Discovering vs Instruction

Do you learn better when you discover something on your own, or when someone “teaches” you? Do you prefer a lecture or exploration? Certainly, there are times when a quick explanation is efficient and convenient, however for decades, studies have shown that in general, we learn best when we discover new information ourselves. Here is one such study where a new toy is introduced to 3 and 4 year olds in two different ways. As parents and teachers, we should all be keeping in mind how we inspire interest, as well as how we can extinguish interest. Sometimes it’s a bit counter-intuitive.  I might add that a Montessori teacher does exactly what this article suggests: s/he “discovers” a material in front of the child and demonstrates curiosity about how the material works.  Then it’s the child’s turn…

The Necessity of Alone Time

Here is a really interesting article on the importance of alone time for kids. The Power of Lonely by Leon Neyfakh pulls together research indicating that we are kinder, more confident, develop a stronger sense of identity, and better memory skills, in addition to the long-established creative, intellectual, and spiritual advantages. Abridged version: you and your children need alone time to process, regroup, and grow. Check out the article though, the research and explanations are fascinating.

Preparing children for college

The Washington Post published an article on preparing middle schoolers for college last week, “8 Subtle Ways to Ready Middle Schoolers for College” and I thought it was actually a solid piece for parenting students of any age (other than the Algebra I bit).  The article is actually very practical and very brief and provides some good general principles for college, as well as for life.  It makes complete sense that our children will do better on their own if they have been doing household chores for years, if they are people of strong character, if they fill their transcripts with hobbies they love, rather than empty tasks to please admissions offices.   Read it and let it guide you where it will.

Race to Nowhere

Last week, I went to see “Race to Nowhere“, a documentary about the college-driven lives of our children.  There is certainly a segment of the student population struggling with stress levels that are appalling, but that parents and teachers don’t seem to recognize very easily–or perhaps we think they’re a necessary evil.  What I found compelling, though, was the discussion that inspired the title.  Most upper middle class students feel as though they are in a race, to do well in school, to in order to have impressive transcripts, in order to get into the top colleges, in order to get into the top grad schools, in order to get the best job, in order to…. it never seems to end.  One particularly articulate teenager in the film suggests that the emperor has no clothes, calling it a race to nowhere.  It begs the question of all of us: what do we want for our children?  What does a good education mean?  What are its guarantees?  These are questions we all, teachers, parents, and students, need to wrestle with so that our decisions, our reactions, and our plans are purposeful and meaningful.

Technology and the Brain

Here is a VERY comprehensive article on technology and how it’s changing our lives, or more specifically, our brains.  This article from the London Review of Books focuses on distraction, memory, and creativity, but is not concerned with children per say.  As we protect and stimulate our children’s brains, all evidence points to caution when it comes to the effects of technology on creativity.  Counter to what you might think, Jim Holt does indicate a number of areas where technology is making us sharper (eg. MRI’s of experienced Google users versus inexperienced Google users shows positive structural changes in the brain for making connections between concepts).   Of course, when we’re in the thick of change, it’s difficult to gauge how it’s changing us, but we are being remiss if we do not at least reflect on it now and then.