Friday, July 31, 2009

Is it teaching? Is it learning?

Kia ora tātou – Hello Everyone
detail from Le Foyer de la Danse a l'Opera de la Rue Le Peletier - Degasdetail from Le Foyer de la Danse a l'Opera de la Rue Le Peletier - Degas

During part of my professional development appraisal this year, I was urged to incorporate student learning into my goals. I resisted this, defecting to goals where accountability clearly lies with my vigilance in identifying learner needs and in giving the learner appropriate and timely access to required, available learning resources and quality teaching.

My CEO, who I have a lot of respect for, mentioned in one of his addresses to staff last year that, as a school, we were responsible for student learning. The emphasis seems to be on the teacher taking responsibility for the learning. I challenge this point of view in this post.

It’s all about learning

In discussing the differences between teaching and learning in a previous post, I used the throwaway line,

“it’s all about learning - you don’t talk about teaching anymore”.

There is more to this idea than one might think.

Everywhere I look in education, I see the teacher being charged with the responsibility for learning that occurs in the student. It is seldom that teaching is discussed. Even raising the matter of pedagogy (which incidentally is to do with teaching rather than learning) causes some concern among educators and sparks discussion that is more to do with learning than teaching.

Learner centred

There’s no doubt that the learner is where it is at, but the learner centeredness of today’s education suggests, perhaps erroneously, that teaching is not as important as learning. While I believe that teacher centred education is not what’s needed, the focus on the learner, brought about through a learner centred mind-set, has moved the teacher so far out of the spotlight that the learner is beginning to suffer.

I’ve been told on good authority that it’s not like this in some cultures. In Spain, for instance, even the idea that teachers take on leadership roles in working with groups of learners, rather than the more prominent function and traditional role of a teacher, is thought to be culturally strained. But in New Zealand, Australia, Britain and America the role of the teacher seems to be morphing into the background – a resource rather than a force.

Assessing the players

Part of the change in the limelight is to do with the idea behind the sage-on-the-stage. Even the guide-on-the-side has been slid behind the curtain. It is as if the teacher has become more a stagehand than a player, leaving the learner to extemporise in full view of everyone else.

I wonder that assessment has perhaps been a contributor to this shift. It certainly takes the emphasis off teaching, while forcing an undue importance onto what is assessable by a teacher. However, the subsequent effect only appears to put the spotlight on the learner.

Summative assessment is rightly seen as being to do with what’s been learnt, but it is not really learner centred. Formative assessment is to do with what’s yet to be learnt while giving positive feedback and encouragement to the learner on what’s been learnt. It is truly learner centred, yet it is often upstaged by summative assessment.

Learner engagement

The essential aspect of learner engagement comes into its own when considering what’s important for it to happen. This is where learner centeredness is appropriate and necessary.

A learner has to be interested in what’s being taught for engagement to be sustained. But the content of that teaching has to be relevant to the learner for interest to be initiated in the first place.
When these conditions for engagement are met, the learning becomes entirely the responsibility of the learner.

It takes good teaching to identify what interests a learner and what content will be relevant to that interest, as well as appropriate to required learning.

This is the supreme skill that is part of good teaching. It is being overlooked while acting out a script that is supposedly learner centred.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

You Learn Something New Every Day

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
This month could well be historical in a truly revolutionary way and in more ways than one. Nicolaus Copernicus was an astronomer whose life spanned the 15th and 16th centuries. His brave claim went against the belief of the time that the earth was the centre of the universe. He put the sun there instead.

In his revolutionary book, On The revolutions Of The Celestial Spheres, Copernicus explained the observed motions of celestial objects in a theory that earned the name Copernican Revolution.

After almost four hundred years, he could be immortalised in the name that’s suggested for the heaviest known element, number 112 in the Periodic Table of the Elements. The new element, first created in 1996 by the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, is 277 times heavier than the lightest element, hydrogen.

