Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Paradigm Shift in Education - A personal view

My pedagogic experience as a student at the primary and secondary level in South Africa defined my initial impression of the role of a teacher. It seemed clear based on my immersion in this British-style traditional system that teachers were first and foremost disseminators of knowledge, skilled practioners in dispensing a truth, that that we as students were expected through testing feedback to acknowledge understanding of.

Although the select few teachers offered debate and discussion as a way of processing this new information for the most part the transmission procedure was unidirectional and rigid. Biology for example was taught with strict memory-based criteria, so that those who could incorporate the names of muscle groups, skeletal parts and alimentary canal enzymes into their cerebral storage network were most rewarded. Formal testing was paramount with exams constituting up to seventy-five percent of the course breakdown.

Teachers were not course guides and the concept of a mentor was as alien to the system as was the notions of self-discovery learning or for that matter independent thinking.
Even after school extra-help was frowned on as students battled it out in a Darwinistic-like environment that favoured those who could best play the game of ‘give me what I want to hear’.

Now its not to say that my scholastic experience was one of doom and gloom (I did graduate with distinction and there were a handful of teachers who were motivating) but looking back now as a teacher candidate I can see where I and so many others, were short-changed. My education was teacher not student focused. Coverage was paramount and critical thinking was reduced to an after-thought best left to the universities.

My four-year experience as a teacher in a private school; where I worked alongside several educators versed in the new paradigm shift towards skills acquisition, multiple intelligence instruction and the development of big concept understanding; was enlightening. A more holistic role of a teacher as a motivator and outcomes director was revealed. This underpins a vision that both educator and student are partners in a joint learning venture that should be inspiring not daunting. Responsibility sharing is key.

Students are no longer seen as vessels requiring the suffusion of knowledge, but individuals incorporating ideas, memes and connections into their own framework of thinking (Brooks and Brooks Ch.1). Teachers act as facilitators to bridge Vygotskyian zones of proximal development, erecting the scaffolds from which the learner builds to realize their actual potential as a human being.

My practicum observation has further shed insight into the mechanism whereby student understanding can be enhanced. My host teacher’s intelligent use of Socratic questioning in a constructive Piagetian environment and his creative use of independent study projects (such as assigning the task of the students to build Rube Goldberg-like machines to solidify their knowledge of classical mechanics) are just two examples of how the students can be encouraged to think on their own.

In his effective use of demonstrations and challenges (like asking Grade 10 Science students to problem-solve a method for optimally emptying a 2L Pop container), he also augments both the individual’s desire to know and the enthusiasm for the subject that are necessary for the learning process.

However at the same time he is very cautious that the core foundation knowledge is not neglected. He evaluates both formally and informally with a conscious backward design (Wiggins and McTighe Ch. 1) so that the meshwork for concept development grows concurrent to application and inquiry. The student is encouraged to see, synthesize and communicate the scope of what is learnt both within and beyond the subject. A construct that was much overlooked during my time as a high school student.

The change is refreshing but what it implies on a larger scale is that an effective teacher must constantly be open to self-analysis and reflection, willing to expand their often specialist based training and always keep in mind the perspective of the student as a unique learner with performance based personal goals. It is no easy task nor should it be. Education is too vital a necessity to take short cuts for simplicity sake.

Class Notes – The Various Education Theorists – Abraham Maslow, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky and Jerome Bruner.
Wiggins, G and McTighe, J. Understanding by Design. Alexandria, Virginia. ASCD. 1998.
Grennon Brooks, J. and Brooks, M.G.. In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms. Alexandria, Virginia. ASCD. 1999.

Essay Questions on Ancient Rome

Calling all History Teachers.

Here are examples of essay questions that I set on an Ancient History Course that I once taught.

Write an essay with an introduction, three or more body paragraphs and a conclusion on one of the following items below.

It can be argued that Rome’s decline was set in motion by the beginning of the Empire. Discuss this idea in looking at the Period from 27BC to 476AD?

What were the successes and failures of the Roman Republic? Why did it collapse from within?

What parallels existed between the civilizations of China, Greece and Rome? Discuss with reference to Art, Literature, Science and most importantly politics.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Both sides of the Intelligent Design debate

Key Concepts:

A list of topics for a possible Evolution by Random Mutation vs ID debate/discussion.

