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Hybrid educational innovation and expansive development in schools

The intervention research discussed in this chapter proposes an intermediate theoretical concept of hybrid educational innovation (Yamazumi, 2008) for the expansive development of curriculum, instruction, and learning in schools. Hybrid educational innovation is based on collaboration with various sites of learning outside the K-12 school system (e.g., universities, experts, workplaces, community organizations, etc.), which offer different learning trajectories to teachers and children and are characterized by rules and patterns of instruction and learning that differ from those of classroom-based teaching. “Third-generation activity theory” (Engestrom, 1996b, pp. 132-133), as examined in detail in Chapter 2, Section 4, exceeds the limits of

Hybrid educational innovation and expanding school activity 115 a single activity system and adopts multiple activity systems that mutually interact as its unit of analysis, promoting empirical intervention research to design and implement networks, dialogues, and other mechanisms of collaboration between these systems. In this context, hybrid educational innovation as an intervention in school learning constitutes part of a network of learning intended to attempt something new with children as learners.

As shown in Figure 6.1, hybrid educational innovation is envisaged as expanding along two dimensions with intersecting trajectories. The vertical dimension depicts the objects of learning (types of problems) that children work on. This dimension identifies a developmental trend from learning by acquiring correct answers as responses to given tasks, to learning by questioning and defining a problem in relation to real life and society. Additionally, the horizontal dimension describes types of school organizations and their relation to outside communities and organizations, tracing the movement from an isolated school to a networked and hybridized school.

These two crossing dimensions are key features of the expansion of school activity, which transcends both an encapsulated concept of school learning and the institutional boundaries of school organizations. The lower left field represents school changes based on technical rationality called “standardized educational reform,” which is one of the most influential, dominant tendencies in educational changes today. This field focuses on the encapsulated school activity, in which teachers’ work is defined by subject-by-subject curriculum packages and guidelines, stage-by-stage teaching models, and technical controls of learning outcomes such as standardized tests. The object and motive of school activities have been reduced and reverted to traditional teaching and learning methods.

In Figure 6.1, the upper left field represents the extent to which the school transcends the encapsulation of learning. It shows that progressive

Questioning and defining the problem itself in complex real-life contexts

School as relatively isolated from the outside communities and organizations

Problem- and project-based learning within school

Hybrid learning activities

Standardized school learning _______________/

Participationbased learning from existing community knowledge

School in collaboration with the outside communities and organizations

Acquisition of correct answers to given tasks

Figure 6.1 Two dimensions of expansive development in schools pedagogical approaches such as problem- and project-based learning are applied in schools, although their application is defined within the school. In the lower right field, school activities and pedagogical approaches move beyond institutional boundaries, building partnerships with communities and organizations outside the school. In this field, participation-based learning in collaboration with outside communities and organizations is possible, but the scope and contents of learning arc confined to existing community knowledge.

In the pedagogical transformation that results from the combination of the two dimensions of expansion, learning is largely conducted in the new form of emerging hybrid learning activities, in which various partners collaborate inside and outside the school. The following question becomes the center of inquiry: “What could replace the text as the object of schoolwork?” (Engestróm, 2008, p. 90). Here, I present findings on the implementation of a project called “New School” (NS). The aim of this project, which was conducted in Suita City, was to develop a hybrid activity system that attempted to transform the pedagogical activity of traditional schooling (Yamazumi, 2008, 2009a, 2009b, 2010a, 2010b).

NS was an after-school project intended to help children create advanced networks of learning based on collaboration among the following partners: a university, local elementary schools, families, experts, and community organizations outside the school. All parties had been involved in designing and implementing mixed grade group and project-based learning and developing networks of learning, supported by our research group at Kansai University. Essentially, in the project, elementary school children engaged in fun, creative and collaborative learning processes with the support of university students studying to become elementary school teachers. The children were inspired by their own lives and practices and worked on themes such as food, eating, cooking, gardening, farming, and personal well-being, while focusing on ecological awareness, environmental responsibility, and future sustainability. The NS activities developed the children’s agentive, critical, and creative learning abilities. NS sought to create project-based collaborative learning activities on sustainable living not only for the children, but also for the other participants. The project discussed in this chapter was called From the Seed to the Table. It involved the experience of growing organic food, learning about ecology, and participating in “slow food” cooking lessons. By invoking the framework of third-generation activity theory (see Figure 2.3 in Chapter 2, Section 4), it is possible to represent NS as a newly emerging hybrid activity system in which multiple different activity systems interact and engage with each other, as shown in Figure 6.2.

As part of their NS activity, the children and university students engaged in project-based learning related to suita kuwai, the aquatic Japanese Arrowhead plant, Sagittaria japónica. Suita kuwai is a traditionally consumed vegetable native to Suita City, where the children involved in the project lived, and it has been well known for generations as a soft, sweet, distinctive-tasting vegetable. Being only partially domesticated, however, it was

outside school

Figure 6.2 New School as a new hybrid activity system

quickly extirpated amidst a wave of urbanization, and was even on the verge of extinction at one point. Therefore, in recent years, local farmers, experts, citizens, and government agencies have established a network to revive suita kuwai, protect it, and promote its proliferation, thus ensuring that it survives for future generations.

The activities and learning units developed by the NS project have been incorporated into a curriculum unit in a “Period for Integrated Study” in some schools in the area. This period looks at interdisciplinary and cross-curricular themes for 3rd graders and older children, in addition to regular school subjects; content is not prescribed per se in the national curriculum standards, but schools are expected to endeavor to develop and conduct distinctive project-based learning activities. Therefore, some regional municipality-run elementary schools in Suita City have conducted ¿ww/-themed units as this expansion. The children and their teachers at such schools create irrigated kuwai fields in the schoolyard with the support of local farmers, experts, and regional government agencies. The children plant the seedlings in June, cultivate them, and observe their growth. In December, the children harvest, cook, and eat the vegetables—for example, they make kuwai bread, also called suita kuwai rolls, with the help of owners and bakers at nearby bakeries. In addition, they prepare the vegetables for sale at their school festival (see Figure 6.3).

Based on the model of hybrid educational innovation represented in Figure 6.1, the development of the NS project is envisaged to expand progressively through both the vertical and horizontal dimensions in a synergetic manner (synergy between the object and the organization). NS had gradually expanded the object of its learning activities as well as its tics with cooperating organizations. In this expansion, children and teachers’ investigations and collaborative learning related to kuwai had been supported and encouraged by many groups and individuals in a process that transcended the boundaries of the school and included a partnership that had been established between our research group at Kansai University and local elementary schools.

Planting suita kuwai in the irrigated field in the schoolyard

Figure 6.3 Planting suita kuwai in the irrigated field in the schoolyard

Other individuals and organizations who participated included Mr. Koichi Hirano, a community-oriented farmer who produces kuwai and other traditional Osaka-arca vegetables using only organic cultivation and natural agriculture methods; the Suita Kuwai Conservation Society, which has conducted its own volunteer activities over many years for the proliferation of kuwai and its bequest to future citizens; regional government agencies such as the Suita City Office’s Industrial Labor Section and the Osaka Prefectural Government’s North Division Office for Agriculture-Forestry Promotion and Nature Conservation; and the Suita City Board of Education. This collaboration has created a network of learning for the children, connected to their real lives and social activities. This is an example of hybrid educational innovation using a network of volunteer activities conducted by people attempting to restore suita kuwai into modern life in the region as its source of learning.

In the next section, I will analyze the creation of a hybrid learning activity at school related to suita kuwai as the shared object of integrated learning activities.

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