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Innovation and Learning

Start with clarity of intent.

Now build it out with an evocative vision. Improvise progress by tinkering: with lots of trial and lots of error. The not knowing is the best bit: the mysteries the surprises, and from time to time the windfalls! 

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Filtering by Tag: Educational Discourse

The Curious Case of the Flipped-Bloom's Meme

(This is the sequel to 'Anatomy of a (Flipped) Meme')

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Last post I dug up the history of the Flipped Classroom idea. In this thrilling conclusion I look a variant: the "Flipped Bloom's Taxonomy" meme, which isn't even a meme yet, although in the last three weeks it has looked to get enough traction via one very influential blog post.

Do a google image search for Bloom's and see what shapes you get:

The very first image has been FLIPPED upside down! This image has been around for years, but it's only the last few days that Twitter has lit up with the NEW Flipped-Bloom's MEME!!


Never Meant to Be One Way


Of course, Bloom's taxonomy was never meant to be linear or sequential.  

The version I always knew was a pyramid:

But as with the general flipped learning meme, if you look you can find plenty of examples dating back years.

This looks like a flipped pyramid right here, dating from 2001:

And the taxonomy was revised in 2000 by Loren Anderson, who also appears to have turned it upside down, although I can't get a really good reference for this. This is the upside down graphic that comes up first when I run a google images search for Bloom's: 

Much criticism has been levelled at Bloom's, but although "a more radical approach would be to have no taxonomy at all" (2003), human beings LOVE a taxonomy, especially one with a one-syllable name and a nice stable pyramid under it!

Don't get rid of Bloom's, just swivel it 180 degrees! 


May 5 - A Conversation with Aaron Sams


Aaron Sams mentioned the Flipped Bloom's idea to us when we met him a few weeks ago: "The other thing is just trying to find different models in the way this whole flipped approach works because it’s not just one way to put them."

"So, the idea is how do you approach Bloom’s?  Do you go from the bottom up, or do you approach Bloom from the top-down?  If we can minimize the remembering and understanding stuff, you start with the project, so project-based learning starts top and they tap down as needed versus starting at the bottom with content and climbing your way to the top and, hopefully, you get to a culminating it in to your project."


May 15 - Enter Shelley Wright


So, dear reader, imagine my surprise shortly after returning from my pilgrimage to my leafy Australian home, to come across this post: http://plpnetwork.com/2012/05/15/flipping-blooms-taxonomy/


Except that, I didn’t read it there, I read it on the Mindshift blog where it was republished: http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/05/flip-this-blooms-taxonomy-should-start-with-creating/ 

Her original post was on May 15, and the Mindshift clone was May 17. 

Which of the two sites has a larger readership, I do not know, but the little bunny-meme went virile. An excerpt search shows the blog being linked to in 454 other sites as of today, May 26.


This is a fractal jump in scale, but it doesn’t count as full-blown viral, yet. It could be a flash in the pan, a blip on the radar.

I've been counting the tweets mentioning 'Flipping Bloom's' each day since then:

16 May - 10

17 May - 2

18 May - 80 (Mindshift blog is a super-node?)

19 May - 70 (Mindshift blog is a super-node?)

20 May - 30

21 May - 30

22 May - 22

23 May - 21

24 May - 29

25 May - 6

26 May - 19

You can just feel this new virus striving for life, pushing, pushing to jump up another order of magnitude or two into fractal viability.


So had Shelley Wright Spoken to Aaron Sams?


I logically concluded Shelley Wright must have heard the idea from Aaron Sams. So I asked Shelley, but she's never heard of Aaron! 

Detective hat on, I bounced back to Aaron and asked where he heard the idea from. He couldn't recall hearing "Flipped Bloom's" from anyone else, but said he'd been using it for about 6 months in his presentations.

He did, however, point me to Lorin Anderson's "inverted pyramid" which I've mentioned above.

Further searching by yielded another interesting find: 

Back in 2009, we have "Inverting Bloom's Taxonomy".

"INVERTING!?" PEOPLE! How many times must I tell you! Don't say 'invert', say 'flip'! The punters want 'flip', they don't want 'inverting'. 

This 2009 version got little traction.

Let this be a lesson to everyone: if you turn something upside down, and want people to pass around the idea, choose your keyword carefully. 


Inevitable Ideas


"There is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come."

Victor Hugo


It's all context.

Bloom's taxonomy pyramids floating everywhere, sunny-side up.

Then an inverted graphic from 2001.

"Inverting Bloom's" in 2009.

Still all quiet on the western front. 

Then the "FLIP" engine, lurking in wings, catches the wind in 2010. 

How long could it be until someone connected the FLIP-engine to Bloom's pyramid? How long until someone thought "that ain't just inverted, that's flipped!" 

Was this inevitable? Aaron Sams and Shelley Wright seem to have been saying it concurrently, unaware of each other.  

And will Shelley Wright's post with its beautiful graphic be enough to tip the equation up to the next level?

I really hope so. I like Bloom's the other way around.


Project-Based Learning in a Soothing Package 


Flipped Bloom's is remarkably close to Project-Based Learning. But you try saying "Project-Based Learning" or even "PBL" a few times! Sounds a leetle beet hard! A leetle beet threatening!

It tells me I've been basing my learning model on the wrong thing. "Try project-based learning" implies "You have been basing your understanding of learning on the WRONG FOUNDATION." Aggressive!

Not a bad meme, PBL, for the revolutionaries. We might need to repackage the idea for the punters.

"Flipping Bloom's" is more diplomatic, and seductive.

"Don't worry, we're just taking something you aleady know and love, and we're putting a fresh angle on it!"

"Hey, anyone can turn something upside down! Just turn it upside down!" 

I hope that the Flipped Bloom's meme travels up the fractal scale dimension. I hope it continues to get traction.


Variant Graphics


Some crazy radicals, even since Shelley Wright's post, have been doing OTHER things to Bloom's that cannot be summed up in one cute syllable.

I give you Kathy Schrock's interlocking cognitive processes. She uses cogs:


And Edna Sackson dares suggest learning is not linear, and uses steps and ladders, and little people who appear to be dressed in Bloom's triangles (coincidence I think)!

(Edna has said since that this dates from 2010 - http://whatedsaid.wordpress.com/2010/05/18/constructing-meaning/. In that post she quotes Jay McTighe as advocating 'turning Bloom's taxonony on its head'. HA HA!! SO CLOSE TO 'FLIP'!! Imagine that: "so, Jay, you're saying we should... so to speak... 'flip' the taxonomy?" But in 2010 Pink and Khan had not pushed the term to its current giddy heights.)

But can anything compete with the flipped romance? As Edna Sackson says, 'Flipping is the new black.'

A Flipped Romance


'Flip' is  like the puppy dog version of 'change'.

Change growls, flip purrs.

Change threatens, flip seduces.

Flip implies something can be freshened, not made reduntant. It can be redeemed, invigorated, reborn, without a change in substance or identity. When you flip something, you don't rip out its heart, you look at it from a reverse angle.

'Flip' comes without a surgeon's knife. It knocks at the door like a showman, and offers to teach you a magic trick. Just put this here and that there, and tadaaaa!

No damage done.

So all the debating, blogging, playing with the language, is really giving people a paradigm that sits between death by stagnation and death by assault. From experience, stuck between that rock and that hard place is actually where I normally do grow, but if 'flip' can get in there first and tempt me out with some bread crumbs and the promise of a better world, I shan't complain. 

Australian readers may recognise the advertising equivalent, 'Don't stop it, just swap it', and recognise the limits of this method!



If Flipping Meets Occupy 


I predict this won't be the last thing we see flipped. 

In one conceivable future, the occupy meme will meet the flipped meme. If that happens, all bets are off! 


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Anatomy of a (Flipped) Meme

(See also, part 2: The Curious Case of Flipped-Bloom's)


You know the 'Flipped Learning' meme? 


Flip it?

The Flip?

The Flipped Classroom? 

Okay then, smartie, have you noticed its new iteration, 'Flipped Bloom's'? It sprung like a bolt out of the blue not 3 weeks ago.

Out of nowhere? And why now? Why traction, now?

Curiouser and curiouser. Flipped Bloom's next post, first a prequel:


The Prequel: 'Flipped Learning'


Earlier this month I had the pleasure of meeting Aaron Sams in Denver, and picked his brains over the history of the "Flipped Learning" meme. 

Sams told me, "Dan Pink ran an article in 2010, November, and he called this whole shifting direct instruction out of the class on video the 'Fisch Flip' referencing Karl Fisch.

"Karl said, 'Hey! You got to talk to these guys down in Woodland Park because that’s who we talked to.'  So we immediately got stuck to the term."

Sams and his friend Bergmann were about to publish a book on podcasting, vodcasting etc, but with Pink using the term 'Flip' they reworked the keywords in their book and called it 'Flip-Mastery'.

They put in their book for publishing in February, 2011. As it happened, not two weeks later the illustrious Sal Khan gave his Khan Academy TED talk. In the talk he says "And the teachers would write, saying, 'We've used your videos to flip the classroom.'" He uses the phrase 'flip' like it was already old news. 

So Salman Khan heard teachers using the word 'Flip' before 2011. Maybe they'd read Dan Pink's article from the UK newspaper, the Telegraph? (Or a much earlier article - see below)

Pink + Khan seems to have made the idea go high-level viral. Khan in particular acted as a 'super-node' in the network, and ideas can jump fractal scale dimensions when championed in a space that has everyone's attention.


What's in a Meme?


That which we call a rose...

