April 23, 2013

The one world school house by Salman Khan

The one world school house by Salman Khan

[The founder of Khan academy, Sal Khan narrates today’s education system and his initial days of struggle; followed by investment from Bill Gates foundation and Google for his free academic tutoring - https://www.khanacademy.org/. There are more viewers to Khan Academy site for learning than MIT’s opencourseware program (quoting Wikipedia)

Many college courses in the humanities focus on discussion over lecture. Students read course material ahead of time and have a discussion in class. Harvard Business School took this to the extreme by pioneering case-based learning more than 100 years ago and many business schools have followed suit. Students are more engaged than in any traditional classroom I’ve ever been part of. Most importantly, the ideas that you and your peers collectively generate stick.

Human beings are also hardwired to focus on faces. We are constantly scanning the facial expression of those around us to get information about the emotional state of those around us to get information about the emotional state of the room and our place in it. We seem to be hardwired to meet each other’s gazes, to read lips even as we are listening.

In a traditional academic model, the time allotted to learn something is fixed, while the comprehension of the concept is variable. Washburn was advocating the opposite. What should be fixed in a high level of comprehension and what should be variable is the amount of time students have to understand a concept.

The Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric R, Kandel, in his seminal book ‘In Search of Memory, argues that learning is in fact neither more nor less than a series of changes that takes place in fact individual cells of which our brains are composed. When a given cell is involved in learning, it literally grows. The process is not exactly analogues to what happens when one exercise a muscle, but it is pretty close. The more neurons recruited into the learning process, the more vivid and lasting the memory.

It is easier to understand and remember something if we can relate it to something else we already know. This is why it is easier to memories a poem than a series of non-sense syllables of equal length. In a poem, each word relates to images in our minds; there are rules of rhythm and connection that we understand, even if subliminally, the poem must follow. Rather than memorizing individual bits of information, we are dealing with patterns and strands of logic that allow us to come closer to seeing something whole. The most effective way to teach would be to emphasize the flow of a subject, the chain of associations that relates one concept to the next and across subjects. Unfortunately the standard approach to classroom teaching does just the opposite.

This is mostly obviously seemed in the artificial separation of traditional subjects. Genetics is taught in biology while probability is taught in math, even though one is really an application of the other. Physics is a separate one from algebra and calculus despite its being a direct application of them. Chemistry is partitioned off from physics even though they study many of ht same phenomena at different levels.

Among the nations whose students ranked near the top of international test results, some like South Korea, and Taiwan did in fact assign a lot of homework, but other qualifying countries, - Denmark and Japan - assigned very little then there were some very homework heavy nations - Greece, Thailand, and Iran- whose students tested poorly. In short, amount of homework given is not a good indicator for grading a school system.


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