The Learning Pyramid: Myth!

I have been reading up on the The Learning Pyramid, attributed the National Training Laboratories (NTL) at Bethel, Maine. My tutor mentioned this when we were talking about peer based learning. He remembered that there was some interesting research on the different methods of instruction.

Here is a “version” of it. It has many variants.

The Learning Pyramid

However, the more I have looked at this simple and persuasive little diagram and the more I dig about the less good it seems. Here is a great little blog that attempts to find out more about it. This writer attempts to understand how such an unreferenced, unresearched piece of “wisdom” is repeated so often.

The best scholarly article I have found on this is James P Lalley and Robert H Miller “The Learning Pyramid: Does it point teachers in the wrong direction?” Education, Sep 2007 This article attempts to find out the origin of the Pyramid. The researchers also attempt a review of all the current research for each teaching type.

I would urge you to read it in full. But for the tl;dr crowd I have extracted two sections:

1. No reference found

‘Additional information regarding the pyramid raises questions of credibility. The National Training Laboratories, in response to an email request from a member of the Academic Computing Department at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, stated the following about the pyramid:

“It was developed and used by NTL Institute at our Bethel, Maine campus in the early sixties when we were still part of the National Education Association’s Adult Education Division. Yes, we believe it to be accurate – but no, we no longer have – nor can we find – the original research that supports the numbers. We get many inquiries every month about this – and many, many people have searched for the original research and have come up empty handed. We know that in 1954 a similar pyramid with slightly different numbers appeared on p. 43 of a book called Audio-Visual Methods in Teaching, published by the Edgar Dale Dryden Press in New York. Yet the Learning Pyramid as sucb seems to have been modified and always has been attributed to NTL Institute.” ‘

2. A continuum not a hierarchy

‘If we were to draw any conclusion based on the pyramid, it would be that the methods be thought of as on a continuum as opposed to in a hierarchy. Therefore, the less prior knowledge students have the more likely it is that effective methods would be found toward the direct instruction end of the continuum, and as students’ knowledge increased, they would be more
capable of learning with methods involving discussion and teaching. However, because learning is an ongoing process, this will not preclude that further learning will take place with more direct methods. Thus, even the most experienced learners, such as successful heart surgeons, could learn from a more experienced learner, a surgeon with a new technique, and the best
initial methods would likely be lecture/demonstration which would lead to practice by doing, and possibly teaching others. Not surprisingly, this retums us to the assertions of Dale (1946) and Dewey (1916) that for successful learning experiences, students need to experience a
variety of instructional methods and that direct instruction needs to be accompanied
by methods that further student understanding and recognize why what they are
learning is useful.’

The world is not so simple.

Well. What a surprise. The world is more complex than a simple diagram tries to make it.

The dangerous thing about “The Learning Pyramid” is that confirms what we all know about reading and listening to lectures. They are not only dull and boring, but now we learn they are useless too. Excellent. Let’s concentrate on more modern techniques that the Gradgrinds of Teaching would never use in the dusty classrooms. And off we skip.

24250063The best advice from research seems to be is to use a variety of methods. This is also echoed by research into learning and memory from the cognitive sciences.

I have been reading a modern summary of the learning sciences by Benedict Carey “How we learn.” The research highlighted in this book points out that learning is at its best when it is varied, regular and revisited. Memory is an amalgam of recall and stored information. We seem to store everything we do, along with the emotions and environment in which we study. The trick is is to improve recall and this is best done by studying the same information in different places and in different ways and this assists the recall process winnow out the facts from the noise of the environment.

It’s an excellent little read and has certainly changed my attitude to learning. And it is great to see that the Lalley and Miller study also concludes that variety works too.

 

Intuition or Ignorance: why teach computational thinking?

I was trying to explain to a friend why I was learning about the Central Processing Unit (CPU) and Arithmetic Logic Units (ALU) on my course training me to be a teacher of computer science.

I did not need to know about the workings of a CPU during my career. Perhaps the only time I considered a CPU was when I was buying a new computer. And even then I did not need to know much more than the relative speeds and power of the CPUs available.

So I was pleased to read this article “Computing is too easy” which makes the case for why educators need to add the study of computational thinking to the school curriculum. And it makes a lot of sense to me. I am lucky enough that I learnt to use computers when knowledge of the command line, knowledge of roughly how programs work was necessary to get the best out of computers. So teaching something about how computers actually work, and why they sometimes don’t work and what limitations they have and what power they have should contribute to the knowledge base of a well educated student.

