Archive for the 'Education' Category

Smart Games! Better Reasoning and Speed

December 6th, 2010

There’s a lot of FUD surrounding the use of games. Here’s a report of some research out of Berkeley on the effectiveness of games.

From the Bunge Lab, computer and non-computer-based game training using ‘smart’ commercially available games resulted in dramatic improvements in reasoning and processing speed scores (or both) as measured on the TONI-3 (Test of Non Verbal Intelligence) or WISC-IV Coding.

via Eide Neurolearning Blog: Smart Games! Better Reasoning and Speed – PC, Board, and Nintendo DS.

Are there any problems in the method? Any alternative conclusions?

Tip of the Chapeau to the Eide Neurolearning Blog. I love following these people because the look at learning at the brain level!

Constructivism and Instruction

November 24th, 2010

As the semester winds down, there are some issues that I’d like to address relative to the ideas surrounding constructivist theory, instruction, learning, and education.

One issue is the idea of constructivist theory. The underlying notion of constructivism is that we each build our own understanding of the world. Given the emphasis on objectivism in the literature surrounding the topic, this seems counter intuitive. Perhaps one way to play with the idea is to consider that there is an Objective Truth. Things exist outside of our ken and the nature of those things is immutable. What’s at stake in constructivism is how each of us understands that Objective Truth.

Example: There is a rock in my yard. I discovered it while mowing. That rock means something to me but existed before I knew of it. My wife doesn’t know about the rock. She doesn’t mow the lawn. Her mental construction of the world does not include the rock. My daughter, on the other hand, knows about the rock because she used it as a background in one of her digital images. Her construction of the world includes the rock – just as mine does – but for her, that construction is linked to her creative efforts and not to my lawn mowing. We have — all three of us — constructed knowledge about the world and each of our constructions is unique.

Objectively there is a rock. Some people know about the rock. Some people don’t. Even those of us who know about the rock do not agree on what the rock is.

Education doesn’t care about the rock in my yard. From a certain perspective, Education doesn’t care about learning at all. The focus of Education is the business of instruction. For many societies, the main purpose of Education is the indoctrination of the next generations to become good, upstanding members of the society. In large part this is a political effort, but here in the US the idea is rooted in a Capitalist ideal. People should grow up and be able to take care of themselves.

Because Education is a business, there are constraints on what Education can do. One good thing is that Education can actually help make a positive difference in the lives of those it touches. Teaching a child to read or a youth to calculate are both valuable life skills which can lead to the acquisition of commercially marketable skills. As adults we need marketable skills which can be traded as labor in a marketplace in order to earn the incomes we need to acquire food, shelter, and security. The uncertainty in the last two decades as information and knowledge technologies gain on the more industrial ones has caused a substantial realignment of the economic landscape. A similar realignment happened during the Industrial Revolution as generalist agrarian populations became specialized urban ones. (In the course on Technology, Education, and Culture I argue that technology does not change culture, but defines it.)

The intersection of Education and constructivism is really a null set except for the subset of Education which involves effective instruction. Instruction is the production work in the Education factory. Classrooms and their technological surrogates are the work centers where teachers work to produce learning in their students. This relationship is key to understanding what we’re doing. Teachers do not produce knowledge. They do not produce students. The knowledge exists without the students. The students exist without the teacher. The purpose of the teacher is to help the student acquire the knowledge in useful and meaningful ways. Those ways vary from content domain to content domain and from student to student.

Example: A dance teacher needs to help students understand the cultural, social, aesthetic, and kinesthetic reality of dance. They may use examples from history, practice on the floor, movies, whatever. There’s a large collection of materials upon which to draw depending on the specific requirements for that particular course at that particular time for that particular set of students. In an ideal world they help students learn to dance, but in an Educational world their role is to assess and validate that the students have acquired the prescribed level of knowledge outlined in the content guidelines.

Example: An algebra teacher needs to help students understand priority of operation, principles of substitution and equivalence, and how to solve equations with one or more unknowns. Unlike dance, this is a mental construction — more abstract than concrete — and requires the student and teacher to enter a largely theoretical realm. In many ways this is a virtual world where the computer that mediates and creates the world is internal to each of us. We need to learn the rules and be guided through the operations. We need to learn how to navigate and what might have meaning. Again, in an ideal world the teacher helps the student learn how to solve a collection of real problems which they will encounter in the real world — namely how to calculate a real value when we don’t have all the direct numbers, but instead must deal with – for example – proportions. In the Educational world, the role of teacher is to assess and validate that the students … etc.

In both these examples and in both worlds–regardless of what or how the teacher teaches–a constructivist would hold that each student builds their own meaning, their own understanding of the subject matter. Yes, they dance. Yes, they solve equations. The meaning of the dance or the nature of the solution is unique because it’s constructed anew for each student based on their particular context.

With that as a background, we need to construct a new reality–an understanding of the pivotal role of teacher as worker in the Educational factory.

