The Mind of DRZ

This is a omniblog that will cover a wide variety of topics ranging from education, disabilities, finance, and alternative health to aesthetics and human potential. These topics encompass the range of activities covered by the Enabling Support Foundation (www.enabling.org)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

What would happen if paper and pencil were banned in school?

Look at today's preschool children. The iPad has become their busy box.  They are confused at paper magazines that do not scroll to touch.  They can have relatively complex conversations and they understand pictures and icons.  They are on cell phones and would soon learn to text just as they learned to speak and listen.  These children come to school in a 21st Century environment.  And then, we put a pencil their hands. 
There are those that think the students would not really understand unless they learned to do it for the 19th Century workplace.  They make a good case for what we will have lost.  But the bottom line is all the students will lose is handwriting.  Create a new discipline called, something like "Handwriting Arts."  It would be required of all students, but not as basic to Education.

Getting back to the 19th Century, arithmetic then, was the basis of all higher mathematics.  It was essential to progress.  The 20th Century changed that, and in the 21st Century paper and pencil is replaced by a spreadsheet.  It is easier to teach mathematics when the student is not distracted by arithmetic.  Like handwriting, there would be computation courses which would stress 19th Century approaches.  The emphasis, however, would be on advanced estimation rather than exact arithmetic.  If I want exact information, I would use automation, not mental arithmetic.

I answered the question on the negative consequences to Education without paper and pencil.  Turn it around:

What would be the consequences to Education if computers were banned?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thinking styles

How do you think?

To answer that question you need to introspect and look deep in your mind and observe. This discussion will explore human consciousness especially as it pertains to education. I was involved in neuropsychology and learning disabilities for a long time and I have found some unique relationships. It is important to understand how your students think. But before you can do that, you need to know what makes you tick. Introspect with me.

When I ask "How do you think?" I am not talking about content or process but how you experience your thinking. This goes beyond the standard learning styles approach, but there most definitely is a relationship.

For me, it started in the second grade. The teacher told the class to image something and she asked everyone whether they “got it”. And I couldn’t do it. I kept my deep dark secret until, many years later, I happened to mention to one of my students that I did not have visual imagery. Her reaction was instantaneous disbelief. How can you think!!!

In that moment I knew people did not think in the same way. How do I think?

I think in spoken words. There are no images to that thinking. I have some spatial imagery, but not at all visual. And then, like my student, there are those who use an image while I am speaking my 1000 words.

Let me tell you about another way I think, by pointing to that famous phrase “Deduction, my dear Watson, deduction.” That is wrong. Holms uses induction, not deduction. Holms took a speck of dust and faint aroma and came to a conclusion. That is induction. It is starting with the pieces and building a whole. Like using Tinker Toy.

Deduction would be more like: “It has been raining for the past week and the man who has not been here, will be dry. I need to look for a dry man.” You start with the overall and explore what flows from that. You are using deduction. Starting from the general and getting increasingly more specific.

Think about a Rubix Cube. I have not the faintest idea on how to move those blocks in any meaningful way. I am very much interested in spatial relations and use a simple measure called the Flags Test.The person is presented with a standard flag and must determine whether rotated forms are or are not be the same as the standard. The task is to determine whether the alternatives were or were not same flag in different orientations.

When I watched people taking the test, two types were immediately became obvious: Those, who rotated the test booklet to try to match the alternative with the standard, and those who did not. What were those individuals doing who did not move the booklet? Some of them were just breezing through the test and were rotating the flags mentally. The rest were were agonizing over "why do we have to do this?"

I belong to the third group. When I do this test I do not match images but talk my way through. “If the cross is on the left of the star and you turned it 270 degrees would the cross be on the right or the left?” I am a fast thinker and I can squeak by, but the Flags Test is not my thing.

Ok, I just gave you a glimpse into the Mind of DrZ. I gave you a summary of my thinking and ways to answer the question, “How do you think”

How important is visually imagery in your thinking?

This is a good ice breaker.
When a song “runs through your head” are you listening to the music or singing it?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Researcher Looks at LD

A Researcher Looks at LD

I am a retired professor of NeuroPsychology who developed a research program on the relationship between the brain and learning disability. I want to outline one particular study and show its importance in how we diagnose and teach the children we now label learning disabled.

An identified group of poor readers who had clear phonological deficits in reading were compared to average readers on two simple tasks. A group of words preselected to be in the sight vocabulary of all participants were paired under two conditions. In one case the student had to say whether the words meant the same, opposite, or unrelated. In the second task the students had to say whether the two words rhymed.

In the semantic task there were no differences between the two groups, but the students with phonological deficits performed much worse on the rhyme task. Even though they knew what the word meant and its relationship with other words, they could not pronounce the word.

I was never a K-12 teacher but it seems to make more sense to build on strength than remediate weakness. The purpose of reading is to get meaning from the printed word and the all the children in the study could do that. A prime approach is phonetic decoding. The poor readers could not use that approach, but they learned to read despite it. What is ironic is that we call the way the poor readers do it without phonics as speed reading and pay for a course to learn it.

A phonetic approach worked for me and for many others, but it does not work for everyone. If phonetic decoding does not work for some children, use something that will.

Closing Questions

Phonetic decoding is a Means toward the End of reading. Are we confusing the End and the Means?
Do we use phonics for deaf children?


Note: The study was a published Ph,D. dissertation and available on request.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

How do you think?

I taught neuropsychological research with an emphasis on special education for 25 years. I got started in this area when I told a friend that I did not have visual imagery. Her reaction was, "How do you think?"
I think by talking to myself but she thought via mental imagery. From there I developed a theory of the causes and remediation of reading disability.

To get started, try a simple experiment. Image an animal. Now rate it from 0-10 in terms of vividness and being lifelike. Did you image with your eyes open or closed? Now image with your eyes closed if they were open or open if they were closed. Now rate the image. Did it change?

I have tried this demonstration many times and about 50% of the people image with their eyes open and a majority of them, find the image decreases in vividness when they close them. But how often do we hear the instructions: Close your eyes and imagine.....

Try this in your classroom and let's hear what you find.

A closing question: When a song runs through your head, who is doing the singing?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Who were the Pioneers of the Internet

It is 1980 and the web was not invented, but the Bulletin Board System (BBS) flourished. They served the same function of a website, emal, file transfer, all in text. But most were served by a single phone line and there was no communication among the BBS.

I remember the Sister BBS in Staten Island, NY had to close down because of a hacker.
I found a 300 baud modem a little slow and felt the need to upgrade soon. Ancient history.

And then the creation of the multiuser BBS. I was on the Alianthus tree, but there were many more.
This multiuser technology turned commercial and the Source, Compuserve, and others evolved into AOL.

In those days the "Internet" was limited to a few universities working with the DOD. There were lots of regional networks like bitnet, fidonet, usenet, but internetworking was not always easy.

In 1981 (or so) Bill McGarry was publishing the Handicap Digest using Listserv is the Father of all mailing list managers. The Handicap Digest HCAP-L was a compilation of all material available relating to persons with disabilities. I guess you could call him a ProtoGoogle.

Norm Coombs from the University of Rochester was promoting distance learning for persons with disabilities. He ultimately created an organization called EASI promoting equal access for persons with disabilities. I attended a webinar sponsored by EASI this week on using the voice synthesis to navigate Excel.

A little bit later networks devoted to K-12 arose and grew into major Listserv mailing lists like Patt Haring's Kidsnet.
In 1990 Anne Pemberton brought her own Apple IIe and 1200 baud modem and had her LD kids emailing to netpal all over the world. Chatback sponsored the Christmas dinner, where children all over the UK could tell what they ate.

