Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Teaching Back is Giving Back

At S.E.E.D.S. we believe that one of the best ways to learn something is to try to teach it to someone.  So rather than written tests, we use the Teach-Back as a practical exam.  When done in a group based on mutual respect and mutual benefit, participants don’t compete with each other for the batter grade or to look like the better person. To illustrate this point, consider  a group lesson on making compost. The concept of composting is presented.  Group members (let’s call them Group A) then gather the necessary materials.  Everyone does all the various tasks for making compost.  Once the compost pile is done, each student is expected to Teach-Back to others.  The “new students” can be family members, friends, neighbors or anyone interested in learning to make compost.  If the members of Group A team up to do the Teach-Back, you might get to see synergy at work.
Synergy is a situation where the whole (in this case the team) is greater than the sum of its parts.  What one person forgets, another remembers.  And sometimes a partial memory is jogged or filled in by another team member.  Together the team might gain additional insights to making compost not specifically taught in the original lesson they learned.  There’s no need to finger point and taunt each other about who forgot what.  The key is for the team to teach others how to make compost.
People are individuals.  As such, each is unique.  Each teaching site is unique.  We may all look at the same material or object, but what each of us sees and thinks about that object can be very different.  Often people tend to teach as they have been taught.  So during a Teach-Back a new learner might ask a question that is new to the Teach-Back trainers.  Each trainer might have a different answer.  As such, there is a high probability that the composting lesson will NOT be a carbon copy of the original lesson.  Each trainer, teaching site, group of learners are a unique combination. Therefore, each time the composting lesson is taught, there is a chance to learn something new. We have so much to learn from one another.This is another reason why learning is a life-time endeavor.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Impact of Language on Perceptions

Alfred Korzybski developed the field of General Semantics. He felt that human biology and language create barriers to humans knowing reality. The mental constructs (mental maps) are not the real world. Hence he stated “The map is not the territory.” Korzybski felt that language, science and mathematics can provide people with a structural map (or mental map) of empirical facts. He stated that “the map is not the territory,” as his way help people understand that the way we describe things, isn’t necessarily the reality; they are only descriptions of what we observe and how we choose to describe it. These descriptions shape our perceptions of the world around us.

Copyright 1988-2015 Gregory Lee
In geography, maps are two-dimensional graphic symbolic representations of the four-dimensionality of what we call the real world. We are not going to define reality as per General Semantics. We agree with Korzybski, the map is not the territory. For this reason S.E.E.D.S. uses the Geographic Systems Model to help guide a person’s inquiry. This gives the person a means to systematically observe and learn about their world. [Note: Geography embraces all life, physical, and social sciences simultaneously to characterize the interrelationships of phenomena on Earth.]  The Geographic Systems Model integrates the General Systems Model using general science to help organize direct observations and measurements to enable people to develop systematic descriptions of the world around them. Combined with other problem solving strategies, teachers and students are encouraged to make connections using STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) components based on their curiosity and interest. Although the map is not the territory, the systematic collection, analysis, and display of data is a significant tool in effective problem solving. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Accountability vs. Responsibility

Finger pointing and the blame game often follow news stories of lack luster student performance, high drop-out rates, low completion rates, and similar topics related to the dismal education system.  Out of the din, two frequently used words are responsibility and accountability.  Though these words may ring similar in many ears, here is how a Stanford University Professor Emerita of Education uses them.

The shift from responsibility to accountability allows people to maintain the status quo. It does not encourage or push people to take action and make positive change. Accountability only becomes a necessary function of thought and process when people have thrown responsibility out of the window. With responsibility we make a conscious choice to create our own change. When it comes to education this is imperative. The fact is that education, especially at the early education and college level is very expensive. For this reason, it is imperative that we as teachers, parents and educators encourage a system that values responsibility NOT accountability.