Re: Educational activity and school

From: Peg Griffin (
Date: Fri Oct 01 2004 - 09:59:20 PDT

Two answers in one.

Oh Phil, you may be a rascal, huh? I look a little further along in the
piece that Esteban so nicely sent and see: "It is very difficult to find
real educational activity in a school setting, at least the normal school
settings that occupy millions of Russian and American children daily."
What I think is important is whether or not the word was specifically
"never" in the conversation, it's not 'never' in the sense of an impossible
dream but in the sense of 'not achieved.'

And Don, thank you for persisting. What I saw in Moscow that blew me away
was in the experimental school. It contrasted with most Russian classrooms
that I saw in Moscow and in outlying areas that had egg-crate seating plans,
and ordered and uniform behavior so it seemed as if the notion "student
body" was more than metaphorical.
Then we got to this room with odd arrangements of tables and chairs and
youngsters roaming around. Two bottoms on some chairs and others empty.
Kids dragging chairs closer and hanging over the backs of some chairs.
Computers. Hands reaching in and taking a keyboard turn seemingly out of
turn, but not with discord resulting. I had some helpful person to
translate and sometimes I "translated" about the program the kids were using
that I recognized.
Then there was a sequence of three scenes that I though you would never
(well, hardly ever) see. I saw goal formation and interiorisation.
Thinking. Learning. Education.
Scene one: A student has a computer to himself and boots up a math program
and goes through a couple of iterations with poor results. The program is
over when the computer says so and the computer says how successful the
student was. Some other students see what program is on and move in, one
sharing the chair, others bringing chairs, some standing and bent in toward
screen and keyboard.
Scene two: The huddle of hanging-over-butting-in kids move the program to a
terrific outcome while the "real" student user sits with rights and access
to the keyboard but still somehow more of a legitimate peripheral
participant. (What is it that Barbara Rogoff calls it?) As a couple of
more iterations go on the "real" user contributes more moves and utterances
and the huddle gradually dissolves (others forming elsewhere in the
Scene Three: The student is alone starting off confidently on another
example of the central task in the program, fingers only doing the talking,
Then there's a halt exactly at the point in the task where there had been a
hubbub of talk and gesturing when the huddle had been there. The student
looks up in the air for a moment. He comes back and makes a few keyboard
moves then another air gazing moment and more keyboarding then he crashes
the program purposefully before it continues and starts anew going through
strokes quickly and getting a great result. It is clear that he has done it
and just as the computer is starting to give feedback he turns away to call
a buddy and tell all about it.

See what I mean?
Sorry it was so long ago I can't give more details.
But I have on my wall a 4th grader's picture of a parrot. Art in that
school was educational too. This parrot has Seurat style pointillist (but
fatter dots) background and real bird feathers on the body. The turn of the
parrot's head suggests it is a bit shy, maybe even embarrassed about the
showy plume showing up against the blue sky. It is aesthetically pleasing to

Here's a case with four and five year olds in the hall of a country church
in the US where there is a day care and preschool combined. It is based on
participant observation as a volunteer and trianulation interviews with the
teachers and students on the early drafts of the material. It is from
Griffin and King, in review, so please don't quote or circulate without
   The short video ended with a close-up on a book. The book and video were
made by the children that Ms. Cyndy and Mr. Tom taught two years ago. With
the TV off, almost everyone in this year's class had something to say - was
that really Shawn's sister, what happened to the plants, could this class
study seeds and make a movie, too?

   "Yes!" said Ms. Cyndy, "Yes! And today we are going to start by looking
at that book they made."

   Five of the older children stayed with Ms. Cyndy. The book had Polaroids
of the class from the video divided into teams. After general discussion
about the particular relations, Ms. Cyndy asked questions calling for
counting: how many teams of children, how many children in each group, how
many altogether, how many boys, how many girls. Ms. Cyndy was relieved that
Janice counted up to 10 accurately and without hesitation now. When school
started, she and a few others were confident saying the numbers in order but
not keeping track of the objects of a count. Donita used to count all over
again each time someone asked "how many" but now she knew she could rely on
the last count number. Tanis had idiosyncratic number words like
"eleventeen, twelveteen;" he said they helped him write numbers and think
about them. Now he used the conventional number words, at least when
talking mathematics out loud with other people.

