interactive book club reading response: week 4

3 highlights from the #diversityp5js reading this week (chapter 5 & 6)

for the past four weeks, i’ve been a part of an interactive book club that’s a project of the p5js diversity initiative, hosted by the princeton council on science and technology. there are response questions each week (here they are for week 4) and people are invited to respond however makes sense to them, including with code or words. i wanted to do some code as my responses (and for the first week i did (see screenshot below)!) but i’m too slow and didn’t have the right tools to keep up with coding each week on top of the reading and everything else i have to do in life lol.

one of my coding exercises from week 1 of the book club - an illustration of one of the conceptual models of power

so, this week i decided to just write a response since i write everyday anyways. a few weeks ago eliza struthers-jobin also wrote as her response and it was excellent so i’m doing the same now.

note: i don’t generally edit my morning writing because it just takes too much time so sorry in advance for any typos, grammatical errors, etc. anyways…

this book is so good and has so many powerful insights that i really struggled with deciding which parts to pull out and write about. i knew i had to decide, though, because otherwise i’d be writing all day (which may be pleasant, but irresponsible). i picked three points just based on intuition when i went back through my notes. it is what it is, ya know?

“New knowledge often contradicts the old, and effective learning requires strategies to deal with such conflict. Sometimes the conflicting pieces of knowledge can be reconciled, sometimes one or the other must be abandoned, and sometimes the two can both be “kept around” if safely maintained in separate mental compartments.” — chapter 5, p. 121

this quote is prime example of the fact that the title of this book is so inadequate to describe the depths of knowledge inside it. pedagogical gems like this one are frequent and regularly alter my thinking about learning.

these particular sentences resonated for me because of my training in storybased strategy from the center for storybased strategy. a fundamental belief that sbs holds is that the most significant the barriers to change in people aren’t what they don’t know yet, it’s what they know already. what they know always rejects new information that disconfirms their existing beliefs. getting through this barrier is difficult and necessary for people to change their minds about anything. i wish more justice-oriented folks understood this reality. if we did, we’d stop putting so much money into goddamn reports.

We have presented microworlds as a response to a pedagogical problem that arises from the structure of knowledge” the problem of prerequisites. But microworlds are a response to another sort of problem as well, one that is not embedded in knowledge but in the individual. The problem has to do with finding a context for the construction of “wrong” (or, rather, “transitional”) theories. All of us learn by constructing, exploring, and theory building, but most of the theory building on which we cut our teeth resulted in theories we would have to give up later. As preconservationist children, we learned how to build and use theories only because we were allowed to hold “deviant” views about quantities for many years. Children do not follow a learning path that goes from one “true position” to another, more advanced “true position.” Their natural learning paths include “false theories” that teach as much about theory building as true ones. But in school false theories are no longer tolerated.

Our educational system rejects the “false theories” of children, thereby rejecting the way children really learn. And it also rejects discoveries that point to the importance of the false-theory learning path. Piaget has shown that children hold false theories as a necessary part of the process of learning to think. The unorthodox theories of young children are not deficiencies or cognitive gaps, they serve as ways of flexing cognitive muscles, of developing and working through the necessary skills needed for more orthodox theorizing. — chapter 5, 132-133

before reading this book, i had never thought about the importance of these false theories to the learning process. i’ve had plenty of those “do you remember when we thought…” conversations with friends. they’re fun and funny, for sure, but i had never connected those incorrect theories as being critical to the learning process. epic.

Everyone knows the unpleasant feeling evoked by running into a counterintuitive phenomenon where we are forced, by observation or by reason, to acknowledge that reality does not fit our expectations. Many people have this feeling when faced with the perpetual motion of a Newtonian particle, with the way a rudder turns a boat, or with the strange behavior of a toy gyroscope. In all these cases intuition seems to betray us. Sometimes there is a simple “fix”; we see that we made a superficial mistake. But the interesting cases are those where the conflict remains obstinately in place however much we ponder the problem. These are the cases where we are tempted to conclude that “intuition cannot be trusted.” In these situations we need to improve our intuition, to debug it, but the pressure on us is to abandon intuition and rely on equations instead. Usually when a student in this plight goes to the physics teacher saying, “I think the gyroscope should fall instead of standing upright,” the teacher responds by writing an equation to prove that the thing stands upright. But that is not what the student needed. He already knew that it would stay upright, and this knowledge hurt by conflicting with intuition. By proving that it will stand upright the teacher rubs salt in the wound but does nothing to heal it. What the student needs is something quite different: better understanding of himself, not of the gyroscope. He wants to know why his intuition gave him a wrong expectation. He needs to know how to work on his intuitions in order to change them. — chapter 6, p. 144

this general point is made all over chapter: when intuition turns out to be false, often what happens in school is that we learn not to trust our intuition. in actuality, what we should learn how to do is upgrade our intuition. i don’t know what else there is to say about this other than “hell yes!”

until next week…

words / writing / post-processing
364w / 16min / 10min