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Understanding v. Doing

Discussion in 'Computing and ICT' started by JaquesJaquesLiverot, Feb 23, 2012.

  1. JaquesJaquesLiverot

    JaquesJaquesLiverot Established commenter

    I wouldn't disagree - I know that there are Mathematical topics that I did by rote when I was at school that I now understand, and I'm not sure how I developed that understanding, because I haven't really thought about them for 20 years.
    I'm surprised how many KS4 students that I meet that clearly don't understand even arithmetic.
    I think that issue is more interesting with ICT, though, because not thinking about how something works can actually turn it into something else. For example, if you create a web-page without any thought to the structure of HTML, aren't you really just word processing? In which case, you might as well save yourself the time and expense of buying WebPlus. Similarly, if you don't understand how your animated web-page works, you could have just stuck with PowerPoint.
  2. tjra

    tjra Occasional commenter

    Do students "understand" anything for any subject though? I was looking at some of my tutor groups' science homework recently - they'd copied a diagram from a book and labelled it very neatly and I instantly remembered exactly the same diagram. Did I understand it? No. Could I draw it from memory for an exam paper? Yes. There's too much monkey-see-monkey-do but it's been like it for so many years now and the whole process of quantifying a student's ability in a standardised environment forces it to be this way.
  3. Captain Obvious

    Captain Obvious New commenter

    Sometimes I do think we skip a lot of the why questions too much, e.g. why have we ended up with different image types or video codecs.
    But equally, I believe that until students hit level 3, the end justifies the means in many cases, e.g. Can a student make a web site? Yes; Does a student know much about HTML or optimisation? Probably not.
    I don't mind theory, but there is the potential to get bogged down with it, losing sight of the fact that only those who will take it beyond a certain level will have a need for large chunks of knowledge imparted to them.
  4. There's a place for both the learning of the skill - the sort of systems/rote learning that you talk about - AND for developing the "WHY" questions. But the learners - in my experience - don't really get the WHY stuff until they're at the point when they are asking that question themselves!
  5. Tosha

    Tosha New commenter

    Attitudes like that have made ICT the worst taught subject in the curriiculum. If you are just teaching students to follow instructions no learning has taken place. This is the reason the majority of ICT teachers will **** up teaching computing.

  6. djphillips1408

    djphillips1408 New commenter

    Ok tosha so how should it be done?
  7. Odd comment, are you a student? I am as I still study and I'd like to think Im working on understanding all the way up to creating on a range of areas...
  8. Tosha

    Tosha New commenter

    I believe you know this ...
    If you are teaching spreadsheets/modeling teach their purpose, teach the structure of a function what a parameter is, the concept of references and why we use them.
    Presenting info - why we need tags to layout, why you need to know html, why seperating content and presentation is important
    Programming, the algorithmic need for selection, repitition, data structures, scope, patterns at ks5.
    Databases why we need 3rd Normal form.
    All independent of applications
    Not hard David, alternatively you can teach students how to press 'print screen'

  9. As a massive fan of computing at school I'd like to say. Seperating content and presentation is important, and so is the suitability of that content for an audience and purpose.
    The third Normal form is likely to be far less relevant in an era of distributed data (see noSQL).
    e-safety and digital identity remain issues of huge importance to those entering the modern world of communication technology.
    I don't see much of this as an either or choice...

  10. Penny10p

    Penny10p Occasional commenter

    Completely agree. I don't think anyone is saying that it has to be one or the other, but some teachers tend to teach in a more skills based way and some, presumably, labour the understanding. I tend to favour the skills approach. Even in days of rote learning, teachers taught the' why ' when it was appropriate and if they felt the kid could cope with it.
  11. When I started publishing IT training manuals I had to decide on the approach to take. When showing someone how to do something you can normally get a successful outcome by giving a list of 'do this, do this, do this' instructions but I have always been concerned that the student does not then understand why they are doing that. As a previous epilepsy sufferer, I have never been able to rely on my memory so I have always needed to 'understand' what I'm learning so I have to rely less on memory. Some people may think my manuals are a bit wordy but this is because I am trying to describe how things work so the student can see the reason for what they are doing. It is also important in word processing to understand the difference between paragraph vs character formatting, a concept you will probably never come across if you're taught by the 'do this' approach. I now see many 20-year olds coming for work experience, they have passed their OCR Nationals but have often totally forgotten how to do a simple calculation in Excel or indent a paragraph.
  12. BarryRiley

    BarryRiley New commenter

    If we are not teaching them the 'why' and the deep understanding of the reasoning behind things, then why are we teaching them half the things we're teaching them? The chances of the students needing most of the skills that we teach them in their lives outside of school are slim, and so if they just come out with a knowledge of 'how' to structure SQL and 'how' to embed a video in to a website, in my opinion we have wasted an hour a week for 5 years (or more for option kids).

