Learning, not Teaching

I spent some time this morning reading and thinking about this post.


Very nicely, it sums up so much for me.  I think back to the things that I’ve been taught over the years.  My background is in Mathematics and Computer Science so you’ll definitely note a slant in my examples, but I’d encourage you to apply this to your own situation.

What I Was Taught Last Time I Used It What I Learned
Multiplication Tables 1992 Calculators are cool
Multiplication tables are good to teach nested looping
COBOL 1989 How to type
Data Structures
The Lady of Shalott ? How to memorize
Square Dancing ? There are a lot of other forms of music
Chemical Titration ? There is a lot about safety that I need to know
Chemicals can burn holes in desks
Raw HTML 10 minutes ago Dreamweaver is awesome
Even Dreamweaver needs a helping hand at times

OK, this is getting too sentimental but I think you get the point.

I was a relatively good student and so did my very best to learn what I was taught.  Upon further reflection, the things that I was taught in the left column were essentially memory work to get me through the assessment.  At the time, there was little connection to much more than getting myself a good mark at the end of the unit.

Last weekend, I had the good fortune to meet up with a friend I see about twice a year.  Geoff and I have this ability to go months without seeing each other and the moment that we say hi, pick up on a conversation as if we had it only minutes ago.  This time, he through out one of Einstein’s famous quotes as we were chatting.

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything one learned in school.” – Albert Einstein

He is one gentleman that I never tire of chatting with and I always walk away with far more than what I brought to the conversation.  His mention of the Einstein quote certainly was appropriate at the time and is worth reflection by all educators.

I am deeply concerned when I think of the trend towards blocking of resources from the student learning experience.

What I Was Taught Last Time I Used It What I Learned
Personal internet appliances are not allowed in class On the way to class
On the way home
At the mall
In my room
My best friends are very helpful when I need answers
The internet is everywhere
Despite our textbook, Pluto is not a planet
Everyone on Facebook is good and wants to be my friend

Years from now, will our students look back fondly on the memorization techniques that we provide them?  Or, will they remember us fondly because we gave them the opportunity to learn and learn powerfully with the tools at hand.

You just have to know that they’ll look back with a smile when they think about computers with video display tubes, marching to “the lab” because it was their turn on the computers, slow wireless speeds, …

Can we at least teach them that we’re learning and adapting to new technologies as they come along?

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3 thoughts on “Learning, not Teaching

  1. Absolutely, Doug. This is such an opportunity for us to embrace technology as a way to show students that we are engaged in LEARNING and share that with students! I hope that many of us are NOT missing the boat on that one!

    In this interview with Seymour Papert, one of his favourite stories really resonates with me:

    He says:
    “Again, one of my favorite little analogies: If I wanted to become a better carpenter, I’d go find a good carpenter, and I’ll work with this carpenter on doing carpentry or making things. And that’s how I’ll get to be a better carpenter. So if I want to be a better learner, I’ll go find somebody who’s a good learner and with this person do some learning. But this is the opposite of what we do in our schools. We don’t allow the teacher to do any learning. We don’t allow the kids to have the experience of learning with the teacher because that’s incompatible with the concept of the curriculum where what is being taught is what’s already known.”

    So true!


  2. While I agree with a lot of what you say here I have to say that I use multiplication tables (as a mental help for math in my head) all the time. Easily several times a week. Getting a calculator out takes too much time. And while I haven’t used COBOL since probably 1992 the things I learned while I learned COBOL I do use fairly regularly. BUt that was because I had a concepts based education and COBOL was but a tool for learning the concepts – even if I did make a living writing code for quite a while.


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