June 09, 2008

We don't know what we're going to discover...

I've written a bit recently about the role of serendipity in life and in learning. In his TED Talk Robert Ballard is astonished that the US Government spends so much on space discovery and so little on the oceans, the ratio of about 1:1600 in budgetary terms. Some of his quotes make me think of the reasons people don't want to learn about new things, or change their game.

"Everything I'm going to present to you wasn't in my textbooks when I went to school. Most of it wasn't even in my college books... I had to give the wrong answers to get an 'A'... at that time [current knowledge and understanding] was the law...

"All the things we're going to see [about the oceans] were mostly discoveries made by accident, looking for something and discovering something else.

"It's really naive to think that the Easter bunny put all the resources on the continents.

"50% of the USA is under the water yet we invest next to nothing investigating what's on it.

"A quarter of our planet is an underwater mountain range [the Riff Valley, 42,000 miles long and 9000 feet underwater], which we visited after Neil Armstrong had visited the moon and we had learned to play golf there."

He ends talking about his latest venture, finally having got some money to go and find what's under the USA's oceans. He says something that strikes a chord with me. My mentor as I started teaching wasn't always keen to share the learning outcomes at the beginning of a lesson; he saved them for the end, and got the students to say what they had found out. Giving them away at the beginning was like giving away the punchline to a great joke, despite the research that shows it's helpful to share them at the start.

I think the idea Ballard has is what would make learning so much more exciting than always knowing the learning outcomes: "We don't know what we're going to discover".


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"I think the idea Ballard has is what would make learning so much more exciting than always knowing the learning outcomes: 'We don't know what we're going to discover'"

But the way we do teaching is driven by assessment - the learning outcomes we state beforehand are the ones we know we can assess are the ones we try to deliver, are the ones we assess...?


It's long been acknowledged that, as teachers, it's not what we cover that's important - it's what we uncover!!!!

Oooh, I like that. And feel that I probably should have heard it before ;-)

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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