Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Let no one despise you for your youth

1 Timothy 4:12  Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

It would be very easy to mis-read the main push of this verse and mistakenly interpret it to mean that we should just flat out not let anyone despise young people for being young.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that we should despise anyone for their age, old or young, but that is not the message of this verse.

The main push is for Timothy to behave in a godly way as described in the last part of the verse, rather than contrary to that example which is how undisciplined and immature young people tend to behave.  

We could read this verse as:
Don’t be a stereotypical immature youth who behaves poorly, instead behave in a godly way so that people won’t despise you for being young.

“set the believers an example” is a call to be a leader amongst other people who need an example set before them to inspire them and give them knowledge in a visible and active way how to behave.
Godly “speech” and “conduct” are the applications and out-working of the attitudes “love”, “faith”, and “purity”, but all five can be identified in his actions by onlookers for whom Timothy is encouraged to be an example.

Perhaps you could try and see these five things in your life, in the lives of others around you, and encourage young people to walk in them so that they are not despised for their youth.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Differentiated Learning

Differentiated teaching and learning is a buzz concept in education in NZ at the moment.  There is a lot of pressure on teachers to apply methods of teaching that allow differentiated learning among their students.  Today I’m taking a look at the following: What is differentiated learning?  Why do we need it? How do we do it?  What are the challenges to good differentiated learning?

What is differentiated learning?
Every student before us in the learning environment (which extends beyond the walls of the classroom) will have a different range of abilities and interests.  They will also have a different range of needs according to what needs have been met (or not) in the rest of their lives.  Differentiated teaching practice attempts to take into account this range of needs and abilities so that students can begin learning from where they are “at”.  For example, there is no point in teaching year 13 calculus to someone who has not demonstrated skill in year 10 algebra.  Similarly, there is little point in teaching year 9 food and nutrition to a dietary specialist with 20 years of experience in the field.  Some students will need a soft touch because of sensitive issues in their lives and others will need a good “kick up the bum” to get them motivated.  Maybe not literally, but you get the idea.

Why do we need to do it?
The current system is modelled after mass production ideas so that we can get as many students through the system with as little cost as possible.  That often translates into 30+ students sitting silently and copying notes as a means of absorbing information and supposedly learning.  It is clear that this method of “teaching” is not going to meet the needs of students, and could even be said to be forcing students needs into a small box and then saying that that their needs, as defined by the small box, are being met.  Too many of the differentiated characteristics get lost because they don’t fit into the educational box of the 19th and 20th century classroom.

Putting it simply, students are not learning anything of value in such “traditional” learning environments.  If the individual needs of each and every student is taken into account, it stands to reason that they will learn so much more and they will even have their non-curriculum learning needs met to some degree.

How do we do it?
There are a range of methods that people use to differentiate with some of them bordering on being token efforts that don’t really accomplish much.  When we understand the purpose of differentiation properly, we can tell whether a method will be successful or not.  When we don’t understand we are likely to apply our current methods and then find some way of calling them differentiated.  I’ll illustrate two methods and see if these examples work to differentiate or not.

First, is offering a common task to the entire class and expecting students of differing levels of ability to apply themselves according to their ability.  The task needs to have multiple methods of being completed so that it is both accessible for those with little knowledge and patience, but easily developed to a high level for students with more knowledge and excitement to try things out.  The role of the teacher is to observe students and push them when they are choosing too easy an option to complete the task or to gently direct then toward a simpler alternative when it is clear that their knowledge is not up to their lofty, though probably very creative, designs.

The second, students are tested to ascertain their level of ability and are then streamed into classes with students of similar ability.  The teacher will then teach at a particular level and expect that all students can keep up because they teach from the level that those students achieved their results.

Both examples appear to differentiate, but I believe that the first is a very powerful way to do so while the second is bordering on “token differentiation” because it differentiates based purely on a single snapshot in time and does not take into account the day to day factors that may ultimately have a larger impact on student learning.  Even within a streamed classroom there will be such a range of abilities and learning styles that it is not truly differentiated.  It is understandable, but not justifiable, that teachers would gravitate towards the streaming model because it is easier and potentially less stressful.  

What are the challenges to differentiated learning?
Following is a list of some of the challenges to differentiated teaching and learning and a brief description where applicable.  This should give an idea of just how difficult the task will be for teachers and schools to implement this widely:
  1. It takes a lot of energy to keep track of individual students progress in a task.
  2. There is no simple method of recording progress.  There is no simple percentage of work completed correctly under differentiation.
  3. It is immensely difficult to report back to parents how their children are doing.  How can someone trained in a very particular and technical skill (teaching) explain the progress in a way that is meaningful to parents untrained in these skills.  Percentages or levels of results are easy to see but when there is no clear standard, any comments are meaningless.  I would say that most parents will have a good idea of their child’s progress if they regularly talk with them and observe them at home, but this is not necessarily something that translates into something you can communicate to a potential employer.
  4. It is almost impossible to design a course when you don’t know the abilities of the students you will have in the year(s) to come.  This means that a lot of planning must be done “on the fly” or rushed during brief moments of non-contact time.
  5. Teachers have to be highly capable and experienced in a very wide range of skills, knowledge, and character traits.  They will have to demonstrate that they are good learners.
  6. A wide range of resources must be available or readily accessible for student’s to try out their ideas as they come up.  It’s no good getting equipment in a week down the track because the students may have lost interest by then, or moved on to the next thing.
  7. Many people who grew up under the industrial, mass production, system will not be able to relate to differentiated learning without a lot of mental effort.  This is a huge barrier, along with the tendency to use those cop-out and token methods.  Informing students, parents, potential employers, and other members of the community about the nature of differentiated learning, and the power of it to improve overall levels of ability, is a huge challenge.  The people who it is meant to serve must believe in it or there will be no support for teachers trying to teach in this way.
  8. Methods of differentiated learning will take time to develop.  Teachers need the space to think about this and work out how to incorporate it into their practice.  Teachers don’t currently have the time to do this.
  9. Small class sizes are essential to teachers differentiating in their practice, but that would mean classes of about 15 maximum, and this would require twice the amount of teachers than we currently have in secondary schools.


Finally
We can see that differentiated learning will really meet the wide range of needs of our learners.  Unfortunately, there are many challenges to overcome in making it work, and it is quite unfair to expect teachers to change overnight without a lot of support and time to adapt thinking and practice.  I am convinced that it is worth trying to change the system, so I will do my bit according to the abilities and time I have available.  Life is differentiated, so learning must also be differentiated in order to successfully prepare learners for life.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

“Old” Age and Physical Training

Today I’ve been pondering why older people (60+) training seems less common than younger age groups.  There are a lot of possible reasons that I’ve heard, but what it seems to come down to is a lack of time, determination, and education about how the body responds to exercise.  I’ll list a few common reasons that older folk tend not to train, and I will then proceed to “teach my grandmother to suck eggs” and show that almost none of these reasons can be used to justify a lack of physical training.

Some reasons why older people do not train (either much, or at all)
  1. It is too hard on their bodies - it hurts to train and it takes a long time to recover.
  2. My joints cannot handle the training load like they used to.
  3. I’m afraid that I will hurt myself now that I am old.
  4. I’m too busy.
  5. I’ve never really exercised in my life, so why start now when I’m already old?
  6. I wouldn’t know where to start.


I’m almost certain you will have heard several of these from friends or relatives.  I’ve even heard a number of them from people in their early thirties!

What we now have to consider is the few older athletes that continue exercising regularly, and who maintain good physical health, well into “old age”.  Are they genetic freaks who can do this without trying?  Or is there something that they do which anyone can tap into?  If we believe 64 year old Sylvester Stallone, it takes “scientific ways with new equipment” to keep in shape, and you have to constantly battle pain and a loss of flexibility associated with age.

