Saturday, September 17, 2011

hands-on learning in Ghana...

My daughter Lucy and friends from Columbia University started an international organization to encourage science, math and engineering skills in poor countries. The video below is from last year's mission to Ghana. In it you will see project based learning projects and a brief account from a student telling how she learns best from the hands-on, practical approach. You may have difficulty understanding her accent, but you will find her hands expressive of what she had learned.

We are, after all, as human beings, makers (and makers of music) and fixers of things, and the story of our humanity is best told in what we make, not what we say.

On a similar subject (as here, I nearly always talk about the hands), blog reader David asked via email:
"What is the relationship between "craft" and "music" in relation to improving learning skills and mental development? Much of what you have written about is the impact that practical physical learning has on helping develop the abstract thinking abilities in students. By practical physical learning, I mean you have related most of this to learning some kind of craft. Mainly, this is due to your own experiences and expertise as a woodworker. Many of the studies and research papers you have cited also relate to the need for physically doing some kind of work in making something. I am wondering if this also relates to making music? ... You have cited research that links the use of fingers to math, and we do use our fingers when we use our hands. And I cannot think of an instrument that we do not use our hands to make music with. Getting back to the question then, is there a direct link to the use of music and/or craft in developing learning skills. Or are they separate and distinct, yet provide the same result?
And of course, the simple answer is yes they are separate in that we may each be drawn toward distinct expressions of our own intelligence, but yes they are the same in that each puts the hand and brain partnership into action in the development of character and intellect. In the blog, I try to be careful to include other forms of human expression by naming them. Music, the arts, dance, theater, woodworking, etc. I would not claim that it is only through the creation of practical, useful, beautiful things that intelligence and character are procured.

But on the other hand, there is an exquisite beauty in the crafting of unique objects that express care for others, even though our society at large might fail to see the value in it. Our culture seems to regard the cultivation of the mind and the cultivation of the hands as separate ventures, and from that has arisen an era of unfathomable, incomprehensible stupidity in the way we've chosen to teach our kids.

Make music, make art, plant and tend beautiful gardens, prepare delicious, wholesome meals, craft beautiful and useful objects... these are all hands-on expressions of human wisdom.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:55 AM

    To David I would recommend a book called "This Is Your Brain On Music," based on research into the effects of music on brain development. It's a shame no research of that kind has been done on the effects of making beautiful things, but I would suspect that the effects are very similar.