22 April 2007

Zoom Zoom Zoom

I know that there are educators out there who will read this post and think, "Please, oh please, for the love of Mike let me never have to do this!" I understand. I'm not typically enamored of cutesy staff development things. I take some pride in the fact that I get feedback from teachers about the training I do that is something to the effect of "Thank you for not making us play any stupid games or do icebreakers." If you're one of those teachers (and I count myself among you), then take a deep cleansing breath and bear with me.

If you're a primary teacher, you've probably seen a book called Zoom by Istvan Banyai. It's a picture book, one picture per page. With the turning of each page, you discover that the previous one is only part of a larger view. For example, the image of a cruise ship on a bus is really being watched on tv. It goes on this way until you're eventually looking at a picture of the Earth from space.

Buy it here. Images (c) 1998 Istvan Banyai

For a staff development conversation about communication and leadership...
  • Cut the book apart and laminate each page.
  • Hand out one picture per person (make sure a continuous sequence is used).
  • Explain that participants may only look at their own pictures and must keep their pictures hidden from others.
  • Encourage participants to study their picture, since it contains important information to help solve a problem.
  • The challenge is for the group to sequence the pictures in the correct order without looking at one another's pictures.
  • Participants will generally mill around talking to others to see whether their pictures have anything in common. Sometimes leadership efforts will emerge to try to understand the overall story.
  • When the group believes they have all the pictures in order (usually after ~15 minutes), the pictures can be turned over for everyone to see.
Some questions that might be used are
  • Why was it hard to get the story together?
    (everyone had a piece, but no-one had the big picture)
  • What type of communication was used in attempting to solve the problem?
  • What communication methods might have worked better? e.g., Imagine if, at the outset, the group had taken the time to let each person describe his/her picture to the rest of the group. What would have happened then? Would the solution have been found faster? What prevented such strategies from being considered?
  • Did you try to "second position" (i.e., see one's communications from the perspective of others)?
  • What kind of leadership was used to tackle the problem?
  • Who were the leaders? Why?
  • What style of leadership might have worked best?
  • If you were to tackle a similar activity again, what do you think this group should do differently?
  • What real life activities are similar to this activity?
This activity will be used with our math and science cadre teachers this spring. It's likely that many of them have used a variation on this with their students, but the hope is that they might look at things a bit differently. I'd like us to think about communication between the various levels within the school district, their roles as teacher leaders, and perspective about issues. I see far too many teachers out there who don't try to step back and see the larger picture of public education. I understand how easy it is to be myopic when you're just trying to survive the classroom from day to day---I spent 15 years doing that, too. But I'm hoping that using an analogy like "Zoom" might get people to open their minds a bit more. I think even our groups of admins would benefit from doing this and making some connections.

Still not convinced this is your thing? Head on over to the Nikon website and play with their Universcale. It lets you zoom through all sorts of scales, from molecular to universe sized.

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