Thursday, 21 February 2013

MIT Course: Learning Creative Learning - Reading List

Here is the reading list for week one of the course. With each one I've put a mini-summary and my reflections and questions (as per course requirements). I particularly recommend the 'Preface to Gears of My Childhood'

On Formal vs. Informal Education.
In Joi's mind,  there is a large chasm between these types of learning, and people are naturally suited to one kind or the other. Formal includes rote learning, lectures, homework, etc. Informal is interest-based, self led, but with the help of intelligent mentors, the internet and other sources of information when needed.
As someone who's job is the formal side of learning, I can't help but try to marry the two up, rather than pick one or the other once and for all. That is a strong challenge though, as for formal education to be interest-based, you need to get all or most of your pupils interested in a specific topic (that happens to be on the curriculum at the right time). This to me though, is very much the new country currently being explored by the likes of Dan Meyer and Shawn Cornally.

Reading the Dictionary
Talks about the internet as a great resource for learning, but one that is currently going in the wrong direction (basically offering courses which consist of all the least interactive parts of a physical course at university). Instead he wants to use the internet as a way of connecting people and getting them to build things. People will then naturally use the online lectures and materials if and when they need the information.
This is very much the method I used when learning programming and website design; I learnt what I needed for a specific problem when it came up in a larger project. I have seen some kids do the same, but many kids are just not comforatble with it. The question, then, is whether this skill is teachable or innate. I'm not yet convinced that this is a style of learning which is appropriate to everyone (not that formal learning is either).
My other shortcoming about this is that I'm not sure how well it applies to other subjects (apart from coding). For example, thanks to Khanacademy, there are thousands of tutorial math videos online that would teach you a method as you needed it. However, maths is about more than the procedural steps of each method, its about understanding the underlying structure, its connections to other skills and seeing how that method works. This is not something that khanacademy videos even try to do (nor should they). Is it possible, though, that these connections can be made apparent by very carefully choosing the larger projects the pupils work on and carefully ordering that progression? By ordering and choosing the projects, would the interest-driven ideals be lost?

Preface to 'Gears of my Childhood'
Here is a personal account about a childhood experience with gears, learning how they work and how this knowledge was used as a means of making alebra in to something concrete. Instead of saying that all kids should play with gears, the argument is to create more opportunities for kids to find their own connections. The gears-alebra connection only worked because he 'fell in love' with gears and wouldn't have been the same if they were taught explicitly.
Out of all the readings, this one affected me the most. It definietely resonated with my personal experiences with lego robotics and the games my dad wrote (copying code from magazines) on the commodore 64. I also remember a very similar story about Maxwell's work on electro-magnetism, where it was his ability to connect it to a physical idea that helped him make a break-through.
In terms of my profession, as i'm the person teaching algebra, I maybe cannot create these earlier experiences for my pupils to draw from. All I can do is help them to make these connections. I can (and do) explicitly talk about connections that people could use. However, this preface really suggests that these connections are much stronger when the pupil finds it for themselves (with something they love). How can I encourage that?

Not yet read/watched:
Dubai and Learning the Unknowable
Joi Ito Keynote
Living with new media