Why does face-to-face learning work?

In preparation for the end of year assembly last year, tutor groups were asked what their highlights of the year were.  Most of these were trips, and other out-of-classroom activities.  For example, half of the Year 9 forms in the school voted the cross-curricular ‘Be BOLD’ (BGS Outdoor Learning Day) as their highlight of the year.  Was this down to the time spent with their friends in the breaks between sessions?  But the lunch break was half the length of the usual one at school, so this can’t be the case!  Could it be as simple as ‘a change is as good as a rest’?  But this is too simplistic.  There must be something else going on, and I think that it relates to the wider issue of why face-to-face learning appears to be more effective than virtual learning in many contexts.

 

A recent article in the online magazine Aeon by Nicholas Tampio, looked into the benefits of face-to-face learning from both a philosophical and neuroscientific viewpoint.  He began by citing the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, writing in 1945, who believed that human thinking emerges out of lived experience; humans are thinking animals whose thinking is always infused with our animality.  Tampio related this to education thus: “It is by walking through a meadow, hiking beside a river, and boating down a lake that we are able to appreciate the science of geography. It is by talking with other people and learning their stories that we can appreciate literature.”  From the distance of adulthood, I believe that it is hard to appreciate just how much of who we are today comes from such practical activities, both from our formal schooling and from our extra-curricular activities.

It is not just philosophical musings that provide the rationale for a healthy dose of outdoor learning: Tampio quotes social neuroscientist Marcus Holmes, who argues that physical co-presence is essential to generate trust and empathy among human beings.  According to Holmes, diplomats insist on meeting in person with their colleagues, and good negotiators have a ‘feel for the game’ that works only when they share drinks, go on walks, shake hands, or have private conversations with their peers.  The neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni has studied the ‘mirroring system’ that enables human beings to understand each other’s intentions.  Within the brain, there are mirror neurons that fire when we perform an action or when we see another person doing the action.  This supports the folk psychology that holds that when we see another person, we think for a moment before deciding how to react (a point which is as relevant to our behaviour online as it is to experiential learning).  According to ‘simulation theory’, we actually feel what the other person feels as mirror neurons fire in just the same manner as if the experience was happening to us.

 

Tampio opines that this means that students looking at a screen will not – and cannot – trust, or care about, their teachers or students to the same degree as if they were face-to-face.  Communicating in person also enables people to pick up micro-changes in facial expressions and detect other people’s sincerity.  In the context of our time-pressured lives, writing, calling or video-chatting often works fine for many forms of communication, but Tampio points out that people must meet in the flesh to achieve the highest degree of trust or social bonding.

Sociologists also point out what is, on a moment’s reflection for most of us, self-evident: people want to be in the physical presence of other people to generate emotional energy: “a feeling of confidence, elation, strength, enthusiasm, and initiative in taking action” according to sociologist Randall Collins.  Communicating via email or by smartphones makes it harder to read another’s body language or perceive what is happening in the background as the other person talks into the computer’s camera.

 

What do these findings mean for educators?  Classroom experiences matter.  Field trips matter.  Outdoor activities and expeditions matter.  Humans are social beings; technology can facilitate many aspects of teaching and learning, but at the core of education are people, and we must ensure that they meet, exchange ideas, and develop empathy.  Only then will they thrive.

 Source: Nicholas Tampio (2018): Look up from your screen https://aeon.co/essays/children-learn-best-when-engaged-in-the-living-world-not-on-screens

Originally posted on Bradford Grammar School’s T&L blog: BGSlearning@wordpress.com 07.09.18

 

Outdoor Learning – ideas generated by BGS staff

Outdoor Learning – ideas generated by BGS staff at INSET, November 2017

Do you want to give pupils a new perspective on a topic?  Do you want to stimulate their curiosity?  Are you looking for ways to give life to tired lessons?  Then why not ‘go outdoors’?  A recent focus of one of our twilight and lunchtime T&L sessions was ‘outdoor learning’, and here are a few ideas for how you could use the outdoors simply and effectively.