The History of Evolution

· Thinking of the Ancient Greeks
· The Geological Work of Lyall and Hutton (Old Earth)
· Influence of Thomas Malthus
· The Power of Time
· The Fossil Record
· Lamarck’s Work
· Vestigial Organs
The Platypus
· Melanism in Moths
· Archaeopteryx
· Darwin: Evolution by Natural Selection
· Adaptation and Speciation
· The Birth of Mendelian Genetics
· Micro vs Macro Evolution
· Neo-Darwinism
· Selfish Gene Theory
· Punctuated Equilibrium vs Gradualism
· Convergent vs Divergent Evolution
· Random Mutation/Transposons
· Opposition to Darwinism
· Wrongful Extensions: Social Darwinism
· Genome Projects
· Computer Modelling

Intelligent Design

William Paley – The Watchmaker
Michael Behe – Irreducible Complexity - mousetraps
William Dembski – The Mathematical Challenge
The Infinite Monkeys vs Infinite Typewriters Argument
Lee Spetner – Random Mutation fails the probability challenge
Design from physics – Fine Tuning of the Universal Constants
The Anthropic Principle
Fermi’s Paradox
Politics: The Discovery Institute
Blood Clotting, The Immune System, The Eye and the Flagella of Bacteria
God of the gaps
The Cambrian Explosion?

Other challenges to the traditional model

· Thermodynamics
· Contingency needs
· Loop Systems
· Complexity Theory

Challenges to ID

· God of the gaps
· Religious convenience
· Imperfect design
· Credibility
· Falsification
· The illusion of design
· Convenient Statistics – Geared for a specific outcome
· Ignores – concept of self organization
· Complexity through randomness

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Applied Physics

Some Vocations and the Branch of Physics that Applies to them


Anesthetics: Electricity + Mass Transfer(Fluids – Diffusion Rates)

Cardiology/Cardiac Surgery: Fluid Mechanics. Electrical Models of Pumping

Ear, Nose + Throat: Pressure Differentials, Fluid Flow

Endocrinology: Delivery Systems, Mass + Heat Transfer (Homeostasis)

Nephrology/Gastric Systems: Fluid Flow, Electrical Models of Filtration

Neurology/Neuroscience: Electrostatics, Current Flow

Ophthalmology/Optometry/Optician: Optics

Orthopedics: Mechanics (Stress, Strain, Torque, Center of Gravity, Equilibrium)

Plastics: Properties of Materials (Physics based- stress, elasticity etc)

Respiratory: Pressure Systems (Gas Laws), Fluid Flow

Sports Medicine – Biomechanics (Physics)


Construction/Commercial Real Estate – Statics

Tort Law – Slip and Fall, Coefficient of Friction

Medical Malpractice – Take your pick from ‘Medicine’ above.

Patent Law – Many Patent Lawyers have an engineering background. The physics helps understand the technology.

Motor Vehicle Accidents – Kinematics + Dynamics

Dentistry -

Orthodontics is built on the Principles of Dynamics. Also the operation of the Jaw, grinding, biting are all concepts that lend themselves to a physics analysis.

Business World

Ergonomics – Often Uses mechanics, optics principles

Market Movement – Has been analyzed using an application of the physics concepts of Gravity (Market driver), Friction (Market Drag) and other factors. Useful in the derivatives market. Rational Expectations have also been looked at as friction forces. I know it sounds bizarre.

Divergent Science Questions

25 General Science Issues for high school science students to think about

Where does life begin? When does it end?
Can it be argued that a human being is merely a stage in the lifecycle of a sperm or egg?
Is knowledge finite? (a bit esoteric)
Should we develop technology to allow us to live forever?
What are the limits of science (Different to #3)?
Is Intelligence primarily Nature or Nurture driven?
How can we spot ‘Bad Science’?
Is Intelligent Design real Science?
Does the Soul exist?
Genetic Modified Food (Good or Bad?)
Cloning - Yay or Nay?
Designer Babies
Ramifications of Time Travel (Parallel vs Non-parallel systems)
Extending Self-Awareness to other species
Scientific Funding (When does it become questionable?)
Science as Orthodoxy. Is Science a Religion?
Should all drugs be legalized and taxed?
What are the drivers for Science?
What would happen to the planet if humans disappeared overnight (New Scientist had a great article on this)?
Missile Defense Shields – Good or Bad?
Will a deadly pathogen wipe our species off the face of the Earth?
What are the next few milestones in Human Evolution?
Reproductive Technologies – How far do we go?
Does Science/Technology detach us from our humanity?
Is Artificial Life possible?