October 20, 2012
The following abstract came across my google reader today. What are the insights you’re seeing for learning/teaching in K-16 education?
A century of research on the development of walking has examined periodic gait over a straight, uniform path. The current study provides the first corpus of natural infant locomotion derived from spontaneous activity during free play. Locomotor experience was immense: Twelve- to 19-month-olds averaged 2,368 steps and 17 falls per hour. Novice walkers traveled farther faster than expert crawlers, but had comparable fall rates, which suggests that increased efficiency without increased cost motivates expert crawlers to transition to walking. After walking onset, natural locomotion improved dramatically: Infants took more steps, traveled farther distances, and fell less. Walking was distributed in short bouts with variable paths—frequently too short or irregular to qualify as periodic gait. Nonetheless, measures of periodic gait and of natural locomotion were correlated, which indicates that better walkers spontaneously walk more and fall less. Immense amounts of time-distributed, variable practice constitute the natural practice regimen for learning to walk.
January 20, 2012
As much as people want to believe in the revolutionary power of technology, technology advance more closely resembles evolution than revolution because new technology is developed in light of previous technologies (McArthur, 2007). Usually, new technologies are simply a recombination of older technologies. Because new technology reflects previous technologies, educators should carefully consider the past. That is, in what ways do new technologies simply reflect past approaches to education?
Not all developed technologies are adopted on a wide scale. What technologies are adopted is likely of greater consequence than what technologies are developed. As new ideas are more likely to be learned if they fit within existing mental frameworks (Piaget, 1970; Posner et al., 1982), new technologies are adopted if they fit reasonably well into and existing framework. For example, consider why the interactive whiteboard makes so much sense to many educators. The chalkboard, the overhead projector, the whiteboard, PowerPoint and the interactive whiteboard are all intricately related. One wonders if the interactive whiteboard would have ever been developed had the chalkboard not been so widely used. More curiously, one wonders if lecture-based instruction might be less pervasive had none of these technologies been developed. By not recognizing how technology evolves and why new technologies are adopted, educators miss the ways in which new technologies often reinforce ineffective teaching strategies and further add to the institutional momentum that prevents systemic change in education.
This post is from a paper I recently presented at the Association for Science Teacher Educators. For the full paper and citations, click here.
August 1, 2011
When we talk about the use of technology in schools we often note how the technology can be leveraged to increase students’ level of thinking. Bloom’s taxonomy placed “creating” (used to be synthesis) near the top of the “thinking pyramid”. I agree that creating is something we ought to be having students do, but there are some subtle traps awaiting our implementation.
When teachers have students create a Powerpoint about topic X, the students are not necessarily creating using their understanding of topic X, they are creating using their understanding of Powerpoint and maybe topic X. A students can know little about X and still be able to create a wonderful presentation about X.
For example, students might create a Powerpoint about density that has loads of examples and explanations of density, but not really use this information in any meaningful way – other than to “present” it. Instead, if students create a solution to a problem (how can we separate oil from water), or design a product (a submarine) using their knowledge of density the creative act is much more closely aligned with the intended content. Also, notice other thinking such as application and analyzing come into play.
So, have kids create, just be careful about what they are creating. Despite the obvious mental development benefits, creation may distract us (and students) from the intended learning goals.
June 4, 2011
My last post had some criticism of the flipped classroom. David Cox, Frank Noschese and I were discussing the nuances on twitter and each had an important insight. David noted that the better flip described in my example lesson is to put the problem first then the teaching. Frank chimed in by noting that the example flips to put exploration before explanation. Both of these ideas are not “new” (see problem based learning or the learning cycle), but our discussion highlights that the “what is done at home vs what is done at school” is not the most important “flip”. In some ways, I believe the home/school flip is simply a reorganization of pretty traditional instruction. So, what then might be better “flips”:
- Rather then explain then explore, have kids explore first so that the explanation better addresses their thinking.
- Rather than explain a concept then having students try a problem, have students try a problem first to see what they come up with.
- Rather than abstract ideas preceding concrete examples, instruction should start with concrete representations
- Rather demonstrating procedures to students, encourage them to create their own procedures.
- Rather than asking questions to confirm student understanding, ask students questions to guide their learning.
- Rather than letting curricula decide how we teach, use student interest to meet curricula.
- Rather than letting politicians decide the direction of education, education professionals should be setting the course.
- Rather than using assessment to judge students, use assessment to better meet students’ needs.
Of course actually doing these things is much more difficult than simply switching where/when kids listen to a lecture and when they do practice problems (yes, I know this overly simplifies the flipped classroom). Real educational change requires us to flip so much more than the the classroom work vs homework. So, while the current notion of the flipped classroom is a step in the right direction, we still have a long way to go.
I am sure I've missed some flips. Please, add more in the comments.
