Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Road Block to Learning: Self-imposed Limits

Everyone is an individual.  As such, they are unique.  So it's no surprise that everyone learns differently.  Students need to learn how they learn best.  They apply this knowledge to become their own best teacher.  To stack the deck in their favor, they need to create an environment for successful study.  Follow Goldilocks: not too hot, not too cold, but just right.  Start with the 5 senses and create a setting conducive to study.  Know the assignment.  Have all relevant materials on hand: books, paper, pen, references.  Avoid and remove distractions and sources of interruptions.  They also need to learn how to effectively manage their time.  People have different attention spans.  Use this knowledge to your advantage.  Those with short attention spans should not try to force themselves to sit and study for hours on end.  The results will be ineffective.

The power of the human mind is amazing.  Negative attitudes are like gravity; they tend to pull you down.  I can recall so many times in the classroom where frustrated students exclaim, “I can’t do this.”  Self-fulfilling prophecies of difficulties and hardship tend to come true.  Having made the statement, students often don’t try.  The power of imagination can create an insurmountable obstacle.  They have convinced themselves success is unattainable.  This begins the trip down the slippery slope into the pit of boredom, despair and less success in class.  It turns into a no win situation.  A positive attitude helps, but is no guarantee of success.  Simply saying “I can do this” is not enough.  You need to stack the deck in your favor and prepare to do the assignment or task.  For example, a young student says “I want to be a jet fighter pilot but I don’t do math.”  Do you honestly see this person becoming a pilot?

I have seen students contending for athletic scholarships but are failing in my class.  Discouraged, many drift into class late and unprepared.  They don’t submit assignments.  All this leads to poor exam results.  At the end of the term, they beg for a minimum passing grade.  “I know my grades are bad, but I am trying really hard.”  This is attended with statements of the many tens of hours they spent studying for my class.  Yet in their sport, they know practice is required.  They know they must show up at practice and to be on time.  In any athletic competition, there usually is only one winning team.  Both teams enter the match focused on winning.  Both teams are trying very hard.  It is important to try.  Without trying, you have no chance to succeed.  But trying doesn’t guarantee success.  Somehow, these students don’t apply this simple understanding to their academic studies.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Questions Not Answers

A common perception (or hope) is that students go to school to learn.  Teachers tend to give tests to confirm students studied and learned.  The students are graded on the number of correct answers.  Before the lesson, most students often don’t think they know the answers.  So they ask questions.  Teachers often feel they must provide the answer to those questions.  And students expect to get the right answers to study for the test.  For most tests, there is one and only one correct answer.

Unfortunately real life doesn’t quite work that way.  For example, what is the correct answer to the question of “Who should I ask to the party on Friday night?”  Or, “What should make for lunch today?”  The truly “right” answer is usually relative and rather elusive.  The real world is complex and undergoes changes.  It is sometimes a very fluid and dynamic place.  For most of us, the “right” answer is relative to a number of factors that are both intangible/subjective mixed in with tangible/objective facts. 

One of the missing links in the question and answer system is listening.  The world is a diverse place.  Highly educated people (e.g. world recognized experts) are often not found in some of the places with very big problems.  Those places are often impoverished.  The people living there lack educational opportunities.  So they lack fancy diplomas and degrees.  They study in the “school of hard knocks.”  The lack of a diploma doesn’t mean they don’t know things.  To see a good example of the importance of asking good questions and listening carefully to the answers (and then asking more questions), consider Ernesto Sirollis’ talk “Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!” You may be shocked to see how some of the world’s top experts can be rendered ineffective when they ignore the knowledge of impoverished, “uneducated” indigenous people.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Students Learn What They Want To Learn

It is a fundamental S.E.E.D.S. principle that curiosity and playfulness are the very foundation for learning in young children.  Before they can speak, very young children, powered by curiosity explore and discover the world around them.  Their natural playfulness puts them in many informal trial-and-error learning situations.

Sugata Mitra put a single computer with internet access and a mouse in a hole in a wall of a slum in India.  Children discovered it.  They had never seen or used a computer before and spoke no English.  Their natural curiosity took over.  Soon, the exploration led to discoveries of patterns, actions and results.  There was no curriculum.  Learning took place without a formal teacher, classroom, or lesson plan.  He observed “Students learn what they want to learn.”  Numerous repetitions of the experiment all over India showed the same results.  Mitra realized learning is a self-organized system.  He concluded that “at the elementary level, students don’t really need a teacher.”  Apparently the students share their knowledge and get a synergistic result.  The magic ingredient seems to be an encouraging word.

That reminds me of a song I learned as a child: Home on the Range.  For educators, the key phrase in the song occurs in the first verse: “Where seldom is heard a discouraging word…”  This phrase should be the watchword for all parents and teachers.  Simple words of encouragement or discouragement can have lasting effects.  Encouragement reinforces the S.E.E.D.S. preference to nurture, foster, protect, and enrich a child’s curiosity.  Discouragement tends to kill curiosity.

