I love the term ‘mashup‘ which is defined in Wikipedia as: “[an] application that uses or combines data or functionality from two or many more external sources to create a new service.” I think when Gardner was writing about “the synthesizing mind” (Gardner, p.45) he was describing a mind capable of seeing that when you put ideas and information together in an innovative way, the whole will become greater that the sum of the parts.
Gardner makes the point that mastery of two disciplines (one requirement of a synthesizing mind) is unlikely to occur by the end of high school, but I don’t think giving students practice in synthesis should wait. Within a single subject such as math, learning activities can be designed that require students to synthesize information and skills from different topics or units in order to solve problems that are new and useful to them (so they can enjoy aha! moments of discovery). Strategies such as RAFT which challenge learners to broaden their perspectives by considering an issue or problem from several roles help students develop skills in “multperspectivalism” (pp. 71-73).
It is also possible to cross traditional boundaries and create projects and activities that blend learning outcomes from more than one discipine. In this case, the students have to research and integrate information and skills from different fields. The idea is to embed the learning into the process of grappling with an essential or driving question about an issue, concern, or event in the world at large, rather than preparing students for tests by simply covering the content. Technology tools and digital media can be used either by the teacher to develop instructional resources for the students or by the students themselves as they research, analyse, compile, and present their syntheses and conclusions.
The most extraordinary interdisciplinary, collaborative learning projects that I’ve come across in my travels through Web 2.0 are those of Thomas Cooper. When Cooper goes on extended canoe trips in the wilderness during the summer, he sometimes takes a pile of novels with him. Out of the relaxed reading and reflection in his non-paddling moments have come several wonderful learning projects. Thomas follows the Wiggins and McTighe model of instructional development known as Understanding by Design (UbD) and builds projects that have depth and breadth. Cooper covers this model in some detail in the Slideshare presentation at tcooper66. The original is has over 80 slides, so I’ve mashed up about 40 of them with my own perspective and some references to Gardner to create the synthesis embedded below.
A quick look at the Project Objectives for Thomas Cooper’s Land of Hope project reveals the numerous perspectives he’s asking students to take on the issue of immigration when developing their syntheses: historical and contemporary, economic, cultural, geographic, environmental, local, global, and ethical. In his list of Basic Steps, Thomas sets out the activities in which the students will engage. I have highlighted the technologies he has incorporated.
“Basic Steps for Land of Hope
1. Have students join our community of learners. [This is a global project].
2. Choose a book on migration and have students read and discuss it regularly in order to identify the push and pull factors in migration.
3. Have students post their thoughts about what they read on the wiki every few days and respond to other members’ posts to promote discussion about the issue between students from different schools in different cultures.
4. Create a short video to introduce your research topic to other participating schools. You might think about focusing the video on the history of the issue, economics, labor, environmental problems, or other push / pull factors that affect migration.
5. While creating the video, task the Walker School’s graphics, film and video, and web design students to do any tech work for your video. This helps the students to get experience with out sourcing, as expressed in the book The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman.
6. Peer review each student video and make changes. This will be done on the discussion tab of the wiki and a conference call on Skype between student groups. [They also use Elluminate for meetings.]
7. Research detailed information on the issue and construct your wiki page, include your video. Each page will have a different push or pull factors as its focus.
8. Task Walker’s graphics, film and video, and web design students to do any tech work for your wiki page.
9. Create a layer in Google Earth that shows what push and pull factors influenced a particular migration. This will be a collaborative effort among student groups doing a specific book. Post your data on the School Data page.
10. Write a paper identifying common themes in migrations throughout history and use this information to make predictions on migrations that are occurring today.”
Cooper has thought deeply about how to get his students to wrap their minds around important issues of the day. He has created some truly innovative projects that involve students in the best of what Gardner would call “multiperspectivalism” (p. 71). Not only do the novels (each student selects one) explore a common theme from many different perspectives, but as the project progresses, the participants communicate with people in the US and around the world to test out their ideas as they explore the big picture through the lenses of many different disciplines. At the end the students have to express their findings and conclusions in a paper and use the theme/theory to make predictions for the future.
I want to finish this blog with a great list of questions from Chis Lehmann that can help us stand back from the push to infuse our currlicula with technology for a moment and assess whether it will really enhance students’ learning.
Cooper is using collaboration, communication, and publishing tools (I include video here), Google Earth, and Voicethread (in later projects) to involve students in global partnerships and in seeking feedback, getting a visual perspective on the issue, and sharing presentations with a real audience. If Cooper’s use of technology is ‘the guts’ of his projects, developing the “synthesizing mind” is the heart.
Cooper, Thomas. (2009). Land of hope. Retrieved March 21, 2010 from The networked learner (website): http://www.thenetworkedlearner.com/projects.html
Cooper Thomas. (2009). Understanding by design. Retrieved March 21, 2010 from Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/tcooper66/understanding-by-design-1729121
Gardner, Howard. (2007). Five minds for the future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Lehmann, Chris. (2007, July) Curriculum design, reform, and technology infusion. Retrieved March 21, 2010 from Practical theory: A view from the classroom. (blog): http://www.practicaltheory.org/serendipity/index.php?/archives/869-Curriculum-Design,-Reform-and-Technology-Infusion.html
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (2010) Mashup (web application hybrid). Retrieved March 21, 2010 from Wikipedia (wiki): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mashup_%28web_application_hybrid%29