Making links in the brain.

The Brain

Traditional teaching was typically taught as topic based and subject based and amazingly much teaching is still done this way. This author is not advocating that the topic or subject is not important, it is, but what is more important is what can be done with the topic or subject and how it relates to the world. 

When the topic or subject becomes the most important piece of the learning, the brain tends to compartmentalize learning and the links to other learning is very tenuous. When new learning enters the brain, often it will be a new compartment so has to be learnt in its fullness as a new topic, which can be hard work for the learner. Links between learning will eventually happen and when they occur, it is like a flash of understanding or inspiration and for some it can instigate a feeling of elation. The biggest problem with compartmentalized learning is it can sometimes delay the flash of understanding for many years, and there is no guarantee that it will ever happen.

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Some teaching practices can help create these links in the brain but why worry about creating links. Firstly, we need to worry about links as making them facilitates learning by giving the students something to compare the learning with. This comparison assist students to exapand their awareness of what they are learning and helps them to remember as they only have to remember a small piece of information or concepts instead of large pieces of remenbering where totally new knowledge is concerned. Not only does it facilitate learning but also it increases the speed at which students learn while making the learning easier. Instead of only having a subjects narrow scope to hang new learning on, the student who can make links in their brain have their whole brain capacity to link new learning too.

 One process that can be used is to set a project with a focus. In the example being used here, the study is done in computing. HOWEVER, the computer is neither the topic or the focus, it is merely a tool to be considered at the end. (Secretly the students have to use multiple software packages to present a topic) At this stage, the computer must not be the controlling factor. The students thinking must be the controlling factor. To this end the students must be kept thinking about the Mini Project they are to complete with a focus rather than any conversations about computers..
Step one for this example was to talk about how making links in the brain and how it helps make learning easier The students are then asked to do a mind map of possible project ideas.

At this stage ‘there is no such thing as a bad idea, it is what you do with the idea that is either good or bad’ This author has been using this saying for 28 years in teaching practices and lateral thinking teaching.

In this example 3 whiteboard marker were used and they were given to the students to do a mind map bubble on the board. As each student added to the white board mind map they passed the marker to another student. The mind map grew rapidly and the ideas become more consolidated. 
When the mind map was finished, the students started to plan what they might do with their ideas for a project and at this time the idea of a focus was added to the project. The students were asked how they could link these project ideas to a focus of several subjects. The questions they were asked to solve were, ‘where is the science in this topic, where is the art in this topic, where is the English in this topic where is the maths in this topic. The students became interested in where the links where between the subjects and then how to give their project different focuses.

Now the project is expanding from original concepts or topics that interest the students and has a focus on making links between subject matter. The students’ ideas are still the prime concern at this stage as is the concept that ‘there is no such thing as a bad idea’. 

It should be noted at this stage that the computers and software have not been mentioned, yet this is one of the secret goals of the teacher.

The students now start to put their ideas into a more substantial form and should now start to discuss how are they going to present their projects. In this example, the teacher wanted the students to use multiple software to present the projects subject matter. After looking through the students’ notes and their study outline, it is easy to link several different software programs to different parts of their project. Some parts were best for sound editing with Garage Band or Audacity and Hydrogen, some parts were best for making posters with Photoshop or Gimp. Other parts were best to have small animations or movies made to present work. Certainly, at the end it is not hard to guide the students into thinking that the best ways to present the different parts of the project as poster another part as movie or animation another part as audio and another as PowerPoint style presentation.

The software is left to the end as we want the students mind and ideas to be in control of the Mini Project not preconceived notions about what a computer does. If we start talking about software first then the preconceived notions about what the computer can do will affect the outcomes of the students thinking. It can even mean the student stops thinking and does a variation of a poster they have often seen or even to alter slightly something they find on the internet. If this happens they have a product with no or very little thinking and no exercising of their creative and analytical capacity.

Of course there are many ways to do this. A similar concept is Independent Studies and the hero of creative thinking Edward De Bono hero of creative thinking Edward De Bono and his hats. There are many persons that have developed analytical and thinking tools and many of these can be taught at very young ages. The value of these can never be under rated as the world our children are growing up in is changing exponentially.

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