Thursday, November 26, 2009

Memory Techniques Assisted by Web 2.0 Tools

I don't know about the rest of you, but my memory is going, not coming. There are a number of factors that I believe are contributing to this. I think first and foremost, fatigue is making it harder to remember things. Yes, I know I should slow things down, but it's pretty hard to do, when you have so much that has to be done. Besides, I'm also doing it to myself to some degree, because I signed up for two courses this time. I wanted to get done sooner and didn't think it would be much extra work. Well, I was wrong. My evenings and weekends are spent working on coursework and as a result my memory is going. Now I don't know if this scientifically proven despite all the research, but experientially, I can attest to forgetting things because I am just so tired. Now I say this not for sympathy, but because I wonder how this translates to our students.

I remember so many of my students coming to class and falling asleep, because they had been up all night watching TV or playing video games. Some of them were so involved in sports that they had little time to breathe between doing homework, going to practices, and traveling and playing games. As a result, when the students came to class exhausted from a lack of sleep, it is little wonder why they did so poorly in class. I believe their lack of sleep led to poor memory which resulted in low grades. That being said, this week's review of a few short term memory aids was interesting, and maybe even helpful.

1) Chunking

I know chunking works, because I've used it before. It's not a new thing, because I used it back in the early 80's. It 's the strategy of grouping numbers or words that we want to remember. For example, if I want to remember a Christmas wish list, then I can create a word from the first letter of each item in my wish list, or I can break numbers up into workable groups. In Canada, we have 9 digit social insurance numbers that are broken up into 3 groups of 3 so that we can remember them more easily. That's a technique of chunking. Do students find this useful? Absolutely! I sure did when I was in university trying to remember all the historical events and dates. I found it really worked.

2) Linking system for encoding memory

I was particularly fascinated by this experiment. Think about the potential for students to link words or terminologies in science with a related location and be able to recall these for testing purposes. One tool that could help people link with images could be Glogster. This would help people connect the words with images not only in the mind, but visually as an aid. I found a Web 2.0 tool called Knowtes, . Unfortunately, it's by invitation only for now. But it uses a flashcard system to remember information by associating with images.

3) Mind Mapping

This technique is unique by suggesting only using one word on each branch, as well as having the line only as long as the word. I can see how having the branch as long as the word keeps it from losing its focus. Mind42, is a tool that demonstrates this strategy with the aid of pictures and colours. It's in beta right now. Another Web 2.0 tool that uses a visual tree as part of the mind mapping is Exploratree,

After all is said and done, I need to get some sleep, and start trying out some of these memory techniques for myself. Here's hoping.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Can We Help a Student Want to Learn?

This is something I have been pondering for some years. I remember having a conversation with Linda Kavelin-Popov, founder of Virtues Project International, a few years back. We were talking about motivation, and she said, "We cannot motivate people to do the right thing; we can only inspire them to do the right thing." Now I realize that sounds somewhat "airy ferry" or new age, but it's changed how I look at what I can do with students rightly or wrongly. Sergiovanni (2005: 10-11) says that we need to move away from the theory that what gets done gets rewarded (extrinsic motivation) to a better strategy, of what is rewarding gets done even if no one is looking (intrinsic motivation). I now look at my role as a teacher and administrator as one that needs to inspire learning by living out my passion for lifelong learning. I'm one of those guys who believes that I need to encourage the growth and development of natural virtue, or character strengths according to Seligman & Peterson, in students (2004) that becomes the driving force of what they do and how they live.

It's been awhile since I have been active in the classroom, but I hear teachers often say that students seem so apathetic and uninterested in learning or life for that matter. Motivating a child with extrinsic rewards, as Dan Pink states in his TedTalk (2009) presentation, often has a negative and opposite result. I tend to agree with Pink.

Motivation becomes almost like a pull or push action, especially if we are dangling the candy in front of the student as if we are trying to bribe them to follow. Pretty soon the candy loses its appeal and we're looking for bigger candy to lure the student into learning. We've seen this for years in the classrooms with reward systems. I must confess, in my early years of teaching, I bought into the rewards thing. I bought this treasure box and it was filled with coins and tokens. Every time a student did something right or worked hard I gave them a token or coin. At the end of the month, they could turn in their coins and purchases prizes like pencils, books, stickers, and more. But that lasted six months and the students were bored with it. Meanwhile, I was exhausted from trying to administer it. In the end, I realized that the students were not learning or behaving because it was a good thing or for its intrinsic value or merit, but because I was bribing them.

