Saturday, May 30, 2020

Brain Salad Surgery - it will work for you, it works for me (Emerson Lake and Palmer)

Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

I loved reading this summary detailing a simple model for learning and retaining information (even though that second part's kind of a dirty concept these days - which are more about the soft skills of thinking, problem solving etc), but still - this model works for me!

Six Phases of Learning

Become interested. Learning begins with signals we receive from our environment via our sensory register. Scientists estimate that our brains receive roughly 11 million bits of information per second but can only process about 120 bits of information per second (Levitin, 2015). We filter all those stimuli down to a pinhole of salient information by focusing first on stimuli freighted with emotions, followed by novel or interesting stimuli (Medina, 2008). Basically, if students are to learn anything, they must first become interested in it.

Commit to learning. When we become interested in something, it enters our immediate memory, where it remains for about 30 seconds before we either ignore it or move it to the next stage of information processing. Our brains must assess whether what's in immediate memory demands further attention—if it has value, meaning, or potential reward (Sousa, 2016). For learning to occur, students must commit to learning the information or material we present to them, which they're more apt to learn if they see value in what they're learning and believe they're capable of learning it.

Focus on new learning. Once we commit to learning, we begin to process what we're learning in our working memory, which is composed of a "visuospatial sketchpad" for visual information, a "phonological loop" for written and spoken language, and a "central executive" that coordinates our visual and verbal processing and retrieves prior knowledge (Baddeley & Logie, 1999). Not coincidentally, we absorb learning more readily when we receive it both verbally and visually, engaging both "sides" of our working memory. 

Make sense of learning. Our working memories have limitations, including "timing out" after 5 to 20 minutes of focused attention (Medina, 2008). On top of that, we can only juggle a few bits of information at a time. Given these limitations, it's important to chunk instruction into brief (5- to 10-minute) segments that give students time to make sense of new content by thinking about it, categorizing it, and connecting it to prior learning.

Practice and reflect. At this point, there's only one way to move learning into so-called long-term memory: repetition, which causes a substance called myelin to grow around newly formed neural pathways, helping them fire together to automate a new skill or mental connection (Bengtsson et al., 2005). The best form of repetition is distributed practice—sessions spread over days or weeks—versus information crammed together in an intensive massed practice session. In addition, quizzing ourselves on new learning (self-evaluation) and straining to recall new learning (retrieval practice) supports long-term memory better than common (but largely ineffective) strategies like re-reading, highlighting text, or writing summaries (Dunlosky et al., 2013).

Extend and apply. Long-term memory consists of two different functions: storage and retrieval. This explains why we sometimes must "jog" our memory: we've stored information, yet have too few hooks to retrieve it. Cognitive science shows that the more richly we encode new learning—that is, the more associations or connections (including personal ones) we make to it—the easier it for us to retrieve (Dunlosky et al., 2013). So to both store and retrieve learning, students need opportunities to extend and apply their learning through novel and real-world applications, such as using mathematical formulas to solve complex real-world problems, comparing history to current events, or making personal connections to literary works.

As I was reading these six I was thinking of my routines when meeting someone for the first time: a parent; a new student.

This is exactly the process I follow. 

I'm interested in the name, and because I want to know more about the person I concentrate. I aim to associate the name with something - the same name in a movie or a book or a song usually, if it's a difficult, or exotic name I ask for the spelling or repeat the pronunciation a few times to get the feel of it and lodge the name more firmly into my memory banks via a phonetic spelling. The final part of this process is to do what novels and movies do at their beginning, and have situations where the name is repeated multiple times.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Only time can tell, where we're going to (Roy Harper)

Photo by Karolis Puidokas on Unsplash
It's Sunday. The week stretches out ahead of me. No one knows what is in store.

I've just finished Great Expectations and the words of Provis (a.k.a. Magwitch) are in my head:
"I was a thinking through my smoke just then, that we can no more see to the bottom of the next few hours, than we can see to the bottom of this river that I catches hold of. Nor yet we can't no more hold their tide than I can hold this. And it's run through my fingers and gone, you see!" holding up his dripping hand.
That's always been one of the great appeals of my job. I never quite know what to expect and there is a thrill in that knowledge. 

