Interview to Mariano Sigman. Neuroscience and Education. Contributions and questions. Educational News Bulletin Nr. 57
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In this bulletin, we aim at providing resources to approach and identify where and when neuroscience can or cannot be relevant to analyze and improve the educational practices. With this in mind, we have interviewed Neuroscientist Mariano Sigman, who has run the Laboratory of Integrative Neuroscience of the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella. At university, he and his team are developing a series of research work that deals with the field of education.
In his interview, Sigman explains what they are investigating in education, what kind of experiments they make and how they articulate neuroscience with cognitive psychology to try to understand the teaching processes – learning in kids and groups of teachers. This research aims at analyzing a series of educational practices with the objective of generating tools (conceptual and eventually digital) that would allow efficiency improvement in some teaching and didactic processes. As an example, he went further into the work made on dyslexia types, the representations adult people have of dyslexic students and the teaching and learning difficulties arising from them.
Another aspect dealt with during the interview was the incorporation of programming in education and its potential for students’ cognitive development.
Both with the example of the work on dyslexia and with the analysis of why programming learning is useful for students, we notice the specificity of neuroscience contributions to identify learning dimensions and processes that might improve both students’ cognition and some teachers’ teaching practices.
Graduated in Physics at the Universidad de Buenos Aires (1997), with a Doctorate in Neuroscience (Phd) at the Rockefeller University (New York) and a post-doctorate in Cognitive Sciences (2002-2005) at the College de France (Paris). In 2006, he founded the Laboratory of Integrative Neuroscience at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, which he still manages. He has been awarded the most important international academic prizes in his discipline, including the award to the young researcher granted by the “College de France, Paris” (2006), the Career Development Award granted by the Human Frontiers Science Program (2007), the Enrique Gaviola Prize granted by the Academia Nacional de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales (2011) and the Scholar Award granted by James S. McDonnell Foundation Scholar (2012). He is the author of over 90 articles in the most prestigious neuroscience magazines. He is the director of the “Toma de decisiones” (Decision taking) program of the Human Brain Project https://www.humanbrainproject.eu/, a mega-consortium gathering the main neuroscience researchers in Europe to lead a project to coordinate the understanding of the human brain.
-Gabriel Latorre: From which neuroscience perspective do you work and what is the relation you establish with education?
-Mariano Sigman:- We work with cognitive neuroscience, which is a broad term to refer to a kind of junction between a more psychological approach to thinking and a biological perspective.
In thinking, there is always the mind–brain issue. You may try to understand «thinking» forgetting that it exists within a body. Just by observing the thinking product: the way of reasoning, of thinking over, of remembering, without considering that it comes from an organ, the brain, and that it forms part of it. There is another group in neuroscience that approaches thinking from a more biological perspective. There is a back and forth among these two approaches. Each has its advantages. For us, working with cognitive neuroscience is a way of integrating these two ways of getting closer to human thinking: one is more phenomenological, to somehow call it, and does not try to reduce human thinking to its constituent parts in the brain; and the other is more natural, more biological, to somehow put it.
Ours is a very heterogeneous group. There is definitely no single way of approaching what we investigate. There are many. This may be one of the features I’m most proud of. We have built this space with the plural idea of accepting the problem of thinking. For example, people who work with information technology approach human thinking to try to imitate it. They intend to create robots that can do what human beings do. We work a lot with people who approach human thinking from a more engineering perspective. And this, in the teaching problem, has its trick since you may, eventually, and it is already happening, emulate the process of teaching. Each time there are more virtual structures, which are in fact supplementary to the teaching process.
– GL:- What do you mean by «virtual structures»?
-MS:- Programs. Programs where you can learn, for instance, arithmetic, geography, science. These programs are a kind of teacher, someone who is teaching you something you did not know. There is someone who programmed it and this person behind has an idea of the difficulties, levels, concepts, of what has to be taught and of which is the best way to do it. Suddenly, there is a new adventure in pedagogy. A new way that does not replace the previous one in any way, but where the information tool is a vehicle that may help the teaching process.
