Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Genius of the DDC.

I may be a bit slow on this, but in the past two weeks I have come to realise what a genius Melvil Dewey was in his development of the Dewey Decimal System for library organisation. 

Let me explain ....

The use of our non fiction section is woefully low. It is essentially 4 long shelf bays taking up space in what is already a small space. There are many reasons for this, not the least is that the students actually don't know how to make sense of the non fiction - the code that Dewey created is brilliant once you know and understand it and unfortunately our middle years students didn't.

I created a lesson on how the non fiction is organised.

The students were greeted with 10 piles of books on tables with a number on top.

Their interest was piqued. 
They started looking through the books on the table asking questions ...
What is this number, why is it on this pile of books?
What are these books? Can I borrow this book?

I then told the story of Melville Dewey having the problem of having to organise the books in his library over 150 years ago. How would they organise a library full of books? Some suggestions were thrown around, with a bit of thinking also going on.  We talked about what decimal means, and how it is a metric system then led into how Dewey organised all the worlds information into lots of 10 by dividing the number 1000. And we ended up with the numbers on top of the piles of books. We were then going to "reverse engineer" the dewey system.

Their task was to look at each of the piles of books and figure out what the connection was in how they were organised under that number together. 
They did have a paper to record their thinking for each of the numbers. I created this based on the Dewey as a caveman that can be found here.

I observed them and interacted with them when they seemed to be heading into the "make a quick decision but not really think about it trap". The 100's, 200's, 400's, 800's, 900's,  and seemed to be the ones they grasped easily, the 300's, 500's, 600's, 700's and 000's proved to be the most difficult as they had the greatest range. It was quite difficult for the students to pull back from the 'topics' and see the concepts behind the organisation. This was a high level thinking activity where connections needed to be made across various levels of pre knowledge and understanding of themes and topics, and connecting with what they already knew from the other piles.

We started to look at the big picture of the ones they 'got' first. What was the theme behind the organisation? They managed to identify the 100's thinking, 200's beliefs, 400's communication, 800's literature or the telling of stories, 900's history and geography.

They then revisited the other categories and tried to figure out the connections. Many were quick to label everything as culture, but were urged to think more specifically than that. Attempts were made, some were correct. I revealed the answers, working through them as concepts rather than topics and this is where Dewey's brilliance was revealed to me in a number of ways.... explained later.

The students seemed to 'get it' at the end, and said the organisation made more sense.  I think this was due to the focus being on the concepts rather than the "Dewey topics". After the lesson students went into the non fiction area to see what else they could find under their new favourite number, and some even borrowed the books in the piles. Many were interested in looking at the DDC volume and seeing how it all came together after the big numbers.

I can see a development of this lesson where each group is given an object or theme and they are to create the perspective or contextual and conceptual framework where it could be placed into each dewey category....

Take for for example a pen: ...
100's  - Posing a philosophical question - "The pen is mightier than the sword"
200's - The ethics of using a pen to vandalise
300's - examining the effect the pen has had on the world - socially, economically and environmentally
400's - The word PEN in various languages
500's - The natural materials used to create the pen
600's - How the pen works
700's - Pen twirling as a sport
800's - Poetry and Jokes about pens
900's - the history of the pen

I will just see about that. The main objective of the first lesson was to expose the students to the non fiction and to help them understand the system better. 

So where did I figure Dewey's brilliance came in???

Firstly - the system is totally concept based.
100 - How man thinks 
200 - What man believes and values
300 - How man interacts with each other and the environment
400 - How man communicates with each other
500 - The natural world that man lives in 
600 - How man uses his thinking to manipulate the natural world (100's + 500's??)
700 - How man uses his thinking and the natural world to enjoy himself
800 - Man recording his culture, language and expression
900 - Where man is in place and time
000 - General recorded information and what comes next?

Secondly - the system starts with man and moves away from himself into the world finishing with history and the past - what has been left behind is furthest from man thinking of himself. (this could actually be seen with a sense of humour - man not learning from history ...)

Third - each category builds on the one before. Ever expanding mans circle of self.

Fourth - Dewey's use of the decimal system where the rest of the world was still imperial in so many ways. 

And lastly - Dewey left so many "unspecified spaces" in the DDC that we still haven't allocated them all. Dewey was certainly a man with a vision that information was going to grow beyond his comprehension.

And for those in the IB programmes - linking the Dewey concepts to the Global concepts is also possible ....

The 000's would fit across all the contexts.

So that was my epiphany - nothing earth shattering, but just a better appreciation of something that has lasted the test of time and a better understanding of the reasons for its longevity.


Ms Lindsay Recommends said...

Cool Bananas Dianne. Backwards by Design! Deconstucting the DDC .... yep. Like that!

Anthony Tilke said...

Yes, I like the deconstruction. This can also be used at HS level, and we do an activity with TOK students, taking the angle of Dewey as an example of a knowledge paradigm.

Kelsey H said...

I love this idea. So much to be gained from this inquiry. Lovely idea, Dianne.