Monthly Archives: September 2013

Thinking Like a Ph.D.

This course has introduced me to philosophy. Although I had done some reading on the theories of learning and had read a little bit about some of the founders of our field, this is the first time I am fully understanding the philosophical and scientific origins of the field. I have never fully understood the difference between empiricism and rationalism.I have argued fiercely for creation theory to be given equal time in the school system, but when told that creation theory lacks empirical evidence, I would not have been able to refute that by producing some.

This course has had a profound impact on the way I think and how I approach what I read. I want to be regarded by my peers and future (Ph.D.-holding) contemporaries as knowledgeable and able to support what I say with hard evidence and not just conjecture or anecdote. I don’t want to just be opinionated. I’ve always been that. I want my opinions to be based on science. As such, I’ve spent a little time this semester finding the empirical evidence that supports what I believe so that the next time someone says to me there is no evidence, I can provide it.

This week as I read Hollis, his discussion kept reminding me of the battle between evolution science and creation science currently going on in our society. For example, he talks on page 72 of the importance of being able to specify in advance the conditions under which a theory would be proven false, and the need to stick with the results of the test even if it goes against the theory. He cautions against reinterpreting the results or making up reasons for why the test didn’t go as you planned. Yet evolutionists Gould and Eldridge published a paper on Punctuated Equilibria in 1977 to explain the absence of transitional fossil records in support of evolutionary theory.

Hollis goes on to say on page 78-79 that when experience contradicts what we believe, we choose what we’re going to revise, and typically we revise the way we interpret the experience. He states that we may have to choose between rival theories when deciding how to interpret the facts. The battle between evolution theory and creation theory can be summed up as a battle between the interpretation of experiences; the observable facts remain the same. Since there are no examples of macro-evolution in existence and the fossil record neither supports nor refutes evolutionary theory, either theory is still a plausible explanation for the formation of the world. Each of us interprets these facts based on our own world views and then selects the theory that best suits our position.

I think Hollis’ idea of paradigms, and especially how paradigms are bound by our society and our government, explains why the prevailing theory is evolution despite a large percentage of the public who would like to see equal time given to the teaching of both theories in schools (54% according to the most recent Gallop poll). On page 86, Hollis states that scientist rely on funding and must please the government, so science is a part of the political and social system. The currently reigning scientific “paradigm” is evolutionary theory, and our social and political culture support those scientists who follow and practice this paradigm, and “punish” those scientists who dare to challenge it. Although the many members of Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research are highly respected scholars and researchers with Ph.D.s who publish in the peer-reviewed journals of their respective fields, they must be careful to ensure that their research not overtly support creation theory when submitting for publication to these journals or their work will not be accepted. (Read: Myth: Creationists do not publish in the standard scientific journals or do any original research).

I really enjoyed this week’s reading. Further, I’m enjoying the challenge of learning to think like a scientist and a philosopher and starting to challenge what I believe with hard evidence. I am finding foundations on which to base my faith, which is reassuring and strengthening for a person who has always had to set the intellectual aside to embrace the theological.

 

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Growing in my Personal Learning Theory

I’ve had several opportunities over the past week to discuss my personal learning theory with others in my field, both in class and out. I’ve discovered that there is more agreement within education than derision, at least among those I’m privileged to call my peers.

While the readings make a big deal of the deep-seated argument that exists between true constructivists, cognitivists, and behavorists, and the educators I’ve spoken with have all been in agreement with me that there are merits to all three theories and that the wise instructor will use the method best suited to his or her learners and the situation at hand.

Rather than feeling the need to refine or reform my thinking after the feedback I’ve received both from my classmates and the people I work with, their reaction to my personal learning theory has only made me feel better about it and helped me feel stronger in my support of it. As I vocalized my theory and the reasons behind why I believe as I do, I felt better prepared to do so in the future from a researcher’s standpoint. I am beginning to feel like I know the material I’m reading and understanding it, and I am able to synthesize it into a world view of my own.

Philosophical Wanderings on Life and Education

What is? What can we know? How can we know it? How do people learn? What is your evidence? Is it anecdotal from your experience and others or research-based? Effectively, what is your personal theory of teaching and learning? These were the questions put to me this week by my instructor, and so, armed with the week’s readings and my personal experiences, I will undertake to explore and communicate that which many a philosopher has struggled with in centuries past.

