My wife, Sue, and I spent a delightful day, yesterday, with our grandchildren Ivy and Jolyon.

We had a picnic at Malua Bay. Whilst we were there we were looking out to sea and we started talking about horizons and how far you can see. To our delight, as we were looking out to sea, we spotted whales playing just near enough to see splashing but far enough away not to recognise if they were humpbacks.

Sue was a very good spotter and spent a lot of time directing Ivy and Jolyon’s gazes to the splashes. The whales seemed to be moving south so we tracked them from the left to to right of the horizon.


Sue’s guiding enabled Ivy and Joly to see the splashes. This led to a longer conversation about where the whales were headed. Then Ivy asked ‘What about the whales beyond the horizon?’.

At this point, Sue and I looked at each other and smiled. It was one of those ‘how do you answer that kind of question?’ moments. We both thought we should dust down our copy of Sophie’s World in preparation for Ivy’s bedtime reading.

I spent some of our drive home thinking about metacognition … how do I develop a language about thinking to enable a five-year old to continue to explore whatever there is beyond an horizon?

By serendipity, three opportunities arrived today to help me think more about horizons.

Making sense of sense-making

My first opportunity to think about sense-making came from a post by Peter Ellerton in The Conversation. In his discussion of teaching thinking, he concluded:

Moving our educational focus from knowledge to inquiry allows for the development of effective thinking. Inquiry requires students to build strong cognitive skills that extend beyond simple recall or application of learned procedures into genuine critical thinking.

Peter linked to a recent paper (July, 2015) on teaching critical thinking by Natasha Holmes, Carl Wieman and Doug Bonn. They argue:

The ability to make decisions based on data, with its inherent uncertainties and variability, is a complex and vital skill in the modern world.

They suggest that:

the key element for developing this ability is repeated practice in making decisions based on data, with feedback on those decisions.

I was interested to note that Natasha, Carl and Doug found evidence of longer-term changes in students’ thinking after experiencing this approach.

My second opportunity came from an Audrey Watters’ discussion of ed tech. In her post she draws on Seymour Papert’s (1987) computer criticism that aims “to understand, to explicate, to place in perspective”. His approach resonates with Audrey’s positioning as a cultural critic “formally trained in the study of literature, language, folklore … interested in our stories and in our practices and in our cultures”.

Audrey argues:

Computer criticism can – and must – be about analysis and action. Critical thinking must work alongside critical pedagogical and technological practices.

Peter, Natasha, Carl, Doug and Audrey share an interest in critical thinking and they have helped me to go beyond the horizon of current practice. Audrey’s discussion of criticism took me back to Elliot Eisner’s approach to educational criticism and connoisseurship.

My third opportunity came from Matt Cooper-Wright. He has written about ethnographic design research made possible by “cheap sensors, smaller computers and open source datasets” that give access to “an objective picture of the world” that can be compared with people’s subjective views. I was particularly interested in Matt’s discussion of macro and micro observation. His research into the behaviour of drivers has encouraged him to think critically about the distinction between what we say and what we do. His research experience has led to an iterative design to support driver behaviour.

I wondered if Ivy might be interested in this quantitative/qualitative interface with whale behaviour. There is a University of Queensland tagging program and some Antarctic research. There is a 2001 Western Australia paper on humpback whale migration too.

All of which brought me back to near and far horizons.



Whales beyond the horizon gave me a great opportunity to think about metacognition as well as inquiry based learning.

After whale watching, Ivy and Jolyon spent some time on their scooters. Both decided they would adopt aerodynamic positions downhill … their questions about why they went faster in these positions started a new conversation and a search for our copy of Anthony Blazevich.

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