You are never too old…

So, I have a follow up to my last post about my foray into Making. Let’s return to the scene when I had gone back to the site of the first workshop I had fled, where I eventually tried my hand at Scratch and the cute, little Bee Bot. I previously mentioned that I spent some time just tinkering with the Bee Bot. I didn’t see any directions, but jumped in anyway and tried to figure it out. I did get some “peer to peer” mentoring from someone else who stopped by while I was exploring, and I was quite content to just play with figuring out how to program it to take different paths. It is a fairly simple robot, as far as robots go. It has four arrows on its’ back, in the four cardinal directions, with a “go” button in the center of those. From searching the internet, I found out that there are two more buttons, “clear” and “pause”, however, on the one I was using, those words were rubbed off, or it was an older version that had some other symbols instead of the words that were not intuitive to me. To program it, you touch an arrow the number of times you want it to go in that direction, building a sequence, and then press “go”.

There I was, on the floor, by myself, fairly happily trying to make it go in different directions and different shapes. In one of these iterations, I had it turn left and travel off the mat on which it normally runs, as I was working towards having it go in a square shape. At this point, one of the facilitators/presenters for the session walked by and noticed what I was doing. I am sure she had the best intentions of giving me more technical language about what I was doing when she commented “looks like you have a syntax error”, but the effect was to make me feel incompetent. It is pretty pathetic. I am a 46 year old woman, almost finished with my PhD, who has raised two amazing young women to adulthood, and taught elementary and middle school students for over a decade. I am a competent, relatively bright, and accomplished human being! However, I immediately shut down when someone told me, in a way that made me feel “dumb” that I had made an error with an educational toy designed for young children. So, once again, I packed up my belongings and left the room.

It has been interesting to reflect on my reaction. From the first, I felt vulnerable and uncomfortable with so many activities and materials in the room with which I was unfamiliar and inexperienced. Lame as it may sound, it did take an act of courage for me to come back and finally sit down and try some of these things by myself, not just watching others. And, I tried not just one, or two, but three new things that day. Yet, at the first sign of perceived judgment about my “failure” I felt terrible and left. I didn’t react that way when my “near peer” sat and offered suggestions to help me figure out how to “clear” the programs to make a new one, but when it was someone who was in more of a position of authority, I was shut down.

Lest you worry that it curbed my adventurousness, the universe generously offered me yet another Maker experience that day, creating the functional chair out of cardboard. This time, I didn’t even try to resist and claim the offered role of observer. Instead, I just laughed and accepted my fate and went and gathered materials.

I hope I remember the deeper lesson I learned that day – even when I am giving what I think might be helpful language or advice, if a learner does not want it, I might do more harm than good. And when someone is at the edge of their own boundaries, even if it might just be baby steps into something new, that is a vulnerable place and they need extra space and support. Lastly, even grownups, who are competent in lots of other ways, can be insecure learners in that space of trying something for the first time too.


What counts as conservation talk?

I am taking a break from writing about Cyberlab today, since I have been in a work retreat this past weekend and trying to move forward with my research project. I am getting ready to dive into data collection, and one of my methods includes a focus group composed of professionals in various fields and organizations that have some relationship to the conservation mission. The goal is for us to develop a rubric for what counts as conservation talk when you are watching family discourse at live animal exhibits.

With that in mind, I have been doing a lot of thinking and reading about conservation, what it means, how it is talked about, where it happens, what mission it carries, and what does it really mean to different public audiences in Free-Choice Learning settings. While doing so, I stumbled across Oregon Public Broadcasting’s “Think Out Loud” show about the value of Nature. Guest speakers were Michael Nelson (Professor of environmental ethics and philosophy at Oregon State University) and Cathy Macdonald (Oregon Director of conservation programs for the Nature Conservancy). They carried on a short but interesting conversation that added a whole new dimension to my thinking as I design a conservation message intervention for one of the activities my recruited families will go through.

The main discussion revolved around the intrinsic versus utilitarian value of nature, how such values align with the conservation message and which would be best used to deliver a resource conservation message to various audiences. Nelson is a co-author on a recent paper emphasizing the point that, when given the opportunity to express intrinsic value, people tend to really do it. The problem lies in cross-disciplinary confusion about what intrinsic value means; therefore, the professional conservation community is missing out when they do not incorporate an intrinsic value component to their framework of thinking.