A meme is an idea on wheels. It has its driver's license and its off around the world, thanks!

It can only drive Class A vehicles, and they don't take many passengers. If it's going to go viral, it can't carry much with it.

This is both the strength and weakness of the 'Flipped Learning' meme.

To my mind, mainly strength.

The literal meaning 'Swap the activities of school and home', is in itself a delightfully, scrumptiously, subversive, disruptive message; just the thing to sweep out cobwebs, challenge some thinking just where it needs challenging, because for the love of all things kind and sweet we do not need any more teacher talk, thanks universe. Swap the stuff OUTSIDE this rattling cage for what's IN IT. Amen, brother. 

THAT meaning is, of course, a parody of the term anyway, but parody is where the magic begins. 

I don't know any teacher who has so crude a view of learning that they hear 'Flipped Learning' and immediately think to literally flip class activity and home activity, lecture and application, end of story, and slap their hands together and say 'mah werk heah eez dun!' 

Rather, what happens, and I think this goes to the way the meme works, is when you first hear it and understand the literal implication, you envisage the caricature, but then, and this is magical, you bounce of the caricature into something more nuanced.

So, in a funny way, the meme works really nicely.

Step #1 Teacher hears the meme.

Step #2 They react against it as a caricature and formulate their own more balanced model.

Step #3 They pass on the meme, often in the form of criticism of it. 

('Can't talk honey, I must blog, someone on the internet is wrong!') 

Just go to google blog search and search for Flipped Learning to see this effect. 100s of blogs trying to correct the straw-man notion!

Aaron Sams told me, "I mean, I’ve been playing defense on the internet primarily because of misconceptions of people trying to pitch in whole lots, [saying] 'is it just this?'". 

"It’s 'Think about what the best use your time with your students face to face is and if you can shift something out of that time so they can access it asynchronously.'"

The meme begs this question, and it's a question it doesn't hurt to ask. 

Sams isn't locking into any model! Nor are his students or their friendly robot. 

Like every buzz-word, to travel it has to be hopelessly simplified.

The phrase, "Think about what the best use of your time with your students face to face is and if you can shift something out of that time so they can access it asynchronously"-classroom doesn't roll of the tongue.

Miraculously, the simpler phrase "Flip" unpacks itself in each brain it encounters, through an automatic unfolding mechanism called 'critique'. This story is archetypical.

In computing terms, the 'flip' virus invokes our reliable critiquing apparatus, allowing it to travel light, and poses as straw-man to intensify traction. Watch the edubloggers all take to Wordpress, one giant army, to correct the misconception! Clever meme!

It knows! 

It smiles to itself. It beckons: "unpack me, then copy me and pass me on!"


An Idea Whose Time Has Come


So Dan Pink writes about the 'Fisch Flip', Sams and Bergmann write a book, and Khan gives a TED talk, and KABOOM! The idea explodes, and the rest is history.

I hear you say, "Steve, flipped learning goes way, way back before 2011."

...and was being applied instinctively and intuitively all over the place. I was applying related concepts in 2002 via a website called 'Nicenet.org' and when Moodle arrived in 2005, I went ballistic. I dare say you did too.


Prehistory of a Meme


If you had your ear to the ground you'd know the poorer, clumsier, older brother meme, the veritable proto-meme, the (Baker's Saturn to Khan's Zeus):

"Be the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage."

Too many syllables for the proletariat, but the phrase gathered traction, and when I heard it from MrsAngell a few years ago it stuck with me.  Wikipedia tells me the proto-meme came from a conference paper in 2000 "The classroom flip: using web course management tools to become the guide by the side" by J. Wesley Baker. This is pre-Web 2.0.

He even uses the word 'flip' in the title, but that didn't seem to travel at the time. 

Our attention spans were longer before Twitter came along. The brevity of 'Flip'; the sheer economy of character spaces, was not a crucial advantage. A cost of 4 units, versus the 47 of 'Guide by the side instead of sage on the stage' now makes all the difference. It's all pure-poetry now, and nimble memes exploit efficiency to dominate. 

Ha ha! 

Other authors in 2000 were referring to 'Inverting' the classroom. Yah, not so catchy. Try saying 'invert' out loud a few times, then say 'flip'. Now, which one gets a girlfriend?

The Wikipedia article pushes further back into the 1990s and Eric Mazur. Would the idea have ever bunny hopped up the fractal scale dimension without that long beginning?

Why pause the time machine there? Why stop with the internet? 

The difference between an interactive video and a textbook is only a matter of degrees.

If a 1960s teacher said 'read about calculus tonight in your book and tomorrow we'll use it to do something crazy', how is that not Flipped-Learning?

The internet just a really big book, on a continuum since some Sumerians got sick of counting sheep, grabbed a chisel and a rock, and composed one of the world's earliest web-pages.


Collective Brainwaves


So it's not that the idea is new, ain't nothing new, it's all just short shorts.

