Category Archives: Teaching and learning theory

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

posted on April 15, 2013

All information which we receive into the brain for processing comes from one of our five senses. Developing an ability to effectively and efficiently apply as many of these senses as possible to a problem or investigation can only assist us in finding solutions to our queries. Many lessons can be developed and taught with this idea in mind.

Learning the process of active listening, for example, as opposed to passive listening or merely hearing, can assist students tremendously as they take in information for processing. Really listening to what is being said, with an active engagement, can facilitate an intake of all the information presented. Here is an example of a lesson promoting active listening in mathematics.

Procedure: Students are given small erasable writing tablets, erasable markers, and board erasers. They are told that this is a listening exercise. Not only is this lesson about listening carefully to the information presented; students also have to separate relevant information from the irrelevant material as well. Lastly, they have to decide how they will record the information as the reader proceeds with the statement and questions.

The teacher states that the problem will be read only once. A clear and precise statement is made as to what type of problem is being address whether it is, for example, time or distance. Students have to decide how they will record the information, look for relevant material, and solve the problem. A word problem is then slowly, carefully and methodically read to the students. At no point is any part of the problem communicated in written form. Students need to listen for relevant information, and undertake to solve the questions posed.

It is fascinating to see how students approach this form of questioning at first. Usually, most students begin by writing down everything the teacher says verbatim. In later exercises, students tend to make a simple diagrammatic chart to solve the problem.


Teacher states: this is a distance question.

A man decides to take a hike along the Appalachian Trail. This is a three-day adventure. On the first day, he walks 30 miles. The food he consumes that day costs $5.45. On the second day, he makes good progress. He saw two bears, and three Blue Jays. This day, he walks 25 miles. He stepped off the trail to buy water for $2.50. The final leg of his journey took him another 23 miles. He ate three cereal bars costing $3.00 each.


How many miles did he walk in total on this specific journey?

At this juncture, the teacher might also ask students to write down, on a separate piece of paper, how much he spent in total to see which students were actively listening to the entire story, and who listened only for distance information. The story can then be re-read, and the spending question asked again. Students and teacher can compare notes on the their answers.

The lesson then can be focused on a discussion of active learning, sorting of information for relevancy, and storage of additional information that may later become relevant. Students will also learn how most efficiently to record what they have heard.

Additional, more complicated, problem:

No information is written down by the teacher for the students to see.

Teacher states that this is a distance, time and expenditure question:

Judy was training for a marathon on Sunday. On Wednesday, she started running at 6:00 am. She ran 15 miles, finishing at 8:37 am. The next day, she ran 17 miles, starting at 6:00 am, and ending 2 hours and 47 minutes later. Conveniently, this practice run ended at the convenience store. There, Judy bought two vitamin waters, each costing $2.50, an energy shake costing $3.99, and a bag of potato chips at $2.99.

(1) How many miles did Judy run in all?

(2) In all, how long did it take Judy to run the total distance?

(3) How much did Judy spend at the convenience store?

(4) What day was it when Judy ran 17 miles?







posted on February 25, 2013

In our modern society where local actions often tend to have global implications, the nature of the problems we face and the opportunities we seek have broadened considerably. This broadening of scope carries with it a corresponding increase in the complexities of these issues. It is, therefore, incumbent upon educators to teach young students how to find problems and opportunities, think through them in a formalized way, and to come up with possible courses of action.

Kickstarter is a wonderful forum where people discuss their interesting ideas, and look for funding from the public. This very democratic medium for sharing ideas and raising venture capital provides an excellent starting point for teachers endeavoring to introduce this topic to students. One activity might be to ask students to look for an interesting funding project, and report back to the class.

Link to Kickstarter  HERE


posted on January 25, 2013

Teachers should seek new knowledge and as often as possible. This commitment can extend from a few hours learning to cook crepes, to a life-long study of birds. This will inform our practice enabling us to rethink how we process new learning: choosing a topic, buying a book or searching the internet, learning from an expert, joining a club, writing down findings, and retaining and applying knowledge (in whole or in part). This understanding spotlights our expectations of student process, and production.

The internet, and changes in the complexity of problems and questions, have expanded the role of teacher as imparter of self-stored knowledge to include facilitator and mentor of self-guided student learning. Where we once had rote learning, we now include problem solving. New directions in education lead to students actually finding problems and defining probing questions themselves, and then solving them. Improving how we look for, validate, compact, sort and evaluate information will be crucial to our success as learners, students, and teachers.

posted on January 17, 2013

A high school teacher of mine in South Africa, Alan Douglas, once ran a bicycling trip for charity at our school. When giving directions, he said to thunderous laughter, “If you get lost, go back to where you last knew you were”. Sound advice indeed if you are going through a life crisis, struggling through a Science experiment, or finding yourself stumped on an essay. Not quite so sound if you are physically lost on your bicycle! So amusing was this statement, that I remember it vividly some thirty years later. Its basic tenet though, drives to the core of sound learning and teaching and that is to think through problems carefully, and try to find solutions which might not always be obvious at first. Applying knowledge, understanding and/or methodology in one area, might or might not work universally. Being able, and prepared, to apply new thinking to our ever-quickening pace of global change is crucial to our future success. Successfully negotiating this environment is partly tied up in how we think through problems/challenges.

How many people have you met in your life who have had a truly original idea? I would have to say that I have met many people from diverse backgrounds on several continents, and I can probably count true originality on two fingers. Most of us adapt ideas from someone else in one way or another. People continually ask for thinking outside the box. However, the vast amount of creativity, knowledge and information is contained within the box, and that is where we should start. Most ideas outside the box have origins inside the box. Bright sparks of creative genius are truly rare. Creative, useful adaptations of existing ideas occur far more regularly, and have been extremely useful in business, science, the arts and almost every other realm of human endeavor. A key component to thinking creatively entails giving children the tools to think in ways which best unlock existing knowledge for them in ways which lead to creative productivity.

As I sit and think through the reality of an environment changing with ever increasing rapidity, I ponder how I might be able to prepare ten-year-old children to excel in their future life course. A few ideas come to mind. Firstly, all information coming into our brains enabling us to make sensible and logical decisions come from an efficient utilization of our senses. Secondly, everything that we need in life we get from other people in one way or another. Combining these two ideas together, I see my overarching goal as helping students bring all their senses to bear on a problem in an enlightened way, and then giving them the self-confidence to express their opinions and thinking publicly. Therein lies an acceptance of change and all it brings, building up the individual’s self-confidence, and learning how to best utilize our senses.