I love this website. phet.colorado.edu I made my first screencast here. Check it out.
In The Backwards Brain Bicycle, Destin from Smarter Everyday describes a very interesting brain experiment. He unlearned how to ride a bike. Riding a bike is a simple thing and once learned that skill is fairly easy to relearn or so we thought. Destin's experience begins with a challenge from a friend who had created a bicycle where the handlebar move opposite to the wheel. If you turn the handlebars right the wheel turns left. Having learned to ride a bike 25 years before Destin thought this would be easy. He couldn't do it. In fact, he hasn't been able to find anyone that can do it on the first try. He trains on the bike for 5 minutes everyday and in 8 months learns to ride the bike. He says it felt like something clicked. He could manage the backward brain bicycle, but only with intense focus. Even the slightest distraction and he would loose the "pathway" or skill. He challenges his 6 year old son to ride the backward brain bike. He works on it and gets it in 2 weeks. This demonstrates the greater neuroplasticity of younger minds. His son could "relearn" how to ride a bike much faster.
One of the craziest parts of this comes when after mastering the backward brain bike he tries to ride a regular bike again. He cannot do it. He cannot stay on the bike. With lots of people watching and laughing, he ties and tries. After twenty minutes, something clicks and he has it again. His brain had to relearn what was unlearned.
In this learning, unlearning and relearning process Destin learned that knowledge does not equal understanding. He could conceptualize how to ride the backward bike, but until he trained or created a new neural pathway, he could not ride. Destin says, "You are looking at the world with a bias whether you think you are or not."
What does this mean to my students? I wonder how often I have been satisfied with the knowledge and didn't work for the understanding. I thought I knew how to study and learn in school, but as I continued on into college, I discovered that I needed to relearn somethings. As a teacher I need to provide opportunities to my students to relearn and understand. Very often in my class I encounter, especially at the beginning of the year, student who say, "I'm just not good at science." This is not true. That student just hasn't put in the work to retrain their brain. I can help them do that. The young have powerfully plastic brains that can learn and relearn, given the opportunity and the motivation. We can do it together.
"The Backwards Brain Bicycle - Smarter Every Day 133." YouTube. Web. 31 Oct. 2015.
Gever Tulley runs a tinkering school. Gever's philosophy is "You can figure things out by fooling around." In this school, students are free to dream and plan and construct. They are entrusted not to hurt themselves or others. They are given the time to build, fail, problem solve and resolve. Life lessons are learned as wood, metal, and plastic bags are manipulated into envisioned masterpieces. Students must communicate, lead and follow. Gever says that failures are celebrated and analyzed, problems become puzzles, and decoration becomes a conceptual incubation period. Students learn that design is important, but that the vision is only the first step. Creation is complicated and full of failure, but that failure can illuminate the next step.