Wired Magazine, just published a story about a “radical new teaching method” which is transforming learning and teaching in developing countries. It’s a neat, although really wordy, story.
The radical new teaching pedagogy comes from some cognitive psychology research, which found:
“that kids given no instruction were much more likely to come up with novel solutions to a problem. “The science is brand-new, but it’s not as if people didn’t have this intuition before,” says coauthor Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.”
Applied to teaching and learning:
“Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College who studies children’s natural ways of learning, argues that human cognitive machinery is fundamentally incompatible with conventional schooling. Gray points out that young children, motivated by curiosity and playfulness, teach themselves a tremendous amount about the world. And yet when they reach school age, we supplant that innate drive to learn with an imposed curriculum. “We’re teaching the child that his questions don’t matter, that what matters are the questions of the curriculum. That’s just not the way natural selection designed us to learn. It designed us to solve problems and figure things out that are part of our real lives.”
The story continues with a discussion about how a teacher in Mexico used these ideas to radically improve learning outcomes in his school. Rather than teaching a formal lesson, he would do the following:
“One day Juárez Correa went to his whiteboard and wrote “1 = 1.00.” Normally, at this point, he would start explaining the concept of fractions and decimals. Instead he just wrote “½ = ?” and “¼ = ?”
“Think about that for a second,” he said, and walked out of the room.
While the kids murmured, Juárez Correa went to the school cafeteria, where children could buy breakfast and lunch for small change. He borrowed about 10 pesos in coins, worth about 75 cents, and walked back to his classroom, where he distributed a peso’s worth of coins to each table. He noticed that Paloma had already written .50 and .25 on a piece of paper.
“One peso is one peso,” he said. “What’s one-half?”
Juárez Correa felt a chill. He had never encountered a student with Paloma’s level of innate ability.
At first a number of kids divided the coins into clearly unequal piles. It sparked a debate among the students about what one-half meant. Juárez Correa’s training told him to intervene. But now he remembered Mitra’s research and resisted the urge. Instead, he watched as Alma Delia Juárez Flores explained to her tablemates that half means equal portions. She counted out 50 centavos. “So the answer is .50,” she said. The other kids nodded. It made sense.”
In one sense, yes, this pedagogy is radical. On the other hand, a bunch of the new teaching innovations working their way through the university, high school, and primary school systems are already doing these things, but in different packaging: problem-based learning and flipped classroom follow the same logic, although the flipped classroom combines the traditional model and the problem-based learning model described in the Wired Magazine.
What we really need is some data, using experimental methods, to start sorting out empirically the effectiveness of these various (and “new”) methods.