Sleeping For Exam Success

Sleep for exams

Particularly in India, I know that with the festive season and New Year over, for many students their thoughts have turned to exams in March. Some will believe that through super-human and inhumane scheduling they will squeeze out phenomenal marks in order to secure the college or higher secondary stream of their choice (and because they and their parents are going to wrap a considerable amount of their own identity and societal status on the height of those marks and especially beating their peers).

Whilst it’s laudable to set goals and put maximum effort in to achieving them, so every student has to acknowledge they were not born with the ability to do the impossible. Their relative success will actually be most down to how smart they plan and execute their preparation. Smart, intelligent planning, execution and consistency will always trump random, unplanned or unscientific effort.

Probably nowhere is this more important than in relation to sleep. There’s a certain irony that students spend much of their time these days bemoaning their special needs for sleep, only to ignore all their needs and the science when exams loom on the horizon. I can admit that when i was young I made a lot of mistakes in these areas – mistakes that undoubtedly cost me and prevented me from fulfilling my full potential. However, today’s youngsters have access to so much more information, science  and really should find it much easier to do what is in their best interest.

The following article is fascinating. Some of the conclusions are pretty obvious, but there are also some surprises;

Science News for Students – Surprise

a) Lack of sleep WILL impair performance in exams,
b) Good sleep habits before exams doesn’t just have a small impact on performance – it may be one of the biggest influences,
c) Losing sleep for one or more nights can’t be made up by sleeping longer on another night. (This isn’t just important for exam preparation – there is now copious evidence that old habits common when I was young, to incur a sleep deficit during the week and make it up at weekends doesn’t work!)

Maybe the biggest surprise – the biggest impact doesn’t come from the overall quantity of the sleep, the quality, the amount of restlessness, but the consistency AND this doesn’t need to be consistent just for a few days, but ideally for weeks or even months.

I don’t have any exams coming up, but have set as a health goal for 2020 to be more consistent on bed and rising times.

Students, that consistency needs to start now as a habit and then be maintained right through to your exams. Here’s to your success!!

 

Keeping Up With Edtech

Edsurge

Things move fast these days in the area of education technology. There are few better ways to keep track of what’s happening, so that educators and school administrators can build effective IT strategies and plan effectively to meet their IT needs for schools and colleges than Edtech oriented conferences. These take place throughout the year, but it can be hard work to pick and choose when and where to attend.

So, this is a handy link. Edsurge have done a lot of the hard work, identifying 50 of the top Edtech oriented international conferences all over the world in 2020., available to download.

Edsurge – Travel the Globe With These 50 International Education Technology Events in 2020
(Click on the link above to open in a separate tab or window. Then fill in a short form to receive an email to download the guide)

For those who are not familiar, Edsurge is a very useful and thorough email newsletter that comes out around twice a week that carries a lot of useful information about what’s happening in Education Technology – well worth subscribing.
I’m not on commission or getting anything back for endorsement!!

The Bayesian Model – We Need To Understand the Dark Times Ahead

Cloud 1

In recent weeks I came across the phrases “Bayesian Model” and “Bayesian Inference” a few times and started to wonder what it was (and why it was cropping up so much now).

In reality, with everything happening in the world today, this might be one of the most important concepts that everyone should know about. It provides considerable explanation for the increasingly bitter polarization that we see happening in so many parts of the world today. Therefore, it goes to the heart of the world we’re living in today, and the world we’re shaping for tomorrow.

My search for information came up trumps when i found the following article. It’s a fascinating, scholarly article that shares in a very readable manner the background and research that explains the Bayesian inference, why it matters and the worrying state of polarization in the world today;

Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development – Bleak Future Ahead – The Science Behind Contemporary Polarization
(Click on the link above to open and read the article in either a new window or new tab)

What we learn from the article is firstly the big bad news – when people hold to an extreme idea or set of ideas, the more they hear that agrees with them, the more they will be drawn to those views as endorsements of their existing beliefs and refute or disregard opposing views. Unfortunately, we don’t tend to see people listening to the opposing views and as a result moving towards a middle ground or even a third position that can accept or acknowledge justifications in both opposing sets of views.

The article goes on to talk about some factors that have existed in the past that had a tendency to act towards anti-polarization. However, the writers – Alison Goldsworthy and Julian L Huppart draw conclusions that match my own fears – the forces that are pushing people towards polarized views are stronger than ever, and the forces that might have acted as checks and balances have been so weakened as to render them weak and ineffectual.

