Thursday, February 07, 2008

Integrative Learning

svg graphic (converted), public domain
"Integrative learning" may be all the buzz, but what does it mean in practice?

Physics teachers may like an energy-based approach, which might involve draining rechargeable batteries, then using a money model "in the same breath" i.e. battery = bank account with pennies like electrons, flowing in circuits.

The velocity of money then relates directly to "power" i.e. the rate at which energy is spent (E/t). Food energy, exchanged for money, recharges the body's "batteries" and so on. That food in turn goes back to photosynthetic processes, driven by solar fusion. So here we have physics, economics, chemistry and astronomy all getting integrative treatment.

The goal is to find analogies that work, versus those that mislead.

XML is another integrative concept, in that we're given a Document Object Model (DOM) and ways to control it (model-view-controller).

Thanks to advances in browser technology, the SVG standard (an XML) has also come a long way (see picture above). So whereas language class used to just feature Roman numbered outlines, maybe a few network-like diagrams (so-called "concept maps"), today we have full-fledged XHTML, MathML and semantic webs to play with.

The tools have improved. The challenge is to encourage schools to take advantage of them, and to bring students up to speed on their use. Multi-track editors are but the tip of the iceberg.

The purpose of a backbone curriculum is to guide teachers in designing their own lesson plans, not necessarily to directly provide front-line materials. Good schools give teachers time to brainstorm, to research, to collaborate with their peers.

Teachers best know their own students, will adapt curriculum segments to meet local needs. If they're then willing to contribute these lesson plans back to a searchable repository (some database, or the Web itself) so much the better.

This process occurs globally already, so it's not really a matter of "making it happen" so much as managing and leveraging it, better optimizing teachers' time and effectiveness, per some Principle of Least Action.

Strong analogies promote integrative learning and good coverage, opening doors into many disciplines.

Students will then choose to specialize, following their natural inclinations, but not because they've been coerced into pigeon holes and/or ruthlessly "tracked" too early in their careers. Their ability to adapt, to switch tracks, will have been amplified, thanks to our integrative approach.

Nobody wants to be railroaded into a blind alley or dead end. Integrative learning decreases the likelihood of that happening, to teachers as well.