Friday, September 13, 2019

That little spinning ball

How learning works... It requires attention, does it not? Otto Salomon who was responsible for the spread of Educational Sloyd throughout the world through his Sloyd training school at Nääs, described the ineffectiveness of classroom teaching. A "class" of students is an abstraction in which the learning needs of individual students is suppressed.

Yes, you can have a certain number of bodies assigned as a class, but how many minds will be present at any given time while you as a teacher blather on with your lecture. How many of those minds can be brought equally to the same subject material at the same time? In the actual age range of a first grade class, there will be students as much as twenty percent older or younger than the rest, so even if all were coming from equal homes and equal experiences, the idea of a class of students is only for the convenience of administration and not to respond to the necessities of intellectual engagement of each child.

The little spinning ball that shows up at times on your computer while you are waiting for something to process, load or connect, is an apt metaphor. Just imagine a classroom teacher surrounded by spinning balls. Some are processing something already said, attempting to connect it with something already present in the learner's experience. Some are attempting to connect, having no clue where to grab hold. Some, having found nothing to connect with in anything you've said, have moved onto more pleasant and productive thoughts. And then there's the necessity of the wandering mind. In order for new information to find a secure fit in the thinking of a child (or adult) the mind must wander to find connecting points. During a lecture you might expect about 20-30 percent of attendees to be intellectually in attendance at any given time.

This  particular piece of research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is particularly important: It is crucial that we extract education from the clutches of lecture based traditional schooling.

I'm fortunate in having my elementary school students combined in two groups with grade levels 1-4 in each group. This allows me to better assess and observe the workings of mind. Some are completely new to the wood shop, but come from active homes. They are better prepared to engage and do than those who are less actively engaged.

I watched the democratic debate last night and was pleased that the subject of education came up. There is a very strong recognition that we need to restore dignity to the teaching profession and better compensate teachers for the contributions they make toward the advancement of societal goals. They touch on every front... our international competitiveness, the safety and security of our communities, the character and intelligence of our kids and their economic success upon which we also depend.

The photo shows one of my second grade students building his loom. It is remarkable how much he's grown over the past year.

Make, fix, and create.


  1. Anonymous8:38 AM

    About the age. A few month difference at about 6 year old for any individual makes a big difference in maturity/experience/sociability/... Here in Belgium, the oldest might be born the 1st of January preceding the start of primary school (beginning of September) while the youngest might only reach 6 years the following 31st of December. And we don't speak of children who have to repeat that first class.
    Just for the sake of rigor and without affecting the conclusions, if the oldest is 20% older (6/5), the youngest is just under 17% younger (5/6).
    By the way, when advertisers compare prices, they always choose the good comparison. Decoding advertising is also something to explain to children.

  2. Thanks for fixing my math. I was thinking in one direction and not the other. I've written before about the fact that children dop not all mature at the same rate or in the same developmental sequences.