Posts Tagged ‘transfer of knowledge’

I promised a week ago to point to a range of useful websites that one of the keynote speakers recommended and here it is!wio cover 202x300 The World is Open

At the NSW Conference on Engaging Learners Through Innovative Practice one of the keynote speakers was Dr Curtis Bonk (you can follow his blog here http://travelinedman.blogspot.com/). He spoke about the wide range of internet resources that are now available to motivate and engage learners.

Curtis generously sent me his new book The World is Open which expands on his talk about how the web is revolutionising education.

The main thrust of the book and Curtis’s talk is that technology and the availability of information and resources is now at the point that

“Anyone can now learn anything from anyone at anytime”

Let me quote some sections from the text”

“… Thomas Friedman argued that our world had been flattened by many technologies, most significant of which is the Internet, with its ability to find nearly any piece of information we might seek in the exact moment of need. As he showed, the commerce-related implications of this premise are enormous”

“In the twenty-first century, education trumps the economy as the key card to participation in the world. It is education, after all, from which robust economies are built.”

“We are living in a time period of the most monumental changes and challenges to arise in education since Plato held his first classes at his famed academy, Hekademeia, later known as Akademeia. Even in those days, learning in different locations and times was facilitated by technology as teachers and learners were shifted from exclusive reliance on oral traditions to instruction that included the written word. This, of course, was a historic transformation for the people of the planet because learning could now take place beyond a singular geographic location and moment in time.”

Curtis goes on to not only point to how we are now at a similar transformational period in human history but gives a range of examples. Here are some resources for you!

1. Notschool.net: is an international ‘online learning community’ offering an alternative to traditional education for young people who are unable to engage with school or other complementary provisions such as home tutoring or specialist units.

2. CALM Chemistry: a free web tool to assist learning chemistry

3. Jing: A simple way to add visuals to your online conversations. Teachers can use it to explain processes online.

4. WolframAlpha: a computational knowledge engine that is quite remarkable! It gives you access to an extraorindary range of facts about anything in the world.

5. Geothentic: Geospatial technologies plus Authentic Learning. Geothentic provides an online environment for teachers and students to solve complex geography circumstances. Brilliant!

6. Nautilus Live: Follow along as Dr. Robert Ballard and his team undertake an exciting expedition on the E/V Nautilus to map the sea floor and study underwater volcanoes. Be there in real time.

7. Virtual Tours of the Louvre: go for a tour through the museum (many museum sites have these functions now!)

8. Turning the Pages: turn the pages of historical documents in the British Museum

9. ARCHAVE: the ARCHAVE system is an immersive virtual reality environment for archaeological research.

and many more. Check out more by downloading Curtis’s presentation here sydneykeynote – curtis bonk.

Two items I want to end on:

1. While the technology and resources are here to make classrooms more engaging and have the students drive their own learning, few teachers take it on. This article shows some research into this (Research-dispels-common-ed-tech-myths).

2. Third world countries are becoming the source of innovation that will drive the future. Don’t believe me? India has come up with a $35 tablet computer that they hope will be used throughout their school system. (India unveils $35 tablet computer) And we complain about getting netbooks in schools and politicians are trying to end the computer in schools program!

What great websites for learning do you know of and would like me to speak about?

I have had an interesting time this week as I went and visited a range of schools to observe teachers teaching (or should that be … provide a space for learning to occur?). I was able to sit in on a range of teachers and the variety of approaches they use to promote learning.

Before I get into the topic of teacher practices I think I must start by saying that good inquiry learning requires elements of explicit teaching, practicing, skill development, and inquiry. It is a mistake to think that you do not have explicit teaching or rote learning as part of the process. Why? Well … if you examine how the brain builds knowledge .. repetition is critical (look at anyone trying to learn a new sport). Explicit teaching is critical … you cannot develop critical thinking skills without having a knowledge base.

So let’s discuss practices …

The context where inquiry learning works best is one where the students (and teachers) are developing certain capacities and skills whilst learning about something. In a content focussed curriculum there is no focus on skills apart from that which has content understood.

They are two different paradigms and lead to two different outcomes.Kids Hands 300x237 Practices. Practices!

In the paradigm of developing skills and capacities in our students … everything you or the students do is an opportunity to develop the skills and capacities. Let me give you some examples.

Example A

Two teachers were team teaching and while one led an inquiry into a particular topic the other teacher listened in and occasionally added reinforcement to what was said or added to the inquiry to help the students. It was excellent as I watched to see how the two teachers interacted with each other and with the students. The inquiry was engaging and had the students thinking and interacting. It was led purely by asking questions and the students responding.  There was even one point where the teacher had one of the students come to the front and share about a practice they had in the class (around literacy) for the other students. One practice I suggested afterwards … to support the learning of the students and to develop a capacity … was for the second teacher to write notes on the whiteboard of the inquiry as the inquiry runs. That way the students see a role model on how to take notes. If the teachers practiced this all the time and then later in the term / semester had the students taking notes as the teacher modelled it .. then they learn note taking skills much quicker (and improve literacy).

