What a crock of….

Remember Lyle Lanley? No?

Maybe this will jog your memory:

Mr. Lanley’s notebook revealed more of his dastardly plans:

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There are plenty of Lyle Lanleys blighting the education landscape. 21st century learning is a nebulous term. It has fuzzy edges along with many competing definitions. This leaves it ripe for hucksters like Lyle Lanley to sweep in with overly simple answers to increasingly complex situations. These reductionists pitch products and/or programs based on shoddy research or sadly in some cases, no research at all.

Neuroscience has largely been a progressive venture but it has also been hijacked by those looking to make a buck off of education. Reductionists seek to deconstruct complex systems in order to prove that they are no greater than the sum of their parts. There are three pervasive education/neuroscience myths that the Lanleys like to exploit: 1) Right Brain vs. Left Brain leanings 2) Learning Styles and 3) ultimately Brain-based Learning as a whole. It is time to pull back the curtain on each of these myths and expose them for what they are and their pushers for whom they are.

1) RIGHT BRAIN vs. LEFT BRAIN:

This myth has led to many students being labeled as “right brained” or “left brained” depending upon a perceived level of creativity. This damaging myth has been exploited by publishers and education entrepreneurs for decades. This poorly conceived notion can lead to a fixed mindset whereby students can be led to believe that their levels of creativity are static.

This myth has its roots in the the work of Gereon Fink, at the time from the University of Düsseldorf in Germany, and John Marshall from the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford. They used brain scans to support the idea of hemispheric dominance. This led to a movement where people began to speculate that the creative abilities were based in the right hemisphere, and logical faculties in the left. This myth infiltrated education for many years (and still lives on in some places)  with students taking left/right brain questionnaires so that their learning could be tailored. Countless research studies have led to contradictory results. Neuroscience and true research definitively discounts the idea of hemispheric dominance. So to the idea of Right Brain vs. Left Brain,  I call….”BULLSHIT!”

Thankfully, there is a movement afoot to debunk this damaging myth and to recognize the complexity of the human brain. The “No Right Brain, Left Brain” advocacy group is backed by Deepak Chopra and Sir Ken Robinson but sadly many resources based on hemispheric dominance are still being published.

2) LEARNING STYLES:

This damaging myth has been heavily exploited by profiteers both past and present. The supporters of this movement purport that an individual learns best when information is taught in a manner consistent with his or her “learning style”. Researchers investigating the validity of this myth have uncovered as many as 71 supposed learning styles. The concept sounds great, but has no credible research support.

The idea of learning styles is rooted in the theory of multiple of intelligences, developed in the early 1980s by psychologist Howard Gardner of Harvard University. Gardner claimed to have identified 7 distinct types of intelligences (visuo-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic and logical-mathematical), and that this “challenge[s] an educational system that assumes that everyone can learn from the same materials in the same way”.  It’s a myth though. There is no scientific evidence that children learn any better or differently when presented to them in their “preferred learning style.” Research actually points out quite the opposite. According to Paul Howard-Jones of the University of Bristol,  while speaking at a workshop about the impact of neuroscience on society at the BNA Festival of Neuroscience ,some research actually suggests that children learn better when presented with information that pushes them out of their “comfort zone.” So to the concept of “Learning Styles”, I call “BULLSHIT!”

This infographic does a wonderful job of debunking “learning styles”:

The Myth of Learning Styles Infographic
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

Many 21C or Ed Tech entrepreneurs and publishers are looking to make a buck from the excitement and ambiguity of “EDUCATION 2.0”. Many of these products are based on neuromyths. The OECD states, “A neuromyth usually starts out with a misunderstanding, a misreading and, in some cases, a deliberate warping of the scientifically established facts to make a relevant case for education or for other purposes.”  These myths are dangerous and duplicitous. The OECD continues, “Parents, teachers and educational specialists are naturally eager to put into practice what they have read or heard in the popular media. There is a danger that they might be tempted to too readily adopt so-called “brain-based” teaching or rearing strategies that are in fact not based on any evidence at all.” People are always looking for answers and the Lyle Lanleys of the world are looking to sell them. Just like the human brain, education is a complex system. When we try to reduce it to its base parts, we strip it of its beauty.

Don’t just take my word at face value, do some follow-up on your own as well. The following links are both source material for this piece and further research:

OECD Neuromyths

Think Neuroscience – The Myth of Learning Styles

Separating Neuromyths from Science in Education

Edutopia – Education Neuromyths

CEA -Neuromyths are a Barrier to Changing Education

There are countless research based ideas to support the integration of 21st century learning fluencies. We just have to be patient and judicious as we seek to discern fact from fiction.

