July 2015: My Reading

Two weeks of holidays certainly provided time for more books this month than last. I continue to enjoy the pleasures of rereading and science fiction, as well as some light but thoughtful travel books and tomes exploring historical wisdom on how to live – and win elections!

High Possibility Classrooms

Dr Jane Hunter has written a very, very good book for education students, teachers and academics interested in pedagogy and technology. Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms* is engaging and warmly written. The author, “an early-career researcher”, creates very detailed thumbnail sketches of the teachers she worked with in the classroom and illustrates their particular professional contexts with great humanity. One has the feeling that both the research and the book have been an absolutely genuine labour of love for Dr Hunter.

Why another book on technology integration? Dr Hunter answers her own question as follows:

Many texts offer suggestions on why laptops make a difference, or how teaching in a digital age must be done and why creative, technology-enhanced classrooms are better than those that don’t have all the bells n’ whistles. Most suggest ways for teachers to use technology to engage students. Only a scant few are grounded in a robust theoretical framework, and probably of those technology integration models that are celebrated, it is TPACK, or the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge framework developed by Mishra and Koehler (2006), that is the most well known. This book is different because I offer a new model known as High Possibility Classrooms , or HPC, for technology integration in learning and teaching in schools. Its origin stems from research in a doctoral study of exemplary school teachers’ knowledge of technology integration. Analysis of data from the teachers’ classrooms was developed into a series of case studies of early years, elementary, middle and high school classrooms. Each carefully constructed case study details how the teachers conceptualised their knowledge of technology integration and what is fresh in their approaches, and includes what the students in the classrooms thought about being learners in such spaces.

I applaud the idea of encouraging ‘high possibility classrooms’ and know that most teachers really want to make the opportunities provided in their classrooms something special as often as possible. This kind of language is understandable to all and anyone, parent or grandparent, would want their children or grandchildren in the classrooms of teachers who create such environments.

The book is worth having just for the bibliography but the case studies that take us into Gabby, Gina, Nina and Kitty‘s classrooms (with theory in mind) are the best parts. I especially enjoyed learning about Gabby’s infants classroom. It was wonderful to read about a teacher’s philosophy that emphasised the importance of flow’ and more of us need to recognise how essential it is for students (and the teacher) to be in the moment. The other comment from the teacher in this first case study that resounded was her notions of ‘unfinishedness’. Learning is messy and in an era of standardisation it is important to recognise that not every activity results in a completed product. My own children were lucky to have an imaginative, creative kindergarten teacher who incorporated theatre and performance but in a very low-tech manner. Gabby’s classroom, with her use of technology for recording and presenting, would help students to achieve really high standards. It was easy to imagine the children examining the video footage of their performances discussing collaboratively how they could improve. It is also great to sense that the celebration and joy of their creativity comes across as more important. This chapter should be read by all those lighting the fires of imagination in 5-7 year olds.

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I encourage educators to consider buying the book after checking out the first 24 pages here. My pre-service teachers will certainly find it useful for their next assignment in both a theoretical and practical sense. I hope they read it!

* I requested a review copy from the author after hearing the book was launched this year and explored a range of edtech integration models, including SAMR.

The Game of Life

There’s always a self-help section in the local bookstore but recently I’ve noticed that ancient authors and classic texts are being raided for jewels of wisdom. You can read these ‘wisdom of the classics’ like books to find out about what Plato or Aristotle, Confucius or Marcus Aurelius may have thought about ensuring happiness, long-life or avoiding gout. They must be selling well but I tend to just browse in the bookstore to glean some pearls rather than part with cash.

He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Having said all of this, I was happy to order a copy of The Wonderbox: Curious Histories of How to Live by Roman Kryznaric via booko.com.au after stumbling across a review. It is a very readable book about ‘how we should live’ – although occasionally the authorial presence is a little clunky – with many fascinating historical references that had me bending back pages as I read it in the sun after mornings spent snorkelling. The book is now a little worse for wear. My highlights included:

  • Adam Smith‘s empathy and his book that predates The Wealth of Nations, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
  • ‘annihilation of space and time’ by the telegraph and Morse code
  • the development of consumer culture
  • the nature of work
  • domestic life and gender roles

How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians by Quintus Tullius Cicero is the book I enjoyed most this month. This two thousand year old tract, by the brother of the famous Roman orator, Cicero, is an absolute treasure. Written to Cicero as advice about the upcoming consular elections in 64 BC, it feels very fresh and frighteningly familiar. Some of his advice includes:

  • diligently cultivate relationships with men of privilege. Both you and your friends should work to convince them that you have always been a traditionalist. Never let them think you are a populist.
  • a candidate must be a chameleon, adapting to each person he meets, changing his expression and speech as necessary.
  • if you break a promise, the outcome is uncertain and the number of people affected is small. But if you refuse to make a promise, the result is certain and produces immediate anger in a larger number of voters. Most of those who ask for your help will never actually need it. Thus it is better to have a few people in the Forum disappointed when you let them down than have a mob outside your home when you refuse to promise them what they want.
  • remind them of what scoundrels your opponents are and to smear these men at every opportunity with the crimes, sexual scandals, and corruption they have brought on themselves.

You will be please to know that Cicero won the election. You can listen to an interview with the translator here.

Philip K. Dick

Back in the 1990s, I read many of Philip K. Dick’s novels and short stories. He was very prolific, considering he died in his fifties, so there’s plenty more for me to read. I had focused largely on his later books and those adapted for the big screen rather than the pulp sci-fi he pumped out at an unbelievable pace in the late 50s and 60s.

The Man in the High Castle (1962) was the only book I read from this early period and it was always my favourite of his novels. When I heard that it was being adapted for television by Amazon my expectations were very low but the pilot, although quite different from the novel, was surprising good and led me to reread it. It seems, and I do not know of anything earlier, that Dicks established the genre of alternate history with this exploration of America ruled by the victors of WWII, the Japanese and Germans.

I read Martian Time-slip and Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said in quick succession. The latter is archetypal Dick – distorted realities, forgeries, loss of identity, paranoia, genetic engineering, totalitarian rule, philosophic musings aplenty – and prime for film adaptation. The resolution, unfortunately, is weak. The former, I would never have read except it is listed at this site as the blogger’s favourite PKD novel. I am really glad I read it, although I would not rank it that highly. It is quite a gem and has enthused me to read some more of PKD’s early ‘pulp sci-fi’.

Philip K. Dick: In His Own Words by Gregg Rickman is really readable. It is also difficult to find and I thank the staff of Kiama library for tracking this down and organising an inter-library loan. Rickman interviewed PKD, at great length, just prior to his death. The author had been impressed with Rickman’s essay detailing the evolution of his writing and felt his legacy would be well-represented by such interviews. There’s many interesting insights into Dick’s thinking about his writing, politics, reality and some amusing thoughts about the film, Bladerunner. Dick refused to write a new version of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, renamed to reflect the title of the film, for publication at the time of release forgoing a huge amount of money. This must have been a temptation but he just couldn’t stomach the idea. I found it interesting to see the original names of Dick’s novels (as they were often changed by his publisher). The nature of publishing sci-fi in the 1950s and 60s is also a theme throughout the interviews.

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Hemingway and The French

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway is absolutely worth reading (and it approaches being a century since publication). On the train each morning to work I felt transported, completely immersed in 1920s France and Spain from an American perspective. I haven’t read much Hemingway other than his short stories and The Old Man and the Sea probably due to the whole macho big game fisher/hunter image that I associated with the writer.

This novel, which Hemingway always felt to be his most important, is what a reader wants from a book. I was completely in the world of a work of art true to its own laws and rhythms. I will now visit some of his other novels such was my enjoyment of this one.

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Oh, I thought Anthony Catanzariti likely to enjoy these images of Hemingway. 😉

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One of the modern French words for an intellectual is clerc (a member of the clergy), and the positions held by an intellectual have been consistently defined through concepts such as faith, commitment, heresy and deliverance.

There is also the association, in the French republican tradition, of the idea of citizenship with learning: the philosopher Condorcet wrote that the ‘first duty of society towards its citizens is public education’.

How the French Think: An Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People by Sudhir Hazareesingh is a mixed read. I really enjoyed the opening of the book but found myself becoming bored with explorations of the occult that seemed to just go on an on. Despite that I finished the book and felt it worth reading, if only as I am generally interested in learning more about French culture, history and politics (more on this in my August reading post). As an aside, the first time I was in Paris, August 1994, it seemed such a comfortable place to spend time aimlessly. Considering my French was non-existent, I felt totally at home and had several weeks exploring and reading meeting, quite a few Parisians, as well as other travellers who taught me a great deal. I stayed in a Vietnamese student hostel and prior to this, had not really thought about French colonialism at all other than cursorily when studying the Vietnam, or American War.

There’s something quite intangible about the French I admire and I was hoping Hazareesingh’s book would help me understand more deeply. The controversial Michel Houellebecq would probably be the author that I am most enthusiastic to read his latest novel the moment it is translated. Atomised, although aspects of the content are very challenging, was a revelation. He touches topics that need exploration that others haven’t even the courage to think about let alone publish on. In a political sense, I still remember applauding French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin’s speech in the United Nations in New York on whether to sanction the use of force against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq (2003):

Villepin declared – prophetically – that a war against the Iraqi regime would have catastrophic consequences for the region’s stability: ‘The option of war may appear a priori the most effective. But let us not forget that, after winning the war, peace has to be built.’ Stressing that ‘the use of force [was] not justified,’ he ended by expressing his faith in the capacity of the international community to build a more harmonious world: ‘We are the guardians of an ideal, the guardians of a conscience. The heavy responsibility and the immense honour which is ours should lead us to give priority to peaceful disarmament. ‘Villepin’s speech was welcomed across the world, typifying as it did a shared collective aspiration for a different kind of politics, grounded in humanism rather than force.

The speech threw down the gauntlet to George Bush’s America and Great Britain. It seemed like the French were the only nation to stand up to what was clearly going to be a breech of international law and one that no Australian politician – or should I say “deputy sheriffs” – would have the fortitude to make to make such a speech.

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A few more…

I will be walking around the Isle of Man, The Lake District and around the South Downs next month. I will also have the best part of a week in London, a city I know as well as any – which is to say there’s lots, endless amounts, more to explore. Quiet London by Siobhan Wall is a good little travel book with ideas for all kinds of reflection within the city. The photography is a very pleasing aspect of the guide.

The best bits of The Monocle Travel Guide Series: London are the essays. There’s good pieces on wild parks, free museums and strolling the city. I also like the opening, at a glance, map and the walks section. I am tempted to get hold of the next two in the series, on New York and Tokyo.

A Brush With Nature: Reflections on the Natural World is the first book I’ve read by veteran broadcaster and environmentalist, Richard MabeyIt wont be the last. This collection covers a couple of decades of Mabey’s articles on a range of topics, including many political ruminations about issues concerning the natural world. He is very readable. I am keen to to pursue his biography of Gilbert White.

What have you been reading this year? Here’s what I have read so far in 2015.

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