The Great Connections Seminar

The Great Connections Seminar
Discussing ethics

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Challenging the Left: The case for intellectual diversity"

Well-written article from The New Individualist by Robert Bradley about the intellectual problems at his high school alma mater. The saddest statement was this:

"My advertised Interim Term class presents students with a different view on economics and business. I have a number of publications and have lectured at many colleges and universities. But never in my five years at Kinkaid has a teacher introduced himself/herself and engaged me in a discussion about my viewpoint. Not even a “Hello, I am …. Tell me about ….”"

Why? Because it reveals how the faculty is unintellectual. Yet, they're in charge of teaching students ideas!

I was very fortunate that when I went to high school in the '60's, one of my most interesting teachers was a lifelong Democrat, Mr. Woll. He made sure we students learned about the full range of the political spectrum, so we could make up our own minds. But then, he was highly intellectual, even ran "The Eggheads" club where we debated all kinds of ideas. I think he was unusual even in his day!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"To really learn, quit studying and take a test"

A new study from Purdue, discussed in this New York Times article, finds that students who take a test about material they've learned have 50% more recall of the material than those who either repeatedly study the material, or those who study and draw diagrams of it.

I can see immediately two important learning principles operative in these results: 

1. The test focuses attention and motivation, which always makes someone remember better and, as the writer mentioned, shows the person what they don't know, possibly interesting them in correcting their ignorance.

But do most students care about what they don't know? My observation is that many just want to get done with what they're studying to go on to the next requirement.

2. The article's analysis claims that testing requires active reconstruction of material, which helps recall. They used a free-form essay as the test in which the student reconstructed the material learned.

Actively reconstructing knowledge requires a person to not only recall what they've learned, but conceptually organize it and this does help with learning and retention.

But whether testing always helps is not clear to me. Multiple choice tests, so often used, require recognition of material rather than active recall and reconstruction. So the inference from this study, that testing results in better learning, is flawed. 

In Montessori, students study through learning materials, such as these. They are designed to illustrate concepts through real objects - a better way to fix knowledge in memory than mere paper and pen, as it engages the senses and the students' activity. 

And we use a three-period lesson to teach the student how to use each learning material:

1. Teacher names objects in material and demonstrates its use, with as few words as possible.
2. Student practices material, with teacher asking "show me this" etc.
3. Student demonstrates use of material/meaning to teacher, with the teacher asking "what's this" etc.

This last step requires the student to reconstruct his own knowledge in order to present it correctly - giving him an opportunity to see the gaps, like a test. When a child thinks he has mastered the material, he can ask the teacher to "test out" of it by demonstrating how much he knows about using it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses"

Sickening but not surprising research findings from "an unusually large-scale study" are summarized in this article from the Chicago Tribune. The sad result of Progressive education's long history.

"Half of students did not take a single course requiring 20 pages of writing during their prior semester, and one-third did not take a single course requiring even 40 pages of reading per week."

"information from 24 schools, meant to be a representative sample, which provided Collegiate Learning Assessment data on students who took the standardized test in their first semester in fall 2005 and at the end of their sophomore years in spring 2007. The schools took part on the condition that their institutions not be identified....After four years, 36 percent of students did not demonstrate significant improvement, compared to 45 percent after two...

"Students from families with different levels of parental education enter college with different learning levels but learn at about the same rates while attending college. The racial gap between black and white students going in, however, widens: Black students improve their assessment scores at lower levels than whites."

Hattip to John Enright.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Examining the Value of the Beleagured For-Profit Sector

Peter Woods, president of the National Association of Scholars (NAS) has written a thoughtful article on the criticisms, attacks on, and value of for-profit colleges. NAS is concerned with supporting the value of a liberal arts education, so one wouldn't think they would be much concerned about most for-profits, which tend to be highly career-focused. But he says "But they are very much part of what I take to be the fundamental transformation of American post-secondary education—and that is very much a matter of concern to NAS and to anyone concerned with the survival of liberal education.

You can read it here in 4 installments:

Part I "For-Profit Colleges on the Brink."

Part II

Part III

Part IV "For Profits Break the Monopoly on What a College Can Be"

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Teaching Statistics Delightfully

Here's a brilliant lesson on health/wealth statistics by Hans Rosling: "200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes." It underlines the power of the Internet to teach complex principles simply, if the product is done well. You can see more of his videos at the Open University here. What he demonstrates is the mental power to take numbers about a subject and embody them as meaningful information. If only statistics teachers did this more often...