Category: Learning

Children come to school with a disadvantage, but what will we do?

“[Children] will grow up in circumstances so chaotic that it’s not just a case that they are neglected, it is the case that they are actively harmed by the failure to be in a nurturing environment where their brain can develop and where they can learn the sorts of habits which allow them to not just succeed academically at school but are effectively socialised.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-20043225)

It is heartening that Michael Gove acknowledges the state of affairs that some children arrive in primary education greatly disadvantaged to their peers. It is strange that he should imagine that turning a primary school into an academy should resolve this situation. At our school, the children who arrive in an advantaged position do well and those who arrive with such a disadvantage do less well. This is what we need to address but changing our school identity will not simply resolve this.

It is interesting that  Michael Gove believes that education and the state can change the situation of some children but there are those within his department who root the causes in genetics (link). When you  connect these opinions to the recent comments from Boris Johnson (link) one might be forgiven for thinking that there is some confusion within the government about the causes and solutions to underachievement in schools.

Why do people sneer at Apple?

20130915-081345.jpg

My son managed to get his Android phone to make every icon, folder and background use the Twitter logo. In one sense this is an impressive feat.

It then made me think, “What’s the point?” I wondered when you would need to do this and how it helped the user be more efficient with their smartphone. My feelings are that there is no point, it can be done because it’s possible. Google, in designing Android, has decided that total freedom is more important that function and form. This would also assume that ths was actually a decision of design at all.

Since the days of Macintosh, Apple has always been criticised for controlling the user experience. I have known many techie people who have hated the fact that they couldn’t fiddle or tweak System 7 and more recently iOS. They enjoy computers for their own sake and enjoy engaging with the technical experience.

The thing that isn’t always understood about Apple is that they were always making technology to be used in life. This means that the freedom to fiddle is always less important than the experience. This is what Steve Jobs talked about in his famous talk about liberal arts being in their DNA.

It’s true you can’t make your entire iPhone repeat the Twitter logo everywhere, but the real question is, “Why would you want to?”

Recently Apple has been facing a lot if criticism for not keeping up and not adding features to their smartphones like HTC or Samsung. This article here is typical of the comment, http://www.thestreet.mobi/story/12033242/1/google-laughs-at-the-new-iphones.html.

In the criticism levelled at Apple, people seem to resent the fact that Apple products cost more. They also demand that the iPhone jumps through hurdle after hurdle to keep up. This is no different than the processor wars of the 90’s.

The thing about that competition was that in the end the ever increasing demand for speed reached a saturation point and any computer was fast enough to do pretty much all we ever wanted. We are now at a similar juncture. Apple have conclusively defined the features and appearance of a smartphone. Now we all we are doing is seeing slight modifications but nothing is really as significant as the initial iPhone look and feel. The world wasn’t crying out for a 41mp camera in their Nokia mobile phone.

In the end I bought my iPhone because of how easy it is to use and how it helps me do my job. There are many things I’d like to improve such as the camera or the battery, but if I went to a phone that had these it wouldn’t use iOS. I don’t want an operating system that lets me do anything to it and therefore prevents me from doing what I need to do with it.

The fascinating thing for me is the emotional response that so many people seem to have against Apple. They are angry about the cost, they seem irritated by the fancy design. They seem almost jealous of the Apple culture and want to upset the happy scene. As some sort of Luddite they seem to celebrate the inadequacies of poorer quality products. The irony is that they seem as devoutly opposed to Apple as the cringing Apple fans’ loyalty they mock.

To quote Simon Leys, “The need to bring down to our own wretched level, to deface, to deride and debunk any splendour that is towering above us, is probably the saddest urge of human nature.”

When the learning starts…

Graph2

It is often thought that technology gets in the way of the rest of the curriculum. Many teachers will have stories of whole lessons that were lost because the technology went wrong or because the learners didn’t have the skills to use the technology in their learning.

I use the chart above to illustrate how we address this question. As a school we may invest in core IT skills with our younger children so that the curriculum becomes maximised later in school life. We also need to prepare the children at the begining of themes or projects so that the digital learning is front loaded. This may mean that the first two weeks of theme lessons are almost entirely based on teaching the technology, even through decontextualised tasks. Then the latter weeks can focus on the curriculum learning.

Of course, the skills can be taught throughout the theme or embedded in specific tasks but this approach at least stops the technology getting in the way. Then all we have to do is make sure it all works.

The 16 Habits of Mind

Hom

This article from Edutopia discusses how establishing Habits of Mind before academic or curriculum based learning can have greater benefits to the more effective learning.

Persisting

Managing Impulsivity

Listening to others with Userstanding and Empathy

Thinking Flexibly

Thinking about our Thinking (metacognition)

Striving for Accuracy and Precision

Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations

Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision

Gathering Data through All Senses

Creating, Imagining and Innovating

Responding with Wonderment and Awe

Taking Responsible Risks

Finding Humour

Thinking Interdependently

Learning Continuously

Definitions of 16 Habits of Mind

Let’s move away from Transactional Motivation! #autonomy

Motivation

This RSA Animate video, “Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us”, from Dan Pink clearly challenges the transactional approach to motivation that we find in education. In behaviour management, raising standards or in staff management the motivating phrase usually begins, “If you do this then…” or the corollary, “If you don’t do this then.” This has led to the insane situation where we now offer cash incentives to students so that they will try to do better in their exams. Teachers who stay in the profession for the moral purpose are condemned for not trying harder for the money. Many teachers use complex extrinsic reward systems to encourage children to work hard, be kind or even to eat their school dinner.

 This video shares research which shows that people actually do worse when they are presented with the transaction to try harder for greater reward. Unless it is a mechanical, low cognition task then people do worse when they are offered greater rewards. This makes sense from a natural point of view. Babies and young children are instinctively motivated to learn and explore but when they arrive in school they are offered rewards to learn. Is this because educators don’t actually believe that what they are providing would be motivating?

In the video Dan Pink suggests that there are three things more motivating than money: autonomy, mastery and purpose. If we can bring these to our school and into the lives of the children then perhaps motivation won’t be our challenge anymore.