September 2, 2010

Awesome spelling bee kid.

Man, spelling bees encourage great life skills. Look at this kid taking his time, asking questions to clarify, gathering information, making deductions, and taking risks. Not to mention laughing his face off.

Thanks to Kelly for the tip.


A question about learning.

March 22, 2010

When you were a kid, what was that thing that took you extra-long to learn? For me, it was telling time. For some of my friends, it was reading. I am very curious to know about that thing. Why didn’t you understand it? What was it that you were doing wrong? What was the one simple “key” that an adult could have given you to unlock the mystery?

Until I was 10, I had no idea how a watch represented time. I saw numbers and understood that they referred to the time of day. I did not understand why there were two different hands pointing to those numbers. If someone had said to me, “The little hand points at the hour number. The long hand is not pointing at any numbers- it’s marking off fractions!”, then I would have understood. Although I was also confused about the fact that there were so many ways to say the time (15 minutes = quarter past, etc). I guess I needed to start with 60=hour, 30=half, 15=quarter… I don’t remember anyone ever explaining that to me. I do remember sitting there in a fog and staring at the two hands and mentally adding together or multiplying the numbers each hand pointed to, trying in vain to get numbers as big as 15, 30, 45. So confusing. I was always a pretty good student, but while my peers learned to tell time in first grade, I was clueless until about fifth grade. I like to think this is the reason I’m usually late.

A friend who’s been diagnosed as dyslexic told me that she learned to read by memorizing the overall shapes of words. So to her, the word yellow was coded basically by its silhouette, as “dangly-normal-tall-tall-normal”. She didn’t really look at the individual letters, but rather at their relative heights. Obviously this is not helpful when you’re later presented with Yellow or YELLOW. She memorized the overall shape-variations of a zillion words instead of learning to look at words as being made of individual letters, inefficient system that leaves you lost when you encounter a new word, which will of course snowball into anxiety for a child who’s learning to read so much slower than her peers.

Another friend said she thought that the important parts of letters were the negative space inside of them, not the line itself. So to her, a capital B was two stacked semi-circles, not a straight line and two curved lines. When she wrote, she would carefully draw the negative space instead of the line, which means her printing didn’t translate naturally into handwriting. This also made word recognition tough for her when she encountered new fonts and handwriting.

I think these little learning quirks are really interesting. I bet they’d be worthwhile considerations for teachers, too- I always think it’s important to learn not only that I’m doing something wrong, but why it made sense to think that wrong thing, and how the wrong-yet-intuitive answer relates to the real answer. Do you remember the things you took forever to understand? What was the key that led to your AHA! moment?

Great Teachers, according to Doug Lemov

March 9, 2010

Interesting NYTimes article about what makes a good teacher and a guy named Doug Lemov, who’s trying to find out. Lemov stresses classroom management as an important part of teaching.

All Lemov’s techniques depend on his close reading of the students’ point of view, which he is constantly imagining. In Boston, he declared himself on a personal quest to eliminate the saying of “shh” in classrooms, citing what he called “the fundamental ambiguity of ‘shh.’ Are you asking the kids not to talk, or are you asking kids to talk more quietly?” A teacher’s control, he said repeatedly, should be “an exercise in purpose, not in power.” So there is Warm/Strict, technique No. 45, in which a correction comes with a smile and an explanation for its cause — “Sweetheart, we don’t do that in this classroom because it keeps us from making the most of our learning time.”

The J-Factor, No. 46, is a list of ways to inject a classroom with joy, from giving students nicknames to handing out vocabulary words in sealed envelopes to build suspense. In Cold Call, No. 22, stolen from Harvard Business School, which Lemov attended, the students don’t raise their hands — the teacher picks the one who will answer the question. Lemov’s favorite variety has the teacher ask the question first, and then say the student’s name, forcing every single student to do the work of figuring out an answer.

Here are some short video clips of teachers Lemov admires, in action. I showed these to a teacher friend, who argues that this kind of classroom management is too behaviour-focussed, and while getting kids to sit quietly and listen does help them learn facts, the kids aren’t challenged to construct knowledge from their own observations and experience when learning this way. Which I thought was also good food for thought. This whole thing is very complicated. I wish someone would just teach me how to think.

Via MeFi.

Great article: Roger Ebert on “Cinema Interruptus”

September 5, 2008

In honour of the Toronto Film Festival (which is where I’m basically living for the next week, having been hired to moderate post-film Q&A sessions), here’s a cool article by Ebert on his preferred method of cinematographic self-education: get a bunch of people together, put on a film, and whenever anyone notices something of note, have them yell STOP! Reverse the film, watch the relevant moment, and talk about it. With the right crowd, this would be awesome!

One thing I quickly discovered was that even much smaller audiences can contain someone who can answer any question. In “The Third Man,” if a character spoke German, there would be a German speaker. If a scene required medical knowledge, there would be a doctor. A Japanese film at Boulder turned up Japanese speakers, experts on the society, students of the director. There would be somebody who could tell you what a Ford truck could and couldn’t do. Or a rabbi, a physicist, an artist, a musician.

Basically you make a live wiki DVD commentary. Now I wanna host one.

Oh, also in this article- a really dense paragraph about the “rules” of cinematography, which is great and worth reading if you have any interests relating to “putting things in places”, be that for film, on paper, or even feng shui.