Start Where You Are: Effecting Change Toward Knowledge Age Classrooms
Katerine Bielaczyc, Learning Sciences Laboratory, National Institute of Education, & John Ow, Innova Primary School, Singapore
Many of the world’s education systems seek to develop schools that support the Knowledge Age. As new models for such classroom learning environments become established, policymakers and other educational stakeholders typically push to take such innovations to scale and/or the innovations gain a grass-roots popularity leading to local adoptions. All too often such moves are followed by declarations that the innovative approaches appear to only work in the researchers’ classrooms or can only take root in limited number of specialized settings --- leaving little hope for needed change in the majority of the classrooms within an educational system. Our research seeks to develop an understanding of how to go beyond specialized settings, to allow classrooms to start where they are, and effect substantial changes toward creating Knowledge Age classrooms.
We ground our work in a specific model for Knowledge Age classrooms, the Knowledge Building Community (KBC) model of Scardamalia and Bereiter (1991; 1994; Bereiter, 2002; Scardamalia, 2001; 2002; 2004). Creating a KBC classroom typically involves shifting students from more traditional classrooms focused on individual learning to classrooms where the emphasis is on progressive improvement of ideas toward collective goals of understanding --- akin to knowledge creation communities (Bielaczyc & Collins, 2006). In an attempt to avoid “lethal mutations” (Brown & Campione, 1996) of the KBC model, we have been investigating a transitional approach grounded in principle-based mechanisms that seek to overcome the shortcomings of transitional approaches that attempt to break a model into component parts to be implemented or those that conceive of the transition process as a need to replicate the elements of successful classroom implementations (thus failing to create a dialogic process at each new site).
The project we describe, Ideas First, examines the cultivation of a KBC model over 3.5 years in the Primary 3 and 4 science classrooms of a Singaporean school. In the proposed paper, we specifically discuss design issues relating to two specific challenges: (1) Shifting epistemologies: helping teachers and students conceptualize knowledge and learning in new ways (e.g., Bielaczyc & Blake, 2006; Bielaczyc & Blake, in preparation) and (2) Process end goals: the fact that the end goal of the change is not a state, but rather a process (akin to the adage that “it is always a journey, and never a destination”).