Let’s look at some responses to these reasons:
Is it really too hard on older bodies to train?  The obvious answer is: NO!  Like anything, you must train within your ability.  There is no point in trying to run a marathon or lift 200kg if you haven’t trained for it.  After the kids leave home, a lot of older people find that they are left with a life of routines that were adapted around their kids and almost none of their time went to maintaining exercise routines or developing physical fitness.  The biggest hurdle to overcome is finding out what you are capable of, and accepting that it will be much lower because of years of inactivity.  It can be a real hit to the pride to have to start small and slow, and the longer you delay the lower you will have to start.  The good news is that as long as you can heal from wounds and put on weight, you are pretty much physically capable of developing your muscles and improving your joint health and flexibility.  Recovery time may be long, but as long as you can recover you are still in the game.

It may be true that your joints are weak, but this is normal for anyone of any age if they have not worked out or eaten the right nutrients to maintain good joint health.  Of course, some people will have diseases such as arthritis, but for goodness sake get it diagnosed by a doctor instead of carrying on using it as an excuse not to exercise.  Once you know what your ailments are and the limitations they cause, you can then design your exercise routine to get around them.  If your hands are too sore to hold weights then you can use your lower body more.  Creative thinking of determined minds should be able to come up with a solution.

Fear, a busy life, bad habits, etc. are all things that need to be overcome by everyone at any level of physical ability.  These should never be insurmountable obstacles.  Too many reasons come down to a lack of self discipline and mental toughness, both of which can be developed at any age.  Even an old dog can learn tricks with enough determination and the right resources.

Which brings me to the last objection: education.  If you don’t know enough to start training then just ask someone.  Eventually you will come across a person who can direct you to videos, books, and people that can guide you.  I don’t know a more comprehensive source of information than www.stadion.com where the main man, Tom Kurz (over 50) often demonstrates the principles that his books contain.  You can see an example of Tom at age 50 demonstrating how to maintain his splits, clearly showing that most people have a very wrong notion about what older bodies are capable of:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGjEeChs4tk

I have seen a video on YouTube of a 60+ year old woman performing parkour movements.  I worked with an amazing gentleman who ran a marathon on his first day of retirement.  I’ve seen ancient martial arts gurus holding their own against young whipper-snappers.

“Old” age is no excuse, just another obstacle to overcome.

Some Irony

I heard a student in one of my classes today say this:

“You need to treat me with respect.  I’m a human being for G*d’s sake!”

I’d just like to point out the irony in this statement.  

This student was demanding respect because of his innate humanity.  But where does that “specialness” that makes us human come from?  If there is no God then we have no right to demand any respect or to put ourselves in a higher place than anything else in the universe.  This is because our “right” to respect as humans comes from the “specialness” of being made in the image of God:

Genesis 1:26-28  Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."  (27)  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  (28)  And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

Taking things one step further, though only a small step really, it is therefore worship of our Creator if we treat other human beings that He has made with respect and dignity.  We are effectively honouring the image that He has created of Himself.

Now this is where the irony is driven home.  This student was indirectly demanding that God be properly worshipped through respecting him as a human being who was made in His image; yet in the same breath he was blaspheming God’s name by using it without the worshipful respect that is due to Him.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

No Pain and No Gain? Are You Sure?

Popularised through inspirational movies, hard-nosed military trainers, old-school coaches and PE teachers, the saying “No pain, no gain” is very widely known.  Most people even understand it properly, knowing that it means you can’t make progress (gain) without a lot of hard work (pain).  Normally in the sporting field, the idea is demonstrated in squeezing out a few more push ups in the agony of the moment or in having the pain for a few days after a workout that tells you that you have put in enough effort.

While there is a very good lesson in mental toughness to learn from pushing yourself so hard, the reality is that your physical performance will improve by the greatest amount if you train with enough comfort that you are not sore at all in the hours or days following your training session.  There is a lot of research to back this up, but the common sense rationale is that you will be able to train again sooner if you do not have to spend so much time recovering.  

This doesn’t seem right in some ways, but when you realise that there is a difference between testing your maximum ability and improving your maximum ability, and that you don’t necessarily train your maximum by testing it, you begin to see that there might be something in this.

