Archive for the 'narrative' Category

Brain Computer Interfaces

BrainJust imagine: Merely by thinking about it, teachers could control what appears on a projector screen in a classroom over 10,000 km away, with their voices then giving further support to the students in that same room.

Sound a little far-fetched? On the contrary, the technology already exists. Brain-Computer Interfaces are now well-advanced, and promise to deliver some astonishing options in learning and life over the next decade.

Brain Computer Interfaces? Sometimes referred to as BCIs, they are technologies that allow your thinking to control and even re-create your physical environment. BCIs will challenge us to seriously rethink how we teach students the complex skill of thinking, and the purposes to which they will apply those skills.

Much of this technology has actually been around for several years, but it’s all about to go mainstream. Here are some examples for you:

  • What if your thinking alone could move a wheelchair? They already do. http://bit.ly/GODmp7
  • Or perhaps you’d like to fly a drone with thought control, and from anywhere on the planet too. Well, you now can. http://bit.ly/YrYryi
  • Perhaps you’re prepared to drive your car with your thoughts alone. A scary thought, given that some people can’t even do it properly in the normal way. http://bbc.in/1qbo16e
  • Gesture-based computing and voice activation systems can adjust what happens on our screens. But what if you could make changes on your computer screen by simply thinking about them? The product already exists. http://www.emotiv.com/epoc.php
  • What if we could even bridge the divide between the physical and virtual worlds eg by drawing with a pen, and reaching inside your computer screen to do so? This TED talk is worth a quick look. http://bit.ly/1tgWI9r
  • By scanning your brain, researchers can determine what you’ve read. http://bit.ly/1aJuWMg
  • In limited ways, scientists can already tap into your memory. In this example, they can reconstruct an image of faces that you have seen. http://cnet.co/1o7Ro31
  • Want to push a few limits here? Within 30 years, we may be able to supercharge the brain for learning, and for many other everyday functions as well. http://2045.com/news/33213.html
  • Or what about the option of even upgrading your brain? This will be a serious option in the lifetime of your students.  http://bit.ly/1sPaqA4

Some further options? The mobile / cell phone is probably the quintessential modern piece of technology, and its refinements in the next decade will reflect these neuro-advances.

The I-Phone 21 may become a form of wearable headware that can transmit some of your thoughts to another I-Phone 21. The I-Phone 25 may even be a surgically implanted neural device that will enable you to do the same thing.

What does this mean for our everyday lives?

In such a world, your thinking capacity will become more vital than ever before. Not only will you need to think critically and creatively, you’ll also need to synch yourself with your meta-tech devices.

TV quiz shows that adulate those with prodigious factual memory will be supplanted by online shows in which the contestants will compete via control of specific devices eg robots or drones.

The thinking of the players will increasingly control computer games. World-wide NeuroGame competitions will be watched by millions of adoring fans. The 2040 Olympic Games may even feature the 1st ever gold medal won solely with one’s thinking.

What can teachers do in this pending Neuro Age?

Intriguingly enough, some core pedagogical concepts will stay in vogue. As much as ever before, students will need to learn how to focus on a specific task. Mindfulness practices will become even more important than ever.

Over the past decade, multi-tasking unfortunately became fashionable with our students. This will thankfully change, because BCIs will require the user to focus very specifically on the single task at hand (or mind).

The concept of old-fashioned examinations that focus on memory retention may become superfluous. If Smart Drugs or brain augmentations are commonplace, then ‘cheating’ will take on a whole new meaning.

What will you need to do in everyday teaching? Here are some practical options:

  • Introduce daily sessions of mindfulness training. Most effective learning experiences are enhanced by a few moments of initial relaxation.
  • Show children how to self-talk. Write up some words such as “This is a great school”, and then ask them to think those words in their head without speaking. They need to silently think the words at normal speaking speed. Then encourage them to use this self-talk when they are thinking through the process for a task.
  • Develop awareness in children that these brain-controlled options will soon exist. Show them the links in this article. Be very upfront about it. Get into ‘futures’ with your class/es. Join the World Future Society. It’s cheap; and they have lots of great resources.
  • With everyday learning, integrate some explicit thinking strategies eg the Thinkers Keys (yes, this is a shameless plug. I wrote them). They will then have the skills for navigating their thinking through this upcoming amazing world.
  • Keep up with neuroscience research. In recent years, two massive projects have accelerated our understanding of the human brain. The US version is called The BRAIN Initiative and will develop even more complex and revolutionary pictures of the brain’s functions. Europe’s Human Brain Project has been exploring the edges of our neuroscience understandings for the past two years.

And what about you?

  • Keep your own brain as active as possible. Some of the key beneficial activities? Physical exercise (yes, it’s probably the most powerful possible support for brain functioning); reading that challenges and stimulates; creative pursuits; all-new learning experiences.
  • Practise stream-of-consciousness brainstorming. Decide upon a question or an issue, and then spend at least 10 mins generating continuous responses. No pauses are allowed. Keep the flow going.
  • Use voice activation systems on your computer or device. Close your eyes, and talk steadily. Later on, open your eyes, and only then read what you have recorded.
  • Learn how to quickly collate the latest research and practice in your specialist field. This is the best time in human history for instantly finding out what you need. Use worthwhile tools that help you to do so.

Are there any limits to this NeuroAge? Probably not. I could conjecture on the most unbelievable possibilities for you; and I may still not even scratch the surface of your scalp. We will all need to accept this pending Age of Uncertainty, in which there will be an exponential rush of advancing technologies such as these BCIs.

