DSM: An introduction and some questions...

From: rds1@ualberta.ca
Date: Sun Jan 20 2002 - 16:07:01 EST


Hi!

My name is Darren Stanley, and I am working on my PhD at the University of Alberta, Canada.
I am in the final year (I can only hope!) of my programme in the Dept. of Secondary
Education. Although (up until recently) I have been working with (mostly) other
mathematics educators, I have been sliding around a bit into other areas - mostly an area
referred to as Complexity Science (which sprang from catastrophe, chaos theory, systems
thinking, etc.), but also of late organizational theory. That is, I am interested in how
people come together to do the things that they (or others expect them to) do.

I am interested for the time being (at least in the context of my own research) in having
conversations with teachers, parents, and other adults who are in intimate contact or know
about SVS. This is not to say that I am not interested in speaking with others, e.g.,
current students under the age of 16. Alas, for me to conduct any research for my program,
I must pass an ethics review. To include things like interviews with individuals undre the
age of 16 only creates a ga-zillion more hurdles and in my humble opinion unnecessary
headaches (for me!). Of course, I think that (current or former) students over the age of
16 would not cause me much grief.

So on with a bit of an elaboration of what I am considering/wondering about...

Schools (no matter how onemight conceive of that concept) are complex organizations. They
unfold in various degrees of messiness and order, surprising moments and more predictable
routines, controlled action and more playful happenings. Typically, traditional schools
(in all that they might entail) are perceived and/or conceived of in terms of rigid
structures, overly-controlled, over-determined, predictable places. This, I think, is a
gross generalization and over-simplification of the phenomena of school experiences.
Nevertheless, I think that if someone were to conduct a phenomenological study of schools
and the experiences that people have, a reader would recognize it as the experiences of
going to and attending school.

Alas, I have had a most unremarkable educational life (until I started to do graduate
studies). Yes, I did learn "things", but those "things" were about discipline, authority,
control, following orders, as well as "subject matter" that presented the world to me as a
bunch of disconnected, isolated ideas/facts. Thank Goddess, I could grow to see things a
little differently. Learning does not have to be about any of these things at all.

Over the past year, I have continued to think about the nature of play and surprise as an
aspect of learning as it might happen at the level of an individual, a group, an
organization, a community, and so on. In other words, I am interested in how play and
surprise manifest themselves across various layers and levels of learning structures. I
wonder, for example, what play might mean for these learning structures? Play,
unfortunately, is typically understood as that thing which children do: it is not serious
stuff: and so on. Surprise, similarly, seems to have a common-sense understanding for
many. Surprises are those things that happen to us, and they are usually good or bad: we
try to minimize the bad surprises because they come as unexpected happenings that only
create havoc and chaos (in the non-mathematical sense of the word).

i think that play and surprise are fundamental aspects of all learning structures whether
at the level of an individual, a group, an organization, a community... However, i think
that particular conditions must be present for these things to happen. So here are some
questions:

* what conditions are necessary for a learning organization to unfold as a healthy,
adaptable, robust structure?

* how do such conditions get created?

* what is surprise?

* what is play?

* how do these two phenomena contribute to and shape the structure of a learning
organization (again, I mean this rather broadly as an individual, group, community,
organization, neighborhood, city, company, etc.)?

* is it possible to imagine traditional school structures operating in principle along the
same lines as SVS while "teaching" the same sorts of things that schools imagine themselves
teaching? That is, and let me be more specific, can "mathematics" (whatever that might
mean) be taught in more playful ways where surprises are embraced and encouraged? what
conditions would be necessary for such a thing to happen? what is a teacher doing? what are
students doing?

OK. I know that I will get some comments on coersion; however, if people don't have
experiences with learning mathematics in this way, can we imagine making the assumption
that students actually want to learn mathematics, and then take it from there...

So, I'll stop there...I've said way too much already, but I am hoping that there will be
some people interested in having this conversation with me.

Sincerely,

Darren Stanley
(rds1@ualberta.ca)

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