3 Rules to Spark Learning

You know, questions and curiosity like Maddie’s are magnets that draw us towards our teachers, and they transcend all technology or buzzwords in education. But if we place these technologies before student inquiry, we can be robbing ourselves of our greatest tool as teachers: our students’ questions. For example, flipping a boring lecture from the classroom to the screen of a mobile device might save instructional time, but if it is the focus of our students’ experience, it’s the same dehumanizing chatter just wrapped up in fancy clothing. But if instead we have the guts to confuse our students, perplex them, and evoke real questions, through those questions, we as teachers have information that we can use to tailor robust and informed methods of blended instruction.
So, 21st-century lingo jargon mumbo jumbo aside, the truth is, I’ve been teaching for 13 years now, and it took a life-threatening situation to snap me out of 10 years of pseudo-teaching and help me realize that student questions are the seeds of real learning, not some scripted curriculum that gave them tidbits of random information.
In May of 2010, at 35 years old, with a two-year-old at home and my second child on the way, I was diagnosed with a large aneurysm at the base of my thoracic aorta. This led to open-heart surgery. This is the actual real email from my doctor right there. Now, when I got this, I was — press Caps Lock — absolutely freaked out, okay? But I found surprising moments of comfort in the confidence that my surgeon embodied. Where did this guy get this confidence, the audacity of it.
So when I asked him, he told me three things. He said first, his curiosity drove him to ask hard questions about the procedure, about what worked and what didn’t work. Second, he embraced, and didn’t fear, the messy process of trial and error, the inevitable process of trial and error. And third, through intense reflection, he gathered the information that he needed to design and revise the procedure, and then, with a steady hand, he saved my life.
Now I absorbed a lot from these words of wisdom, and before I went back into the classroom that fall, I wrote down three rules of my own that I bring to my lesson planning still today. Rule number one: Curiosity comes first. Questions can be windows to great instruction, but not the other way around. Rule number two: Embrace the mess. We’re all teachers. We know learning is ugly. And just because the scientific method is allocated to page five of section 1.2 of chapter one of the one that we all skip, okay, trial and error can still be an informal part of what we do every single day at Sacred Heart Cathedral in room 206. And rule number three: Practice reflection. What we do is important. It deserves our care, but it also deserves our revision. Can we be the surgeons of our classrooms? As if what we are doing one day will save lives. Our students our worth it. And each case is different.
So these are my daughters. On the right we have little Emmalou — Southern family. And, on the left, Riley. Now Riley’s going to be a big girl in a couple weeks here. She’s going to be four years old, and anyone who knows a four-year-old knows that they love to ask, “Why?” Yeah. Why. I could teach this kid anything because she is curious about everything. We all were at that age. But the challenge is really for Riley’s future teachers, the ones she has yet to meet. How will they grow this curiosity?
You see, I would argue that Riley is a metaphor for all kids, and I think dropping out of school comes in many different forms — to the senior who’s checked out before the year’s even begun or that empty desk in the back of an urban middle school’s classroom. But if we as educators leave behind this simple role as disseminators of content and embrace a new paradigm as cultivators of curiosity and inquiry, we just might bring a little bit more meaning to their school day, and spark their imagination.

One thing that can transform education systems

Only thing that primarily differentiates human beings from other animals is their ability to learn. Although all animals can learn some skills but we have outpaced them all by all growth that we have made. So what is that one thing that makes us to learn and do so much more than any other animal. Almost all animals can wonder to some extent about what it is when they see something. Some animals can also wonder How it is done when they need to do something for e.g. we now know that chimpanzees can use tools to get their foods. We even have proofs that chimpanzees can learn language to some extent. But there is one thing that no animal except human being, has asked so far or will ever ask and that is Why

This one ability to ask Why and trying to go in depth of it has made all difference. No other animal raises his head in night and asks what are these blinking small lights in sky? why do I walk, can I fly even without having wings? Why do I need to depend on seasons to get food? Why can’t I grow my own food. This why has made all our progress or for that matter survival possible. 