Example B

A teacher was running a game (called 10 seconds I beleive) where a person had to walk across the room and do it in exactly 10 seconds but without any watches apart from the timer the teacher held. The students then had to guest what time it was done in and the aim was for the walkers to get as close as possible to 10 seconds. This game was a great maths exercise as the students needed to work out “closeness” as well as strategies for thinking about marking time, etc. The teacher used her interactive whiteboard to put the numbers in a grid and had each student fill in their own grid before she filled in the group grid. It was a very rich exercise and I was really pleased about the range of practices and scafolding she had in the session. The one practice I suggested (again to continue to developing particular skills in the students) was to get up a second window on the Interactive Whiteboard and automatically graph the tries so the visually oriented students can see how it their tries are getting closer to the magical 10 second mark.

There are lots of examples of practices that teachers can invent standing in .. “what capacity will I build in my students now?”. Rather than leaving the training of internet research skills just to the ICT lesson … what about doing it in class interactively with the interactive whiteboard and show them your thinking as you search for information (use google, wikipedia, and a range of resources). Discuss about how some information is useful and not (have them say) as you look at things online. Have them give you the keywords to look up and inquire about whether they give good results or not.

A great inquiry learning unit will have lots of embedded practices that teachers have consciously placed in their to develop particular skills.

What are your practices … share your ideas in the comments section!

For those of you interested … two great links with great ideas.

1. http://www.aalf.org/ : A website about one-to-one learning and the teaching practices you can use to scaffold learning as we enter a more one to one environment with technology

2. http://www.sharpbrains.com/: An excellent resource about neuroscience and the brain. It is a general website but some of the articles are extraordinary (e.g. Is Working Memory a better predictor of academic success than IQ?: Dr. Tracy Alloway summarizes a recent landmark study, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, which tracked children over a six-year period. Key finding: Working memory can be a more powerful predictor of academic success than IQ scores)

I had a fascinating conversation yesterday whilst I was at Rowellyn Park Primary coaching Grade 5 and 6 teachers in developing inquiry based units.

Janette Lewellyn, the school principal, had invited Mike Scadden from Brain Stems (http://www.brainstems.co.nz/) to work with the teachers the following day and Mike happened to be in the room as I worked with the teachers. Mike is an ex-principal based in New Zealand and has a Masters Degree from the University of Tasmania specialising in brain compatible and accelerated learning.

At lunch time we were discussing brain training and developing brain compatible learning in primary school children. At one point he walked to the whiteboard I had been using and drew the following word diagram on the board …

Abstract – Symbolic – Concrete – Transfer

and then asked me in which domain did I see children working. I though for a moment and said .. “children really work in the concrete given they like to be very hands on and see things in front of them”. Mike then pointed out that one of the pitfalls that some schools fall in to is that they try to have the children learn from an abstract or symbolic representation before they are ready for it. So while a child may have a rote learn understanding of the abstract or symbolic representation it doesn’t transfer into their actual learning and ability to apply what they have learnt into different situations.

The small diagram that Mike drew represents a cognitive outline of how we can learn concepts such that they allow for a transfer of knowledge (i.e. able to apply it to other situations and circumstances). Children live very much in the now and their world is very much what they can see, feel, touch, etc. Thus, when I am coaching teachers, I coach them to develop projects that are real, practical and involve community. My intention is that the students start to relate their learning to the concrete world around them.

One thing to note about the diagram is that there aren’t arrows pointing in any direction. In fact the process is not linear. One can go back and forth using abstract, symbolic or concrete representations to cause the transfer of knowledge. I have found, particularly at high schools, that they tend to focus too much on the abstract and the symbolic and thus tend to lose the relationship of the student applying it to their world. Given my background as an engineer and a Senior Lecturer in Aerospace Engineering, I really became clear that just knowing and understanding the abstract concepts or the symbolic representations of the concept does not cause the true understanding of the physical situation and thus the transfer of knowledge.

I believe that one must use all aspects of abstract, symbolic and concrete in ones teaching but the percentage one uses it depends on the age group you are teaching. In primary schools you definitely would focus more on the concrete and introduce the symbolic and abstract more and more from Grade 2/3 onwards. Grade 5 / 6 would still be mostly concrete because that is the world of the children still. As the child grows in their cognitive undertsanding of the world around them then the greater the percentage of abstract and symbolic representations.

For more information check out

  • http://www.physorg.com/news128266927.html
  • http://www.eecs.berkeley.edu/~jfc/cs160/F04/lectures/lec5/lec5.pdf
  • http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/29/the-rules-of-the-game/

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