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Are schools guilty of peddling myths about the brain?

Understanding how children learn is a critical part of the studies teachers undergo in order to qualify in their field. For decades researchers have studied the science of learning and have tried to bring some level of deeper understanding to the complexity of the learning process from birth through to ongoing learning as adults. What are the factors that produce greater learning? Why are some people able to learn more in certain subjects than in others? What role does social interaction play in learning? How can teachers provide optimal conditions for learning to occur? Can we really train our memory? What causes us to remember some things and not others? The list of questions is endless!

 

Over the last few decades, the field of neuroscience has blossomed and the education sector has sat up and taken a keen interest. As a profession whose work revolves around learning, it makes sense that teachers continue to develop their understanding of how the brain learns. Unfortunately, along with excellent insights and understanding, has come a plethora of neuromyths which have unfortunately been peddled by schools as neuroscience. Parents and teachers have taken these ideas and embraced them in homes and classrooms as if they are absolute fact without due consideration given to the truth of the science behind them.

 

Have you ever heard these before?

 

– A child is either a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner.
– We only use 10% of our brain.
– A child is either left-brain or right-brain dominant.
– Playing brain games make you smarter.

 

The attraction of these myths is that they make the complex simple; the confusing clear. It is tempting to latch onto one or more of these and to categorise our children according to what seems to be their learning style or area of brain dominance. What we know is that teaching children using a variety of senses results in stronger learning and that children sometimes choose not to give of their best in certain learning areas as they’ve been told it doesn’t fit with their right or left brain dominance. False science runs the risk of preventing our children from fulfilling their God-given learning potential. When we learn more about how the brain actually does learn, we can provide the best possible opportunity for real learning to occur.

 

In her book, Brain Matters, Patricia Woolfe lists eight ways we can optimise learning based on what we know about how our brains learn:

 

– Provide as much experiential learning as possible
– Build on prior knowledge
– Use rehearsal strategies appropriate to what is being learnt
– Provide many opportunities for children to revisit information
– Emphasize concepts over facts
– Assist children in understanding information and how it can be used in the ‘real’ world
– Provide a safe psychological environment
– Provide positive emotional events

 

While not neuroscientists or brain researchers, teachers continue to grow in their understanding of how the brain learns. Great teachers work diligently at using research and data to provide the best possible opportunities for their pupils to optimise their learning.

 

As science continues to shed new light on how the brain learns, teachers need to continue to use this information to provide the best possible learning experiences for their pupils.

 

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uLead 2016 – Twitter summary notes

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SAMR Introduction – presentation from Innovate 2014

I presented this workshop at the E-Schools Network 2014 Conference held at Wynberg Girls’ High School in Cape Town. The workshop was a brief introduction to the basics of the SAMR model of technology integration.

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SAMR – Making Teachers Feel Inadequate?

I am a fan of Dr Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model which shows levels of technology integration in learning (for loads of resources on this model, see Kathy Schrock’s great collection here: http://www.schrockguide.net/samr.htmlsamr-model-graphic). There are many visual illustrations of this model available online and they are in their own way helpful guides to those wishing to understand this way of examining tech integration.

So then here are two questions related to this model:

1) Does every activity in the classroom need to be at the Redefinition level?

2) Should teachers feel that they are not using technology effectively if they are not at the Modification or Redefinition level?

As far as I’m concerned, the answer to both these questions is a resounding ‘No’. I fear that many of the available SAMR graphics illustrate this model as a progression from poor use of tech at the Substitution level to the ‘proper’ use of tech at the Redefinition level. I even came across one which linked an increase in academic rigour to the move from Substitution to Redefinition! I’m not convinced this is helpful. Don’t misunderstand me on this – I firmly believe that our teachers should be making every effort to integrate technology into their teaching and the learning experience of their pupils. What I am looking for is for teachers to use all four levels in their teaching and not to feel guilty if every lesson isn’t redefined by the use of technology.

Just as I expect my teachers to use the Blooms Taxonomy in its entirety as they plan and execute effective learning experiences for their pupils, so too do I want to see the full range of the SAMR model as they use technology. In doing so, I do not want any of my team to feel inadequate or ineffective in their use of technology because they have planned a lesson in which the use of tech is at the Substitution or Augmentation level. This is especially true for those teachers who are in the early stages of their understanding of the use of technology in their classrooms and who are just beginning to understand their changing role in a 21st century classroom. I believe that through ongoing professional development, mentoring and accountability, teachers can be taught, encouraged and expected eventually to include all four SAMR levels in their teaching.

It is idealistic to expect every lesson in our classrooms to be transformed through technology no matter how much we wish this were true. As teachers move in their understanding of their role in the classroom and begin to see themselves as facilitators of learning, and as they begin  to understand how technology can support their pupils’ learning, their application of all four levels of the SAMR model will improve.

Let’s not make our teachers feel inadequate by creating the impression that they are somehow not making the grade if every lesson they teach with technology is not at the Modification or Redefinition level. Let’s rather provide the encouragement and the platform for them to continue their learning and their journey towards a fuller understanding of how technology can bring a entire new way of learning into their classrooms.

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What Makes A Great Leader In The 21st Century?

We all know the familiar stereotype of the stern school headmaster brandishing his cane while looking over the rim of his spectacles at his young charges. Academic gown flowing behind him, he demands respect for his position and rules his domain through fear. Teachers and pupils both fear and admire him while parents dare not question his motives nor decisions for fear that their children may bear the brunt of the headmaster’s wrath.

