Wednesday, 11 April 2012

One of my Beliefs about Learning

Just the other day, Edna Sackson asked me (well, not just me but anyone reading or following her blog) what my beliefs were about learning. This morning, as my husband and I learned about how a preadmission clinic works (lots of sitting and waiting for 10 minute spurts with different experts on what will happen), I wrote this blog. When I came home to type it up I went to my trusty on-line Oxford English Dictionary (I fell in love with the OED after reading Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman, a great example of how truth can be ever so much more fascinating than fiction) and discovered that apart from the definition of learning 1(a): “the action of receiving instruction or acquiring knowledge”; its root was in an old Germanic word that meant teaching.
I am spending a lot of time these days with my toddler grand-daughter who reminds me more than once every day about the basics of learning: touching, smelling, listening, looking at and tasting new things until you know them. I noticed in one of Edna’s old blogs she feels there is a lot to find out about learning from children.

One of my strongest beliefs about learning is that human brains are hard-wired to learn and doing just that, constantly.

I believe the sensory processes that allow the in-put of data, the exotic synapse system that lays down hundreds of connections for later reference and a complex neural network to facilitate response occur much of the time without the human actually trying to learn. I am sure I am not the only educator who often lost track of these brain facts while trying to push my particular agenda of what I wanted a child to learn.

When I was in my last year of high school, my Chemistry teacher gave us copies of the last 5 years’ worth of “Provincial Departmental” multiple choice exams. The score on a similar exam that we would write at course end would provide 80% of our final mark. Unlike my first 2 years of high school chemistry, which were full of experiments (I had filled 5 loose leaf pages with observations of a candle burning) there would be no experiments. My close-to-retirement chemistry educator could put me to sleep inside 15 minutes and after one week of 90 minute classes, I quit attending and spend the rest of the semester in the lunch room working my way through the exams. I scored 97%. Sadly, when I attended my first Chemistry 200 class at the University of Alberta in a lecture theatre with 250 other students, I discovered I had arrived in Greece – at least it sounded like the lecturers were speaking Greek. One experience in the lab made it clear we would be marked on the achievement of the “right results” and convinced me I had not learned enough or maybe any chemistry to this point and I dropped Chemistry 200.

Some might say I learned nothing.

I felt I had learned a lot from my chemistry experience. It allowed me to approach the rest of my teacher training with a new concept of what learning was all about.
So unlike Edna’s daughter, my ability to recall any of the periodic tables (which I must have been able to recall at one time) is limited to the phrase “Little Betty Boron” and yet, like Edna’s daughter, I owe one of my greatest educator insights to the teacher who tried to get that darn table into my brain. Go figure.  

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