to one colleague is cinéma vérité at its best. Perhaps what makes the film so compelling is the level of access that the filmmaker had. During the film we see intimate moments like parent-teacher conferences, students being admonished for getting into fights, a young woman lectured on appropriate dress for the prom. However, the way the scenes are shot, it seems like the filmmaker was just another student or faculty member sitting in the room, whose gaze would occasionally get more or less focused as conversation or other activities unfolded, just as anyone's eye would travel during a class period or a meeting.

Issues like race, gender, sexuality, sex and discipline are all portrayed in the film, in particularly powerful ways. The filmmaker selected a number of different moments that contributed to an understanding of how the high school communicated and portrayed values around these issues and to a lesser degree, how students received them. According to my wikipedia search, the film was never screened in Philadelphia because it portrayed students as being oppressed by their teachers. I can see that argument. He does select a great many moments where students are receiving information and being told things, particularly in the scenes related to discipline. There were also a great many moments devoted to reinforcing or reifying traditional roles for men and women - in sexual relations, in how to dress or appear pleasing and in how to behave. I suppose the question that remains for me is: were adults doing most of the talking in this school? Were student-teacher relationships as one-sided as it was portrayed? Can even the filmmaker know the answer to this, if this is how he "saw" things?

Finally, watching this nearly 50 years later, I was struck by how little student-teacher relationships seemed to have evolved: the film is full of teachers giving admonishments, advice and strong recommendations. There are right ways to do and think about everything. I think the moment where the young woman is being scolded about wearing an appropriate dress to the prom highlights some of these positions. The teacher argues that students can't simply show up in a dark suit because they can't afford a tuxedo, they have to come dressed appropriately, they have to fulfill expectations that are laid out for them. As we know, schools have long been the battleground for traditional American values and it would suggest that this high school was no different.

I may come back to High School (the film), but final word is that I really enjoyed this film for it's approach and the questions it helped me to raise.

As I was reminded by my brother yesterday, it was more than twenty years ago that we became Beatles fans. I think I was about 9 at the time when my dad came home with two CDs to play on our brand new CD player - Hard Day's Night and Please Please Me. Those two discs changed my world. Over the years, I became a devoted fan, as evidenced by the many postcards and posters that adorned my bedroom walls not to mention the growing collection of Beatles CDs including the anthology parts 1-3.  The recent resurgence of Beatlemania reminded me how much the group inspired and uplifted me. They remain my favorite band. As I watched the tribute concert last night that commemorated 50 years since the Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show, it made me happy to see the multigenerational appeal that they still had. The tribute was also an illustration of how music can and does bring people together across all walks of life.

I leave you with one of my favorite songs.