Monday, April 30, 2012

Learning by connection

Recently, I read this article in Scientific American.  The article summarizes research in to how human memory works.  It turns out humans tend to remember things in clusters.  If asked to list animals, the majority of respondents will list them in groups say pets, then maybe farm animals and so on.  It is believed that this way of memory formation came from foraging.

Last week, I stumbled upon this article.  Scientists are studying children and the way they learn complex things, such as language in, order to create computers that are smarter.  One huge limitation of computers, as they exist right now, is they lack the complex thinking skills that involve clustering and connecting things, especially things that are random or seemingly unconnected.

 Biology has wired the human brain to seek and create connections between pieces of information.  As young children, many of the connections we make come from the environment around us.  We may learn that peas are green, that mom does not like peas from her facial expression, that grass is green too but we don't eat it, that cows do eat grass, and so on.  These connections are random and connect the information we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch together into a database we can access.

The primary limitation of most educational venues, such as schools, is that they disconnect this powerful approach to human learning,  sever subjects from one another, and remove children from the experiential world they had been learning in up until they started formal schooling.  A classroom is not a natural learning environment, it has only become the standard learning environment.

School settings lack what the real world offers, the opportunity for random information to collide and connect in unexpected and unpredictable ways.  While writing this post I thought of a quote I found in the Harvard Business Review (May 2012),
"We don't need to send kids to school to have a curriculum delivered to them.  Instead, we should be focused on helping kids become adept learners who, given the access they have on the internet to the sum of human knowledge, will be asked to create their own education rather than receive one parceled out in classrooms that in no way resemble the real world."  Will Richardson
 Doing research on Will Richardson I found this video.  It is a great time to be a self directed learner.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Gender trends: toys tell us a lot

I first heard of Sweden's new gender neutral pronoun 'hen" on the NPR show Studio Q.   Although I am not sure how I feel about a gender neutral pronoun nor do I have any idea if it would actually lead to more gender equity, it led me to think about the opposite trends I have seen in the United States.

I think it was last year my oldest daughter noticed that Wal-Mart stores have split their toy sections and labeled them "Boys" and "Girls".  Since my daughter often crosses gender lines while toy shopping, she found this development really annoying.  Since I am not a fan of Wal-Mart, I am more than happy to shop somewhere else, preferably a thrift store.

But the toy differences go deeper and perhaps say a little about how far our culture has come on gender equity, or not.  Take for instance Dizzy Dancers and Beyblades.  These two toys are essentially the same platform, a top.  The Beyblade, marketed specifically to boys, have an arena for battles.  The Dizzy Dancer, marketed only to girls,  is cute and plush and comes with a dance studio.

 Then we have Bakugan.  Dragons and insects and other creatures that roll in to a ball.  The balls pop open when they roll across a special magnetic card and pop up, to do battle.  The girl equivalent, Zoobles.  They pop up on their "habitats" or homes to look cute and some of them have babies.  Hmmm, do you see a trend here?

Apparently, Brene Brown's data was correct in this Ted Talk.  Males are admired for violence and winning in our culture and females are admired for looking good and being nice, and although it was not in the slide, raising babies.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

People who feel right...

Dr. Sears has a saying, "Children who feel right, act right."  When I first read this statement it made perfect sense to me and I have tried to use it when working with my kids.  I have come to discover that there is an additional statement that can be made here, "Parents who feel right, act right."  And one more, "People who feel right, act right."  It is very easy to look at behavior of children, parents, or practically anyone we see and forget that the behaviors they have come from what is going on inside.

Recently, many people have begun to speak out about bullying.  The part of the conversation I see being left out is that bullying is a symptom of a deeper disease.  If bullying has increased in violence and rate of occurrence it might be because kids have less freedom than ever before.  It might be the pressure kids and parents are under starting earlier and earlier to be good at everything.  It could have its roots in our cultures continued reliance on a dominance and subservience model, a model that by its nature leads to violence.  Whatever the root causes, a conversation about how to stop bullying that does not take in to account where bullying comes from has limited potential success in changing anything.