Following recent confirmation of its existence, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) has recommended that it be named Copernicium, and gave it the symbol Cp.

If there is no significant objection, within six months Copernicium will become the official name for a special element – a fitting accomplishment in the International Year of Astronomy.

Professor Martyn Poliakoff, Associated Professor Peter Licence
Research Fellow Meghan Gray
, Nottingham University

Ngā mihi nui – Best wishes

Saturday, July 25, 2009

What Do You Do When You Find A New Site?

Kia ora tātou – Hello Everyone
Baloney in a Magnifier
This morning I came across an unfamiliar site through a post-link I’d followed on a familiar blog. As usual, I did a perfunctory scan of the header and layout of the page. That took a few seconds. Then I got into reading the post. It was well written and the topic was fresh and interesting.

I was almost through the second paragraph when the inquisitor in me took my attention to look for the date of the posting. It wasn’t prominent nor was the post date easy to find. I flicked down to the comments section and picked the date of the first comment: October 21, 2008.

I resumed reading, having sorted in my mind the post’s place in time. About a third way through the text, I started inspecting
intermittently the blogroll, names of commenters, checking out links to other sites, while continuing to read. I recognised that I was looking for links to sites or blogs that I might know.


It was then I realised that I was subconsciously prioritising my time, and my reading, by checking out the authenticity of the writer before getting further into what was quite a meaty post. In particular, I was scrutinising what I had gleaned from the post so far, weighing that against what I already knew.

I recalled doing this many times in the past when I had come across commercial sites and others that might waste my time while reading cogent story lines that amount to nothing - or worse, pernicious propaganda. The ‘trust’ mechanism within me kicks in fairly rapidly these days. It tends to be vicious if I suspect my time is being wasted.

Do young learners need this?

It also occurred to me that the routine I’d just accomplished was one difficult to explain to a young learner who may need to discover a thing or two about appraising the authenticity of information found on the Internet.

By flitting through what to others may seem a jumble of unrelated checks, I sketch an overview of where the post lies in relation to what I already know. This amounts to my knowledge of the topic and associated writers or sites familiar to me, as well as the possible up-to-date-ness of the information likely to be proffered by the content of the post.

How do you recognise baloney?

My usual reaction to bogus information, once it’s identified, is
instantly to wipe all that I’d held in the temporary enquiry channel of my thinking to do with what I’d read in the post or article, and move on.

Over the years I’ve developed what Carl Sagan referred to as a baloney detection kit. It is only part of the routine I practice when checking out information or ideas new to me. It kicks in at an advanced stage for there is no need to use it if I’d already identified bogus information from perfunctory checks and judicious hunches.

    What do you do when you come across a post on a blog new to you or article on an unfamiliar site on the web?

    Do you use a routine to check out authenticity?

    What would you do if you found that all your commonly used checks and routines returned insufficient information for you to form a useful opinion about the authenticity of an article, or of the information contained there?

Haere rā – Farewell

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An Historical Prophesy

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
The Balloonheads

Postmodernism is rationale for responsible
adults to behave like reckless adolescents.
For almost ten years I have lived with this inside me hoping that some morning I’d wake and find it’s just all been a dream. Or maybe I would start seeing things differently. I recall conversations with colleagues in 2001 and watching them recoil when I spoke of postmodernism. Some had never heard of the term; others who had would nod scornfully and turn away.

Over the years, however, the word postmodern has crept into the lingo of educators. Now I hear it used freely by educators in the same way as artists talk of Cubism or historians speak of the Renaissance.

Just recently a good friend and colleague was listening to me bemoan the seemingly senseless happenings in education when he said with a smile of recognition, “You should read The Triumph of the Airheads. I’ll lend you a copy. Read it for yourself.” I thought he was having me on.

Shelley Gare’s The Triumph of the Airheads and the Retreat from Commonsense was first published in 2006 by Park Street Press.

