- Education and Technology
- Synoptic education
- Education NYT Article Nov 7 2007
- The science fair story
- Measuring Energy Flow Workshop front page
Suppose you do education research and you reach a finding: Hanging a green plant in the middle of the room can be shown to improve the quality of classroom education. And suppose likewise I find that placing a picture of the Taj Mahal over the doorway also helps. We will get together at a conference and decide that if we do both: Better still.
Synoptic education is simply a strategy that says "Let's be students of effective teaching and put as many good strategies as possible together (in a complementary way) to really do a good job." This page tries to enumerate some of these strategies.
Returning to the NRC Report
Seriously now: This book How People Learn is a much more comprehensive and useful piece of work than these web site pages on education could ever hope to be. From page 21 on:
Bringing Order to Chaos
A benefit of focusing on how people learn is that it helps bring order to a seeming cacophony of choices. Consider the many possible teaching strategies that are debated in education circles and the media. Figure 1.1 depicts them in diagram format: Lecture-based teaching, text-based teaching, inquiry-based teaching, technology-enhanced teaching, teaching organized around individuals versus cooperative groups, and so forth. Are some of these teaching techniques better than others? Is lecturing a poor way to teach, as many seem to claim? Is cooperative learning effective? Do attempts to use computers (technology-enhanced teaching) help achievement or hurt it?
This volume suggests that these are the wrong questions. Asking which teaching technique is best is analogous to asking which tool is best--a hammer, a screwdriver, a knife or pliers. In teaching as in carpentry, the selection of tools depends on the task at hand and the materials one is working with. Books and lectures can be wonderfully efficient modes of transmitting new information for learning, exciting the imagination, and honing students' critical faculties--but one would choose other kinds of activities to elicit from students their preconceptions and level of understanding, or to help them see the power of using meta-cognitive strategies to monitor their learning. Hands-on experiments can be a powerful way to ground emergent knowlege, but they do not alone evoke the underlying conceptual understandings that aid generalization. There is no universal best teaching practice.
If, instead, the point of departure is a core set of learning prinicples, then the selection of teaching strategies (mediated, of course, by subject matter, grade level, and desired outcome) can be purposeful. The many possibilities then become a rich set of opportunities from which a teacher constructs an instructional program rather than a chaos of competing alternatives.
Focusing on how people learn also will help tachers move beyond either-or dichotomies that have plagued the field of education. One such issue is whether schools should emphasize "the basics" or teach thinking and problem-solving skills. This volume shows that both are necessary. Students' abilities to acquire organized sets of facts and skills are actually enhanced when they are connected to meaningful problem-solving activiites, and when students are helped to understand why, when, and how those facts and skills are relevant. And attempts to teach thinking skills without a strong base of factual knowledge do not promote problem-solving ability or support transfer to new situations.
How People Learn (ISBN 0-309-07036-8), Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Research Council, National Academy Press, 2000.