Children, Learning & Material Culture  

edu122 ----------------Jon Wagner --------------- winter 2007










Education 122 (Winter 2007)

Children, Learning & Material Culture


Instructor: Jon Wagner  <>
Teaching Assistant: Amy Huang <>

Time:   M/W 12:10-2:00
Location: Academic Surge 2368/72
CRN#: 41557

Purpose: This course is designed to help students develop a critical understanding of the complex relationship between children, learning and material culture.

Guiding Questions: The course begins with the observation that children can learn a great deal, both in school and out, by working with wide range of artifacts and physical materials–i.e. objects and substances that are tangible or visible, that have shape and form, and that take up space.  Some of these materials are commercially produced for the express purposes of helping students learn or helping teachers teach, but many are not, and some are created by children themselves, for their own purposes or as assignments and tasks for adults, peers, clients, etc.  Through a discussion of readings and course assignments, we will take a close look at why some of these materials are routinely regarded as “educational,” by adults or by children, and why others are not. We will also try to develop provisional answers to the following four questions:

- How do material artifacts such as books, computers, food, appliances, toys and games, entertainment media, collectibles, sports equipment, clothing, folk arts and crafts, neighborhood spaces and other physical materials shape how and what children learn in school, at home, and in the community? 
- How do different configurations of these materials contribute to or detract from the education of children growing up under different social, economic or family circumstances?
- What kinds of material artifacts are most or least likely to help children develop valued concepts, information, dispositions and skills? 
- How have social researchers and educators thought about material culture in their efforts to develop educational policies or conduct research on teaching and learning?

Format: The course meets twice a week for 10 weeks and combines lectures, in-class discussion of readings, student projects, short in-class and out-of-class writing assignments and student presentations.  Course readings are drawn from sociology, anthropology, education, cultural studies, social psychology media studies and the arts.  Assignments include a midterm and final (part take-home, part in-class); a group project, critique and written commentary; and a short term paper.   Students are expected to attend all class sessions, come prepared to discuss required reading and writing exercises.  Due dates for readings and assignments are listed on the course schedule. Because student work is shared in class, students must complete assignments on time; late work will not receive full credit.

Reading:  Required readings include a set of articles available through the UCD Library electronic journals collection and two books: James Herndon, How to Survive in Your Native Land, and Ellen Seiter, Sold Separately: Parents and Children in Consumer Culture.  Readings are organized to call attention to “cases” of material culture (e.g. dolls, computers & video games, food, bodies, physical place and space, etc.) and to themes that shape how people have studied and thought about children, learning and material culture (e.g. folk culture and institutional culture; production and consumption; children and adults; knowledge and skills; etc.). 

Writing: Students will prepare short, in-class writing assignments each week; a quote/question/comment about the readings for two class sessions; a brief a report of their group project (300-400 words); a short term paper (1500 words), and a take-home final exam (750 words max).

Grading: Final grades for the course are based on points earned on exams, papers, projects and class participation, as follows:  midterm = 20 points; group project work plan and review =20; group project final report/web site = 20; term paper = 20; final exam = 20 (10 points each on the take-home part and the in-class part). PLEASE NOTE: Students who fail to complete in-class assignments can also lose up to 10 points for the quarter for inadequate class participation.


 Exams & Assignments


Midterm and Final Exams:  Both midterm and final exams will focus on assigned readings and their connections to course lecture and discussion topics.  The take home final will be an open book essay exam.  The midterm and in-class final will be closed book.  Students who turn in notes on the readings at the beginning of the class period in which they will be discussed will be allowed to use those notes (and those notes alone) on the midterm and in-class final exams.  The best way to prepare for the midterm and final exams is to do the readings on time, prepare notes on key points, and come to class prepared to discuss the readings.


Group Project: Investigating Child and Adult Ideas about “Educational Materials”
Working in teams of 5-6, students will investigate how adults and children think about the learning potential of one commonly accessible material artifact (or set of artifacts) and report what they learn by constructing a functioning web site. Each web site should include:

-A profile of the material artifact you have chosen, its history, variation, distribution, etc.
-Vivid examples of the material artifact in use
-A synthesis of adult ideas about the educational value of the artifact
-A synthesis of children’s ideas about the educational value of the artifact
-An assessment of whether the child and adult perspectives you’ve investigated are consistent or inconsistent with specific course readings
-Your own assessment of the pedagogic potential of this artifact

Teams will prepare a work plan and make an oral progress report about their research and web design on January 29th and complete their web sites by February 26th.  Teams will work in pairs to review and revise their work plans.  Each team also will be given a web site template.  Teams can build their web site by filling in the fields on the template or create their own design from scratch. Completed web sites should also describe data sources and provide a list of “credits” for the work of individual team members. After the web sites are completed, each student will write a brief (300-400) word report that describes her or his individual contributions to the project and summarizes what was learned from these efforts.


Individual Project: A Documentary Account of Learning in the Material World
Each student will write a vivid, clear and detailed account of a child’s learning episode (or episodes) that was shaped substantially (for better or worse) by specific materials and artifacts. You can use any of the “materials” examined in the course, along with a lot of other materials that we are not reading about: e.g. art supplies, weapons, natural machinery, animals, cameras, sporting equipment, etc.  The document you prepare can be based on observations of children to whom you already have access or on a retrospective investigation of your own childhood or that of a family member or friend. For whatever learning episode you choose, be sure to provide some answers to each of the following questions:

-What was learned and how, by whom, with what expectations and implications, etc.?
-How can you characterize the context(s) in which the learning occurred?
-What kinds of materials were involved, where’d they come from, where’d they go, etc.?
-What other people were involved and in what way?
-What parallels or contrasts does the episode provide relative to specific course readings?
-Under what circumstances might or might not other children learn something of value from interacting with materials similar to those you have described?

Models for this kind of report can be found in the course readings by Hubbard, Greenfield, deMarris, Wagner, Saxe, O’Connor, Mahiri, or Dyson. The Herndon book is also full of chapters that do pretty much the same thing: e.g. A Kite, Creative Arts, Return of the Hawk, the Dumb Class, the first half or the last half of The Stream of Life, the Pony Express of the Silver Screen, Reading in Your Native Land, The Price of Amphibians, etc. NOTE: If you want, you can use photographs, audio recordings, or video recordings, in putting together your term project, but you will need to prepare a coherent, orienting text as well.