As a bible-believing Creationist, my personal philosophies often stand in stark contrast to those of my counterparts in the educational community, particularly those who embrace the hard sciences. While my beliefs stem from a strong faith in a Creator and in what I believe to be His word, I have a strong independent and inquisitive mind which would never be satisfied to take something at face-value just because I was raised to believe it. I have spoken to experts on both sides of the issue, read many books on the subject, and examined evidence. Personally, I believe it takes greater faith to believe that the world and its inhabitants came to be by chance than to believe in an intelligent designer, and I believe there is evidence to support a young earth, a world-encompassing flood, and many other of stories found in the bible. So any discussion of my personal philosophy of life or education will necessarily stem from my foundation of faith.

Therefore, although I embrace the methodologies put forward by social constructivist theorists, I do believe we can know truth, so I am more of an Empiricist in this regard.

I think I began forming my viewpoints on education long before I became personally involved in it. I had three sons with special needs; two with severe ADHD and one with bi-polar disorder. The public schools would not recognize their behavioral disorders as learning disabilities for which they should have been eligible for special education interventions even though the result of their problems was inability to learn and failure. These were smart kids that were falling further and further behind in their classes, but the teachers and administrators saw them only as disruptions to be controlled and not as students in need of learning interventions. I saw ways to help them learn at home but the school was unwilling to try these methods at school, so when, in fifth grade, my oldest boy could not yet multiply and was now being asked to learn long division, I pulled them out and began homeschooling them.

At that point, I did not know what to call my methodologies, but they would be called cognitive or constructivist methods by any knowledgeable observer. I used lots of unit studies so that the whole curriculum was related and tied together rather than segregating the day into disciplines. For math we used a system which taught the concepts (from addition to multiplication to fractions) entirely using manipulatives. Science included many hands-on experiments. Every subject was as active, meaningful, and engaging as possible. They certainly weren’t deprived of a social education either. All three boys learned the same material together, adjusted to be appropriate for their individual grade levels or abilities. This gave us ample opportunity to discuss things, and often the discussions went on over dinner and included the adult perspectives of both their parents. Beyond that, we were heavily involved in a homeschool support group, participating in cooperative learning experiences, physical education classes hosted by some of the group’s fathers, and regular field trips. I chose these methods to teach my children because they seemed the most effective methods to teach them, but in looking back on my own educational experience, I recall that the times learning seemed most meaningful or in which it stands out most in my memory are experiences like the ones I gave my children.

I began studying education and its related philosophies in 2009. My education gave me names for what I already knew I believed about learning. I have since learned other philosophies and other learning theories, and I’ve begun teaching myself. What I believe and what I practice often stand in stark contrast, and I have, on this blog in fact, questioned myself and my own methods in light of my personal beliefs.

This week we were assigned to read an article which served for me to make sense of the world and put things into greater perspective. It is not that Behaviorists were wrong in their theory of the world and instruction. They have a valid perspective and their methods work for some learners in some situations. It is not that cognitive methods should be abandoned in favor of new constructivist principals. Each of the major theories of learning have a place and time for which they are appropriate.

After reading Ertmer and Newby (1993), I am giving myself a new title. I’m an eclectic. I believe that all of the learning theorists and philosophers have a kernel of truth. No one has cornered the market on it. I am going adopt from Dewey that which I read of his which fits with my own ideals, and leave the rest behind. I’ll take those things from Piaget which fit into my way of thinking and ignore anything that doesn’t align to what I believe. I can use direct instruction when it seems appropriate, provide my students with advanced organizers and learning aids when that seems right, and have them work in groups to solve ill-structured problems when conditions seem right for that. I don’t have to put myself in a box, nor do I have to put my students in one.

So I guess I have developed my personal philosophy beginning from anecdotal experience but I am growing it from research. It has changed as I have gained a greater understanding of the field of education. But while I respect the ideas of those who have gone before, I am free to discriminate between those ideas and decide what fits me and what does not.

Reference:

Ertmer, Peggy and Newby, Timothy J. (1993). Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly 6(4), 50-71.2.