Archive for Teaching styles

Peer review by internet

There’s plenty of support and plenty of criticism for the Khan Academy videos.

Math Hombre have a sarcastic review  of a KA lesson about multiplying negative numbers that does make some valid points about the video’s shortcomings.

So a big thumbs up to the Khan Academy for their quick response to the negative comments. They pulled the video and replaced it with a much better version of the topic. It’s interesting to speculate what the end product might be like after a few cycles of this critique and response cycle.

There’s a marked contrast between the type of comments about the video on the math hombre blog site and the direct youtube site – people either love the KA videos (video users who’ve found the instruction helpful) or love to hate them (more likely to be an educationalist and the videos fail to develop conceptual understanding) – an internet version of Math Wars. Still there’s no escaping the fact that when it comes to an organised collection of video presentations of math topics, the Khan Academy video collection seems to meet a need, and has achieved it’s current status, for better or worse, because at present it doesn’t have any significant competition.

Dan Meyer suggested writing a critique on any KA video would be a good way to assess pedagogical knowledge and it seems that that idea has grown into a competition for the best Entertaining and Enlightening video posted to youtube featuring a Khan Academy video. It’s a great idea and I’m looking forward to seeing which videos come under more scrutiny, and what modifications are made to the Khan videos as a result.

The competition offically closes August 15, but who knows where it will go from there. Maybe peer reviews will be available for any type of educational material on the web and the standard of educational web resources will grow exponentially as a result. Fingers crossed!

A deep understanding of memory

In his book “Why Don’t Children Like School”,  psychologist Daniel Willingham says that understanding is memory in disguise.  Although this seems the exact opposite of  the widely adopted strategy of making information memorable by making it understandable,   his point is that memory and understanding are a pidgeon pair. Both are necessary for learning – memory improves as understanding improves, and understanding improves as memorizing improves.  Any teaching strategy that neglects the role that memory plays in understanding is likely to be one where the students find conceptual understanding of the topic elusive.

Yup – I’m saying sometimes memorizing is an essential part of understanding,   and sometimes it needs to come before you can understand enough to learn.

Yup – I know that’s not what they teach in teaching college,  but then they don’t teach much cognitive science in teaching college either.  Sure, plenty of Piaget, Vygostkty, Bruner and Gardner, but only a smattering of neurones and synapses.

Here it is – the crash course in cognitive science – a.k.a.  “Your Memory, and Why It’s Important to Know More About It”.

Message understood doesn’t always mean message is remembered.

The brain apparently handles understanding (processing information) and memorizing (storing information) in totally different ways.   Although (fortunately) it doesn’t happen very often,  it is possible to have brain damage which makes it impossible to create new memories. Such an individual is able to reason and understand using any knowledge from memories acquired prior to the injury, but is unable to create new memories. Any newly acquired knowledge obtained from logical reasoning and understanding of already known information will not be remembered for more than a few minutes.

The long and the short of memories

Most theories about how brains think, reason, calculate and memorize involve the concept of two types of memory – working memory (sometimes referred to as short-term memory) and long-term memory. Although not yet fully understood, current theories  about the interaction of these two memory types can help in the creation and design of more effective learning experiences for students, particularly those students with learning difficulties. Read more

Yes! yes!! yes!!! (I’ll have what she’s having)

Maybe, just maybe, Ken Robinson’s education revolution is starting to happen.  Maybe the revolution is starting with classroom teaching time into homework time, and homework time into lesson viewing time. Sometimes it’s called flip-teaching, sometimes inverse-teaching, but whatever it’s called, the general idea is that teacher time is best spent interacting with students, and anything that makes more teacher time available for that interaction is going to improve the student learning experience.

Homework time and lesson time are flipped. By making a video of the lesson and making it available for students to watch as homework, everyone wins. With totally flexible viewing time, students are no longer penalized if classes are missed for whatever reason.   What would normally be “homework” – applying the knowledge gained from the lesson – is done during class time, when there are opportunities to clarify any areas of confusion.  Lesson time becomes quality teaching time as the teacher moves around the class, observing how students apply the knowledge and intervening or assisting as required. Read more

Learning to think

In an era that emphasizes the need for “deep understanding” in learning, it’s alarming that most of the students I meet requiring tutoring are totally reliant two ineffective strategies to find an answer – 1) guess and hope, or 2) don’t even try – that way you can’t get it wrong. Until recently my typical strategy would be to identify areas of  misconceptions,  and make students aware of what they needed to know to correct their knowledge of basic mathematical concepts . I stressed the importance of reasoning over guessing, and provided students with opportunities to practice and apply their new-found knowledge.  I figured I was helping them acquire the “deep understanding”  they had previously missed out on, and that this newly acquired knowledge would improve both their self-confidence and their motivation.

It didn’t work  very well. Read more

Motivation beyond Maslow

If we want our student’s to be come lifelong learners, then they need to enjoy learning. Yet the reality is that there are many students who are anything but motivated learners.  For these students, the only good part about school is that it’s a place to meet their friends. The lessons – the education part of school – is endured.   How likely is it that these students will become lifelong learners? Read more

Video Games and Learning

An interesting article at Virtual Learning Worlds discusses the design of educational games, with a cute video that discusses “tangental learning”.

According to the video, tangental learning is what you learn by being exposed to topics in a context you are already engaged in, rather than learning by being directly taught. It can work by exposing people to topics they didn’t know they were interested in, so they may then independently seek further information. In short, people will self-educate if they already find the topic interesting and engaging. The trick is to add to the depth of the player’s experience, without making them feel like they’re being held down and blugeoning them with knowledge.

The video is worth watching not only for its content, but also as a study in presenting a potentially dry topic in an interesting way.