– GL:- While defining an information tool as a teacher, aren’t we losing the possibility of the social interaction with the students?
-MS:- In many aspects of life, machines have replaced people in positions where they seemed impossible to be replaced: steering a plane, for example, managing a tollbooth, recognizing a face. Anyway, I do not believe or agree that machines are going to replace teachers. But I do believe that understanding human thinking, where computer thinking is one of its approaches, is trying to understand what we do with algorithms to solve the problems we solve. How we play chess, how we calculate, how we remember something, how we organize it in our memory. If you understand the process you are using, you can do lots of things. First thing is you can
automate it, that is to say, design a program to do that; we can make programs to play chess, for instance, which was unconceivable some time ago.
Second thing is that you may find more natural ways to assist when it does not work. If you understand the ingredients in a complex process, it will be easier to solve it than if it were something rather extensive that you would not be able to break down into pieces.
Today it is a fact that there are many teaching instances which are almost completely virtual. Nowadays, people at Carnegie Mellon, the forerunner of artificial intelligence, count on programs to learn. Many of these programs “understand” you, understand if you are getting stuck with something and need help, or even if you are down or unmotivated, and so they motivate you. That is, we imagine that there are certain things missing from the program and that we need a person to diagnose some things where you must be accompanied but, these things are potentially automated. I do not see it as something desirable now. First, because we are very far; and second, because the school, beyond its merely teaching role, has a very strong social role. To me, it would be nonsensical to think of an IT organized school not run by teachers. This being said, I believe it already is and would keep being a challenge for teachers to think on how to incorporate technology in the classroom from now on. There are thousands of programs that flood the classroom with technology, and most of these programs are quite deprived of content. However, even when there are some good and some very good programs, I believe they have not been quite successful. Partly because we have not found a good synergy on how to use this tool properly. It is not casual. It is not simply an ideological or attitudinal problem. I will give you the example of the plane. If we have to create a program to teach how to steer a plane, we have to know what to teach the program. We must know all that is to be done: to sound out the height of the plane, the distance and height of all the other planes; to identify the weather to anticipate what may be coming, to know how much fuel it has, to check all the engines. We must take a decision on all this information. Now, let’s think it as we were a student who has to solve mathematics. What is all he must have? Which decisions must he take? We don’t know this very well; we don’t know the intrinsic difficulty in this problem, so we cannot use information technology to help us
In some domains, as in algebra or physics, there are quite successful examples, where we know well enough what we must have to learn something, how it has to be taught and, ergo, we can program a program to help in the learning process.
A kind of test-concept: If we are able to understand something, we should be able to program it.
If I understand how a material works, I must be able to use it. If I were an engineer, my best thesis would be to build a building, because if I have understood how materials work and their principles, I should be able to build one. If someone says “I understand how human thinking works», then he should create something that may emulate it, that may take part, that may help or guide it. This approach is an avenue, the information technology avenue.
Then, there is another avenue, the purely cognitive avenue, which is more psychological. This looks very much like traditional pedagogy. We conduct many experiments in this respect. The difference with many other educational undertakings is that we bring the scientific method. This is simple: if I make a change, I want to see the consequences. I don’t want to see these consequences in an anecdotal way or under my own perception or with my impression, which might be influenced by ideology; instead I will try to make the most possible objective narration of what is happening. Besides, I will try to participate in a very careful way because if I change everything at the same time and something happens, I will not know which change has made it happen.
Doing science has to do with moving things little by little. For example, if I am interested in getting to know why children learn how to read when they are 5 years old and not when they are 4 or 3.
So, how would I take part? We would take a group of children and get them to read at 3 years old. I would try to think that not all children get to first form at the same age. Some are older, others are younger. Then we would have some sort of experiment. We would like to determine how those children did and might conclude that those who started reading earlier performed better, or maybe they did not since they found it quite hard because it was too early a start and they got frustrated. So, we can do two things: we may discuss that over a cup of coffee, each one keeping his own ideas, and speculate a little trying to solve it; or we may take this to the real evidence domain. Doing science is basically that: observing instead of speculating.
