Category Archives: Teaching and learning theory

posted on September 1, 2016

In integrating collaborative work in our approach to K-12 education, we are teaching students the benefit of listening, learning from others, coming to consensus on ideas, and other group dynamics. These are all essential skills in group problem solving exercises in school, and in adult project based work. What we should not lose sight of is both valuing the individual as a contributor, and building personal communication skills thereby promoting effective group dialogue and collaboration. It takes a very skilled teacher to nurture the individual as a person of abilities, aptitudes, and evolving capacity while at the same time teaching effective group dynamics. Productive group work is predicated upon individual skills in communication, and group skills in collaboration. We want children to know that their opinions and observations are highly valued, we want them to have the skills to communicate them effectively, and we develop collaborative skills to make project based learning effective.

In early development of these skills, it may well be the case that using physical manipulatives in the classroom facilitates the development of communication skills across curriculum topics. As personal skills in, for example, vocabulary, persuasion, reasoning, and advanced thinking develop, children could use manipulatives to assist them in communicating their ideas with peers. This is evidenced in the example of Kim Haines, 4th grade teacher at Dawson School in Lafayette, CO who used the INTOOBA Construction Kit in developing communication skills in listening, giving directions, providing clarification, and in either being a giver or receiver of information in her math class:


Essentially, teachers can observe individual thinking and development of these essential skills through the use of manipulatives while also noting the child’s functioning within a collaborative setting. Children here are supported in the learning of specific collaborative language through the use of their hands.

posted on March 27, 2015

When rote learning education models closely mirrored early industrial production based economies, outputs in the classroom followed the teacher driven input- predetermined output style. Modern theories of education include a far greater degree of student involvement in their learning. Additionally, in an attempt to mirror rapidly changing political, environmental, and economic factors, problems presented to children often involve a necessity for self-directed inquiry where outcomes are far from preset. In such an environment, it is vital to provide an opportunity for children from an early age to interact with information inputs in the process stage of learning.

As such, developing ways for children to understand what process is includes opportunities to work mindfully in this space. Examples of process learning might include working with mathematical manipulatives, reading a recipe and making a cake, investigating the scientific method in a collaboration on a specific topic with a university professor/researcher while in high school, or identifying and investigating a social need and developing a product to meet that need. Processes already exist in many areas of education, but seldom are they identified as a specific learning goal in and of themselves. Design thinking, critical thinking, art appreciation and discussion, the scientific method, negotiation, and conflict resolution are just some of the topics which may fall under this category. Applying these techniques to multidisciplinary subject areas enhances students’ capacity to solve problems creatively.

Students need to delve into, and work through, process in order to grapple with the complexities and demands of modern society. Process inquiry meets the curiosity of students who are always asking why and how in their daily learning.

posted on October 22, 2014

I was very interested to read the attached Mindshift article about how we view student academic struggle in schools. Eastern cultures appear to see struggle as an integral part of the learning process, whereas the article states that western cultures see struggle as a weakness, or something needing immediate correction. It would be interesting to have a discussion linking these perspectives with Angela Duckworth’s idea on developing grit.

Mindshift article HERE

posted on October 2, 2014

How much more engaging would our teaching of young people be if we paid careful attention to how we as humans process sensory inputs, delivered an understanding to our students of how our brains work, and had a healthy grasp of the connection between the brain, emotions, and feelings?

I was fascinated to read about the work of Antonio Damasio in the MIT Technology Review magazine (June 17, 2104) recently. We all realize the vital importance of grit, tenacity and dogged determination in learning. However, being able to connect our understanding of the fundamentals of brain mechanics and human perception with the curriculum is very compelling.

Click HERE for MIT Technology Review:

Click HERE for TED talk


posted on May 3, 2014

Students should bring as many of their senses to bear on a topic in order to enhance their learning. All information entering the brain for processing, understanding, manipulation and output comes through the use of one, or more, of the five senses. As an interesting and engaging add-on to the curriculum, I use smell to teach Math in my classroom. Virtually any topic can be covered. I usually use an exercise of multiplying two digits by two digits, by assigning a smell to a number. The smells are cooking extracts from the supermarket.

In this way, children are able to place a math problem in their brains through their noses as opposed to the more traditional auditory or visual approaches. Students are highly engaged and interested in this activity. Please see the lesson plan for more details.

posted on February 9, 2014

Central to our success as humans is learning, both by ourselves, and from others. Inextricably tied to our learning is our capacity to do so, and the skillfulness with which we are able to transmit understanding. Hattie and Yates have expertly crafted and condensed copious amounts of research data and analysis into succinct and user-friendly chapters on topics of vital current interest to teachers and administrators. Their layout provides actionable summaries supported by clear units of study. They realize that teachers are not merely sterile conduits of information, nor are students generic recipients of information. Central to their argument is that a keen understanding of the process through which we teach is vital to content transmission, accessibility, understandability, and eventual student ownership. This includes building trusting relationships, giving cognitive load-appropriate lessons, and providing cogent feedback.

The authors additionally pay careful attention to the role and experience of the individual learner. Topics covered include the need for deliberate goal-oriented practice, understanding how to effectively engage memory for information storage and later retrieval, and giving credence to student learning styles.

posted on October 21, 2013

I have found it extremely useful to assist children to think of themselves as independent people. Quite obviously, pre-adolescent children are not independent in many respects, but creating an environment where they think of themselves as independent opens doors to many positive outcomes in the classroom. An independent young person is responsible for personal thoughts and actions, assignment planners, and homework. A vital and shared component of all these, and other, activities is the ability and responsibility to make decisions. Establishing oneself as a decision maker sets the stage for life as an independent person.

A very useful activity to undertake on the first day of school is to provide students with a blank sheet of paper approximately 18 inches long by 12 inches wide. On the board in front of the class write the word BORN with a period under it. Proceed to explain to the children that you want them to make a DECISION TREE outlining all the important decisions they have made in their lives to date. A decision tree will have branches for paths both taken and not taken. Paths not taken will end there, and paths taken lead to a continuation down the decision tree of life to the present day. It is imperative not to give too many ideas to the students at this point as to what specifically constitutes an important decisions. Of necessity for the purposes of this exercise, students should be thinking carefully through what decisions they think they have made over the course of their lives to date. Leaving it very open-ended without much guidance tends to produce varied and interesting results. Such results might include what school they ‘chose’ to go to from amongst alternatives they have heard of, what instruments or after-school activities they chose to do, or possibly where they have lived if they have moved apartments or cities. Whether they themselves actually made these decisions is immaterial. What is  important is for them to think about making decisions, and to have some defined course they followed over their young lives. They should see that a large part of our human experience is essentially selecting from amongst a series of options. Once you establish yourself as a decision maker, then you are an independent person with regard to thought and responsibility for actions.

At times, one could give a few hints to those individuals who are struggling with the project in order to get them into a productive mode of thinking through this exercise. Once all students have finished this project, have students share their thoughts and ideas with each other. Studying the Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken at this juncture would be a very useful exercise.

After completing and discussing the poem, ask the students to turn over the sheet of paper upon which they have outlined their major life decisions to date. Again go the classroom board and write the word FUTURE on it with a period under it. Explain again the concept of a DECISION TREE to the students. This time, however, ask them to put together a set of possible scenarios of major decisions they think they will make for the remainder of their lives. Leave this discussion as vague as possible in order to foster creativity. Interesting outcomes here have been college, marriage, career(s), vehicles, sports, number of children, retirement, travel and in some instances even death. Here again, we are establishing the concept of independence through the ability to make decisions.



posted on July 3, 2013

Journal topics 2 and 3

It is fascinating to see how children convert the written word into a visual representation, and vice versa. It certainly enriches the reading experience to be able to create vivid mental representations of what one is reading. Practicing drawing and reading/writing together could create an awareness of the process of transferring the written word into mental images, enhance descriptive abilities, and support creative and imaginative writing.

Journal topic 2:

Provide a scenic written passage from a well-known author, and ask the children to draw the scene in their writing journals.

Students can journal on the process they undertook to complete this assignment.

Journal topic 3:

Provide a colorful postage stamp to students. Ask them to place it in the center of a facing page, and expand the scene in the stamp with colored pencils. They can then write a story about their creation.

Point out to students that information can to transferred from words to images, and vice versa. Providing a detailed description of your ideas to readers help them make an accurate visual representation in their minds as they read your work. Similarly, reading detailed work helps the readers create captivating visual images.

posted on June 26, 2013

K-12 institutions should see themselves as an integral part of the community they serve. As educators, we are responsible for equipping students for a fast paced, constantly changing environment within which they will have to navigate successfully. We are told that people will lead longer working lives, and possibly have as many as three careers over that period.

Schools who integrated themselves fully into their communities seek to avail themselves of opportunities to expose their students to professionals in a wide spectrum of employment. Since we do not truly know where the passion will come from for any particular individual, exposing children to the thinking and ideas of adults outside the school community can only strengthen the overall educational experience. Ideas for sourcing such interactions could be parents, local businesses, or institutions of higher learning. Students benefit greatly from collaborative experiences with professionals in the community. If, for example, students are preparing an advertising project, requests could be made to local advertising firms to participate in evaluating work from a professional perspective. Community members are often more than happy to contribute to learning in this way.

Mutually beneficial relationships such as community service ideas, involvement in scientific research or other opportunities could quite conceivably grow from this outreach. Operating exclusively in academic isolation limits opportunities for students who would certainly thrive through interactions within a larger sphere of influence.




posted on May 4, 2013

I am embarking on a study of how humans engage in the process of learning, how they transfer their knowledge, how individuals most effectively receive information for processing, and what hinders and what assists in the attainment of personal potential. In order to do this, I have selected an initial series of books to read in five topic areas: early man, nature and interactions between man and nature, travel and exploration, inventions and technology, and human experience and learning. As I do this, I am working through the ages to see how interactions between cultures further developed our collective knowledge, understanding, and learning. Lastly, I am investigating how inventions and breakthroughs in creativity spur new thinking and paths of exploration in society.

I imagine that in the hypothetical situation of a totally isolated settled society, knowledge must be limited to the accumulated learning and expertise of the group. In this situation, new learning would only come through serendipitous encounters with natural events and surroundings. Early migrating humans following food sources must have had to adapt their skill set to their constantly changing environment. Migrations further afield to totally new climatic regions or food sources also required  adaptation and learning. Later interactions between groups could only have enriched the knowledge base of both interacting cultures.

Interesting questions: How have we transferred learning both through the ages, and between ourselves in a particular time period? Has how we learn changed through the ages to the present, not so much in the medium of its transfer, but in its content and structure?

Casting a wide net, my initial reading list is:


The Journey of Man by Spencer Wells
People of The Lake by Richard E. Leakey
Before the Dawn by Nicholas Wade


Out of Eden by Alan Burdick
Salt by Mark Kurlansky
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Nature Wars by Mark L. Winston
Animal Architects by James R. Gould and Carol Grant Gould


1421 by Gavin Menzies
Marco Polo by Laurence Bergreen


Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner
The Medieval Machine by Jean Gimpel
The Nature of Technology by W. Brian Arthur
Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson
Simplexity by Jeffrey Kluger
How Invention Begins by John H. Lienhard
Inventing Modern by John H. Lienhard


The Practice of Creativity by George M. Prince
How Children Succeed by Paul Tough
I Am a Pencil by Sam Swope
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
Mind In The Making by Ellen Galinsky
How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer
Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales
Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl