Sir Ken Robinson: education’s “death valley” & what we need to change

I like to follow a lot of the TEDtalks. They are often thought-provoking and frequently challenging.

Yesterday, when I checked, I found that one of my favourite speakers, Sir Ken Robinson , has done another talk for them. He is again champions a radical rethink of our school systems. Although not talking specifically about the Australian system, it is easy to apply his logic here. Watch the video and then answer his challenge: How do we get out of the educational “death valley” we now face? How do we nurture our students, teaching them to value and cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligences.

Sir Ken Robinson outlines 3 principles crucial for the human mind to flourish — and how current education culture works against them. In a funny, stirring talk he tells us how to get out of the educational “death valley” we now face, and how to nurture our youngest generations with a climate of possibility.

Motivation by Dan Pink. A lesson for schools?

At this time of the school year in Australia, with holidays beckoning, motivation of our students is a hot topic. This is an interesting video of a TEDtalk about motivation. Dan Pink ,when looking at the puzzle that is motivation, starts with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don’t: Traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think.  In fact, they are probably counter-productive.

What he basically goes on to say is that the extrinsic motivations (carrot and stick) approach often doesn’t work because they narrow the focus. They work best where there are clear guidelines and a single destination, simple tasks. In a world where creativity is needed you need more intrinsic motivation. So what does this mean for secondary education, where you want students to learn, to create, to analyse and make meaning for themselves, to develop their skills across the board and understand what works best for them.We often hear people talk about the world outside school where our young people will have to be problem-solving adults, where many jobs they will be asked to do are not yet created. What does this mean for schools in light of Dan Pink’s points? I would love to say that we are creating young people who do things because they matter, learn because they are interested in learning,  not just for some extrinsic reward (be it a certificate, gadgets,chocolate or other food forms), that we are, by example,  creating young men who do not ask “what is in it for me” before doing something. I’m not sure we are there yet. Motivation is an interesting concept. Have businesses got motivation wrong, and schools, that are increasing being held to business practices and standards, also?  This is an interesting talk that goes against many traditional thoughts and business and educational practice with regard to motivation.    

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Learning, thinking and computers

I have been thinking about learning and the role that technology can play in helping students learn in a better, more varied and interesting way. I want students to learn to thinkand to have the skills to work through problems when they face them. I want them to have a range of problem-solving techniques and I believe that technology can deliver many more  of these techniques than the traditional classroom teaching.

TEDtalks are such a good source of inspiration. A talk about learning (What we think we know) was posted back in Sept 2008. Jonathan Drori , an expert on culture and educational media, looks at what we know/have learnt. He begins by giving four questions to the audience as a starting point to explore how we get ideas in our heads and how difficult it is to shake ideas once they are there.

He also looks at some “bad practices” that only reinforce incorrect ideas and offers some better ways of helping students learn correctly. One part of the talk about learning and testing:

Poor teaching actually does more harm than good. In this country, and in Britain, magnetism is understood better by children before they’ve been to school than afterwards, OK? Same for gravity, two concepts, so it’s — which is quite humbling, as a — you know, if you’re a teacher, and you look before and after, that’s quite worrying. They do worse in tests afterwards, after the teaching. And we collude, we design tests, or at least in Britain, so that people pass them. Right? And governments do very well. They pat themselves on the back. OK? We collude…..

Alan Kay, in May 2008, under the title A powerful idea about ideas, talked about better techniques for teaching young people by using computers to illustrate experiences. He begins at looking at what we understand, then goeson to look at simplicity versus complexity, example of good teaching techniques and argues for kids experimenting and how computers can help to create approachable methods of teaching students in ways that are more simple and intuitive. Another very passionate and articulate professional giving an inspiring talk.

Another blog post I was reading was on Mike’s Raumati edublog and it concerned a presentation on Prof. Art Costa’s philosophy about thinking (and the Habits of mind). I was really taken with these five points on thinking:

  1. Learning to think
  2. Thinking to learn
  3. Thinking about our thinking
  4. Thinking together
  5. Thinking long term and short term

The post finished with these final two questions posed for all educators …

  1. How does what we do help our students become the kind of people we hope they will be?
  2. Why are these things considered essential?

So I will continue on my reflections about what I can do to help the students in my school. I will continue to try to come up with solutions that I can share with colleagues, in the hope that it will help them to develop new and alternative techniques that will better equip our students for life.

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Better presentations.

I helped to assess year 8 presentations just over a week ago. One class used PowerPoint others created videos to assist them in their class presentations. Some were excellent, some less so. I know that many teachers still ask students to create a PowerPoint document and I wondered how much instruction is given to the students about the best ways to use this tool. The post on the Edubeacon site reminded me of the “Death by powerpoint: and how to fight it” slideshare presentation by Alexei Kapterev. It is still one of the best presentations about making effective/good presentations. Another sub-title could have been “How to not to bore your audience to death”

So I was also interested to read about the TEDCommandments mentioned in the same post. I love the TEDTalks. They are great. The speakers are passionate and knowledgeable about their topics. The talks go for about 2o minutes and I have always been totally engrossed in the talk. (There is a good wiki – Teaching with TED for anyone interested in ideas about how some of these videos might be used in a classroom setting.)

TEDCommandmentsI now find out about one of the reasons that the talks are so good – it might, in some part, be due to the TEDCommandments that are given to the prospective speakers by the TED organisers. I went in search of these and found a post, from this time last year, on Tim Longhurst’s blog that discussed just these commandments. He had written them out and put in a few links to find further information.

I Have a look at all ten here but below are the ones, on first glance, that I think I will translate in a guide for the students. These are: 

  1. Thou Shalt Not Simply Trot Out thy Usual Shtick. (Do not cut&paste from wikipedia(etc) or copy an earlier presentation on a similar topic and just change the heading.
  2. Thou Shalt Reveal thy Curiosity and Thy Passion. Include information that you find interesting and unusual. This will make it more interesting for others too.
  3. Thou Shalt Not Read thy Speech. Self-explanatory really.
  4. Thou Shalt Not Steal the Time of Them that Follow Thee.  Don’t go on too long, or over time. Also – If you are working as part of a group, don’t cross over into their topic.

Thanks for pointing me in the right direction Camilla, now how do I get some of the teachers to follow suit?

How has the world changed?

During this week, our year 8 students have been immersed in one single topic that is basically “Why is the world worth saving”. They were shown some excerpts from the video “The day the earth stood still” and then told that aliens were looking at the Earth and expect that, after a week’s notice,  humans will be able to argue on behalf of their world.

They have been looking at all sorts of things, things that they are passionate about. Many are looking at how we have developed in the areas of technology, medicine. There arguements have been that on the wholoe we keep learning and trying to improve things. It is enlightning to see how optimistic they are although they can also see the results of pollution, environmental changes, climate changes etc. Yesterday they were sorting out the big statements and questions and today they were starting to do the research to support there arguments. I was looking around and came across GapMinder.

In the video below, Hans Rosling  demonstrates GapMinder, a tool that can even make statistics look beautiful.  The content for this brief video is the change in the life expectancy & income throughout the world in the last two centuries. You can have a look for yourself by going to the the tool here.

I always love the way we can “use” statistics to support our arguments and GapMinder looks like an interesting tool. The trends described through the tool here are certainly useful to provoke thought.

Hans Rosling has also presented TED talks. Have a look at the TED talk where Hans Rosling, with insightful data backed by his spectacular charts, shows how some pre-conceived notions and grand generalizations (about the Third World countries, in this case) can be sharply in contrast with the facts.