“Math Wrath”: Are parents pushing for a return to tradition?

January 13, 2014

Recently, Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, published, “Math wrath: Parents and teachers demanding a return to basic skills.” The article talks about a movement by some Canadian educators and parents to put greater emphasis on developing concrete math skills such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and less focus on discovery and creative strategies.

I find myself fascinated by this debate. I have long wondered about “creative strategies” in education. At the very beginning of my teaching career I took the Gregorc learning styles test. I came out perfectly balanced between all four quadrants: concrete, abstract, random and sequential. Apparently, that’s not particularly common. What it means though is that I can see and appreciate a variety of different learning styles.

Over the past 20 years or so (about the length of my teaching career), I have noted a distinct shift away from concrete sequential learning. Order, logic, learning to follow directions and getting facts seem to have diminished in value, while experimentation, risk taking, using intuition, problem-solving, learning to work in teams and focusing on this issues at hand all seem to fit with the creative learning strategies that have become popular in recent decades.

There has been a notable shift away from valuing sequential learning, structure, learning to follow precise directions and memorizing. In decades past, educational structures and systems may have favoured the concrete sequential learner. Today’s educational systems favour a more random or exploratory approach.

The debate has become almost vicious in some educational circles. Those who favor teaching methods that are concrete and sequential have been poo-poo’ed or dismissed by colleagues who insist vehemently on the random nouveau. I have known colleagues who have been quietly yet unapologetically exited from their teaching jobs because they continue to insist that their students follow directions, do activities in a particular order or memorize.

I worry a bit about the defiant horror expressed by some educational experts and parents at the idea of memorizing. While I agree that rote learning may not employ the highest levels of our cognition, memorization has its place. Learning to say, “Please” and “Thank you” are largely memorized behaviours. Learning to stop at a red light and drive on a green light is also a memorized response. Memorizing how to do CPR could save someone’s life.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I believe that we need to go back to the days of corporal punishment for an incorrect answer based on memorization. What has always puzzled me though, is how quickly methodological fashions change in education. When a new way of learning or teaching is introduced, old ways seem to be immediately, unequivocally and vehemently dismissed. Really good teachers whose background are more traditional than fashionable are thrown out along with their teaching methods.

Do we need to take a step back and look at models that integrate and value a variety of approaches? Would it be wise to hesitate… just a little bit… before we denounce traditional methods as being heinous and abhorrent, with only newer and more fashionable ones as being worthy?

I wonder if the obsessive focus on creativity, exploration and problem-solving might be doing some harm that we can not yet predict? Perhaps a small dose of memorization, learning to follow specific directions and learning systematically might be helpful?

Personally, I give both children and adults more credit than some educators or policy makers who insist on a singular approach to learning, regardless of whether it is systematic memorization or exploratory problem-solving. Being the utterly complex and capable creatures humans are, surely we can cope with both memorization and developing creativity simultaneously?

It’s the drastic swings of the policy pendulum that should worry us. The unflinching insistence that exploratory methods are the only legitimate or credible ways of learning should make us nervous. Polarized and uncompromising opinions on the singular “best” way to learn should be considered suspect.

There is almost always more than one “right” way to learn.

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


New Trends in Education: Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning – Implications for Evaluation and Assessment

June 9, 2011

Thanks to the Ontario Literacy Coalition (OLC) for inviting me to be part of their webinar series. In case you missed the program this week on “New Trends in Education: Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning: Implications for Evaluation and Assessment” you can watch the recording here:

Here’s the link to program, too: http://youtu.be/6iH_ikNmn9I

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


The 3 C’s of 21st Century Learning and Leading: Creativity, Collaboration and Capacity-Building

April 13, 2011

What are the skills needed for 21st century leaders? I’d argue that they’re the same skills needed for 21st century students and learners. Why? Because the students and learners of today are not only the leaders of tomorrow, but also the leaders of today. Notions of leadership are changing. The component of leadership that involves wisdom gained through life experience will always rest with those who have more of that experience. But young people are pushing the boundaries of technology and social change. Here are the three skills leaders of today – and tomorrow – need.

Sarah Eaton - blog - iStock photo

Creativity

Leadership today need to be creative problem solvers. The issues that are arising challenge all that we know about the world and how to make it right. Authoritarian or cookie-cutter approaches to problem solving simply won’t work in the 21st century. Even the ability to “think outside the box” won’t be enough. Instead, learners and leaders will need to be able to say, “‘Box? There is no box.”

If you’ve seen the movie, The Matrix, you may remember a scene with the small boy who bends a spoon with nothing more than his mind. When Keanu Reeves’ character, Neo, asks him how he bent the spoon, the boy replies, “There is no spoon”. A similar idea of thinking beyond what we currently know to be possible will be a common characteristic of 21st century leaders. A creative and open mind will drive that ability.

Sarah Eaton - blog - group of children

Collaboration

Young learners and senior leaders alike need to know how to play well with others. We accomplish more when we work together. There needs to be trust, appreciation and a willingness to join forces and collaborate. Phrases such as, “Trust me… just do it my way.” or “Because I’m the boss and I say so!” just won’t cut it in this century.

In this century, everyone has the ability and capacity to be both a follower and a leader. Those who try to exert authority over others without their consent will not only be questioned, they’re likely to be shunned. Learning to appreciate others’ strengths won’t be enough… Learning how to leverage each other’s strengths will be a key to working together, creating new work, solving problems and achieving new goals.

Geographical boundaries have been almost completely transcended in the first decade of this century. In a few more decades, people won’t think twice about working with someone at a distance on a collaborative project. Those who don’t partner and collaborate effectively will be left behind. In a century driven by technology, people skills are – and will continue to be – more important than ever.

Capacity-Building

Twenty-first century leaders will have the ability to look at those around them and help them build their capacity in order to help them grown personally. That growth will add to the organizational growth. In addition to leveraging one’s current strengths, there will be a drive to explore and learn by doing.

This century, more than any other period in history is passionate about – even addicted to – creating new knowledge using technology, to inventing new and visionary projects and making things happen on a large – even global – scale. To do so, a dedication to lifelong learning not only for ourselves, but also for our colleagues, partners and team members will become the norm. Learning in a traditional classroom has already been extended to the Web, to podcasts, to television… Learning, professional development and continuous self-creation will happen almost any place, any time.

Each of us is both a learner and a leader in the 21st century. I, for one, believe in our collective potential and look forward to what we can create together.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Live Internet Video for Language Learning

February 24, 2011

Web-based video is a hot topic in 21st century language education. The Internet offers a cornucopia of options for language students to include video and television in their target language in order to help them learn the language. Researcher Elizabeth Mejia points out that “video” can mean a variety of things including popular films, documentaries, television advertisements, materials produced by textbook companies to accompany their books and accompany classroom instruction, educational broadcast and amateur videos made by teachers and students.

Sites such as YouTube and Vimeo offer educational videos, as well as “how to” videos produced by language teachers and students alike. Students can get tips, study strategies and answers to question through such video sites.

In addition, news sites such as CNN, Deutsche Welle and the BBC offer multilingual live, real-time news casts, available both on television and via the Internet. At the time of this writing, for example, Deutche Welle offered current news in 30 langauges. The BBC has an entire section of its website dedicated to language learning that includes courses, testing and activities all centred around real world news.

Web-based, live video has become an valuable augmentation, and may eventually replace, static video that is stored on tapes and DVDs, as a means to offer studetnts exposure to relevant and current information and content in a multilingual context that connects them to real issues of pressing concern around the globe.

Live Internet video provides a means for language learners to make sense of the world around them, while making sense of the language they want to learn.

Reference

Mejia, Elizabeth. Video in Language Education:  Making News Broadcasts Work for You. Retrieved from http://lookingahead.heinle.com/cnn/mejia.htm

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Ten Trends in 21st Century Education

December 2, 2010

Learning in this century differs greatly from education of the 20th century in some ways. As the first decade of the new millennium wraps up, we can look back and see these trends that have emerged and are likely to continue in the coming decade.

  1. Increased use and integration of technology.
  2. Globalized approaches to learning.
  3. Awareness of economic factors affecting education.
  4. Need for a highly skilled, competitive workforce.
  5. “Borderless” and cross-border education.
  6. Increased student and faculty mobility.
  7. Individualized, customizable, learner-centred approaches.
  8. Strategic partnerships and alliances among governments, school boards, schools and individual educators.
  9. Emergence of non-formal and informal learning, driven by technology
  10. Frameworks, benchmarks and other asset-based approaches to assessment.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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