Surprise! Taking notes with pen and paper proven to be more effective.

From: For More Effective Studying, Take Notes With Pen and Paper

According to a new study, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer of Princeton University and UCLA Los Angeles respectively, students who write out their notes by hand actually learn more than those to type their notes on laptops. Over the course of several experiments, Mueller and Oppenheimer tested students’ memories for factual detail, conceptual comprehension, and synthesizing capabilities after half of them took notes by hands and the other half took notes by way of computer. Students who used laptops cranked out more words than hand-writers did, but the hand-writers ended up with a stronger conceptual understanding across the board.

 

Why? You can read the article, but the short version is that when we write by hand we have to process the material more, and thereby learn it better. Makes sense.

Of course, the converse would also be true. If you just want to dump your unedited ideas in text form (for say, brainstorming) then a computer would be a better tool because it has less steps between you and the data output. Something to think about.

Now if could only convince my students that their laptops aren’t helping them study!

Rob

Local History Matters

Tonight, I attended a lecture at my local community center by a local historian on the largely ignored Eastern half of the city of London, Ontario. My city, as I learned tonight, was originally two- London Proper (what I know as Downtown London) and East London (where the factories and working class people lived). These two halves, divided by Adelaide Street, would amalgamate at the dawn of the 20th century into a single city, but those lines still exist over a hundred years later in class and social divides.

In my city, we have the term East of Adelaide (EOA), which basically means “the bad side of town”, although it’s not technically completely accurate anymore. I grew up EOA, and although I never really felt the divide much at the time, now looking back I can see it in my own youthful experiences and how that shaped my attitudes towards class in some ways. I was one of the lucky ones, since my father was a doctor, as I still had a very middle class existence, but many I knew weren’t so lucky.

Regardless, what I found precious about tonight was the fact that for one of the first times in my life I actually learned about the history of the place where I grew up. It wasn’t that I avoided it, or that I didn’t want to know- it was that there simply wasn’t anyone available to teach it to me. My parents grew up in other cities, and moved here shortly after I was born, so they couldn’t teach me what they didn’t know. (A common situation in many highly mobile Canadian families.) So, how was I supposed to learn it?

The obvious answer should be school, but the sad truth is that school doesn’t teach local history either. They teach world history, national history and provincial history, but almost nothing about the history of the place where the school sits.

And that, is wrong.

Oh, I know why it happens. Here in Canada we’re a young country, and we have this odd Canadian provincial mentality that nothing Canadian really matters much in the greater scheme of things. We’re only three hundred years old, or so, and we haven’t had many wars, or political upheavals, and nothing really all that exciting happened, and Canadians history is boring, so why should we really bother teaching it? Especially local history, right? What good is that?

Except that’s all wrong- all of it. That’s the stupid mentality we’ve developed because of the way we’re taught history, and that creeping sense of inferiority we have to the UK and the United States who look so much cooler and bigger and cooler from where we sit. The truth is that Canadian history is filled with pirates, adventurers, explorers, entrepreneurs, political leaders, sports heroes, uprisings, cultural battles, wars, sex, violence, and everything else that makes history exciting.

We just don’t teach that stuff, because it’s somehow not proper. It’s like the stuff we’re embarrassed about, and we don’t want people having the wrong idea that we might be descended from THOSE people.

And that leaks down to the attitude about local history as well, which has this air of being nothing special or important. I mean, unless you live in Montreal or Quebec, that’s history, but the rest of Canada? Who cares, right?

Well, we should care.

It’s a little bit like not knowing your parents or your family history. The place we grow up shapes us and defines us in a thousand little ways, and unless we know and understand that place and where it came from, we will never truly understand ourselves. We need that knowledge as we go out into the world, because it lets us know who we are, and gives us a center to find our way.

Local history should be taught in schools, and it should be taught in a way which is no less important or detailed than the other “greater” types of history. If anything, it’s more important, exactly because it’s part of the lives of the students learning it.

Of course, I can already hear people sayings- “but local kids won’t want to learn that!”

To this, I reply with what the historian told me tonight. She told me about casually mentioning her area of study to a bunch of teenage boys she knew, and her being shocked when they actually wanted to sit there and learn everything she could tell them about where they grew up. They wanted to know where they came from, and were more than willing to pay attention if there was someone to teach it to them and answer their questions.

