Teaching With A Purpose

Something I have noticed is that lots of people have issues with math and other areas because they don’t know the ‘Why’ of it. What is the purpose for learning? How can I use it practically? I think this is one of the biggest cruxes of the education problem.

Sometimes a student will find something interesting and follow on in their own time, but often they won’t have the interest, so we need to encourage it. We need to provide the purpose, before, during, and after the study. Why do I need to learn a language? Why do I need to learn all of it? Where is it applicable to use this knowledge?

There are also points where students will get discouraged, and need help. Being able to encourage them to continue further, is another task – one complicated by increasing class sizes.  How can we enable this process in a manner that acknowledges the issues, as well as helping to prevent them to begin with? This is yet another question that needs answered.

Every case is unique, though, and I have no preconception that this would help everyone, but if it could help a student or two engage further in the class, it is well worth it. It has a cost in time, in prep and class-time, but if it can evoke passion for learning and bring it into the ambiance of the learning environment it can’t hurt. I wish I could be more firm in the conception of this idea, but I haven’t fully fleshed out how to best engage them.

Learn Along The Way

Over the past month and a half, I’ve been working on a new project, one which is a composition of several smaller projects. One thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve learned more in that month and a half, than I have in quite a while, out of a necessity to fulfill my wants. Some of the things I’ve learned, or are learning, I had previously avoided do to my distaste for having to deal with them; now that I understand them, I actually try to help others get on board. OAuth is a good example, I’ve been avoiding this for over two years, just because I thought it was a messy annoyance, but now that I’ve implemented it in several libraries, I actually don’t mind.

The true inspiration for this post though, was actually a compounding of thoughts from various things I’ve read recently, and thinking upon things I’ve read in the past. The recent thing that really kicked it off was a presentation by the people at Skillshare, embedded below. While looking through it, I had an epiphany, “Learning shouldn’t be the goal, it should just happen naturally on your way to some practical goal, with real results.” Maybe it was because I’ve been steeped in such things and that I have a distaste for the ‘general’ waste that is higher education, but the thought really struck a chord.

“Today the pinnacle of education is getting into college.” – Skillshare Presentation, Slide 8

That is really my issue with higher education. Once you get in, there are many ways to subvert the system, so what good is it. The only real boundary presented is making that initial pass through the gates. Once there, it’s more business as usual, where you can skim your way through the majority of it, most of it is a waste of time. I find practical learning to be much more enthralling, and it can be done on a just in time basis.

Why waste 4 years learning what will be mostly stale by the time you leave; if you can learn it as you go, while it’s still fresh? Because, everyone says that college is the key to being successful. Sounds a whole lot like the story of the fisherman and the businessman, to me.  If you’re already doing something, you’ll gradually learn how to do it better, but they ask you to pause what you’re doing for a few years, and do it and other things so that you can be better.

So be practical, focus on what you want, and when you have trouble, focus on understanding the issues you’re having. Understanding is way better than rote memorization. Understanding allows you to expand on the concept, in ways that rote memorization wouldn’t allow. If you have too much trouble find a mentor, and prove that you’re willing to try. In the end, all that should really matter, is if you can actually do what you say you can do. That’s it. So learn along the way, that way you have not just your education, but lots of other things to show for it.

The Thought Of Success Is Wonderful

Humans are self and group inhibitors in general, primarily the former. We all have fears and worries, that force us into reactionary tactics for survival, but often times, the fears are fiction, induced by over-thinking, or someone promoting them. Reactions, aren’t precise and are rarely efficient, they are emotional decisions made in angst, we shouldn’t trust it in most cases. I think this is why so many people fail, they allow fears to get in their way.

A child’s innocence and sense of wonder make them marvelous. They truly believe anything is possible, they aren’t inhibited by their prior experience. The “empty” mind that is open to being filled, with new experiences, new ideas, but they often lack the experience and skills required to communicate  with the world. If children are able to fight the inhibitions that allows their wonder, can we try to promote it to as a way to encourage success?*

Adults have mostly forgotten how wonderful life is, and think it is beating them down. I can’t count how many people I know who think life is out to get them, because of their bad experiences, with prior failure or contempt at others success. Many suspend their wonder, in order to fight others ability to succeed, they feel that injustices were served to them, because a disease, their financial situation, employment possibilities, etc. I’m not saying any of that is necessarily wrong, but what is wrong, is complaining about what you can’t do, instead of  looking at what you can do, in an uninhibited manner.

