"ipsa scientia potestas est" ('knowledge itself is power')
-Sir Francis Bacon's Meditationes Sacrae (1597)
This is an article that I wanted to write back in March but did not have the time to do so, so it is rather out of context now in August. There had been a series of tweets as part of a lengthy discussion amongst several people about knowlegde vs the four Cs and domains of knowledge and the tone that came across was completely derisive of knowing stuff with comments giving the impression that if an activity did not require one of the four Cs or an upper level activity from domains of knowledge, then it was useless in the classroom.
This attitude is coming through in the media as well such as in this article from The Sydney Morning Herald. This article does acknowledge that the league tables and accountability pressures that stem from NAPLAN and similar tests are detrimental to teachers as well as students and have changed the face and perception of education in Australia. I remember taking the Basic Skills Test in Year Five and there was no hullabaloo whatsoever. It was a short test that we just did and then got back to our normal routines in class. Not so with NAPLAN nowadays.
But I digress.
The impression I was getting from this conversation was that unless my students were engaging in upper levels of domains of knowledge, I was a poor teacher and doing my students a disservice. I agree that we need to have our students engaging with those upper levels, however, if they do not know anythign, how can they do so?
My question is this: when did we devalue knowledge and focus on the need to be able to do somethign with it? It does not matter how good your lesson is, or if it is on the top level of domains of knowledge / Bloom's Taxonomy, if the students know nothing about that topic they will not be able to engage with it. We need to find a balance and stop denegrating knowledge for the sake of appearing that we are doing something with knowledge. I think that this comes back to cognitive load theory, which I have written about in the past, and remember that if a student is too busy trying to remember what something is or means then they will not be able to apply, analyse, synthesise, or create, let alone collaborate, communicate or think critically with that knowledge due to the load on their working memory.
I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this issue. Have you come across this sentiment yourself? Do you think I have the wrong end of the stick entirely? Let me know in the comments.
“The methods that will most effectively minimize the ability of intruders to compromise information security are comprehensive user training and education. Enacting policies and procedures simply won't suffice. Even with oversight the policies and procedures may not be effective: my access to Motorola, Nokia, ATT, Sun depended upon the willingness of people to bypass policies and procedures that were in place for years before I compromised them successfully”
- Attributed to Kevin Mitnick
Disclosure: My attendance at EduTECH 2017 is through a media pass provided by the event organisers.
Friday. A day of rejoicing for teachers, and a day where the attendance at the afternoon sessions of a conference dwindle as people rush to make their planes and trains home. A day where you are often able to have good quality conversations with speakers after their sessions as the crowd numbers in the afternoons are lower. Friday at EduTECH 2017 for me will begin in the School Business Management congress with a panel discussion on facility management and sustainable resourcing. This promises to be an interesting start to the morning given the vast number of capital building projects I have seen going on at a wide range of schools this year across all sectors.
Following this, I will be moving to the IT Directors and Managers congress where Professor Richard Buckland of the School of Computer Science and Engineering at UNSW will be presenting on cyber-security and the challenges that school IT Directors and Managers face. There are many challenges in this area, not least of which is students who like to challenge themselves and see if they can beat the school defenses. Beyond that, there have been a wave of high profile cyber terrorist attacks this year (such as the WannaCry attack on the British NHS system reported here) and there has long been discussion of concerns around privacy of student data and the implementation of NAPLAN online.
In a complete thematic shift, the Future Library congress to hear Chelsea Wright speak on VR, AR, and the future of libraries is next on my timetable. This is an area of professional interest both as a teacher and as someone working for ClickView. I have toyed with AR in the classroom using Aurasma, and have heard a range of talks on the topic before (this one, for example) and while I can see potential for it as a genuine pedagogical tool, VR/AR is just not quite there yet; either in the resource and content or in the equity of access.
A mental health / writing break follows Chelsea and then it is the mid-morning break for networking before heading off to the Tertiary IT Leaders congress to hear Robert Livingstone speak on the topic of protecting data from accidental data breaches and (deliberate) cyber crime. There will be, I suspect, some parallels between this session and the earlier session with Richard Buckland and it will be very interesting to hear what advise crosses over the congress-divide and is common to both.
The final session before the lunch break will be spent in the IT Directors and Managers congress with Michael O'Leary speaking on the current trends in eLearning. Given the nature of ClickView, this session is of professional interest; however, as a teacher who has experimented with a range of eLearning and LMS arrangements over my teaching career, it will be very interesting to find out what is currently being viewed as best practice in this space.
Jared Cooney Horvath will be speaking about neuroscience and specifically, about what lessons can be taken from neuroscience and applied to education within the VET/RTO Leaders congress. I am particularly interested in this session as there has been a lot of conversation on social media in the last six months around whether or not neuroscience that has been pulled across into education does actually have a place in education or whether the results in the laboratory belong there. Given the abstract talks about memory and learning processes, I am very curious to hear where cognitive learning theory comes into play and the relationship that Jared sees it having with education.
Well-being and stress is next on my timetable, with a session presented by Dr. Caroline West as part of the Workplace Learning congress. This is a phenomenally important issue in education with the annual Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey results released in February 2017 indicating that instances of sleeping problems, depression, burnout, and traumatic stress among the nearly two-thirds of all School Principals who responded, are all around double the incidence of the general population, with some research, noted in this document by the University of Western Australia, indicating that "[t]eachers report the highest level of occupational stress in Australia, the United Kingdom, and America." It is an area of great need and there is arguably an impact on student learning outcomes when they have highly stressed teachers. I very much look forward to hearing this presentation.
