Sunday, April 5, 2015

Rubik Learning

 The first time I remember seeing a Rubik's Cube was when I was in college.  Understand, this was pre-video game, unless you count playing Space Ace, Pacman, or Crystal Castles, in the arcade at the mall.  Rest assured, there weren't cellphones or handhelds that seemed to distract students-- until the Rubik's Cube.

While Wikipedia tells me that it was invented in 1974, it wasn't until the summer of 1979 that I dragged that gizmo around in my backpack, trying in vain to solve the darned puzzle.  While I don't remember exactly who I was competing against to finish it FIRST in 1979, I definitely remember finally giving up and sitting at my desk in Schmidt Hall, carefully peeling the offending stickers off the damned thing with tweezers, and carefully repositioning them with their color-matching counterparts.

Maybe it's the iconic nature of the Cube, or maybe it's my deep guilt for this stunt, that has me constantly referring to it for the last 35 years as a metaphor for the mental insurmountable challenge that it represents to me.

Deeper Learning?

What is constant thinking?  Wouldn't constant thinking be akin to those insomniacs who claim to not be able to shut off their brains to power down and sleep?  And if that IS actually possible, how many students are on the other end of the proverbial bellcurve, not thinking at all?

As I've mentioned numerous times, it seems as if I am not the only one on this metacognitive journey to understand my own learning curve and those of my students.  Consider this recent quote from an article in Mind/Shift entitled 
Report Finds ‘Deeper Learning’ Model Improves Outcomes for All Students:
“One of the things that we saw in these schools was that the teachers and students themselves were constantly engaged in thinking about what students were learning, and the students were reflecting on their learning and trying to improve it.”

Constant thinking = Metacognition.  

Of course, I haven't given much of an explanation for the "Deeper Learning" model, but suffice it to say that it also parallels my passion for Project Based Learning (PBL), as a means for both motivation and instruction.

 The article is interesting, even if it doesn't seem to have specific references to the Gifted and Talented population that is my primary focus.  Basically what it demonstrates is exactly what all of the research that keeps popping in front of me as I'm mentally Rubik's cubing this thing called Reflective Teaching.

Here's the reality:  Kids today can not possibly learn everything that the previous generation learned and everything that has come down the pike since that time.  Few of us from the previous generations have even seen a sliderule, let alone still use it for computation, for example.  If I had to use one today, you'd better believe I'd be watching a youtube video before attempting it myself, and not digging out my math notebook from 7th grade, which was the last time I touched one.

Our expectations as a society need to change -- our kids need to know what is good information when they google an answer, and how to identify what may be less than desirable or trustworthy.  They need to be able to look at problems and have the problem-solving and critical thinking skills to twist and turn that fabulous cube until the stickers line up in the pattern that assures them that their answer is quality, and supported by experts who have also made similar discoveries.  

Despite what some may think, our society doesn't need instant answers -- it needs critical thinkers -- thinkers who don't use tweezers or hammers to readjust the squares to solve the puzzle in front of them.  Deeper learning models may not teach every single date in history, but working on a single topic of interest allows students to place that topic in historical context, and then care about the interconnectedness of that topic to a variety of other topics. 

Because, honestly, that twisting and turning, and mindfulness helps to transfer that knowledge into the deep recesses of long-term memory, which is so much more helpful for that learner six months after that last exam.

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