now I am done… or is it just the beginning?

This week I logged in for my last online masters session.   I still can’t believe that the two years have flown by so quickly.

When I first started, I was mind boggled by the complexity of the online sessions, listening, reading and responding to texts and flicking though different webpages whilst simultaneously writing messages and talking, required me to develop the innate skills of a modern teenager.  During our last session, I was thinking about this, and reflecting on how comfortable I have become with the medium.   The flexibility of the online environment was incredible, I participated in online sessions whilst at school, at home, at the beach, on a family holiday to Queensland and even from Istanbul in the middle of the night.    The structure of the course meant that I could easily fit it in around my already busy life.  My trusty macbook and an internet connection meant that no matter where I was in the world, I could continue to participate in the courses.

Along with this, the development of the cg learner website meant that I can now share my designs for learning with my colleagues on the other side of the world as easily I do with my colleagues at school.  The website provides me with a digital document of what I am teaching.    Now, no matter where I am, I can access and edit my work.   I can easily collaborate with multiple  authors to review and evaluate our designs for learning and most importantly create a document which others can easily pick up and use in the classroom.

Although I had been working with Learning-by-Design as a planning tool for several years, I had never really thought in depth about why it worked so well in the classroom.  Teaching is such a busy profession, I tended to just jump from project to project in a desperate attempt to keep up with the work.   The masters program forced me to slow down and really think about the nature of learning, the principles that lie behind Learning-by-Design and the way that these intertwine with the development of new technologies.   Perhaps, most importantly, the course reminded me of the greater social goals that are inherent in teaching.    The fact that teaching in a modern classroom should be about ensuring that all learners have the skills and understandings necessary to participate positively and productively in a our perpetually evolving global knowledge society.

So while I am writing this final reflection for the course,  I know that this is not the end.   I will write many more learning elements, and continue to review and develop the ones I have already written.  My professional journey will continue down this path, ever learning, ever evolving and always seeking to improve…


Evaluating a learning element…

An important part of using Learning by Design is the ongoing evaluation of designs for learning.    As I move into the final stages of teaching a learning element based on Dai Sijie’s 2000 novel, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, my colleague Jen Dennehy and I have been reflecting on the successes and challenges we have faced whilst teaching our learning element.

As part of the Lanyon Cluster of Schools Becoming Asia Literate project , co-author of the learning element Rita VanHaren suggested this novel as a means of integrating studies of Asia into the English curriculum.    It is a short novel, translated from the original french text.   The translation is a beautifully written semi biographical story, based on the reeducation experiences of the author during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.    After reading the novel we all agreed that it was text that would really extend the students in our Year 9 level one English classes.   In our initial discussions we identified the main themes in novel and the major ideas that we thought students should explore.

We also recognised that to enable our learners to engage with the novel and its setting, we would need to create connections with their lifeworlds and provide them with a basic understanding of the social changes that took place during the Chinese Cultural revolution.   This initial experiential learning or ‘front loading’ was designed to ‘hook’ our students in to thinking about the experiences of the author and hopefully arouse their interest in finding out more about the hardships he encountered during his reeducation.

Whilst reading the novel, students kept an ongoing record of narrative and character development through a character map in their journals.  This conceptual task was quite successful as it also helped them to keep track of plot and theme development.   Their conceptual understanding of the book was also supported by the construction of a wiki in which they posted significant quotes and reflections as we read the novel.   In addition to this we used functional grammar and cooperative reading strategies to analyse various parts of the novel in more depth after we had finished reading it.  As I write this my class is now moving into the learning element’s final essay assessment task.

Whilst teaching the novel both Jen and I felt that our students were finding it a challenge.   At one point, I even started to think that it was a book better suited to an older age group.  The novel is certainly a much more sophisticated text than many of my class members had experienced, and as many of them pointed out, not the kind of book they would pick up off the shelf.   However, as we progressed through the story, the voice of protest died out and I started to see a growing fascination with the lives of the characters.   While reading through their journal and wiki responses, I kept finding evidence of their engagement with the story, their growing understanding of the historical setting and a sense of their real empathy for the predicaments of the characters.