I'm just fascinated at the turn of events that lead to its fractal-jump in late 2010, from rumbling in the background to a edtech popculture icon.

You can have a great idea, but you can't force traction.


It's Fractal


When I say it's fractal I mean the meme jumped a level of magnitude in late 2010, early 2011. A google trends analysis on searches for the phrase 'flipped' seems to support this:


A Joke

Have you heard the joke:

Q: What's the difference between teacher-talk and a video?

A: At least you can turn a video off.

For this much we are grateful.

...to be continued. In Part 2, the meme spawns a child: "Flipped Bloom's"

Games, play, purity, idealism, and the messiness of life.

I wish to respond to three blog posts that have been playing in my mind for a week or two:

Adrian Camm – whose post concludes with a thoughtful open question ‘What am I missing’ [about why he's uneasy mashing gamng with schooling]

Dean Groom – bouncing of all his posts, really

Darcy Moore – asks  “If the education system was destroyed last night?

If you read all three you’ll see I’m responding to multiple common threads, and not least the idealist/utopic impulse which we all share. 

This post is one of those manifesto posts: a formulation of some tentative thoughts that have crossed a threshold of confidence for me. I wish I knew what they add up to, but I don't.

So here is where I’ve landed for now:


#1 Play is not play. Games are not games.

For the life of me, I can’t see any clear distinction between play/gaming and real life, except in matters of degree.

Play/gaming tends to be low-stakes. ‘Real life’, in contrast, is real because it is has high stakes. So we think of simulation of an environment versus the environment itself.

But for the life of me, where’s the faultline between the two? We say life is a game. “Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life” is the subtitle of a book.

In ‘game’-shows like ‘Deal or No Deal’ the participant has very real amounts of money on the table. Decisions in the moment have big real life consequences – regularly they lose $30,000, or gain it, in a heartbeat. Why is this a ‘game’ show? Why, then, simulation, and not ‘the real thing’? Obviously, it’s because they came with nothing to lose, with zero investment. It’s a fine line.

The baby in playpen, preschool children in a sandpit, a game of soccer, monopoly, exploring and building in Minecraft, questing in WoW, these are games, these are play.

Or are they? The baby is facing very real challenges caught up with fundamental capabilities of movement, agency, voice and the ability to be heard. Social strategies for how to get dad or mum’s attention launch a life of strategy and tactics, from tantrums (adult tantrums!) to persuasion, deliberate controversy to joining trends, to find a secure place in one’s social network.

A game, play, can be low-stakes, but it’s just a matter of degree. I can’t see a meaningful difference between a student creating a work of art in our Minecraft virtual world and a student fashioning a ‘real’ work in ‘real life’. Both took time, though, creative spirit, meaningful collaboration.

A teenager playing World of Warcraft is play? It’s a simulation? For so many reasons it’s more complicated than that. A stark aspect: gold mining is still a real industry. Poorer people from poorer nations work long hours earning virtual gold in games such as World of Warcraft, to sell the virtual currency to play-ers for ‘real’ money. http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/technology-blog/chinese-prisoners-forced-play-world-warcraft-money-guards-202425282.html

Play versus real life is a spectrum; a series of shades of grey, and I can’t see a point where any part of life is one but not the other.


#2 Real life is not real life.

 I am not a nihilist, relativist, a deconstructionist, but for the life of me, I can find precious few aspects of ‘reality’ that are hard-coded. Almost everything becomes soft-coded if I’m willing to face up to it.

Social lenses, cultural lenses, pet theories, moods, narratives; I find myself at the nexus of overlapping, sometimes competing, interpretive communities and social networks. Who am I? I have multiple frames for understanding this - all derived from social experience and soft-coded context.

Take any one of them. Let’s say: my school. Or your workplace. Or my family. Or your Twitter identity. Or my philosophy. Or your evaluation of your life’s worth, success or failure thus far and aspirations for coming years. 

All these are curated landscapes. They are technologies. They did not have to be so. They could have been otherwise. They could become otherwise.

They play by particular rules, are powered by particular interacting dynamics, have particular key agents/players, goal posts, pitfalls, sometimes taking the form of what I call ‘AWFULS’, that is to say THOU SHALT NOTs, the very definition of failure or antithesis of the happily ever after. Each curated space has its own HAPPILY EVER AFTER too, although the narrative evaporates the moment you reach THAT page, and quickly fades into the past as a new story begins.

The rules of the game: how to succeed, what to avoid, how to earn ‘gold’ (metaphor for a zillion currencies we pursue), moments of leveling up, and so on.

In our inner worlds and outer worlds, we move from curated space to curated space. These are mash ups of others’ frames and our own frames, and our own interpretations of others’ frames, influenced of course by others’ frames.

Where I end and you begin, the quantum leap between individual and collective, is impossible to tell. Am I a neuron in a social brain? A node in a network? A distributed processor? No, I scream, I am me!

