Archive for the 'thinking' 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.
  • Or perhaps you’d like to fly a drone with thought control, and from anywhere on the planet too. Well, you now can.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • By scanning your brain, researchers can determine what you’ve read.
  • In limited ways, scientists can already tap into your memory. In this example, they can reconstruct an image of faces that you have seen.
  • 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.
  • Or what about the option of even upgrading your brain? This will be a serious option in the lifetime of your students.

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?!

The Laws Of Learning

P1000090I love Hyde Park Speakers Corner in London. You’ll hear the best and the worst speakers in this location; and they wax delirious on an endless range of topics. Here’s one important thing, though. You need to be good if you’re going to speak there. People vote with their feet, and very quickly.

When I walked around there a couple of months ago, I got to thinking about what constitutes really good learning for adults. And so, partly as a result of that few minutes, I’m now sorting out what I’m going to call The Laws Of Learning. Am also thinking about writing a simple little booklet (or App, or some other form of information-supporting device) that clarifies these Laws.

Just in case you didn’t know, the scientific term for adult learning is ‘andragogy’. If you’re a teacher / trainer / lecturer / facilitator for adults, you need to know your andragogy. I might call this my Andragogy App (What a winner of a title. I can hear the deafening applause from here).

For quality learning to take place, these 12 Laws must be reinforced by the facilitator, and practised by the learners. The questions are directed towards the learner in this early outline down below. I’m open to any feedback here. What have I missed with some Laws? How could these be adjusted?

There are quite a few overlaps eg between the Law Of Modalities; and the Law Of Interaction. However, for now, I’ll stick with these 12.

I’m also thinking of writing some form of parable to create the context for this; and possibly placing this into a form of learning journey that travels through a digital (or even ancient) landscape. Maybe I’ll then go back to London and apply them to a presentation in Hyde Park. That would be the ultimate test.

So here we go. The 12 Laws Of Learning:

1. The Law Of Purpose. Clarify the purpose for the learning. Why are we doing this? Where are we going with this learning? What’s our reason for being here?

2. The Law Of Ownership. To learn effectively, the learner must own (at least part of) the process.  How have we been involved in the initial construction of this learning process? How will we monitor our own performance during and after the learning experience?

3. The Law Of Association. Effective learning occurs when the learner makes connections with what he / she already knows. What connections can we make between our prior knowledge, and with what we’re learning here?

4. The Law Of Relevance. The learning must have meaning within the learner’s own life. Can we make use of this? Will it be relevant to what we do each day? How will we put it into practice?

5. The Law Of Memory. To remember what we learn is patently an obvious factor. Watch for what is called primacy (the 1st thing you hear), and recency (the last thing you hear). How do we commit what we’ve learnt to our memory? How do we best access it later when we need it?

6. The Law Of Modalities. Each learner has his / her preferred modes of learning. Some learners are more auditory than other, some are kinaesthetic, some prefer text, others would rather talk about it. What’s our most effective mode? How could we effectively use that in our very next learning experience?

7. The Law Of Motivation. Internal motivators are more powerful than external motivators for most adult learners. What inspires us to succeed? What do we most want to learn in our life? Or at least, what do we most want to learn here in this session today?

8. The Law Of Interaction. Learners must be immersed in the task; they have to engage with the experience. This can include direct practice; team dynamics; competitive roleplays; movement; visual reinforcement; ongoing professional dialogue. How do we each like to best interact?

9. The Law of Thinking. Critical and creative thinking are equally important, as are the questions and connections we develop as a result of our thinking. Synthesizing what we learn leads to depth of understanding. How really do we think? What do we think about during the learning? How does that help our learning?

10. The Law Of Repetition. Remember the 10,000 hr rule (it takes that many hours to become an expert in most things!). For learning to become embedded, it must be practised over and over, in a variety of contexts. How prepared are we each to practise? What strategies help us to persevere with the repetitions?

11. The Law Of Narrative. When the presenter tells a story, it creates a context for the learning. And an entertaining (and even emotional) one at that, if we’re lucky. Stories create stronger brain maps. How much more effective is our own learning if we get to hear contextual stories? What are our favourite stories, and why?

12. The Law Of Challenge. Think Goldilocks. Not too cold, not too hot. If the learning is too easy, then it’s boring. If it’s too complex for the learner, then she / he won’t relate to it. Do we learn more effectively with low or high challenge? How open are we to extreme intellectual provocation? Where are the very limits with our own Challenge Zone?

The Ridiculous Key and mental exercise

Daily Mental Exercise

For the past few decades, health authorities around the world have exhorted us to find 30 mins (or more) a day to exercise our bodies. For very good reason. All other things being equal, we’ll each live a longer and more physically satisfying life if we engage in that exercise.

So, what about mental exercise? I would like to see an equally focused effort placed on intellectual exercise from the mental health authorities. In this case, it would involve a mass encouragement for us to stretch our intellect for 30 mins every day. The implications of not doing so are, in many ways, even more profound than the lack of physical exertion.

Now, some would say that their brain already works endlessly throughout the day, and thus it does not need to do anything further. Yet surely that also could be said about the body. Most of us need to walk around for much of the day, yet this hardly constitutes quality exercise.

So, what would worthwhile intellectual exercise really involve??

You could start with the plethora of technology that is presently being marketed around this theme. Lots of online and offline brain exercise devices abound, and some of them thankfully go much further than just moving coloured dots from one place to another. It’s worth having a look at some of them.

If you’re that serious about training your brain, what would be some of the cheaper (and in most cases) more effective ways of intellectually exercising your Self??

Well…let’s see. Reading books that challenge your longheld beliefs. Listening to people who have markedly different viewpoints to you. Studying a topic that is just a little bit beyond your present intellectual grasp. Learning a new language. Developing a different skill. The list is exhaustive.

The Ridiculous Key

However, here’s one of my consummate favourites. Just challenge the status quo, on almost everything. No, make that everything. And here’s a simple process for doing this. I call it the Ridiculous Key.

This is one of my twenty Thinkers Keys. And during my own lessons, it’s often proved to be the one that stretches students’ thinking the most. It works like this.

Make a totally ridiculous statement about some issue. And then set out to demonstrate how it could be done. You need to make the statement as over-the-top and as outlandish as possible. Here are some examples:

All mobile devices (eg cellphones, online mobile laptops) need to be banned during daylight hours. Without exception.

Some justifications:

  • People would get more creative about sending messages to others eg they’d start using carrier pigeons, they’d actually write love letters on paper, they’d ask someone else to pass the message on, they’d rediscover morse code
  • An underground movement called Let Us Decide (the LUDs) would build up around the world, protesting about this latest intrusion on privacy, and creating a sense of collaboration never before seen in society
  • There would be fewer traffic accidents, especially with drivers who previously were not focusing on their driving while talking on their mobile
  • Not as many people would be injured when walking into lamp-posts while texting someone
  • Fewer teenagers would go into debt with their mobile phone contract
  • More people might actually talk with each other in real life
  • It would allow authorities to fine people who persist in using their mobile devices in the day, and thus boost the funds in the public purse (hopefully to be used for educational expenditure)

Now it’s your turn. What type of justifications could you find for the following Ridiculous statements?

1. All schooling is to be provided online by 2010, without exception.
2. Advertisements on TV must feature in a single full hour from 7pm to 8pm each night. No other ads will be allowed at any time.
3. No one, anywhere in the world, can ever again complain about anything. Instead, every conversation about an issue must focus exclusively on solutions.

Enjoy your intellectual exercise.

Creative thinking

“Creativity is as important as literacy.” Love this quote from UK presenter Ken Robinson, who proposes that education systems need to nurture the creative spirit in all children.

Here’s an intriguing talk from this guy. Any educators will find themselves nodding in agreement with at least some of this. As you watch it (it goes for 20 mins; really worth it, and quite entertaining), just ponder what YOU intend to do about this.
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Thinkers Keys: Matrix Key

Here’s one for all of those who are obsessed with teaching children to think at the highest intellectual levels.

As part of my blog contributions, I’ll occasionally include some of my Thinkers Keys. Feel free to download and use them to your heart’s content. So here’s the first offering: the Matrix Key. It has always been one of my favourites. In the earlier version of the Thinkers Keys (a free download is available here), I called it the Combination Key. However, here’s the update on it. Called the Matrix Key (you’ll need to download this, in order to make sense of the rest of this). Comes from the new Thinkers Keys CD-Rom.

For a variety of reasons, I find that kids all over the world love to use this process. Clear elegant process, with a direct visual framework. It can trigger the most innovative ideas. I’ve often used it in my own lessons. In its simplest version, it challenges you (or them) to combine two different items / concepts / products into a single new form. Here’re some of the ideas I’ve been offered from children:

A combination of surfboards and iceblocks (paddlepops). People who hire surfboards often bring them back too late, and ignore the calls coming from the beach. So, we need to make the surfboards out of a large piece of ice, and it would then just melt at the end of the period of time.

Some 8 year olds were asked how they could get some chocolates down from the top of a high refrigerator, using a wristwatch. Their response: They would throw the watch up in the air, and this would make time fly. They then would grow up really quickly, and they could reach up and grab the chocolates by themselves.