Are there some concerns about these neuro devices? Of course there are. All through human history, there have been good and poor consequences for most new discoveries. We will need to ask questions such as: Is the use of these devices ethical and responsible? Will it make the world a better place for all?

One of the greatest benefits? As educators, we love to explore the astonishing capacity of the human mind, and these BCIs will certainly provide some challenging opportunities to do so. What do you think?!

I Can

If you’re into student-centred learning, you’re going to love this. I picked this up from Morgan Daly at http://twitter.com/urbangrind Indian teacher Kiran Bir Sethi decided to develop a school that focused on the expression ‘I Can’. This goes for 9 mins, and it’s worth every second. Watch for the world’s first child-friendly Zebra crossing.

Feeding The Monsters

Always an interesting time of the year for teachers, is it not?? Lights at the end of the tunnel, and all of that stuff.

I remember reading some research indicating that the school office would be sent the most number of ‘troublemakers’ from classrooms in the 2nd last week of any term. And even moreso in the 2nd last week of the year.

Why not the last week, I thought to myself? And yet it probably makes a lot of sense. Somehow, when the end is nigh in that final week, we tend to summon up our last reserves of resilience, and cope with everything as well as possible. As well, kids will remember the last few things that were said and done, and so, we’d obviously prefer those memories to be more positive.

This following narrative has application at any time of the year; and yet I suspect that it applies even more directly to this specific time. Goes like this:

A teacher was once talking with her class, and told them about the two monsters that were always fighting inside their heads.

“So what are the two monsters?” asked one student.

“Well, one of them always looks for the best in your life, and encourages you to think about what is going well in the world around you.”

“And the other?”

“ Ah, well, that’s the monster that always looks for the worst in your life, and hassles you to think about what is going badly in the world around you.”

One student asked: “So which one wins?”

And the teacher responded: ‘The one that you feed.”

Dancing to the sound of music

If this doesn’t cheer you up, nothing will!

Antwerp Central Railway Station in Belgium on March 23 2009. A recording of Do Re Me, sung by Julie Andrews, suddenly began playing over the public address system, and 200 people streamed out of the crowd and started dancing. They had practised twice. Pretty good effort for two rehearsals.

Why don’t we start setting up impromptu performances like this all over the world? Given the talent I often see in schools, they could be strongly involved. From there, we could set up a YouTube channel, and compile these presentations.

Over to you. Arrange something in your local shopping centre, or at your airport, or at some (normally) boring meeting, and exercise everyone’s goosebumps!

Anniversaries

There comes a time in your life when you may need to face up to actions that you’ve taken in the past. Welcome to your school or workplace reunion. I’ve just experienced one; and didn’t I discover some powerful lessons about life!! Mine and others.

Way back at the start of my teaching career, I was working in a beautiful little school at Finch Hatton (about 40 mins west of Mackay in Nth Qld). And they had their Centenary celebrations last weekend. I was in Napier in NZ the day before, so there were quite a few flights before I managed to make it up there.

Just a delight to reconnect with so many of my former pupils. Quite a few of them spent a whole three years with me (the legacy of small schools in the bush). A very strong proportion of them have now become teachers (hmmm….).

Some of my learnings:

* Did I really play that much when I was 22 years old? It’s not that I don’t play a lot now, but heck, I must have been over the top then. If I can believe half of what I heard, I created a game out of anything and everything. It was a magic reminder for me to keep the play going.

* If someone smiles beautifully at the age of 10, they do the same at 35. If they care deeply about others in childhood, they still do in adult life. Yes, I know that we can all make the effort to change who we are. However, I suspect that there are characteristics that are embedded at a very early age (or maybe even before). Goes to show just how vital those early years are, even in the context of one’s entire lifetime.

* When people get together after a long time apart, they basically just share stories. I heard (and told) one story after another all through the time there. Narrative binds us, even when time and distance create separations.

Given the narrative scene, I was asked to lay a time capsule, and to offer a few thoughts on my time teaching in the school. For starters, I was wondering how I would announce the laying of this Capsule eg do I say “I now declare the Time Capsule closed?’ or what? Anyway, I decided on ‘I now declare this Time Capsule laid.” Seemed appropriate.

Instead of raving away about lots of things, I also chose to share just two narrative that gave a taste for my three years there. One about the kids; one about the parents.

The Kids. They were a fantastic group. Keen, great work ethic, and often very creative. One boy used to stand in line before a lesson with his top shirt button undone. After he persisted with this for a while, I eventually told him that he could leave his button undone the day that he finally grew some hair on his chest. The next day, he was again lining up, with that top button undone. And when I asked him to do it up, he pointed out the cat fur that he had taped to his chest.

Gotta love the initiative.

The Parents. They understood the worth of a local school; and for me, they were hugely supportive. I once took my class on a 3-day camp to a beautiful beach called Cape Hillsborough, in spite of the warnings of wiser heads, who pointed out that some bad storms might be imminent. However, being young / foolish / and wanting to give these kids a great time, I headed off.

And on the 2nd night, the mother and father of all storms hit. Tents flew everywhere. The lighning was a wondrous sight… until it was crackling all around us. At 3 in the morning, I called one of the parents back home, who arranged for others to immediately drive down (90 mins away) and rescue us.

And you know, not one single person, then or later, kicked my butt for it. I’m still grateful for the trust and the support.

May you celebrate all of your anniversaries with special narrative.