Any effective worker learns how to do the job most effectively and efficiently. In part that means understanding what the job is and being clear about what that construction entails. For a teacher, the learner is a black box. Stuff goes in. Stuff comes out. We can’t really see what happens in the middle. We have some theories — Behaviorism, Objectivism, Operant Conditioning, Constructivism, Constructionism, Connectivism — but they are all just ex post facto analyses of observed phenomenon which are used to predict outcomes based on the results of previously administered inputs.

I like the notion of Constructivism — although Connectivism is gaining currency with me. Philosophically, the idea that there is an Objective Truth which must be discovered by each individual seems more rational to me than the idea that nothing exists until we think of it. My experience validates the notion that construction is unique to each individual — even on things that seem obvious like the rock in my yard. If you come to my house, you can see the rock. We can agree that it’s there. What it *means* and how it relates to anything else is the key. I think that idea of meaning and relation is the key to any knowledge — not just the trivial idea of the rock in my yard.

This underlying philosophy — that everyone constructs his or her own knowledge — forces me to consider that what I want to teach has very little relationship to what my students learn. Ideally, I’ll manage congruency and they’ll learn what I need them to learn in order to satisfy my role as teacher. That philosophy dictates that I accept and understand that what I teach is only a subset of what they’ll learn and that the meaning they create has only a passing and tangential relationship to any assessment I may use. This is particularly true when I consider that I cannot assess the difference between what I intend to teach and what I actually teach. The situation only gets worse when we take into consideration that even the student might not know what they’ve learned — what the meaning and relationship of that knowledge might be to the rest of their lives — until weeks or even years after the course ends.

The implications of constructivism for my practice are that, ideally, I want to create educational situations where the students are offered the opportunity to construct knowledge in the domain of interest. Whether that domain is concrete like geology or abstract like algebra, it behooves me to create environments that encourage students to create their own knowledge. Because my job is to assess and validate for the Education factory, I need to temper that by applying assessments that satisfy the institutional requirements. The more that my assessments approximate real performance–the more my students can demonstrate what they’ve learned and not just answer questions about it–the more confidence I can have that the students actually learned. If I teach cooking, having students cook something instead of taking a multiple choice test about cooking something is more authentic and is likely to provide me with a more satisfying assessment and even–perhaps–a better sense for how well and how much the student has learned.

School as Video Game

September 16th, 2010

Go see what the questions are and visit for awhile.

The best thing about “Learning by Playing,” the most excellent feature in this week’s New York Times magazine, is not that it gives a fairly fair and balanced look at the potentials of learning games in the classroom. No, instead, it’s the willingness to ask big questions in a big, hairy mainstream publication that lots of people read:

via Weblogg-ed » School as Video Game.

If you haven’t already added his blog into your feed readers, go back and do it now.

What if we DID turn school into a video game? I’m looking at you, Mr. Walker! 🙂

Learning Styles — Again

September 6th, 2010

Every semester we go around with this. Every semester people argue with me about it. Every semester I run through the evidence and even with it staring them in the face, every semester teachers reject the idea that there is no credible evidence to support the idea of “Learning Styles” as currently applied in education. Here’s another study that agrees with me:

Our review of the literature disclosed ample evidence that children and adults will, if asked, express preferences about how they prefer information to be presented to them. There is also plentiful evidence arguing that people differ in the degree to which they have some fairly specific aptitudes for different kinds of thinking and for processing different types of information. However, we found virtually no evidence for the interaction pattern mentioned above, which was judged to be a precondition for validating the educational applications of learning styles. Although the literature on learning styles is enormous, very few studies have even used an experimental methodology capable of testing the validity of learning styles applied to education. Moreover, of those that did use an appropriate method, several found results that flatly contradict the popular meshing hypothesis.

via Learning Styles — Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

I got this link from a NY Times article about how much we do in education is based–and I’m paraphrasing here–on superstition.

For the 682 class: What does this mean for your designs? If you’re restricted to using ONLY those techniques for which we have good, scientifically based support–as you’re required to do by NCLB, btw–what can you do in a classroom?

For the 801 class: Here’s a leadership challenge for you. You cannot support the use of learning styles as a valid, research-based practice. How do you deal with that?


New online Monopoly

September 10th, 2009

I remember Monopoly from my youth. We called it Monotony because of the interminable length of game play and how long it took to actually make it around to where you could move. In spite of that, we had a great time playing with all the little pieces. Here’s an interesting bit of news and I think the “Wednesday” referenced was yesterday!

But when I played the new online version this morning I was free from such a driven competitor. Monopoly City Streets, a link up between game owners Hasbro and Google Maps, launches on Wednesday for a four-month period. It enables one, in theory, to buy any street in the world.

via New online Monopoly game is streets ahead | Technology |

Go read the whole piece and maybe I’ll see you in the game.

The game site appears to be overwhelmed. Gee, I wonder why?

