Abundance in Education – The Hole-in-the-Wall

My mother is reading this book called “Abundance – The Future is Better Than You Think” by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. She marked a chapter titled “Education” starting on page 174 and told me I would be interested in this. I am. If you’re interested in education, not just teaching, I think you would be too. In the next few posts, I am going to summarize the sections in this chapter so I can remember them and hopefully you will likewise find it interesting and provide your own insight on each section.

“The Hole-in-the-Wall” (174-177) talks about a man who was concerned about students in areas that were higher poverty and where good teachers didn’t want to go. He mainly carried out his experiments in India, but his methods can be applied all over the world. One thing he did was have a computer station (theift-proof) out where children could get to it. Children that have never seen a computer or browsed the internet before. Children that didn’t even speak English. They played with the computer and even taught each other how to click on things and get on the internet and look things up.

In one of these towns, he challenged a group of students to learn biotechnology in English. These children were using a device they have never seen before to learn a subject they have never heard of in a language they didn’t speak. They did it. With two months of unsupervised study, this group of kids was able to get a 30 percent score on a test about the subject in English. Over the next two months they had an older girl act as a “tutor” even though she didn’t know any biotechnology. She just encouraged them and asked them questions to further their own learning. Their scores rose to 50 percent.

After doing more experiments to refine his method, he determined that schools could install computer stations – one computer for 4 students to collaborate on – give students specific questions to look into (ie “Was WWII good or bad?”) and offer Skype with older ladies who would encourage the students. When students were tested on what they learned, the average score was 76 percent. Even better, because they figured everything out on their own, the information was retained. When the students were tested again two months later on the same material, even though they had moved on to learn new material, their scores were about the same as the first time.

I love this. It uses the natural curiosity of children to get them to learn without a teacher. They have someone asking questions or giving them specific topic and someone occasionally encouraging them along the way, and they are able to educate themselves. I really like how this concept can be used with any group of students, no matter the location or the language. Of course, I don’t love the idea of not having a teacher, but the point of this method is to use it in places where there are no teachers, or there aren’t many teachers. I think, though, it could still be beneficial in the classroom. Many teachers give a group of students specific research topics with questions for them to answer and have them figure out how to find the answers online. I know I have done this. Have you? What are your thoughts and observations on this concept? Do you think this could be an effective method to bring education to students who don’t have access to good schools or teachers?


Task Focused Students

It was pointed out after an observation that the majority of my students seem to be task-focused rather than learning-focused. This means that most of them just want to get the task at hand completed so they can move on. I don’t know if this is because completing tasks makes them feel more productive and gives them a sense of accomplishment, or if they just want to finish so they can watch videos and/or check notifications on their phones. I should not have let students have phones in class. Regardless, I have to figure out a way to get them learning-focused. Which means I have to find a way to make their grade based on their learning, and not their task-completion. Several of the teachers at my school have been moving towards this, so I have a network I can talk to, but I also need to figure out what will work for me and my classes.

The main thing these teachers seem to do is grade students based on whether they can verbally answer questions based on things they have been working on in class. If a student completes a worksheet correctly, but can’t answer any direct questions about the material that was on that worksheet, then we can know that the student wasn’t focused on the learning aspect, but on the task at hand. And possibly that student copied off someone else or looked it up online as students do.

But how to incorporate this into my class where task-oriented has already been heavily established. That, I’m not 100% sure. I can’t even get students to raise their hands when I ask a question like how many think it’s this answer vs that answer. I suppose the best time to start implementing something like this would be after the Thanksgiving break since that’s just a few days away. Which means I have 1 week to figure out at least one thing I’m going to implement in order to begin transitioning my class from task-oriented to learning-focused.

One way could be to make daily or weekly grades a thing. I could have a list of names and a check-mark system. Anytime they answer one of my verbal questions correctly, they get a check. And anytime they volunteer to try and answer something, as long as it’s somewhat on the right track, they get a check. And they need a certain number of checks a week for a passing grade, more for a B, and more for an A. That might be too big a thing to start with, though. That might be something good to implement after Christmas break, but maybe I could do a smaller-scale version after the Thanksgiving break, like require them to only answer one question correctly a week for an A. Or maybe one for a C, two for a B, and three for an A. That would certainly make them have to pay attention enough to parrot back answers to me. Which is a start.

I watched a biology teacher give a verbal quiz where she showed a student a state of cell division through a microscope and they had to tell her what state it was in. If they couldn’t, they got a 50, and if they could, they got a 100.

Whatever I do, I have to do something. My test scores are getting worse and worse and it’s because the students aren’t learning, no matter how much practice I give them.

Do you recall taking a class where the set up made you be more focused on learning than on just completing the assignments? What made it that way? If you’re a teacher, have you ever implemented something to try and make the class more learning-focused? Did it work? Why or why not? If you’re not a teacher, but have a suggestion, I would love to read it. Perspectives from teachers, students (past or present), parents, and concerned community members are always useful and appreciated!