Now that we know that this asking why is the only differentiating factor between us and other animals, let’s think for a moment how many of us actually ask Why, and if we agree that we don’t do it often, let’s agree that now we will ask why we don’t ask why, that’s what this article is all about. 

This ability to ask why and desire to know is called Curiosity. Curiosity has been the basis for all human growth and learnings. Nothing could have been achieved if human being were not curious about their environment and surroundings. The newton was curious about falling of apple, so were Adam and Eve about the fruits from tree of knowledge. Galileo was curious about universe. So anyone who knew something was driven by desire to know. This basic curiosity is basis for any learning. But do we see this in our education system any more. The children who are going to schools, do they have curiosity to know the content that we teach them. Let’s think for a moment, how many of us actually were excited in morning while going to school that today we will get to know in which year Akbar was born. Still they kept on teaching us. 

I would like to quote famous American educator Abraham Flexner from his paper The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge 

“……….throughout the whole history of science most of the really great discoveries which had ultimately proved to be beneficial to mankind had been made by men and women who were driven not by the desire to be useful but merely the desire to satisfy their curiosity.” 

Curiosity comes very naturally to all of us. No one needs to teach it to a child. As he or she grows, we build barriers to it. To quote from book Curious: 

“Curiosity starts with the itch to explore. From a very early age, we display a yearning to conquer the unknown. A 1964 study found that babies as young as two month old, when presented with different patterns, will show a marked preference for the unfamiliar ones. Every parent knows about the child’s compulsion to stick tiny fingers where they are not supposed to go, to run out of the open door, to eat dirt.” 

If curiosity comes so naturally to us, why we lose it as we grow. To a great extent, society needs to be blamed and to some extent we ourselves. Why would society be against curiosity? Because curiosity is unruly, it doesn’t follow rules. Those who are truly curious don’t follow rules set-out by society, they are ask why? And that’s where problem starts. If you don’t agree with me, try recalling what society did to Galileo or Darwin. They were never accepted at large during their time. A society that values order above all else will seek to suppress curiosity. 

Secondly, we degrade in curiosity as we age, due to our own laziness built into our DNAs. Curiosity takes effort and our natural instincts is to keep putting efforts always unless we consciously try to. As we grow older, we tend to rely more on what we have learned so far rather than purring efforts to question everything. 

For limited purpose of this article, we will focus on need of curiosity in education. 

There is a big epidemic in education in developed countries, not that there is less supply of school education. The problem is on other side, yes demand is going down. Children don’t want to go to schools they are dropping out. According to latest statistics every year, over 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States alone. That’s a student every 26 seconds – or 7,000 a day. If you think the problem is only for developed countries, figures for India are more disheartening. According to survey, between age of 10 to 14 years one in every three children drop out of schools because they are not interested in education. Drop-outs for other reasons are far lesser than this reason of dis-interest. Can you imagine that children don’t want to learn? Isn’t it fundamentally different from our picture of children asking so many questions, always trying to know more. We have failed them, we are teaching them what we want them to learn not what they are curious about. Our education system has taken one essential element out of education that is curiosity. We have made education dead and boring. There is need to bring this back, that’s the only way to create true learners. We don’t need more schools and colleges, we need better ones. We need to find ways to make children hungry to learn, question and create. This one thing i.e. Bringing Curiosity back in our education systems, can change it drastically. Jigyasa is dedicated to that purpose only.

Gaurav Sangtani

How to Spark Curiosity in Children Through Embracing Uncertainty

In the classroom, subjects are often presented as settled and complete. Teachers lecture students on the causes of World War I, say, or the nature of matter, as if no further questioning is needed because all the answers have been found.

In turn, students regurgitate what they’ve been told, confident they’ve learned all the facts and unaware of the mysteries that remain unexplored. Without insight into the holes in our knowledge, students mistakenly believe that some subjects are closed. They lose humility and curiosity in the face of this conceit.

