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Monday, October 25, 2010

Bucky Group - Changing Education Paradigms

23rd October 2010

This Saturday, we listened to a speech given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education expert and recipient of the RSA Benjamin Franklin award.

A lot of what he says resonates with what Bucky said, that "Everyone is born a genius, but the process of living de-geniuses them." Evidently, as in Ken's speech, toddler kids score 98% in the genius test and got worse as they grew older.

As an exercise for 'divergent thinking', Joo Hock gave us each an A4 size paper and asked if we could make a loop out of it that is big enough to go around our body. That is, without the aid of sticky tape and staples. I told Joo Hock that I have already done this before and he asked me to think of another way of doing it.
We come back to the results later...

The famous author and futurist Alvin Toffler mentioned about the factory style production of education in his book "The Third Wave" in the 1970s and in "Revolutionary Wealth" in the 2000s. In the factory system, everyone starts at the same age, do the same curriculum and take the same tests. This was to turn farm hands to factory hands in the face of the industrial revolution. More about "Revolutionary Wealth", click here.
This system also assumes that everyone is destined to be an intellectual with the ultimate achievement of becoming a university professor. In other words, some will be called 'smart' and some 'stupid'.

Bucky mentioned in the 1970s that universities of the future would be production studios for educational documentaries. Today, we find lots of these educational documentaries in Youtube and other video hosting portals. MIT and some other Ivy League universities have also uploaded their lectures and lecture notes to the Internet for anyone to download for free!
Then you have oddball groups, like the Bucky Group, going on an informal lifelong learning journey, by gathering in a hair salon every week to learn something from books, videos and each other.
Now, here comes the contentious part about ADHD...
By K E Pang
Registered Educaion Therapist, Assoc Fellow, DAS RETA;
MSc, PGDipEd, BSocSc(Hons), BA.

I agree with his point that we need to reform education due to economic and cultural reasons. I also agree that we need to relook the way we classify human capacity into “academic vs non-academic” and the myth of the “abstract – theoretical – vocational” conception.

Definitely, education should cater to different individuals. But this is not new. About 2,500 years ago, Confucius in China already propounded to “teach according to the material/talent (witty pun too).”
It is true that current public education marginalizes millions of children. While he seem to suggest that all those millions are children with ADHD conditions, I’d like to add that those labeled ADHD are just some of those marginalized, but not the only one. There are others like those with conditions of Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Autistic spectrum, etc.

There may be some cases of ADHD where drugs may not be the best solution, and may be overused. However, in extreme cases, it is necessary for the safety of others. In have come across several children with severe ADHD coupled with violent tendencies that they actually posed a safety hazard to people around them (children and adults alike) on a daily basis. It was only on days they were sedated that the other children felt safe from harm. Fortunately, most cases of ADHD were not like that.
In his presentation, Ken Robinson appear to tacitly privilege divergent thinking and creativity over other capacities. Divergent thinking and creativity per se, without balance from other capacities may not be very helpful. There are also other capacities like the ability to focus, and act, that are also important for work to get done. Thus the value of convergent thinking and deductive reasoning still have their places for survival and daily living.
In the experiment he quoted on the genius in divergent thinking, he noted that divergent thinking seem to deteriorate with age. He attributed the deterioration to education. However, without proof cited, that is just a speculation.

We know from research that influences on the individual from the mass media and peers are just as strong, if not much stronger, than education institutions. Moreover, brain studies show that there are developmental phases in our physiology that our brain cells and their connections go through pruning – a process of cutting down the very connections that is linked to divergent thinking. Perhaps the causes of deterioration in divergent thinking lay elsewhere?
Ken Robinson seemed to contradict himself towards the end. e.g. he mentioned some individuals study best in solitude, some in small groups, some etc... yet, in his closing remark he mentioned that most learning happen in groups.

This may or may not be the case, for we know some of the most important and profound insights were done in solitude. Especially knowledge of intellect and of emotions. wisdom...which is more than both. Jesus spent years in the wilderness. Buddha attained his enlightenment in solitude meditation under the Bodhi tree.
Moreover, learning in groups may be heaven for some of the ADHDs, but it would be a torture chamber for those on the autistic spectrum, or other individuals who just learn best in solitude.

In that case, was he not just imposing another set of ideas onto what is?