Bruce Hammonds reviewed the book early in 2007. I’m half-way through it, and still not used to the déjà vu I get at every chapter. The world that I've observed this century and that I was slowly becoming convinced must have been only in my imagination, sits bolt upright like a pop-up on every page.

From the cover of the book:

“The airheads are winning. We live in an upside-down world where celebrity matters more than substance; correct spelling is considered less important than knowing how to do PowerPoint; bright maths and science students go into investment banking so they can make truckloads of money; and small girls seriously regard a trashy hotel heiress as a role model. We have an American president (2006) who gets Sweden and Switzerland mixed up and Australian politicians who spend millions on spin doctors while schools and hospitals go begging. The age of the airhead has one message. Commonsense doesn’t pay off. If you’re smart, be smarter: play dumb.”

It is astute. It is funny. It is insightful.
It is about how society is losing the plot.

Gare summarises seven key features of the contemporary airhead:

voracious consumerism,
obsession with statistics,
aversion to reading books,
short-term thinking,
love of hypothesis and the jargon that goes with it,
a tendency to bully.
She mentions other elements:
conceited ignorance,
dislike of things serious,
remorseless when things go wrong.

We are in a world where it’s not only blissful to be ignorant, it also has to be celebrated.

Gare speaks of Paris Hilton as a postmodern Marie Antoinette. "Doesn’t anyone realise this woman - who hated the sight of books but loved to spend and party - got her head chopped off? Or why?"

Gare is knowledgeable of Newton’s third law
for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and explains how airheads seemingly rise above this fundamental principle:
“Airheads, at their most extreme, can worry only about themselves and the rest of the world can go to buggery. Airheadism thrives on concerning itself with the next five seconds because, with any luck, the next five minutes, days, months, years may, like, you know, never happen . . . or at least, if something does happen and it’s bad, it won’t happen to you. The best place to see all this in action is not in a Krispy Kreme doughnut store, or watching a twenty-something flashing a credit card on a Friday night over a $300 meal. It’s in the business pages of our newspapers, and on page one. Short-term thinking is the scourge of our times . . .”
I think of the recent global financial catastrophe and read Gare’s words as (an historical) prophesy.

Check out:

The Sweet Smell of Success – Shelly Gare
The Australian News

Shelley Gare on the language of Airheadism (ABC Radio National) introduced by Kate Bochner 

The Triumph of the Airheads and the Retreat from Commonsense
Park Street Press ISBN 1-876624-54-X

Ngā mihi nui – Best wishes

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Do-It-Yourself Image Mapping - part 2 of 2

Orange Circle
PixelIn part 1 of Do-It-Yourself Image Mapping, I explained how pixels in an image can be charted by their coordinates. Part 2 shows how a mapped section of an image can be used to link that part of the image to a site.

Following the instructions given here does not need a lot of technical know-how, but it does need an awareness of Hypertext Markup Language (html) and some recognition of its
quirks and symbols.

I do not recommend that you use the instructions in this post unless you have had a little experience in using the html editor on your blog posts.

For those who can forage through a plethora of tags in a page of html gobbledygook, and have understood the ideas presented in my previous post, here’s how to map part of an image and link it to a site.

Select a suitable image

Mapping an image permits areas within it to be coded so that they respond to a mouse-click by linking to a preselected site. The active area effectively becomes a hyperlink. The best images to use for this are those with clear-cut shapes or at least with geometrically shaped areas that are easily identified on the screen.

Publish your post first

Before an image can be mapped, the post must be published with the image that you’re going to use already in place. This makes it possible for you to copy the image location before using the Poor Person’s Image Mapper.

Html uses standard words and abbreviations to define the shape of the area that can be mapped. For instance, a rectangle or square shape on an image is coded rect. A circular shape is coded circle, and other geometrical shapes such triangles and polygons are coded poly.

Rectangular or square shapes are the easiest areas to map and link to a site by editing the html.

