Friday, September 21, 2018

Learning: Forging Paths in the Forest

Images taken at Pennsylvania's beautiful Chanticleer Gardens

As children struggled to learn exponents, I explained that new learning is like forging a new path in the forest. I relayed a story about a recent time when I lost my way on a mountain hike. I started out on a weak trail and then found myself on a well-worn path. The well-worn path, however, was the wrong path, and then I had to find my way back to the less well-marked trail.

Similarly as students worked to evaluate exponents, they continued to move into the well-worn path of known math facts rather than the newly taught exponents. 4 to the power of 2 was often evaluated as 8 since 4 X 2 = 8 was ingrained in students' minds, while 4 to the power of 2 = 4 X 4 = 16 was still a weak path in their brains.

We discussed ways to make a weak path a strong path--students easily understood that a weak path becomes a strong path when we practice, make connections, and teach the information to others. Then they noted a large number of ways to practice, make connections, and teach information--ways that move knowledge from the confinements of short term memory to the depth and strength of long term memory.

As I teach this year, I am realizing that many students don't understand how learning works and what their brains do. They don't understand the reasons for learning or learning paths. They are more concerned with right and wrong rather than deep, meaningful, and transformative learning.

I will embed lessons about learning and how the brain works throughout the year. Lessons in the near future will include these questions:
  • What is mastery?
  • What is the difference between long term and short term memory?
  • How can we connect new learning to what we know already?
  • How do we make meaningful and productive learning paths?
  • What is energy management? How can they use this knowledge to strengthen their own learning? 
  • What is the difference between an exercise and assessment?
  • How can we use the multiple "intelligent assistants" around us to empower our learning and living?
I'm sure this list of questions will grow, and the challenge will be to relay this information in child-centered, meaningful, and developmentally appropriate ways. 

I welcome your feedback and thoughts on this post as I develop this endeavor.