[IAEP] NN, Mitra, and the role of the teacher

James Simmons nicestep at gmail.com
Tue Oct 26 15:24:23 EDT 2010


This is an interesting question.  I have a niece (friend of the family
sense, not a blood relation) who went to the Illinois Math and Science
Academy.  This is actually a public boarding school for very bright
students.  They have no textbooks, probably no School Board, and from
what I heard from her father the students are pretty much expected to
teach themselves.  ("The teachers don't teach!" is something he kept
telling me).

On the political side, a significant number of Americans believe that
everything is the teacher's fault, or the teacher's union, or the fact
that they are allowed to have a union, or the fact that the teachers
have no economic incentive to be better than other teachers.

I find it refreshing that Constructivism focuses more on the students
than on the teachers.  I don't think Negroponte was saying that
students don't need teachers.  What I heard was that they don't need
the kind of superstar teachers that the politicians think the miracle
of the free market will create.  He was saying that even if your
teacher is illiterate you can still learn.

This corresponds to my own experience.  I've had teachers I loved and
some I hated, some that were more effective than others, but
ultimately it came down to me.  In college I learned to program
computers from some of the least effective teachers I ever had.  They
were all competent computer programmers, but they couldn't teach worth
a damn.  I still got a good education.  I did it by reading books and
trial and error.  Somewhere along the line I must have had teachers
who encouraged me to learn on my own, but they weren't all like that.

I do have a great respect for teachers and if I ever ran into my old
teachers I'd apologize to half of them for wasting so much of their

James Simmons

On Tue, Oct 26, 2010 at 12:12 PM, Caryl Bigenho <cbigenho at hotmail.com> wrote:
> HI All...
> I watched Negroponte on the Colbert show last night.  Nice.  He seems to
> have toned down his former "we don't need teachers... kids will do it all"
> line a bit, but it is still implied.
> Sugata Mitra implies the same in his TED talk:
> http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_shows_how_kids_teach_themselves.html
> But, I argue that  teachers are still very much needed as orchestrators and
> conductors of this learning.  In Mitra's project he served as the master
> orchestrator by providing the content and asking the children questions that
> will lead to learning by discovery.  The "grannie cloud" in his project was
> the conductor, encouraging and cheering on the students as they worked their
> way through the learning experience.
> On Saturday I  followed a bit of the irc chat from Room 555 on Saturday
> which discussed children  being chosen as "experts" to help the others
> learn. Irc was not being friendly so I had to give up, but again, the
> teacher was the orchestrator... and conductor. Planning the lesson with the
> right questions and choosing the players and conducting the learning
> experience.
> Of course, many excellent teachers already know and practice this approach
> to teaching.  They are most often found in "hands on" type classes like  the
> arts, lab sciences and production classes. Now we need to ask, how do we
> (and should we) prepare all teachers to teach in this untraditional manner,
> which really good teachers have always done?
> Should OLPC or Sugar Labs consider developing and disseminating, this
> teaching style, and a curriculum for training teachers?
> How would we disseminate it? Evaluate it? Advertise it? Etc?
> Let's have a discussion!
> Caryl (aka "GrannieB" and Carolina)
> _______________________________________________
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