Some good reasons for not pushing the pain barrier too far:
1. Your recovery will take longer, reducing the overall amount of training time
2. You are more likely to sustain injury due to over training, e.g. repetitive strain injuries or connective tissue degeneration (again, resulting in more time off training).
3. You are more likely to sustain an injury if you are too tired to maintain proper form (technique)
4. You are more likely to struggle mentally to motivate yourself if you are having to mentally fight every training session.  Less motivation results in less training because you would rather sit on the couch.

Taking the other side of the coin, keeping free from pain during training results in slower initial progress, but a strong foundation is built upon which lasting progress can be built.  Motivation is easy because you are training well below your maximum ability which gives a feeling of confidence.  This also means you will be able to train longer and more often, with less wear and tear on your body.  You get to practice technique more if you train more which results in more efficient movement, saving energy and increasing the amount of total work output.

You will find yourself improving almost by accident which is a great buzz.  The only catch is that you have to commit the time over months and years to see big gains.  Life-long performance can be expected though.

So let’s rephrase the tired, old, over-trained cliche:  No pain and much gain!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Romans 12:2

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

How do we know if we are being conformed to this world?  The bible clearly lets us know that it is a bad thing to be conformed to the world’s ways of thinking and doing things so it seems like an important thing to know when we are headed this way.  Let’s take a look and see what this verse tells us about conformity to the world, and how we can pursue the alternative.

In what way are we to avoid conformity and instead by transformed?
Now, I’m pretty sure that this scripture is not speaking of issues such as whether to brush your teeth or not.  It would be a bit silly to abstain from brushing your teeth just because most people in society do this.  We get an idea of the things that are really being considered by looking at the next part of the verse and contrasting it with conformity to the world.  Instead of becoming like the world, we are commanded to be changed by renewing our minds.  This means that when we are considering conformity, it is something to do with thinking, or with philosophies, or with ideas.  

So we could say that we are meant to avoid adopting the ideas and philosophies that are common in the world, and instead become changed by consciously adopting a “new” mind.  The remainder of this verse shows what sort of mind we are to build in ourselves.

What sort of mind should we be growing?
The ideas and philosophies we adopt should not be common to the world.  Instead these ideas we are building our life around should enable us to discern what God’s will is.  So our new (renewed) mind should take into account what we know of God’s will.  Where do we find out God’s will?  In the bible, God’s revealed word to the world.  From the bible we can see how God has interacted with His people over the millennia, from which we can deduce some common principles about His will.  We can also see some direct commands from God in the flesh (Jesus Christ) and from his apostles, who were directly instructed by Jesus.  This is a good reason to regularly read the bible.  There is currently no other way to get a direct word from God that will carry the sort of power and authority that the scriptures provide.

So how do we know that we are avoiding conformity to the world?
Conveniently, the ideas and attitudes of the world are also contained within scripture.  Let me see if I can summarise what conformity to the world looks like and what the godly alternative is:

When a person becomes more and more concerned with the pursuit of their own happiness at the expense of others, and at the expense of a worshipful attitude towards God, then they are conforming to the world.  The world says that it is all about you.  The bible says that it is all about God.  If you are not loving God, by learning how to worship Him with the lifestyle that He likes, then you will be loving yourself and your own (false) wisdom about what is good.  That is conforming to the world.  When you find yourself preferring your own comfort over the difficulty of doing what you know to be right, you are also conforming to the world.  When you don’t even really care if you are conforming to the world, or are too afraid to look at your life in case you are conforming, then you are most definitely conforming to the world.

Much more could be said, with a multitude of examples, but it is easier to say what it is to avoid conformity (I only provide the above examples because sometimes people are reluctant to use their mind to think in detail about this sort of thing).  Those who avoid conformity spend time reading what God has communicated to them in the bible.  They are open to correction and changing their mind in case they have got it wrong on some part of their moral development.  This humility and willingness to try and understand more about God’s character, and to build these spiritual characteristics into their life, is what it means to avoid conformity to the world.