And I understand the other point of view, put to me forcefully by my boss. All she wanted was the computer to do something. Why couldn’t it just do what she needed to do? She wanted a hammer to do a job, a car to do its job and a computer to do its job too. Was she asking too much? And my patient explanation of a particular computing quirk was just dismissed: “make it work and then come back to me.”

And of course I do prefer to use the modern shrink wrapped operating systems and shiny new laptops and smartphones. I switch them on and they enable me to do stuff. So much better than the old Win 3.11 for Workgroups and DOS 6.22. Though I do dislike Apple computers because they are too shiny and easy, and encourage people to know nothing about the Mac they are using, they just use it. For example the Daily Mirror puts out this explanation of how to turn off a default on your iPhone that most people probably never knew was there because they had just taken the thing out the box, switched it on and then gleefully tell everyone how intuitive it is to use. No, Mac’s infantilise you, more than PCs, at any rate.

In summary: there seems to be two schools of thought. Those who want to know more about their computers so they can understand them, control them, and make informed decisions and those who want to use them as a tool to achieve something.

And this argument will rumble on and on. I think it has more to do with personality than rationality.

My position is that a computer is a too complex and multi-faceted tool to operate like a hammer. But if you want to retain the defaults set for you by someone who makes decisions about things you have chosen not to be aware of, then don’t blame them when some of those decisions come back to bite you or do things you wouldn’t opt for. Do not swap intuitive interfaces for ignorance! But if you do, take responsibility for your choice of ignorance and blame yourself.

Which is why I am willing to teach computer science.

Hopefully I can make a little bit of difference. Hopefully I might contribute to some children’s overall level of education by adding some awareness of how computers actually work.

Subject authority

This is a new concept for me. So I am really parking a link here with a quick description so I can come back to it later on.

The concept is that a teacher’s subject knowledge gives them the authority to teach a subject.

I first came across this idea when I was on my first day of teaching observation and I was talking to a teacher about my worries about my lack of knowledge of computer programming. An experienced teacher said in response that kids do detect a teacher’s depth of knowledge and problems can arise. It’s as if the little darlings are challenging teachers to be experts and if they find them wanting they start playing up.

It is also the subject of this book, Authority and the Teacher, by William Kitchen,  I found being reviewed in spiked

The central premise of his book is his claim that ‘the development of knowledge 
requires a submission to the authority of a master expert: the teacher’. Kitchen argues that it is the teacher’s authority that makes imparting knowledge possible; in the 
absence of authority, teaching becomes simply facilitation and knowledge becomes 
inaccessible. He is careful to delineate authority from power, and he locates teachers’ authority within their own subject knowledge, which in turn is substantiated and held in check through membership of a disciplinary community. Without ‘the authority of the community and the practice,’ he argues, the notion of ‘correctness’ loses its meaning 
and there is no longer any sense to the passing of educational judgements.

Those words “simply facilitation” bring back memories of teaching some classes in Spain. We were instructed to only teach conversation and not to do grammar. And I remember one class of adults who got me into a mess when we started talking about the conditionals. It was then that I realised I did not know my English grammar sufficiently well and I started to struggle and get confused by my lack of knowledge of English grammar. Not a nice experience!

I also remember what my frind Gavin said to me when he heard I was going to train to be a teacher. He sent me an email telling me about three teachers he remembered from his time at school. He recalled their individual teaching styles and subject knowledge of French. He remembered a primary school head who let him study French, instead of other subjects. He  particularly his A level teacher who taught him how French was really spoken. Gavin went on to be a French / English translator.

He was inspired by these teachers’ knowledge of the subject and their inspired methods to teach it.

Seven myths about education – Daisy Christodoulou

This little book – Seven Myths about Education – has received some attention from reviewers – herehere and here and appears to have caused a minor stir.

I have managed to get a copy from the library and have read the intro and first two chapters.

I will give my reaction to the books message later.

For now I want to deal with how the book deals with evidence and theory. This book has been accused of putting up straw men to easily knock down. And in the reviews above you will find elements of those accusations.

So I was prepared for a book that might annoy me with an over simplistic positioning of the myth makers. And what I got was a much better thing. Each chapter is neatly organised into three parts:

  1. Theoretical evidence
  2. Modern practice
  3. Why is it a myth?

Part three is all about evidence from cognitive sciences, and psychology. And this is what most attracts me. There seems to be a growing cross disciplinary subject called “learning sciences“. And what struck me is that the evidence from the first section is from writers who had no evidence but their experience – they were working at time when there was no scientific study. Great thinkers like Rosseau, Dickens, Dewey, and Freire were writing cogent and persuasive arguments based on their experience and analysis of contemporary education and classrooms.

