Monthly Archives: November 2011

Join me on Goodreads!

Just a little plug for my fellow book nerds. I know not many people are reading this blog (yet!), but I am always looking for other readers to share with on Goodreads, for book suggestions, interesting reviews, and fun stuff I’m sure I haven’t even discovered yet!

Join me on Goodreads!


21st Century “Generation Wired” Students

21st Century 'Generation Wired' StudentsImage via Parade.

The text: Three online articles about computer science education
The media: blog, magazine article, news article
The thought: Computer science education faces challenges, viz. short student attention span, teaching online safety, and the importance of early CS curriculum necessary for future engineers
The lesson: Strangely enough, I am in a position to research and implement these things to a degree.

Allow me to get very meta for a moment while I praise this article at the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) blog: Inspiration. I feel meta in responding to it because the post itself is a response to Generation Wired in Parade. As encouragement for you to read both articles, I offer the comment I made on Myra Deister’s CSTA post.

Thank you for this post! You’ve addressed exactly the issues that concern me about today’s learners – particularly attention span! And the resulting lower levels of concept retention and perseverance that you mentioned. When you think about it, if we want our students to have the focus required for *any* college-level work – not just programming – we should demand that they train themselves to focus. It’s true that this is difficult to do when the rest of the world allows their minds to wander.

I’ve recently started a new job as, essentially, a CS teacher and network admin support, in a K-8 California school, and I feel a bit overwhelmed. Although I am interested in both of those fields, I don’t have formal training in them. I’m part of a hybrid learning pilot, so the standards for my position aren’t quite set. I definitely want to instruct students in online safety and security, but it may initially take a backseat to fundamentals like the parts of a computer and proper typing!

I have thought about using social media as a learning tool; if only it were easily regulated or designed for educational audiences. Sharing is certainly a huge asset for learning, but I hesitate on Facebook, and the Twitter character limit bothers me. There must be social tools out there tailored for classroom use.

My above comment is a bit scatterbrained, because I wanted to respond immediately. (I think critical thought can come second, as long as we are responding to stimuli and getting our brains warmed up first!)

I’ve supplemented these two articles with another, which was also cited elsewhere in the CSTA blog. It concerns a British pilot for introducing more advanced programming concepts to students already solid in their computer literacy: Schoolkids learn coding at GCSE level in curriculum trial. Here is what I’m taking away from my readings:

  • Today’s students are immersed in technology, and are beyond sufficiently literate in normal usage. Yet their habits are evolving to the instant gratification of this technology.
  • Students may be adapting to new tech trends by learning differently. Educators need to be aware of this change.
  • The engineering and science of technology will be one of the most important fields in the years to come, but students may lack the traditional study skills to pursue this kind of knowledge.
  • Action plan for me: research students’ attention (informally and formally!), gradually introduce computer science topics to my computer literate students. The latter requires research of computer science education… and probably computer science itself. Oh boy.

If nothing else, I will be training myself to focus on my learning the way I want my students to focus!


“Different Ways of Knowing”

The text: Daniel Tammet’s TED talk on synesthesia
The media: video/lecture
The thought: Tammet, a high-functioning autistic with synesthesia, a way of thinking that integrates information, visual/audio properties and feelings, explains the ways in which his mind works.
The lesson: A diversity of learning styles can encourage us to see a “richer” world.

I support the concept of this video — schools and, for that matter, citizens of the world, should open their minds to others’ ways of learning and seeing things. But I disapprove somewhat of the way this concept has been treated in the video. I don’t know enough about Daniel Tammet to make generalized comments on his work or perspective, but I think that sometimes singling out savants and people with autism as having this “higher plane” of experiencing life is detrimental. It makes people who have been labeled by society as “normal” learners seem inferior. I don’t see numbers as shapes with colors! they might say to themselves. What a drag… maybe someday I can start to see things the way autistics do.