At the risk of harping on, the only way we can know that we are on the right track is by comparing our personal development of character to that which the bible continually tells us is good.  One such list is in Galatians chapter 5, the fruit of the Spirit:

Galatians 5:22-24  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  (23)  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  (24)  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

To actively pursue these, and see them grow in your life, is what it means to be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  To love God, and to love your neighbour.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What’s the Point of School (Part four) - Key Psychological Resources of Good Learners

From Guy Claxtons “What’s the Point of School, Rediscovering the Heart of Education” is a list of key resources that are basically common sense habits of mind that we’ve forgotten about or, for some reason, don’t focus on in our classrooms and when building education systems:
  • Curiosity
  • Resilience
  • Balancing imagination and logic
  • Being able to ask for help and take feedback without getting upset
  • Being able to take a step back from a difficult situation
I intend to unpack the ideas and applications behind these concepts as I understand them, giving examples that I’ve noticed from students in my classroom or from my own learning experiences across various fields.

Curiosity - the desire to learn
If someone is interested in a wide range of topics, or can find something of interest within a new topic fairly easily, then they are more likely to experience a wide range of learning experiences.  This is because they will more easily engage with new material and new challenges through the desire to learn about these interesting things.  The more topics they engage with, the more learning will happen, and the more cross-topic links they will make, further enhancing their range of interests and learning experiences.  It is true that learning leads to better and more efficient learning.  This is why all learners are capable of great things.  Even those who are very slow to begin with can accelerate the learning process over years of dedicated persistence in actively learning.  Yesterday I wrote about learning within a sporting context and the idea of curiosity is relevant because that is how you find out what you want to know and what you need to know to accomplish a goal.  

Resilience - Sticking with it till you’ve got it
Clearly, someone will be a better learner if they try hard to understand something or if their curiosity is enough to keep them going when a concept seems to be taking a long time to master.  The same is true for technical skills, not just academic knowledge.  If you are learning how to vault a wall you must develop strength and technique.  Technique to master the most efficient way and strength to be able to perform the technique properly.  Both strength and technique take time to develop, likewise memorisation when learning vocabulary in an academic context.  If a learner is not resilient enough to be able to stick with the task over a long period of time, maybe even years, then they will not learn anything that is particularly difficult and time-consuming to learn.

Balancing imagination and logic - creativity and practical purposes
To learn new things we need to be able to think outside the square using our imagination and creative talents.  To apply concepts we must also be able to think creatively.  In physics we learn about many different equations.  The easier questions tell us which equation to use and the harder ones expect us to work out which two or three or more equations are appropriate to use.  This ‘working out process’ is the creative application of the knowledge of equations.  If we jump to the field of art and design we can see a wide range of imagination and creativity, but until we consider the practical purpose it is a fairly empty skill to be able to ‘draw a pretty picture’.  Good art considers the audience and tries to communicate using ideas and images that the audience will understand. Design can’t just produce the latest trendy architecture, it also has to consider the practical side of structure and purpose.  

Going hand in hand with creativity and practicality is impulsiveness and planning.  If we try and understand creativity we will see that there is something “out of the blue” and impulsive about it.  Too much impulsiveness leads to recklessness and abandon, ignoring the real needs of the people and plans around us.  At the same time, we can focus on practical issues so much that we lose the ability to meet the needs of warmth and emotion that make us human.  If you consider for a moment, that warmth and emotion is linked quite strongly to creativity and humanity.  This is what separates us from the animals, and makes the human being something special.

Being able to ask for help and take feedback without getting upset
There are two parts to this.  Firstly, being humble enough to ask for help when you know (or even just suspect) that you need it will get you out of a hole that is caused by pride and fear of being seen to be a failure.  This is the curse of young people who are pushed ahead in class or year level when they are not yet developed enough in character to admit when they are wrong or need help.  There is the high stake of having to maintain your perceived “smarts” to justify your position in the advanced group and so any weakness or lack of knowledge is not something that you want to admit.  The reality is that you will move forward so much better if you can share your weakness and your struggle so that others who have been there, or are there, can support you to higher development.

Secondly, we can see that you must be able to remain calm or even happy when receiving correction.  It’s not a problem for most of us to receive positive feedback without getting upset but if the criticism is negative it can be cutting to our ego.  Too often we have a misplaced self-confidence that we feel we can be more than we are just by telling ourselves that we are.  It is hard to grow from this position because we don’t have a true picture of the foundation to build upon.  You can’t grow tomato plants if you pretend there is enough nutrient in the concrete which you plant it in.  If we have a realistic view of ourselves and our need for outside input to enhance our current condition, then we will be more likely to apply advice joyfully, knowing that we are improving.  If we think we are more than we are, or are trying to maintain a facade while knowing the truth about ourselves, we will reject that which will grow us.

