Monday, May 31, 2010

Video Roundup

Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover | Video on

I'd seen this talk linked from a couple of tweets and blogs a while ago but just finally got around to watching it. I have been thinking about math quite a bit because I'm terrible at it and yet I propose to teach my children math. Oh the irony. I'm nervously optimistic that with a good program I will be able to re-learn what I've forgotten (or just never understood) right along side EJ but still there's this nagging voice that won't let my inadequacy go.

This is a short talk and I was slightly disappointed. I completely agree with the premise that math is taught very badly; or at least it was when I was in school.  What I'm looking for though, as a lay person and not a math instructor, is some ideas of how to increase understanding of math concepts. So, good talk. Just not very useful for me.

On the math subject, although not a video. Sometime ago I read an essay called "A Mathematician's Lament" written by Paul Lockhart (PDF). Now this I very much enjoyed. I can't say I can get behind the idea of math as an art form but then as I already pointed out, I'm lacking in mathematical understanding. As a musician (once upon a time), I thoroughly enjoyed the analogy between the teaching of math and music.

RSA Animate - Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us

This is a fun video. The speaker is Dan Pink on motivation. I enjoyed this talk quite a bit but the animation just makes it fun to watch. Even the boys crowded around my computer to watch the cartoon style drawing.

Although Pink is examining the idea of monetary rewards in the workplace, I think it very nicely transfers to children.

Two main points I took away from this talk are:

1. Rewards DO work to motivate people doing purely mechanical jobs. In other words, if it's something that doesn't require thought, rewards can help improve production; people work harder if they know they are getting more money (skittles, computer time etc.)

2. Rewards DON'T work to motivate people to think. Problem solving, innovation, creative thinking, etc. are not strengthened at all when bonus's are available. In fact, what seems to work better to increase creative output is to simply allow collaboration and get out of the way.

I loved this quote:
"You probably want to do something interesting. Let me get out of your way."
So the question is, how do we use this to help with our kids? I still believe that rewards should be used sparingly and often by surprise. (I'm really thankful that you helped pick up, lets have a treat and relax together). But sometimes they can be a motivator - providing the reward is valued by the rewardee and the job being rewarded is not something that requires thought. So while I would never reward EJ for finishing his homework or for making something artistic, I would consider rewarding him for doing small jobs for me around the house. Those things that take mostly action and little thought.

Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity | Video on
Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution! | Video on

These are two really great talks, the first one about creativity I watched some time ago,  it's not fresh in my mind so I won't comment. I do remember it being formative in helping me make my decision to home educate though.  The second part I just finished this morning. Really worth a listen if you think schools are not getting it right but can't figure out what they should be doing. Sir Robinson is amusing, has interesting tales to tell. I especially like it when he talks about 3 year old children being interviewed for kindergarten; it's just so absurd. He touches on quite a few great points but for me the pullout quote is this:
"We have built our education systems on the model of fast food."
 What he means is that in the restaurant biz there are two kinds of establishments. The first being the fast food model where everything is standardized, one size fits all. No matter which McDonald's (or Cheesecake Factory for that matter) you eat at, the food will be the same. Same menu, same quality, same, same, same.  The second are stand alone, non-chain establishments; those you would find listed as 4 and 5 star restaurants in travel guides where the food is customized by the owner and chef with an eye towards fun, interesting and unique dining.

Tell me, if you had a chance to do school over again which would YOU choose? Sometimes I might choose fast food - yes, there are certain things that might be best standardized. But if I really wanted to have fun and enjoy myself I'd chose a 4 or 5 star dining experience every time.

Finally, something for the kids. Or at least something that my kids continually ask me to watch. I was recently reminded of this series of videos made in Canada many years ago. I vaguely remember watching some of them myself as a kid. They remind me a lot of a physics version of Schoolhouse Rock (come on, you KNOW you want to revisit "Conjunction Junction", in fact you are probably singing it right now!).

If your children want to impress their friends by learning words such as inertia, mass, and force, then let them watch these videos. My son EJ tells me his classmates (and teacher) asked him "how do you know all these words" when he answered a question about weight in math using the word 'mass' instead of weight. I am under no illusions that he understands much of it, frankly I don't understand a lot of it. But he loves the animation and is actually learning the vocabulary of physics even if he doesn't understand the principles.



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