Curious & Confident (1)

My life as a learner: reflections #flst12

Overview; This is my opening blog post for the MOOC First Steps in Teaching and Learning and we have been asked to reflect on our practice as learners and teachers. I will cover 4 points, my learning experience, my initial teaching, my practice after understanding teaching (brokering learning) and my open context based practice in a post-Web 2.0 world. Having commenced this process with this blog post I have now decided to do this as 4 daily blog posts; this is part 1.

My learning experience; Actually I have written a complete reflective novel on my experiences of learning called 63/68 A Visceral History. This is a novelisation of the Open Context Model of Learning (ref below) which, like most of my work, was rejected by people in authority in the UK; in this case the Open Universities Open Learn team (how ironic, how elitist too). We had it accepted as a chapter in an Australian book on Web 2.0 based e-learning; finally published 3 years after we gave our talk! It was this ridiculous time delay, in a Web 2.0 world, of publishing a paper likely to be read by perhaps 20 people that prompted me to write a novel reflecting on my own learning, in what Ronan O’Beirne deliciously described as a “pre-theory” story. He’s right! All theory has been removed (though it is loaded with that) and so you have to work out the meaning of the stories for yourself. You know what? That is how I teach. I structure activities but you have to find the meaning in it; that way you own your learning and you dont owe anything to me or “my” “knowledge”.

Schooling; I went to 11 schools as a kid, 8 primary schools in 3 different countries (Hong Kong, England and Germany) and 3 Secondary. After 11 I first went to a day Grammar School in Harrogate, then a Comprehensive Boarding School in Germany for Army kids (my favourite school), finally I ended up in the boarding wing of a day Grammar School in York; a post-puberty nightmare. All completely different experiences for me, all exactly the same in NOT explain learning to you. The story HELP! is about how I made mistakes in trying to fit in when I moved to Germany by trying not to repeat the mistakes I’d made in trying to fit in at Harrogate (where I was caned, sort of for not being top).

Mathematics; Ironically I was a Mathematical Wizard at school. This was because my Dad gave me an absolutely brilliant picture book called Mathematics for the Million when I was 9. This was written by a communist Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University Lancelot Hogben in the 1930s who was appalled that the working classes didn’t know mathematics when it was so easy (left-wing Dons do have their uses). And he made it easy to learn Mathematics on my own. Four years later I was asked to explain Pythagoras to my classmates and it help me get 770/800 in my numeracy GRE which helped me get onto a doctorate in Political Science at Colorado University in Boulder USA.

Books & TV; I barely watched TV when I was a kid, but my Mum took over the army camp library when we moved to Germany and I’ve read voraciously since I was 7. My Kindle has dozens of books open, David Graeber’s Debt the first 5000 years, Lennon by Tim Riley, Wired for Culture by Mark Pagel and Beyond The Hole in the Wall new mini book by Sugata Mitra on Self-Organised Learning Environments! Physical books I’m reading include Envisioning Real Utopias by Erik Olin Wright, e-learning Theory & Practice by Caroline Haythornthwaite, Rebel Cities by David Harvey and Obama Music by Bonnie Greer (I used to live in Chicago). Like Lennon’s Julia my Mum loved music and I used to help her buy records, staring with the Everly Brothers and the cinema was massive, and Hollywood had the first cultural impact on my sub-conscious (I still kiss badly). 63/68 is about the impact of the Beatles, and much other pop music. In Harrogate we watched Dr Who (I saw the very first one where the Tardis was the punch line – you can only do that once) Dixon of Dock Green (coppers in London – scary) Morecambe & Wise and the Royal Variety Performance. That’s it! My brother and I were sent to bed at 7pm and allowed to read as much as we wanted. In Germany we didnt have a TV – except for the World Cup which we won. In York at boarding school the only TV was in the Physics lab and we had to get permission to set it up. Apart from seeing the Beatles play Hey Jude live on the David Frost show in 1968 I didnt really see any TV. I was 18 and living at home whilst working on the buses before I had regular access to a TV, and I preferred going to the cinema or driving to York to see a live concert anyway.

Primary School; Having gone to 8 primary schools, sometimes two in a year, my memories are very scattered. I remember learning the alphabet by chanting and being taken to the beach in Hong Kong, reading Janet & John books in England playing sports in Germany and going in by bus. Mostly we were feral kids; educated but feral – Swallows and Amazons without the boats. I often lived on the edge of town, or in a village, and groups of us would disappear to play for hours then come home to read or play board games (there is a book chapter on that). I’m sure that was why everyone at primary school was in the Cubs or Brownies so we could get out of trouble in the forest or on the hill or by the streams where we spent our time playing. The only teacher I remember was the 2 teachers in the small village school in Radnage I was at for 15 months and they loved and encouraged all of us, which was great

Secondary School; Saw the tyranny of curriculum-driven education imposed ad teachers disciplining you to do better. I realised recently that when I passed the 11+ and went to Harrogate Grammar School (the 63) it was my 3rd school in the previous 12 months and I’d only been in town for a few months, so it didn’t impress me much. I refused to do homework as I read in my free time and so I was caned (for not doing homework!) and moved out of the top class; as a punishment for reading (no wonder librarians are so quiet). I retaliated by getting 100% in the next Mathematics test and winning every long distance run we had to do. Most significantly it seems now I was so annoyed that the Grammar School played Rugby that I organised a soccer league, aged 11! We played on the Stray in Harrogate, my team was the Bilton Dynamos (then Dynamo Athletic – named after the Moscow Dynamos of course) and the league functioned (for one year) because the lovely Dad of the captain of the Harrogate Harts booked all the pitches.