These responses were pleasing, and made me think that I was underestimating their capacity to engage with a foreign, translated text.  Yesterday, I realised what was missing while we read the novel.   We were analysing various passages at a word and sentence level using the functional grammar framework of mode, field and tenor.   I realised that my students had been struggling to understand the meanings of a lot of the descriptive langugage.  The author uses quite sophisticated language and many different literary devices to create vivid imagery.   While reading the book I adhered to the design of our learning element which focussed on analysis of plot and character development.   Unfortunately this meant that I didn’t allow the class to think as much about the function and meaning of the language.    Today my students looked at various descriptive passages from the novel in depth, and as they worked on their analysis I kept hearing remarks like “what an amazing description”, “that is such an interesting way of saying that”   or  “I never realised what that meant” with my  favourite exclamation being “wow this author can write so well”.   They were starting to understand the beauty of the language.  The problem was that I had assumed their understanding of the language and descriptions as we were reading the novel.   It surprised me to find that words like voluptuous, vivacious and lamentable were new to most of  them.   I had read the whole novel without really looking at the conceptual meaning of new words and ways of describing things.    In our post teaching rewrite, I think we will embed this word and sentence level analysis earlier in the learning element so that we can build our students appreciation and understanding of the novel’s descriptive language as we read it.

In hindsight, we can always identify more effective ways of teaching things.   That is the beauty of learning by design.   Our understanding of the knowledge processes helps us to identify wether the missing element was experiential, conceptual, analytical or applied learning.  Using these processes also helps to identify repetition in the learning element.   For example we also modified the learning element whilst teaching it.  The students had analysed and discussed character development extensively through wiki posts and journal reflections, applying their learning in a summative paragraph which was posted on the wiki.  For this reason we decided to modify the end of the learning element by removing an applying task which further explored character development.  This eliminated what we felt would be repetition and gave us more time for the students to work on their essay questions.   The process of evaluation and modification is one which is crucial to the development of quality learning experiences.

I have yet to see my students’ final essays, but after yesterday’s lesson I feel that the novel is a worthwhile text for their age and ability.  It pushed them beyond their comfort zone, and exposed them to new kind of literature  but ultimately I think that they all learnt something from it.  Teaching this learning element has, yet again, reinforced the value of reflective practice and the importance of modifying or ‘tweaking’ our learning designs as and after we teach them.  Learning by design is not about writing curriculum that is set in concrete, it is is about considering our practice and evaluating the way that the learning has taken place and the processes needed to create higher order thinking and engagement with the learning.


Engaging with Macbeth

This year all teachers in the Lanyon Cluster of Schools are participating in an action research project.   There are a whole range of projects which focus on different aspects of learning and teaching, and we share our research through the construction of a cluster wiki.   My team chose to look at student engagement and belonging through the study of Shakespearean texts, as a result of overall student disinterest  and a lack of engagement with the Shakespearean units taught in 2009.   I am working with the year 9 team to specifically look at our Macbeth learning element.   The project involves redesigning the learning element with a specific focus on building familiarity with Shakespearean English, and identification with the themes by developing the students’ appreciation of their perpetual universality.  Through this research I am seeking to witness and record a transformation in my students’ negative attitudes towards the study of Shakespeare.

This is a tall order, as teaching Shakespeare is always tough.  The students struggle to understand the language and relevance of the texts to their own lifeworlds.   We started with a learning element that had been written by  Christian and Prue a few years ago.  When it was first taught, I was impressed by the way they had scaffolded student understanding of theme and plot, and this was clearly demonstrated through the final essays that the students produced.   However,  when it was taught last year, the teachers found that it was difficult to sustain student interest and enthusiasm throughout the unit.

Was this because the teachers teaching the unit hadn’t been involved in the initial design?

Or had they changed the design so that it no longer fitted together as well?

Or is it that our increasing familiarity with the  knowledge processes make us view our designs for learning with a more critical lens?

Due to a combination of these factors, the team decided that it was best to completely rewrite the learning element, retaining only the texts and final essay topic from the original learning element.

So what have we done to get our students to engage with Macbeth?

Our new learning element now has more ‘front-loading’ before the students experience the text.    We spent several lessons exploring the values and beliefs of the world in which the play was written and discussing the way that these intersected with the student’s own values and beliefs.    This seemed to help students relate to the action in the play and start to engage with the ultimate question of  responsibility for the events that occur in it.  Just as Christian and Prue did, we showed the BBC Shakespeare Retold, Macbeth, in order to build familiarity with plot and themes in a modern setting using modern language.    It is a great story with lots of action that occurs in a fast sequence, so it draws the students in.

Of course, just looking at a modern language version of the play cannot give them the  full experience of a Shakespearean text, so we also planned to show them the Polanski version of Macbeth.    However, before doing this we decided that the students should develop a familiarity with Shakespearean English and a reassurance  that  it is not crucial for them to comprehend every single word spoken.    To do this we designed a series of activities that allowed students to experiment with using Shakespearean pronouns and terms of address as well as translating and performing short excerpts of the play before watching it.  I wanted them to learn to enjoy playing with language and develop their appreciation of the strong visual imagery that is used throughout his plays.

As I write this, I am still teaching this unit.  Once I have finished I will collect my final research, which, I hope will show a transformation in my students’ negative attitudes towards Shakespeare.    My class is currently watching the Polanski version of Macbeth and they seem to be enjoying it, without worrying about what they don’t understand.    We moaned at Lady Macbeth’s cruelty, laughed at the psychedelic mirror scene and sat in horror as the Macduffs were murdered.   The students don’t seem to be phased by the language and they seem intrigued by the question of blame.

As I watch this unit unfold, I have been thinking about my research topic engagement.    It is becoming clearer to me that engagement is not just about connecting to the life worlds of our students,  it is something which must occur on many different levels.  Student engagement with learning is also achieved through developing confidence in new content, which happens through conceptual learning and then practice by appropriate application.  However, I think that, underpinning this there needs to be an  ongoing intellectual engagement, which is achieved through analytical learning.    Getting students to engage in moral dilemmas and apply their own values and belief systems to them is engaging.  It makes the learning personal, it makes the learning matter.    So that when a student passionately proclaims that Lady Macbeth is a ‘bitch’  rather than reprimanding them, I can smile secretly and know that they care about and are engaged in the learning.

These are the moments when I think ‘I love teaching English’.


Creating a Learning Element… ‘The Migrant Experience’

In 2009, Jo Larkin and I wrote the learning element ‘The Migrant Experience’ for the Australian Government Quality Teacher Program.   The project  involved developing an Australian History unit of work which integrated the use ICT’s (Information and Communication Technologies).   We were given funded planning days and support to write and document our curriculum and then share it with our colleagues from other schools in the ACT.

Of course, Learning by Design was the perfect vehicle for us to do this.   Not only does the Learning by Design framework ensure that we develop curriculum with a focus on diversity and intellectual quality, but it also gives  us access to the CG learner web interface, where we documented and  published our work.   We were very proud of our final product, which is a publicly available learning element, that documents our learner objectives, the learning activities, resources, assessment tools and tips for any teachers who might want to teach the unit.

Unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to teach this unit, but Jo Larkin (my coauthor) taught it as part of the Modern History elective course in 2009.   She  reported that her students were really engaged in the learning and were able to show transformation through the unit’s assessment activities.     This year,  we embedded the unit in our new compulsory SOSE (Studies of Society and Environment course) course.  This meant that we had to share it with a new team of teachers, in what our school now fondly refers to as a LEO  or Learning Element Orientation.    We met as a group to discuss the activities in the unit, the principles behind our design and the way in which they related to the learning objectives and assessment.   Jo and I are very proud of the learning element, and we knew that it would start our new team off with an excellent example of quality teaching, that provided deep intellectual quality whilst still catering for diversity.     It also gave the team valuable time, which they could use to plan the learning elements that need to be written for the remainder of the course.

Writing the unit

Collaborating to write curriculum is one of the best parts of teaching.   I just love having that creative discussion, thinking of what we can do and how we can do it…  especially when I am working with someone who has similar expectations, beliefs and ideas to my own.   Fortunately working with Jo was very easy, she was clear about what she had to teach, and was building on student learning that had taken place in a unit  about WWII.     We wanted the students to understand a period of history that was crucial to shaping of our modern nation.   We wanted them to understand the issues that the nation faced, the policies and attitudes that existed at the time, and above all, we wanted our students to develop a sense of empathy for the people who immigrated and continue to immigrate to Australia.

Having such clear objectives certainly helped us with the planning process.  Using an LBD placemat to plan a draft, kept us focussed on the knowledge processes.   Just as in the other learning elements I have written, a familiar pattern begins to take shape.    Initially experiential learning establishes connections between the learning and student life worlds.   This is then built on by conceptual learning in which students typically learn the metalanguage or the underlying concepts behind the learning.   Only then can they engage in analytical learning.  As in other learning elements, this cycle takes place several times before students apply their learning.

Once we had the placemat filled in, I typed up the learning element in the  CG learner website.   We assigned modes of learning  and the learning objectives to the learning activities, an exercise which made our assessment purposes clearer and explicitly documented what it was that we wanted to achieve.  As Jo began to teach the learning element, she added in links to resources, primary sources and teaching tools.   We added tips to the teacher side, hoping to make our plan explicit and make things clear for anyone else who might teach the unit.    Ongoing reflection meant that Jo was able to identify learner gaps and modify the learning element by adding and changing some of the activities, to better suit the needs of her learners.    She made these changes as she went along, and after teaching the learning element, changed them on the website.

Learner Diversity

Supporting learner diversity was an important part of the learning element, the Learning by Design framework really enables teachers to design learning that supports learner diversity.  Initially in the experiential leaning activities, we draw on students own prior knowledge and lifeworld experiences to build common understandings.   Opportunities for reflection and learner responses also support and value diversity throughout the learning element.  Using a class wiki is another way that this learning element builds on opportunities for  students to respond to the issues and topics being discussed in class. This enables them to become knowledge creators, part of a learning community in which all student input is valued and counted.   Learner diversity is also supported through student agency,  with the construction of a wiki and use of cooperative learning activities such as gallery tours, think/pair/shares and placemats  valuing and enabling the contribution of all students.

The way forward – converting new believers
Having seen the learning element being taught for the second time by a team who were not involved in writing it, was an interesting experience.   Although we spent a lot of time discussing the why and how of our design, not all members of our team implemented it in the way that we had planned.
Those who were familiar with the LbD process, persevered, only changing things slightly to suit their own classes,  and despite feeling nervous about teaching a subject, seemed to grow in confidence about implementing new strategies in their classrooms.  This is particularly evident in the way that they have enthusiastically approached designing the next new learning element for the course.    This was in contrast to the team members who used the same learning materials but implemented them in a more didactic manner.   Supposedly the same learning took place, but the learner diversity was not supported to the same degree and learner agency was not as evident.

I find myself saying this over and over again, a Learning Element is a purposeful design for learning, pulling parts out and not following the entire design undermines its integrity and reduces the effectiveness of the design.    Using a learning element effectively really relies on a teacher’s understanding of and belief in the way it has been constructed and the way in which the knowledge processes build on each other to support diversity, create agency and deep understanding.

Teachers themselves have to be ready to see these things.  They have to question their practice, change the way that they see their role, be prepared to work and think hard in order to design better ways for their students to learn.


Champagne, lunch and horror… writing a learning element

Last year while at the Australian Literacy Educator’s conference in Hobart the idea for a new learning element was born. Inspired by the work that we had presented at the conference and a few glasses of wine, we decided to write a learning element focussing on the genre of Horror Fiction.   So armed with books, movies, ideas and plenty of champagne Rita, Prue, Jess, Jen, Christina,  Anne and I met for lunch at my house.

Our ideas overflowed, you can imagine the noise of six excited women all talking at once about their favourite horror stories, movies and tv shows.   It was Rita,  our mentor and source of wisdom who kept us on track, and we soon started recording our plans on a Learning by Design placemat.  Using this tool helped us to move from unstructured brainstorming into designing the learning.   It helped us to keep  a balance between experiential, conceptual, analytical and applied learning activities.    We decided to use Edgar Alan Poe’s short story ‘The Tell Tale Heart’, the Dr Who episode ‘Blink‘ and Nick Shyamalan’s film “The Sixth Sense” as examples of texts that made use of horror techniques.  We had planned to analyse each text, building towards the students application of their learning in their own design of a horror scene in storyboard format.   At the end of our luncheon,  we felt that we had designed a pretty good learning element.   That night I documented our unit using the CG Learner website.

During term 4, the team taught the learning element for the first time.   Although I wasn’t teaching Year 9, I watched them with interest as they tried the different activities we had planned.  Team meetings and staff room conversations involved ongoing reflections about the unit and how the learning activities were working.   Some activities were added and some adjusted to enhance student understanding.  The students were really engaged in looking at the genre and at the end of the unit they produced some quality work, which reflected their deep understanding of the the genre techniques which had been studied.   In fact, the unit was so successful that we decided to move our Year 9 curriculum around, to place it at the beginning of the year, as a way of getting kids “hooked” into English.

This year I am on the Year 9 team, so I have  finally taught the horror fiction learning element.   Working with two teachers who were teaching it for the second time, we met to revise and improve the learning element.   We decided to change “Blink” to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho“, the horror elements were more obvious to the students, and it helped students to see cultural shifts in what makes people feel fearful over time.   We also included lessons on the historical context of the film, so that students could explore and discuss the social subtexts presented.  Finally, we used the functional grammar of mode, field and tenor to analyse the famous shower scene.   By getting students to think about the mode (or film techniques used), its interplay with the field (the action) they could see how the tenor (influences on the audience) was constructed.   Students were asked to annotate screen shots from the scene, analysing the function of each of these elements.   This strategy deliberately modelled their final assignment, which was to demonstrate their understanding of film techniques by designing a horror scene in a storyboard  format.

As we reach the end of this learning element, even with the students yet to complete their final assignments, I can see how we can improve the unit.   More explicit instruction on the meta language of film techniques would better provide the students with language that supported their analysis of the films and construction of their own scene.   I would also like to analyse the social construct of fear more closely.   Why do certain images and scenarios make us fearful?  How have these changed (or stayed the same) through the ages?     This points to the fact that teaching is a constantly evolving science, one which needs ongoing reflection and adjustment in response to the needs of the students.  We will review this learning element, add to it and adjust it, and next year, when it is taught again, perhaps there will be new changes.

To look at the latest version of our learning element go to the CG Learner website or click here.


My Learning Element… completed?

Well, I stayed up until midnight last night in an attempt to get the documentation for this learning element finished.   All the activities have been typed in,  and I have taught the unit, but I still quite finished documenting the assessment and objectives.  As I have gone on to teach and write other learning elements, it was really hard to return to this one and tie off all the loose ends.

So armed with a big bowl of chocolates and a hot coffee, I finally forced myself to get it done last night.    As I popped chocolate after chocolate into my mouth, I thought about what I had taught, the sequence I had designed, the modes of learning used and the way in which activities linked to assessment.    I added Rita Van Haren’s suggestions (thanks Rita), and I expanded on the comments published on the teacher side, in an effort to improve the learning element  and make it better for the next time that it gets taught.

During this process I noticed two things:

  1. It would of been really useful to use the CG learner web interface to record assessment, modes of learning and objectives during the planning phase.   While I consider overall assessment when planning a learning element, I don’t always explicitly link smaller assessment tasks and assessment for learning to the activities listed in the learning element.    The modes of learning also made me think about the way that we must consciously plan for different learning styles, and keep variety in the sequence activities.   Variety keeps things fresh, it keeps students interested and of course it makes them think in different ways.   So next time I write up a learning element placemat, I will do the assessment section at the same time!
  2. The work from the University of Illinois course has lead me to think much more critically about my teaching and the way in which I design learning for my students.    It has led me to incorporate new technologies (such as a wiki and Scootle learning objects) into my classes and it has made me think about different styles of learners and the way that I can differentiate for their needs.   I also think more consciously about bigger issues relating to our world and our society when I am planning my learning elements.

The whole process has made me think much more deeply about the way that I teach my students.   In the learning elements I have worked on recently, I have looked for connectedness, learner agency, intellectual quality and challenging expectations.   The addition of these dimensions makes a huge difference to learner outcomes, and makes the time spent designing and reviewing our teaching really worth it.     In a profession as time poor as teaching sometimes it is easy for these things to get lost or overlooked.   Reflection takes time and practice, and can easily be pushed to the back of an overflowing list of things to do.   The requirements of my Masters course have forced me to make the time to reflect on a learning element I have taught.   In doing so, I have realised that this stage of the process is just as important as the design.

This leads back to my not quite completed learning element.   I have put all the bits in.   I have added, adjusted and rewritten activities and explanations.   I could still do more.   I wanted to add PDF worksheets, PowerPoint examples and scaffold tool, but technology didn’t work my way.   I wanted to review the assessment and objectives more carefully, but I ran out of time.    There will always be a myriad of ways to improve and build on learning elements.   That is their nature – living, growing documents.

Finally… I now reveal my almost complete learning element:   Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder


Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder


This learning element has evolved over a few years.    Initially, I set the topic as an in class essay question.  I used it as a diagnostic tool, a way of seeing what my students were capable of.   No discussion, no research, no scaffolding.   Just write about the statement ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’.   The essays came back.  Some students sort of ‘got it’.   Others just wrote about how nice people don’t have to be beautiful.   It was clear that I wasn’t seeing the thinking that they were capable of.   It was like asking painter to paint a landscape without allowing them to use paint.  Of course some individuals might be ingenious and devise a way to make paint from dirt, but the majority would be unable to fulfil the request.   The topic beauty was a powerful way to get kids thinking, yet I had wasted a teaching opportunity.

So when Prue (with her youthful enthusiasm) started to develop resources to help kids think more deeply about the topic, it began to evolve into a learning element.   Initially we didn’t plan it using the knowledge processes, but our familiarity with using the Learning by Design framework helped us to make the unit more robust by scaffolding student thinking, providing visual and written resources and making the students question their own perceptions.  So a learning element was born.   In 2009  it was finally fully documented, taught and then rewritten using the CG learner website.  Each rewrite enabled me to ‘tune’ the learning element, and by adding and modifying activities I was able to provoke deeper thoughts and more searching analysis.   This year, when I collected the essays they had written, I got a far more vivid sense of what my students were capable of.   They were starting to really think about social and cultural influences on an individual’s notion of beauty.   They were thinking about beauty from different perspectives and moving beyond their own frames of reference.

neck rings

Of course an essay is not a definitive assessment tool.    While we were exploring, discussing and thinking about cultural perceptions and influences on the notion of beauty, my students were engaging in substantive communication.  This took the form of lively group discussions about the reading materials and an enquiring approach to researching perceptions and practices to do with beauty.  They experimented with using metalanguage through a discussion in our fledgling wiki and many of them delighted in what one student described as “sounding smart” when they responded to each other’s comments.   For policy reasons I am unable to provide public access to our wiki so to convey a sense of the discussions which were taking place I have included a selection of wiki posts.    They were written by my Year 10 class (15-16 years old).  It was interesting to see that some of the most quiet students in the class were most vocal in the wiki discussion forums.