With the laboratory team, we engage in many experiments. We are currently dealing with pedagogy. Almost all pedagogy consists of the idea of an adult teaching a child. It is a way of human communication where there are at least two people. We cannot teach ourselves assuming both the role of teacher and the role of student; teacher and student are generally two different people. The teacher has a body of knowledge the student has not. The teacher has to detect the knowledge disparity between teacher and student, and react accordingly, be it by motivation, because of a salary or whatever reason, trying to attain a final product out of the teaching experience: making this gap smaller. Then, the student learns a content, something he did not know before. This practice is a way of spreading something that goes from one place to the other, as if the knowledge flowed.
We are studying this, the children’s ability to teach. We do not do it looking into the brain. These are purely cognitive and psychological experiments. We observe how children teach each other, how they teach other people, how they teach an adult. We do many different things. For example: in an experiment, we teach a child something, and then we place him in a situation with someone who does not have that knowledge. This person can be an adult actor who explains he does not know how to solve something, so the child helps and teaches him. Instead of an actor, it may also be another child, a peer who wants to play a cards game such as Truco. It may also happen that the child has to teach a peer so as to play together with him and hence there is a motivation for so doing. There exists a sort of social need. The child becomes a teacher delivering a class as he explains to his peer how to play.
– GL:- What do you observe in these experiments?
-MS:- First thing is the propensity to teach; the reason why a child teaches. And this is quite interesting since we discover that children teach almost compulsively. It is very like mankind. It is very difficult to have something and not to share it. Socializing knowledge is almost an instinct. In fact, we call it the «teacher instinct». We are born with it. We are strongly inclined to share what we know instead of keeping it to ourselves. We need to spontaneously share what we know.
This is what we study first: why they do it. Do they do it just because someone asks them to or for any other reason? Many times they just do it, to put it somehow. There is no purpose in it. In the case of the Truco game, there is a purpose since they make friends to play something they were not able to play before. But sometimes they just share it so that the other person has it and gets away with it learnt. It is like a very pure form of teaching.
At a second instance, we observe the vehicles they use to teach. We use vehicles since we are very young, since we are 2 years old and almost pre-verbal. Then we deeply observe the body-language of teaching. We are used to teaching through words. There are many experiments showing that body-language is critical to teaching success. If we deprive a teacher of his body-language, then his class will be rather less effective. And if we deprive his students of all body-language, such class will also be less effective since the teacher will not understand what is going on with his students as they do communicate through body-language. There are teachers who know this, there are others who don’t but use it implicitly all the same; and there are teachers who do not use it and fail.
We also observe if there is spontaneous body-language. In the case of youngest children, they have never been taught this; they have never been told how to use body-language.
There are certain ways to teach well. If you want to say something important at a given moment in a class, for instance, you have to use certain body-language: you have to look at your students in the eye, you have to call them by their names since this is attention catching. These clues are taught in communication, but children do not know them. All this language is studied when children have already incorporated it. Of course, children are not only natural but also good teachers since they teach with a language which is natural to learning.
The third point we want to learn about is the purpose of children’s learning in the classroom. There are two perspectives. The first one has to do with peer-teaching, something that has been in fashion at different times. It’s the idea that we do not only learn from our teachers but from our peers.
The question is what we can better learn from our peers. It is essentially the idea that at times it is very difficult to learn something well if we do not stand in the other’s mind. Our peers are on a mind closer to ours for many reasons: social, situational, of age, and also as to the degree of knowledge. We create certain pertinent problems and observe if a teacher having less knowledge than another, even with the same motivation, but having a mental scheme more similar to his peers’s, develops a more effective way of learning.
The fourth point we consider is the learning situation when something is taught.
Many times we teach things which are not clear to us. For example, the case of fractions, a subject which all of us do not manage perfectly. It happens sometimes that when we teach something, we are exposed to some things we do not know and, hence, we learn them. The old idea of Seneca’s docendo discimus, when we teach, we lean. We are examining this idea, as it may be useful in the learning process of a child. Instead of just bombarding him with knowledge, we should place him in an instance where he has to communicate such knowledge to another child, so as to become aware of what he knows and what he does not, so as to think over his own knowledge, to organize and «ruminate on» it.
These experiments are purely cognitive. We do not measure brain activity. It is a science based on body-language, on what people do and don’t. It is a simpler science, to somehow put it.
– GL:- What is the overall result of this study?
-MS:- A part is more academic: to understand the way we are, why we grow, why we do the things we do. The purpose of this would be to understand how to improve learning instances, for example in the case where children are placed in a situation where they have to explain something to a peer or to a younger child. That is to say, there is not a concrete product, something tangible. What we are doing is to discover ways of teaching or of creating a more efficient syllabus. We are studying and exploring whether it may be possible and useful for a child not to be listening to a teacher talking to him, but to have him teaching a peer instead for certain amount of time.
– GL:- This would be a teaching strategy. You are analyzing possible conditions for certain strategies and putting them into practice.
– MS:- Yes. This would be the same as in medicine. We experiment with small trials first and eventually with larger ones. We take children and teach them something. This knowledge is out of the syllabus. They learn how to play a game. Some of them learn; others learn, teach and learn again. We observe that those kids undergoing this latter process are not only motivated and have more fun but also learn better. If this were the case, we would not have the immediate answer but this is what we are studying. If this were the case, I think we could clearly recommend that when faced with certain kind of problems, children should have an instance where they can «take the teacher’s role» and teach what they have learnt.
– GL:- You have said that practically all children have this innate capacity for teaching. How does this capacity develop as they become adult people?
– MS:- It becomes atrophied like many other things… I don’t know. It is something we are studying. For example, all children have the innate capacity to explore. That is also lost.
Children are somewhat scientists in the sense that they want to know how something works and experiment with it. They break, open, look at and turn things round; they see what happens if they throw them. They essentially experiment. We can try these experiments under proper conditions.
Besides, all children paint. There are lots of exploratory activities in childhood which disappear in adulthood; not in all of us but in many. How? Why? These are very interesting questions but I do not have the answers. I don’t know them for any of these domains and I think it is still not well-known.
There is an easier vision of this if we state that small children are geniuses, that they are creative, some Einsteins… It is not the case. In many ways of learning, this process is associated with certain ways of “loss of freedom”. This implies understanding that of all the possible ways, there are some which are more successful than others. It is true that learning involves two related things: we gain practicality, effectiveness, knowledge, while this comes along with certain exploration loss, be it more artistic, more scientific, or exploration in general. We also observe that the capacity to communicate what we have learnt is lost (even when this is a possibility, as we would have to see which kind of experiments to measure it with). Another possibility is that children lose less than we believe.
I would like to explain that when I say that children are good teachers, I am not saying that if they stand in front of a class of 40 children, they will manage OK. What I am saying is that they may teach effectively when placed in a natural situation where it is clear that they have some knowledge other people do not have.
Children have a natural tendency to communicate what they know. I don’t think this is lost with time or that an adult does not have the need to share things. This communication situation is more natural dialogue for human beings, which is not the rethorical dialogue of a person talking to fifty people while checking that they keep quiet, but that of a person talking to another. Possibly an adult also has it.
I have also asked myself this very same question and I do not have the answer. Maybe there is none.
– GL:- Have you experimented with teachers?
– MS:- With teachers, we have experimented less.
What I’m interested in about teachers if their system of beliefs and prejudices, which is something well known and also worked on in education.
Children have lots of beliefs. By beliefs I mean preliminary models of how things are. A teacher thinks and reacts in a situation as if he were teaching something to someone who is thinking about it for the first time, even when he knows this is not like this.
