Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I Learn, Therefore I Am

Stupidity is to doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Equally stupid is claiming, either implicitly or explicitly, to be an expert in something and then coming up with a plan to break it.....and thereafter coming up with another plan to fix the thing you had broken!

"We have to teach children to learn how to learn" is one of those completely stupid statements that seems to be popular these days. Admittedly, it is most popular among non-teachers. I wonder why that is? Hmmm!

Children have a natural ability and inclination to learn. Children are naturally curious and naturally creative. Put a toddler in a room full of other children with books, crayons, paper and toys and let them off; watch what happens.

Aristotle said that 'man was a political animal'. He was only partly correct. More than anything else, Man is a learning animal. We learn every moment of every day. We learn even when we are asleep. Learning is our natural inclination towards the world we in habit. We may or may not be a 'blank slate' when we are born but one thing is clear - our experiences continually shape and reshape us in the world.  We can not help but learn. There is no escape from learning. We can argue over good learning or bad learning. But either way, it is learning. The only time we stop learning is when we expire. I learn, therefore I am.

We do not have to teach children to learn how to learn. What we need to do is come up with a school system that doesn't drive the natural inclination to learn out of them. We need to nurture children's natural ability to learn.

The national curriculum is important. I am a firm believer in children learning a set of age appropriate skills and a healthy dollop of knowledge (common or garden variety - the stuff that was all the rage before we came up with 'child-centred education' (which was never anything of the sort) but I digress....).

But we have to absolutely avoid turning the school experience in to a dull treadmill of repetitive (and often unnecessary) homework, and drills. But if we are now saying that we need to teach children to learn how to learn, we have to question what has gone wrong, initially at primary level, to drive the natural ability to learn out of children.

It's not the teachers, that's for sure; primary school teachers are some of the most ethical, hard-working and committed professionals I know. It could be that the curriculum wouldn't be so burdensome if class sizes were smaller. Funding is clearly a significant factor. There may be others.

But it is pointless to drive the 'learn how to learn' fad without looking at how the State has failed primary schools in Ireland. It's little more than a smokescreen for other policy failures. In fact, it is stupid.
Update: I found this interesting video of Noam Chomsky commenting on John Dewey; he raises some interesting points.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Junior Cycle Literacy - Keywords for Junior Certificate Geography

I’ve just published an eBook on Kindle called ‘Junior Cycle Literacy - Keywords for Junior Certificate Geography ‘. Here’s the blurb…..
“..Improve your literacy for Junior Cycle Geography and revise for Junior Certificate Geography at the same time. Keywords for Junior Certificate Geography contains definitions and explanations matched to the Junior Cycle Geography Syllabus. There are over 700 terms covering the earth, rocks, soils, rivers, coasts, ice, weather and climate, settlement, and economic activities and more all hyperlinked so you are never far away from finding out what a word means.”
Works on Kindle, iPad, iPod, PC, Mac and Smartphone

Thursday, March 28, 2013

IT CPD for Free

MakeUseOf is a website I found
entirely by accident while surfing the interweb looking of resources. I subscribe to it to get automatic updates.

Some of the updates you get will be about competitions to win stuff. It's never happened to me so I have no vested interest in telling you about the site here.

The major attraction of this site for me is their 'Cheat sheets' and 'Guides'.

The site has a long list of cheat sheets - single page documents - full of tips and tricks for all your favourite Web 2.0 applications and more besides. If you've just bought a Windows 8 machine, have a look at this, for example to get an idea.

The range of user guides is even more impressive, with guides for everything from  How The Internet Works to guides to using Joomla, Photoshop and more.

The best thing about this site is that everything is free in the 'completely free' sense of the word. When you consider that you pay money to buy similar ebooks or paperbacks you get an idea of the value of the site. I'm not sure how they make their money - probably through advertising - but it's incredible that so much stuff is on the site for free.

They have a section on the best Apps available where they list selected Apps for every platform.

I could go on - there's a lot more free resources on the site (forum, chat, tech help) - but it's probably better if you go visit it yourself and rummage around. It's looks a bit like a one-stop-shop for IT know-how. Let me know if you found it useful.

Oh, they ahve a Facebook page too.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Simple, But No Simpler

The title is otherwise known as the Einstein Principle - a scientific theory should be simple, but no simpler.

What if their was a simple formula to teaching and learning?

What if there was a simple formula for getting students to learn?
There's an interesting phrase - 'getting students to learn'; really what we mean, is getting them to learn the things we want them to learn when there are other things they would rather be doing/are distracted by.

I would be the first in the line to say there are things all children should/must/ought to learn. The reality of life is there are things children have to learn whether or not they like it. I don't only mean the things they need to learn but just don't like - such as tidying up after themselves - but some of the more 'traditional' school subjects - what's that word now - oh yes, content. It's what makes us interesting and lays the foundation for learning skills. The alternative is Orwell's 1984. Think about that the next time someone tells you we need to prepare children for the 'jobs of tomorrow'.

We were told once the MTV generation needed quick-changing small learning segments because their 30-second attention span had been moulded by MTV and other programmes they saw on the tellybox. We've had Generation X, Generation Y and Lord know what it is now. I suspect now it's the Alphabety-Soup Generation and they need an alphabet-soup of classroom approaches to 'keep them on-task' - that, apparently, is how it is with children these days - they need to be kept on-task - because being on-task is the very thing they don't want to be. If you believe that.

What if we viewed education, not as what we wanted to do to children or as something to keep them occupied, but something in which we wanted to include children? What if we brought them into the learning process in which the teacher was as much a learner as them? To do that, you have to go to where the student is.

Ian Gilbert writes about WIIFM - What's In It For Me - the attitude that every child has when sitting in a classroom. This is the teacher's first hurdle.

Getting over the WIIFM hurdle involves finding the thing that motivates each individual student in your classroom. It doesn't have to be every lesson - it can't be, there's only one of you - but it can be for each child for some lessons. The thing that motivates every student is the thing they love and often it's a hobby. If you can find a way to tie that into lessons, you bring a whole new level of meaning to what you do in the classroom.

Examples I have used is tying slopes into one boy's interest in mountain biking; inventing a dance to show different plate tectonic movements which appealed to the dancers in the class. It's not just finding a new or fun way to teach something - it's deeper - it tying learning directly into the students experience - an experience of a thing they love. It doesn't have to involve all the technology in the world - though it could. It doesn't have to be complicated. In fact, the simpler it is, the better.

As with all things educational, we should be cautious about making things too simple.