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Explorable explanations and 4 ways to encourage active reading

I love Sylvia Duckworth’s version of the SAMR tech integration model. The whole idea of any ed tech is to support student learning. And the SAMR is a nice way to think about the tech you’re using or planning to use. Is this just substituting for paper and pencil or is this true redefinition? Something that we couldn’t have done without the tech?

One level in the SAMR model is not necessarily better or worse than another. But it can help help us stop and think about appropriate usage. And a spat of reading over the weekend about a recent edtech idea had me flashing back to Sylvia’s version.

First called “explorable explanations” by a guy named Bret Victor, the idea can take reading to high levels of modification and redefinition. Victor, in his 2011 article, starts with a question:

What does it mean to be an active reader?

An active reader asks questions, considers alternatives, questions assumptions, and even questions the trustworthiness of the author. An active reader tries to generalize specific examples, and devise specific examples for generalities. An active reader doesn’t passively sponge up information, but uses the author’s argument as a springboard for critical thought and deep understanding.

Do our reading environments encourage active reading? Or do they utterly oppose it? A typical reading tool, such as a book or website, displays the author’s argument, and nothing else. The reader’s line of thought remains internal and invisible, vague and speculative. We form questions, but can’t answer them. We consider alternatives, but can’t explore them. We question assumptions, but can’t verify them. And so, in the end, we blindly trust, or blindly don’t, and we miss the deep understanding that comes from dialogue and exploration.

Explorable Explanations is my umbrella project for ideas that enable and encourage truly active reading. The goal is to change people’s relationship with text. People currently think of text as information to be consumed. I want text to be used as an environment to think in.

He goes on and shares some very interesting thoughts about three tools we can use to encourage active reading:

  • reactive documents that allow the reader to play with the author’s assumptions and analyses, and see the consequences.
  • explorable examples that make the abstract concrete, and allows the reader to develop an intuition for how a system works
  • contextual information allowing the reader to learn related material just-in-time, and cross-check the author’s claims

I really like the idea of creating materials that encourage active reading.

Since 2011, as web authoring tools have become easier to manipulate, others have began finding ways to flesh out Victor’s vision. Some who have jumped on the bandwagon are Nicky Case and Explained Visually. Victor has also begun refining his thoughts.

It makes a lot of sense. Create a document or app that allows users to truly interact with content, ideas, and philosophy. Share it with others. Everyone gets smarter.

Need a few examples? How about one that could be used to help students understand segregation and race? This iPad app walks users through tons of geo, science, and weather ideas. Get more of Nicky’s stuff here.

The problem?

Even with easier to use web authoring tools, most of us don’t have the skills or the time to create explorable explanations. Are we out of luck?

I don’t think so.

I think we use the idea to start changing the way we design materials that we share with our kids. And there are variety of things that are bit lower on the SAMR model that we can use right now without a ton on the front end.

These are great tools for helping students visualize ideas and concepts. And just a great as final student products.

Text based interactive fiction 
Essentially, text-based, interactive fiction is a genre of games with roots that predate the Internet. The player/reader makes choices that determine the outcome of the narrative. The first interactive adventure was Infocom’s Adventure, which dates back to the 1970s.  Other titles followed, including the Zork and Ultima series. Learn more here and here.

Using Google Forms, you and your kids can create simple versions of interactive fiction / non-fiction without any coding skills at all. Check out a quick Gettysburg example and one on the Oregon Trail.  Then head over to a tutorial for creating your own.

Video games
I’ve been a fan of video games since, well, . . . since Pong and Adventure came out in the 1970s. And they’re great for helping your kids visually and emotionally connect with content. Find some resources here.

Document based analysis
I’m not sure Victor would consider these to be explorable explanations but I’m falling in love with the idea of document sourcing overlays. An analog version of a web-based tool, a good sourcing overlay can help students make sense of evidence and begin to thinking critically about next steps, about impact, about relationships, about connections to contemporary issues.

So. Feel free to jump off the high board and try creating some of your own explorable explanations. But don’t be afraid to splash around in the kiddie pool for a while. Both support what readers who “ask questions, consider alternatives, question assumptions, and even question the trustworthiness of the author.”

And that’s exactly what we want.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great post! I just learned about the SAMR model and I appreciate your take on it! Great website!

    April 15, 2015
    • glennw #

      Glad you’re here! (Be sure to subscribe to get all of the latest goodness!)


      April 15, 2015

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