Education is a hugely politically loaded issue. I want to write today briefly about education. I’ve two years of experience as a tutor and Teaching Assistant in a Northern Ireland Grammar School, and continue to tutor a range of ages while I undergo my Masters studies in Mathematics. I definitely will focus on STEM subjects, although some of the things I mention will be applicable to other disciplines.
Cal Newport who runs the excellent blog Study Hacks in his teaching statement on his professional page, talks about ‘insight centred pedagogy’. When I teach Calculus myself I feel this is also an important issue. It is impossible to really get a feel for calculus and not to get lost in the details of proofs, without for instance knowing that the tangent to a curve is the first derivative. Similarly in something like Differential Geometry, one needs an insight of what a Lie Derivative is for before learning a long and cumbersome expression.
Perhaps then the focus of lectures should be on the ‘big ideas’ and there is also a huge benefit of the usage of computers in this area. Certainly that sometimes means using Mathlab and Mathematica, perhaps to help ‘debug’ peoples ideas. The wonderful resources that students have including for instance ‘Wolfram Alpha’ and Wikipedia are certainly things that need to be used.
I’m going to think some more about this, and the importance of developing the insights first.
Someone like Cal Newport certainly sees the importance of Theory and Practice in the 21st century, and his blog which focuses on cognitive science supported and study strategies that work, is a very valuable resource to students.
My article today was inspired by a piece on the New Statesman website, by Peter Hyman:
The Tory answer is “students who know more facts”, but the answer from most teachers, students and employers would be “students who know how to apply their knowledge, who love learning, who are creative, analytical and flexible; students who can work independently and show resilience, who are moral and kind to others; students who are high-quality written and oral communicators”.
We don’t know what the jobs of the 21st century will be. It is possible that some of them will involve a huge STEM component, especially as the new Mc Kinsey report which shows that there will be a huge increase in ‘Big Data’ jobs, not to mention the growth industries of Biotechnology, Cryptography and Internet Security.
We don’t know what the jobs of the future will be, so we need students to be ready to change, react and adapt. And we need learning in the classroom to be based less on an outdated notion (disciplinarian teacher at the front) and more on what the neuroscience is telling us: that students learn best when their learning is active (not rote learning or overuse of textbooks), experiential (hands-on), in longer periods (not broken up into 50-minute chunks), developed over a sustained period, and connected to a big picture (making connections between subjects and to larger ideas
This certainly ties in with the ‘big picture’ learning, or inverted classroom approach that someone like Seymour Papert certainly encouraged people to cultivate. Or Robert Talbert’s comments on this inverted classroom approach.
A question I regularly ask is ‘do we teach the correct skills?’
A follow up question is what are the correct skills.
I’m not sure what the answer to that question is. But it is something which needs to be thought out carefully, and with respect for reality, not ideological bias.