The final presentation before the closing plenary session will be in the K-12 Leaders congress with Professor Richard Telford speaking on about the cost to our children of the under-prioritisation of physical education. The abstract refers to randomised controlled trials, that holy grail of research methodology, and the evidence stemming from research of that nature. I do not think that there many teachers who would disagree that physical education receives less time than what it should, however, there are requirements to adhere to teaching times vis-a-vis how much time is dedicated to given subject areas (in NSW Government schools at least), and PE only receives two hours despite the purported health and academic benefits therein. This is another session that I am looking forward to as the growing issues around obesity are going to cause significant problems for our country's economy in the future unless we arrest the issue now.
The remaining sessions are back in the plenary setting with presentations from Philip Heath and Jan Owen AM. The title of Phillip's presentation, Darkingjung Barker: a lesson in closing the education gap, very much gives me the impression that there is a focus on Aboriginal education. I am intrigue to hear about this, particularly if there are meaningful strategies that can be taken away and applied in the classroom. I have attended a staff Professional Development workshop on Indigenous Craft and embedding Indigenous culture within the curriculum which was led by an Aboriginal woman and it was genuinely fantastic, one of the most engaging professional development sessions that I have attended. She made a comment which resonated with me that (paraprhasing) the feedback she hears is that many teachers do not engage with Aboriginal culture in the classroom because they are afraid; of getting their information wrong, of offending someone, of using the cultural knowledge inappropriately. This rings true for those with whom I have spoken to and, if I am being honest, my own feelings.
Closing out proceedings is Jan Owen AM on Embracing the New Work Order. Given that the title is the same as the presentation she delivered at FutureSchools earlier this year, I suspect it will be the same content. I have reviewed that presentation here, however, I will stay for the talk to ascertain if it is different.
After that, a train trip back to Gosford to see my wife and daughter and a weekend to recover from the tiring nature of EduTECH. I look forward to meeting up with you if you are going to be there (let me know on Twitter), and watch for the live-Tweeting from each session; it will, as always, fly thick and fast. I will endeavour to storify each block of sessions, as much for my own sanity as anything else, and I hope to get my articles written and published quickly while people are still talking about EduTECH.
If you have missed any of the articles in the EduTECH 2017 series, you can find the full list here.
“Recognizing George Miller’s information processing research showing that short-term memory is limited in the number of elements it can contain simultaneously, Sweller builds a theory that treats schemas, or combinations of elements, as the cognitive structures that make up an individual’s knowledge base.”
– Sweller, J. 1988.
As you read through today’s article, I would like you to consider how you go about teaching multiplication and the times tables to students as that is the focus of today’s article. I am basing on my post today on my (admittedly limited) understanding of cognitive load theory (CLT) from my recollections of the educational psychology course that was part of my Initial Teacher Education (ITE), so if I err in my understanding, please let me know so that I can correct it.
One of the things that I have been doing with my class is Timetables Clocks.This is the first thing that I do with them when we commence our Mathematics block straight after our lunch break. The simplest explanation of this is that students draw a jumbled clock face, with the multiplier going in the centre, as in the image below.
Students are given up to one minute to complete the twelve questions, and they write down their time. The students really enjoy this activity, and there is fierce competition to be the one with the quickest time, as they receive a bonus under our class economy program. I have only brought this program into our mathematics block recently, and on Wednesday I had them complete their four-times tables, and the results were abysmal.
My understanding of CLT is that our memory is divided into working or short-term memory and long-term memory, with only a small amount of what is in our working memory being retained and transferred into our long term memory. Our working memory can only process a certain amount of information before some of what is in our working memory must be either transferred into our long term memory or dropped from our conscious memory.
When answering a question, if part of the question can be answered by drawing upon our long-term memory than our working memory is able to bring a little bit more of itself to bear on answering the question. For example, if a student has a question such as 6×4(3-6 x24) and they can draw upon their long-term memory to know that 6×4 is 24, then their working memory is free to focus on the remainder of the question. A rather simplistic explanation and I hope it articulates clearly enough my understanding on this.
Times tables are embedded into daily life, from estimating the groceries, to budgeting, to planning a holiday, knowing and being able to easily recall times table facts is something of a basic skill, and any question or problem or problem involving multiplication is going to be significantly more difficult to solve mentally (or in writing for that matter) if you are required to utilise your working memory solving those aspects of the question than if you are able to simply recall those facts from your long-term memory.
Indeed, from the conversations that I have had with secondary mathematics teachers, and correct me if this is not your experience, it appears that students’ being unable to recall multiplication facts from their long-term memory is a source of stress and frustration for both secondary students and teachers. As an example, it seems that when algebra is introduced, or when teachers are dealing with conversions between fractions, decimals and percentages; that students are struggling to deal with the multiplication aspect of the question, and are therefore unable to process the skills and knowledge needed for the particular mathematics concept being dealt with at the time and transfer that knowledge into their long-term memory causing a flow-on effect.
So, and this is where I am looking for feedback from my PLN, my thinking is that this is one instance where rote-learning still has a place, and to my mind and understanding of CLT it seems logical. By memorising those multiplication facts, ensuring they are in students’ long-term memories, students will then be able to focus more on the remainder of any question of problem, rather than becoming stressed about multiplication issues (which is an issue for some students).
Is my understanding of CLT reasonably accurate, and more specifically, accurate for the purpose I need it to be accurate for? Additionally, what other strategies have you found successful for ensuring multiplication facts make their way into students’ long-term memory? As always, thank you for reading, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback on this topic.