Dako. 4. Beauty (first student comment ! Hell yeah !!!!) Mar 5 2009, 9:23 PM EST | Post edited: Mar 5 2009, 9:23 PM EST

Beauty has no absolute definition, no meaning, it is indefinable. It is percepted by individuals, social communities and cultures differently. So if it is indefinable, is that the definition after all ?

PomTom09 5. RE: What is Beauty? Mar 5 2009, 9:25 PM EST | Post edited: Mar 5 2009, 9:25 PM EST

I agree that in this modern world beauty is viewed or associated with youth and that older people are trying to appear as youthful as possible but do they really have to go and alter there face why can’t they just except who they are.

MadeleineN 6. RE: What is Beauty? Mar 5 2009, 10:03 PM EST | Post edited: Mar 5 2009, 10:03 PM EST

I agree with what Dako said, that beauty is indefinable. You could never condense the true meaning of beauty into a defintion.The way I see it, beauty is something that you take a second glance at. You don’t know why or how, but beauty draws you in.
You see something beautiful, and you can’t take your eyes off it. It’s mesmerising.

AznKid_7. Since we could not really define beauty…its easier to quote it. Mar 6 2009, 4:32 AM EST | Post edited: Mar 6 2009, 4:46 AM EST

It is a human requirement in our lives. Like the air we breathe, the food we eat, the sounds we hear, beauty gives us the pleasure of life.
Without beauty, we would live horribly boring lives……
or go mad from all the ugly sights.
Whichever comes first.

AznKid_8. RE: Dakos opinion of Beauty (first student comment ! Hell yeah !!!!) Mar 6 2009, 4:43 AM EST | Post edited: Mar 6 2009, 4:43 AM EST

Well actually, according to this giant 2 tonne dictionary, “Beauty is that qualities or characteristic which excites an admiring pleasure, or delights the eye or the aesthetic sense”
after reading this, i thought to myself. thats pretty much what beauty is isnt it…??

As the discussion grew, the students experimented with more language and sought quotes to help explain their responses.

There were some amusing juxtopostions of formal and colloquial language.   For example:

kukjae_kid 20. RE: Dakos opinion of Beauty (first student comment ! Hell yeah !!!!) Mar 10 2009, 7:26 PM EDT | Post edited: Mar 10 2009, 7:26 PM EDT

Beauty isn’t something to just brush off one’s shoulder…asthetics are important in day to day life because we made it that way.
The only way to recognise true beauty is internally, focussing on the good inside people… not how white their teeth are or how big there boobs are… =/

The wiki showed me that many of the students were beginning to grapple with far more abstract, philosophical questions:

KTRN09 34. RE: Mar 11 2009, 5:49 AM EDT | Post edited: Mar 11 2009, 5:49 AM EDT

Every beauty and greatness in this world is created by a single thought”  -Kahlil Gibran

I think that beauty is not necessarily all around us but instead the potential for beauty is. I have a statement in my head that will only be understandable through a question:
Is beauty a constant quality or is it only there when someone perceives it?  I personally think it is only there when somebody perceives it. Some people define beauty as something that catches your attention and others say it is everywhere but you just haven’t noticed it yet, but if beauty is all around you, and it just hasn’t captured your attention yet, how is it beautiful?On the other hand this is not how everyone defines beauty, everyone thinks of beauty in different ways, so we are always going to come back to the essay topic: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  (I’m just putting it out there)

danielle.1512_x 35. RE: A quote Mar 11 2009, 6:02 AM EDT | Post edited: Mar 11 2009, 6:02 AM EDT

I like this quote too – is beauty an emotional rather than visual quality? This question could relate to Penny’s confucious quote “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” are there people who are unable to experience beauty? “i dont believe beauty is just a visual quality in something. if you ask someone who is blind or visually impaired what they think beauty is, what would they say if they havent ever seen beauty? Beauty is undefinable, but i think it has many different meanings depending on what the individual person thinks/believes.

