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Tag Archives: learning

Interesting story here that tells about a new study that has been published in the journal Science. The study claims that introspection has been linked to a particular area of the human brain.

Here’s how it worked: Researchers briefly showed 32 healthy people computer screens containing patterns, one slightly brighter than the rest, similar to tests used in eye exams. First, the volunteers had to rapidly choose which screen contained the brighter pattern. Because some people are simply better observers, the computer adjusted the level of difficulty to each individual so that the task was equally hard for everyone and no one could be completely sure their answer was correct.

Then the volunteers had to rate how confident they were in their answer. The idea: People with good introspective abilities would be more confident when they were right, and more likely to second-guess themselves when they really were wrong. People who are just brash and overconfident might lead an outsider to think they were right, but in reality wouldn’t show that correlation.

Brain scans showed the people’s introspective ability was strongly linked to the amount of gray matter in a spot of the prefrontal cortex, right behind the eyes, the researchers reported.

In addition, the study found people who were more introspective also had stronger functioning white matter in that part of the brain — the nerve fibers that act as a telephone system to allow cells to communicate with others.

The economics here might claim some relevance for improving labor or management performance, but that is not really the point here. It is, though, an interesting finding for anyone involved with education.

But much more research is needed to address the which-came-first question: Are these brain differences innate? Or do they reflect this brain region getting stronger as people try to spend more time monitoring their own mental state, meaning it’s an ability that might be improved with training?

It seems to me that many educators already treat this ability as something that can be improved–with training that involves reflection and dialogue.


Computers at Home: Educational Hope vs. Teenage Reality—this article responds to some research done with young teenagers, looking at computer subsidy programs for lower income families and comparing future school performance with control groups–either groups without computers or higher income families.

The result? “We found a negative effect on academic achievement.” When computers were given to the kids, their scores went down in math and languages. The one positive effect? Better computer skills.

Economists are trying to measure a home computer’s educational impact on schoolchildren in low-income households. Taking widely varying routes, they are arriving at similar conclusions: little or no educational benefit is found. Worse, computers seem to have further separated children in low-income households, whose test scores often decline after the machine arrives, from their more privileged counterparts.

As a teacher, I was simply nodding my head at this, not surprising. But now I have doubts. Maybe there are other legitimate ways to interpret the results. Yes, computers probably do offer kids further distraction from study. Does that mean their education suffers?

Other studies have been done that show brain activity is much higher for someone playing a computer game than when they sit in a classroom or read a textbook. Something is going on there. What are they learning? Games, of course, are one way to learn strategy, and planning. Not math and language, but important skills none the less.

A new study needs to be done. Do not test these kids for math and language, test them for critical thinking skills. I bet the results are very different. Then develop some more games that enhance those math and language skills we like so much.

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As a teacher of economics, editorials on education interest me on two levels. One, the debate about learning strategies and how that dictates teachers’ approach in the classroom. Two, education is obviously important as an investment both in social welfare and potential production.

Cynthia Tucker’s article, Improving education begins with better teachers, is an unfortunately shallow critique of the direction education policies are taking.

Educating all of our children, including those from poor and dysfunctional homes, is clearly in the national interest. In a globally competitive market, and with nations like China and India emphasizing high-quality education, we simply cannot afford not to educate everybody.

And it does no good to point fingers at parents — some of them busy trying to make ends meet, some of them functionally illiterate, some of them simply irresponsible. No child chooses to be born into a home without the obvious advantages.

I’ve heard from too many public schoolteachers who blame their students’ poor performance on their parents’ failures. That suggests to me those teachers don’t have much faith in their students’ ability to learn or in their own ability to teach them.

My own experience is not only from US schools, but would suggest that teachers’ attitudes are often a reflection of management and administration. Teachers often–very often–find themselves in a work environment where the ideals they embraced in their education studies are ignored in favor of high scores and keeping parents happy.

Despite the strides made in learning science, and the obvious advantages of active learning and critical discussion, classrooms are often still a reminder of old ideals, rote learning and unquestioned acceptance of the facts.

Why does it happen? Yes, sometimes because a teacher does not really accept the research and they revert to the methods of their own teachers. Just as often, it happens because administration demands obedience and results at the cost of an interactive environment.

What to be done? For one, quit appointing MBA’s to manage schools. Yes, schools are in many ways a business, but–to borrow the metaphor–management should be schooled in the proper methods of production, and learning production is complex enough to require great devotion of study on its own.

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video_game_kids_wideweb__470x2930Yes! As a teacher I have been arguing this point with colleagues for years. Schools I have worked at–there have been many–have all had rules against students playing video games. Now a European group has found that–

“Videogames are in most cases not dangerous and can even contribute to the development of important skills,” said Toine Manders, the Dutch liberal lawmaker who drafted the report.

“(They stimulate) learning of facts and skills such as strategic reflection, creativity, cooperation and a sense of innovation,” a news release on the report said.

Not sure that I buy into the idea that all games do this, but certainly the games that require some strategy will help develop that in the players.