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Mastering Knowledge

(Draft report for presentation in China)

By Nina V. Gromyko

My key area of activity that I have been involved in for many years relates to teaching school students the culture of mastering knowledge. And the issue of teaching schoolchildren how to work with knowledge vs. working with information becomes today ever more pressing in Russia, as well as in other countries, where information technologies have been actively used in recent years in all areas of practice.

There is another reason why this issue has become very important and needs to be addressed: it is obvious that the subject-based approach to educational material organization has certain disadvantages. The deeper students immerse themselves into a certain subject, the less they know about other areas. Narrow single discipline view that our students learn at school does not allow them to successfully resolve complex problems across several subjects where the ability to apply universal approaches and principles of working with knowledge is required. It is obvious that in the 20th and 21st centuries the further development of sciences and practices depends on this ability. As an example I would mention eliminating the Fukushima nuclear power plant blast consequences, coping with global economic crisis, AIDS and cancer treatment research, etc.

But how can we teach children knowledge about knowledge – irrespective of the subject's specifics and overcoming the divide between different subjects in the curriculum? In order to achieve this we have to know what knowledge is, not intuitively know what the knowledge of physics or chemistry is, but be able to represent knowledge as such and even be able to draw it! In the other side, we need to preserve the advantages of the specific subject based approach in the organization of the educational material. A certain structure of knowledge exists behind each subject, These structures, in their turn, are based on clear notional and categorial differentiations, models, schematization principles, which must not be destroyed because they determine strict intellectual discipline of mind. This dilemma served as the basis when we developed of new didactics (new educational content) as early as twenty years ago. We defined the following initial formula: knowledge is a certain pattern of thinking, which exists in a sign form and is called forth when resolving problems and tasks. This hypothesis led us to build a new educational form that we called "meta-subject", "meta-subjects".

"Knowledge", "sign", "task", "problem" are phenomena of organization, immaterial things, base units of ideation, around which the material of different educational subjects can be aligned and re-organized. Working with these units has its own, meta-subject, logic of development. E.g. within meta-subject "Knowledge" framework we can teach students knowledge about knowledge itself, the ways to obtain it and use it, and also teach why and how in various areas of practice we can work based on certain universal methods of working with idealizations, concepts, models, differentiations, systems, etc. Within the framework of another meta-subject, e.g. "Problem", we can teach students some universal ways of problem statement, working using the problem form of ideation, etc.

Today, meta-subjects are taught at many schools in Moscow and other cities of Russia. We created textbooks on meta-subjects. We trained teachers, who can work using elements of new meta-subject technologies when teaching traditional subjects within a standard curriculum. More and more teachers willing to master the meta-subject approach actively seek training from us. There is a reason for it: in 2009, the new Federal Standards of Primary Education were finalized and adopted. These new Standards stipulate that meta-subject principles shall be the key condition of the educational process efficiency. Currently, the draft Federal Standards of Secondary Education are being discussed, and these Standards as well will include meta-subject performance as the key indicator of the education quality.

2. Building new meta-subject based didactics and elaboration of meta-subject principles of working with knowledge allowed us to approach the issue of knowledge renewal in education.

Today, knowledge renewal cycles in education lag behind those in any other area. The report "Knowledge management in the learning society" prepared in 2000 by the Center for Educational Research, Paris, at the request of IMF, pointed at a huge gap in the pace of development between education and other areas of practice.

This report compares three areas, those of education, healthcare and industry (specifically, high tech industries). Compared to the latter, knowledge renewal turnover in education is dramatically slow. The report draws on the comparison of more than twenty indicators between science and innovative industry and education, and it is obvious that education largely lags behind the other two. As this analysis indicates, school is the most conservative link to the point it acts as a brake in the process of innovation and development,

3. There are many reasons why the processes of knowledge renewal in Russia run so slowly. Among these reasons are the fear of infrastructural change, an abyss between the fundamental science, innovative industry and education. Trying to resolve this problem we, within the framework of "Building the School of Future" project, developed and tested a new educational form, which, in our opinion, allows us to bridge the gap between the three above mentioned fields of practice and accelerate knowledge renewal process in education. This new educational form we came up with was the School of Chief Designers named after P.G. Kuznetsov, which has been functioning in experimental mode for five years.

The School of Chief Designers (SCD) is a network-based educational form, which operates at the junction of education, science and innovative industry. The basis of the School of Chief Designers is formed by the idea that students together with scientists and representatives of innovative industry can jointly design new outlines of industrial, economic and sociocultural development. The School of Chief Designers, created for senior high school students, is aimed at growing child-adult communities of a new type capable of coming up with new breakthrough projects and genuinely participate in the process of implementation of these projects.

Under the guidance of scientists, the participants of the School of Chief Designers build schemes of the multi-branch complexes (clusters) that Russia currently lacks, namely, nuclear-hydrogen power engineering, superconductive "smart" grids, pharmaceutical industry, microelectronic industry, etc. Besides, the School participants are building the project "Russian Regional Aircraft of the Next Generation", they are also involved into several projects associated with the space industry development (space lift project, moon base project, etc.), as well as developing new magnetic railroad transport in Russia. The list of these workshops is not finished, and new additions are possible.

The basic meta-subject content unit, which also serves as the basic unit of innovative thinking and which is used in all the workshops of the School of Chief Designers, is as follows: "a fundamental scientific principle should always have a corresponding technological solution".

This model should be regarded as a prototype of a new model of the professional education because in this case students are encouraged to master new strategic types of youth occupancy related to innovative technological, industrial, and social changes. The strategic type of a profession grown and cultivated at this School is the profession of a chief designer, which is synthetic by nature and implies mastering many different fields: engineering, knowledge management, automated design, epistemic consulting, etc.

The School of Chief Designers is an educational form allowing students to actively participate in the development of breakthrough scientific discoveries on the basis of meta-subject approach. The School of Chief Designers makes it possible because here, I would like to repeat, we grow genuine child-adult communities of a new type, able to identify the limitations of the existing institutional forms and come up with breakthrough projects, as well as participate in their implementation. Adult experts translate to students their new breakthrough discoveries, at the same time they are integrated, through their expertise, into the construction of new industrial branch or cluster schemes created, in their turn, by children. Students who are being educated in the School of Chief Designers are able to work in open epistemic environments, which may not have all the required information or knowledge, and in this case the required knowledge has to be obtained directly and immediately during project implementation.

The children's achievements are regularly exhibited at the Youth EXPO Exhibition and often discussed with the experts representing the leading Moscow R&D Institutes. E.g., the results of the SCD's workshop "Building the Power Engineering of the Future" were discussed at the 2nd International Forum "Hydrogen Technologies for the Developing World", 2nd International Conference "Hydrogen Storage Technologies" and at the 3rd International Symposium on Hydrogen Power Engineering, where the children's findings generated interest in scientists and business owners.

4. If we want to launch the knowledge renewal process successfully then we will need some knowledge renewal diagnostics, which yet has to be developed in the form of corresponding diagnostic tasks aimed at revealing how good both students and teachers are at making distinction between working with knowledge and working with information, how well they grasp the basic epistemic structures lying in the basis of various objective factualities, the degree of their readiness to master new ways of mastering knowledge defining the development of modern science and practice. Such diagnostics is very urgently needed to support the implementation of the meta-subject approach in education and the development of new infrastructural solutions such as the School of Chief Designers. Currently, our team is working to create a set of the above mentioned diagnostic tools.

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