BLOG PAGE: A View from the Bridge
By Mr. Clayton
By Mr. Clayton
Let’s start by getting you thinking. Of all the school courses you have taken which one would you say was of the most value to you? A class that was really practical, the contents of which you used in your job or one that stirred your imagination like a poetry lesson or a history or art lesson? What made those courses memorable? What made them life worthy? Now can you think of classes you have taken whose content you have long since forgotten. Why is that? You didn’t understand it, you have never used it, was it wholly relevant? Now ask yourself this. Could you still take the same set of exams that you took when you were say 18 or 21 and pass them with the same or better grades? I couldn’t. So it got me to thinking, what was the point of learning about the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 or learning about the Entente Cordiale of 1904? It seems that examinations test the absorption of knowledge close to its reception, not its use in life. This can lead us in schools to focus too much on ‘teaching to the test.’ That’s what crammers do, not educationalists.
Why do teachers and examiners ask questions to which they know all the answers? How far is it by air to fly to Singapore? We know the answer. Why might you fly to Singapore is an open and interesting question. It seems to me also that life is full of many open questions-what restaurant shall I eat at? What can we do to stop global warming? Why has ISIS become so powerful and what can be done to stop them? These are questions with no right answers. Maybe as educators we should be focusing on trying to answer them. I recently went to a lecture by Marc Prensky who first coined the term ‘digital natives’ to describe children who had been born and brought up in the digital age. He was talking about relevance and authenticity. He explained several projects across a number of schools in the USA where students were given real life problems to solve. The results were astonishing. They had helped solve, amongst other things, traffic flow problems, fresh water issues, law and order dilemmas, public building use, the use of leisure space, access to fresh food and affordable accommodation. Students’ ideas had actually been used and the students were solving problems for which there were no previous answers. They were solving real life problems which has an impact on their motivation.
Ron Berger has dome some interesting research and has found that motivation and engagement increases when tasks and projects are more authentic as the above diagram shows. At the moment I would argue lots of schools are good at fulfilling the bottom requirement, not so good at the higher ones. For a long time our education systems have been based on the premise of ‘just in case’ we learn something because we might, one day, need it. I think that our systems should be based on the premise of ‘just in time’ that learning is relevant, appropriate and needed for now.
So back to my original question what was your most life worthy course? Sit down one day and recall it and tell your children!
When I was growing up there were only 3 TV channels to watch, colour TVs were rare, and children’s programmes were only on 4pm-6pm each day and TV channels stopped broadcasting around midnight and didn’t come on air again until around 8am! Obviously there was no internet, PCs or smart phones. In fact we didn’t have a telephone until I was much older. However, as we watched a little TV the idea grew that because of the brevity of the shows and short segments of the programmes that children’s attention had been reduced. However over the years of study it emerged that there is no evidence that TV has affected children’s ability to pay attention. The key to the use of TV is to do with the content of the media, not the form. Nobody talks about TV having a bad effect anymore.
There has been a strange phenomenon which has been named the Flynn effect. This is the substantial and long-sustained increase in intelligence test scores measured in many parts of the world from around 1930 to the present day. Some have argued that the steady increase was related to TV and more recently social media. However this effect has started to halt in certain areas around the world. Is this because of the internet? Is it making us less smart? What are the arguments?
Columbia University has identified the Google effect. They discovered that students remember information better if they think that this information is not likely to be available on the internet. The study also showed that students are better able to remember where to find something on the internet rather than the remembering the information itself. The Google search engine is acting as an external memory. Some neuroscientists argue that the internet, social media and the like is rewiring our brains, and not in a good way!
The truth is that at the moment we don’t know whether the internet is having a deleterious effect on our intelligence. Steven Pinker has argued that we are now making better use of our brains by using Google to store and access unnecessary information. We certainly know more than we did in the past, though there is an interesting argument that the Victorians were cleverer than us-debatable! Two leading neurologists state that Google, PowerPoint or the internet is not destroying or changing our brains. They conclude, ‘We will no more lose our ability to pay attention than we will lose our ability to listen, see or speak.’
There are reasons to be careful with the amount of screen time that children have. It seems that studies have shown that excessive media can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders and obesity. Two hours of screen time a day seems to be the optimum time recommended.
In conclusion the argument continues to rumble on. It seems intuitive that the internet is making us less intelligent, but there is no solid evidence to support this. At the moment it appears to be the case that the internet is making us more intelligent. What on earth did we do in 1976 to make us smarter? Watched the three channels and read some books!