Your dreams don’t have to die, because of something that has happened to you. e.g. Randy Pausch – Experience Zero G like an Astronaut. Randy Pausch author of, “The Last Lecture.” He realized early on that he couldn’t be an Astronaut, because he wore glasses, so he changed his goal. All Randy really wanted to experience was Zero G, so he set out in life with the goal of one day going on, “The Vomit Commit,” which is an aircraft used for simulating Zero G. He changed his goal, to fit what he could do, and I believe too many people give up, based on their general disadvantages, and never look at what they could do, regardless, to get close.**

Open your mind, your eyes, your heart, and fight for your dreams. Find someone to help, I know not everyone has someone to help, but it never hurts to ask. There are plenty of enablers out there, just show them that you’re passionate. If there is one thing I’ve seen lately is that there has been talk about how to get a mentor to assist you, in achieving your goals, and there has been one point in these articles that sticks out.

“I’m not going to  spend my time helping you, unless you prove that you’re willing to put the time in yourself, and show me what you’ve done. You have to show that you’re willing to go it alone, but would like help.”

So what are your dreams? Write down 5 things you’d like to do in the next 5 years, and/or 5 things you want to do before you die.

*= One of the things that occurs to me, about STEM(Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), is that they are very rigid in general, and our school system doesn’t try to break from the rigidity. What that rigidity does, is when a child doesn’t get something, he is penalized by bad grades, but this enforces fear and contempt, or it is overly repetitive and the child loses his sense of wonder. We should work on filling these areas with wonder and flexibility.

**= Actually, while skimming the book to find the story on this, I noticed this article is very reminiscent of the later chapters, on Dreaming Big.

15 Minute Education Plan

The US public education gets worse and worse, whether it’s class sizes going up, or layoffs due to lack of funding; our pupils just aren’t learning anymore. We face lower standards of return, even though grades continue to rise, this is a problem, it either means that pupils are being trained to be pattern recognizers, that don’t understand why the pattern is, or that the teachers are blatantly lying about pupils competence with curves. We need a new way to get the key skill for maintained learning: understanding. Here is my suggestion for understanding based learning, fit into 15 minutes.

Normal class times are generally in the 45-90 minute range, depending on how the school defines it’s periods, I’d prefer a 45 minute course daily. Working with 15 minute intervals makes it simple to repeat the process and to make sure pupils grasp and understand concepts. The key to understanding is simplifying to a key point of information that you want them to understand. This is particularly necessary in Elementary schooling, to build up a foundation of understanding, and problem solving skills.

Minutes: 1-3

Prepare the topic with the pupils, so that they have a basic idea of the concept, you are working on. Provide the pupils with a couple test problems, non-multiple choice, to test their understanding.

Minutes:4-8

This is time for  the pupils to work through the problems to show how much they understand.

Minutes:9-10

Check pupils responses to this work, so you can see  who had issues, and where the issues were. Make sure you are interacting with all of the pupils as a group, and as individuals.

Minutes:11-14

Have a class discussion calling on those that did particularly well, and unwell, to help gather learning concepts that some pupils gathered and others did not, this will help in the future.

Minute:15

Take those that did well and partner them with those that didn’t do as well.

Repeat this process until the end of class or until all but possibly one or two pupils grasp the concept, if they do this give them a 5 minute break, and an example problem for tomorrow’s concept. While most of the class works on this, you should interact with the remaining pupils, that don’t grasp the concept, and help them to understand that concept, as well as the new concept in advance, to help prepare them for tomorrow’s work.

If you can’t get a child or even an adult to understand a concept within 15 minutes, then the problem is most likely with you, and not the pupil(s). If there is a problem, you need to look at how your teaching, what they don’t understand, and what you can do to improve. You have all the data in the work the pupils did, so you can go through and check for where they might be missing the connection.

One benefit to this, is you aren’t overloading the mind with brand new concepts simultaneously, this helps prevent the pupil from feeling overwhelmed.  A second benefit, is that you get to interact with the children one-on-one this is something that is lacking in most classrooms, and likely why the parental influence is a so much greater determining factor. Another benefit is that it is quick, it lets you know if there is a problem that you need to focus on or not, it is also quite fluid.

The fluidity, is the final benefit, which allows you to do a weekly, biweekly, monthly, recovery of knowledge quickly, by recovery I mean returning memory. Memory degrades over time, but if it recurs even slightly enough to re-jog it, it becomes wholly new again, and will last longer, this is the forgetting curve. Following the concept of the forgetting curve, you can cover 4 concepts a week, and still fit a day for recovery for all four concepts into your plan, to help increase retention. Another benefit is that you get to gain more data into how the pupils have retained the concepts, so you can better predict when you’ll have to cover the information, again.

This post is complete conjecture, and isn’t based on any significant facts.

The Halting Point

I’ve hit a point where I have to halt the majority of what I do, and shift focus to current matters at hand. Sadly, this means that I must drop my project, there are multiple reasons, that I’ll get to in a second. I have to figure out my five year plan, as well as my  three month, six month, and annual plans. The rail I’m currently on is running short, and if I don’t switch tracks now the future goes up, I can’t ignore and put off any longer.

As for what I’m referring to, is my current situation, financial, physically, educationally, and “professionally.” Financially, I’m done, I have about 2 months left to handle my bills, which also places me in a position, where I can’t risk it all on the web, the risk to see a turn-around that quickly, isn’t feasible. So in the upcoming months, the blog might shift, sites will go away, but they won’t die or be lost, I have contingencies in place. Physically, a few months ago, I had doctors tell me that I needed to get my thyroid checked out, because it was enlarged, and I had lost close to 20 lbs. in the course of  six months, I failed to make that appointment, and two months later, I’m down another 12 lbs. I’m not a big guy, I’ve never been over 150, so this is a bit of an issue.

Educationally, this has stalled as well, even though I constantly learn something, it’s becoming more and more of a struggle to learn something that is actually of value. I need to make a change, and become more focused in my learning, this is probably my biggest issue, I research topics, as doing so I follow tangents; which is a very interesting way to learn of a new thing, but it doesn’t help with actually learning. Another issue, is I have very broad interests, one second I can be reading up on Accounting or Marketing, the next I could be reading a text on Algorithm Design, or just doing Calculus, this obviously leads into the professional situation.

I don’t have a clue what I want to do professionally, I know what I wanted as a kid, I know where my interests lie, and I know what I’m good at, but that doesn’t help me figure it out, it just makes it murkier. As a child I always wanted to work with computers and robots, I never thought that I’d step back from this position. My interests over the past five years have been in programming, cryptology, economics, finance, business, and design. What I feel at least somewhat competent at is financial analysis, and architectural design.  This of courses, raises issue with what I should do, because I, honestly, don’t have a clue, finance or trying to make my childhood dream work. I don’t know, but I’m leaning toward the financial aspect, and letting the programs slip to the side, which brings me to the project.

The past two years, I’ve focused into  understanding how to analyze data to create semantic content, one of the biggest moves in my thinking was to take the initial load off of the machine, and place it in the hands of a human, the biological entity that understands the semantics of an item. Let the user build the connections, let them do all of the heavy lifting, and then use these seeded inputs as an ever expanding learning set for the machine. This meant making something usable  for a user to interact with, first it was an RSS Reader, then it was a URL shortener, that handled multiple links, then the idea grew into a distributed network of bundled connections. All of these I’ve managed to fail on in some way, except for the last, I’ve just hit a wall as far as I can go on it, with my understanding.

I thought hard over the past week, about seeking a more technical person, or just releasing the current source of the project, after it’s cleaned up a bit. The first way would have the possibility for a good return, but I oddly feel bad about it, it makes me feel like I failed. So I’ll be working to clean up the code, write out lots of the mental documentations I have, as well as collect and clean up the digital and physical documentation, so that others can take the idea to the next level. Currently, there is already a working model of what I saw it being about three-months down the line, at BagtheWeb, they did some things better, mainly having a fully functional product, not just a prototype, but their product is still in early enough stages that it could be caught and surpassed. I just don’t have time, with having to deal with these other issues, to devote  wholeheartedly to the issue.

So I apologize to the people who did play with the project, and provided quite valuable feedback, it wouldn’t be anywhere close to what it is, even as little as it is without you. It won’t be going anywhere for now, but I also doubt updates for the indefinite future. I just have stuff to sort out first, maybe one day I’ll come back to it, with the passion I had, when I was creating a research tool, with a semantic future.