Posts Tagged ‘learning’

The future of education (with an emphasis on science education)

August 4, 2009

I love where education is headed. This is a weird statement to make as a teacher; my income is currently based on the existence of relatively traditional schools. I could of course switch to tutoring, non-traditional educational institutions, become a consultant, or otherwise use my skills in related areas. But the truth is that I like working with high school students* and find the traditional setting perfectly acceptable. Yet I love the change that I see building up around me to invert some of what we now think of as schooling.

I recently mentioned Dan Meyer’s “Be less helpful” comment. It fits very well with the ideas of Modeling Physics (building from experiences and models of them with a big dose of Socratic Questioning), Peer Instruction, the recent explosion of the podcast (or vodcast) in education whether in chemistry or in general, and the flourishing of free online resources in the form of OpenCourseWareand textbooks (sorry for the physics centric link – follow links to go to the overall sites) or even whole Universities. Moving the basic transmission of ideas into a student centric space and focus the time in the institutional (social) setting for discussion, activities, and assessment (including more informal feedback style assessment similar to Eric Mazur’s Peer Instruction as well as formal tests). Its powerful stuff even if it isn’t really new. As I’m sure many people have noticed its really what a good literature class already does!

There are questions of course.

1. Can this inversion do anything about the smart under-achievers? Can such a switch motivate them to gain something from a podcast, video, or web site that they wouldn’t get a from a lecture, textbook, or teacher led activity?

2. Can this work in a setting with underprivileged students? The quantifiable data seems to say that this group isn’t doing much outside of class. If you combine that with the possible digital divide it might be rough. The flip side is that podcasts and audio are accessible with minimal and ubiquitous hardware. Plus playing them, or even a vodcast, might not seem quite a publicly nerdy as reading a book.

3. If perfect is the enemy of good and many teachers are at a good point right now is the benefit worth it? Purely thinking as a classroom teacher I find this the biggest question. It is not a matter of the amount of work but instead its a matter of having the transition from one style to the other disrupt the learning and lead to a result that is worse then either method. Or, to put things another way, is there enough buy in among all stakeholders that a teacher can safely learn these methods while doing them. Clearly this is a case by case basis.


Active versus Passive

June 30, 2009

I’m not sure what to make of yesterday’s interaction between my learning behavior and my son’s learning behavior.

He’s taking an online computer game design class using the FANG Java engine. Overall its proving to be a good experience but he had run into a stumbling block yesterday. He entered a program and found a more cryptic error instead of the common syntax errors. He tried a few things but was obviously frustrated. We talked about the error which seemed to help but at one point he stated that he wanted to just post a question in the class’s online forum to ask if anyone else had run into that error and, if so, how had they solved it.

I found myself completely opposed to this idea. In many respects its a good idea; don’t waste time reinventing the wheel, use the communities knowledge, ask for help so that when the problem comes up again you’ll know what to do. Its even, as he quickly informed me, exactly what I told him was the best method of solving his earlier problem with the class (issues with the Wimba tool that the class uses). He went ahead and wrote the post but didn’t post it until after he tried some of the things that I and my wife suggested (comparing his code to another student’s code, Googling the error message, rechecking some things in the book and the online docs). He found the problem and never posted the message.

Is it just me and my old school thinking that just posting a question and waiting for someone else to answer is too passive? Sometimes it is the best strategy but in this case he succeeded on his own with just some encouragement and direction even if, in many respects, what he ended up doing was asking the “local web” of knowledge in the form of me and my wife. We were a little less direct then a classmate would have been since we mostly provided methods of resolving the problem not specific solutions but its unclear that the distinction (or the general usefulness of the methods) sunk in.