Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘alternative

Video source

I wonder how many schools might start their academic years by showing the video above, generating discussion among teachers, and setting goals.

The movie has an agenda about being too liberal with alternative mathematics and facts. However, that does not mean that it is the only point of view.

After all, different people on different sides of any argument can suffer from the same affliction — being overly dogmatic.

This STonline article featured kids who were getting tuition years in advance of what they might be ready for. To be more precise, their parents were arranging enrichment tuition for their children to stay ahead whether their kids were ready or not.

I will not rant about the state of enrichment classes here as I have written about this sometimes ugly form of tuition before. I focus on one element of the article: The sample of three questions asked of students seeking Direct School Admission.

Three sample DSA questions.

Are these the best questions we can muster for DSA students? DSA is meant to not just focus on academic aptitude but also on values, attitudes, and character traits as well. Instead of waiting for interviews, portfolios, and observations, why not ask questions that matter?

I offer three questions of my own.

Question 1: You are a school prefect. You spot one student bullying another student outside of school. You realise that the bully is your best friend and the victim is a classmate. What do you do? Why?

Question 2: You were given $50 in cash as a birthday present from your grandparents. You decide to donate some, save some, and spend some. How much will you allocate for each purpose? Why?

Question 3: More and more of your classmates seem to be getting enrichment tuition. Consider Scenario A or Scenario B.

Scenario A: Your parents want you to have tuition every day after school. What will you say to your parents? Why?

Scenario B: You do not want to have tuition. How do you justify this decision to your parents?

The STonline article offered model answers to its questions. There are no fixed answers for mine. Instead, the focus is on values-based reasoning, critical and creative thinking, the clarity of communication, and a host of other skills.

Can you offer reasonable solutions to my questions? Can your children?

What if STEM was taught differently so that it was learnt more meaningfully?

For example, this is an engineering video that relies on a Nerf gun.

Video source

Now here is a video about scientists that features a few as superheroes.

Video source

These videos are not just more interesting, they are also thought-provoking. They could get a teacher to redesign the way they approach STEM. They simplify without dumbing down.

There are a few of my blog entries that seem to get hits every day even though they are a few years old. One of them is “Alternative to ‘best’ practices?“.

That particular reflection was a series of a few. To provide some context, I am listing my thoughts on this contentious issue in today’s entry.

  1. 15 Sep 2012: There is no BEST practice (Contexts may not transfer)
  2. 17 Sep 2012: Alternative to “best” practices? (Contexts are different; best implies there is no need to get even better)
  3. 22 Jul 2014: Can practices be transmitted? (There is signal loss; not all signals are relevant or timely)
  4. 24 Sep 2014: Be wary of “best practices”: Slides 5-9 (Best for whom? Have you considered all contexts?)


Just Beware by MTSOfan, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  MTSOfan 

I was not the first to write against “best practices” and I will not be the last. Here are a few other bloggers or authors who have been more articulate than me with their thoughts about this issue.

  1. The Sham of Best Practices by Larry Cuban
  2. Why Best Practices Don’t Work for Knowledge Work by Luis Suarez
  3. On Best Practices by Shelley Blake-Plock
  4. “Best Practice”—The Enemy of Better Teaching by Bradley Ermeling, James Hiebert, and Ronald Gallimore

I am going to sound like a broken record or perhaps, to be more current, a poorly encoded MP3 file! Here are more advocates for rethinking the way we teach and learn in this day of Web 2.0.

I chanced upon a short article by two scholars who wrote about “The University and the Social Web Challenge”.

As far as I am concerned, the authors were preaching to the converted. But like an eloquent sermon, they put things nicely in perspective. For example, they started simply by declaring:

Many teachers follow a traditional approach to teaching because they are just reproducing the way they themselves were taught, ignoring recent theory and research on human learning. Traditionally, the University is a place where theory can be learnt devoid of its originating context.  In many cases, this potentially leads to superficial learning of theoretical materials by the student (e.g. textbooks) who then regurgitates the information on exams (HERRINGTON & HERRINGTON, 2005).

It sounds like a refrain that I use!

They then went on to suggest how Web 2.0 might serve as a platform for people to connect and collaborate in meaningful ways. They concluded by saying:

Web 2.0 services allow the harnessing of the power of groups. In order to take advantage of the network effects of these tools in Higher Education, open, participatory architectures for ICT systems must be in use. Students must be allowed and encouraged to produce their own content. Social networking technologies have the potential to enhance the dynamics of communication between life, work and school, thus creating meaningful educational experiences, adapted to both students’ expectations and Information Society’s requirements, taking into account that we are now in a true global society, and thus Higher Education Institutions must provide the knowledge to develop a global citizenship. This also leads to an emotion-related type of learning.

What remains the core challenge of the adoption of Web 2.0 in Higher Education is the balance that must be made between the necessary conservative part of Education, which is necessary to preserve past human effort and talent, as also traditional skills and knowledge legacy, and the possibilities that technology introduces in terms of students’ self expression and co-construction of knowledge.

I could not have said it better. Then again, maybe I could have. I regret that I did not write an article like this earlier when I had essentially the same ideas floating in my head!

This week marked the end of the first round of walkabouts at the MxL. We continue with another round next week.

What are walkabouts, you ask? I conduct walkabouts by getting my preservice teachers to present their final projects in a less conventional manner. They are assigned a booth at the MxL and they can set it up any way they wish.

I think the more important question is WHY I prefer walkabouts. I have a few responses.

I firmly believe that teachers tend to teach the way they are taught. So one of my goals has always been to model alternative principles and processes.

I have nothing against traditional presentations. There is a time and place for them as long as they have a clear purpose. However, traditional presentations tend to be (but are not always) summative in nature. This week’s walkabout was formative as it was designed to allow the presenters to test their ideas and to make improvements. Traditional presentations require presenters to showcase weeks of work in a very limited time. They also require the audience to sit through presentations that may not be of interest to them. The Q&A that typically follows is also limited in terms of time and scope.

I think that a walkabout allows the best aspects of traditional presentations while allowing for more meaningful learning to take place. The non-presenters can choose which projects to listen to and participate in. They presenters can take as much or as little time as they wish (within reasonable limits, of course). In other words, this approach is not one-size-fits-all.

The presenters get to present several times and over a longer period of time. They have to think on their feet more often as they respond to questions and attempt to engage their self-selecting audience. They interact with smaller audiences so they can address their needs better. In other words, presenters have to step out of the mindset of what I like to call PowerPoint-pedagogy (blindly following a rigid sequence regardless of the need at hand). They can also get more critical and relevant feedback as a result of a more intimate setting.

Finally, the walkabouts allow me to contextualise the presentations in two settings. First, as a presentation to teachers from the same cluster of schools in Singapore. I think that this context helps preservice teachers to think more like full time teachers and less like students. They must be more attuned to what and how other teachers think.

Second, the walkabout was a way of celebrating the end of the course. As my trainees were allowed to bring refreshments, they could feed their audience’s minds and bodies! Furthermore, this air of informality might relieve some stress of presenting a project.

I look forward to the walkabouts next week. I hope that my preservice teachers do too!

Click to see all the nominees!

QR code

Get a mobile QR code app to figure out what this means!

My tweets


Usage policy

%d bloggers like this: