Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Skill Sets (a deviation)

I spent all of yesterday either on a 'plane or waiting to board a 'plane. Thumbs up to Montreal Airport which has five cockail bars ('hic). Mostly I read up on the pedagogy of science and mathematics. I'll blog a bit more on that tomorrow, when I've completed my notes but for the moment, a couple of things stood out.

First some context: when UK universities modularised (ie we now examine at the end of each semester, not at the end of three years) we were told that in order to justify the "level" of a module we had to show progression. Those of us in the arts said "..but progression in this subject simply means knowing lots and lots more so that you can use more and more evidence to analyse whatever you are looking at, and with practice, get better and better at applying exactly the same skills sets as you used in your first year".

We were told very firmly that maths and science had "skill levels" which related to "skill sets" and we had to emulate.

I wish I'd spoken to a few science teachers before accepting this codswallop. Reading science pedagogy, the one thing that is blindingly clear is that science teachers have just as much of a problem defining skill sets as those of us in the humanities, and for reasons that baby-Cyc made clear. What seems commonsense to teachers, is not necessarily commonsense to students. Links that seem obvious, may not be linked in the student's mind in the way the teacher expects.

From yesterday's reading I learned the following: science is susceptible to logic. It is not susceptible to reason.

By this I mean that if you know a fact or a theory you can work with it, and test it, until enough evidence arrives that it falls apart, and suggests a new workable theory which you can play with until it reaches its end game. But if you don't have the facts or the theories to play with, "Reason" (in the classical sense) tends to lead you into sensible, but incorrect conclusions. When you divide things into "skill sets" with an imposed sense of progression, you tend to promote "Reason". When you work on an approach of: "what do we need to play with what we have in front of us", skill sets overlap and produce a matrix of learning, not a hierarchy of learning, and (I think) promote logic.

This is the second time I've had it brought to my attention that historians (which is what I am by training) have a lot more in common with scientists than I have been brought up to believe.

I don't yet know how to apply any of this to children's science fiction: I'm not seeing a lot of play with theory and ideas. At the moment the only children's sf writer who comes close to what the science pedagogists seem to be arguing for, is William Sleator. Strange Attractors (1989), plays with the idea of the universe as an unstable place, and numbers as weapons. it depends absolutely on logic, rather than reason. Reason (as I remember, I don't have the book to hand) lands the hero in hot water.


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