But our collective understanding of any given subject is never complete, according to Jamie Holmes, who has just written a book on the hidden benefits of uncertainty. In “Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing,” Holmes explores how the discomforting notions of ambiguity and uncertainty affect the way we think and behave. Confronting what we don’t know sometimes triggers curiosity.

He wants students to grapple with uncertainty to spark their curiosity and better prepare them for the “real world,” where answers are seldom clear-cut or permanent. Whether exploring black holes or a Shakespearean sonnet, students should be comfortable challenging the received wisdom. There’s already a believer of the uncertain in science — Columbia neuroscience professor Stuart Firestein, who argues that “insightful ignorancedrives science.

“We’re much more certain about facts than we should be,” Holmes said. “A lot of this will be challenged, and it should not be embarrassing.”

If students can be made to feel comfortable with uncertainty — if they’re learning in an environment where ambiguity is welcome and they are encouraged to question facts — then they are more apt to be curious and innovative in their thinking.

Approaching knowledge this way is difficult for students and teachers, however, because ambiguity spurs unpleasant feelings. Indeed, studies show that the typical response to uncertainty is a rush for resolution, often prematurely, and heightened emotions.

“Our minds crave closure, but when we latch onto it prematurely we miss beautiful and important moments along the way,” Holmes said, including the opportunity to explore new ideas or consider novel interpretations. And teachers have additional challenges in presenting facts as fluid: appearing less than certain about their field of expertise can feel risky in a classroom of merciless teenagers.

But teachers who hope to inspire curiosity in their students, and to encourage tolerance for ambiguity, can take steps to introduce uncertainty into the classroom. Holmes offers several recommendations.

Address the emotional impact of uncertainty. “The emotions of learning are surprise, awe, interest and confusion,” Holmes said. But because confusion provokes discomfort, it should be discussed by teachers to help students handle the inevitable disquiet. “Students have to grow comfortable not just with the idea that failure is a part of innovation, but with the idea that confusion is, too,” Holmes writes. Teachers can help students cope with these feelings by acknowledging their emotional response and encouraging them to view ambiguity as a learning opportunity.

Assign projects that provoke uncertainty. One way to help students grow more comfortable with confusion is to assign projects that are likely to flummox them. Holmes identifies three techniques for doing so: inviting students to find mistakes; asking them to present arguments for alien viewpoints; and providing assignments that students will fail. “The best assignments should make students make mistakes, be confused and feel uncertain,” he said.

Adopt a non-authoritarian teaching style to encourage exploration, challenge and revision. Teachers who instruct with a sense of humanity, curiosity and an appreciation for mystery are more apt to engage students in learning, Holmes explained. “Those with an outlook of authority and certainty don’t invite students in,” he said. Also, when teachers present themselves as experts imparting wisdom, students get the mistaken idea that subjects are closed. “Teachers should help students find ways to think and learn,” he said. “The best teachers are in awe of their subjects.”

Read Full Article at this link.

The Secret to Learning Anything: Albert Einstein’s Advice to His Son

In 1915, aged thirty-six, Einstein was living in wartorn Berlin, while his estranged wife, Mileva, and their two sons, Hans Albert Einstein and Eduard “Tete” Einstein, lived in comparatively safe Vienna. On November 4 of that year, having just completed the two-page masterpiece that would catapult him into international celebrity and historical glory, his theory of general relativity, Einstein sent 11-year-old Hans Albert the following letter:

 

My dear Albert,

Yesterday I received your dear letter and was very happy with it. I was already afraid you wouldn’t write to me at all any more. You told me when I was in Zurich, that it is awkward for you when I come to Zurich. Therefore I think it is better if we get together in a different place, where nobody will interfere with our comfort. I will in any case urge that each year we spend a whole month together, so that you see that you have a father who is fond of you and who loves you. You can also learn many good and beautiful things from me, something another cannot as easily offer you. What I have achieved through such a lot of strenuous work shall not only be there for strangers but especially for my own boys. These days I have completed one of the most beautiful works of my life, when you are bigger, I will tell you about it.

I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits, better even than school. Because those are things which fit a young person such as you very well. Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes. I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal. . . .

