Do we give students enough opportunities to consider how gaining something usually means giving up something else in exchange?
Do we make this concept of trade-offs explicit enough that they can recognize its occurrence in nearly all decisions – school-related or otherwise?
When working with learners in maker-centered experiences, it’s easy to find situations that involve the concept of trade-offs – that you often give up one thing in order to get something else.
Consider the more familiar experience of riding a bike with shiftable gears, like your old ten-speed from back in the day. Changing to a higher gear meant that you could go much faster, but you would have to pedal much harder. Changing to a lower gear meant that the pedaling was easier, but your top speed on a flat road was going to be pretty slow. The trade-off in this situation is, simplistically, between input and output: because of the mechanical advantages involving gears of different sizes, the effort put in gets proportionally translated into the power you get out.
(Don’t be tempted to think that that last part is the through-line of this post. There’s more to the idea of trade-offs than just that moral.)
Maker-centered learning is full of these kinds of examples of trade-offs, and not just because so much of that hand-on/minds-on learning uses mechanics. Sure, there are examples like how a wrench with a longer handle gives more torque, but requires more room for it to be turned… yet mechanics is just one area. Consider ways of speeding up a 3D printer – an increase in feed rate means that you give up working at lower temperatures where the plastics may behave better because of their chemistries; lowering the infill percentage means that you give up a greater degree of structural integrity, but the print won’t take as long. Even programming in Scratch has its trade-offs – like how having many single-function scripts for a solitary sprite simplifies the coding process, but produces “spaghetti code” can increase the complexity of the debugging. Even the Scratch programming language itself has a trade-off between its simplicity to learn, but has (intentionally) limited functionality compared to other languages.
But maker-centered learning isn’t the only educational context where trade-offs exist.
Think about the trade-offs that happen in mathematics, where an algorithm with simpler computational steps, albeit requiring lots of those steps, is replaced by a new algorithm that has fewer steps, yet they are much more complicated. Sticking with math, the decision to use a calculator versus cranking out the work by hand. Or the trade-off in chemistry class between watching the simulation of an experiment versus doing the experiment itself – which is interesting to consider from the point-of-view of the both the student and the teacher.
Think about the trade-offs that come up from a behavioral context. A student decides to read the Cliff Notes for a novel or watch the film adaption of it, versus reading the book itself. The trade-offs that come from choosing to work at your weekend job versus working on a project that is due next Wednesday. Or even the decisions around what to wear to school each day can have social trade-offs… sad, but true.
I’ve deliberately left out my interpretations of the last few trade-off examples because there are just that – my interpretations. I would expect anyone else reading them would have different ways of weighing in on what is being exchanged for what. And I’m willing to bet that prior experiences, assumed ideas about the context or situation, and personal views all factor into that weighing.
And that is exactly the point. There are many things to consider when making decisions when you consider it from a trade-off standpoint.
If our charge as educators is to prepare students for a future full of situations they were not specifically prepared for, then what opportunities are we creating that explicitly and intentionly ask them to consider the trade-offs in their decisions? How often are we asking them if they realize what they are gaining or giving up in the trade-off exchanges? And how often do we rob students of the chances to choose – correctly or incorrectly – because we, as teachers, made the decisions for them?
And these opportunities can’t just be passed off to only the behavior/social contexts that students find themselves in. Shouldn’t they be in our classrooms as well, where teachers can bring attention to trade-offs in content-specific contexts? Arguably, it is in these content contexts where a safe-space is provided to students so they can best learn to learn from poor decisions made as a result of misinterpretation – or lack of interpretation depth – of trade-offs. And on the flip side, get the reinforcement they need when their decision worked out as they intended.
I’m sure there is more to this idea. Hopefully, my first dumping of thoughts around it will inspire more thinking, by me and by others. I feel there is something here that is worth exploring, but I’m faced with my own trade-offs between pursuing this… or other theta-wave thoughts. #choiceschoices :-)
Many members of my digital PLN have a blog post category dedicated to thoughts they have in their head, that they need to just “get out into the open.” They need to write down their thoughts in order to know what they are even thinking. My friend Bo Adams uses Process Posts to collect his thoughts that he is still marinating on. Will Richardson has his On My Mind category where he writes about fresh ideas and things that are, well, on his mind! But often these ideas aren’t completely formed yet, and the post itself is like a testing ground to see if the idea will stick. Gary Stager uses Beta Posts as his trial run, with the disclaimer that he might change his idea later on as he thinks more about it, and gets feedback from his own digital PLN.
It is these kinds of post that I am collecting as Theta Wave Thoughts on my own blog. With a focus at my school on neuroscience, I figure a name that refers to the types of brainwaves researchers have found to be associated with creativity and daydreaming only seems appropriate :-)
Images in this post, but not shown in the Image Credits section, are my own.