A Real Test

April 28th, 2009

I love this guy.

Class members should have seen this on their aggregators, but this is too current — too important to let slide.

My idea is simply this. How can we use an event like this, and all of the news sources that are available on a breaking, global story in our classrooms? How can we teach kids about which sources of information are valuable in the midst of swirling rumour? They must be able to evaluate the worthiness of primary information surces at a time like this. There are many different channels of information available. How can our understanding be collated and improved instead of swamped by information and rumour?

This is a real test of information literacy skills.

via Remote Access: Swine Flu and Breaking News in the Classroom.

Clarence is right. This is a real test. More than a test for his kids, it’s a test for us. We *think* we get it.

Do we?

phaedrus » 2008 » April

April 2nd, 2009

I’ve been a bit derelict in directing the class so here’s a step back into the river of learning with a recap of something I found last year.

Big Idea

February 23rd, 2009

It happens again, and again, and again, and again …

John Pederson is a fellow twitterer – one of the almost 700 people I follow on Twitter – but I had to go to Remote Access to find a comment he left on one of Clarence’s posts, which brought me to THIS post on his blog.

It’s a learning project. It’s not a social networking project. It’s not a Web 2.0 project. It’s not an online community or a virtual world. Teachers need to experience and learn online learning. It’s built through a collaborative model of online learning and teaching. We aren’t building virtual schools or training more teachers. Leave that to others. This new collaborative model becomes the network around the network.

via ijohnpederson » Blog Archive » Idea.

It’s eerily similar to what *I* said just the other day about teachers and learning. An idea that’s been brewing here for a few weeks surfaced in a completely different form from a completely different vector.

This synchronicity is endemic and it’s one of the ways you know you’ve got a network.

For me, the really fascinating meta-moment here was when I remembered a post I made about a year ago about having different people pop up with the same idea almost at the exact same time.

Ironically, just a few weeks later, Will and I were talking about the same things at the same time again.

Guess what it was!

This is what we mean when we talk about having a personal learning network. It’s having ideas, and seeing them validated (or occasionally invalidated) through the serendipitous application of the network. Note that neither John nor I are saying anything radically different here than Will Richardson and I and many others were saying last March.

What’s different is that we’re refining the ideas over time. We’re constructing a common belief structure — distilling it out of experience into some stronger spirit than simple practice.

Give Peas a Chance

February 21st, 2009

There seems to be an imperialism involved with this topic of equity. Everybody has to be equal. That’s only right, right?

Except, does equity really mean equal?

Can we all be equal but still have inequity?

I’m seeing a lot of people who seem to think that if the student doesn’t leave the classroom knowing exactly what every other student knows, then — somehow — that’s not equitable.

I left a comment on a student’s blog post about equity and peas. In it I made the point that equity didn’t mean that every student ate the same number of peas, but rather that every student had the opportunity to eat the peas he or she wanted.

Notice I’m using the term “wanted” and not “needed.” How many peas do you need, after all? One? twelve? a thousand? Sure, I’m willing to accept that in a well ordered society, we might need to put some kind of reasonable limit on how many peas you get. Beyond that number, it’s up to you to figure out how to deal with your legume habit, but up to that number, it’s pretty reasonable that you might want to have peas now and again — with, perhaps, a nice meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

Maybe we live someplace were peas aren’t really that common and we need to try to find social rules for sharing out the peas among those that like them most. Some people might be willing to trade a share of peas for some green beans — or even venture into the cruciferous and try brussels sprouts.

So is it equitable? Does everybody have to eat their allotment of peas? What about those that don’t like them? Or perhaps have an allergy?

Does this seem kinda silly?

Then when we approach things like education, why are we talking about equity in terms of making sure every student learns the same thing?

I’ve been harping on this “one size fits all” problem for awhile in variety of contexts. I see it as part of the overall picture in Education. Standards work great when you wanna plug in an electrical appliance and be sure that it will work and won’t burn the house down in the process. Standards and Education are a bit more troubling because by adopting standards you’re saying everybody has to know the same thing. Or at least some of the same things. And when you assess based on standards, what you get are measures of the things you’re looking for but not necessarily the things you need to know.

You find out how many peas I ate. But you don’t find out that I gave half of them to my sister who likes them better.

In the first case you find out how well I conformed to standards.

In the second you find out something about me.

Where’s the equity?

Intended Consequences

February 8th, 2009

Tim Holt is an educational podcaster who often has some interesting things to say:

What happens when a teacher comes up against a textbook company and it’s intellectual property protection clause?

In this case, the teacher is left with little help from their education “partner” and is left to fend for herself.

via Intended Consequences.

There’s an audiofile associated with this post (yes, it’s a podcast. There’s a feed). Go listen to it and see if you think this teacher should be allowed to do what she says she wants to do with Houghton Mifflin’s copyrighted materials.

This is an exercise in listening. Don’t listen to what you think she means. Listen to what she says she’s going to do.