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Stratosphere – Michael Fullan

Michael Fullan’s new book “Stratosphere” takes a critical look at 21st Century Learning. Specific attention is paid to the relationship between technology and pedagogy. The book title “Stratosphere” refers to the relationship of technology, pedagogy and change knowledge. This book provides and very nuanced perspective of 21st Century Learning. Far from advocating the independent learning power of platforms like Khan Academy as a panacea for education, Fullan presents the dangers that students face without the guiding hand of a teacher.

I really appreciate Fullan’s framework for effective ed tech. If schools are going to reap the benefit of what technology has to offer, the tech needs to be:

  1. Irresistibly engaging for students and teachers.
  2. Elegantly efficient and easy to use.
  3. Technologically ubiquitous 24/7/
  4. Steeped in real-life problem solving.

The goal is to move away from marvelling at tech specifications towards reliable and real integration of technology. Tech with a focus and not simply tech for tech’s sake. It must help students to link curriculum to real life problem solving situations.

Most importantly, Fullan deals with the new role of teachers in the 21st Century. Rather than being pushers of content, teachers must form partnerships with students. Teachers have a huge role to play in this new era of education as change agents. Technology and independent learning alone cannot provide these change conditions. Fullan quotes John Hattie when discussing the fundamental role of teachers, “to evaluate the effect of their teaching on students’ learning and achievement.” A partnership rather than the sage on the stage.

This is a powerful book that anyone involved in education must read. It comes in at roughly 80 pages. I purchased my copy from Pearson online. It is a critical, nuanced and valuable perspective on this new era of learning.

Being a tourist in your own Education System

Last summer my wife’s aunt and uncle visited us from Cape Town, South Africa. Her uncle wanted to visit all of the major Toronto landmarks. We took the red double-decker sightseeing bus all around the city. I saw parts of my own city that I had never really paid attention to before. Being a tourist in your own city can be  a very enlightening experience.

Taking that tourist approach to your own education system can be equally enlightening. I found this video on Edutopia from the OECD Education Everywhere series about education in Ontario. The video focused on Unionville High School (part of the northern Toronto suburb of Markham ).  Markham is an extremely diverse city with a very large Chinese and south Asian population.

The video paid specific attention to the role of the “Student Success” teacher and the larger Student Success team. The team meets weekly and focuses on coordinating supports for the transition of new Canadian students. The goal is to provide supports for the whole child and not only the academic side.

Additional information and perspectives can be found in this OECD document:

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B7X-Dkl-q6IfdWZDVFVRNnVHamM/preview

Lessons from Abroad – Finland

Finland has been getting tremendous amounts of positive publicity for the success of their education system. They have catapulted up the PISA rankings and based on aggregate scores, Finland is now ranked as the #1 education system in the world. At the TCDSB Student Success Conference, renowned education expert Andy Hargreaves compared the Finnish system to a Ferrari because it the nexus point of innovation and performance. Hargreaves compared Canada to a thoroughbred racehorse because of the tremendous focus on improvement at the expense of innovation.

What makes the Finnish system so great? The first video from the American Teachers Federation focuses on the following success indicators:

1) Teaching is a highly respected profession where all teachers are required to hold a Master’s degree. The opinions of teachers are taken into account when important decisions are made. Job embedded professional development and teacher collaboration are core to the development of all educators.

2) The relationship between teachers and administration is extremely close. There is a synergy between these two important roles.

3) The focus on the individual student in a priority. Differentiation is organic to the process.

The second video from the OECD via Edutopia takes a closer look at the focus on the individual child. Key points from this video include:

1) Early identification of students who are struggling. The goal is to deal with learning gaps early so that struggles do not compound. The special education resource teacher is engaged early in the process to observe students who are struggling.

2) There is not a stigma attached to special education support in Finland. Upwards of 90% of kids in the system have received support in some manner.

3) Every school in the system has a student welfare committee made up of school personnel who meet twice monthly. The goal is to regularly discuss the development of all children but especially those who have been flagged. Individual problems are dealt with on a case by case basis. These issues range from the emotional to academic level.

The Finnish system places a huge emphasis on people and not bureaucracy. Policy is of secondary concern to the welfare of students and educators. Surprise, surprise..putting people first actually works!

Lessons from Abroad – Singapore

Edutopia in conjunction with the OECD created a series of videos highlighting the education reform movements of several countries. I will post each of the videos along with a brief summary. I found these videos to be EXTREMELY helpful. Finland has been getting most of the accolades when it comes progressive systems but Singapore deserves some love as well.

This snapshot of education in Singapore was enlightening on many levels but three things really stood out for me:

1) The focus on Student Engagement. The school leaders explicitly stated that “fun” was a priority.


2) There was an acknowledgement that technology was core to the being of the students. Rather than view it as a distraction, the teachers and administrators found ways to integrate into the curriculum.


3) Professional Development as a networked activity was HEAVILY emphasized. Technology allowed these teachers to create learning communities that extended FAR beyond the walls of the school.

NEXT UP…FINLAND