The death of the lecture

LPPi

Image representing Bill Gates as depicted in C...
Image via CrunchBase

 

I have just been watching the Richard Dimbleby Lecture on BBC1 which this year was given by Bill Gates on the subject of defeating Polio.

 

I found his talk interesting, informative and, at times, inspiring. If I was asked to give a summary of what I had heard I could talk about the fact that Polio has largely been eradicated from our world but is stubbornly hanging on in three countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

 

I could add to this some information about the way that developments in technology have led to greater awareness of where children live and that this has helped to get greater levels of inoculation in areas where our information in the past was at best sketchy and which led to continuing outbreaks of the disease.

 

It was a good talk by someone who has obviously made a lot of effort to learn about this subject in some depth. I wondered though,as I watched the lecture whether this format of spreading information and supporting learning has reached the end of the road.

 

In the same 40 minutes or so that the lecture was being delivered to a passive and noncontributory audience I could have used the Nexus 7 tablet that I am presently writing this post on to have researched the subject. I could have accessed videos from various sources, looked for important articles, seen blog posts on the issues and even spent some useful time on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation website!

 

I have seen a number of video lectures recently from American Universities, where the lecturer is facing rows of students who have laptops or tablets as they are lecturing. There have been instances of talks where the lecturer has referred in the course of the lecture to Tweets about the lecture that are being made by the students in front of them.

 

This interactive approach to lecturing seems a much better situation than the traditional approach that I witnessed in the Bill Gates lecture. It does though raise the question as to the validity of the lecture in our digital 21st Century world. I feel that its time has passed and that the Richard Dimbleby lecture should be replaced by something like the Richard Dimbleby Online World Forum. It wouldn’t make good television but it would make good sense!

 

 

 

Jay Berckley’s Passionate TedX Houston talk

I have just seen a passionate TedX talk by Jay Berckley (TedX Houston 2012).

In the talk Jay argues that the present system of education in the U.S.A. is failing children. He states that there are too many children who drop out because they are bored, disengaged and sometimes even beaten by their teachers! (Apart from the beatings, this would apply equally to the United Kingdom where I live).

He goes on to talk about the success of the Finnish education system that has a highly trained teaching force, that does not start until children are seven years of age, that allows teachers to spend more than one year with a class, that has no private schools and keeps testing to a minimum.

He then discusses the key importance of promoting arts education and backs this up with data about academic success being achieved by institutions that allow the arts to flourish.

Throughout the talk he is passionate in his advocacy of a new approach to education that allows children to follow their passions whatever their economic or social circumstances.

He ends by linking all he has said to his own background of coming from a poor, single-parent household and finding a mentor that encouraged him to follow his dreams which was to be a musician and a teacher.

I have written this post in the hope that it will encourage more people to watch his talk and  spread the messages that he tells us. I would like to thank my friend Christine Termini Passarella for providing the link to Jay’s  excellent talk.

Making mathematics popular: connect to real life

Nils Ahbel has written an excellent article for the Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation  called “Mathematics Curriculum It’s Time For a Change“.

In this article he shows how the majority of the mathematics taught in schools is highly irrelevant to the majority of students. Because they cannot see any point to it in relation to their everyday lives.

He suggests that students need to study statistics so as they can interact with the mass of data (much of it falsely presented ) that will effect their everyday lives. I cannot agree more.

The mathematics is not at fault it us the boring curriculum! if you find something of interest then many of them will discover just how interesting indeed fascinating Mathematics can be.

Below is a great Ignite talk about music by Karen Cheng called  “How to Solve a Song With Math”. It is a wonderful little talk with just a little bit of data presentation about two sound waves. I would be surprised if students did not enjoy this and learn a really useful lesson about mathematics and its application to solving problems as well. This is surely the sort of thing that Nils Ahbel is getting at in his article.

Mathematics is too important to our collective future to be so hated by so many….. we need to take heed of what so many people are saying and change the curriculum to make it fit for our lives and their futures.

Why we need sportsmanship

I woke up today to see the television news awash with the Oprah Winfrey interview with Lance Armstrong. In the last few weeks I have seen a number of examples of professional footballers “diving” in order to win a penalty and win an unfair advantage for their team.

I was so pleased to see the following item sent from my cousin Bonny on Facebook:

Proud to be part of THIS human race!
Is winning all that counts? Are you absolutely sure about that?</p><br />
<p>Very little has been said about this…..On December 2, Basque athlete Iván Fernández Anaya was competing in a cross-country race in Burlada, Navarre. He was running second, some distance behind race leader Abel Mutai - bronze medalist in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the London Olympics. As they entered the finishing straight, he saw the Kenyan runner - the certain winner of the race - mistakenly pull up about 10 meters before the finish, thinking he had already crossed the line.</p><br />
<p>Fernández Anaya quickly caught up with him, but instead of exploiting Mutai's mistake to speed past and claim an unlikely victory, he stayed behind and, using gestures, guided the Kenyan to the line and let him cross first.</p><br />
<p>Ivan Fernandez Anaya, a Basque runner of 24 years who is considered an athlete with a big future (champion of Spain of 5,000 meters in promise category two years ago) said after the test:<br /><br />
"But even if they had told me that winning would have earned me a place in the Spanish team for the European championships, I wouldn't have done it either. I also think that I have earned more of a name having done what I did than if I had won. And that is very important, because today, with the way things are in all circles, in soccer, in society, in politics, where it seems anything goes, a gesture of honesty goes down well."</p><br />
<p>He said at the beginning: unfortunately, very little has been said of the gesture. And it's a shame. In my opinion, it would be nice to explain to children, so they do not think that sport is only what they see on TV: violent kicks in abundance, posh statements, fingers in the eyes of the enemy ...
Is winning all that counts? Are you absolutely sure about that?”Very little has been said about this…..On December 2, Basque athlete Iván Fernández Anaya was competing in a cross-country race in Burlada, Navarre. He was running second, some distance behind race leader Abel Mutai – bronze medalist in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the London Olympics. As they entered the finishing straight, he saw the Kenyan runner – the certain winner of the race – mistakenly pull up about 10 meters before the finish, thinking he had already crossed the line.Fernández Anaya quickly caught up with him, but instead of exploiting Mutai’s mistake to speed past and claim an unlikely victory, he stayed behind and, using gestures, guided the Kenyan to the line and let him cross first.

Ivan Fernandez Anaya, a Basque runner of 24 years who is considered an athlete with a big future (champion of Spain of 5,000 meters in promise category two years ago) said after the test:
“But even if they had told me that winning would have earned me a place in the Spanish team for the European championships, I wouldn’t have done it either. I also think that I have earned more of a name having done what I did than if I had won. And that is very important, because today, with the way things are in all circles, in soccer, in society, in politics, where it seems anything goes, a gesture of honesty goes down well.”

He said at the beginning: unfortunately, very little has been said of the gesture. And it’s a shame. In my opinion, it would be nice to explain to children, so they do not think that sport is only what they see on TV: violent kicks in abundance, posh statements, fingers in the eyes of the enemy”.
I did a search on the subject of sportsmanship and found the above  recent TedX talk by P. R. Smith. I loved it.There were great stories about the lengths that some sportsmen had gone to show sportsmanship. It was interesting to see how many children were fascinated by these stories and just how important it was, in these days where we see the negative things that make sport a bad role model for them.
So we need sportsmanship and to get back to the basis of what sport should be about: fitness, friendship and the opportunity for everyone of every race, creed and sexual orientation to participate together without cheating, violence and hatred.

 

I Have a Dream

In honour of the man who I am so proud to say I share a birthday with (tomorrow January 15th)…the famous speech “I Have a Dream”:

MLK

“I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

90 percent of what we teach is a waste of time!

The title of this post is a direct quote from an interview with Professor David Perkins (Harvard University School Of Education) in the following video:

This video is one of a number of really good interviews with leading thinkers on education which goes under the umbrella title of “Interviews Concerning the Future of  Understanding”.

Perkins is very scathing about the curriculum and how resistant it can be to the key things that children will need in our ever changing world. He feels that the world of distinct subjects in silos goes against the needs  of an uncertain future that demands skills of imagination, improvisation and cross-curricular connection.

The key phrase that he uses at the end of the interview should be in the minds of any of us planning for the future of education… we are”preparing for the unknown”, we don’t have the answers we need citizens who can frame the right questions.

Why a knowledge of how to analyse data is essential in the curriculum

We spend so much time in the mathematics curriculum doing calculations. Now this has been criticised by greater experts in the subject than myself. I would bring to your attention the excellent TED Talk by  Conrad Wolfram “Teaching Kids Real Math With Computers”.

There is another TED Talk that I think puts it all in a nutshell. It is by Arthur Benjamin and is called “Teach Statistics Before Algebra”. It lasts three minutes and makes a convincing case that the Mathematics Curriculum is based upon a progression of mathematical subjects that goes from arithmetic to algebra and ends at the top with calculus.

Now I am not deriding the validity or indeed the sheer genius of calculus and the impact that Newton (or was it Leibniz?) gave the world in developing a way of calculating changes in movement that has led to so many scientific developments. I believe that it is a worthwhile field of study for those people who will be going on to scientific and technological careers.

My point is to agree with Arthur Benjamin that we now live in a world where there is a mass of available data. We are bombarded with statistics all the time. I have become fascinated with the number of viewings of my posts and was delighted to receive my end-of-year report from WordPress on just how many people read my posts in the last calendar year. More importantly the ability to read data and use data has become an essential part of everybody’s lives.

I have recently done an online course on global problems which looked at the prospects for our planet of population  growth and change, the implications of growing urbanisation, the impact of population on the availability of food and the data that is used in the current debate on climate change.

In the recent U.S. Presidential election a man called Nate Silver who writes the FiveThirtyEight Blog on The New York Times, used data to correctly forecast the result of each of the 50 states in the U.S.A.! This morning, I watched an excellent lecture on YouTube by Professor Joel Cohen called “An Introduction To Demography” it shows just how much  data is key to the decisions that we will make that will effect the way the we live (or die) in the future.

This all seems to me to point to the fact that we must teach data collection, presentation and most importantly interpretation to children as a key part of their mathematical education. Data is about real world problems and that is the things that we should be presenting to our children if they are to make sense of their ever changing digital world.