Squares and rectangles
new window link to Mapping Polygonal AreasNew window link to Mapping Circular Areas
View the published post and copy the location of the image you are about to map. Then use the Poor Person’s Image Mapper to find the exact coordinates of the corner pixels of the chosen square or rectangular shape on the displayed image.

Start with the top left pixel moving clockwise round the shape. Make a careful note of these coordinates. A typical list of recorded coordinates might look something like this:


Notice that the numerals are all separated by commas. The first two numerals 8,117 are the coordinates of the top left
pixel on the rectangle. What follows are three pairs of coordinates for the three other pixels, one in each of the remaining corners.

Using the html editor

When you have recorded the coordinates for the four pixels, the next step is to view the post in the html editor to inspect the code for the image.

To find the image in the html code of a post, you will need to look for the tag img src= followed by the address of the image in quotes. Using a search-and-find facility can help with this. Knowing the file name of the image also helps you to identify the code for the image, as this will appear in the last part of the image address. Code for a typical image might appear like this:

Code of this type usually begins with the tag div . . . which is really a signal to the browser that a block of related code is about to follow. It is always closed at some later position (not shown in the section of code above) in the html by the tag . . . /div. This is the signal to the browser that the end of the block of code is reached.

It pays to study a bit of code

Before editing the html code, you should identify the tags div . . . and
. . . /div for the image. You should also check that the image source tag img src= is followed immediately by the location of the image. This information should lie somewhere between the tag div and its associated tag /div. In the unlikely event that the
div tags are absent, and this can happen, it is important that you identify the parts of the code associated with the image you intend to map.

I recommend that you spend a few minutes running your eye over these parts of the code in the html of your post, making a mental note of roughly where they lie within the html code for the post.

Every map has a name

The map you define on the image need to be given a name that will form part of the code you edit. I’ve used the map name CUBE.

The html must then be edited by inserting the additional piece of code usemap="#CUBE" within the img src tag. This extra bit of code must follow after the image address that’s enclosed in quotes as shown below. Its function is to tell the browser what part of the image to make active.

Check your edited html. Any small typo will confuse the browser and may well display an error message when you attempt to publish the edited post.

Now locate the associated tag /div that lies further along the html code, and insert the code map name="CUBE" immediately after the tag as shown here:

The next part must be entered immediately after this last edit and on a new line. A single tap of the Enter key will bring down a new line. You can then enter the code for the mapped area and the site that it’s to be linked to:

Update 1/08/09: in Blogger the code "poly" is used instead of "rect"

Notice that I used the sample numbers for the coordinates here. You will have your own set of recorded numbers that you must use instead of these.

Also note that there are 3 sets of enclosed quotes in this bit of inserted code: "rect", "8,117,239,117,239,348,8,348" and "the address of the site" that the active area will link to on a click.

Check, check and check again

Check that you have entered the coordinates correctly at this stage. Between the quotes, there should be eight numerals and seven commas.

A further check on the address of the site that the area is to link to is recommended before republishing the post.

Publish the amended post

Once you have published your amended post, inspect the image by accessing the post in the browser.

Check that the area mapped actually links to the site you selected!
A further check can be made by moving the mouse, without clicking, over the mapped area and reading the site address displayed at the base of the browser window.

The displayed address should correspond to the site you selected. It is also a good way of checking the boundaries of the area in your image map. You can see how this works by rolling your mouse over the circle and triangle on the face of the cube in the image above.

Any error, such as a wrongly transferred numeral in a coordinate, will show when you perform this inspection. The symptom to look for is that the area you think you mapped does not respond by displaying the site address on the task bar when the mouse is moved entirely and only within that area.

Link to top section

Triangles and other straight-line shapes

Essentially the same method that’s outlined above applies to mapping a triangular or polygonal shape. The only real difference is the use of poly, instead of rect, for the area shape tag:

area shape="poly" coords=

Here’s a typical edit for a triangular shape:

Of course, if your shape maps a triangle or a polygonal shape other than one with four sides, you will have a different number of coordinate numerals. All shapes will have twice as many coordinate numerals as the number of sides enclosing the shape. This means that a triangular area will have 2 X 3 = 6 coordinate numerals, whereas a 5 sided shape will have 10 coordinate numerals.