Think for Yourself; Thanks to my absorption in the Beatles, pop music, and the raging debates about what fab new thing was best for various reasons I ended up deciding when I was 12 that I had to act on my own recognisance. You cant expect some external authority to know better than you, they always reflect local conditions anyway. You had to decide for yourself what mattered and what had value. My Dad has described me as “stubborn” ever since, but it is what the 63 part of 63/68 is about. With a friend I invented a cricket game, derived from Owzat, as I had been a scorer for my Dad’s cricket team, and I organized a games club at school one year as well as a games club in my neighbourhood.

Germany; Like the Beatles in Hamburg living in Germany as a teenager taught me a lot. Firstly you can drink from fourteen (which the school sort of allowed – dont ask), secondly that German boys wanted “our” English girls because they were “easy” (ask Julien Temple). The school itself kept us ferociously busy, we had Saturday morning classes, because we had Wednesday “free” sports time. We had evening classes 2 nights a week, Monday was Public Service night and Thursday was sports nights, and we had House competitions in everything all the time. I slept well.  They had a cinema every Saturday night and we had regular official parties with our sister Girls School. These were chaperoned and you were allowed one kiss during the closing slow song (Britain had just ended rationing, but not for everything). Public Service trained me as a referee and an umpire and in my second year I was officiating in junior house games whilst I went on to do the Duke of Edinburghs (because you went to the Harz Mountains for a week on expeditions, turning a whiter shade of pale in the process). I had one teacher who took interest in me, Mr Lees, who decided I and two others were so good at Mathematics that we should do A levels instead of O Levels, causing further problems in 1968 (see the story). German kids spend the summer at the swimming pool or at the lakes which is what my brother and I did. As I was a nervous about swimming at first I read books by the pool, light books like Death of a President (we were all obsessed with Kennedy) and Plato’s Republic (at 15). When I finally got onto a political philosophy class at Uni I’d read all the books; I’ve been a great believer in the flipped curriculum since back in the day.

York; My A-levels started badly. I wanted to do Mathematics and English and was told that was impossible I had to pick either the Arts stream or the Science stream. The strange mix of subjects bequeathed me by my sporting comprehensive school meant I could only do Mathematics, Further Mathematics and Physics (mathematics with noisy bits). It drove me nuts. Worse it was a rugby school and I just refused to play it. Even worse kissing was completely outlawed (see my story White Heat). Fortunately I got drama, directed a play  and then became a playwright, in the process also developing my 3-part technique for engaging with new subjects. Firstly do it as it is given to you. Secondly tweak, adjust and improve what you are working on, collaborating with others where possible. Thirdly re-invent it completely using the experience, craft and knowledge you have gained; act on your own recognisance…

Reference; Luckin, R., Clark, W., Garnett, F.,Whitworth, A., Akass, J., Cook, J., Day, P., Ecclesfield, N., Hamilton, T. & Robertson, J. (2010). Learner Generated Contexts: a framework to support the effective use of technology to support learning. In M. J. W. Lee & C. McLoughlin (Eds.) Web 2.0-based e-learning: applying social informatics for tertiary teaching. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Reflection on this reflection; In writing this I’ve realised that my Dad gave me Mathematics for the Million when he was doing teacher training himself in Beaconsfield in 1960/61. He also gave me a ‘programmed learning’ text which were fashionable learning resources then, in which you navigated your way through history answering questions at key points and moving to different pages depending on your decisions. He was testing quite sophisticated learning resources out on me when I was nine! On to my initial teaching experience.

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7 thoughts on “Curious & Confident (1)

  1. Fred, the detail of your autobiography is amazing. Thank you for sharing this. The thing that strikes me immediately about your blog is the focus on your extremely varied and ‘messy’ experiences of formative education. I was thinking, well how does this influence Fred now and I read again and realised you had stated this upfront. Thank you again for sharing your candid bio with #fslt12

  2. Pingback: Curious & Confident (2) | Open Academic Practice

  3. Mine runs to the messy too. I may have 11 but not as many countries until post-secondary. Now I see that my reflections should have started with the learning part but there are recursive loops and flashbacks…

    • Hi Vanessa, I think messy is good as a learning process! When I was doing my Ph.D in Boulder 18/19 doctoral students in Politics were “Army Brats” and had been around the world enough to not believe that American represented the one best system. They wanted to know more about how we might organise society. National Education Systems are designed to get you believe in that one best way. The UK National Curriculum was designed to get rid of the messy questions the 60s had bequeathed and it succeeded.

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