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Book Notes & Thoughts: The Sciences of the Artificial, by Herbert Simon

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The Sciences of the Artificial, First Edition, by Herbert A. Simon

This book has been on my reading list for a long time. I started keeping a reading list in Evernote when I started graduate school. I’m making progress!

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Now that I have focused my dissertation topic on looking at instructional leadership through the lens of design, which builds on my advisor’s framework of education as design for learning, Simon’s book is usually cited as the foundation for design as a separate endeavor from the natural sciences.

To my delight, this book was wonderful to read – straightforward language, clear logical arguments – not like most of the older texts I have picked up! It was originally a series of lectures, so I could almost hear it as I read, thinking of how he is making his point to the audience.

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Spring Writing Group & Semester Goals

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For the next 12 weeks, I’m meeting weekly with a group of graduate students to work through this book by Wendy Belcher. The book walks you through – day by day, week by week – developing a publishable paper from something you have already started. I’ll be working on the social network analysis proposal that I had accepted to AERA, the American Educational Research Association conference in New York this spring.

Our writing group started meeting last summer and fall as many of us transitioned out of coursework and into the pre-dissertation abyss. I struggled to structure my time, I didn’t have the intellectual stimulation of hearing about other people’s work, and I needed the informal but practical information from others about committee members, deadlines, credit registration, etc. So we started meeting every Thursday afternoon. This became a time to both connect and work together. I have blocked it off on my schedule and look forward to it every week. (One colleague and I also started another group across campus on Wednesday afternoons!)

That said, I needed a little something more than just showing up to write together. I wanted accountability to getting work done and a sense that we were all working on something together (though on separate tasks, obviously). I heard about this book and had the idea to use this with our writing group and AERA papers, which I knew I wanted to turn into a journal article. I started floating the idea to a few others, and pretty soon we had a group of 7 graduate students interested.

Generally, we’re planning to structure the time as follows:

  • 12:30-1:30: informal checkins, lunch, workshop ideas
  • 1:30-2:30: debrief the previous week, I’ll preview the coming week
  • 2:30-onward: write

I think what I am most excited about for her book is that she emphasizes doing a little every day. I tend to want 5 hours to work on writing tasks, which doesn’t usually happen with lots of meetings, commutes, and small children! This spring I’m committing to writing in shorter chunks of time and working on more writing projects at a time.

Her website also has a lot of the forms that you might need, and I also created this spreadsheet that has the topic for each day and allows you to print a weekly schedule.

My goals for this semester, May 15th:

  • Physical spaces paper is accepted to a journal
  • Social network analysis paper is submitted to a journal
  • Dissertation proposal drafted
  • PiPNIC how to guide written
  • 6 blog posts

Other big conferences and tasks this spring:

  • Presenting a session and poster at the Carnegie Summit in San Francisco in April
  • Presenting a paper at the annual AERA conference in New York
  • *hopefully* Presenting a paper and participating in a symposium and doctoral consortium at ICLS (International Conference of the Learning Sciences) in London in June
  • Working on formative assessment rubrics for personalized learning (IES and Joyce Foundation grant work)

I’m thankful for lots of good work to do and good people to do it with!

 

Book Notes & Thoughts: Organizing Locally, by Bruce Fuller

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Organizing Locally: How the New Decentralists Improve Education, Health Care, and Trade, by Bruce Fuller.

It’s been a full semester since my last post though I have certainly done a lot of reading in that time! My desk, nightstand, and bookshelves are perpetually stacked with library books or cheap used paperbacks from Amazon that I intend to read. And while I do read (or “Harvard“) most of them, I always intend to blog about them, but I don’t.

This first week back at work in my office, I sketched out my spring writing syllabus, made my plan for using Wendy Belcher’s “Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks” with my writing group, and stacked up six books I intend to read this semester. It all feels very productive – good new year kind of stuff.

My goal is to blog about 6 books this semester, and as part of that, to remind myself that these blog posts are NOTES and THOUGHTS. Mostly they include quotes I like or want to remember, thoughts or reflections that come up in the moment.They are not reviews, arguments, or critiques. This is my commonplace book in the cloud. One of Belcher’s strategies, if you are struggling to start writing, is to write down quotes from someone else. So I’m trying to put my blogging at the beginning of the semester – a way to warm up my fingers for typing the many things I need to write this spring!

