Barefooted running

My kids had been stuck inside all day and were stir crazy.  So, as the winds from hurricane Irene died down and before it got dark, I took them outside to burn off some steam. I told them to run around the house.  As my 4 year old tore around the corner of the house at full speed, I was struck by the apparent truth behind the idea that we are naturally talented runners.

This idea is the premise of Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. The book explores the basis of the human capacity to run and describes a reclusive tribe of mexican indians who are able to run long distances over rough terrain.  Watching his TED talk will give you a good idea of his thinking:

His effort to to link skill as a runner with capacity for compassion is a stretch, but all in all it is a fun talk to watch.  He has a good presence on stage, his stories are engaging and there is solid evidence to support the evolutionary basis for our ability to run.  See for example this recent interview with Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman in which he discusses how the muscles in our necks allow us to keep our heads steady as we run.




Education should expect mastery but encourage experimentation and failure on the way

The title is paraphrased from a TED talk given by Salman Khan in which he presents a vision for the future of formal education:

The best educational experience involve significant direct contact between teachers and students. There is no replacement for small group interactions, but time and resources are limited, and the traditional educational model of having teachers spend precious classroom time presenting material in long lectures is flawed and inefficient.  As Khan makes clear in his presentation, his approach is not a replacement for a formal educational experience,  it is just an effective way to use technology to scale the aspects of education that are scaleable.

The concept of flipping the classroom is powerful. It is a way to allow technology to scale lecture delivery and formative assessment while preserving classroom time for interactions that can not be automated.

His observation that students like the YouTube teacher better that the real teacher make perfect sense. The last thing people who are struggling to understand something need is to have their thought process interrupted by being asked if they get it.  Or, being forced to move on to another topic before they are ready. His Youtube videos demonstrate how streaming videos can become the modern equivalent of the textbook. Like books, videos allows a student to work at their own pace, rewind and stop to think whenever needed.

Trying and failing before finally succeeding is powerful way to acquire knowledge.  The quizzing process used by the Khan Academy site is an effective way to facilitate understanding through trial and error in a private, low stakes environment.

Finally, I love the analogy to bike riding: Modern grading where a mediocre grade is needed for students to move on to new material is like telling a kid learning to ride a bike “You fell off your bike but did not require hospitalization.  So, I will tell everyone you know how to ride and encourage you try more dangerous things…”