Authentic me! The words ‘authentic’ and ‘me’ are of course English words. This happens to be the language of the society I was born into. I inherited these thinking blocks.

My notions of authenticity developed over the years through interactions, media, Home and Away, Chinese fortune crackers, preaching, and my first girlfriend, some potent advertising campaigns for deodorants and something to do with potty training…?

THE SYSTEM. The machine. Always run by faceless men or evil masterminds in our narratives. Logan’s Run, The Matrix, The Game, and countless texts in a genre that draws attention to reality-as-curated-system; the protagonists seeking to break out into 'reality'.

Curated: artificial, designed, man-made.

Freedom from, freedom to. Western, Eastern. Whatever your flavour: we created it ourselves. We are the curators. We made our own bed. Collectively.

School is a curated space. It plays by some pretty specific rules. Oh, sure, it gets mighty complicated, especially in High School. Different teachers, different expectations. Tests, surrogate skill-trees (sport/geek/rebel? Tank/mage/rogue?), blah blah.

How is this different to a game? And how does it matter, except by degrees? How is it different to the workplace, or family dynamics/politics, or the great game of public transport?

And don’t the kids know it? Don’t they adapt? Don’t they play it well? Me, the class clown, getting laughter-currency, attention-currency, with a specific strategy that earned me gold. The rebel, opting for the skill-tree that favours a particular social brand among peers over a particular social brand among adults. He hasn’t lost the game, he’s just chosen a class. His bitterness at being slammed by the hierarchy feeds into his pride and uniqueness of his own brand. Can't have everything. Choose a strategy and get good at it. 

I see this all the time: teenagers defining themselves by kicking out.


#3 The Real Difference Between Games and Reality

I can see two key element that do differentiate games from real life:

our own awareness of the artificiality of the curated system/environment.

our own sense of agency in re-writing the rules, re-designing the game. 

In other words, it’s all constructed, but we only call it a game when we recognise it as such and sense we have control over it. It’s the artifice, and deliberate purpose it implies, that makes it a game.

Is that why idealists like myself are so drawn to gaming, and so keen to apply the language of gaming to real life experiences?

I wonder if it relates to the disappointment I sense in Dean Groom’s writing at the grubbiness of non-gaming spaces, such as Twitter. He disdains the stage and self-promotion. This is a game none of us curated but are forced to reckon with. It appalls me that there is an art to being listened to. Yet there is an art to being listened to.  

Not playing is not a neutral choice… nor is playing without acknowledging playing. There is no strategy or mindset I can apply to real life that gives me an out-clause or a clean definition. Taking my bat and ball and living on a farm in peace for the rest of my days is no escape. Maybe that equates to depriving humanity of my needed services. 

Yet it’s not social currency that feels grubby. The recent Kony mob-outbreak aspires to purity but there is grubbiness in the crowd, and the movement is far from pure. The purity is bloody dangerous.

Life is far from pure.

The quest for purity is a basic human drive. We can’t escape it, but we emphasise it at our peril. It makes us judgmental, idealistic to a fault (such that we filter out what doesn’t fit, which is oppressive, suppresive, hostile to other-ness and blind to inherent contradictions).

It’s the impulse to utopia that drives idealists to games. The desire to start again, do better. To have agency in the game-design. To begin afresh with a new narrative, yes and new identities to boot.

Darcy Moore asks what would happen if the education system (read ‘game’ or constructed space) were to die.

Real life systems do indeed die, all the time. Call it a paradigm shift, or turning point, or revolution. From the French revolution to the demise of Borders and Kodak, the new system that arises in its place is never designed from scratch like a game. In real life, it is market systems, the collective we cannot help but be in, that topples powers and raises new ones. 

How I wish I could redesign the school-game!

It would be a second Eden. There’d be a skill path for everyone. No one would win at another’s expensive. All would have a space, a home, and chance to contribute and receive in good measure. Utopia, heaven, purity at last.

And that’s what grabs us in gaming. It’s a glimpse of agency to recreate the system. I saw it in our school Second Life island, ‘Booralie Island’, and again in our Minecraft space. Even movements like Woodstock, #occupywhatever, and even #teachmeet have the smack of ‘god-at-last’ to them.

These are magnets to edu-idealists. And no wonder we rankle at ‘gamification’, where the toy gets broken apart, the motor ripped out, then plugged into the Frankenstein to create a monster that makes us the monster. It makes fools of us all. 

Fool I would gladly be, hoping to co-curate a better game. Yet I am wary of idealism invoking the appetite for purity to a fault. I have to also navigate the intricate knot of the tangled games of real life over which I have little control. I've forced myself to run gamification workshops to confront these issues, stare them in the eye.

