"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone."

~Neale Donald Walsch~

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Are Cognitive Enhancement drugs over perscribed?

So I had a fantastic weekend at TED x Sydney. It's not often I take time out of life to think about things beyond my world and situation. The event showcased scientists, professionals from the education and medical profession along with with talented musicians and artists. There were speakers with disabilities who highlighted the point that they live in the same world we do and often have similar jobs to able bodied people yet they are often treated so differently even when they don't want to be. Judy and Tim Sharpe were super inspiring and I would encourage you to watch their talk when it becomes available. They were the only talk that received a complete standing ovation from the audience.

I guess two of the speakers that stood out most to me were Neuroscienist Cyndi Weickert and Philosopher Nicole Vincent. It was so inspiring to hear about the advances into a cure for Schizophrenia from Cyndi. Her amazing journey and clearly passionate drive is seeking to really make a difference for suffers of this really debilitating mental illness. Nicole Vincent's talk on Cognitive Enhancement drugs has still got my brain thinking and I had a lively conversation with my colleagues today. These drugs may include Ritalin, sleeping pills and other stimulants that help you to focus or stay awake. She, like many others have some real concerns about the long term impact of these drugs on young and developing brains as well as consideration as to how these drugs might be giving some students an academic edge over others. This was something I
Image by bigstockphotos.com
hadn't really thought about. If an elite athlete took drugs to enhance their performance they would be stripped of their titles and shamed beyond all measure yet we have kids who take drugs to help them focus and learn whilst other students don't take any cognitive enhancing drugs. For some children who find that Ritalin does help them focus because they suffer from ADHD this can be a life saving gift for them but does this mean that they will have to take it for the rest of their lives in order to keep a job or function in life? As a stimulant it would be concerning the long term impact this might have on their body.

Image by bigstockphotos.com
For some academics and professionals who travel around the world to speak many take sleeping pills to help regulate their sleep patterns so they will be fresh to give talks. Are we getting to a stage where we need to take drugs in order to do our jobs? Is this ok? These were some of the arguments that Nicole pondered and I think that having a debate about this is essential or otherwise taking drugs for cognitive enhancement will become the norm. I don't have any real answers to these questions but I do think a debate about this is necessary and not one to be taken lightly.

Connecting with people outside the realm of education was great and broad networking is helping me stay current in terms of what different industries are facing at the moment and it also helps my general world view on a range of topics. Talking to people with experiences from a variety of industry backgrounds means they often come to topics with a slightly different perspective to mine. It's refreshing to look at something in a new way.

All in all I know that thinking outside the box can deliver new ways of approaching a problem or present a new perspective on a topic that once appeared so clear but now there may be different options to consider. I'm enjoying the mental stimulation and have been thinking of ways of incorporating some of the ideas that were presented at TED x Sydney into my classes and into conversation with family, friends, colleagues and students.

Try a TED talk with your class today.

Until next week,


Monday, 21 April 2014

Is there magic in teaching?

Yesterday I came across a TED talk that really got me thinking. Christopher Emdin presented a TED talk that considers pre-service teachers and their education and their journey to becoming teacher. Best watch this video first to understand the rest of this blog post.

Whilst I think there is great merit in wanting students to be engaged you can't manufacture something that is cultural different and perhaps unique to certain social settings. I know that this approach would not work with my students. There is a lot to be said about engaging speakers and techniques that you can use when presenting ideas to students however the students would soon become bored with this style fairly quickly if it does not come naturally to the individual teacher. 

Image from bigstockphotos.com
What can be drawn from this talk is that there are no magical tricks to teaching but rather it is the unique personality and style that we bring to our classes that can assist student engagement in the long term. It is our sound knowledge of our subjects and good incorporation of educational theory in relation to pedagogy and andragogy and excellent communication skills that can bring out the best in all of us. Experience is the one thing that can't be taught and for all pre-service teachers they need to bring with them life experience into the job and as the years go by they add their teaching experience to their skill set. 

I do agree with Christopher Emdin that mentoring is extremely important and perhaps there needs to be more of this in a teaching degree. There certainly can be more said about mentoring in schools no matter how long you have been teaching. Without dialogue about your classes teachers become stale and out of touch with not only their subject but loose enthusiasm for what they do. Mentoring and reflection should be part of normal teaching practice. New methods, new ideas and fresh ways of teaching are crucial to teacher quality and there should be more discussion about how this can be achieved in work places. 

The magic in teaching is created when a student connects with their learning
Image from bigstockphotos.com
and goes on a journey of discovery that captures and enlightens their lives. It doesn't matter how old learners are they can still enjoy the wonder of learning something new or gaining confidence in a skill they have been working at. Yes it is our job as teachers to engage our students to achieve these goals but we must be ourselves and bring to the job the unique abilities we all possess. I love the fact that my colleagues all have a different teaching style to me because they inspire me through their ideas and teaching methods. 

I do wish all my teaching friends a wonderful term 2! 

Until next week,

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Stronger and smarter students

There are moments in life when a concept, value or idea grabs you and holds your attention longer than other things would. That happened to me today. I have been thinking about a group of learners that I teach that I feel as though I haven't really connected with them as well as I could. I have been pondering this for several weeks and chatting with my colleagues on how
Image by bigstockphotos.com
better to engage them in class. I had a light bulb moment this morning after listening to Dr Chris Sarra talk with Richard Fidler on ABC radio about his experiences as an Aboriginal Headmaster in remote communities in Queensland and the Northern Territory. His personal philosophy in building a sense of identity and value comes from his belief that all students can be strong and smart. I now need to go out and buy his book, Good Morning Mr Sarra and further examine how he has inspired a generation of isolated and remote Aboriginal people to live to their full potential. The Stronger Smarter Institute continues to inspire young Aboriginal people to become the best they can be through leadership and excellent teaching and training.   I absolutely love this idea because it gives control of an individuals life over to them. There is an expectation that all people can be strong and smart. Of course there are major hurdles that Aboriginal peoples face in society but I think the idea is certainly one that speaks to the core values in each one of us.  There are so many values wrapped up in these two words and yet the driving philosophy behind this concept is that within all of us there is the ability to take control of our lives and use our brains, emotions and all aspects of our being to drive the choices that we make.

Being smart enables each person to acknowledge that we all have intelligence. It may include academic excellence and skills related to ones job but it can be much more than that. It can include intelligence in regard to relationships, social situations, work situations and overall management of life. These two strong verbs also allow us to stuff up in life and build on our mistakes to make us stronger and smarter. These verbs are timeless and so even when we leave the education environment they can stay with us in our jobs and in our lives.  Reflecting on your mistakes and learning from them is so important in the learning process and this is one thing we should never stop doing.

So with this in mind I am just about to program a new course for work and I
Image by bigstockphotos.com
have decided to keep these two verbs in mind in all that I do. Building confidence and building skills are core to what I do and building students who are emotional, socially and academically smart will enable them to learn and develop their skills for the work place and for further study. Encouraging students to be strong in their convictions and decisions, resilient and resourceful means they will be better equipped to face life's challenges.

I am always learning, always growing in knowledge and life experience. Being a strong and smart person means I can be there for my family, friends, colleagues and students. By raising my expectations of my students I hope I can help them to see that they are strong and smart too.

One of my favorite videoes from Dan Hasseler  was delivered at the Central Coast Teach Meet and highlights the importance of never underestimating our students abilities.

Until next week,