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Posts Tagged ‘Curiosity’

When I reveal that I am a retired teacher, many folks will begin a discussion about the challenges of being a teacher and the problems with education. After 28 years in the classroom, I could profundicate and philosophize all the day long on the subject. A few days ago the subject came up and several well worn paths were traversed until the other party referred to a story I told about students really learning as “incidental learning”. That got me fired up because the term means that the learning was “accidental / indirect / additional / unplanned”. (1) The learning that I described was quite intentional, direct, central, and planned. What was actually different about it was that it was intended to solicit interest and passion for the learning process and the subject matter. I referred to these lessons as Affective Biology.

I will not be able to pronounce the solution for all educational woes in this short article, and many of them are moral rather than educational anyway, but one thing that my experience assures me of is that students only learn well what they are interested in. Teach them what they want to learn about, what they are curious about. Teach them concepts relevant to their life and useful to their pursuits. Entice them to learn about things they don’t think they are interested in by showing them the need of it to understand and do they things they are interested in.

Now those who develop and command curriculum will wring their hands at this point because “the student needs a well rounded education” and besides, they don’t know what they are interested in. Both of these ideas are true, but “because I said so” or “it looks good on your college resume” or “we want you to be a well rounded individual” do not cut it with the blissfully or belligerently ignorant.

Instead, explore and promote curiosity. Answer seemingly random questions and facilitate research of interests and unexplored rabbit trails. Go deep enough that the students have to want the seemingly “boring” rote learning to have the tools to understand. Make deals with them so that they can explore while agreeing to give you full attention on developing tools for their tool box that they don’t think they even need. Be honest enough to tell the student that not every moment or concept of learning is exciting, but much is needful to understand the real interests of the learner.

Be a passionate learner yourself and your students will catch the fire of passionate learning. Tell them stories of how you learned and what interests you have and how learning deepens their experience of life as it has deepened yours.

By the way, none of this will work with straight jacket curriculum and mind numbing standard testing. I’m done. I’ll put that back in the box. I’m a retired teacher. (2)

  1. Incidental learning – EduTech Wiki (unige.ch)
  2. But I would love to hear what other teachers have to say about it.

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Numbers make sense out of our world. They quantify otherwise incoherent information. On occasions they reveal interesting patterns of symmetry. They may prevent us from taking flights of qualitative fancy should we happen to heed their steadying implications.

I was silly enough to pull over a few nights ago to take a picture of my odometer because of some symmetry I saw. It is in no way magical and not even uncommon to observe symmetry in numbers. It isn’t even a palindrome, for example, when expanding (x + y)^2  the coefficients of the resulting polynomial are 1,3,3,1. For the sake of storage space, I have deleted the pictures in this entry. The first picture featured a glowing speedometer with 204,060 miles on the odometer.

Then there was the one I ask my son to take a picture of in his car while I was driving (more about that when I get the pictures downloaded from the phone). The second picture of the odometer read 133133.

I had posted a time for my one mile some time back. I have struggled with increasing my distance. I seem always tired or something not quite right. Finally, I made three miles recently. It was not pretty. It is amazing how much slower I am than a year and a half ago. Chock it up to old I guess, even though it seems more like some type of induced physiological inefficiency (I ought to name some syndrome after that- IPIS (pronounced eye-pis)- Induced Physiological Inefficiency Syndrome. It makes a good excuse.) My Timex Chronograph read 28:18:81.

Another trip on the road to pick up my wife who was visiting our daughter while I was away for the weekend with one of our sons (not a sentence yet), caused me to reflect on white lines. Strictly speaking, since they were white and it was daytime, they were reflecting on(to) me, but you get the idea. Have you ever wondered how many dashed center lines there are per mile on the interstate, and if the number is consistent? The first time I considered this seriously was on a trip to Oshkosh with a Scouting Outward group. A discussion came up about ways of thinking and perspectives. I made the point that people need to try to find several ways of solving a problem to see if the answers match. Then I proceeded to say I knew of three ways to estimate the length between the beginning of one stripe and the beginning of the next. Challenged that I could not, I pulled the van (driving again) over onto the shoulder, hopped out and paced off between the beginning of one stripe and the next (parallel on the shoulder). Then I got back in and counted the number of stripes in several measured miles (little green mile markers help) for repeatability, which I then explained as precision. Next I traveled at 60 mph, that is, a mile a minute, and had several people count how many stripes passed (relatively speaking (frame of reference)) every 10 seconds and then had them multiply by 6. Finally, as a bonus, I noticed a semi-trailer labeled 53′, as they frequently are, and estimated what fraction of that length the distance between beginning of stripes was. Well, I’m here to tell you that in NC, the distance between stripes is fairly consistent, with approximately 120 stripes per mile, at about 44 feet between the beginning of one stripe and the next. Now I imagine that there is a spec somewhere that delineates this distance and that the instructions for the stripe painting driver go something like “traveling at 40 mph, set the frequency of stripe painting at one stripe every 0.75 seconds for duration of 0.2 seconds (Can you figure out how long I am estimating the stripes to be?) All of that historical background was for the purpose of clearing my mind of the first time I seriously estimated the distance to refer to what I discovered about counting them today.

Actually, looking at and identifying sight of each stripe in order to count it is hard to do. After messing up several times, I opted for a simpler and more primitive method. Instead of looking directly at the stripes, I looked directly ahead (good idea when you are driving, eh?) and caught sight of the flash of contrast as each stripe disappeared at the bottom corner of my windshield. It felt almost like an involuntary response that I was counting rather than stripes. I got more interested in the process and why it is more efficient and more accurate than the result I was obtaining, though that result came out the same after several tries. Catching the peripheral vision flash method excluded the fully intentional recognition of individual stripes for the simpler counting of flashes. I understand that certain infrared missile guidance systems look for changes in heat signature rather than positive IR ID of targets. As an after note, I found out on that trip to Wisconsin those years ago that the stripes are closer together there, especially on WS toll roads. Is it a random change of the dials for the paint truck or a different spec for some legitimate reason like fog or snow? After allowing my brain to go with what comes to it in a paragraph like this one, I always wonder how many people who started this article read this paragraph and how many rolled their eyes as they did read it. I attribute readership of such wonderings to staunch friends and deep seated geeks.

Speaking of geeks and numbers, I just watched an informative YouTube video on rocket engine comparison. The main take away from the video for me was the number and complexity of considerations to engineer anything. Such a video can open your mind to the breadth of design considerations. If you like, you may check it out at “Is SpaceX’s Raptor engine the king of rocket engines?”

I like numbers and symmetry and beauty because they point to God. Galileo Galilei said, “[The universe] cannot be read until we have learnt the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language…” And concerning his astronomy, Johannes Kepler said, “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” It has long been realized that math is the language of science, leading to an understanding, albeit at times ever so dim, of how God organized the universe. Math and Science and Art should be our means of giving glory to God, not detracting from it.

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Overflows from the Heart

"But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart…" Matthew 15:18

CreatorWorship

Pointing to the One who made, saved, and sustains