Compare this to cognitive scientists, memory scientists and others who attempt to tease out how we actually remember things, and how we think. I have been reading another book that reviews the current work on “How we learn” which demonstrates that the learning sciences are growing rapidly and counter so many of our commonly accepted ideas about study and learning.

One of the best lines from the the Seven Myths book is the scrambled egg metaphor by E D Hirsch: “who sees the relationship between knowledge and skills as being like a scrambled eff. You cannot unscramble an egg, and you cannot unscramble knowledge from skills.

Which in turn reminds me of the jam being stirred into a rice pudding image from the wonderfully thought provoking play Arcadia by Tom Stoppard. (I wonder if Hirsch borrowed the idea from Stoppard and who in turn Stoppard stole it from?)

And this is what pedagogy needs. We need to shed the thinkers who used only the evidence of their experience. Anecdote is not evidence. The subject of how we think cannot be left to an individual’s experience of their own thinking. All the studies and books I have read about the cognitive sciences generally echo the fact that our thought processes are not transparent to our conscious brains. A scientific basis is required, on which we can build an evidence based craft of teaching.

 

ICT, Digital Literacy, and Computer Science in Schools

I have been reading articles on ICT educational policy in the UK.

I am doing this because this is the subject I will train to teach and because these articles were written by my future tutors – it will always pay to know your teacher’s profiles better.

This particular article is worth noting: Embedding Information and Communication Technology across the curriculum – where are we at?* . It opened my eyes to a larger problem that I might encounter in schools. That computers and the ability to use them and understand their social impact can be regarded as a transferable skill, that can improve a students performance in other subjects, and is not being formally taught at GCSE or A level.

Here I detect danger signals. Many schools are so focused on exam results that if a “thing” cannot be tested – whether that thing is a skill, a subject or whatever – then it will get little formal teaching time. Even though ICT skills and digital literacy are thought of as good skills / knowledge to have, it will not be taught.

At least under the much maligned ICT GCSE some attempt to teach ICT skills and digital literacy was made. The focus now is moving to the formal teaching on Computer Science (CS).

It would be silly of me to suggest that the newly released syllabus for the CS GCSE should be changed at a time when everyone is running around trying to cope with the changeover.

So the only route I can think of is to either dedicate some of the formal CS teaching time to “other” ICT skills and subjects – a dangerous thing – or to teach it in after school clubs. Or rely in the more motivated student to just pick it up as they go along.

Or persuade a school to drop another subject. The argument going that it will benefit the performance across all subjects. Which subject would a school be happy to drop?

Mmmm…

* The article can be found here at Research in Teacher Education, October 2014.

What are new skills to teach in the 21st Century

One brave blogger has attempted to list the skills they thought are the important ones for school children to have in the 21st Century.

21ST CENTURY SKILLS – THEY EXIST AND THEY MATTER…

They had broken their list into three parts:

  1. Totally new skills (did not exist pre-21st Century)
  2. Skills that existed in the past but are much more important now
  3. Skills that are always in demand but now have technology to help!

As I read the list I wondered about how these skills should be imparted? Should they be directly taught? For example tell them we are going learn touch typing and how to position the hands and which fingers are used on which keys. Or should we teach them via work? As them, for example, to write 200 words about their favourite film and the first person to finish gets to read it out.

For me any listing of 21st Century skills should be broken down into these parts:

  1. Best taught directly
  2. Best acquired by doing as part of other work
  3. Best a blend of both

And then it might become more apparent which skills a teacher should be concentrating on in designing lessons.

What’s a game for a teacher?

I came across this:

while many teachers say they are using digital games in the classroom, a lot of the time they just mean interactive activities or worksheets.”

With this example.

"For example, a recent study from A-GAMES, a research collaboration between New York 
University and the University of Michigan, last year surveyed 488 K-12 teachers, and 
found that “more than half of teachers (57 percent) use digital games weekly or more often in teaching.” That’s a pretty high adoption rate. But according to Millstone, “the most frequently used ‘games’ aren’t really games at all.” Teachers seem to label any 
interactive activity that happens on a laptop or a tablet a ‘game.’ The categories are unclear. To which activity does each buzzword refer? What counts as blended learning? 
What’s the difference between game-based learning and gamification?"

Teachers or administrators, who’s the real problem?

Like most debates agreeing on definitions is the starting point. Though at the moment I have a few questions first.