Vongmala 36. RE: Mar 11 2009, 7:12 AM EDT | Post edited: Mar 11 2009, 7:27 AM EDT

I agree with katrina. i think beauty is only there when someone perceives it.
Think about this: Does beauty exist if there is no one there to interpret it as beautiful? Without a mind to perceive it, there is no beauty, just as there is no color without eyes and brains to perceive it.I’ve also found out something interesting about the whole ‘does animals have aesthetic capabilities’ or is it just humans? in fact some animals do, a book by James and Carol Gould called Animal Architects states that some birds (for instance bowerbirds) have something like an aesthetic sense. It requires the mind to perceive beauty, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a human mind.

MadeleineN 40. Quote Mar 11 2009, 9:21 PM EDT | Post edited: Mar 11 2009, 9:21 PM EDT

“Beauty is a form of genius as it needs no explanation” – Oscar Wilde.To me, this quote makes me think that beauty is not necessarily a concept, but it is more something that is created in the mind by a person. It cannot have a defintion because you’re the one who decides whether beauty is present in an object or a person.Just like Katrina said, “beauty is not necessarily all around us but the potential for beauty is”.  Something isn’t beautiful until someone believes it is.

The entire discussion is far too long to reproduce here.  In the end it included five different threads and well over 90 separate posts.   This was real evidence that my students were engaging with the topic and thinking about complicated abstract ideas.   By using the knowledge processes to conciously plan a learning element I was able prompt higher order thinking and I could really see what my students are capable of.    I also found that by using a wiki, I had provided the less gregarious students with a voice.  They could carefully consider what they wanted to say and communicate to the class without the pressures of thinking on the spot or speaking before a larger group.   I am really pleased with the way that this learning element has evolved, it provoked the students into thinking critically about what influences their own perceptions and made them aware of the fact that other people percieve the world through different lenses.


On using CG publisher

A few nights ago I finished typing up my learning element on the new CG publisher website.

Like any new thing, it takes a while to get used to the changes.

The web interface is easy to use, and I found it simple to move activities around.  I got a bit frustrated though because I couldn’t add a table or draw an example of a Venn diagram.   Prue and I both agreed that we need a nicer font than Times New Roman.  It is just so ‘passe’!

Aside from small functional details what I really like about the web interface is that it creates an absolutely fantastic forum to collaborate and share my work with colleagues from across the globe.   Learning elements always end up being chunky documents, full of pictures, scaffolds, teaching tools and diagrams which make them too large to send by email.   With the CG publisher website they can always be there, always available and easily accessed by colleages and shared with anyone.  It is this sharing of well designed curriculum and pedagogy that is a really important part of affecting change in educational practice.

At Lanyon we have been using the Learning by Design Framework for a number of years.   Each year new teachers start and we share our learning elements, providing them with a plan and method to use as they settle into the school.  While this does not always communicate a wider understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of LbD, it documents what our school values as best practice, setting an expectation for the way in which teaching and learning will take place.   I guess you could say that when the teachers first start using a learning element they are ‘experiencing the new’.   For true understanding to take place they need to be supported by mentoring and coaching so that they can conceptualise, analyse and eventually create their own learning elements.

Maybe we should write a learning element about how to use and write a learning element and then publish it on CG publisher.  That way everyone learning to write learning element could learn with the knowledge processes.   Now that would be a great way for us to share this pedagogical framework.