June 3, 2011
Imagine a class engaged in an authentic problem*. Let’s say they are trying to understand how to wire a ceiling fan (or some other thing, doesn’t matter). One student says, “Hey, I have a room in my house where I can turn the fan on in two different places.” The teacher then asks the class, “Why might this be valuable?” Students give some answers and the teacher says, “ok, how would you do it?” At this point the teacher might have students talk with partners, draw some pictures or mess around with some simple electrical circuits that mimic the room wiring. Students might “discover” ways to do this, and if they don’t, the teacher can show them a way to do it (after students have mentally wrestled with the task a bit). The key instructional piece comes next when the teacher can discuss parallel circuits and the flow of electrons through a circuit.
Notice how the teacher was able to leverage student experiences and interest to introduce a new concept in a way that encourages active mental engagement. Notice how the problem led to introduction of content. Yes, the content would be explained by the teacher, but only when students need the new information or to label something they have already mentally constructed.
A video (such as Khan Academy’s) cannot lead a group of learners like this. The flipped classroom does not encourage the organic flow of learning like this. I believe only a teacher who deeply understands their content and how people learn can create a learning experience like this.
*Please forgive the simplicity of of the example.
September 22, 2010
This phrase is how I often envision my classroom. Today, we accomplished a lot. We developed a list of questions to research, introduced the collaborative blog project, discussed classroom management, questioning strategies, motivation, wait time I and wait time II as well as learning styles and learning theory.
I embrace this chaos because I know that learning is not easy and learning is not predictable or straightforward. If you expect and embrace this chaos, you will be much better prepared to deal with chaos. Some teachers try to stick to such a strict schedule that when chaos happens (and it will) they don’t know how to deal with it. Also, while the teacher might get through the schedule, I am left wondering if the students got through the same schedule. I see the “chaos” as a way to authentically respond to student needs in real time.
As I noted in class, the attitude with which you approach teaching will determine a lot about your effectiveness. Will you expect and embrace chaos? Do you really want to hear what your students think? Or do you want to “get through” the content and simply tell the students what to think?
The chaos also more accurately reflects what teaching really is. We jump around topics so much because the topics are so interconnected. What we do for classroom management is directly related to our goals for students. How we manage the class is affected by what we believe about how people learn. While separating the sections of teaching out makes the ideas easier, the discrete sections do not authentically represent the complexities of teaching.
I am enjoying our learning so far. I hope you are starting to see where we are going and are getting excited about getting there!
*This post is taken from an email I wrote to my elementary science methods students.
**The title of this post was the title of on of my band’s albums in college. So glad I got to reuse it!
September 10, 2010
The diagram below was created during a discussion in my “learning & assessment” course. We started by listing some things that we know affect learning & then tried to understand how each factor affected other factors. While the students are not done learning about learning (as if any of us ever are), the diagram highlights several interrelated factors influencing learning & notes how important background experiences are for new learning. What would you add to this diagram? Let us know in the comments.
September 8, 2010
This is a quick little rant. My wife asked if I needed help getting down off my soapbox. I said, “No, I’ll write a blog post”. :)
Tonight, I was reading some things online and watching TV at the same time. I am a digital native (born in 1980). I have been “practicing” multitasking my entire life – I can remember doing homework while watching TV in middle school and high school. I wrote songs during classes, and I graduated with a 4.0 (not that that means anything).
Yet, near the end of a TV show, there was some line that summed up the point of the show and I didn’t get it. I had no idea the significance of the line and my wife looked at me and said, “I love that you can listen enough to laugh at some parts of the show, but have no idea what the show was about.” She meant I was clearly doing something else on my computer and watching TV, but I was clearly not doing either to the best of my abilities. I was not “multitasking”, I was switching back and forth…which means I was missing parts of both activities as I switched back and forth. (That’s what our brain does, it switches – kind of like early computer processors…there’s some cognitive science to back that up somewhere, but this is a rant – look it up yourself). :)
The biological limitations of our brains inability to multitask is likely genetic, not a learned ability. So instead of thinking “digital natives” are better at multitasking, perhaps we ought consider that all we are better at is *appearing* as though we are multitasking. Importantly, those of us who buy the multitasking myth are just dictate deluding ourselves (did you get the Goonies reference?).
So instead of perpetuating the myth, discuss with your students how focused, attentive effort results in deeper learning, improved products, and greater productivity. Sometimes switching back and forth is ok, but sometimes usually (like when you are struggling to understand something) focused attention is better.
September 2, 2010
While developmental learning theory highlights the need to represent new concepts in concrete fashion, if we do not help students move toward more abstract thinking about concepts, they will likely not be able to transfer their understanding to new situations (Kaminski, et al).
When students are introduced to a concept using concrete (or as “real” as possible) representations they are better able to grasp the ideas more quickly. For example, if I want to teach students about sinking and floating, I should have them sinking and floating objects, not introducing the formula for density immediately! However, if we never move beyond concrete experiences to discuss the idea of density and how it affects floating, students would not be able to determine if an object would, say, float in oil rather than water. This new problem requires transfer of knowledge and transfer of knowledge requires abstract thinking. So now the question we must all wrestle with is how to help our students move from concrete to more abstract thought capabilities.
I hope your’ll share your suggestions/ideas/strategies in the comments!