This model of school leadership is thankfully both outdated and stereotyped. The challenges of modern school leadership are vast and require a particular skillset. It was with interest then that I came across a TED talk delivered by Roselinde Torres.

She conducted a survey of 4000 companies to determine the effectiveness of their leadership development strategies. What she and her colleagues determined was that the vast majority of these companies were not effective in building leaders for current or future realities. The model of success which these companies prepared their staff for was simply no longer valid. She took a year off to travel and interview hundreds of corporate and non-profit leaders to determine what constituted effective 21st century leadership. The result of this work was the realisation that there are primarily three key questions those wishing to lead in today’s world need to ask:

1) Where are you looking to anticipate the next change?

2) What is the diversity measure of your network?

3) Are you courageous enough to abandon the past?

From the perspective of school leadership, I’d like then to pose the following questions:

1) As a school leader, where do you look to stay ahead of the curve? What books are you reading? What media are you consuming which will keep you aware of current and future educational trends? With whom are you spending your time to grow your understanding of the society into which you are sending your pupils? Are the professional growth opportunities given to your teachers still relevant for this fast-changing world?

2) Are you willing to develop relationships with people who are different to you? Can you build trust across personal and professional difference to achieve both personal and corporate goals? Are you willing to embrace different solutions from a wide variety of sources?

3) Are you willing to break the bonds of tradition so that your school can move forward to greater relevance? Do you have the emotional stamina to deal with both critical and sceptical parents, alumni and staff? Do you have the courage to dare to be different?

These are important questions to ask as we strive to lead our schools to greater relevance in the 21st century. I have been challenged by these questions and hope to grow into greater leadership competence as I lead my school into our shared future.

Roselinde Torres’  TED talk can be found here: What It Takes To Be A Great Leader

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Global Classroom Project – The Travelling Rhinos

I love it when a member of our school team follows through on an idea or project about which they are passionate. Passion drives innovation and this is certainly the case for our school’s Digital Learning specialist, Mrs Karen Stadler.

During the course of 2012, Karen visited the wonderful Kruger National Park with her family. A trip to a watering hole was to be a defining moment as she witnessed five magnificent rhino arrive to drink the water and wallow in the mud. She realised that within a year there was a possibility that some, if not all, of these gracious creatures may have been killed by poachers.

This realisation moved her into action and she set up a Global Classroom Project known as The Travelling Rhinos which involved having five small rhinos made and covered in traditional African Shweshwe fabric. Karen ran a competition at school to have the rhinos named. Our pupils rallied to the cause and came up some wonderful names. The winning names were: Lilitha, Lesedi, Siyanda, Zindzi and Makulu (Xhosa, Setswana and Zulu names).

The rhinos were sent to schools in South Africa, Australia, Canada, Ireland and the USA where schools have been encouraged to teach their pupils about the plight of the rhinos in Africa. It has been so encouraging to read about what these schools have been doing and how they have embraced this project. Even more encouraging has been the impact this has had on the pupils as many were unaware of the seriousness of the rhino poaching onslaught in South Africa. (See this blog post from the Global Classroom Project about a small rural school in New Zealand whose children made news in the local newspaper because of their activism as a result of involvement in the Travelling Rhinos Project.) At the time of writing, the number of schools involved stood at 36 (see the left margin of the home page here for the list of schools). This represents a significant number of children across the world who have become aware of the plight of the rhino and who have, in many cases, been moved to action.

I applaud Karen for the effort she has put into this project. Her passion for the plight of rhinos in Africa, particularly in South Africa, has allowed her to channel this energy into a project which is uniting children and their teachers across the globe.

For more information about this project please go to the Travelling Rhinos Project wiki and consider signing up your school or class.

***Karen has been nominated for the 2013 Stars In Education Award for this project – please consider voting for her at this page – Entries for 2013 Stars In Education Award***

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How We Do Assessment

I recently shared a presentation with the Head of Curriculum and Assessment in our school. The purpose of the presentation was to inform our parents about the changing nature of education and the way in which we have structured our assessments.

Without the commentary for each slide, this may not make much sense but here it is anyway!

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Global Education Conference – 12-17 November 2012

Conferences can be very expensive and time-consuming. How wonderful then that teachers can now take part in a free global conference focused on bringing some of the best minds and practioners in education from all over the world together for five days of training, discussion and input.

The Global Education Conference runs for 24 hours a day for its duration and you can choose which sessions to log into. The schedule is available here : Conference schedule

Here is the latest press release from the conference organisers:

 

 

The 2012 Global Education Conference Press Release – October 2012

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Learning Is Social

Learning is social

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The Way It Needs To Be

From The Solutions Journal comes this quote from Peter Senge:

I believe that the Industrial Age system of education that has spread around the world in the past 150 years will change dramatically in the coming decades.

The assembly-line progression of grades (first, second, third, etc.) coordinated by a fixed curriculum and headed by teachers in charge of students’ learning has grown increasingly out of touch with the realities of today: the global interconnectedness of economics, politics, and culture; the Internet, which puts more and more information at students’ fingertips; and businesses that need people who can think for themselves and collaborate effectively in teams to solve complex problems.

While mainstream school systems are obsessed with standardized test scores and intense individual competition, education innovators are focused on higher-order skills like systems thinking and creativity in conjunction with basic skills in mathematics and language; personal maturation together with technical knowledge; and learning how to learn together in service of addressing problems that are real in students’ lives.

Do I hear an “Amen”?

Original article here