What is the difference between a power-up and a report-card? A degree of purity? The ability to unplug the computer and turn the game off? Meta-agency? Curation of one's own challenges? Oh that the universe were a Minecraft server running on my own PC. I want to confront this. I want the worlds to collide. I want to take teachers to the faultline with me. We can have a cup of tea together and embrace the awful disjunct with a sigh and a sip. I don't know what to do after that. 

Is this what Peter Garrett considered in leaving the purity of Midnight Oil for politics. He lost social currency for the move. And I am guessing, clarity.

I wish for myself brutal honesty in accepting unpleasant truths and inner contradictions. I can’t accept others more than I accept myself, and inner purity could only come at the expensive of editing you out, which I don’t want to do. . 

Dean’s most recent post went deeper and is a recurring theme for him: below all the layers, what do you stand for? Your personal values. Under all the games in my head I seek for them.

Not a second Eden. Not an escape. I wish to sail my ship forward through the mess with a rudder of ‘love’. That’s about as much clarity as I’ve got. 

Into the mystic river, then, tweeps?

Post Script:

Not my most articulate, I'm afraid, in this post. I can still see the problem, but don't know if others will get it or see it has any relevance at all. 

Echo, Narcissus, and schooling.

Bear with me, please.

I’ll start with myth, which I will define as the archetypical stories and collective schema that tend to cross all time, space and culture, and somehow collect and distil rock-bottom basic aspects of our experience of existence.

By ‘collective schema’ I mean that we share these myths around. ‘Superman’ is a myth. We all know the myth. Like many myths it explores what we are not, which creates a contrast for us with what we actually are. If you walk out of a ‘Superman’ film wishing you too could fly, you’re more keenly aware that you can’t fly. The myth accents your non-flying essence.

Our society is woven together with myths. Democracy is mythic, and so is money. They’re both a collective hallucination. Luckily, we all appear to be hallucinating simultaneously.

This morning I was exploring recent internet ‘memes’ – you know, those highly popular, repeated images, videos, emails & whatnot?

I landed on this sophisticated discussion of memes, which included a link to this tool for exploring the take up and repetition of key phrases in the media, such as “our entire economy is in danger”.


A meme might be a cat that plays the piano, or a political explanation that everyone adopts and repeats.

What if we thought of memes as neurons in the collective hive-mind? What is ‘Twitter’ if not a hive-mind? The shape of the twitter conversation seems to me not dissimilar to the shape of our own personal internal dialogue: contradictory, messy, replete with tensions, misinformation, fears, unwitting gaps, idealism, factoids and fun.

With a computer processing metaphor, we all replicate the conversation locally.

Think it through: you can’t have a thought that someone else hasn’t already had, because we think with language and symbols that have been inherited from our culture and communities of practice.

You know what a midlife crisis is, right? Well, you couldn’t have had that thought before 1970, and here is proof. Do you think ‘adolescence’ is a salient and useful term? I certainly do, but I would not have in 1800. Which is more discussed in our society, heaven or hell? Do you prefer to use the term global warming, or climate change? We are like lego builders with an inherited set of lego.

The rise of stress

Individuals are actually variations on a theme, rather than stand-alone universes. The melody of your mind is ever-so-close to the melody of mine. We play the same notes.

I am not sure that you and I are different people. We have words for ‘me’ and ‘you’ but are we not both participating in an extremely similar human experience, defined by a common cultural legacy and a shared collective consciousness?

You might imagine why the following discovery left my jaw dangling several inches from my face:

When I lift my right arm, there are a whole bunch of neurons that, statistically, fire together. Now, when I see you lift your right arm, a subset of those same neurons also fire together. These neurons are called ‘mirror neurons’ and they are threaded through our brains. This is one basis for empathy: it’s not just that I imaginatively put myself in your shoes to feel what you are feeling, it’s that I fundamentally understand you in terms of my own experience. And why not? Your experiences of doubt, joy, anticipation and regret are the same as mine. These experiences are mythic.

We are iterations of each other. We are cells in the same body.

At our most fulfilled and most actualised, we perceive this commonality. The sense of being caught up in something greater than ourselves is in fact the feeling of ‘coming home’.

In emergent behaviour of crowds, mobs, communities and cults there is always a fine line between the sane and insane. We want a checking-mechanism, where we retreat into individuality, and independently sort through and renegotiate the connection between what I stand for and what we stand for. Otherwise… well there’s the Nazis, Rwanda, that group that bullied you or that you bullied with, or that bullies you or that you bully with. It’s one and the same – collective brutality is as common as our own individual struggles.

So I am not saying I am a subset of the crowd. Rather, we exist individually, yet independently resonate. Imagine that! Imagine that, travelling all the way out here into individuality, then opening my eyes and finding you right here with me? Uncanny…

Now introduce the concept of ‘voice’ and ‘agency’ into our patchwork-quilt communities.

If I am a note in our collective chord, are you muffling me, or vice versa?

