Thursday, September 5, 2013


I've started my second course in my graduate certificate program. It is called Bridging Learning Theory, Instruction and Technology. We've only just started to look at learning theories but I think it's going to be a good class. I've always been fascinated by how the brain works. I've read a number of books, The Brain that Changes Itself is one of my favorites. It talks about neuroplasticity and tells stories that show how truly amazing the brain is. One of the stories is around phantom pain from amputated limbs. The story really had an impact because the son of a friend stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost both legs above the knee. As part of his recuperation and dealing with the immense phantom pain he had, the hospital used the precise treatment explained in the book. It was not only fascinating because there was a story that played out in my life, but also because it worked for Daniel.

After doing the first week's readings I have a bit more understanding about memories and how they are encoded in the brain. The idea that connections are made is not new, but understanding that the connections are between specific neurons and somehow that allows me to remember phone numbers, or the name of street is totally amazing. How can it be that when one neuron sends a signal to the next, and neurotransmitters are released that I can recall what a pomegranate is, or how to figure out the area of a circle? It's like this cartoon...

I find it amazing and fascinating.

Theories of learning are based on observed results, but also on PET scans and MRIs. They try to explain what happens when someone learns. We have more of an idea, but there are still a lot of things we don't know. But though it can help to know (or think we know) how someone learns, teachers have been teaching, and students learning for millennia without current learning theory. Pat Wolfe states that the problem with teaching from intuition is that it is difficult to pass on the knowledge gained through experience. I think it can be difficult, but not impossible. It just means that the experienced teacher has to think about what they do. I've done some recent reading about what makes good teachers, and came across this article. The quote I love the most, that resonates with me is this one:
Good teaching isn't about technique...but about people who have some sort of connective capacity, who connect themselves to their students, their students to each other, and everyone to the subject being studied.
Teachers who have relationships with students have more success as teachers, and their students have more success as well. I think it is crucial to use tools and techniques that engage students, but all of the tools and all of the techniques and most up to date technology can't make as big of an impact if the students don't have a relationship with the teacher. In the end, teaching is about relationships, and so is learning.

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