People’s exposure to media used to come from a daily newspaper and perhaps a daily TV news broadcast. However, today we are saturated with views from 24-hour news channels that pump up the intensity to maintain viewership, alongside continual debate and exposure through social networking and the sharing culture (exacerbated by algorithms that tend to ensure we see most the material that accords with our existing views). There’s another related factor – in those times there was at least some attempt made by newspapers and TV channels to take a middle line, to avoid providing a platform to extreme polarizing views. These media companies retained a high level of trust and were seen as a genuine source of factually reasonable information. Today, media companies command much less trust and are often seen as peddling the polarizing views of particular interested parties. They make no pretense of impartiality at the time of elections, but push the agenda of their chosen party.

Secondly, in the past, one of the biggest factors that led people away from polarization towards extreme views was balancing, rational and reasonable human interaction, most often with close trusted relatives and friends. Today, many have more interaction with relative strangers online than with close associates in the real world. These interactions often don’t practice the same human niceties and tend towards more rapid and extreme polarization. Once a person takes a stand on an issue, they are more likely to move towards stronger iterations of that viewpoint, with less balancing possible from friends and relatives. In fact, the media has carried many examples of situations regarding Trump in the US or Brexit in UK, where families and friendships have been destroyed through polarized position-taking.

Historically in our democracies, not only were the press and media seen as being an important trusted neutral voice, but so also were judges and figures related to election administration. However, we’ve seen both of these institutions and the trust in them severely undermined in many countries. Politicians have taken steps to gain control over judicial appointments and then paraded to their supporters as a virtue their willingness to appoint judges who will err in favour of their policy wishes and inclinations. In the US we even see a situation with an Attorney General appointed, William Barr who acts in many ways more like a personal defence attorney for the President of the country, even willing to undermine faith in the US CIA and FBI and due legal processes. With regard to elections we’ve seen many cases in countries across the world of blatant gerrymandering, suggestions of corruptible electronic voting proceeses, postal vote frauds and more recently extensive foreign interference in the voting outcomes of national elections. The sad reality is these don’t even all need to be true to serve the purpose of undermining belief in the integrity of the processes and encouraging further polarization of views.

If there were no extremist, polarizing politicians and leaders, people would inevitably listen more to rational middle ground compromising thinkers and influencers. However, this is not how it’s been working. Instead, as the views and opinions of people become more polarized, so politicians ‘follow them’ out to the fringes and seek to make themselves appealing with more strident and extremist messaging. In most countries today, to be a politician who seeks middle ground, compromise, open and transparent debate is all too quickly to be written off as a woolly idealist who isn’t willing to stand up for something.

In terms of such polarization extremes, we have been here before, even within the last 100 years. However, the fears of the writers (that I share) are that the balancing factors that pulled us back from the extremes eventually in the past aren’t present with adequate strength today. So, it increasingly appears that there will need to be something on the level of a catastrophe or disaster maybe on a worldwide scale to poor enough cold water on the extreme polarized influences and bring people back to a point where they’re ready and willing to listen to each other, compromise and unify out of a common interest in our humanity.

In the meantime, I struggle to hold out too much hope for putting the online media genie back in the bottle, getting adequate numbers to engage in thoughtful, non-combative offline debate and discussion or renewing public confidence in impartial and independent judiciary or non-partisan electoral reform.

There is one further factor that we need to add in to the mix – not talked about in the article, but i believe critical. Though we currently by so many measures live in a world that is the best it’s ever been, there have rarely, if ever, been such levels of personal anxiety, stress, depression (record suicide rates) and sensitivity and vulnerability. There has probably never been a generation to live that can be so triggered and emotionally wrecked by the expression of political or social viewpoints that people disagree with. This all contributes to a level of intensity in the situation that is beyond anything seen before.

A final thought – for those of us working in education, we have to be aware that these polarized positions, views and stances will be held by educators we employ and by the young people we teach. They, even less than adults, will fully understand how their views have emerged or how harmful they can be. We need to invest considerable effort in determining the kinds of learning spaces we want – ones where all controversial issues are avoided, shut down or suppressed (out in the open, while triggering, polarizing argument continues online) or places where we teach young people that there are other ways to engage, debate, exchange viewpoints and to break out of the ideas that our identities are wrapped up in the beliefs we sign up for and champion. This will not be easy, because the educators themselves must lead the way.

 

Bringing Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Into The Classroom

VR

There was a time when AR and VR were the stuff of science fiction. Then, there was a phase when they appeared to have little more value than as expensive novelties for the amusement and entertainment industries and costs were still very prohibitive.

Today, stand alone VR and AR materials are a lot cheaper than they were, but would not be considered cheap by any means. The uses and potential are now better understood and costs are continuing to drop. Both are seen to offer career options for the future and for this reason alone it’s important that children get some exposure to them. However, in addition, as time goes on, more and more are finding uses and benefits in education that are effective because of the highly immersive nature of the medium.

So, it becomes even more important to ensure that AR and VR are made accessible in schools. However, whilst this is very practical for well-off private schools or even public schools in countries with well funded education systems. Therefore, I am always pleased to see initiatives that bring free or cheaper AR and VR access to the education environment. In too many schools, even when financial assets are not a challenge, I’ve seen too many instances where these things are treated as some sort of novelty to be parked in an extra curricular activity  – then selected by a few children who happen to have an interest. In these situations i also often see the classes being lead by outsiders, companies that offer VR and AR services to the schools as a bolt-on activity. The ideal is for teachers to integrate VR and AR in to the existing curricula activities.  Too often, teachers will shy away from this approach because they are not the experts. However, far better to acknowledge this and figure it out alongside the pupils.

Here’s a very good Edutopia article that shares some resources;

Edutopia – 5 Worthwhile Augmented and Virtual Reality Tools

Supporting Equity and Social Mobility

Do we fundamentally want to live in an environment that is most beneficial to me (regardless of all consequences for others) or one that is inherently fair to all?

Well, first off, I don’t believe the former is sustainable and that the greedy, avaricious approach to life ultimately ends in disaster for all. Human aspiration is a wonderful thing – it drives people to create, strive, contribute and ultimately serve society in the course of raising themselves up. I believe it is the most fundamental force that has brought mankind to where we are today, and will solve our biggest challenges in the future.

However, aspiration only really serves in society if there is adequate evidence that it’s a right for all, not just a privilege reserved for those already most fortunate. Mobility in society is inherently a positive thing, in that it sets up the evidence to all that the world they live in is a meritocracy. Within a meritocracy where you start on the journey of life does not have to be seen as a predeterminer of where you can aspire to reach, or actually what you can achieve within your one lifetime.
(Incidentally, I’ll be writing a separate article about meritocracy soon as the concept has been under the microscope lately)

In such a scenario, where meritocracy is a genuine force and hard work and application, effective risk taking and synthesis of innate and learned skills can see someone move up to the pinnacle of success from any starting point there is one, key critical ingredient – equity in the access to education and knowledge.

As we come to the end of the second decade of the Twenty First Century it’s fair to say that in some ways we could consider there has been considerable progress. As basic elementary education of some form has been brought to more and more, the numbers of people in the world living in absolute poverty have dropped appreciably. However, over the last 10 years in most developed countries we’ve seen evidence that within country the equity has been undermined. Data on social mobility shows stagnation, as evidenced by this article from the UK:
The Guardian – Social Mobility Almost Stagnant Since 2014
Along with this, we have seen evidence from the world that the levels of wealth of those already most wealthy is rising rapidly. Economists worry that this does little for the world economy as such people have finite limits on their spending capacity.
Daily Mail – World’s Wealthiest People Got $1.2trillion richer in 2019

Within most developed countries suspicions run strong that the ‘haves’ run the economy and the state (including education) in ways that ensure their elevated status is secured and that the system prevents those starting out on lower rungs of the ladder from climbing.

Inevitably, there are all sorts of debates that arise about the relative resources of private and public education systems, as well as disparities of assets and quality between schools in poorer and richer areas. When digital access has become so important, issues of concern arise where wealthier homes have access to broadband and computers whilst poorer homes tend to rely only on mobile phone connections and data.

One critical aspect that has proved to be an enormous leveler that shouldn’t be underestimated is access to public libraries. In a time when almost every government touts their desire for citizens to be lifelong learners, to take responsibility and ownership for their own learning throughout life, libraries play a vital part. However, regrettably, too often in many countries they have been seen as easy pickings at times of austerity and when looking for government budget cuts. This was highlighted in a recent article from the World Economic Forum:

World Economic Furum – Cities Where Libraries Are Thriving

Seeing the relatively poor figures for London, I was saddened that my awareness is that in the UK as a whole, London is a good deal better off than most cities that have lost their public libraries. For me, growing up, regular trips to the local lending library were a family outing and a reminder that all members of the family were readers and learners – self-improvement as a lifelong exercise.

Here’s a short video that shares the message very well:

 

I believe one of the best ways for the future of libraries is to reduce the spend on stand-alone public libraries, but instead to create libraries integrated in to schools, colleges and universities that open their doors to the public.

I finish this article with a video that inspired me when I first saw it 6 years ago. It talks to everything that libraries can be, how they can put the learner at the very centre of the design and development process. There is focus on collaboration as much as seclusion and it’s exciting. I really recommend this video to educators. It’s been a big inspiration to me:

Are we in a ‘Post Truth World’?

 

deepfake-simulation

Have you ever personally been caught out by a piece of fake news? Have you ever forwarded something through social media that you then later discovered was fake news?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, does it trouble you? Should it trouble you? When we move beyond the personal level to the wider society, what are the potential risks of fake news? How can fake news manipulate people by playing upon their existing beliefs, values and even prejudices? Would you know when you’re being played?

Historians have a whole field dedicated to the study of how history comes in to being – historiography. This is the study of how to interpret historical source materials, how to discern the ‘truth’ in conflicting so called factual records of past events and how they can be subject to different interpretations. There is an intrinsic acknowledgement that history has always been open to manipulation and distortion, as highlighted in the quotation around since the  about history of wars always being written by the victors (wrongly attributed to Sir Winston Churchill)

Online fake communication and even the increasingly sophisticated ‘deep fake’ capabilities to morph pictures, video and voices to suggest that people have said and done things they never said or did bring a whole new alarming factor. The near past and even the apparent present can be distorted by those with an agenda to manipulate public opinion, to undermine or harm others. This has potential to move political debates and elections, impact individuals’ careers and even disrupt their entire lives.

The simple reality, revealed through studies and research carried out in many countries is that most people, regardless of age and level of IT-savviness, are not very good at determining what is or isn’t fake, how to discern reliable and questionable sources and how to carry out simple checks on authenticity.

With this in mind, I was very happy to see the following article from CNN that outlines a multi-pronged approach by the government of Finland to raise awareness levels, educate citizens and raise children’s competency levels for the future.

CNN – Edition – Finland is Winning the War on Fake News
(Click on the above link to open the article in a separate tab or page)

I was particularly struck by the phrase, “The first line of defense is the kindergarten teacher.”

The article goes on to talk about the increased emphasis being given to critical thinking  in Finnish schools. I believe that this emphasis is really smart. Not only does it help in the issue of dealing with fake news, but it also helps students to build a particularly important set of skills that will mark them out as more valuable in the employment markets in the future. it will also enable them to make better, more effective life decisions and to pass on these skills to their own children.

In the final section, there is an acknowledgement that some aspects of Finland’s success might not be so easy to replicate elsewhere.  It’s a small country with a lot of clarity about its own identity. Its population is already highly educated  (evidenced by strong performance in international education comparison exercises).  Also, there is a high level of understanding and agreement among the population about the actions and intentions of their neighbour, Russia. In these circumstances it’s much easier to focus people’s minds on the need to guard against fake news.

Nevertheless, there are lessons here for all countries;

a) The wheel doesn’t have to get re-invented. Programmes and expertise exist that countries can tap in to,
b) Developing thinking skills, especially critical thinking will pay off in this as well as other areas to benefit the country,
c) This focus on developing critical thinking skills should start as early as possible in all children’s education.

One final thought – in any country if the government in power shows disinterest in this area and a lack of willingness to invest time, energy and funds then their motives must be challenged and questioned. Is it important that they retain the power to manipulate and control their own population with fake news, or fear being challenged to prove factual veracity behind the statements they make?

 

Integrating ICT in Physical Education

Physical education

Lets start with basic fundamentals – physical education in schools doesn’t just exist to provide some light relief from the tedium of boring learning, or to burn off some energy so that children can concentrate better in their academics or because one in a million children might, by chance, turn out to be the next sports superstar who goes on to become mega-wealthy as a result. Neither is it a pursuit that provides opportunities for Principals to accumulate trophies etc. in a cabinet as part of the credentials of a “good school.”

The reason i say all of that is because in too many places when you walk in to schools and spend some time there, you could be mistaken for believing one or all of these things. For example, if physical education were an integral part of the holistic learning of the pupil wouldn’t we see;

a) PE being taught (or at least co-taught) by children’s class teacher in elementary/ primary schools (as the adult in the school with the best knowledge of the needs, requirements, strengths and weaknesses of each child?
b) PE teachers as part of all professional development and training that relates to pedagogy, child psychology etc.?

And, as a bonus …………………….
c) Wouldn’t we see ICT integrated in to PE as part of a cross-curricular learning approach that seeks to connect the learnings from different subjects to develop understanding of an integrated ‘joined up’ world?

I’ve advocated for the integration and use of ICT equipment and skills in PE for a long time. To be fair, I have met a handful of physical education teachers who really understood and were genuinely enthusiastic to experiment with such integration. However, these were too few and far between and often had to work in isolation – begging or borrowing equipment when others in schools often believed they already had more than adequate budgets for ‘stuff.’

Here’s a recent article that may, I hope, inspire more PE teachers to strike out and try things, experiment and hopefully with the full endorsement and encouragement of colleagues and school leadership;

The Hechinger Report – How technology in Physical Education Classes Can Help

 

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