About Answers
Monica: Teachers in schools tend to have a 'correct' answer for every question they ask. This does not allow the students to think that there are more than one answer to a question.
My Experiment as a Teacher
That is why when I was a lecturer in a local Polytechnic, I refused to have multiple-choice questions as it gives the impression that one of the four suggested answers is absolutely right and the other three are entirely wrong. This does not closely reflect reality. Usually, there are more than four alternative answers and sometimes, all of them are 'wrong' or not ideal.
The other category I took out from the exams the privilege to choose the questions the student would like to answer. Again, we often do not have the privilege to ignore questions that we face in real life. So I insisted on all questions to be answered.
As I was teaching a security course, all questions were scenario based. That meant that a scenario was given and the student had to assess what to do given the scenario and to state all assumptions if required.
For some questions, I went a step further to ask the student to identify the question (or problem) in the scenario, and that marks will be awarded to the explanation of why the student think that was the question given the scenario. Isn't this a common situation where observations are made, and yet the real question is elusive?
Naturally, I was not popular, as the students were all working adults from 35 to 45 years old, holding responsible positions and educated in the traditional route learning system. I realised that when they interrupted my lesson to tell me that what I spoke of at that moment and what was displayed on the slides were not identical. They also asked which page of the notes I was referring to. They had expected speech, slides and notes to be all perfectly synchronised. I told them not to worry about the slides and only to refer to the notes when they get home, but right at the moment, they were supposed to listen, understand or ask questions. That didn't quite work out.
More challenges arose in the assignments, one of them which was supposed to build a data centre on the crest of a hillock. As they were used to accept knowledge from books wholesale without questioning, some of them mentioned in their assignments that "precautions must be taken to make sure that the data centre site is not flooded during a rain..."; another mentioned that "precautions have to be taken against pipes freezing and bursting...", even given that the site is in sunny tropical Singapore!
At this point, Joo Hwa said that the student was 'correct' about the flood, as we learned that in our nursery rhyme, that "Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water...". "Aren't they supposed to go DOWN the hill to fetch a pail of water?" Come to think of it, yeah, nobody questioned, myself included!!!
In another assignment, I asked the students to pick up any two brands of a security device, then evaluate and compare their usefulness and explain why they choose one over the other. Many of them couldn't do that. They are used to receiving information and treating them as gospel truth. Now with the democratisation of information, they were unable to discern and discriminate. A skill that urgently need to be taught in school - this is suggested by Alvin Toffler in his book "Revolutionary Wealth", as in the Internet age, students no longer learn only from teachers. The result of the assignment was that I got many assignments that merely cut and pasted a table of data of product A, and another table of data of product B, without commentary.
However, there were two activities that worked quite well, so not all was futile. One was the role play exercise, where I simulated a scenario of a security intrusion and that they were to react to the incident. The other successful activity was the one-to-one interview where they felt they really learned a lot from, though the interviews for each of them was only 5-10 minutes. I supposed these two activities worked better because they were interactive and there was more fun!
How to Get the Most out of the Present System
Lily related her experience of her grand-daughter in kindergarten where she coloured the face of a girl blue and the teacher told the little girl that it was the wrong colour, and what the right colour was supposed to be. In another case, her grand-daughter drew lines across a triangle, as instructed, and the teacher commented that the lines were out of the sides of the triangle and that they were crooked, so she should use a ruler to draw them.
Lily said that that was disheartening, but she tries to go along with the system, by telling her grand daughter that for the exams, she must do it in a certain way, but in life, the rules are to be broken.
June then quickly interjected that it must be emphasized that it should be told that the rules can be broken but only if integrity is maintained.
How do you feel if you have made a discovery?
At this point, Joo Hock took out his poster used during his book launch of a quotation by Isaac Asimov, it has some blanks for us to fill in and it goes like this:
"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds a discovery is not 'e_____', but 'that's f____.'"
Can you guess the two words in the phrase? The first one is 'eureka', the second is 'funny'.

Results of Cutting the A4 paper into a Loop:
These are the results from a group of senior citizens trying to cut loops out of A4 size paper that is big enough to go through Joo Hocks body. Well, did Ken say genius thinking deteriorates with age? :)

Try it yourself. Cut a loop big enough to loop around your body from an A4 size paper without sticky tape and staplers. I'll show you one of the solutions next week!

Monica mentioned about the 12 senses in Wardolf Education. I have checked on the Net and found these:
  1. Touch
  2. Life
  3. Movement
  4. Equilibrium
  5. Smell
  6. Taste
  7. Vision
  8. Warmth
  9. Listening/Hearing
  10. Word/Language
  11. Thought
  12. Ego
For more details of the 12 senses, click here.

1 comment:

Sharukh Khan said...
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