    In my opinion, the cognitive skills developed with an understanding of the 'why' questions are the reason we teach and the end product we strive for as we send them off in to the real world.

    If we're just going to teach them the 'how' them we might as well just put them all on work placements so they can at least have some 'hows' they will use in the real world
  13. JaquesJaquesLiverot

    JaquesJaquesLiverot Established commenter

    That's the reason I started the database section of my web-site. Lots of Access books aimed at A level students tell you how to add fields, link tables, etc., but they don't help you, conceptually, to approach actual problems. You obviously also share my main concern about portfolio-based qualifications. I don't think you need to wait until they're 20 - I've met year 11 students who have completed their spreadsheet coursework (even to Distinction level) but can't add two numbers together.
  14. JaquesJaquesLiverot

    JaquesJaquesLiverot Established commenter

    Aagh! The TES site and the Android browser don't seem to get along very well.
  15. tjra

    tjra Occasional commenter

    No, I'm not a student.

    My argument simply is that "revising" for a lot of subjects is simply learning the phrases and diagrams off by heart and then regurgitating it in an exam. There are some exceptions for this (English for example). I got an A in my Science but I never truly understood how nuclear energy is formed or why an ionic bond is stronger than a covalent bond. I just took the stuff I needed to know and churned it back out.

    Some subjects (eg: French or Maths) DO really demonstrate an understanding - I can still perform calculations and I can still speak the language (with a bit of warming up!). Subjects like ICT are so varied - and constantly being changed - that a lot of it will be "monkey-see-monkey-do". Is it right? No, not really. Is it the same as a lot of other subjects? Yes, probably.

    I think there should be more emphasis on "try this out, screw it up, work out why it screwed up" rather than "this is how you do it - click here, then here, then here" but the sad truth is we're all being judged on the damn exam results that sometimes we don't have a choice. I'm looking forward to Computing as I think there will be a lot more opportunity for students to screw things up and LEARN from them rather than be told how to do it the first time.

    Apologies for this post not having a clear point or structure...!
  16. Absolutely! I would always bring the "WHY" into a lesson - it might be a small number of learners who are ready at that point, or it might need to be presented in an age/ability appropriate way.....
  17. Penny10p

    Penny10p Occasional commenter

    "I've met year 11 students who have completed their spreadsheet coursework (even to Distinction level) but can't add two numbers together. "
    I would say that this is an example of the basic skills being overlooked in the quest for understanding! Adding, and most arithmetic, is generally learnt by rote. We do it so often throughout primary and early secondary that it becomes second nature and we don't need to think about how to do it. These students must have an 'understanding' of maths in order to do well at spreadsheets (at least that has been my experience), but what is the point if they can't do basic arithmetic, which is probably going to be far more useful to them in life?
    I also think that an over emphasis on understanding can be demotivating for many students. If they don't 'get' it then they can feel a bit of failure and be put off trying. I prefer to get them doing stuff and get the satisfaction and confidence from that before getting into the why.
  18. JaquesJaquesLiverot

    JaquesJaquesLiverot Established commenter

    That's interesting - I gave it as an example of something they'd done, but didn't understand.
    Actually, I'd also give French as an example of something that (when I was at school) was taught without a thought to understanding. When learning the perfect tense, we had to learn by rote the "Mrs Vandertramp" verbs, which use etre rather than avoir. Why didn't they just tell us that verbs that have an object use avoir and those that don't use etre - especially as some verbs (like descendre) actually change when you drop the object?
  19. Tosha

    Tosha New commenter

    I teach 'why' is crucial to all learners.
    I think 3nf is crucial to all it.
    For example you can explain to any student that is capable of putting a calculated field in a table that we never store anything we can calculate, as we would need to recalculate that value every time other values changed in the database.
    Instructional teachers do not seem to understand this is possible with all learners and give silly excuses for using the follow me approach.
  20. Sorry for the pedantry, but are you saying you no longer study?
    I teach and I study and much as many of your points may be valid, I'd like you to consider the reason students could be somewhat offended at that question.
    Taking tests for qualifications can sometimes include a lot of recall but in my experience understanding is still pretty valuable there.
    Even putting my opinion aside, I've not met a single student (of any age) who I thought didn't "understand" anything for any subject, generally we make it a goal on our way to creating something new.


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