In the Greek myth of Echo and Narcissus, Echo’s voice is a facsimile of Narcissus’. Have you ever been in a relationship where you were the Echo to someone else’s Narcissus? It’s a scary insight when it comes. You’ve internalised the language of others about you and this language has become you.

“You’re a bit of a flirt, you know.”

“Why do you have to upstage everyone?”

“You’re ALWAYS late!”

Or the opposite “You’re going to go far!” (But I don’t want to go far!)  Or “You’ve gone quite far enough!” (But I want to go further. I want to be further.)

We get infected with a meme-virus. The infection comes from hearing portraits of ourselves in the words and reactions of others, and then our own psyche takes that self-simulation and co-opts it into the self-concept.

This means we construct each other.

If society is a shared hallucination then you and I are mini-tornadoes. To talk of ‘me’ in disconnection with my community is hopeless. I am nothing if not a Venn-diagram of overlapping discourses within which I am complicit, caught up, dependent and compelled.

Who do you Echo? For whom are you Narcissus?


I can’t get the myth out of my head because my wife has been studying Greek mythology and coughed it all up in this song. When she plays, each note has an echo, and I’m acutely aware that even in this blog post my every sentence is an echo of someone else’s clever thought. Life is one big mash-up!? The song captures the longing of the excluded. It is a beautiful work, if I do say so myself.

If you are a teacher, are your students the Echo to your Narcissus? If you keep your face can they also keep theirs? But that’s a baby-question – most (or many?) of us are aware of the damage and destruction our ego can do to the young ones in our care, right? We know that the great myth of TEACHER-POWER is destructive in its silencing of young voices.

In our society some have voice and some do not. Voice is currency. This is the ability to be heard. There is nothing worse than being voice-less. If you are voice-less you are less than Echo.

This is the power of the argument for the animal rights movement. A cow or a monkey cannot object. They can’t write a letter to the newspaper, they can’t negotiate, and they can’t pursue their case through the courts.

Hence the modern-myth "The Planet of the Apes" where we find ourselves in the same predicament. 

The passion aroused over the plight of refugees is the same in nature.

Oh, and then there is the plight of women over most of recorded history. Edited into non-existence, it appears.

When we deny individuals a voice, we are denying them participation and actualisation. If life is communal, and society is a symphony, voiceless individuals are the ‘rests’. We are all the poorer for it.

If you analyse schools with this apparatus, you get a game of ‘winners and losers’. Winners are Echo. Examinations are Echo-checking devices.

Schooling is a game, and it teaches young people how to win at the schooling game. Is the student who sits at the front of the class and Echoes the status quo really being actualised? Or is this one big exercise in complicity?

Went to school and I was very nervous,

No one knew me, no one knew me.

Hello teacher, tell me what’s my lesson?

Looked right through me, looked right through me.


This is no promotion of brutal individualism. The ability to resonate with others is crucial; to Echo them, resonate with them, and work with them to create something new. After all, I started by emphasising our collective consciousness, where we each Echo each other, and something amazing emerges.

So, the myth that I propose for the future of schooling, in unison with many others, is the myth of community. It works as well for young people as for adults.

It is the great return to the pre-industrial mode of existence. It is post-factory. Post-institution. Post-modern. Post-Christian. (But not post-Christ. Christ is post-Christian. If anyone was edupunk…).

At a recent Christian symposium on the future of education my colleague invoked some thoughtful silence by suggesting we need ‘anarchy’. He said this in reaction to a discussion that had taken hold on ‘accreditation’.

Accreditation, timetables, uniforms, bell times, standardised testing, examinations, rules, reports, syllabi, and a tribe of mini-kings called teachers.

As I type I am suddenly distracted by my distracting reference to Christianity. And then I thought: I might as well be talking about churches as about schools. It’s the same situation. I’ll leave that there.

What if school were a village?

Some had skills and could model them for others?

Some were great leaders?

Some were great supporters?

Some loved to live at the fringe, and were given space to live there, and celebrated for their wonderful fringe-ness?

Some sprinted. Some dawdled. Many did both, in rhythms and cadences that we’d all recognise as native to the breadth of the human journey?

A village of overlapping Echos?

I’m not sure you’d need payed individuals. I’m not sure there would be a distinction between staff and students. I’m not sure you could delineate the learning village from ‘the rest of life’ in a meaningful way or that it would start aged 5 or end aged 18, or be centrally located.

Or accredited. Or run from Monday to Friday.

How would structure arise in this situation? How would the ‘anarchy’ be anything other than ‘anarchy’?

My colleague proposed ‘anarchy’ as a relative juxtaposition in absolute terms. There is no such thing as anarchy! Birds fly in V shapes, and humans form quasi-neural networks like cells in a body.

We can't help it. You don't need to enforce it with bits of paper or Skinner boxes. 

