Wil Wheaton reblogged an interesting Twitter thread about education by author and associate professor David Bowles, who summarised what I feel are a few common thoughts about education from the perspective of educators. In essence, that the field is relatively new, and that we’re still working out how people learn, and how to teach effectively. That, and we know that the current methods aren’t working out for everybody.
Oona Marie Abrams @oonzielaHere's something I am wondering... as a parent... Why are there so many tests happening during remote learning? Aren't there other ways to assess at this point that would be more logically aligned with the type of learning environment students are in?
As you might know, I’ve been speaking with a bunch of people, several of them educators, and many of them have thoughts about this too, and what we can do about it.
Changing hearts and minds
I’m sure you’ve seen memes like this one disparaging the relevance of teaching mathematics and algebra at school:
Mathematics can be intimidating to many students as it is, but when adults tell children that mathematics serves no purpose, and (some) teachers cannot convey its real-world applications, it’s not hard to see why it can be a challenge to motivate students to learn it. This applies to other STEM fields as well.
Dr Marsha Tufft, engineer, author, speaker, and problem-solver, was surprised to observe this herself in her involvement with extra-curricular STEM programs at local schools. She resolved that we need to change attitudes, and it’s one of the things that prompted her to start her own activities to show kids how we can apply STEM in real life and in interesting ways that are relevant to them.
Dr Stephanie Ryan, author, learning scientist, and science educator, also spoke not just about the confidence of the students, but of the parents. In early childhood education, children will be taking cues from their grownups, and if they lack the confidence to impart their own knowledge whatever capacity they have, the children will also take some of that insecurity on. It’s not about needing to be a specialist, but about finding it in your day-to-day. Sorting blocks with your child? That’s grouping and classification. Have ice? You can demonstrate solids, liquids, and gases with water. Making a snack? Yes, that could be STEM, too.
Curiosity as a tool to motivate the desire to learn
It’s about seeing the STEM around us and finding the things that will prompt curiosity and stoke an enquiring mind. Are you interested in cars? There’s mathematics and optimisation in racing. Enamoured with Disney theme parks? Maybe you could become an Imagineer and use physics, engineering, and fluid dynamics to build the next Splash Mountain.
Dr Stephanie Ryan also spoke of phenomena-based learning where you see something that happens in the real world then ask how or why it does what it does. If you see a fireworks display, you could talk about how the colours and patterns might be made. On a wet day that keeps you inside, ask about what makes rain.
Finding out what matters to them
Another thing that motivates learning is having a cause. It doesn’t have to change the world, but it could make a difference to someone your care about or your community.
Jesslyn Tannady, developer advocate at Facebook, learned about a programming workshop for MIT App Inventor aimed at children which took the approach of asking them to think about a problem in their lives that they could solve using an app, and then taught them the tools to achieve that objective.
Abbie Mitchell, environmental educator, author, and General Manager of the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots & Shoots program, tells us this program does something similar, encouraging and supporting youth to identify proactive solutions to the issues impacting their communities whether it’s planting trees to support native wildlife, sharing space with local wombats, or reducing the use of palm oil in schools.
Just think of all the potential when you’re armed with curiosity, and a mindset geared towards wanting to solve problems and affect change. When people feel empowered to make things happen, it creates a natural motivation to want to learn and be proactive about achieving their goals. Doesn’t hurt that this kind of thinking cultivates compassion and civic-mindedness as well, which is a pretty wonderful thing in itself.
I’ve recently become Vurbl’s Ambassador for Science!
Vurbl is a new platform for all things audio, and as ambassador, I’m curating playlists and thought-leaders in the science category. There’s so much to explore here, and you can listen to podcasts, original content, and a neat little feature called snippets, where members of the Vurbl community can highlight mic-drop, entertaining, or inspirational moments from the entire catalogue of content available on the platform.
Considering STEAM Powered averages close to an hour per episode, I’ve been making liberal use of the snippet feature to highlight brilliant sections of our conversations.
My first playlist for Vurbl is Sporty Women in STEAM where you can hear from STEAM Powered women about their sporting interests and the impact that sport has on their lives.
My latest playlist is Go with the Flow. Learn about the impact of period poverty, initiatives working to destigmatise menstruation, and the history, myths, facts, and intimacy matters around the menstrual cycle.
How is this STEM you may ask? Well, biology aside, menstruation can have an impact on capacity building, healthcare workers (especially during COVID with the need for PPE), the economy, systems engineering, and a whole host of other areas. We touch on just a few of these things in the playlist below.
Indigenous AI - Pia Andrews mentioned this in our conversation and I am absolutely enthralled. Embodied knowledge systems are fascinating in their own right, but employing these concepts to create AIs that apply context and can help society flourish in ways that centred on human development and not just purely data-driven? Absolutely brilliant.
The Codebreaker - A friend put me onto this and it’s now on my watchlist. It combines my fascination for Women in STEAM and stories of cryptanalysis and codebreaking in World War II. The Codebreaker is the story of Elizebeth Smith Friedman, her work for the US Government in the 1930s and in WWII, and how she contributed to the fields of cryptology and codebreaking.
The Curie Society - A graphic novel about an elite secret society founded by Marie Curie dedicated to women in STEM and undertaking high-stakes missions to save the world. I mean, what’s not to like.
The 20% Rule to Reduce Stress - I’m a stay at home mum, a freelance web and application developer, YouTube channel/podcast host, and a few other things. I also have trouble saying ‘no’, so I know my load is not exactly healthy. Reading this made me review what’s on my plate and reconsider the work I’m taking on. It’s been hard, and it’s not exactly 20%, but I’ve started to say ‘no’ to work that won’t provide me actual value (and I’m not just talking money) and tried to set aside time where I allow my mind to be still for a bit.
I’ve also started journalling again and for short-form I quite like The Five Minute Journal and stoic. The former is on both the App Store and Google Play and has a paper version. The latter is iOS only. Both are quite good and allow you to have a quick check-in on your mindset and where you’re at, also offering some thought-provoking quotes for you to mull over or be inspired by. They’re not meant to be verbose, although with stoic. you can choose to delve a little deeper, and I even use it to reinforce my intent for the coming day which is a wonderful focus.
The extra space that the 20% rule and journalling have given me has made me feel more productive, and I’m becoming less overwhelmed by my inner muse who used to just bombard me with ideas when I least wanted them because I simply wasn’t giving her time to work with me.
Thanks for reading, and see you in a couple of weeks!