My Research Plan!

September 19, 2008
Alexander's Empire

Alexander

Welcome fellow students of JOMC 713, Deb, and whoever else may have stumbled upon this, my blog on education!

This welcome page is my Research Plan, so let me get right to it.

Background

Aristotle once said or wrote,

All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth. (www.bartleby.com)

Aristotle put this into action by tutoring the young Alexander of Macedonia at the tender age of 13. The student Alexander went on to conquer most of the known world, transmitting Greek ideas and values wherever he went.

Both sides of the Aristotle-Alexander coin were important. Without Aristotle’s humane influence, Alexander may have been just another brutal tyrant, ruling men by force of arms and will. And without Alexander’s ambition and strength, Aristotle’s ideas may have never reached and transformed a larger audience.

We can learn from this history that education is a give-and-take, a form of social interaction. Both the student and the teacher have to be involved. As John Dewey would say, education is about real-life experiences, not mere preparation for some future action.

Research Questions

In my blog preamble I raised the question, “What does it mean to learn?” There I discussed education as an exchange between the teacher and student, with the ideal teacher showing genuine interest in the context and needs of the student. I would like to continue to research this basic question.

An extension of the first question is “Do we primarily want to teach rote skills such as the standard algorithms for multiplication and division, or should we instead focus on teaching the understanding of concepts? Or are both possible?” There is a fascinating debate about this on YouTube dealing with the use of certain contemporary textbooks for elementary math education (see both the original video by M. J. McDermott and the response by James Lynch.) Ms. McDermott argues for abandoning the new textbooks altogether and going back to teaching “basic skills” (which she defines as mastery of the standard algorithms for multiplication and division by the end of fifth grade). James Lynch wants to teach skills also, but “in the context of conceptual understanding.” He mentions the terms “number sense” and “understanding mathematics as a whole.”

Lastly, a related question is “How can we best accomodate education to the specific needs of each learner?” This question brings in the whole subject of classifications of students as “gifted and talented,” “specific learning disabilities,” autism, ADHD, and so on. This question focuses on how to teach real people who are not statistical averages or blank slates.

I know I bring a unique perspective to this research, for a couple of reasons. I have attended public and private schools, been in huge lecture classes and small discussion classes, and have learned from rote memorization as well as from open-ended discussion. As an undergraduate I attended St. John’s College, where there are no majors or minors, no tests, no grades, and no professors per se. Everyone reads a common list of great books, which are some of the most profound books ever written. Students learn to see these books as being engaged in a “Great Conversation” with each other, and we enter that discussion through Seminars and tutorials led by “tutors.”

In addition, I have taught and tutored mathematics for several years (see About Bobby), and I have been diagnosed at various times as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder myself.

What the Audience Wants to Know

I think people will want to know what practices and policies are the best for teaching people as real people, and for teaching them tools to help them understand concepts. Some audience questions might be, “What’s the earliest age at which a child can benefit from a Socratic discussion?” “How can we get American kids more interested in math and the sciences?” “What motivates gifted and talented students, as well as students with learning disabilities, to develop and unfold their own unique talents?”

Key Words

My keywords for research will include, but not be limited to, the following:

  • Socratic method, the
  • John Dewey
  • Aristotle on Education
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • Constructivism
  • Gifted and Talented
  • Specific Learning Disabilities
  • ADHD
  • Number Sense
  • Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome

Websites

Again, this list is not exhaustive; I’m always on the search for good resources. If you find some, send them my way.

Title: “Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth,” by M.J. McDermott; and “Responses” parts 1 and 2 by James Lynch.

Web Address: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=Tr1qee-bTZI

Description: Seattle meteorologist M.J. McDermott examines some contemporary math textbooks used in the elementary grades, and she finds them inadequate to teach “every child how to multiply and divide by fifth grade.” College mathematics professor James Lynch responds that the basic idea of the textbooks is good — to foster a conceptual understanding of mathematics and number sense — but that the effectiveness of the books is limited by other factors in the education system.

Title: “What’s Wrong with Math Education in the USA?,” by James Lynch

Web Address: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=2nYyJNEwDH8

Description: College mathematics professor James Lynch discusses some of the core problems with math education in the United States, as compared with other countries. He mentions 1) the unequal nature of the comparisons and 2) some cultural values in America that work against the goals of math education.

Title: CEC (Council for Exceptional Children) Blog: “Reality 101 for the New Teacher”

Web Address: http://www.cecblog.typepad.com

Description: Experienced and award-winning teachers and administrators share their wisdom with new teachers who have taught in a school for only 0 to 3 years. Topics range from reading student body language and behaviors (“Behavior is Language”) to finding Web resources that teach subjects through the use of games and fun.

Title: “What is the Socratic Method?”

Web Address: http://greatbooksacademy.org/html/what_is_the_socratic_method_.html

Description: This site describes what the Socratic Method is, its origins in Plato’s dialogue Meno, and why the method is useful for promoting understanding of core concepts. It has a homeschool-oriented perspective.

Title: “The Informal Education Homepage”

Web Address: http://www.infed.org

Description: This site deals with “informal education,” which it defines as lifelong learning and education tied to social action. It features an “Encyclopedia of Informal Education,” full of pages on thinkers from Aristotle to John Dewey. It also has an “action” section devoted to ideas on civic participation and community.

Title: “The British Journal of Special Education”

Web Address: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/117989206/home?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0

Description: This is a peer-reviewed journal on issues in special education, dealing with topics from interventions for Asperger’s Syndrome to reading materials for adults with intellectual disabilities. This is pretty cool because it’s a professional journal but you can read the article abstracts online for free.