The structure in a learning village will come from the same impulse that makes me say “SHHHHH” to the guy in the cinema who answers his mobile phone.

That’s how communities work.

Did you get your job on the strength of your HSC examination results? Or because you connected meaningfully and convincingly in your interview? It is a travesty that universities accept students on the strength of their ability to play the school game.

The only game in town is community, our only dream is belonging, and our only aspiration is participation.

That is my myth.

And to the extent that ‘schooling’ distorts it, I say schooling must go! Let’s close all schools next Monday, stop for a month and have a very honest think.

Then, with fear and trembling, let’s start from scratch with nothing sacred except

the ties that bind.


P.S. This sound too abstract? Check out Bianca Hewes, who is coming over all praxis with this stuff: http://biancahewes.wordpress.com/2011/06/11/this-is-my-classroom/ . We put the same mythic concepts into action at my school too, and I hope they spread like the best of all memes. 

Self, Work, People, Change, Space

Last term, in the process of pulling together the 'Effectiveness' training day, I decided that thriving as a teacher boils down to these five elements, and in each of the five we face dilemmas and contradictions. In each of the five there is insight and clarity to be had: a path forward through the forest. 

Below is a brain dump on them. I hope it sparks your own thinking. You might use the 5 headings as a way of gathering your own observations, insights and curiosity.

Oh and please if you're local to Sydney, come hang out with me on June 9 and we can explore them together!


Almost every challenge is a self-challenge. Our biggest limitations are our self limitations. Our self-conceptions, self-knowledge, self-acceptance, self-love, and so on, set the upper limit on all other development. For instance if a colleague or student really gets under your skin, the problem isn't with them, but with you. It simply gets projected outward onto what you perceive as reality. 

I remember going pale with shock at a certain moment when I realised how much my 'self' was constructed by concepts of who I was that OTHER people had, and that I had then internalised and taken at face value. Rewrite the script!


You have reports due Thursday, parent-teacher night tonight, three students you have to catch in the playground, a cheque requisition form to drop off at the office, two unplanned lessons, a conversation you have to have to with a colleague, a phone call to see a dentist, a stack of marking, and then when you glance up you realise there are 30 new unread emails! This is no caricature or hyperbole, is it? In fact I could go much further without exaggeration. 

How can we thrive in the complexity and chaos of school? How can we be creative when we only get the top 5% of our 'to do list' done?

I have felt so much better since I cracked this one with the GTD methodology. Once again I recommend How to Get Things Done by David Allen. It is a life saver. Or... come to my next workshop!


All work is people-work, especially at school. Students are people. Colleagues are people. We convince, inspire, neglect, insult, deride, undermine, praise, negotiate with, get permission from, give permission to, equip, resource, empower, assist, mentor, damage, save and enable each other. 

Picture a school as a network, focal points around optimists, pessimists, leaders, and gate keepers. Where do you fit on this map? What are you broadcasting? What are you known for? 

A helpful tool I find is the notion of 'social currency'. What is your currency? Is it high or low? 

How can you improve your currency? How can you use it to better shape your responsibilities? How can you use it to benefit others?


Well everything is changing. Society is changing. Traditional schooling is a dead duck, plain and simple. The model we grew up with, and see in films and in soap operas, is bankrupt. Schools that don't come to terms with this will not survive another 10 years. I suspect many schools will indeed go under, while new schools will be seeded with a much different charter and radically different structures.

Much resistance to change comes from the reality that we are confident experts of the old model, whereas much of the new model is still to be worked out. If a teacher has spent 5 or 10 years of their career perfecting techniques for 'getting control' of their class, they may be reluctant to embrace a model where 'control' is not even sought. 

It's not only starting from scratch, but it's going where no man has gone before. Yikes! 

But then, who said we had a choice?


I repeat this like an automaton now. I think these words are original, so yes you can quote me:

"Technology mediates relationships. Space mediates relationships. Technology is space." 

Gettit? Two people in a meadow. Their proximity allows them to hear each other and have a conversation. The space mediates the relationship. If they stand further away they can't hear each other, so no conversation, so no relationship. 

Ah, but if they use technology... such as smoke signals, or a telephone, then although they are not in the same physical space they are in the same virtual space. Technology is space. Technology creates space.

Furniture is technology and is also therefore space.

How does your classroom mediate relationships? The shape of your room is technology. The furniture is technology. The layout, centres of gravity, signs and decorations, doors and windows, are technology.

And yes of course the computers and internet are also technology, and are also therefore space. Does your class move through virtual space as well as physical? Do you help your students nurture a virtual persona? Do they publish online? Do they tweet? Do they Skype? Does each have a profile page representing their current learning? Do they answer questions from other students in other schools, and ask their own questions in turn?

Very tricky one, space. Whatever we do we mustn't take it at face value, or ignore it. Every decision about the physical space of the learning environment, from chairs to the internet, is laden with meaning and implications.