Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Has anyone seen my stem cells?

Dear Best and the Brightest,

Well, a couple of days have now gone by since camp, and I've learned that there are things in the world besides stem cells. And you have to admit, is there really anything quite as nice as a “pluripotent” stem cell? Sure there's the adult stem cells, bone marrow and the possibilities of umbilical cords, but can we ever match the potential of the embryonic stem cell? Ah, but you say what of tampering with the creation of life, and I say excellent thinking, but what of the cells that get thrown out from the IVF clinics? My question is, where do they put them... you know, when they throw them out.... "say Jim, did you throw out the old bag of embryonic stem cells?” Answer: “No Irwin, trash day isn't until Thursday.” I mean, how does it happen? And speaking of the unknown, we’ve all heard of Milk of Magnesia. Do other things come from “Magnesia?” Can I get this in juice form, as in “juice of magnesia?” Maybe there’s a sandwich, like the “Chicken of Magnesia Sandwich.”

But, back to stem cells for a minute. Maybe we could have taken a filed trip to the nearest IVF clinic and asked the kind folks in the white lab coats how this really happens. You see, instead of having all the answers now, what we do have is much better questions, and that was the whole point. In the course of one very excellent week, we discovered the middle ground, which is all but lost in American politics and culture. The credit goes to you for your excellent analyses and discussion. I'm really proud of the progress everyone made during the week – to be able to learn the mechanics of formal debate and examine and form opinions about a complex scientific topic in one week is simply amazing!

I'm interested in getting your thoughts and opinions about camp, learning and the world, which is why I set up this blog. Please post your thoughts at this site. The blog is an empowering place, so get your ideas out there and the world can know that you have something to say too.

Though you came from different places in the world with different backgrounds and cultures, not a hateful word (to my knowledge) was spoken all week long. Thanks for your open mindedness. Thanks also for an inspiring week. Collectively, you have the brainpower to make great contributions and changes in the world.


p.s. I don't know yet, legally, if I'm allowed to offer any courses and private instruction to you (for those interested). There was some talk of doing this, but I'll have to find out first. When I do, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

What is Consilience?

Originally written for EDTE 290 (Seminar for Culminating Experience, Dr. Kit Newman, CSUS)

Summary and Analysis of Consilience, by Edward O. Wilson.

In Chapter two of the book Consilience, biologist Edward O. Wilson explained the concept of the term “consilience” and proposed how we might begin to merge fields of study. According to Wilson, William Whewell first used the term in The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences in 1840 and explained it as a “ ‘ jumping together’ of knowledge by the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation.” Wilson went on to explain how we can make use of this philosophy to solve some of our current problems such as ethnic conflict, arms escalation, overpopulation, abortion, the environment and poverty. He proposed that we could better solve these problems by “integrating knowledge from the natural sciences with that of the social sciences and humanities.” By taking this approach Wilson said diversity and depth of knowledge will increase and that “order, not chaos, lies beyond the horizon.” 

Wilson won the Pulitzer Prize twice for his books On Human Nature (1978) and The Ants (1990, with Bert Holldobler) and has been a teacher at Harvard University. Consilience was both praised and highly critiqued when it was published in 1999.

Using Wilson and others as my guide, I propose that education can thrive on the “edge of chaos” (Wilson, p. 97). The classroom is, after all, an unpredictable environment, where agents of change and disruption threaten to overturn the imposing order at any given time. A student mood swing, an ADHD outburst, a students day dream, a drug problem, a recent fight at the school, overcoming peer pressure, distraction from noise, fluorescent lighting, confusion over subject matter, pressure to meet district and school standards all threaten to interrupt order, goals and academic progress. 

Then, along comes chaos theory, consilience, emergent behavior and creative problem solving. These all offer a solution. What I am suggesting is that we tap into this energy, and acting as a catalyst, put this organism into motion. Like the sending of an e-mail message, we write and structure it, and with the push of a button, send it on its way. Though there is a lot of activity there – the working of the computer, the use of language, the Internet, electricity, binary code, web servers, URLs, etc., the e-mail is sent and finds its recipient in seconds – making its way through the maze of cyberspace in what seems to be a miracle. 