With that, here are my notes and thoughts from reading Organizing Locally…

 

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Book Notes & Thoughts: An Elusive Science, by Ellen Condliffe Lagemann

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Every time I go to a conference, I try to bring a book to read, usually one that has been sitting on my shelf waiting for me. The book fills those little in-between moments of travel waiting in line or on the plane, downtime after sessions finish, or in the quiet time before bed when there are no children to be tucked in. This time it was An Elusive Science: The Troubling History of Education Research, by Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, former Harvard GSE dean and current research professor at Bard College. This was a nice follow up to reading and blogging about Reese’s history of K-12 schools, as that provided the context for Lagemann’s history of what was happening in research. As I become a member of this research community, this book gave me the historical perspective of my field.

My advisor, Rich Halverson, and Erica Halverson quote Lagemann in their chapter in the Sage Handbook, Education as Design for Learning, A Model for Integrating Education Inquiry Across Research Traditions. This was one of the foundation articles in how I think about education research. They draw on Lagemann to understand the foundations of educational research. As I try to formulate my own schema for situating design, improvement & innovation, and educational research & development, I wanted to understand the history of the field.

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From Consumer to Producer

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This summer I’ve started doing podcast interviews for the New Books Network. I just produced my first interview with Jim Rickabaugh of the Institute for Personalized Learning. I’ve worked with Jim for the last 3 years on our research project, so this was a natural way to start. Now I’m starting to line up more fabulous academics that I want to talk to. I listen to more and more podcasts, and it’s pretty exciting, though not without apprehension, to make this switch.

Educators are increasingly asking students to find authentic audiences for their work. As I sat preparing for Jim’s interview, I was nervous, unsure of some of the details, frustrated that some of the logistics of the audio recording studio didn’t work, and knew that I’d have to listen to my own voice on the recording! But, I knew that I would enjoy talking to Jim, the interview itself would be meaningful to others, that doing it would improve my interviewing skills, and that it is a good way for me to connect with scholars in my field.

In other words, there was interest, meaning, and personal value in my learning. I read about interest-based learning (like Brigid Barron or Nichole Pinkard), Connected Learning (Mimi Ito), and participatory cultures (Henry Jenkins), and now I’m doing it!

Book Notes & Thoughts: America’s Public Schools, by William Reese

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America’s Public Schools: From the Common School to “No Child Left Behind,” by William J. Reese, 2011.

I subscribe to Larry Cuban’s blog, which means I get an email every few days with his historian perspective on new initiatives like Personalized Learning or Coding for All. As I work on my research to understand how change does (or does not) happen in education, I felt like some historical context might provide perspective on the conversations I am having today.

William Reese is a professor here at UW-Madison in Education Policy Studies and History, though I’ve not had the opportunity to take a class with him. I had previously read Pillars of the Republic, by Karl Kaestle and Shopping Mall High School, by Powell Farrar and Cohen, but I was particularly interested in this book about the more recent times of NCLB. Nonetheless, I learned much about the progressive era, Dewey, curriculum, urban vs. rural schools, and the wrestling of a common goal for public schools. One of the key trends that was new to me was the consistent assumption that held up urban schools as the ideal and rural schools as backwards. This is written as the dominant narrative of public schools, with some attention paid to integration orders after Brown v. Board and the different experiences of non-white and poor students in schools.

p. 13-14. “School-houses and churches are the true symbols of New England civilization, as temples, pyramids and mausoleums were the symbols of ancient civilizations,’ declared a college professor at mid[19th-]century…. Schools, he said, were not like clocks, once wound ticking of their own accord; someone needed to operate and guide them. Moreover, ‘no reform is carried in the State or the world without a reformer. Improvements originate with original minds, and are usually presented to the people by interested advocates.”

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Book Notes & Thoughts: The Making of Pro-Life Activists, by Ziad Munson

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This book might seem out of my general topic area, but after hearing Hahrie Han speak at the Carnegie Summit last year (in which she mentioned this book) and reading her book about organizing social movements, I wanted to dig a little deeper into how social movements mobilize and sustain their work.

Bryk, Gomez, & Grunow’s 2011 paper Getting Ideas into Action is probably THE foundational piece of my graduate school inquiries (and likely the rest of my career). They describe improvement science in networked improvement communities as sustained, collective action. This is a phrase that I continue to circle and turn over. I like the pragmatic focus of understanding why people to do what they do, particularly things that have collective momentum and/or impact, but I also see how difficult this is. We have such a deeply held belief that “the more you know” will make change, but over and over again, we find that people have their own minds and act in unpredictable ways.

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