Be with Tete kissed by your

Papa.

Regards to Mama.

 

What is curiosity? – Robert B. Gagosian

Robert B. Gagosian, President & CEO of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership

“I would suggest that curiosity is thinking beyond what you normally think about. For instance, you are climbing a mountain and you see a ridge. Curiosity to me is, what is beyond that ridge and how am I going to get to it? And what does it look like? And is it going to be something that is going to be scary? Is it going to be something interesting? I know it will be exciting. So I guess curiosity to me is excitement beyond my thought process”

A Curious Mind

An Interesting blog worth sharing about Science, Art and Link between them. The blog is written by Mario Livio. Livio has been an astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland. This is the institute that conducts the scientific program of the Hubble Space Telescope and will conduct the scientific program of the James Webb Space Telescope, to be launched in 2018.

https://blogs.stsci.edu/livio/

 

Nine Things Educators Need to Know About the Brain

Nice Article taken from: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/nine_things_educators_need_to_know_about_the_brain

Here is summary:

__________________________________________________________________________________

Nine scientific insights that educators might want to keep in mind:

1. The brain is a social organ.

Our brains require stimulation and connection to survive and thrive. A brain without connection to other brains and without sufficient challenge will shrink and eventually die.

2. We have two brains.

Good teachers seek to balance the expression of emotion and cognition, encouraging overly rational students to be aware of and explore their feelings while helping anxious students develop the cognitive capabilities of their left hemispheres to regulate their emotions.

3. Early learning is powerful.

Much of our most important emotional and interpersonal learning occurs during our first few years of life, when our more primitive neural networks are in control. Early experiences shape structures in ways that have a lifelong impact on three of our most vital areas of learning:attachment, emotional regulation, and self-esteem.

4. Conscious awareness and unconscious processing occur at different speeds, often simultaneously.

Conscious awareness and explicit memory are but a small fraction of the vast amount of neural processing that occurs each millisecond. Because of this, it is especially important to teach students to question their assumptions and the possible influences of past experiences and unconscious biases on their feelings and beliefs.

5. The mind, brain, and body are interwoven.

Physical activity exerts a stimulating influence on the entire brain that keeps it functioning at an optimal level. Exercise has been shown to stimulate the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus and to pump more oxygen through the brain, stimulating capillary growth and frontal-lobe plasticity.

6. The brain has a short attention span and needs repetition and multiple-channel processing for deeper learning to occur.

Curiosity, the urge to explore and the impulse to seek novelty, plays an important role in survival. Because our brains evolved to remain vigilant to a constantly changing environment, we learn better in brief intervals.

7. Fear and stress impair learning.

Evolution has shaped our brains to err on the side of caution and to trigger fear whenever it might be remotely useful. Fear makes us less intelligent because amygdala activation—which occurs as part of the fear response—interferes with prefrontal functioning. Fear also shuts down exploration, makes our thinking more rigid, and drives “neophobia,” the fear of anything new.

8. We analyze others but not ourselves: the primacy of projection.

Our brains have evolved to pay attention to the behaviors and emotions of other people. Not only is this processing complex, but it is lightning fast, shaping our experience of others milliseconds before we even become consciously aware of their presence. We automatically generate a theory of what is on their mind—our ideas about what they know, what their motivations may be, and what they might do next. As a result, we are as quick to think we know others as we are slow to become aware of our own motives and faults.

9. Learning is enhanced by emphasizing the big picture—and then allowing students to discover the details for themselves.

When problems are represented at higher levels of abstraction, learning can be integrated into larger schemas that enhance memory, learning, and cognitive flexibility. Starting with major concepts and repeatedly returning to them during a lecture enhances understanding and memory, a phenomenon that increases when students create their own categories and strategies of organizing information.

Read Full Article at: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/nine_things_educators_need_to_know_about_the_brain

Carl Sagan’s iconic Pale Blue Dot monologue

‘Carl Sagan’s iconic Pale Blue Dot monologue’. It says it all….

Read below and see various videos based on it. Tells a lot…

“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Videos: