learning evolves pyramid

there are many variations to the pyramid depending on your outlook:
basics - 21st C skills
non universals - universals
basics - development or discovery
knowledge - relationship or engagement
hard - soft
content - process

Note Bruners 4 part framework: structure, readiness, intuition, motivation

This is an outline of how Noel Pearson's radical centre concept could be applied to education.
(link to Pearson's radical centre concept)

Educational reform in Australia is stuck at the point of dialogue between a back to basics or traditional content policy on the one hand and the “left” progressivist policy of soft sociological reform (process skills are more important than content).

    • What is meant by process skills or 21st Century learner skills?

One argument here is that with the “knowledge explosion” process or learning how to learn skills have become more important than content. These “essential learnings” include goals such as identity, thinking, interdependence, futures and communication (from SACSA – South Australian Curriculum Standards and Accountability)

This policy has infiltrated at least some of the Australian education departments with an accompanying “social constructivist” rhetoric and curriculum documents. “Outcomes based education” is a strong meme internationally that promotes inclusion at the expense of standards.

Science and Maths teachers around Australia and internationally have been complaining about the soft sociological reform of their subjects. Summarising some of the issues:
- watering down, diluting, trivializing science and maths curriculum
- converting science / maths content into sociological content
- using discovery or inquiry based learning as a substitute for hard facts

    • What is meant by back to basics?

This might mean making sure that the basics of literacy and maths are taught effectivly. It might imply a belief that much of the traditional curriculum categories and content (language, maths, science etc.) represent important educational material that should not be reformed. It also might mean that traditional instructionist methods of teaching – teacher tells students what to do and the student do it – are still the best methods.

There are also significant problems associated with the “back to basics” movement.

One issue is the clear identification of the “basics”. Can we agree on what the basics are? Do the basics change and evolve? eg. does computer technology change the basics, create new basics and transform some of the old basics?

Another is the problem of engaging students in study of the basics in a world full of multimedia distractions. Some see engagement as the central issue in education. Find out what the learner is interested in and go with the flow.

Another problem associated with basics is rote learning. If you only know something in one way do you really know it? Rote learning can be contrasted to meaningful learning, knowing something in multiple ways. Some argue that standards based education leads to sterility and teaching to the test – and that the tested knowledge is not really understood but forgotten quickly.

    • Synthesis

The issue of educational reform is one of climbing a pyramid to reach a radical centre by synthesising the best elements from the base of these two linear extremes, which remain at loggerheads. This question has been addressed and researched but this research tends to be not heard amongst the shouting of the proponents of the two linear extremes outlined above.

How is it possible to develop a rigorous maths / science curriculum which does engage students? (I focus on maths and science because they are my teaching areas)

(1) Clear identification of the basics

Alan Kay has developed the idea of the non universals. From anthropological research of over 3000 human cultures, he presented two lists, the first were universals, the things that all human cultures have in common. This list included things like:
  • language
  • communication
  • fantasies
  • stories
  • tools and art
  • superstition
  • religion and magic
  • play and games
  • differences over similarities (?)
  • quick reactions to patterns
  • vendetta, and more
He then presented a list of non universals, the things that humans find harder to learn. This list was shorter and included:
  • reading and writing
  • deductive abstract mathematics
  • model based science
  • equal rights
  • democracy
  • perspective drawing
  • theory of harmony
  • similarities over differences
  • slow deep thinking
  • agriculture
  • legal systems
Schools ought to be mainly about learning the hard to learn things.

How does this approach “sit”?

It creates some interest but also puzzlement. Many people do not seem to realise that for the perhaps the first time in their lives they are being presented with a criteria for what is valuable educationally that is actually based on a scientific approach and is not just someones opinion!

Why is this? I think it is because our culture is so permeated with an ideology of relativism that any claim of truth of any sort is automatically regarded as suspect or some sort of western arrogance.
(link to furedi)

(2) Multiple ways of knowing

There is no unified learning theory but I would argue it is possible to cherry pick from various approaches and in that way climb the pyramid to something that is more fruitful than the polar approaches outlined in the first section.

themes here:
ascending to the concrete
effortful study
rote – meaningful, reception – discovery dichotomies
constructionism (papert)
LISP interactivity (learning in science project)

Jerome Bruner is another pyramid thinker, combining structure, readiness, intuition, motivation into his analysis of the educational process