And why shouldn’t they? It was history that actually mattered to THEM.

It might not be important to anyone else, but it was their lives, their roots she was talking about, the place they lived in every day, and the questions that they’d always had but never thought to ask about their real world.

We talk all the time about disillusioned young people, voter turnout being down and people not being engaged in civic politics, but we need to ask the question- why should they be? If we don’t teach them to know and love the place where they grew up, how can they be anything but unattached and uncaring? Why should they care when they have no sense of connection to their homes, neighbourhoods and towns? A place is its people, but it’s also its history.

Even if the school boards just gave one semester of one year to local history, it could make a huge difference in the lives of many kids. Yes, not everyone will want to learn it or appreciate it, but don’t they deserve the chance to choose?

Stop Certifying New Teachers in Ontario

In London, Ontario right now if you want to become an elementary or high school teacher, here’s what you have to do:

  1. Do four years of undergraduate university education in your major of choice. ($40,000 basic tuition)
  2. Go to teacher’s college for one year (or more for some specialties) to get your certification. ($10,000 basic tuition)
  3. Get certified by the Ontario College of Teachers. (Start paying $138 a year for membership.)
  4. Apply to get on the waiting list to become a supply teacher in the Thames Valley School board. (Which covers much of our section of Ontario).
  5. Wait 1-2 years to get on the list (for no pay).
  6. Get on the list, and become a supply teacher. (Find out if you actually LIKE teaching.)
  7. Spend 1-2 years (or more) on the supply list, while working nearly random hours where you may not make money for days, months, or weeks. (Oh, and you can’t take other jobs during school hours because it means you’re not available to teach at the drop of a hat.)
  8. Succeed in sucking up to local principals and people who are influential in the system.
  9. Apply for jobs as they come up. (If they come up.)
  10. Get a job with the system.
  11. Spend 3 years as a probationary teacher with the school principal or VP looking over your shoulder while you show them your lesson plans and undergo reviews.
  12. Teach.

From Step 1-4 will take you approximately 5 years (not counting multiple tries to get into teacher’s college) and you will graduate with a minimum of $50,000 of student loans- if you did it all through loans. (And that’s just tuition and books)

You then get to shoulder that $50,000+ for 2-4 years with little to no income, while making monthly payments on top of trying to survive in HOPES of getting a teaching job, which may never come. After which, you hit the goldmine and get to make $42,000 a year, while paying that debt off and trying to survive.

How did this monstrosity of a system occur? Well, you see, here in Ontario there are several factors at play right now:

  • Ontario’s Teachers Colleges (alone) are pumping out at least 9,000 new teachers a year. (Plus the ones returning from the US or Australia where they did their training instead.)
  • Ontario’s population isn’t having children.
  • School boards have less money due to recessions.
  • Schools are being closed and consolidated because of dropping student populations in many areas.
  • Baby Boomer teachers are retiring, but their jobs are going to other experienced teachers from their school or schools being closed and consolidated.

So, the end result is that we have a system in Ontario glutted with new teachers, 2/3rds of which have minimal prospects of finding a job, even if they do manage to survive the process.

Does this sound healthy to you? Or like a good system?

So, what can we do about it?

Well, I lived in another country that had a similar problem- Taiwan- an island nation with a shrinking youth population which was pumping out a glut of new teachers each year who had almost no hope of employment. There, the government did the most responsible (not to mention ballsy) thing they possibly could have done- they put a moratorium on certifying new teachers for a period of several years.

Yep, no new teachers could be certified in Taiwan for several years. That let the system work itself out and the excess number of teachers to drop because it gave the people who were already certified the time they needed to find jobs as the older ones retired.

That’s also what I propose Ontario do right now. Tell the Ontario College of Teachers to stop certifying new teachers in Ontario until such time as there are jobs for new teachers to fill. Without membership in OCT, you can’t teach, so this effectively means no more new teachers for the already massively overloaded system.

The teachers colleges don’t need to close, and people can still get their credentials, but they can’t teach here in Ontario and will need to look elsewhere (other provinces or countries) if they want to follow that path. It’s my experience that people who truly have a passion for teaching will still find ways to teach anyways, and those who were just looking for a public sector job will look elsewhere and forget the whole idea.

It’s the responsible thing to do.