A circular shape on an image requires you to record only the coordinates of the pixel at its centre, and the radius of the circle in pixels. Finding the rough centre of a circular area is easy. Finding its radius needs a careful eye followed by a simple calculation.

Suppose the centre pixel of a circular shape has it’s coordinates 35 38. It is an easy calculation to find its radius when the coordinates of the pixel at the top of the circle are also known. In this case the top pixel has coordinates 35 12, as in the above image.

A simple subtraction of the (street) coordinates gives the radius in pixels: 38 – 12 = 26. In this case, the radius is 26 pixels.

So to map a circular area you need to find the coordinates of its centre pixel and then the coordinates of the pixel at the top of the circle. Perform the calculation described above to find the radius in pixels.

The coding for mapping a circular shape is more or less the same as for the other shapes above with only a few minor differences.

Use circle, in the area shape tag area shape="circle" coords= . Enter the coordinates for the centre of the shape followed by the radius of the shape.

Here’s a typical edit for a circular shape with centre at 35 38 and radius 26 pixels:

Good luck with your image mapping.

Digital Natives? Digital Immigrants?

Kia ora tātou – Hello Everyone
I wonder about the wisdom of perpetuating a craze that appears to have created a division where none exists. I read, hear and see a lot of evidence to suggest that young people born into this age are more accepting of its digital equipment and the development of this than some who were born decades before. This is entirely to be expected.

My personal experience is that the young don't necessarily have any better command of the use of the technology nor keener vision of its potential.

Innate tendencies

The terms ‘native’ and ‘immigrant’, used in a digital context, place unnecessary and unwarranted barriers between older people who have a command of present-day technology, and yet are labelled ‘immigrants’, and the similarly able individuals who are younger, and are labelled ‘natives’.

Humans have an innate tendency to isolate people into groups, through criteria that involve seemingly peripheral and irrelevant differences. These can be of gender, age, skin or hair colour, height, girth, voice accent, ethnic origin or religious belief. You identify it; a category will exist for it.

The unfortunate use of the terms ‘native’ and ‘immigrant’ tends to bring to mind times or situations when these were used commonly in derogatory contexts. Their use can provoke prejudice. I’ve actually seen this happen. It isn’t pretty to watch.

A + B = C

Criteria for distinguishing so-called digital natives from so-called digital immigrants, some of which is seriously flawed, have been drafted since the beginning of this century. And they continue to be refined. I see more references to their mythical existence every day. The recognition of that is as if it were something clear-cut like 1 + 1 = 2.

This is despite recent and not so recent findings and reports that clearly indicate there is more to becoming digitally savvy and acquiring acumen with present-day technology than being born close to 1990. Just check out some of the references cited in Sharon Stoerger’s article, 2009.

One thing that’s clear from my experience as a teacher of both children and adults, is that young people, new to present-day technology, are no faster at understanding it and getting useful command of it, than newbies who are mature and perhaps decades older than they.

Those who are born into a digital-technology-rich environment are familiar with it,
certainly. But it is in a way similar to how all of us in the western world are accepting of a 24/7 electricity supply, the technology to record sound and ‘moving pictures’, or the capacity to be able to make a direct call – Skype with video if you wish – from one side of the globe to the other.

I make no apology for this rant. It’s been a long time coming.

( 2 ) < - related post


Friday, July 17, 2009

Do-It-Yourself Image Mapping - part 1 of 2

Kia ora tātou – Hello EveryoneImage Maps
A few days ago, Paul Cornies tagged me in a meme to write a post on four favourite posts on my blog. I played about with, a fantastic Web.2 image creating and editing tool, to make the image for the post. After splicing together bits of four images that I’d used on each of the selected posts, I managed to create some sort of collage.