When you teach a child how the world is, how the solar system works, the child gets an idea of the world; an idea he creates out of intuition . He has the idea the world is not flat. It is logical that we create models starting from observation. This is what children do.
We work with teachers on the beliefs they have of children. We also work with their own beliefs and here more sensitive issues appear, such as dyslexia, for instance. This is an interesting subject and word since it has lots of popular uses. Dyslexia means a particular difficulty to read. People confuses it with “clumsiness» or with “a person who confuses left with right”. All this synonymy is already a problem because it is not true that a dyslexic person has these difficulties. There is something which is already previously labeled by certain synonymy of language, which has no grounds.
Dyslexia is a language where the knowledge of the brain helps. I have given you some examples before where we do not use neuroscience. In the case of dyslexia we do; in fact, it is a paradigmatic example. Reading is essentially mapping visual shapes into an auditory form: a letter into a phoneme. Sometimes it is a single letter, and some others it is a group, for example the “q” and the “u”. Spanish has an almost transparent orthography, almost the same letter per phoneme. Other languages, such as English, are much more complex as there are letters mapped into groups of phonemes.
Most people (teachers, parents) have wrong feelings as regards dyslexia; one is that when a child finds it hard to read something, he is wrongly believed to be lazy, dumb, slow. Establishing an analogy, it is as we had a limp person and treated him as dyslexic because he does not walk as the rest. And he is not lazy or dumb, he simply has a particular movement problem. Perhaps he draws like the best drawer in the world. Perhaps he moves his arm perfectly but he has a problem in his right knee. Dyslexia is also that, a rather specific cognitive deficit in an area of the brain which articulates vision with phonology. If you understand this, it helps a lot.
Sometimes there’s a lot of ideological resistance to accept this since it is like stigmatizing, like sentencing the other person when you tell him he has a problem. To me, it is just the opposite. If there were a limp person and we treated him as if he could run like all the others, then we would be sentencing him to failure. If we know he has a genuine difficulty and give him all the freedom he must have, and help and support him from this position, I believe his possibility of expansion is much greater than if you do not.
Most dyslexias are particularly solved; and they are solved when we treat them as such. If we treat them as a weakness or dumbness, they will not be solved because we will again be attacking the wrong problem. And we will have a child who won’t learn how to read; and since he will not know how to read, he will not learn anything else since at school almost everything we learn is through reading. Another reason why dyslexia worries so much is that when a child is dyslexic, at first it is only that but later on he’ll be weak at geography, history, language; but it is not that he is weak because he already was but because he was not given the opportunity to read. I believe we must take decisions. We may have a limp person and decide «not to see him», that “we are all alike” and have a person who will not be able to move himself; or accept we are going to have a person who will not be able to walk and help him so that he may do all other kind of activities. For example, to help him so that he is not deprived of doing things as he could not go to other places. Let alone if he can do rehabilitation and improve his limp condition. This is the very case with dyslexia. I am interested in observing the beliefs teachers have with respect to these beliefs since I think they are diagnostic. If we understand how teachers see this kind of problem, dyslexia for example, we may think how to communicate with them to help them in certain places where, maybe like all of us, they are influenced by non-justified beliefs. I believe this is an interesting domain to work with teachers: the domain related to the bases, premises and evidence on which we believe that we believe in, and whether some beliefs may have to be changed.
-GL:- This would be a process to dismantle those beliefs. Do you work also on sketching strategies to deal with these peculiarities?
– MS:- In the case of dyslexia we do. We work with teachers and give them tools. For instance, matemarote is a tool to work on cognition instances.
