Some of you have heard me complain about how standards efforts, like the NGSS, are akin to rewriting users' manuals while believing that it's creating new operating systems for education. Suddenly, we have set aside the centuries-old operating system of the educational system and need to create a new one on the fly.
While this is very stressful and connected to a tragedy of epic and as yet uncertain proportions, it's also incredibly exciting. We have the opportunity (and responsibility) to make something new. It has the potential to repurpose the incredible human resources we have in the teaching force across the entire system, and to unshackle those of us who have felt constrained by the tyranny of course, calendar and clock.
It is a disturbance to the ecosystems of education that none of us have seen in our lifetimes, and we can learn lessons from how disturbances change ecosystem.
Seeing educational systems as ecosystems provides a raft of new insights about how the systems operate and how we might influence their evolution. Two inter-related aspects are the importance of initial conditions and first cover. “Initial conditions” refers to the status of the individual agents and the environment at the beginning of some process. “First cover” refers to the practices, species or agents that take root first after disturbance.
Disturbance in an ecosystem (by fire, for example) can reset initial conditions. After an area is denuded the first species to take root will often dominate the landscape (for a time) regardless of measures of efficiency of the species in the niche. Sometimes, in other words, it is not survival of the fittest, but rather survival of something that more or less fits but was there first. This is not meant to imply that competition is unimportant, but rather that species that move into a system first have strong competitive advantages over whatever may come along later.
In ecosystems and edusystems, competition plays out on multiple scales in both time and space. When change in a system is inhibited, this does not imply the absence of competition, rather it is an aspect of competition: “… no species necessarily has a competitive superiority over another. Whichever colonizes the site first holds it against all comers” (Connell and Slatyer 1977, p. 1138). A competitive advantage that comes from taking control first is hardly unique to ecosystems or educational systems. Gaining initial control is an advantage in ecosystems, edusystems, battlefields and basketball. But it doesn’t mean the game is over in any of those situations.
That moving in first is why I'm doing this session sort of on the fly - an initial condition I would like to help set is the consideration of what we do tomorrow and next week may have implications for years or decades to come. I don't claim to have durable solutions, but I want to plant the idea that the changes we make now should be made with an eye to long-term changes in the educational system.
That's some of what we'll talk about tonight. A little more info is here:
Grab a drink of your choice and join us for a whirlwind discussion of educational change drawing from understandings of ecosystems, innovations research, and the history of education.
These are days we will remember for the rest of our lives. Let’s get them right.
Of course, I'm flying by the seat of my pants and have never tried anything quite like this, so bear with me on any technical issues.
Cheers, and see you tonight, if you're so inclined,
Don Haas, Ph.D. (He, Him, His)
Director of Teacher Programming
The Paleontological Research Institution, its Museum of the Earth & Cayuga Nature Center
1259 Trumansburg Road • Ithaca, NY 14850 •
cell: (315) 790-8569
My job is to help Earth & environmental educators kick butt at their jobs. Here are some links related to how my colleagues and I are doing that: