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The world I have been experiencing lately has had me thinking a lot about perspective: my perspective, the perspectives of others, how to widening my perspective, yet sharpen my focus, how to hear and understand the perspective of others, and many other angles.
Perspective is complicated, but I think it is an important part of how we go about solving complex problems. I think this is especially true when those problems, and the solutions, involve more than one person.
To aid in this discussion, here is today’s evidence that all life lived is relative and dependent on perspective. The picture above is of beautiful Lily’s Lake outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. However, I’m pretty sure in many places on the East Coast of the U.S. it would be named as Lily’s Pond. This is not to say that it has been misnamed, rather I’m pointing out that how we see something is dependent on our prior experiences.
If we have limited prior experience, than we will limit our perspective. Here’s the thing: everyone has limited prior experience. Regardless of age or of life lived, no one can have every possible experience. I’m making what I hope is an obvious point, because I think it is a point that is often missed when trying to have discussions with others, especially when the individuals involved may have wildly different perspectives.
This point needs to be acknowledged and respected. By acknowledging that we all have something to learn from each other we open our minds to try understand from where someone else is coming. By opening our eyes, ears, and minds to the experiences of others we can expand our own perspectives.
There is a benefit to expanding your perspective. It allows for more knowledge, from which to draw upon when solving problems.
To expand one’s perspective, I think it it worth seeking out new and novel experiences. I think that having more experiences will allow one to be able to question their own perspectives. By questioning one’s own perspective, a person may in fact able to be more sure of where they stand with the solution to a problem. At the very least, it allows one to acknowledge that there may be multiple solutions to a problem.
If we insist we are looking at a lake while someone else insists that they are looking at pond, instead of just agreeing that it is a body of water, it will be difficult to move together toward any solution.
Everyone has it.
We don’t always see it; we don’t always appreciate it. This is true even with our own value.
We need to take time and pause; take time to reflect. Take time to see the value that others have and that we have. Everyone has strengths, even if sometimes those strengths need to found and developed.
We should see the value in others—we need to. We need to look with open eyes, we need to look both beyond and within ourselves. This is especially true when individuals can’t see the value in themselves.
Valuing others is one way we can work to fulfill our collective potential.
Our personal value is not increased at the expense of others, rather, our value is increased when we respect and develop the worth of others. The ability to accomplish this starts with open eyes, continues with an open mind, and grows with an open heart. Great accomplishments can be at hand through teamwork, but to begin, one must realize the value of all those involved.
I have many reasons to create space for authentic scientific inquiry in my classes, but at the core, I think of this as a democratic issue. I believe that students have a right to participate in their own education and also that to become engaged members of a democratic society, students need to be critical inquisitors. This would create better space for those students to become adults who are both problem-solvers and problem-finders, so that they may play a role in shaping society around them, rather than just being shaped by society.
Recently, I’ve been doing reading on critical incidents as a way to problematize reflection on teaching. This reading had me thinking about a specific example that could illustrate this. I came across one the other day, involving a lesson that was being taught by myself and another teacher to different classes. We were teaching to the same type of class, and on paper it looked like we were teaching the same lesson. However, the bit of the lesson that I witnessed the other teacher teaching, seemed very different then the approach I took. I attempted to give my students freedom to work through the activity/lab themselves, which also meant leaving room for my students to make mistakes. When I saw the other teacher doing the same lesson, they were being walked through the activity step by step, with the more technical sections being completed by the teacher. Though this most likely reduced the mistakes made by the students, I worry that it also reduced the opportunity for students to work through problems on their own. I have the perspective that working through problems is at the heart of scientific inquiry, and it is also a skill that needs to be developed. If we never cut the strings as teachers, it will be difficult for students to function independently when they are at last faced with that freedom. This may not be the perspective of my colleague. My colleague may think that a strong foundation is necessary before the big inquiry can begin. In this particular case, I can’t know for sure that either of us is right…or maybe we both are right. There may be more than one way to reach the same end goal.
It would be dangerous for me to make assumptions looking on the outside in. I don’t see this class everyday. I don’t get to see what the teacher is building. I, unfortunately, have not had the opportunity to sit and hash out the teacher’s motivations with him. I know that this teacher wants to create critical thinkers, however, I think the daily pressures of classroom requirements inhibit the creation of an inquiry environment. I see a combat between desire and practicality. I want to find a way that we can help each other to move and reshape practical pressures so that educational desires become educational reality.
This is not only a lesson in the dangers of assumption or jumping to conclusions, but the need for us as educators to work together–to inquire together. For us to find and then solve the problems together. Because too often they will be more complex then then first appear to be.
“The unfinished character of human beings and the transformational character of reality necessitate that education be an ongoing activity.” Friere
When it comes to the goals I have as an educator, helping to develop students who realize their full potential is top of the list. In large part, this means developing students who become life long learners, and in turn fully literate, critically problem-solving citizens in the world.
To me as a science teacher, this means that I must develop students who are curious about, and inquire into the world around themselves, yet can see beyond themselves. This also means, not just becoming problem solvers, but problem finders.
Unfortunately I teach in a reality in which there is no evidence that teaching leads to learning. Rather than despair in this (as I temporarily did in the past), I interpret this to mean my job is to create an environment that is the most possible conducive to learning the knowledge and skills that students will need to be the best problem finders and solvers that they can be.
However, if I can accomplish this, it is not satisfying enough for me to only accomplish this within the classrooms I teach. If education, and in particular science education, is to fulfill its potential to develop students who can solve the problems of the world, and the problems of the world that do not exist yet, then teachers need to work as a team to develop the learning environments conducive to this goal.
Therefore, I see a need not to solve our problems of developing inquiry skills at the level of the student. Instead I see the need to help develop a learning environment that supports problem finding and problem solving across classrooms, across schools, across the country, and across the world.