   "What about teams in our class?" Ms. Cyndy asked. "Suppose we want to
make two teams?" She pulled out an often used stack of laminated cards,
each with the picture and name of a classmate on it. There were cards for
the two teachers, too. The children agreed to partition by alternately
dealing the cards into two piles.

   "Maybe these teams are too big," Ms Cyndy said. "It will be hard for so
many people to work on the plant project at the same time." They talked
about how to make three groups. Tanis said to make more piles out of the
two piles. Some children were confused about how more piles could make
smaller teams. Ms. Cyndy said it was an interesting idea and they would do
it later but now that she already had picked up the two piles, what else
could they do. Donita said they could do the same thing as before but
different by using three piles. Tanis agreed. Same but different was
getting to be a class slogan. The group watched carefully as Masha dealt
cards into three piles, encouraging and monitoring her.

   Ms. Cyndy said they needed to keep track of what they had tried. She had
a magnetic white board with number and heart magnets (larger ones usually
represented the teachers). It was often used to make tallies. Today it had
three labeled columns partly filled in: [The figures do not come across in
my e-mail so I am here trying to describe them]

Column 1: How many altogether? (First row has with 16 small hearts and 2
large ones and the numerals for 18)

Column 2: How many groups? (First row has the numeral for 2 and two rows
with opening and closing brackets, set far enough apart to hold many hearts,
less than 18 but still many)

Column 3: How many in each group? (empty in first row)

   She asked a child to use heart magnets to fill in the teams between the
brackets, just like the two piles of pictures. Another child found the 9
magnets for the last column. Then Ms. Cyndy asked them to show how they made
smaller teams in the next rows. In the end the board had three complete
rows for each column:

Row 1: In column 3, two 9 magnets were added to indicate how many in each

Row 2. Same 18 hearts and numeral 18 as row 1; second column has a 3 numeral
and three sets of brackets each with six hearts; the third column has three
number 6 magnets.

Row 3: Same column one; second column has numeral 4 and four bracket sets,
two with 5 hearts and two with 4 hearts; the third column has two numeral 5
magnets and two numeral 4 magnets.

   They all counted together as Janice moved 18 more hearts for the first
column in row 2; Tanis found the 1 and the 8 for 18; Donita remembered from
dealing the laminated pictures that they needed 6 hearts for each group and
counted them out; the teacher drew brackets; Evan found the 3 magnet to
indicate the number of groups; Masha moved the 6 magnets into place in the
third column. Everyone admired the result. Ms. Cyndy helped the group make
a third row that yielded 4 groups.

   They talked again about more teams to get smaller teams. The children
noticed the numbers getting bigger as they went down the second column and
smaller in the third column. Donita was very quiet but smiling. She said
to Tanis, "It did it again, didn't it? Remember? More people and smaller
pieces of cake last week?" He beamed; together they patted the magnet board
like it was a pet.

   Everyone sighed, especially Ms. Cyndy. She told them Mr. Tom would like
to hear about that when he showed them the new game in the mathematics
center called "10 altogether" about the different groups that came out to

   The group glanced briefly at more pages in the book from the video, pages
for more thinking about numbers, groups, measuring, and graphs. Ms. Cyndy
said they would come back to it as they used mathematic tools and concepts
for their own study of plants and seeds.
  Group time was over but Ms. Cyndy and Tanis worked on the magnet board to
see about making two piles of each of the two piles in the first row. Tanis
concluded it was the same but different as the third row and Ms. Cyndy
  Tanis joined the rest of the class when Mr. Tom began to read aloud a book
about seeds. Ms. Cyndy made notes for a talk with her center director about
how best to keep up Tanis' mathematics learning and about what Donita was
beginning to do. And Masha, what was she thinking? She was so quiet it was
hard to tell. Next, Ms. Cyndy started her preparations for using the same
book with the group of youngest children whose counting skills were more


---- Original Message -----

From: "Phil Chappell" <>
To: <>
Sent: Friday, October 01, 2004 5:29 AM
Subject: Re: Educational activity and school

> Thanks, Esteban. I gave up searching. Hey Mike, are you sure about the
> word "never" in para. 1?
> Phil

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