When I published the post, I thought, “wouldn’t it be neat if I could link each part of the collage to its respective post?” The next day I did a few Google searches and found all I needed to help me with that idea.

You can inspect the result on the image collage of my previous post.

Tiny ImageImages, pixels
and coordinates

An image on a web page or blog post is made up of rows of coloured squares called pixels.

It is as if all the pixels of an image are lined up along streets that run parallel to one another.

Finding the exact position of a particular pixel could turn out to be a real headache if it weren’t for the two useful numerals called coordinates that can be assigned to each pixel.
Address of a Pixel
The first numeral is the house number of the pixel in its street.

The second numeral is the street name. So the coordinates of a pixel that lies at number 4
in street 5 is written as 4 5.

Usually there are hundreds of streets in an image, and hundreds of houses (pixels) in each street.

For instance, a pixel that lies at number 239 in street 117 will have
the coordinates 239 117.

Mapping a part of an image

Mapping a shape on part of an image is a bit like joining the dots.

On the orange face of the cube shown below, the positions of pixels in each corner define its shape. There is a white pixel with coordinates 239 117
at the top right corner. The other three orange pixels are labelled.

All four pixels -
8 117, 239 117, 239 348 and 8 348 - map a square.

Image Cube
How do you find pixel coordinates in an image?

One of the sites I learnt about is Poor Person’s Image Mapper. Despite its ‘frugal’ title, it provides a rich means to help you see how image mapping works. You can easily map the pixels in an image.

All you need to do is to paste in the address (URL or location) of an image displayed in a post or web site. The Image Mapper returns the coordinates of any pixel on the image that you click.

You can use the image shown above for this. Copying the image location needs instructions dependent on the browser you use.
Listed here are methods for Firefox and Internet Explorer:
  1. Right click on the image.

  2. Select Copy Image Location.
Internet Explorer:
  1. Right click on the image.

  2. Select Properties.

  3. Copy the Address (URL) – make sure you copy all the data displayed as sometimes only part of the address is shown on right click – you may have to experiment with this.
Copy the image location.

Click this link to take you to the Image Mapper, paste in the copied address and submit it to see how the Mapper works. Clicking on parts of the displayed image will return the coordinates of
pixels selected.

In part 2, I will show how you can link areas of an image to sites of your choice, using the coordinates obtained from the Image Mapper.

Rangimarie - Peace in Harmony

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

4 R's Meme: Favourite Posts

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allFavourite Posts
Help! And I thought I’d sneak through July without being tagged!
Well it just isn’t going to happen!

Paul Cornies’ recent post, 4 R's Meme: Favourite Posts, asks those tagged to select 4 of their favourite posts from their own blog, one from each of the categories: Rants, Resources, Reflections and Revelations.

The posts are then listed with a brief summary on each describing:

    why it was important,
    why it had lasting value or impact,
    how you would update it for today.
The intrepid bloggers are to tag all of their selected posts with the label postsofthepast and then select five (or so) other bloggers to tap with this meme.

Here are my 4 selected posts, not all of them directly related to education:

Rants What Do You Do With A Fan Of Links?

A Fan Of Links
Infowhelm is ubiquitous and can even exist within a single post in the form of numerous links to dozens of associated and not so related resources. This rant-category post raged about the problem and brought forth sympathy, further discussion and some solutions. I’d like to be able to write more posts like this one.
Link to new windowLink to new window
Link to new windowLink to new window
ResourcesShip-shape and Bristol FashionShip-shape and Bristol Fashion
I needed to write 'Ship-shape and Bristol Fashion' to find out, firsthand, that bloggers have their own strong beliefs about their practices in publishing a post. I was aware that some readers may not have been familiar with the possibility of hazardous html and how it may be introduced. What I did not anticipate was that in the territory of other experienced bloggers, this topic could be hallowed ground.

ReflectionsCollective behaviour

Collective Behaviour
Group dynamics is a
current issue that’s the subject of numerous studies at different levels in society. The behaviour of the group, as opposed to the behaviour of its component individual acting as an isolate, is a paradox. This was a popular post that didn’t really put forward enough questions to stimulate further engagement through comments.

RevelationsIn Praise of Plaudit

Praising Kashin
Positive feedback is such an important encourager for the learner and especially the isolated distance-learner. It is one of the cornerstones of learner engagement.

'In Praise of Plaudit' sparked a discussion in comments that affirmed the need for teachers, tutors and elearning technologists to embrace the importance of learner encouragement through feedback.

What I didn’t take into account when I wrote the post was that every educator has their own perspective on the learner. It is
perhaps unclear to those who have not experienced distance-learner contact firsthand, the important differences between learners who have face-to-face contact with tuition and the needy situations so often experienced by isolated distance-learners.

I tag the following intrepid and much respected bloggers:
Andrea Hernandez

Café Chick

Ken Stewart

Manish Mohan

Virginia Yonkers
Remember to tag your post with the label postsofthepast.

Ngā mihi nui – Best wishes

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Movement, Music and Musicality

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown: – John Keats

Isn’t it . . .
    interesting that bird-song has charmed the hearts of explorers the world over?

    sensational how people are stirred to dance when they hear lively music?

    touching how music can arouse memories of past events otherwise long forgotten?

    profound that some melodies, still popular today, were played so long ago their origins have been forgotten?

    curious how some forms of music can affect the function of the brain?

    remarkable that nations burst into song as a symbol of solidarity in moments of triumph or disaster?

    intriguing that all over the globe, mothers murmur, coo and sing to their newborn children who, at only a few days old, will invariably respond by listening or vocalising?

An ancient practice

Archaeological remains of flute-like instruments suggest that music must have been known and practiced as far back as 10,000 BC.

The fragmentary physical remains of musicianship represent a mere trace of the significance that music may have played in the lives of the people of those Palaeolithic times. One can only surmise that singing would also have been a component of that music. Perhaps it may well have been customary thousands of years before that era.

Music has an amazing power to bring people together. Legend tells us that Apollo initiated the earliest festivals of music and poetry around 6
th century BC. Cultural elements of these arts became part of the festivity of the Pythian Games.

Dancing and music have been major components of cultures from time immemorial. Yet only in
recent years has musicality been considered to be of key importance to communication and to human development.

We live in an environment that’s steeped in rhythm and movement. If all musical devices including radio, TV, CD and DVD drives, and the Internet were mysteriously to cease to function, the rhythmical component of our day-to-day lives would still make a significant contribution to the musicality of the environment we are in.

Just take a walk to the corner shop and listen to the rhythm and timbre of the sound of your footstep. Or lie still in a quiet room and sense the dull throb of your heartbeat. You become aware of the leisurely tempo of your own sibilant breathing.

It may be you overhear a conversation between neighbours in the street outside, voices too faint for you to make out the words. The patterns in their speech are familiar. You may even recognise a voice from its rhythm and pitch. A bird utters its warbling chronicle from a distant perch. You recognise the call of a songthrush.

New Zealand Emeritus Professor

In today's Radio NZ interview by Gordon Harcourt, New Zealander Colwyn Trevarthen, child psychologist and Emeritus Professor at Edinburgh University, explains the recent and not so recent researches on the mother and child relationship.

He tells of the major contribution brought to that relationship through the musicality of vocal interaction. The endearing conversation of parent and baby is a musical symphony. Babies are very attentive to the ritual of these interactions and take part by actively contributing through their own movement and vocalisation. He talks of recent studies that show an exact similarity of mother and baby communication to jazz music, in terms of the structural dynamics of rhythm and pitch.

Bridging the communication gap, well known in the study of autistic conditions, is made possible through music. Trevarthen introduces, through example, how communication with an autistic child can be initiated through the skilled use of rhythm.