Back in those days, the LD kids were shoved onto the computers because they liked it there and were quiet. And the better computer teachers were taking advantage of pre-internet networking.

Do you think that someone could have gotten the hint and found some way to teach these kids using computers instead of just dumping them on the computer teacher. The real irony is that when the Education Establishment suddenly realized the value of the computer and the Internet, the logical thing to do was to take the LD kids off the computers and make them learn the basics. They don't know enough to use the computers. We will reserve it for the brightest kids who can make the most out of it.

PS While Anne Pemberton's LD kids were emailing around the world, the gifted kids were learning bridge.

While all this was going on, what were the Universities doing? In 1994 I hooked up with Robert Ambrose who had created the Enabling Support Foundation. He refurbished donated computers and gave them to persons with disabilities and provided training. I was able to get two lines from my university dedicated to ESF and the clients reached the Internet. At that point there were a total of 12 lines. That they had two to spare shows the use of the internet on a college campus in 1994.

The Pioneers of Internet were the persons with disabilities and K-12 Education. IBM had a saying: Pioneers get arrows in the back.

There were two arrows. Windows and the World Wide Web.
Before windows only Macintosh had a graphical interface and used a mouse. The PC was controled by command line and menus. Bill Gates put out a graphical interface that runs on Dos and impossible to use. Windows 1 was born. And today, he has succeeded in turning a perfectly good digital computer into simulated analogue computer with how many gigs of software?

Arrow 1. How do the blind navigate a graphical interface with a mouse? PWD typically have below average income and it is more expensive to buy a computer that needs a larger computer with more storage, ram and processing speed.

Arrow 2. The World Wide Web was created in the early 1990;s. It was hypertext. If you go to a node and select it, you would get to another node. For example, you are reading an article that cites a reference and you click on the reference to take a look. I remember using a program using hypertext in 1981. It would be brilliant on the Internet.

And then some bright spoilsport said, hey we are not limited to text. The addition of images and sounds added two dimensions to the web but at a horrible price in bandwidth.

Now we need a broadband connection in addition to the already expensive computer to use the Internet.

In 1990 persons with disability hailed the Internet as leveling the playing field. Then windows and the web enticed the universities and the general population onto the internet and suddenly the playing field is as lopsided as it ever was.

A blind person cannot join FaceBook and many other social networks


Pioneers do indeed get arrows in the back.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Anatomy of Consciousness

I taught neuropsychological research with an emphasis on special education for 25 years. I got started in this area when I told a friend that I did not have visual imagery. Her reaction was, "How do you think?"

I think by talking to myself but she thought via mental imagery. From there I developed a theory of the causes and remediation of reading disability.

To get started, try a simple experiment. Image an animal. Now rate it from 0-10 in terms of vividness and being lifelike. Did you image with your eyes open or closed? Now image with your eyes closed if they were open or open if they were closed. Now rate the image. Did it change?

I have tried this demonstration many times and about 50% of the people image with their eyes open and a majority of them, find the image decreases in vividness when they close them. But how often do we hear the instructions: Close your eyes and imagine.....


A closing question: When a song runs through your head, who is doing the singing?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Teachers must be held accountable

Teachers must be held accountable

There is no question that teacher's must be accountable for their performance. Why should they be different than anyone else? Easy to say but more difficult accomplish.

How do we measure performance?
Performance is usually defined in terms of the students performance. So far so good.

How do we measure student performance?
By using multiple choice tests!

If you use a test score criterion to judge a teachers performance, the teacher will make sure her students pass the test.

Why have multiple choice tests replaced teacher evaluation? Has this emphasis come at the expense of a broader education?

When did we stop trusting our teachers? Why?

Are there active groups who think that teacher evaluation is more important than scores on a multiple choice test?

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I am a retired research neuropsychologist who is now CEO of the Enabling Support Foundation, a non-profit with a mission aimed at Education and at Persons with Disabilities.