Being able to take a step back from a difficult situation
When you are upset, or have dealt with just one too many criticisms of your work, especially when they are coming from yourself or someone close to you, it is of enormous advantage if you can take a deep breath and sort of “reset” your emotional state.  If we let our emotions get on top of us we are more likely to miss the breakthrough that comes from persistence and worrying away at a difficult problem.  If we get angry at someone telling us we are wrong, even when we know or suspect they are right, we will have a hard time taking their advice because of stubbornness and pride.  Sadly, that person giving us advice will also be less likely to give us feedback in the future because of the angry response which conditions them to keep away.

It is useful to be able to look at yourself and assess your emotional state.  This way you can learn what triggers you and when you need to take a mental step back to breathe.  Taking rest when you need it is one of the hardest things to learn, especially when you have a test the next day and you have a set amount of material to get through.  Sometimes it will be more beneficial to your test results to just stop there.  It is also worth noting that in the bigger picture, and what Guy Claxton is getting at in his entire book, is the reality that the test doesn’t really matter.  What matters is your personal development and ability to cope with life.

Life is hard and all of the above attributes build towards a good learner and a good liver.  You can’t have as much fun, happiness, joy, and even love in your life without these skills.  I hope they will help you.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sport Science and the Learning Process

I have a huge interest in sport science.  This has come about through participation in parkour which is primarily a utilitarian discipline for overcoming obstacles.  Because of the utilitarian aspect of parkour, training focuses on developing functional (useful) physical capabilities.  This is embodied in the saying that is frequently associated with parkour: “ĂȘtre pour fort ĂȘtre utile” (to be strong to be useful).  The desire to help others is a strong motivation to improve my own physical capabilities and, with two brothers completing practical sport science degrees, I was indirectly influenced by (and convinced of) the power of a rational approach many years ago.

This post looks briefly at how I recognise my need for information, how I source information, and how I apply information.  The purpose of doing this is to demonstrate the learning process I have employed in my physical development so that others can do the same, or better.

My need for information
Every time I come up with a new goal for myself (often through seeing what others might do and wanting to emulate them), I can often see that I have no idea how to bridge the gap between their physical capabilities and my current ability.  Do you ever see a martial artist performing high kicks or breaking bricks and want to do the same?  Or perhaps an acrobat performing a somersault?  Unless you have tried (or thought about trying) those things, you probably won’t realise how much strength or technical proficiency is required.  If you have tried, you quickly realise that there is a seemingly unbridgeable gap to that level of ability.  What the good learner must do is decide to find out how to overcome that gap.  The temptation is to cast aside the lofty goal because it seems like too much work.  The thought that it is impossible to achieve shouldn’t occur to us because if others have done it, I should be able to also.  It might take me a little longer if I am a slower learner or have different physical aspects to overcome, but I can rest assured that if someone else can work at something and achieve it, so can I.

Without that desire to do things, I would never have a need for the information to improve myself.  And without an awareness that someone else has managed to find that information, I would not realise that it is actually possible, and that it should just be a matter of applying myself appropriately to achieve what that knowledge can allow me to achieve.

If you are a truly adventurous and creative person, you might even want to push the boundaries beyond what anyone else has achieved before.  You would do this by applying the same information differently, but that is another story for another time.

So how do I source my information?
In short, I use Google, YouTube, and I even talk to real people sometimes.  What I am looking for is information from someone else who has achieved my goal and accounts of their experiences.  

The challenge is to sort through the masses of information to find the most useful resources.  The most useful resources for me are those which communicate the relevant details in a clear and concise manner, while keeping the language relatively simple.  If a resource doesn’t give me the impression that it can quickly and easily communicate the information I want, I will discard it and keep searching.  For instance, learning to back flip (not parkour, but still a fun skill) I will go to YouTube and search for “backflip tutorial” and sort the search results according to the number of views.  The top two results have more than a million views and have been available for 3 years.  This gives me confidence in them so I will open both to view them.  While I am waiting for the videos to load (thank you slow NZ internet) I will have a quick look at some of the comments posted to get further knowledge of whether it is worth waiting for that video to load or not.

Taking note of comments that people have taken the time to write, about the resources they have actually used, is one of the most useful tools for finding the best information, especially if you are considering paying for it.  I came across the best stretching resource this way, and that lead me to a publisher that has pretty much all of the information relating to physical development that I could ever require:  www.stadion.com

How I have applied the information
I’m not intending this section to be a list of my achievements, but if you want an idea of what can be achieved by almost anyone with a bit of dedication check out www.beastskills.com

It might be better to rephrase the section heading as “How I can make the best use of the information to achieve the goals that I have set for myself".  There are a set of qualities that will see you through, and that you must develop to become efficient at applying the knowledge.  Some of these things are: self discipline, self motivation, a vision for the future, humility, perseverance, creativity, self awareness, a realistic point of view, emotional control, patience.  Some of these are obvious, such as having the self discipline to stick with a precise course of action over a long period of time (perhaps years or decades) and being able to use your view of the future achievement of goals to motivate yourself.  

Less obvious is the place of humility, which you must have in order to take a realistic look at your current knowledge and practice to see if it is wrong.  It can be hard to admit you are wrong or that you have wasted your time and money on something.  This pride will cause you to continue using methods that don’t work.  

If you can’t control emotions of frustration, you may give up on a good idea too fast.  Sometimes you must be patient and not try to do too much.  In sporting fields especially, rest is vital and over training is a sure way to reduce progression and increase frustration at slower than usual  progress.

For technical skills involving movement, you must develop the self awareness to “listen” to your body.  Being constantly aware of the feedback your body gives you, such as pain or smoothness of movement, is one of the most powerful sources of information to govern how you refine skills.

There are many more attributes, but you should be able to get the general idea from these few examples.  I hope this knowledge can be applied successfully in your own life, as it has greatly improved mine and others before me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Justice and Law

Where does the law come from? Do you ever wonder why we follow the law?  Do we have to follow the law?

Looking at these questions in reverse order:

Do we have to follow the law?
There are levels of perspective here.  On one level you must follow the law, otherwise there are consequences.  In reality though, you can avoid the consequences if you do not get caught.  That is not to say that we shouldn’t follow the law, just that getting caught is not a certainty.  Remembering that laws can change, it seems a bit unusual that a person can be charged with something one day and then not the day after the law is changed.  Surely there is something more abiding in terms of law that governs the way we act in society?  I’ve come across a division of law called “natural law” which deals with laws that are natural or innate and must be valid anywhere for anyone.  This sort of law gets to the heart of whether we have to follow the rules in any system.

Why do we follow the law?
Most people are born into a system of government and law that they did not consciously agree to follow, but they are brought up in such a way that they may not realise their automatic acceptance of the authority of the law over them.  This is an important point, because unless you agree to a set of rules that regulate your actions in particular circumstances (the agreement is called a contract) then you are not obliged to follow that set of rules.  By getting a drivers license, for example, you are agreeing that you need to be licensed and that you will follow the set of rules that go with the licensing system.  The police have no right to pull you over unless you either give that right to them, or if you are doing something dangerous that has a reasonable chance of causing harm to others.  This concept can be applied to almost any situation involving interaction with other people.  When you buy goods at a shop you are making a contract to exchange a set amount of money for the goods.  That amount of money is nothing but a suggestion by the owner about how much they will take, though we tend to assume they will not accept a different value because we automatically accept their suggested contract/rule.

So where does the law come from?
There are a number of obvious influences.  There is the innate idea of justice that is supposed to be the foundation of the entire legal system.  There is the matter of human rights, such as freedom of thought, speech, and action so far as it doesn’t impinge on another person’s rights. And there are the obvious religious influences, bearing in mind that the oldest religions have laws that have survived the millennia, e.g. the Ten Commandments.  To my mind, we can’t separate the idea of justice or human rights from the concept of a personal God who made man in His image.  The reasoning is that we have human rights guarding our well being because humans are made in the image of God and anything that harms that image is a crime against the God that chose to show Himself through His people.  And justice is linked to judgment and our expectation that even though we may suffer in this life, those who harmed us will receive their justice from God when they die and stand before Him to be judged.  Where it gets tricky is that people have their own ideas of what deserves punishment and it is normally themselves that they use as the standard of right and wrong.  That’s another story though.

So it seems, at a glance, that law comes from our Maker, and is designed to protect His glory as demonstrated in His image.  We follow the man-made laws, that are modelled after God’s laws to a certain extent, because we are brought up to do so without really being encouraged to think about why we are doing so.  And we do not have to stick to any law, but we should know that if we are a cause of harm to other people, both God and the man-made justice system will be after us!

I think it is much better to follow laws because you agree with the intention of the law and the law-maker and not because you are afraid of the consequences.  So I try to think about why certain laws are in place.  This leads to disagreement about the worthiness of some laws, but even if I chose not to follow these particular ones, I am always guided by God’s summary of the law: “Love God and love your neighbour”.  This means that personally, I will only go against man’s laws if they conflict with God’s law.  It’s safer than doing what is right in my own eyes!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What’s the Point of School (Part Three) - Stress and Escapism

Guy Claxton highlights the problem of stress and escapism in our students.  In a nutshell, the pressure to achieve academically, without being given the support and resources to actually reach those expectations, is causing a great deal of stress in our students.  They turn instead to other sources to bring about the feeling of success and happiness that they crave.

Some negative sources of these substitutes could be: excessive television, excessive internet, drugs and alcohol, bad relationships and sex, bullying, other antisocial behaviour.  Some positive sources of these substitutes could be sporting pursuits, subjects at school that are perceived as less academic because of their creative aspects, good relationships, joining campaign groups.

The young people who have some guidance tend towards the positive substitutes and those with little guidance tend towards the negative.

What is really needed is a total overhaul of the education and assessment system.  Instead of refurbishing something that has rotten foundations, we need to start from scratch, breaking down the old system piece by piece so that we can see the details of the full picture of destruction that we’ve carefully avoided looking at for so long.

In an ideal learning situation, the person in the teaching role identifies where the person in the learning role is in their understanding.  The teacher will then begin to build from there, gently pushing the learner to challenge them self by encouraging them to step just outside their comfort zone.  With the support to overcome challenges like this, gradually increasing in intensity over months and years, the learner will develop confidence in their ability to deal with difficult situations.  With support from someone who is good at teaching them self, the learner will develop a tool box of strategies for promoting their own learning and overcoming of challenges by them self.  This sort of learning is not limited to the academic field, but also to the learning of technical skills (in a sporting context for instance).

The limits to such learning is only time.  For some people, they may take a lot longer to learn the same lessons as the average person, but this does not matter because such a style of learning leads to greatly accelerated learning if it is persistently practiced over many years.  You can see where the current system, which forces learning of individuals into a time frame that will at best suit 50 percent of students, is not going to be workable for too many people.  To it’s credit, the NZ education system has a standards based system in which students are not meant to sit an assessment until they have reached the required standard to pass.  Teachers are meant to know when their students are ready to sit the assessment and allow them to sit internal assessments, or enter into external exams at the end of the year, with the knowledge that they will definitely pass.  In practise, teachers are still under pressure to teach a set body of knowledge in a set period of time, and they are somehow expected to focus on key learning competencies while meeting the learning needs of 25 to 30 students with unique learning needs.  Along with the requirements for University entrance guiding things, and the many other pressures of life and education, it is impossible to expect teachers to be able to do this.  The same system which puts pressure on students, but fails to give them the resources to succeed, also puts pressure on teachers with similar limitations.

This has turned into a longer post than I would like, so I’ll finish there for now.  The key thing to remember, when you find yourself in a learning or teaching situation, is that you can’t rush good learning and you can’t expect people to learn rocket science if they haven’t mastered the basics.