Monthly Archives: April 2014

Practice makes better practice.

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The old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ doesn’t seem to fit the bill of our learning process. Learning is not a simple, straight-forward process. It requires a multitude of steps and an abundance of information coming together, and that process won’t be the same every time. So, the new adage is ‘practice makes better practice’. If learners can develop an understanding of how they learn, it can be applied to future experiences, and that process will never stop.

How do you learn?

This is the question of ages, one that stumps just about everyone. Part of learning to your fullest potential, and cultivating a positive learning environment for others, starts with your ability to understand, and think about your own thinking. So, how do you start addressing this question if you are not a field that has to do with the brain and how it works?

The first step to answering this question has to do with understanding mental representations. In the simplest of terms, they are how our brain functions to help us learn and apply knowledge.

-Logic helps our brain arrive at an understanding based on information we are given, even if it doesn’t always make sense.

Rules are the mental boundaries our thoughts happen within, which helps us to find solutions, or establish new mental boundaries. Essentially, they are the ‘if, then’ statements.

Concepts are established to helps us make connections between ideas, words, images, etc. which result in behaviors, however, the concepts can be applied in more than one way.

Analogies/Cases are the way in which we devise a solution to a problem, by applying mental analogies, or recognizing similarities in the scenarios.

Images are the mental images our brains create to help us remember significant information. (Thagard, 2012).

The next step to answering the question has to do with the actual learning process, and how we must interact with learning environment to walk away with the most learning potential.

Playing the Whole Game requires us to make a commitment to the learning process by using skills like problem solving, arguments, craft, etc.  to produce a product of sorts or inquire about something.

Make the Whole Game Worth Playing requires us to weed out the extraneous information, and find intrinsic motivation so what we are leaning resonates with us.

Working on the hard parts suggests that in order for us to fully grasp the whole game, we must put forth extra work and practice when it comes to areas of difficulty.

Playing out of town suggests that transferring knowledge and skills from a previous learning experience to the one at hand, helps elevate the new learning process.

Uncovering the hidden game can be the most difficult part, especially if we don’t know how to find them. However, the hidden games help us to understand the overall game, and raise the bar on our level of understanding.

Learning from the team encourages us to work and collaborate with others who might have a better understanding of content, or another person we can ‘trade’ knowledge with. (Perkins, 2009).

The final step to answer the question has to do with combining steps one and two together. If you are able to identify and understand how you learn and then apply it to the actual learning experience, you will have a better understanding of the core inter workings of any learning process.

For me, I went into this course, with a very primitive understanding of how I learn. I had a basic knowledge from previous education, human development and psychology courses. Reflecting back on the information presented in this course, I now have a more concrete understanding of how I learn, and interact within certain learning environments. I started to think about situations in the past where I was not successful in the learning environment, and using the steps above, I identified the areas that were lacking or absent altogether.

As an educator, I think this is an important process and practice for us to engage in on a continuous basis, to help us become a better teacher, and to help foster a learning environment that promotes active learning. Many learning environments are constricted by the every changing curricula, standards and policies; and those can make it difficult to slow down the learning process, and make it worth while for the students. Before educators slow down the learning process, they must first understand their own learning process. Once they have a grasp on their own, they become more aware of learning process for each student. Although they might not have a complete understanding of the individual students learning process, it becomes a mutual learning experience for both. In addition to understanding the students learning process, it is also essential for the educator to acknowledge the factors that can impede on the learning process like distractions and illusions. Once again, being able to recognize distractions and illusions in their own learning process, will help the educator to identify them in their students. Lastly, it is important for the educator to create numerous opportunities for the students to become actively engaged in their learning process. Project-based learning gives the students a chance to experience the content in more than one way, which helps form solid knowledge.

Ultimately, the theory and discussion surrounding these concepts is kind of like a ‘duh’ moment. If we can unlock and expose the learning process within ourselves and our students, then the overall learning experience would be robust and positive. However, in practice, these concepts can be difficult to put into practice when there is minimal support, time, and a learning curve. Therefore, some questions arise:

-How can educators become more aware of, and engaged in their own learning process, if they are not enrolled in a program like this one?

-What resources can educators rely on and reference? And, where do they find them?

-How can administrators, and schools in general, create more attention and focus on this concept of learning about your learning?

-What strategies can educators employ in the classroom to help foster conversations with their students about these concepts?

-If the students struggle with verbalizing these concepts, what can be done to develop a better understanding?

-Once the students have a better grasp on their own learning process, how, and what, can schools do to continue promoting a learning environment like such?

-How do the current changes to education standards reflect these concepts, especially when there is a large focus on standardized testing?

-How can project-based learning become more integrated into course curricula that doesn’t typically involve it, like math?

-How do educators accommodate these concepts in the classroom, while making the teaching approach relevant to students’ lives (i.e. the use of technology)?

While we might not have the answers to all of those questions, here are some websites that will help educators start the ball rolling:

http://www.edutopia.org/project-learning-teaching-strategies

http://www.edutopia.org/multiple-intelligences-learning-styles-quiz

References:

Perkins, D. (2009). Making learning whole: How seven principles of teaching can transform education. (1st ed., pp. 1-316). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Thagard, Paul, “Cognitive Science”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2012/entries/cognitive-science/>.

 

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Eliminating Distracti….Oh, look at that over there! And A Gym Membership for your Brain.

From the moment our alarm clocks go off in the morning, until the time our brain powers down at night, we are bombarded by hundreds of distractions on a daily basis. Understanding how interferences work is an important part of being able to eliminate them in the classroom.

Gazzaley points out that interferences can influence an individual’s ability to focus on the initial goal. There are two types of interferences that can occur: internal and external. External interferences can be divided into two smaller components, distractions and interruptions. In a classroom, distractions might include the side conversations of students, the annoying tapping of a pen on a desk, etc. In order for a student to focus, they would need to tune those distractions out. The other form of external interferences, interruptions, might happen when a student is in the middle of explaining something, and someone interjects with an equally important question. The student who is talking, must stop to address that question, and then reengage in the conversation they were having initially. On the flip side, internal interferences can be divided into two smaller components: intrusions and diversions. In a classroom, intrusions are an internal interference. A student might be thinking about all of the other work they must complete tonight before a big event, therefore, their thoughts divert attention away from their focus. Diversions are something that a teacher sees most commonly in a classroom. A student will be multi-tasking. Chances are, in today’s society, that multi-tasking is between the discussion in the classroom and the social media they are checking on their mobile device (Gazzaley, 2011).

As technology usage increases, it’s important for educators to recognize that it exists, and can’t be eliminated from the classroom completely. So, how do we let our students know when technology use is appropriate, and when we need to eliminate controllable distractions from the learning environment? Controllable is an important term to consider. Sometimes, distractions are out of our control, however, if there are ones we can control, it is important that we exercise our abilities to remove them.. A visual and verbal cue is a great way to reinforce technology use in the classroom. Here is a chart I came up with that shows what type of technology use is acceptable for the lesson at hand:

tech use stoplight

The red spot indicates that the task at hand requires the students to dedicate 100% of their attention to it, and should eliminate as many controllable interferences as possible. For example, taking a test.

The yellow spot indicates that the task at hand requires the students to use some technology to assist them with the task. For example, they may need to use their mobile device for calculations, or look up something on the internet.

The green spot indicates that the task at hand allows for the students to use their technology as long as it is appropriate and meets the acceptable technology policies in the classroom and school. For example, the students may be working on a project that allows them to use their mobile device, like listening to music.

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Now, that you have the controllable distractions under control in the classroom, how do you increase your brain powers, along with your students? There have been hundreds of apps released over the years, however, one has been involved in some serious research with the Human Cognition Project. Lumosity is a great app that exercises various parts of your brains’ abilities: attention, memory, speed, problem solving, and flexibility. The exercises are embedded in fun games that have been proven to increase your brains’ mental powers! In an experiment conducted across 43 schools in 7 countries with 949 students, it was determined that: “Web-based cognitive training programs can successfully be deployed as a large scale, multi-site classroom intervention. Students that utilized the Lumosity training games improved more on the Brain Performance Test than did the control group. Engaging in larger doses of cognitive training is associated with larger improvements on the Brain Performance Test” (Ng, Sternberg, Katz, Hardy & Scanlon, 2012).

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So, why bother with this app? Having increased attention and memory abilities can assist you and your students when it comes to overcoming the ‘hard parts’. Perkins identifies the ‘hard parts’ as the areas that individuals stumble on in our daily practices, and are the areas that the individual must concentrate on to overcome them (Perkins, pg. 101). For example, if a student is trying to draw one-point perspective, they might not understand how all of the lines recede into space. That’s the ‘hard part’. The ‘hard parts’ often require fewer distractions and increased focusing abilities from the individual. Implementing Lumosity into classroom practices can help your students become masters of the ‘hard parts’. The app can help strengthen their attention and memory abilities, which will assist them with the ‘hard parts’ in the future.

**Text in red has active links that will open in another window. Click on them to view more information on the HCP, the Lumosity study and the app itself.

References:

Gazzaley, A. (2011, April 17). Brain: memory and multitasking [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiANn5PZ4BI

Ng, N., Sternberg, D., Katz, B., Hardy, J., & Scanlon, M. (2012, November 17). New approaches to learning using neuroscience and gaming: A large scale, multi-site implementation of a web-based cognitive training program in academic settings. Retrieved from http://cdn-hcp.lumosity.com/uploads/completed_research_post/original_paper_file/6/Ng-2012-L_B_poster_revised.pdf

Perkins, D. (2009). Making learning whole. How seven principles of teaching can transform education.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.