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Posts Tagged ‘thinking

My son visited an organic farm with his classmates at the end of the school term. The trip was organised by his school as part of a week-long programme.

According to my son, the owner-farmer claimed that organic farming was superior to all other farming methods, e.g., those that involved genetically modified organisms (GMOs), hydroponics, aeroponics, vertical farming, etc.

I asked if the accompanying teachers conducted a discussion or debriefing after the visit, but there was none.

Organic farming has its advantages, e.g., no pesticides, but it is not superior in all contexts.

For example, mankind has long genetically modified plants for higher yields, better taste, greater resistance, etc. We used to rely primarily on crossing varieties; now we can do it directly with genes. The result is the same and this has helped us feed the world with less land, water, and other resources.

Hydro and aeroponics rely little or not at all on pesticides. They also do not require soil management and crops can be farmed vertically or horizontally in stacks.

Vertical farms also take less space than traditional farms and can be housed in urban areas. This means that the crops are closer to the consumer and reduce or remove the need to transport crops over large distances.

Organic farming is great because it returns farmers to their roots while possibly marrying them with modern techniques. However, the claim that it is the best method does not take other options and contexts into account.

From an educator’s perspective, it is irresponsible to feed young and impressionable minds with biased information without providing some balance.

I am not saying that what the owner said is totally wrong. As someone with a stake in organic farming, she had every right to be proud of her efforts. But she had no right to present her opinions without rebuttal or balance.

According to my son, science teachers did not accompany that group of students. While other teachers were present, their roles should not just be to chaperone. If the mindset of teachers is to focus on group management, then this was a lost opportunity to model and teach critical thinking.

In fact, any teacher could have sparked a reflection and discussion. He or she would not have to provide all the answers. The rise above could have started with questions like:

  • What do you know about farming?
  • What do you think about what you heard today?
  • If you had one important question for the farmer, what might it be? Why would you ask that question?
  • If I said that I did not agree with everything the farmer said, what might some of my disagreements be? Why?

I reiterate: The farm visit was a lost opportunity to teach important critical thinking skills and to practice important pedagogical strategies outside the conventional curriculum. If schools are to venture out into the “real world”, then they should think and operate like they would in order to survive there.

Note: This is not an attempt to bash teachers even if it looks that way. It is my way of being a vigilant educator.
The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something. -- Jon Stewart.

The writers of Quartz, some of whom I have described as using lazy writing, wondered why one of the world’s wealthiest countries is also one of its biggest online pirates.

The country was Singapore, “the world’s fourth richest country, measured by gross national income per capita and adjusted for purchasing power”. Quartz wondered why Singaporeans still resorted to piracy despite having access to Netflix.

Does it assume that 1) there are no poor people in Singapore, 2) everyone here has heard of Netflix or other legal video streaming platforms, 3) the rich people here (all of us!) subscribe to something like Netflix, and 4) having access to legal streaming should reduce piracy significantly?

These are flawed assumptions. In not trying to answer its own question, it revealed lazy thinking and research.

For example, it did not mention how Netflix Singapore only offers 15% of TV shows carried by Netflix USA. (The exact figure might vary over time and is available in the table at this site.)

It did not mention that we have relatively low-cost fibre optic broadband plans.

Telcos here now push 1Gbps plans. One needs only a cursory examination of this chart maintained by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) of Singapore to see that the plans hover around S$50 now.

The low access to the full Netflix USA library combined with ready access to high speed Internet point to our ability to get the same resources elsewhere.

Quartz decided to call our behaviour kiasu. That is a catchall term that avoids actual thought and explanation. The label is convenient: You are all just like that despite your money and access.

Like most sociotechnical phenomena (behaviours shaped and enabled with technology), the underlying reasons are nuanced. I have suggested just two and backed it up with the data.

What would prompt Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, to weigh in on Pepsi? It was an advertisement so ill-conceived and reviled that the company had to withdraw it [NYT] [Wired].

Stephen Colbert gave this withering but humorous critique of the ad (click here for the segment).

Video source

It would be easy to accuse Colbert of being mean because he was making fun of the company in the name of entertainment. However, such critiques are deeper and more important than we might think.

Video source

Vox unpacked what Colbert and others do: They inform in an easy to digest manner and they leverage on not being neutral.

While proper news channels might try to report just the black or white facts, we recognise today that most issues are subjective and nuanced greys.

Satirists use fun and laughter, and in doing so, disarm their audiences and combine emotion with logic. They inform and educate in ways that not many teachers have been taught or believe in.

They embrace subjectivity and make a stand. They combine creativity with critical thought. They call bullshit when they see it.

The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something. -- Jon Stewart.

… is another man’s poison.

That was the saying that came to mind when I read this student’s feedback on teaching.

A reporting officer or an administrator might view this feedback on teaching negatively.

A teacher who focuses on content as a means of nurturing thoughtful learners might view this positively.

I am not describing a false dichotomy. I am summarising reality.

Breaking news: Nutella causes cancer. That is what this video will have you believe.

Video source

I am guessing that the video maker, SourceFed, was not interested in the facts, just the views, because it did not do its homework.

This Gizmodo contributor did and showed how the science and math do not add up.

What are some take home point points?

Get the facts right. The study did not mention Nutella specifically. You are not in any likely danger unless you consume jars of Nutella every day (and if you do, you have a bigger problem than by-products of palm oil).

What are some educational applications?

You cannot just take creative license — like creating the YouTube video or linking a study on palm oil with Nutella — without combining and balancing it with critical thinking.

To teachers who say they cannot find enough material to nurture both in their students, I point out that these examples are all around us. Serve them up along with a reasonable dose of Nutella spread on toast.

Two recent newspaper articles [1] [2] kept referring to one study that claimed that tuition did not have an impact on Singapore’s high PISA score. I question this research.

Today I reflect on how the articles might be focusing on a wrong question asked the wrong way: Does tuition impact Singapore’s PISA score?

It is a wrong question because it begs an oversimplistic “Yes” or “No” answer when the answer is likely “Depends”. There will be circumstances when tuition helps and when it does not.

Tuition is not a single entity. The are the sustained forms of remedial, enrichment, some combination of the two, or other forms. There are short interventions that focus on just-in-time test exam strategies. There are broad shot forms that deal with one or more academic subjects and there are formulaic forms that focus on specific subtopics and strategies.

Add to that messy practice the fact that a phenomenon like learning to take tests is complex and will have many contributing factors, e.g., school environment, home environment, learner traits, teacher traits, etc.

Wanting to know the impact of tuition, not just on PISA scores, but also on schooling and education in Singapore’s contexts are questions worth asking. A better way to ask one question might be: “How does tuition impact X (where X is the phenomenon)?”

This core question bracketed by: “What forms of tuition are there in Singapore?” and “What other factors influence the impact of this form of tuition?”

Methods-wise, the study would not just play the numbers game. Narratives flesh out and make the case for numbers or even explain what might seem counterintuitive.

We live in a post-truth world. You cannot believe everything you read online. You cannot take what you read offline or in newspapers at face value either.

After reading this review of research on homework, my mind raced to how some people might resort to formulaic thinking.

This was the phrase that seeded it:

Based on his research, Cooper (2006) suggests this rule of thumb: homework should be limited to 10 minutes per grade level.

What follows were examples and an important caveat:

Grade 1 students should do a maximum of 10 minutes of homework per night, Grade 2 students, 20 minutes, and so on. Expecting academic students in Grade 12 to occasionally do two hours of homework in the evening—especially when they are studying for exams, completing a major mid-term project or wrapping up end-of-term assignments—is not unreasonable. But insisting that they do two hours of homework every night is expecting a bit much.

If you assume that people would pay more attention to the caveat than to the formula, you assume wrongly. Doing the former means thinking harder and making judgements. The latter is an easy formula.

Most people like easy.

If those people are teachers and administrators who create homework and homework policies, then everyone who is at home will likely suffer from homework blues.

Am I overreaching? I think not. Consider another example on formulaic thinking.

I provide professional development for future faculty every semester, but this semester was a bit different. There was a “social” space in the institution’s learning management system (LMS) where a certain 70:30 ratio emerged.

A capstone project for these future faculty is a teaching session. The modules prior to that prepare them to design and implement learner-centred experiences. At least one person played the numbers game and asked what proportion of the session should be teacher-centred vs student-centred.

I provide advice in person and in assignments that the relative amount is contextual. My general guideline is that student-centred work tends to require more time since the learners are novices and that the planning should reflect that.

However, once that 70:30 ratio was suggested in the social space, it became the formula to follow. It was definite and easier than thinking for and about the learner. It allowed future faculty to stay in their comfort zone of lecturing 70% of the time and grudgingly attempt student-centred work 30% of the time.

But guess what? When people follow this formula or do not plan for more student-centred activities and time, they typically go over the 70% teacher talk time and rush the actual learning. This pattern is practically formulaic.

Formulaic thinking is easy, but that does not make it right or effective. In the case of the course I mentioned, the 70:30 folk typically return for remediation. It is our way of trying to stop the rot of formulaic thinking.

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