This is why I lean more to the inspiration model. Motivation, even intrinsic, has to have a cause. At the root of intrinsic motivation is a value system that is based upon natural virtue and character strengths. If I am in a dangerous situation, I am motivated to flee to safety because of the value I place on my life, because I care (virtue) about me. When I sit in class and apply myself or am intrinsically motivated to learn, it is because I value learning and knowledge, because I am a person striving for excellence (virtue) in my life. Motivation is the action and relies on a cause. Motivation sometimes is short lived though. How many times have we heard a stirring speech or speaker, and people say, "Wow! That was motivating." But they go back to the normal lives and nothing changes permanently, it may for a short while. That's because at the core nothing changed.

As an educator, I can affirm a student in their character strengths so they flourish and grow more love, joy, kindness, understanding, care, determination, responsibility, courage, excellence, assertiveness, trust, and more virtues. When a student’s feels good about themselves as a person, and believes that they possess these qualities even in a small way, they live out these qualities. Instead of being pushed or pulled into learning, I inspire them to be what they can be with my words of affirmation and encouragement. My warm friendly interactions create a safe and caring learning environment where they can feel motivated to learn. Yet after all this, I understand that students (Arthur: 29) may possess the same virtues as each other, but their motivation may vary in strength or output because of their will.

All I can do is try to help a student want to learn. I can encourage. I can be an example. But in the end, the student must want to learn for themselves. I can only hope I have encouraged them so they want to learn. This is why this subject is no simple matter and will be debated for a long time. But they are my thoughts and observations.

Sergiovanni, T.J. (2005). Strengthening the heartbeat: leading and learning together in schools. San Fransico: Jossey-Bass.

Seligman, M. E. P., & Peterson, C. (2004). Character strengths and virtues. Oxford University Press, USA.

TedTalk. (Producer). (2009). Dan pink on the surprising science of motivation [Web]. Retrieved from

Arthur, J. (2003). Education with character: the moral economy od schooling. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

Monday, November 2, 2009


The Role of Technology, Emotion, and Social Interaction in Learning

This past week, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of emotion, language, and humour in learning. In addition to reading Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, I watched a great video by Patricia Kuhl about the importance of early childhood learning in a child’s language development.

I was so impressed by the research that is being done with infants that shows the importance of socially interacting with an infant between 8-10 months old and using lots of language filled with emotion. What was also intriguing was that plain audio or TV did not produce any noticeable improvements in a child’s language development when a child listened or viewed it. That made me think about how many times we put TV shows on in our daycares thinking the exposure may give children an advantage. But what that research tells us is there is no substitute for human interaction between an adult and child. An emotionless TV or audio player cannot replace human interaction.

We are emotional beings that are dependent upon other human beings for growth and development. I was having this conversation with a colleague recently where we mused about what happens to children that are deprived of love and affection during these formative years. This research only scratches the surface about the importance of emotional stimuli in the development of language. But what happens to learning when children are abused or neglected? Do we understand the huge negative impact to learning or brain development in these cases? We have done a great deal to warn of the effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), but what happens to the brain during early childhood development when they receive little or no affection or lacking feeling the security of a loving home. I have seen children passed from parent to grandparent to aunt to cousin. And we wonder why this child isn’t doing well in school. I’ve seen the negative effects on these students and chalked it up to their social environment, but maybe there is more to it than the living conditions or home life. Maybe something never developed properly for these students during those all important years.

Now I said earlier that research shows virtually no noticeable difference in language development when a child watches TV or listens to audio. This does not mean that technology has no use or purpose in learning. What it does mean is that we need to be more creative in how we use it so that we can effectively transmit human emotion and social interaction. When I go use a tool like ElluminateLive, I still feel the emotion of another person communicating with me with live audio. When I use a webcam on Skype, I can see the facial expressions that accompany a person’s voice or words spoken. So technology can effectively assist in the role of learning, particularly because we can use storytelling that is packed full of emotion and connects another person’s experience with my life. A great example of this was when I viewed a Voicethread of a colleague and friend, Rod Murray about a former student of his, Adam. I’ve added a link to this Voicethread, because it’s a wonderful story and serves as a great example of how storytelling filled with emotion taught me something new about autism and friendship and I learned from the use of this technology.

So emotion and social interaction do serve a purpose in human learning, but so does technology. We just have to be more creatively.