The problem, as is often the case with champions of diversity, is that this kind of hierarchical value system on types of learners is the complete opposite of what diversity should be! To me, diversity in itself means the appreciation of everyone as a unique individual. However, there are many traits on which most humans converge. This is ok. We are still unique, and we can still do great things. Just because we don’t think in pictures (Temple Grandin shou-out) or see colors when we hear music, doesn’t necessarily mean we should try to, but that is essentially what Tammet is preaching in his talk.

Now, I won’t tear him down for this; more open-mindedness is always welcome and I’m glad this concept has been brought to light. But let’s look critically at this: his audience is, primarily, upper-middle class, educated folks who thirst for newness and knowledge. They get exactly that from his talk, but what I think is missing is a more actionable takeaway: a suggestion of how to see other people with the same variety of perspectives. Our society is particularly ignorant of the disconnect between language dialect and intelligence, to take a rather tangential example. Unfortunately, the same goes for race/socioeconomic status. This intellectual hegemony is a dividing force, and lionizing people like Daniel Tammet when everyone deserves that respect for their intellect, seems backwards to me.

My point is that we don’t need to prove we see the world in unconventional ways to be appreciated. Open-mindedness and acceptance should be the default. I hope viewers of this video understand that!


Reading Empiricism

Reading Empiricism - ReadtainmentThe text: Sunday, October 30th, 2011: chat with my friend J.
The media: instant message conversation
The thought: Retaining what we read and what we think about is a different process for everyone. How can we translate input to intellectual gain?
The lesson: “Reading empiricists” do what works for them — experiencing what they read, writing about it, discussing it, making connections to reality that will hold the new knowledge in their consciousness.

I will tell you a brief story about the name of this blog. I’ve always had a keen interest in wordplay, word puzzles and sound symbolism, and I would spend hours listing clever, lyrical names for story characters, websites, pets, children and my own online screen names. At first glance, Readtainment may appear to be a simple portmanteau of “read” and “entertainment.” This is partly true, but it also plays on the word “retain,” because through this project I want to better retain the things I read, the entertainment I consume.

Here’s an excerpt of the conversation I had about knowledge retention with my friend J, one who has always impressed me with her sharp memory, ability to learn efficiently and connect her diverse knowledge across fields.

me: i’m curious – how do you normally treat your reading? is it more of an entertainment pursuit, or is the nonfiction something you try to retain for academic/intellectual purposes?
J: i guess impulsively, i just read books that i open and want to keep reading haha
J: hmm. i think pretty much everything i encounter goes into my brain for real unless i intentionally spit it back out, like transformers 3
me: that’s a good skill, being able to retain things
me: how do you make sure they stay there – do you use it all later somehow?  in conversation or something like that?
J: well, i definitely forget stuff…
J: yes, i do use most of it in conversation, but the second thing is that if something i read really affects me i try to experience it in my life as well
J: i’m like a reading empiricist … i have to try stuff!
me: interesting – examples?
J: well i guess like, i’m not content to just read about meditation, i want to actually try meditation, for example…  but it really just affects everything, i think it’s like when i was a kid and i would eg read ‘bridge to teribithia,’ in which characters enjoyed racing at lunch time, and then spend the whole summer ‘racing’ in my backyard. i just didn’t grow out of that, so…
J: or like, senior year, i was super into korean literature and history suddenly and read everything in our library, and then i went to korea

The reason I stress the importance of retaining what we read and learn is that I worry about the state of education in many modern countries. High values on rote memorization and statistics, rather than the process of learning, internalizing and synthesizing, often lead students down a path of one-time memorization, also causing teachers to “teach to the test.” Government education standards, although surely well-meaning at their core, enable this skewed emphasis on formulaic “learning.” Many neoliberal education movements defy this oligarchic approach; see this ZenHabits.net post on “unschooling.”

The more I think about it, the more I believe learning sticks much better when students follow their own interests, investigating topics and creating their own “final projects,” so to speak. True, maybe trend-obsessed youngsters aren’t the best designers of their own academic pursuits. But The Linguist agrees with me: self-study beats the classroom.

So I am beginning to think, Continue reading