Learning Theories in My Practice

I think what really struck me most when I read the modules for EDS 103 was the Primacy–Regency Effect. This posits that “we remember best that which comes first, and remember second best that which comes last” (Sousa, n.d.). This makes the first part of each classroom encounter a crucial learning episode for students. When used correctly, this can produce the most retention of information on the part of the students.

This has caused me to consider the activities that take precedence in my Science classes. As a teacher-in-charge, I have to remind students about administrative matters and follow-up reply slips to announcements and circulars from the school. I also check the homework after any of these announcements are over. Reading about primacy-recency made me realize that homework checking can rob my students with the opportunity to learn (and I, the opportunity to teach) valuable information. I had resolved to bring up administrative reminders during the middle part of the class period.

Since I started teaching, my Coordinator has always emphasized the inclusion of critical questions in discussions that can help stimulate higher-order thinking skills (HOTs) in my students. I had improved, as a teacher, in asking thought-provoking questions and incorporating values to my lessons according to my Coordinator. Reading about how teachers play a role in students’ complex thinking skills has challenged me to think of more ways that I can bring about “equilibrium” and “disequilibrium” in my students.

I do plan discovery learning activities. These student-centered activities where they can experiment with different scenarios are helpful in honing inference-making and in developing an inquiring mind in the kids. Such skills will prove valuable in their subsequent investigatory projects.

In the course of the modules where I learned about different learning theories, I came to better understand the map metaphor. Different kinds of maps do exist that pertain to the same place. Just like maps, “there are many different theories about a subject, all useful at different times, but one might be clearly superior for a particular task” (Bauer as cited in Dewey, 2007). In this case, teaching would be the subject. Depending on the skill to be learned and mastered, certain learning theories may prove helpful at different instances, especially when planning class encounters and activities.

Our department has adopted Bloom’s Taxonomy in planning varied activities that target and promote higher-order thinking skills. With these additional perspectives that I learned from the EDS 103, I do hope that in the past three months, I have indeed become a better teacher and learner.

References:
Sousa, D.A. (n.d.). Primacy/Recency Effect. Retrieved from http://www.lancsngfl.ac.uk/secondary/math/download/file/How%20the%20Brain%20Learns%20by%20David%20Sousa.pdf

Dewey, R.A. (2011) Psychology: An Introduction. Retrieved from http://www.intropsych.com/ch01_psychology_and_science/model_building_and_mappoing_reality.html

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Selling Short

Summer is almost here. I still have two weeks for lessons before I can properly think of summer. Personally, my brain cells seem to refuse to work anymore and my body is already on vacation mode. To top it off, I am teaching Physics for the remaining weeks. Correction, I am TEAM-teaching Physics. And my team mate is a seasoned Physics teacher.

Imagine what this is doing to my self-esteem.

Half the time I was teaching wave properties, I was thinking about how the other teacher was going about in his class. More than being compared, I dread not being able to equip my students with the much-needed skills they will use when they move up to Grade 9 more. I don’t want their experience in Physics to be like mine. I don’t want to bore them by droning on and on about frequencies, velocities and rarefactions. I wanted them to grasp the concepts and understand their applications in their daily activities.

The second-guessing has made it hard for me to think of creative ways to teach the subject. I felt like I was bumbling earlier when I had to start the topic on wave properties because he was using a ripple tank to illustrate how different waves looked like in his class while I only used a slinky in mine.

I needed help. So I talked with my co-teacher and he was kind enough to give me ideas and pointers on how I can better teach the topic. We decided to forego solving for variables and instead just help the students understand the wave relationships, how waves look like and how they behave. The kids will (properly) have more time to solve for wavelengths and amplitudes next year.

By putting things into perspective, he was able to help me relax and tap into my creative juices to think of other ways to demonstrate waves and ways for the students to relate them in real life. It also helped that he gave me a small pep talk. I now feel that I can teach the kids better.

Sometimes, it’s hard to look for ways to encourage critical thinking skills in students when you are being too critical about your strategies. Asking for help about the material I had to teach was a good thing. I know that doing so will benefit my students better.

On Piaget and Vygotsky

As a student, I was more familiar with Jean Piaget than Lev Vygotsky. I had subjects in Psych 101 and in Psychiatric Nursing that referenced Piaget’s work. It was only when I took EDS 103 that I was introduced to Vygotsky.

The stages identified by Piaget made sense to me especially when I was studying Mother and Child Nursing because his stages showed how development progresses in a child as s/he ages. It helped reinforce concepts I had already known or previously learned and observed. This, in Piagetian principles, is me assimilating and accommodating information to achieve equilibrium.

Vygotsky, on the other hand, took note of how culture and language influences knowledge acquisition. I agree with the statement that our language limits us to make sense of our world. We cannot experience things that we have no words for; nor can we understand them.

Case in point, the Eskimos, whose environment is dominated my snow year-round, have seven words for snowflakes. They had a word for newly falling snow, day-old snow, and the likes. For someone who lives in a tropical country (whose reality does not include snow), all those seven words will only mean one thing: ice. The best way to understand it is to understand the context in which the words were created or, if possible, experience it firsthand.

In the classroom, it is often difficult to teach abstract concepts to students. I remember a discussion on the scientific process I had with a previous class. Students, when asked to define what each step meant, usually gave textbook-definitions. When asked to define them in their own words, the same students were usually at a loss. It was also a challenge for most students to think of everyday applications of the scientific process until I gave them simple scenarios like picking out a dress to wear for a party.

I gave other simple yet everyday scenarios and had the students identify which process they use in resolving each situation. Once they had the hang of it, I then asked them to pair up and think of ways they apply the scientific method in their daily life. When they were able to see that the scientific method is not only applicable to science per se, they were able to define each process individually.

There are many other theories that aim to explain how learning occurs. I admit, I get confused when I try to analyze which theory is at work during each classroom activity. I think, though, that understanding the basic tenets of each can help me design my activities based on what will work best for my students.

Cold Facts or Humane Brain?

“In terms of your ability to learn, are there ways that you wish you were more like a computer? Or are you better than any computer in all aspects of processing information? Explain.”

When I was in college, I struggled with Chemistry – balancing equations had always baffled me. I remember wishing one time, while studying for our Chem 31 departmental tests, that my brain was a sponge. You know, so that it could just soak up everything my professor taught us in class.

Flash drives were unheard of that time (we still used diskettes) but interestingly, it never crossed my mind to wish that I was a computer. It was only when I went back school to get my Nursing degree (and flash drives were becoming quite common) that I started wishing that my brain had a USB port. What with all the terms I had to remember about pathophysiology and the corresponding nursing diagnoses and treatment modalities.

Then there was the movie Avatar, where humanoid aliens could upload and download information around them (and connect to the goddess-figure Eywa) through neural appendages. I think this was around the time that I was reviewing for the California board exams.

The difference between the human brain and computers is profound, I think. Computers only store information that were uploaded to them. Certain computer programs or applications can do more complex tasks but behind all these lies careful programming by humans. I think what makes the human brain so much better when it comes to processing information is that we can also retrieve vicarious experiences and relate them to challenges we encounter, helping us make better decisions. Our brain is also able to create memories that evoke emotion depending on the type of information we are processing.

I remember reading Tom Godwin’s short story The Cold Equations when I helped my brother write a report for his 8th grade English class back in 2007. It was one story that showed that despite whatever advancements humans achieve in technology, it is the compassion that we feel when making the hard decisions that matter. It also makes us humane.

Here’s the link for the full text of Tom Godwin’s The Cold Equations: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/the-cold-equations/

Distance Learning

I feel really guilty for not having been able to update this journal more often than I should. From the time I read Module 3, I had been busy listening to the girls defend their Investigatory Projects during the 3rd week of January. After this, I checked quarterly exams and encoded grades to prepare the Report Cards. I was busy talking to parents whose children were having difficulty in my subject. I had to review my lessons because we are taking up Physics this Fourth Quarter and I am quite rusty in the subject. On top of this, a group of us teachers were invited to dance during the Seniors’ Legacy Concert. This meant staying up after school to practice with my fellow teachers. The week-long Arts and Academic Week was held on the 3rd week of February with the Science Congress as one of its highlights. It was a whirlwind of activities until all I had left was one last week to teach speed, velocity and acceleration to the girls.

I have to say, it was a really busy quarter. But I know all of the above do not excuse me for my lack of journal entries. I swear, all of the entries are floating in my head and frankly, I even questioned the results of my time management self-test early in the term. So it is really quite hard for me to talk about what kind of behavior distance learners like me should acquire. Sure, the activities were already plotted in the school calendar. But I know that I could have done better in planning my activities and not spread myself too thin. Bottom line is, constant vigilance in turning in homework is a MUST for us distance learners.

The Premack Principle

Growing up, I don’t really remember being punished for bad behavior. What I do remember was that every time my sister and I would toe the line, we were sure to get a talking to from my mother. During those times when she felt that she needed reinforcement, she would turn to my dad.

Now my dad was more tolerant than my mom and those few times that he actually got upset with us were really scary for my sister and I. My parents never hit us but they did employ the Premack principle (my mom more than my dad).

“Finish your homework first then we’ll watch a movie.” – I was a fan of Indiana Jones.

“Solve this one other problem then you can play.”

“Try it once and if you don’t like it, I won’t force you.” – whenever my mom served something new at the dinner table or,

“Try it first and if you don’t like it, then at least you tried.” – whenever my parents want to encourage me to try new things.

I think they were good in implementing it and I now suspect that there was a good deal of Psychology going on then. As early as second grade, I can remember doing my homework as soon as I got home. Perhaps it was also my love for books that made me look forward to reading assigned pages readily. My mom had taught me how to use a dictionary and even gave me my own copy (which is already battered now) so I can look up the meaning of words I was unfamiliar with. I read that dictionary as a past time, even memorizing the table of symbols featured on the back. I guess it was why I usually got good marks in Spelling.

Whether it was their own unique system of reward and punishment, I would say that my parents did a good job in disciplining us and in instilling study habits in us.

I have no kids of my own yet. However, I do try to emulate how my parents raised me up especially when I deal with my students. After all, I think I turned out pretty well. 🙂

Science Congress

One of my earliest posts in this blog talked about how I spent part of my Christmas holidays in 2013 checking 80 investigatory project papers of the entire Grade 7 in my school. If I had not put my foot down and gave them an “ultimatum”, I think only a few would have turned in their papers.

I had repeatedly reminded the girls as early as August to start with their experiments as soon as I was able to approve their topics and their methodologies. They were to work in groups (thank God!) and if I am not mistaken, I could literally count in one hand – one hand! – those groups who actually took the activity seriously. Sure, they had almost the entire year to work on it. But I think what most of these girls failed to see was the amount of work that writing a paper entailed.

When we went back to school this January, we spent the first two weeks refining their papers and getting ready for their oral defense. I had to choose two groups who will compete in the Science Congress. It wasn’t hard because I could already see which groups had the most potential from the get-go.

We had the Science Congress on the 3rd week of February where the best IPs for the school year were presented, from the Grade 7 up to the Year IV. After the Congress, the girls were asked to evaluate what they learned in the activity. Many of them came to realize how serious the Science Congress was. A lot of them were impressed with the older girls, especially those groups who experimented with new products and actually sent samples to both private and government labs for testing.

I must say, I too am rightly impressed. The dedication that the older girls demonstrated and their seeking expert opinion to lend more credibility to their results was truly commendable. The teams who went on to compete in Congress were all commendable. These teams were the ones who had set aside time in their busy schedules (they simply had a lot of activities this quarter) to work on their respective projects. They had members who were self-regulated enough to draft a plan and follow it through.