Hypothesis hunters! – As an example of discovery (or ‘bottom-up’) learning, you could ask pupils to formulate hypotheses or questions related to your subject from what they see on the school site, then work through the enquiry process back in the class.

Use the space! – With no or very simple props, you could breathe new life into certain topics – why not use ropes to show connections, toilet rolls to show timelines, and vantage points like the Learning Link to look down at pupils acting out molecular processes?  Get pupils to measure angles and areas, or to examine building techniques and designs.

Natural stimulation! – Use the environment to develop your pupils’ curiosity and why not use it for mindfulness as part of a form time activity on relaxation techniques?

Please find below a fuller list of the ideas generated by two dozen of your colleagues as to how the outdoors could be used to boost teaching and learning at BGS – scroll down, look through, try an idea or two, and let us know how it goes!

David, December 2017

Hypothesis hunter:

Sciences (Biology/chemistry/physics)

  • Pupils come up with a range of questions that they could investigate on site
  • Identify which questions could actually be investigated/look for any problems.
  • In small groups come up with a hypothesis and possible method for investigating – prediction/variables/equipment etc.

 

  • Good for introducing lower years to investigations/variables. Possible use for introducing CORMMSS (Bio).

Maths:

  • Use of Learning Link/outside space to measure angles and height of buildings.
  • Get pupils to work out how to measure the area of different spaces e.g. the playground.
  • Investigating/measuring ratios

Languages:

  • Pupils write 20 questions about a particular area on site, give these to another student who has to translate the questions and identify the area being described.
  • Possible homework – describe the route around school.
  • Come up with questions that you would need to ask to achieve something outside e.g. how to access the main entrance via the key fob.

Digital Learning/computer Science:

  • Walk the perimeter of the school/playing field and convert this into an algorithm – cross curricular with Geography.

History:

  • What used to be in this area?
  • Come up with questions that you could ask about a particular area to find out what it wold have looked like in the past.

PD/Form Time:

  • Walk around the site, what questions would you need to ask to identify any problems with access for disabled students.

DT:

  • Use to investigate/teach depth perception.
  • Texture challenge – how many different textures can you find around the grounds in a set time. Take sketches of each texture and then draw them in the class room.

Art:

  • Different viewpoints of the same object e.g. how could you draw a tree from different angles viewpoints.
  • How could you draw certain areas/objects from the perspective of different artists/styles.

Psychology:

  • Depth Perception
  • Pupils come up with different observational studies that could possible carry out around the site and what ethical concerns there would be, how could they plan the study etc.

 

Ways teachers could use basic props outdoors (or in large indoor spaces):

 

Toilet Rolls

  • Geography – earth structure (journey _from_ the centre of the earth)
  • History / English – timeline (events / plots)
  • Maths – Logarithmic scale / squares / cubes
  • Biology – evolutionary timeline

 

Ropes

  • Geography – contours
  • Maths – area, radius/pi
  • Language – skip and count
  • English – themes in poetry (?)
  • IT – nodes and links in a network

 

No props

  • Geography – long shore drift
  • Biology – Mitosis/meiosis
  • Language – tenses (?)
  • Maths/DT – architecture / angles

 

Many of these activities could be watched and/or filmed from above, and then used in the next lesson for recap and/or revision.  The learning link and the front of school wall are good vantage points for this.

 

Nature as a stimulus:

Artistic

  • Blind ‘discovery’ – put a hand in a box and identify objects using touch. Then have to effectively describe or re-create that object.
  • Questioning stance – what might live under there? How might your character use this space?
  • Curiosity in form time – mindfulness. Take a minute to listen, observe what you can see, feel etc.

 

  • Mixing the senses (synesthesia) – what might the sound of a bird look like? What colour might that smell be?
  • Shouting Shakespeare – encourage quiet classes to get involved with drama!
  • Bio-mimicry – take inspiration from nature and apply practically in a design task.
  • Outside the school – bring in stimuli from home for homework, work creatively from them.
  • Vocabulary expansion
  • MFL – use outdoor lesson as stress relief in the summer, as a conversation lesson. Use as an exercise in tenses for younger years: what are we going to do, what are we doing now, what have we done.

 

Scientific

  • Degrees of separation – as a starter, pick three objects (or take pictures of three objects) from nature, then have to link those objects to what we studied last lesson.
  • To illustrate the importance of different perspectives – do a data collection during a break time using other students. Discuss ethics of observing when your participants are not aware?
  • Create a timeline – if from where I am to that door is the Tudor period, where would you stand to mark Henry VIII’s death?
  • Treasure hunt – find the objects following clues and take a picture to prove you have been there. Could work for Maths, ICT, English, Science, History etc.
  • Alphabet walk – discovery led, lead a discussion afterwards.
  • Maths – trigonometry in nature
  • Maths walk – room numbers, Roman Numerals, shapes, area etc.
  • ICT – passing data packets around using large spaces.

 

Making use of the school Grounds

Ideas for lessons

Languages:

  • Directions
  • Learning key words for objects: as a trail/quiz for any key words or for learning the key words for objects outside

Maths

  • Calculating heights of the buildings: trig
  • Maths trail: QR codes: Each subject could have a permanent quiz or a quiz that could be used in form time

Art:

  • Photography
  • Pagoda windows as a frame for the picture
  • Perspective drawing: see perspective in action: draw it live
  • Pagoda as a permanent outdoor exhibition site for art work: green man masks as an example

 

Computer Science:

  • Robots: turning distances
  • Visual coding: coloured cones

 

RS, English, Classics (literature)

  • Meditating
  • Putting into context Literature/ poems
  • Inspiration: design an argument by looking at the natural world

 

Science:

  • Surveys
  • Investigating something outside
  • Ecology

 

Objects of interest: long sticks, ground sheets, random box of objects

  • Grids and coordinates (large ground sheets with tape squares): languages: using directions, team building, PD, Minefield/ battle ships
  • Balancing sticks: communication and team building. In groups: hold up a long stick each person using 2 fingers: put it on the floor without any more contact with the stick
  • Code breaking
  • How well do you understand your subject: AFL: tree of knowledge type thing
  • Revision/ competitions/ comfort in speaking: pick an object and talk about it: how long for?

Originally posted on Bradford Grammar School’s T&L blog: BGSlearning@wordpress.com

START Learning Effectively

Assembly – START Learning Effectively – Bradford Grammar School, 15 September 2017

Abridged scriptDo you ever wonder what the secret ingredient of learning is?  What is it that successful pupils do that makes them perform so well?

Of course, there is no secret ingredient.  I am going to attempt to offer a clear summary of what has been shown to work, together with examples that you can try.  Some of them you might already do, some you might not.

Why now?  Exams are ages away, surely?  But it’s important to START the year by learning effectively – not to leave it until exams and coursework deadlines creep up later on.

Learning how to learn is almost as important as what you learn, but we don’t pay much attention to it.  Educational researchers have been looking into how learning works for decades.  Some of their insights are being adopted by teachers.

But some of them can be adopted by you.

I am asking you this morning to consider which ones you should concentrate more on, and then in form time, you will be given time to narrow down your aims to fit your circumstances – for example, a Year 8 learning words for a French vocab test might use different techniques to a Year 13 preparing for a Geography exam.

Let’s START. What does effective learning entail?

  1. Make things stick

Effective learning involves making things stick.  What does this mean? It means making learning memorable and interesting.

For example, you could make a mnemonic.  Everyone knows ROYGBIV and Never Eat Shredded Wheat.   Why not make your own up?  Professor Paul Dukes refers to the three aspects of a superpower as being the ability to destroy, transmit an ideology, and have economic influence.  Boring?  Not if you remember it as DIE.

If it’s a simple key word or vocab test, try visualising words as part of a story.  Walk through an imaginary high street, picking up, holding, or even eating the items you have to learn.

Draw it, model it, chant it, sing it, act it.  How do rivers erode land?  Abrasion, attrition, hydraulic action and corrosion.  If this sounds too ‘dry’ then why not act it out [rub, bash, splash and sizzle]?

And as well as talking about what the building blocks of a superpower are, why not draw them as pillars of a superpower temple?

Finally, you could make it funny or unusual – e.g. what’s the pizza recipe for fascism in 1930s Italy?  Take a base of populism, add on toppings of racism and propaganda, and cook in the heat of recession-era discontent for a decade or so…  You get the picture.

  1. Test yourself

Effective learning involves testing yourself.

One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it – so make a quiz for your friend, and they can make one for you.   Make them frequent, short-answer, and low stakes – e.g. points, pennies, sweets, etc.  They could be True/False, multiple choice, or slightly sneaky.

Use Kahoot – don’t just let the teachers do it, you can make your own game for free.

  1. Be aware

Effective learning involves being aware.

Keep your eyes and ears open.

Follow a range of media – commit to following a news app; sign up to news updates from a reliable source; don’t just let news come to you via Facebook.  Instead, spend time reading good quality newspapers, and you could follow YouTube channels on topics that interest you

A potential medic in my form even watches surgical operations on You Tube in her spare time.

You should also make connections between your topics…and between your subjects – this will save you time (I love it when someone includes a relevant point from another subject in Geography – it might be recognising that epiphytes are plants (‘phyte’) that grow on top of (‘epi’) others; or that studying transnational corporations in Business Studies or Economics just might be relevant to globalisation).

Also, use photos as stimulus material – Looking at a picture of greenhouses in Almeria, Spain, the issues could be food miles, local food sourcing, employment, climate, energy, and so on.  If you were studying Spanish it could be the basis of a role play, if it was biology it could be considering how to grow plants indoors.

Greenhouses in Almeria, Spain

Source: Getty Images https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/an-aerial-view-taken-on-october-23-2009-in-the-coastal-area-news-photo/92319234#an-aerial-view-taken-on-october-23-2009-in-the-coastal-area-of-where-picture-id92319234

 

  1. Revisit content

Effective learning means revisiting content.

Cramming all of your revision into the last few days before an exam has been proven to be an ineffective way of learning.  Instead, stagger your revision, starting as near to the end of each lesson as you can.

Revising does not just mean re-reading.  It does not just mean highlighting.  It does not even just mean noting and summarising.  It means engaging actively with the content.

When making notes from your work or from a textbook, why not try the ‘Cornell method’, which is to write key words or questions to yourself in the margin, and summarising the notes at the end of the task at the bottom?

Or start a learning diary – I am trying this with my Year 13s – and then having an end-of-week recap of your notes, then looking through your notes at the end of every half-term, and finally in the weeks leading up to your exam.

This links in with the last part of the START strategy:

  1. Make time to learn

Effective learning means making time to learn

I have talked about staggering the times that you revisit content.  But there are other ways of managing your time too:

Firstly, have a timetable and stick to it!

Source: Ryburn Valley High School https://www.rvhs.co.uk/revision-help/

Take a break during bouts of revision too,

Mix it up with sport, other types of physical exercise or another pursuit. e.g. a musical instrument; art; …

Have an away day – revise in different locations

So we are asking you to START this year off by learning more effectively.

Read the card again.

Think of some concrete actions that fit into the START programme.  Then write 2-3 of these down.  Then act on them, and later in the term you will revisit your action plan to review your progress.

Good luck.

Contact David at dga@bradfordgrammar.com for more information and for the slides that go with this assembly.