On teaching tech together
How to create and deliver lessons that work and build a teaching community around them. 1.
This chapter looks at what learners can do for themselves by changing their study strategies and getting enough rest.
The most effective strategy is to switch from passive learning to active learning.
- Read about something -> do exercises.
- Watch a video -> discuss a topic.
- Attend a lecture -> try to explain it.
Active learning is more effective because it keeps new information in short-term memory longer, which increases the odds that it will be encoded successfully and stored in long-term memory.
The big prize is transfer of learning, which occurs when one thing we have learned helps us learn other things more quickly. Researchers distinguish between near transfer, which occurs between similar or related areas like fractions and decimals in mathematics, and far transfer, which occurs between dissimilar domains—for example, the idea that learning to play chess will help mathematical reasoning or vice versa.
Psychologists study learning in a wide variety of ways, but have reached similar conclusions about what actually works.
Ten hours of study spread out over five days is more effective than two five-hour days, and far better than one ten-hour day.
The limiting factor for long-term memory is not retention (what is stored) but recall (what can be accessed). Recall of specific information improves with practice, so outcomes in real situations can be improved by taking practice tests or summarizing the details of a topic from memory and then checking what was and wasn’t remembered.
One way you can space your practice is to interleave study of different topics: instead of mastering one subject, then a second and third, shuffle study sessions. Even better, switch up the order: A-B-C-B-A-C is better than A-B-C-A-B-C, which in turn is better than A-A-B-B-C-C. This works because interleaving fosters creation of more links between different topics, which in turn improves recall.
Explaining things to yourself as you go through them helps you understand and remember them. One way to do this is to follow up each answer on a practice quiz with an explanation of why that answer is correct, or conversely with an explanation of why some other plausible answer isn’t. Another is to tell yourself how a new idea is similar to or different from one you have seen previously.
One structured way to do this is the ADEPT method: give an Analogy, draw a Diagram, present an Example, describe the idea in Plain language, and then give the Technical details.
The last of the six core strategies that the Learning Scientists describe is to present words and images together.
The mistake is to confuse “working” with “being productive.” You can’t produce software (or anything else) without doing some work, but you can easily do lots of work without producing anything of value. Convincing people of this can be hard, especially when they’re in their teens or twenties, but it pays tremendous dividends.
The most important results for learners are:
Working more than 8 hours a day for an extended period of time lowers your total productivity, not just your hourly productivity—i.e. you get less done in total (not just per hour) when you’re in crunch mode.
Working over 21 hours in a stretch increases the odds of you making a catastrophic error just as much as being legally drunk.
Productivity varies over the course of the workday, with the greatest productivity occurring in the first 4 to 6 hours. After enough hours, productivity approaches zero; eventually it becomes negative.
These facts have been reproduced and verified for over a century, and the data behind them is as solid as the data linking smoking to lung cancer. The problem is that people usually don’t notice their abilities declining.
A Lesson Design Process
The first step in the reverse design process is figuring out who your audience is. One way to do this is to write two or three learner personas.
A learner persona consists of:
the person’s general background.
what they already know.
what they want to do.
any special needs they have.
Formative and summative assessments help teachers figure out what they’re going to teach, but in order to communicate that to learners and other teachers, a course description should also have learning objectives. These help ensure that everyone has the same understanding of what a lesson is supposed to accomplish.
Objectives vs. Outcomes
A learning objective is what a lesson strives to achieve. A learning outcome is what it actually achieves, i.e. what learners actually take away. The role of summative assessment is therefore to compare learning outcomes with learning objectives.
The list below gives a few of the verbs typically used in learning objectives:
Remembering: Exhibit memory of previously learned material by recalling facts, terms, basic concepts, and answers. (recognize, list, describe, name, find)
Understanding: Demonstrate understanding of facts and ideas by organizing, comparing, translating, interpreting, giving descriptions, and stating main ideas. (interpret, summarize, paraphrase, classify, explain)
Applying: Solve new problems by applying acquired knowledge, facts, techniques and rules in a different way. (build, identify, use, plan, select)
Analyzing: Examine and break information into parts by identifying motives or causes; make inferences and find evidence to support generalizations. (compare, contrast, simplify)
Evaluating: Present and defend opinions by making judgments about information, validity of ideas, or quality of work based on a set of criteria. (check, choose, critique, prove, rate)
Creating: Compile information together in a different way by combining elements in a new pattern or proposing alternative solutions. (design, construct, improve, adapt, maximize, solve)
Pedagogical Content Knowledge
Every teacher needs three things:
content knowledge such as how to program.
general pedagogical knowledge such as an understanding of the psychology of learning.
pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), which is the domain-specific knowledge of how to teach a particular concept to a particular audience.
We need to think about:
- What Misconceptions Do Novices Have?
- What Mistakes Do Novices Make?
- How Do Novices Program?
- How Do Novices Debug?
- What About Testing?
- Do Languages Matter?
- Do Better Error Messages Help?
- Does Visualization Help?
Greg Wilson tech togheter