Bloom, back in the 1950’s, would have probably agreed that the structured regurgitation of information may give us temporary order. But, in the long run, we end up producing automatons. Instead, I would argue, as Wilson does, that we begin to merge fields of study together, learn what we can from this new synthesis and apparent disorder, so that we can solve larger problems. 

For example, we create a problem based class, and look to student creativity to solve seemingly complex problems. As I will submit later, Global Challenge – a classroom microcosm – is one such way to put these theories into action.

Whether Wilson realized this at the time or not, he is suggesting or supporting some concepts that are very relevant to primary and secondary education. Often in his book, he uses the terms “conceptual unity,” the “communal mind,” and “microcosm” to explain his view of how things should come together. Later, he tackles the difficult topic of complexity or chaos theory. Further on, I will show how these theories should be connected to educational design.

Wilson, Edward O. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. New York: Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., 1999.

From the second introductory page to the book: (condensed and paraphrased)

Wilson received his B.S. and M.S. in biology from the University of Alabama and , in 1955, his Ph.D. in biology from Harvard. He is the winner of the 1977 National Medal of Science, the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (1990), the International Prize for Biology from Japan (1993), the Gold Medal of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (1990) and the Audobon Medal of the National Audubon Society (1995).

Mixed Groups and Creativity

This is a paper I wrote for a graduate class at CSUS. Looking back on it, I realize this has implications for many things outside of just education or corporate settings. You could say we are an innovative nation despite our current polarization. I think this essay supports further research in chaos theory as it applies to education and other organizations.

Article Summary One
by Lee Chazen

for ED 250
Educational Research
Dr. Z. Davis
California State University, Sacramento

Team Performance and Satisfaction:
A Link to Cognitive Style Within a Process Framework
Min Basadur, Milena Head
Journal of Creative Behavior, Volume 35, Number 4 Fourth Quarter 2001

As a graduate student and developer of curriculum, I was interested to learn more about classroom and group dynamics. In particular, I hoped to find out more about how groups and individuals behaved based on configuration and program structure. The article in question addresses the need to understand this framework in a corporate setting. The rationale for the study was to see if heterogeneous teams, based upon different cognitive styles, produced more creative results when compared to a homogeneous grouping.

The study "investigates a different basis for creating diverse teams for improved performance. Rather than blending different personality types, the focus is on blending different cognitive problem solving process styles." The rationale, then, is clear and easy to understand. How do we structure better performing teams? With so much in our society (schools, corporations, organizations) dependent on group performance, a study of this sort seems timely and relevant.

The authors set out to find whether or not there was a "magical mix" of team members. Specifically, the experiment examined different configurations of groups - dividing MBA students into 49 teams of four members each. Teams were split into heterogeneous, widely dispersed groups (on one end of the spectrum) to homogeneous with three cognitive styles completely missing (on the other). In every category of assessment, it was determined that the heterogeneous team satisfaction was the lowest, but the hypothesis was proven correct: that the heterogeneous blend of Cognitive Problem Solving (CPS) performed better than the more homogeneous group.

The product produced by each team was evaluated using four criteria and rated by independent judges. An average was then created or calculated for this variable. The result was that "mean scores generally increased as teams became more heterogeneous."

The study was interesting, thorough and substantive. There are implications for organizations, corporations and educators. As I was reading this, the phrase "friction makes the pearl," came to mind. Though it is sometimes more difficult to work in a diverse group, the results can be so much more creative and thorough. The nature of democracy, for example, can pit many groups against each other (as in the case of Democrats and Republicans) and though it takes work to reach a consensus, that final conclusion is an interesting, synthetic, well-intentioned outcome.

The authors point out that a larger study of this type is needed, but this first step shows some interesting trends.