I believe neuroscience can make a small but significant contribution to education. Schools have spent years observing lots of things that have evolved for schools to work. Some things do not work well at schools, but schools as a whole do not work that bad as to how children learn reading or mathematics. Sometimes we forget this. With schools, there was a system created where we cannot be as arrogant to say “all is wrong”. In general, we go by this premise; we consider some things in teachers, measure them, and try to give them effective tools for the things they find hard to tackle. One of them is that teachers tend to argue with children who pay very little attention. In general, it is very difficult for a teacher to teach a child who does not pay attention; for example: “he switches from one thing to the other and talks while his teacher explains”. This is something teachers suffer in general, I believe. We have certain tools for this. The same works for dyslexia. Teachers also suffer a dyslexic student since the typical way of teaching does not work with him. It may be quite an effective strategy for other children, but it does not work for someone with dyslexia. We have other strategies nourished by dyslexia knowledge. Some are extremely simple. For instance, something we have learnt in the field work is that there are many kinds of dyslexia with some features, but most of them are not visual but hearing impairments, that is, a pronunciation impairment. When you tell a child “this is letter P” (by pronouncing it), the child has to understand that the P sound, different from your P sound or the P sound I utter; that is, that all the P sounds are part of the same symbol, the same icon which is phoneme P. The vocalic icons are very easily recognized. Children can easily separate words into syllables even when they start speaking; they can say “PAA PÁ”; they do not start by saying P, A, P, A, separately. Separating P from A is not proper and natural of their spoken language. This is called phonological awareness, and allows us to understand that PA is formed by two parts; one being P and the other A. If you are literate, if you are lexical, this is natural since both parts have a symbol respectively; but if I ask you to identify the phonemes in the Swedish language, it is not that you can’t pronounce, you do not know even what it is. If I pronounce a Swedish phoneme, you will not even recognize that this is part of a continuum you are hearing because you have not associated this sound fragment to an icon. This is phonological awareness, something dyslexic people can´t understand; that P and A plus P and A form a word; and that we can operate with that as with lego blocks.
So phonological awareness can be worked with children. A typical and easy exercise is What happens if we remove the P in Paris? It sounds Aris. I am asking you to remove a phoneme. In this exercise you are working purely on sound, you are not noticing anything. You are working certain arithmetic of sound to identify the fundamental elements in the text, which are phonemes. These exercises are extremely useful for dyslexic children, and at the same time quite easy for teachers as well. They are the kind of interactions I like since it implies giving the teacher a tool so that he can solve something he could not, or at least he could with some frustration. We all have things we cannot solve at work. I would love that someone comes up to me and says: here you are, we have this tools to apply when you get stuck. So it is not that we go and say «look we know lots of things» when we deal with education. I think it is not like that; education and neuroscience are two supplementary and synergetic fields. But for some subjects where traditional teaching encounters difficulties, such as attention in the classroom and dyslexia, we think of and create tools to try to improve the conditions of situations where traditional teaching and teachers get stuck. To me, this seems the most interesting interaction. It is giving a class on any subject. I’m very much critical of it.
In the examples I have given on dyslexia, these things result from understanding how the brain works. You see the machine working (the brain), you observe that a dyslexic child has a specific impairment on the phonological side and you identify he must work on a particular aspect. Recognizing, for example, that on the most visual side, one thing which is a long stream is divided into letters. You may say it is obvious, that they are separated, but separation of two letters is a diminutive fraction of less than a millimeter. What do you do to realize that thing is not a continuum whole. Here you have an extremely easy intervention where the issue is to be able to understand the letters separation, so the solution is natural: separate them even more. In fact, the intervention for the dyslexic with a more visual difficulty is, simply, take a typical text and separate the letters to double space, which improves reading development a lot. This manipulation comes from studying the mechanics and organic relation of dyslexia, which allows you to understand which are the ways to solve it.
I would like to point out that we work from the possibility a science has to share knowledge. For example, this experiment with letters was carried out by the Italians and became very popular. The experiment on phonological awareness was carried out by the French and the Finnish in the USA, but I have all this accumulated evidence available as all the scientific community does. From this point, you can design a tool incorporating all the factual knowledge and take it to the classroom. This is evidently not smooth, for one thing is that it works in the lab an another one that it works in the classroom. There is certain learning then, on how to transfer the knowledge acquired in the lab into a controlled situation, where the child comes and is highly concentrated, to the very different situation of the classroom with the typical issues of such a space.
