IERG News & Updates September 2015
IERG News & Updates is our way to keep you informed about some IERG activities worldwide. You will find examples of Imaginative Education in action, interviews with practitioners, as well as short pieces describing our different programs, publications, and events.
We welcome your feedback, and as always, please feel free to share this with your colleagues and students, so that everyone can stay connected.
Enjoy our 4th edition!
10th International IERG Conference on Imagination and Education
Spotlight on IERG Member: Glen Ellis
1. Who are you? Where do you work/research/teach?
I am a professor in the Picker Engineering Program at Smith College (Northampton, Massachusetts). I teach engineering courses that introduce students to mechanics, as well as a STEM education course. My research area is designing engineering education learning environments that engage students in deep, intentional learning and help them develop the capacity to innovate and succeed in the knowledge economy.
2. How/when did you first learn about Imaginative Education? How does it currently shape your work?
I first learned about Imaginative Education from my colleague, Al Rudnitsky, and I immediately became excited about how IE could impact my research and teaching. Now IE frames every class that I teach. Each has a theoretic narrative that guides learning and helps students see the big picture at all times. For example, in one class the narrative explores the interplay of loading, geometry and materials. In another class I take this a step further and have the students write and share theoretic stories to encourage discourse about ideas. I have also found that theoretic stories naturally lead to discussions about where the ideas came from, when and how they can be applied, and what we need to improve.
The idea that has excited me the most about IE is that earlier understandings are not left behind as the mind develops. In fact it is these earlier understandings that have most transformed my classes. For example, my soil mechanics class unfolds in part through the stories of the engineers who changed the field. New ideas are introduced by putting students in the shoes of the field’s innovators so that they see and experience the context of the innovation. I even have a “geotechnical family tree” so that my students can see how their lives are connected to these heroic individuals who not only changed a field, but also fought in revolutions, were persecuted in the McCarthy era, and carried dueling scars. I saw the power of Imaginative Education when I taught soil mechanics at the U.S. Air Force Academy. At the end of my year there I learned that pictures of the heroic individuals from my class were posted throughout the dorms. I was told that the cadets connected to them as they faced their own struggles with the daily challenges of military training!
I have many other examples of applying cognitive tools from all levels of understanding in my classes. In every case I have found the student feedback to be exceptionally positive. For example, even just rewriting the course catalogue description for one class using IE quadrupled the enrollment.
3. What questions/projects are you currently pursuing?
Currently most of my time is focused on a project called Through My Window that is funded by the National Science Foundation. I am Principal Investigator on this grant along with Beth McGinnis-Cavanaugh and Al Rudnitsky. The goal of the project is to create an educational resource that engages middle school children in engineering through the use of Imaginative Education and Knowledge Building. We’re getting a lot of help on the project. Kieran kindly supports us as an advisor; Sonia Ellis is our writer; and dozens of students and professionals are involved in instructional design, video production, artwork, programming and many other areas.
Through My Window has a number of components: two novels with audiobooks; an educational website with in-depth, story-based learning adventures in which the learners join the characters from the novel; and a teacher’s guide that supports a variety of idea-centered classroom activities. The first novel, Talk to Me, was published earlier this year. The second novel will be published in 2016.
We are just beginning to roll out Through My Window beyond the beta test sites. This summer, schools in Bridgeport, CT, used it throughout the city. We are still waiting for all of the data to come in, but our evaluator has already told us that the children loved it. Early indications from on-line journals also indicated that student ideas improved greatly. You can learn more about the grant at our educator website.
4. What are your hopes for education in the 21st century?
I remember when my children were little. Like most children, they continuously asked questions about science and every other topic that you can imagine. They wanted to learn everything about everything, but schools never tapped into this sense of wonder. Instead their curiosity gradually turned into proficiency at doing schoolwork.
But something important changed during their lives. By the time they started college, answers, discussions, better theories, etc. became available for all of their questions with a few keystrokes. The information is often hard to find, not in a useful form, and misinformation and contradictions abound, but it is out there. If that is not enough, there are people around the world just waiting to engage you on any topic. How we live our lives and do our jobs have changed dramatically—education needs to change also.
So my hope is that educational systems will rethink their roles with this in mind. We should be encouraging children’s curiosity, connecting them with this new world and helping them develop the skills needed to navigate and thrive in it. Imaginative Education has a big role to play in seeding and growing this curiosity.
Congratulations IE MEd Graduates!
Congratulations to our latest MEd cohort in Imaginative Education. All 15 students successfully completed their degree requirements in July and will participate in convocation this fall. The group celebrated their achievement with an artistic night of painting—note the Picassos in the group…
IERG Summer Visitors
Apart from the many newly met and returning colleagues at our conference, we have been the beneficiaries of a number of visitors to the IERG this summer. Professor Kiyotaka Miyazaki was with us for a couple of months, during which time various IERG members benefitted from conversations about his research in cognitive psychology and his interest in cultural-historical theories focused specially on early childhood learning. An energetic group from Massachussetts also visited, and toured our downtown campus at Harbour Centre in Vancouver. The group included Glenn Ellis, a professor of engineering at Smith College, Sonia Ellis, a writer amongst other things, Al Rudnisky, professor of Education at Smith College and associate of IERG for a long time, Isabel Huff, the outreach coordinator of the Through My Window project, and Ronald St. Amand, Director of Science for the Springfield Public Schools. They came by to discuss further collaboration on their Through My Window project (http://throughmywindow.org), into which the IERG has had some input. (For more information on this project see the article, this issue, from Glenn Ellis.) It was a delight also to again welcome Giannis Hadzigeorgiou, from the University of the Aegean on the island of Rhodes. Yannis visited during the most dramatic moments of the Greek financial crisis during the summer, so we benefitted from and suffered with his responses and experiences with regard to the crisis. He also discussed a proposed book with Roland Schulz, an IERG associate and instructor at SFU. We also re-met colleagues from Taiwan, and discussed the possibility of IERG’s involvement in a national curriculum project beginning in 2016. The group included I-Heng Chen, Amber Lee, and Szu-Yin Lin, mostly from Sun Yat-Sen University. Our discussions also benefited from the presence of our Faculty Director of International Education, Catherine Price. Courtesy of the “Philosophy for Children” conference at the University of British Columbia, Kieran Egan was able to meet Karin Murris, among a number of other old acquaintances and colleagues. He gave a talk at a Literacy conference organized by Karin in Cape Town, South Africa and enjoyed finally making contact with Dr. Murris and discussing her interest in the IERG and possibilities for future collaboration. Currently we are enjoying and benefiting from a further visit from Gadi Alexander, now retired from Ben Gurion University in Israel. He has been involved in a number of IERG initiatives, and done especially valuable work with regard to documenting the Learning in Depth (LiD) program. His videos of children’s experiences with the program will continue to be mounted on the LiD website.