The simple solution to reducing, eliminating, and avoiding boredom in the classroom can be very simple.  Watch and listen to students to learn what interests them.  Or, just ask them what they want to learn.  Student curiosity should be the source of all lesson plans.  This is the essence of true student centered learning.  This begins the education process….the “ex ducere” (the leading out).  The parent or teacher can facilitate the learning.  They can create learning environments that open doors to knowledge or information needed to satisfy the child’s curiosity.  S.E.E.D.S. uses the Geographic Systems Model to empower students to seek and find connections to S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) related content.  Students motivated by curiosity will often exceed adult expectations for learning.  This in turn creates ab environment where many adults feel threatened by younger children having so much knowledge.  But anyone with an attitude of life-long learning welcomes the opportunity to learn, regardless of the age of the teacher.

S.E.E.D.S. uses a cyclic saying “All teachers should be students; All students should be teachers.  Giving students the chance to teach can be a simple request: “How did you do that?”  In the process of explaining, young students use their knowledge, vocabulary, reason, and interpersonal and social communications skills simultaneously.  It can be truly amazing how easy it is to be a facilitator of learning.  This can be taken to another level when a student helps to teach or tutor other students.  Teach-Backs are a useful way to gauge learning and comprehension.  This follows Seneca’s saying “While we teach, we learn.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Aloha Spirit: An Example of Inclusiveness

The “Aloha Spirit” is something unique to Hawaii.  While other cultures may have similar concepts or ideas, few places on Earth seem to resonate this way of life as does Hawaii.  Those lucky enough to be born and reared here, the “Aloha Spirit” is a way of thinking and way of life they absorb through the living examples they see all around them.  There are some key words in Hawaiian that exemplify this way of life.

Hawaii’s state motto is “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka Aina i ka Pono" (“The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness").  Two key words in the motto are “Aina” and “Pono.”

Aina (sounds like I--like the pronoun for me + nah) means land.  Hawaii is one of the most remote island groups in the world.  It is about 4,023 km / 2,500 mi from the nearest continent.  The islands are a land oasis in the midst of the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.  For the inhabitants, it is the source of life.  It provides for their needs, but is a limited resource.  As such, they respected and protected it in order to sustain themselves and future generations.

Modern research shows many people experience a calm, soothing sensation when outdoors and surrounded by greenery.  This can happen even in urban gardens when a field of view is dominated by gardens.  New York City residents report this sensation even when in small roof top gardens.  This is, in part, why the National Parks Conservation Association encourages people to visit and support the US National Park System.  The National Wildlife Federation attempts to bring Nature to the people with their “Backyard Habitat” and “Schoolyard Habitat” gardening programs.

Pono (sounds like poe—as in Edgar Allan Poe + no) generally means “righteousness.”  The sense in the State’s motto essentially means Hawaiian people living respectfully on the land do the right thing in all things as a way of life.  They respect each other and the environment.  This concept empowers people to do good or right things for others without expectation or consideration for reward or recognition.  You simply do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.  [Note: Originally there was no private property.  All people had a vested interest in protecting the land in order to get food and sustenance in the middle of the ocean.  The land division system of old Hawaii (ahupua’a; sounds like ah-who + pooh-ah-ah) created wedge-shaped parcels of land extending from the mountains to the sea.  Essentially this assured ecologically sustainable units.  Westerners brought concepts of private land ownership that destroyed the Hawaiian system.  The land was fragmented by special interests seeking sections for waterfront, agricultural, commercial and other special interests.  This segmentation of the environment was arbitrarily based on self-interest and counter to the natural order for Hawaiians.]

Three related concepts give more insight to the “Aloha Spirit.”  Hawaiian culture is communal.  The word “Ohana” (sounds like oh + ha + nah) loosely translates to “family.”  The word originates with taro (the basic staple food plant for the islanders).  Many shoots come from the same root.  This connotes the sense that all people come from the same “root” and are thus all one big family.  The term applies equally to biological family members as well as friends and co-workers.  It recognizes that people are social by nature.  And as Gandhi said, ““Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency.  Man is a social being. Without interrelation with society he cannot realize his oneness with the universe or suppress his egotism.  His social interdependence enables him to test his faith and to prove himself on the touchstone of reality.”

Mana (sounds like mah-nah) relates to power.  But the Hawaiian sense of power is through life force energy not mere physical strength or material possessions.  As a dynamic entity, mana changes by increasing or decreasing based on your live actions relative to pono.  The more righteous your actions, the more mana you have.    Harmonious relationships and being helpful to others gains mana.  This is how pono and mana work together and make for a sustainable way of life.

Aloha (sounds like Ah + low + ha) is a very fuzzy Hawaiian term.  It embraces and embodies love, charity, empathy, compassion, sympathy, kindness, gentleness, and much more.  This word is used when greeting and when parting.  The context is intended to remind people that love is an all embracing life force.  Some translate it as “Joyfully sharing life.”  When you do your work and conduct your relationships and business with a aloha, life is more harmonious. 

The Aloha Spirit is an inherent part of life in Hawaii.  When people born and raised in the islands move away, the Aloha Spirit goes with them.  These migrants export the Aloha Spirit from the islands and dispense it wherever they go.  They plant the seeds of Aloha everywhere.  The Aloha Spirit is alive and well in S.E.E.D.S.