There is a trend emerging in our local elementary and high schools to use Kahn Academy and other online learning resources to supplement or replace classroom instruction in math. I understand the attraction. At the small schools in the region where I live you tend to see a wide range of abilities in students. There are simply not enough resources to create different classes for kids who learn at different speeds. By using an online curriculum, kids are free to work at their own pace. The faster students can barrel ahead, while the slower ones can re-play a lecture to reinforce a concept that didn’t come through the first time. There is the potential to minimize classroom management issues and maximize everyone’s productivity–sounds like a win-win.
However, what teachers and administrators who jump to embrace this new way of teaching need to realize is the importance of the real time teacher-student relationship in learning. Relationship is another important way to make information sticky. A teacher, teaching in real time, can intuit moments of confusion, enlightenment, or boredom in a way that a computer never can. A good teacher can leverage those moments to propel or pause a lesson, to engage or disengage students from on another, in order to broaden the education of the whole class. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I believe it’s an art worth striving to master–and that is lost when we rely upon online learning.
Most of the students I’ve talked to emphatically do not like learning from Kahn Academy or other video lectures, whether they find math inherently easy or difficult. The online lectures are good as a back up or reinforcement, but as the primary source for content they are disorienting. Most teenagers (especially the ones who struggle with math) are not good at knowing whether or not they have mastered a concept, and what they need to learn next. The computer algorithms that attempt to figure that out from them are flawed and impersonal. There’s also the HUGE problem that when a student doesn’t understand something in a lecture, he or she can’t ask the video a question. Most teachers know that when your student doesn’t understand what you said, repeating it word for word is generally not going to help. There are also a million other factors that affect how receptive someone is to learning–human relationships are all about meeting and welcoming the ineffable. And that’s all part of education.
I think that Kahn Academy and other online learning tools are a great resource as long as you see them for what they are: distance learning. They can be really helpful if you’re in a situation where you don’t have access to a classroom and a live teacher: studying while working full time, recovering from an illness, or traveling. But if you have a choice, it makes much more sense to choose live human teachers as the means for teaching math and all other subjects. In addition to classrooms, textbooks, and instruction, I believe human contact is critical to quality learning.
In addition to being an artist I am a math teacher. I often struggle with deciding whether I am more of an artist or more of a math teacher, but at the moment I am surrendering the struggle to explore areas where the two overlap.
I was working with a tutoring student last year who was having a hard time memorizing vocabulary words on flashcards. She was getting frustrated and she said to me, “The words go in but then they fall right out–they’re just not sticking.” Immediately I thought of Malcolm Gladwell’s book on social trends, The Tipping Point, where he explores the importance of stickyness in making a message memorable. I also thought of a class I took called Teaching to the Adolescent Brain where I learned that for information to be stored in deep memory it has to pass through the region of the brain called the amygdala–also the processing point of emotion and basic fight or flight instincts. These two different ideas combined and I realized that my job as a teacher is to help make information “sticky.”
There are many ways to do this–some better than others. And different sticking techniques will work for different people. I happen to be a very visual person, so color is one of my favorites. After learning a little about Goethean color theory at a summer class on Anthroposophy and Art, I also believe that color carries archetypal emotional content and meaning. Blue is peaceful, red is dynamic, yellow is uplifting. My student tried color coding the vocabulary words to correspond with the part of speech (blue for nouns, red for verbs and green for adjectives.) It takes more work to make information sticky (especially if it’s a topic you don’t particularly care for), but a little effort in the right direction will go a long way.
I’ll explore more in subsequent posts–meanwhile I invite you to ponder: What makes information sticky for you?
Break through the ice, snow, and winter doldrums with a burst of creativity. Spring is almost here and your muse is calling: learn something new, take a block printing class! Learn basic design, carving and printing techniques in a relaxed, supportive, and playful atmosphere. You will come away with a completed print suitable for framing, embellishing, and/or mailing as a card. This class is for people at all levels of artistic ability–complete beginner through seasoned professional.
The cost is $40 per person and classes are taught at my studio in South Strafford, VT. All tools and materials are provided. To register, email me at the address in my contact information page.
This is the print I made last Fall that I just finished painting today. It’s a self portrait of me with a Martinmas lantern. Of the three versions, this one is my favorite. It was surprisingly satisfying to paint inky blue-black paint over my own face.