Saturday, February 17, 2007

Quiz Games, Iconic Representations, and Learning Fundamentals

I'm trying out a different style of post today. It's less natural to me as an author and in places I felt I was being pedantic. But I wonder whether the it does better than straight narrative in creating connections to the ideas.

Let's start of with some easy ones.

Q: Who is this?

Dustin Hoffman and James Lipton
A: It is Dustin Hoffman being interviewed by James Lipton on the 200th showing of Inside the Actors Studio.

Q: And who is this?

Olivier and Hoffman from Marathon Man

A: It is Dustin, being rudely worked on by Sir Laurence Olivier.

Q: What is the movie from which this shot was taken?
A: Marathon Man. According to Hoffman, Olivier was quite ill during the filming. One evening during the shooting Hoffman went out to dinner with Olivier and some of his family. During the course of the dinner Hoffman asked Olivier the fundamental question: What is it that makes us want to keep on acting? Olivier stood up, leaned over the table, stared right at Hoffman and said:
Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!
So that explains motivation for actors.

Q: Who is this?

 David Brooks

A: It's David Brooks.

Q: What newspaper does he write for?
A: He's an Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times. He wrote a column a while back entitled All Politics Is Thymotic. The Thymos is one of Plato's three parts of the soul. (The others are Reason and Eros.) The Thymos is about the craving for recognition. It is a core need in all of us. If we don't want to have all eyes upon us like actors we nonetheless do want all to know and appreciate our good works.

Ok, this ones a little tougher.
Q: Who is this?

Jane Goodall

Q: Need a hint? She studied monkeys and it's not Dian Fossey (who wrote Gorillas in the Mist). Do you know another ethologist who studies monkeys?

A: It's Jane Goodall. Both Goodall and Fossey were protoges of the famed anthropologist, Louis Leakey.

Q: What idea does this picture convey?

Monkey see, monkey do

A: Monkey see, monkey do. We teachers model so that our students will imitate.

All right. Now we get really obscure.
Q: What do Jerome Bruner, the pyschologist who studied curriculum design, and Ken Bain, the author of the award winning book What The Best College Teachers Do, have in common?

Q: Need another hint? What core idea does this picture convey?

curious kitten

A: The picture is about curiosity. The kitten knows its risky, but can't help it. It has the urge to look. Both Bruner and Bain believe that teaching should emphasize intrinsic motivation and the essence of that for the learner is curiosity.

Q: Who is this?


A: FDR. In his first inaugural address he spoke of the only thing to fear is fear itself. (This survey course from George Mason University gives an audio clip of the speech, a full text transcription, and some context for understanding what was at issue.) Likewise, in our teaching we instructors have nothing to fear but fear itself in our students. Fear is the great impeder of learning.

Now we'll switch to an audio daily double. Be warned, it's a little tricky.
Q: Who is this?

audio clip

A: It's not Bob Dylan. It's Joan Baez imitating Dylan. This clip is from Diamonds & Rust, an album where Baez is purging the demons from her intense relationship with Dylan, a relationship where she got burned badly; he used her and then discarded her. Fear itself in the students is perhaps what we instructors worry about, but the students have real things to fear. If they get very involved with what they are learning, they can get burned.

One more question.
Q: Who is this?

Lord Tennyson

A: Alfred Lord Tennyson. He wrote a series of poems as memorial for his sister's fiancee, who had passed away. The entire set is available online. Scroll down to XXVII for the lines we all learned in childhood.
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
The full poem is an urging to not sit on the sidelines and let life pass one by.

Taken together, this set of questions and answers forms a reasonable basis for an approach to teaching and learning.

Its up to us to find an implementation that brings it all together. :-)

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