  • What is a game?
  • Do teachers define games differently when they use them in education?
  • Do the participants distinguish between playing a game for “fun” and playing a game in classroom?

I used games in teaching to the learners talking and thinking in English, in TEFL classes. My answer to the above three questions is that you have to remember to respect the players desire to have an outcome.

As the teacher I am not concerned or interested in who won the game, or how the players were ranked at the end of the game. I just want my lesson aims to be achieved. But if you have really engaged your learners – and this applies to adults as well as children – they will want to know their scores or at least what happened at the end. There is an need for immediate outcome: success, or failure. There is a need to compare each others achievement. They are competitive.

If “the thing you call a game” doesn’t provide

  1. an outcome – success or failure
  2. comparative performance – a ranking structure that is obvious to all participants
  3. the thrill of competition

It ain’t a game.

 

 

 

 

Computer science teaching in USA

I am very surprised – nay, gobsmacked – by this stat.

"Even if students are fortunate enough to be in one of the less than 10 percent of U.S.high schools that offer computer science..."

Why there’s no such thing as an ‘F’ in computer science

How do I align this with my concept of the USA being the temple and forge of so much computer based technology?

Do they poach a lot of their computer scientists from overseas?

Is training yourself to be a “hacker” better than a formal education?

Do most computer geeks in the USA leave school with formal education and home grown programming skills and then do computer science at college?

I am so surprised by this little snippet that I stopped reading the rest of the article.

 

 

How to make teaching great.

I have made it a rule of mine to ignore internet articles that say something like “Seven reasons..” or “Five great…” or “Nine things…”.

Articles that promise short, sharp lists of things are link bait. And like most link bait tactics it works, you are tempted to click. Though when you get to taste the articles they contain slim content, are easy to read, and usually disappoint. So I generally ignore articles listing things.

Unfortunately I have to ignore my rule because I am interested in reading about teaching. So with a little trepidation I clicked on this link – Seven ‘great’ teaching methods not backed up by evidence. And as the article was on the theConversation.com website made me think it was going to better than something I found on yahoo and its paler imitators.

And it was interesting, and better still, it had a link to substantial report – What makes great teaching. There is even a summary of the report –  How to make teaching great – for those who don’t want to plough through the 57 page report.

And then I started digging around a bit more and discovered that there is a book that has a very similar title Seven Myths About Education by Daisy Christodoulou and also book review A Perspective of ‘Seven Myths’

I have not read and digested all of these resources. My quick skim reading has left me with the impression that all these writers favour direct knowledge led teaching by subject matter experts. They generally agree that there is no such thing as an abstract skill. All skill and knowledge are interwoven – though that leaves me wondering is there not such a thing as a transferable skill.

Thus far I using this post as a bookmark. I have the book on order from the library and I am going to print out the Sutton report – sometimes known as print and disregard.

My initial thoughts is that I am not experienced in the background of this debate. It is all new to me. There seems to be two broad camps in education. What I will characterise as traditional teaching and method teaching. The traditionalists prefer teacher lead teaching, explaning, testing, assessing, scaffolding etc. The method teachers prefer discover led learning, group activities, gamification etc.

Hmmm… a lot to digest.

 

 

 

 

 

A bee needs 6 grams of honey

A bee needs to eat 6 grams of honey to make 1 gram of wax or beeswax. This is the assertion made in the description of the production of beeswax at the Design Museum.

The production of beeswax and its use in efficient hexagons inspired Torsten Sherwood to choose honeycomb as their top design structure.

Personally, I find the evolutionary explanation of honeycomb to be all the more 
wondrous and inspiring. In a world limited in resources, bees that use wax most 
efficiently are more likely to survive, and given enough time this would naturally 
produce a race of bees building the optimized hexagonal design. This insight 
reveals honeycomb true designer, not God or even the bee, but the process, design 
methodology even, of Darwinian evolution.
Honeycomb of beeswax
A honeycomb made of beeswas forming a hexagonal tessellating structure.

An interesting concept of design: a blind designer, a design process is his top designer.

I wondered if this could be modeled using algorithms.

1. How many grams can each worker bee collect to feed the colony? What is the optimal ratio of collectors to hive workers?

1. Only bees sufficiently well fed could exude beeswax?  How much beeswax do you need to make a honeycomb to breed new workers and store excess honey? How do they choose between larvae or honey?

3. If we got hives to use alternative structures, which would be able to produce the most surplus and thus survive or grow bigger.

I thought it would be a nice test of efficiency in shapes within algorithms describing a similar process, but with one aspect different, the shape of the honeycomb.