Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How We Learn....and how we teach

I just lost another colleague they other day--we're of the age where this will happen.  He was a professor of Geology and was instrumental in designing courses for science teachers in both the public and parochial schools....   But he also taught in his church, a community arts center, the Boy Scouts, and in his community neighbors association.  An all around teacher.  I could always count on him in the early fall workshops for the professors to have a broad smile and a warm greeting, "One more year, eh, Les"  We'd sit through these workshops and hope that we would remain awake until lunch.  Well, that was my modus operandi.  I can't remember how many years Bob and I listened to someone lectures us on how we should change our teaching which would allow students to be more involved.  And we'd sit there and listen quietly.  Oh my.  How many years.  

I will miss Bob.  But as I reflected on his work and friendship I also thought of all the different ways he taught, one on one, in small groups and in large classes of Geology students.  But he also taught over coffee, in his home and in an art center that he and his son developed.  

So I pondered how we learn.  Two things happened this week (so far) that adds emphasis to this story.  One reason the blogs have been spaced out (you may take that in several ways) is that I am writing a novel....my first attempt.  I've gotten a bit more then five chapters done so far and two of my friends have read sections and say to keep going.  Improvements need to be made, certainly, but I'm enjoying the creativity of the task.  Writing a novel is harder then i thought it would be.  Lots of details that I have to account for that you won't find in the book, like ages of the characters so that there discussions will make sense.  Were they in the Army at the same time?  If so, how old are they?  Things like that.  If a woman has a daughter in high school and her husband was killed in a war, what songs should she know from that time?  Fun stuff.  Do I write in the first person?  And how are narratives written.

So I downloaded a book on how to write novels from the internet--multiple authors, supposedly all famous who give advice on how to write a novel.  I can attest that an old dog can learn new tricks.  At least this old dog.  I'm learning a lot.  What I am worried about at this moment is that my first chapters will have been much more stilted and that I am finally getting into the swing of things in the latter chapters.  I'll probably have to go back and re-write the earlier chapters--no big deal, however.   My point is that I'm learning something new...from a book on an iPad.

An aside:  I am also reading on my iPad the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.  Fascinating reading--changing my thoughts about Apple.  But what really caught my attention is when Jobs is negotiating a salary for himself as he returns to the Apple company, a sum of 22 thousand shares of stock which they give him as CEO of Apple.  That turns out to be $300 thousand dollars.  For a years work.  At the same time my local state university (12,000 students) published the salaries of the faculty--a full professor makes on the average, $80,000 a year.  Wait, wait.  That person does get a medical perk of which He/she has to pay half.  And we ask what is wrong with our education system.  

But I digress.  I am learning how to write a novel--whether it will be good or not I can't say.  But the task is entertaining and I like doing it even though I am in the September of my life.  

The second thing that has captured my attention is that a colleague on the other side of the country has written me to ask about distance learning.  How do you go about getting a course on a distant learning site.  And I got pondering (god, I love that word 'ponder'.  It is less then thinking but above day dreaming) about how we deliver messages (that which we want to teach) to our students but how they intake that message.  We've learned long ago that we can do it by the book (sorry about that), by lecture (I wonder what the efficiency of learning is for that method), by demonstration, by pain (paddling), by insight, by mistake.  I suspect the list could go on forever in ways of learning.  With the advent of the computer (as well as the smart phone and the pad) we now have unique ways of delivering our instruction.  So the delivery methods are expanding.  

But as I wrote to my colleague, we need to take into account what the motivation is of the student for that course.   Are they really wanting his knowledge?  Or do they just want the credit.  Or...do they have to take the course as a prerequisite for something else.  How learning becomes so involved.

And in this day and age, not all students can make an eight o'clock class or a four o'clock class on the same day.  They work, have families, need to take public transportation, so many things that complicate how one gets an education.  So I am in favor of distance learning except I just don't know all the methods that are available.  And as I said to him in my e-mail, how to we account (or accredit) someone who has taken the course.

I keep coming back to "what makes an educated person?"  What courses, what knowledge, what feelings and attitudes do you need after you've learned something?  It is very complicated.  

Along with this person's comments about getting into distance learning he wrote that teaching in the high school has become more difficult as the school districts rely on more testing methods for evaluation.  It limits the creativity in the teaching.  Steve Jobs would have taken note--he valued creativity as one of the highest attributes of an individual.  He'd put up with a lot of you were creative. But I've also heard from two other teachers saying they are thinking of retiring early as the teaching has become so structured.  Interesting word.

So I wonder if maybe one possibility in education will be distance learning.  Courses that are designed to the test.  Get so many of these type of courses out of the way and they (whoever is in charge) will allow you to take the more creative courses.  Maybe with a live teacher.

I still feel teachers are the salt of the earth.  Society will not prosper without teachers.  The collective learning of society will not be transferred to the young without good teachers.  Yes, we need the medical profession but without teachers who teach medicine it will not survive.  Nor will we.  Yes, we need both fire and police departments but with education I think we could change their objectives to helping not controlling.  But it will be teachers who will teach both the fire and police personnel.  The methodology on how to deliver this learning will continue to grow...and I believe distance education will be in the forefront.  

My thanks to all teachers who help people to learn.  You are necessary no 
matter what society says at the moment.  You are important to us.

Three hundred thousand dollars for year's work.  My oh my.

This just in!  


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