Complexity in motion

Trevarthen describes the motion of the human body as polyrhythmic.
It is complex owing to the
Dancerability to stand on two feet with independent movement of legs, arms and hands.

He likens the complexity of the extravagant gestures of the human body to the structure of human thought.

People are as individual in the way they move as they are in the way they use speech patterns to communicate. Movement and dance, speech and speech patterns all contribute to a musicality that’s unique to the human form.

His idea on the origin of language, through the musicality of human interaction, is one that challenges traditional theories of the origin of speech.

The 34 minute interview was broadcast today, Saturday, 11 July 2009.

A Green Pen Society contribution

Ngā mihi nui – Best wishes

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Curiosity and Learning

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allCuriosity and Learning
“We are all born with an innate need to learn so as to make sense of, and learn from, our experiences. The question is why do so many students lose this natural disposition?" Bruce Hammonds

Bruce Hammonds’ opening statement and question in his recent post What do we all need to be lifelong learners? made me wonder why the mechanism for learning is there in the first place.

While I don’t entirely disagree with his supposition about the innateness of learning, I question the innateness of a need to make sense of experiences the way he suggests.

One way of rationalising the existence of the learning mechanism is that it evolved for survival. Learning what's good to eat and what's not so good would certainly assist with this. Learning to recognise dangerous situations as well as environments that are safe for settling for the night, or for raising offspring, would likewise tend towards a continued existence.

These abilities to learn are innate, and it is understandable how they may have arisen through evolution. But learning from experience, as an innate tendency, is less of a drive to want to learn. It is more a mechanism for survival. To have a drive to learn needs more than just instinct. It needs curiosity – a compelling urge to want to find out.
Cats Eyes
Curiosity killed the cat

That ‘curiosity killed the cat’ is well known.
In order to seek a learning experience, one needs the drive of the explorer, a curiosity that might be associated with a bohemian tendency to stray away from the safety of the pack.

Curiosity is not always good for survival, however, and it could well be why this trait is not so prominent in some as in others. Part of the curiosity that humans display at an early age can get discouraged by parental action, justified by the idea that curiosity may incur danger.

At first sight, the characteristics of curiosity and learning appear to oppose one another when it comes to survival.
But, curiosity coupled with a keen tendency to learn is what all teachers look for in their students.

A complement to learning?

Could it be that curiosity evolved as a feature complementary to the development of the learning mechanism? Curiosity certainly seems to stimulate learning in the young child. Several education principles encourage curiosity at an early age, advocating that it permits the unimpeded development of the child.

Though curiosity may be thought of as being instinctive, it has an almost random aspect to it that makes it different from many other mammalian characteristics. This complex quality of curiosity prevents it from being categorised as a true instinct. It is not innate in the traditional sense, for it is neither a behaviour that’s learnt, nor is it necessarily influenced by the environment.

A strategy for finding out?

What can trigger curiosity, however, is a stimulus that suggests the existence of something unknown. Just watch a cat when it senses movement in a clump of long grass. In situations like this, the creature becomes engaged in a series of actions that appear to be strategies for finding out.

The curiosity that’s experienced by scientists, explorers and the like, and that drives them to search into the unknown, is often stimulated through chance observation. Yet the conscious act of being curious when these situations arise does not occur in these people by chance.

Curiosity and creativity

The importance of curiosity to creativity is implicit. Creativity is a curiosity to explore innovative thought. Curiosity is also important to those who are lifelong learners. It is what drives them to continue learning.

Might it be that the ability to be curious or creative cannot be imparted to everyone? Or are these abilities that should be encouraged at all ages, so that their occurrence in each individual, however scant, can be best put to use in learning throughout life?

Could it be that it’s not ability to learn that’s lost in the young as they progress through school, but the curiosity that drives them to learn that is suppressed?

I affirm Ken Robinson’s opinion that schools can kill creativity.

 Ka kite anō – Catch ya later