I see both intrinsic and utilitarian values as equally useful tools in spreading the conservation message, but how do we accomplish that? Say in live animal exhibits such as the touch-tanks I will be doing my research on. Light bulb went on! I think I can have a most focused way to create a background for my rubric as I watch the families’ discourse and can classify what kinds of values they are expressing, intrinsic or utilitarian, and use that as baseline data for our focus group discussions. If adding intrinsic value to an animal is an indicator of some conservation awareness or a firm component of conservation mission, then we can’t disregard that kind of discourse during family interactions.

That brings me back to my dilemma now as to what kind of intervention to design so as to purposely expose participating families to a conservation message. Do I focus on the utilitarian aspects or intrinsic aspects or both? How can we combine it all within this rubric-creating exercise? Moreover, how can it all relate to the literature suggestion that experiencing live animals in exhibits generates a level of conservation awareness in visitors? I am sure the nature of qualitative work will help guide the phases of research based on the collected data itself. I am super excited to start putting all these thoughts into solid research activities to generate solid and novel tools to be used within the same research and to generate original results about what family conservation talk looks like in free-choice learning settings. That would add an exciting new dimension to what we already know about biological talk at touch-tanks by previous research from Shawn Rowe and Jim Kisiel, and add conservation talk to the body of knowledge out there. At least, I hope so.

What about you? Do you think that the conservation field can benefit from incorporating intrinsic value in their activities a little more and making it a solid component for their mission?


Ask and you shall receive….

So, after giving my colleagues a bit of a hard time because I have been the main contributor to the blog for that past few months, I somehow managed to forget to write a post last month (Sorry everyone!). Sigh… karma is a harsh mistress sometimes. I am in the thick of writing for my dissertation, which I somehow did not realize needed to be given to my committee quite so soon, and have been a bit distracted.

However, karma takes and she gives. I have had a couple of lovely moments of asking for what I want, and just flat out receiving it since I last wrote. I am a big proponent of the “just ask for what you want/need” philosophy and have attempted to pass this bit of wisdom on to my own children and those I have taught over the years. My attitude is that if you don’t ask, the answer is automatically “no”, so you might as well ask. On one level, you have nothing to lose, besides a bit of pride. Therefore, I encourage them to reach out to the world and make their wishes known. Otherwise, they are much less likely to get what help they need along the way.

My first recent example of asking had to do with the date for my PhD defense. As a student who does not live in, or even frequent, Corvallis, I tend to be out of the loop with how this whole grad student process works. I haven’t really seen others go through it, and am a bit lazy when it comes to digging around on websites. So, I decided to call my trusty friend Deb and ask her if there were any deadlines I should be paying attention to regarding graduating this spring. Turns out there was! If I want to walk in June, I should defend my dissertation by May 1. Oops- I really thought I had more time. However, May 1 is a lucky day in my world. It is the birthday of my life partner and best friend and happens to be one of my favorite holidays in the Celtic calendar- Beltane. So, I took a risk, emailed all 5 members of my committee and told them that was the day I hoped to have my defense. And by some small miracle, they are all available that one day! Yay!

My next example regards a conference I heard about last year, and wanted to attend, SXSWedu. It could be my Austin past, the whole SXSW industry has taken up a good part of the calendar there. However, it seems to be a conference that promotes a lot of exciting new things happening in education, particularly in my area of study- the Maker Movement, and (in one of life’s many ironies for a Luddite like myself) technology and social media. And I am still invested enough in being “cool” to want to attend this “cool” conference. I had vague ideas about submitting a proposal for this year’s event, but am not on the right listserves to hear about the appropriate deadlines, and missed that. I was still interested in attending, so checked into prices. However, the $450 early bird price was a bit of a shock, so I resigned myself to missing it again this year. Yet, within days, I had an email that some group (TES Global) was giving out free conference passes to educators who tweeted innovative things happening in their classrooms. Well, I am not actually teaching, so I tweeted a few photos from my research project, which does look exciting and innovative and techie, and I was lucky enough to get one of the passes. While I think they had lots to give out, and I don’t feel too special for having “won” one- I would not be going this year without it! I am very excited to go next week, and hope to make up for all of my missing blogs over the years while I am there! Keep your eyes peeled!

So my friends- just ask for what you want! Even if you are not sure you deserve it, you might just get it!