Monday, May 18, 2020

You stay on your side and I'll stay on mine, you take what you want and I'll take the sunshine (America)

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
Online vs onsite learning? Or a combo?

When I checked with my students during lockdown, they were happy with the work from home/online version - for a lot of them they preferred the convenience of home (proximity to the fridge was often mentioned) and found themselves working harder and in a much less distracting environment. 

These students are used to online learning - we use Zoom a lot for senior classes.

Most of the staff also enjoyed the experience and were happy to WFH when given a choice.

Seems students who were not initially used to learning via Zoom were much happier to return to school. 

Larry Ferlazzo's piece reports on this. Here's one of his students:
My home is not a learning environment like at school, where there are teachers, other students, learning tools, desks/tables, chairs, a library, lots of space, and those who you can get support from. At home is like a sleeping or resting environment. In a classroom, I can focus more on my assignments/work and get engaged in the subject. Whenever I'm in a classroom, I feel prepared to learn and get my brain pumped; at home, I feel like it's very hard to be prepared because I'm always getting distracted. Whenever I need help, my teachers or classmates are there for me. When I have a question at home, I have to wait for a response. 
I do have to say that whenever I'm at school, I always feel nervous in class. Now that I'm at home learning, I don't feel nervous. From my online learning experience right now, I would not choose more online learning in the future because in a school, a classroom is a learning environment. Also, I feel like it's easier to communicate with my classmates/groups for projects, teachers, counselors, and principal. Learning at a school is best for me.

For what it's worth I agree.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

I’m disinclined to acquiesce to your request (Barbossa)

My current Year 10 English class, which I started teaching this week, have spent some time tracking my on-line presence. Of course they have!

Because of the filters on their devices, they don't have access to my Linkedin, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, or Facebook pages, but they can Google me and look at my blogs - this one in fact!

Consequently, they've been asking me about Purdzilla and Baggy Trousers!

It's natural to wonder about your teachers private life - I get that.

I can still remember the moment I walked into a record store in St Lukes, while I was at Mt. Albert Grammar, and saw a teacher from school. Stopped me in my tracks it did! I'd never considered that any of my teachers had an existance away from school before!

Weird. These days the students are a lot more savvy, that's for sure!

Saturday, May 9, 2020

All things are ready, if our minds be so (Henry V)

Work this past week has been at the campus and I've been a lot happier.

Seems I'm not alone. Although most of the staff continue to work happily from home, we few, we happy few, we band of brothers, have pitched up at school to find the return to proper boundaries makes us feel good.

We'll remember with advantages what feats we did that day, then shall our names, familiar in the mouth as household words Purdzilla the Principal, Walding and Cooper, Te Pou and Smith, be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.

We've been busy too, with only 6 students it would seem an easier life but whether 6 or 160, duty and online teaching combined with classroom supervisions have made the days go quickly!

Hopefully, NZ progresses to Level 2 of the Lockdown in the coming week and we happy few will be joined by the whole rock steady crew and they can share in the honour and say from this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remember'd.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World

As I sit here today, having worked from home during NZ's Level 4 lockdown, along with my teaching colleagues, and now from the campus as we've transitioned to Level 3, I feel pretty good that education and teachers have been labelled 'essential services'.

Consider the fate of professional sportspeople in contrast. Not essential. Not employed.

Every night on the news for the last few weeks the Australian Rugby League (NRL) people have presented a comical soap opera of daft desperate decisions to restart their season.

Teachers have taught on, while overpaid big burley hirsute blokes* in shorts have become more and more impatient to get back to playing games of 'footy'.

* Very few news stories have focused on female sports teams in comparison.

As The Donald would say, 'SAD'.

And yet, in a few weeks time they will have their wish and be providing entertainment for the masses of Aussie and Nu Zild couch potatoes while underpaid teachers, the 'essential workers' remember, will continue their work in relative obscurity, and definitely in relative poverty.

It's a bizarro world!