Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy offers a useful model for defining learning objectives. You start with the basic knowledge of the subject that requires some memorization: fundamental constants like the speed of light; fundamental concepts like conservation of mass and energy; and basic equations like Newton’s laws. On the second level, you use these basic facts and concepts to extrapolate and generalize with questions like: is the Earth an open or closed system with respect to mass and energy? And then we can start to apply our knowledge and understanding to problem solving: determine the average temperature of the Earth based on conservation of energy. Finally, at the highest level, we can analyse our models and evaluate their advantages and disadvantages.
May 17, 2016
November 14, 2014
I tend to let my students have a lot of freedom to use their myriad technological devices as they will. Just as long as they use them responsibly (i.e. for academics during class time). What’s most interesting these days is seeing how they combine the various electronics.
This Chemistry student is referring to her textbook on the iPad, while she creates a presentation on her laptop. Yet pen and paper are still integral parts of the process.
September 28, 2014
August 9, 2014
After all the time I spent working with Raspberry Pi microcomputers and Arduino microcontrollers this summer, it was interesting to see Claire Cain Miller summary of a PEW report on “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs“.
Miller provides some interesting quotes from the experts surveyed for the report. One quote stood out in terms of its perspective on education and pedagogy:
“Only the best-educated humans will compete with machines. And education systems in the U.S. and much of the rest of the world are still sitting students in rows and columns, teaching them to keep quiet and memorize what is told to them, preparing them for life in a 20th century factory.”
— Howard Rheingold, tech writer and analyst .
The Key Findings from the PEW report provides a good summary of their results:
Half of these experts (48%) envision a future in which robots and digital agents have displaced significant numbers of both blue- and white-collar workers—with many expressing concern that this will lead to vast increases in income inequality, masses of people who are effectively unemployable, and breakdowns in the social order.
The other half of the experts who responded to this survey (52%) expect that technology will not displace more jobs than it creates by 2025. To be sure, this group anticipates that many jobs currently performed by humans will be substantially taken over by robots or digital agents by 2025. But they have faith that human ingenuity will create new jobs, industries, and ways to make a living, just as it has been doing since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
These two groups also share certain hopes and concerns about the impact of technology on employment. For instance, many are concerned that our existing social structures—and especially our educational institutions—are not adequately preparing people for the skills that will be needed in the job market of the future. Conversely, others have hope that the coming changes will be an opportunity to reassess our society’s relationship to employment itself—by returning to a focus on small-scale or artisanal modes of production, or by giving people more time to spend on leisure, self-improvement, or time with loved ones.
— Smith and Anderson, 2014. AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs.
The full report is worth a read.
January 31, 2014
My high-school biology class is taking their exam on genetics and evolution. To make the test a little more interesting, and to point out that there may be some relevance for this knowledge in the future, I made the test a questionnaire for the new head of the Mars Colonization Project. It begins like this:
Friday, January 30th, 2054.
Dear Dr. ________________ (insert your name here):
We are excited that you have accepted our offer to head the Biomedical Division of the MCP. As we are engaged in the first ever effort to colonize another planet, we know that we will face many unique challenges. Your expertise in pluripotent stem cell research and oncology will be extremely valuable to us — even though some of us administrators still don’t know what pluripotent stem cells are.
Please fill out the questions in this document to help us with our planning for the colony and to help our Human Resources department assemble your research and medical team.
Because of the sensitivity of some of the personal information included in this document, please write out, and sign, the Honor Code below before turning the page.
Board of Administrators,
Martian Colonization Project
Then I pose all of the questions in this context. For example, to get their knowledge of vocabulary I ask them to define the scientific words and phrases (which they’ve used in their scientific publications many, many times), in terms that laymen — like the people on the board of administrators — could understand.
To get at more complex concepts, like the molecular process of gene expression and regulation, I phrased the question like this:
Medical Issues Related to Ongoing Colonization Planning
The trip to Mars will take five years, so we will be placing most of the colonists into cryogenic sleep for most of that time. We are still working out some of the bugs in the cryogenic technology, and we need your help.
To put people into cryogenic sleep, we need to stop their digestion of carbohydrates. Your predecessor, Dr. Malign, told us that we could do this using RNA interference, by injecting them with engineered microRNA that would block the production of the enzyme amalyse.
Could you draw a diagram of a cell showing how proteins are expressed from DNA, and how microRNA would interfere with protein production. Are there other methods for preventing protein expression?
We’ll see how the students do on the test, however at least one student glanced at the front page and said, “This is kinda cool,” (actually, she first asked if I’d stolen the idea from the internet somewhere), which is significant praise coming from a teenager.
January 22, 2014
My biology students are doing an exercise in genetics and heredity that requires them to combine the genes of two parents to see what their offspring might look like. They do the procedure twice — to create two kids — so they can see how the same parents can produce children who look similar but have distinct differences. To actually see what the kids look like, the students have to draw the faces of their “children”.
“I’m not going to claim that child as my own!”
I was walking through the class when I heard that. Apparently one student, who’d had a bit of art training, was paired with another student who had not.
Fortunately, I was able to convince the more practiced artist to give the rest of the class a lesson on how to draw faces. She did an awesome job; first drawing a female face and then adapting it a bit to make it look more male.
If nothing else, I tried to make sure that the other students registered the idea that proportion is important in drawing biological specimens — like faces — from real life. Just getting the proportions right made a huge difference in the quality of their drawings. The forehead region should be the largest (from the top of the head to the eyebrows), then the area between the eyebrows and the bottom of the nose, then the nose to lips, and then, finally, the region from lips to chin should be shortest. You can see the proportion lines in the picture above.
The adaptation stage, where she made the facial features more masculine, was also quite useful. The students had to think about what were typical male features and if there were a genetic basis to things like square chins.
Although all of the other students’ drawings improved markedly, including her simulated spouse’s, I don’t think my art-teaching student was absolutely happy with the end results after the one lesson. She ended up handing in two drawings of her own even though everyone else (including her partner) did one each.
However, having all the students on the same page, working with the same basic drawing methods, helped improve the heredity exercise because it reduced a lot of the variability in the pictures that resulted from different drawing styles and skill levels.
I also think that taking these interludes for art lessons are quite useful in a science class, since it emphasizes the importance of accurate observation, shapes student’s abilities to represent what they see in diagrams, and demonstrates that they can — and should — be applying the skills they learn in other classes to their sciences.
December 18, 2013
Joshua Davis has a fascinating article on a math teacher who borough collaborative, self-motivated learning to students at a school in a drug-war-torn Mexican city. The results were excellent.
Davis also cites a study by Gopnik and others that showed that:
kids given no instruction were much more likely to come up with novel solutions to a problem.
↬ Ms. Douglass.
November 6, 2013
Darkness can conceal identity and encourage moral transgressions.
— Zhong et al., 2010: Good Lamps Are the Best Police: Darkness Increases Dishonesty and Self-Interested Behavior in Psychological Science.
My students asked me today if we could turn off the lights during biology class and just use the natural light from outside. I’m usually not opposed, but it was overcast, so it would have been a little dark.
I put it to a vote and we had just one or two students who were against it. My policy in these cases, where we’re changing the working environment, is to respect the wishes of the minority unless there’s a compelling argument about why we should change things.
One student proposed a compelling argument. At least he proposed to try to find a compelling argument.
“If I can find a study that says lower light is better for learning can we do it?” he asked, with his hands hovering over his iPad.
“Sure,” I replied, “But not today. You can do it on your own time.”
We’ll see what he comes up with tomorrow. I, however, ran into this article that describes a study (Zhong et al., 2010) that found that, “participants in a dimly-lit room cheated more often than those in a lighter one,” (Konnikova, 2013).
While both groups performed equally well on a set of math problems, students in the darker room self-reported that they correctly solved, on average, four more problems than the other group—earning $1.85 more as a result, since they were being paid for each correct answer. The authors suggested that the darkness created an “illusory anonymity”: even though you aren’t actually more anonymous in the dark than in the light, you feel as though you are, making you more likely to engage in behaviors you otherwise wouldn’t.
–Konnikova, 2013: Inside the Cheater’s Mind in The New Yorker.
Konnikova’s New Yorker article is worth the read, because it summarizes other factors that encourage cheating as well as things to prevent it. Things that encourage cheating:
- a messy environment,
- if your peers all do it,
- when the people you’re stealing from seem to have a lot,
- when you’re thinking that your behavior is set in your genes and your environemnt (and you have less free will),
- when you’re in (or even think you’re in) a position of power,
- when you have achievement goals (think test scores), as opposed to mastery goals,
- when you’re tired, or sleep-deprived.
The things that discourage cheating are the things the encourage some self-reflection, like:
- the feeling of being watched (even just the presence of mirrors or pictures of eyes,
- writing down an honor code,
- being asked to think about your previous immoral behavior.
- having a strong moral compass (some people are just much less likely to cheat than others.
And finally, it’s important to note that we will tend to rationalize our cheating, so we’re more likely to do it later.
So, I think it’ll take a lot of convincing to get me to turn off the lights, except perhaps on very sunny days.