The new LEA project has reached its first critical juncture. Documents are there, pared, and shared; notecard invitations to group collaboration passed about liberally; tools for communicating on site have been deployed. Land is claimed, and
…a few rough sketches now dot the landscape or hang in mid-air, waiting for what comes next: the one question which must be answered before much else happens…
What is our objective?
At the beginning of each year as a science teacher I evaluated my classroom curriculum, rearranged topics and re-prioritized lessons; I shuffled the deck. Often a science department, district committee, or state board would hand down a new set of curriculum guidelines. This usually meant simply identifying what items in the new list I was already addressing.
Nothing to see here, folks; move along.
But then, every few years, the federal government, scientific and—let’s face it—corporate communities decide to crumple up the old list, toss it in a basket, and start from scratch. With the release of new science education standards in April, the National Academies of Science have endorsed a new deal.
They’ve called for a new deck.
I have typically been pleased to see the changes in focus, the new language for science learning that comes with new national standards or guidelines. This round is no exception.
It is worth mention that these new standards are not a mandate, are not supported by all states. Many states will never recognize their merit, and others will take years to implement through adoption and articulation. With science education curriculum guidelines, there actually is no such thing as a national standard. That is just what some of us call them, out of convenience.
I also know that where the rubber hits the road is in each teacher, department, or curriculum committee’s interpretation of such standards. Every lesson is one person’s spin on what was prescribed. This applies to content providers, too. Folks who make textbooks, for example, are jumping on these standards like they are putting out a fire. I have seen it. And, different users interpret standards differently.
This also applies to the design of The Virtual Cell. Where we go with this new compass we have been given is up to us. What we do with the full region granted for this demonstration follows from our own interpretation of those same standards.
The discussion has begun regarding how to address standards, how to provide support for classroom instruction that is targeted and effective yet still wide-ranging in its application. After all, “if it doesn’t address my state’s guidelines, I cannot use it”.
Yet, one size will never fit all. While chatting at a recent conference exhibit of an activity for new users, one educator observed that there should be more notecards (with instructions). I had heard this same comment once already, just before the event. Later, the next day, another visitor observed “there are too many notecards.” I just heard that very same comment again, for the very same design, yesterday.
They are all correct, of course. There are too many notecards, and…we need more notecards. It should be black; and, it really should be white. You just have to “remember who your audience is.”
To emphasize a point and begin making the case for a particular design approach, I must mangle a maxim:
You can please all of the people with some of the content.
You can please some of the people with all of the content.
But, you can never please all of the people with all of the content.
With three months to build an interactive, standards-based, highly engaging and interesting activity—with three months to make upwards of three to five hundred lesser decisions (best guess, conservatively)—with three months to organize a collaborative team willing to offer their work free of charge in the interest of helping to further demonstrate that virtual worlds really do have a place in the classroom…this issue needs to be resolved quickly.
A number of performance indicators in the new standards are obviously ripe for a virtual world experience teaching about the cell. And, it is just as obvious that one could quickly bite off more than one can chew, if you look at the list. With three months to build, the question becomes “What might we achieve?”
But, to digress for a moment, what we might achieve depends on who is pitching in…even if only offering 2¢. For this project to reach its potential, if the build even begins to approach what I try to imagine, any number of experienced—dare I say, expert—content creators will have played their hand.
- a wizard has conjured a vehicle,
- several members of one group of biologists have expressed an interest,
- a SecondLife™ entrepreneur has offered to make introductions to various said experts, and
- a fantastical feline has been purring about some pretty proper prims.
So, to table the “standards” conversation for a moment, I’ll ask an even more practical question. It looks like it’s my deal…