We are visiting schools all the time, that is why I’m very critical of people who keep talking about neuroscience and education and has never put a foot into a school.
-GL:- What do you think about incorporating programming in education, i.e. learning how to program?
– MS:- As far as I know, there is no experiment on this.
When you bring something to the classroom and you actually want to know if what children have learnt was more useful with respect to a goal in my schooling system than what they used to have or do before, then you have to define first the goals of our schooling system. If the goal of the schooling system is that children finish school knowing how to program, it is obviously better. If the goal is that children are good persons and learn how to reason to be able to decide, it may not. I mention this since we sometimes forget that in education the goals must be made clear.
My feeling is that programming must be tremendously good.
– MS:- Because we know this favors lots of things that are very useful for cognitive development in general, such as:
- First: There is something basic in people who can solve problems in general: they have the capacity of breaking down those problems into smaller ones. Almost all difficulties we encounter in life, and many times at school, are complex problems. For example, if you are asked to solve 173 x 279, it seems a very difficult calculation, but the key is that you can break this down into 9 x 3 = 27 and so on; that is to say, I have a procedure to break this problem into smaller fragments, each being more approachable to what I can master. If you learn to do this with all the problems in life, you will find the way out. Programming works alike. That is, if you have a big program, you have to rewrite it into functions that can be broken down, in turn, into smaller functions. This is the organic structure of a program. When you learn how to program, you learn how to organize a complex task, how to organize thoughts. And this is quite useful and can be transferred as it is something you use in a domain and can be also used in others.
- Second: We know that multilingualism, the ability of speaking many languages, generates great cognitive versatility. There are lots of studies showing that children who are brought up bilingual, do not only have a better language but also perform cognitively better, they think better. Nobody has tried this with computing language, but it very probably works alike since it is also a language and has the features of a language, hence it is very likely that it has to do with the same kind of training.
- Third: There’s the symbolic part of mathematics which is very hard and difficult. In mathematics, children find it hard to manage the symbols system. This is not very natural to learn in their cognitive development, and all computing programming is based on symbols, so this needs specific training.
These three reasons made me conclude, if I were asked and taking into account that we are all speculating a bit as we are not working on solid ground, that if in doubt, it is better to include programming in education than not to do it. Besides, the risk would be very low as the worst scenario would only be that programming is not very useful.
It would be very useful that in computing classes, which at times are a space at school where they do not know exactly what to do, children were taught programming rather than excel. I mean this from the point of view of cognitive development. But it depends, since if we say this from the point of view of aiming at schools to teach how to use calculation sheets or Word, or open and use an operative system (Linux, Huayra, Windows) or of enabling children to manage a minimum of interfaces in order that they do not stay digitally excluded, it may not be useful. It is true that we cannot think of education from a perspective different from our own.
There is a group of the population who has access to some aspects of education out of school, such as learning how to use a computer, for instance. Obviously school should mend this deficit for those who do not have such access. This action does not merely have a teaching purpose but an inclusion purpose. That is why I say, when we question what to teach about computers (excel, word processors, etc), if the goal is to level up and generate inclusion of children who did not know how to do so or had no access, that the fundamentals must be taught. Now if we question what is the best from the point of view of cognitive development, in an ideal world where everything works, I must say it is programming.
-GL:- Should teachers be taught how to program?
– MS:- Yes! We cannot teach what we do not know. There is a national program (ProgramAr), but there should be a huge teachers training. It would be great that teachers learnt programming.
– GL:- We would also be working on autonomy construction in the manipulation of digital resources on creation and collaboration instances.
-MS:- Yes, and to understand that a computer is a tool to build, not to just make use of.
- Andrea P Goldin, Marcela Peña, Mariano Sigman, Sidarta Ribeiro. (2014).Neuroscience and education: prime time to build the bridge Nature Neuroscience, Vol Nr 7
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