On Sunday, we watched a TED talk by Sugata Mitra on child-driven education, and then enjoyed an excellent trip and tour of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.
From a video from 2010, Sugata Mitra, an education professor in Newcastle, demonstrated the results of various trials in childhood education he performed around the world. He placed a computer in a wall in a poor region in India, asked an elementary class to learn biotechnology giving them only access to electronic resources, had another Indian school learn with an incomprehensible English dialect learn to speak British English as a side effect of learning to use a (British) speech-to-text program. He developed a 'Granny cloud', a group of elderly British grandmothers who are available to students in India to encourage them to learn, and saw evidence of deep and long-term learning when students worked in loose groups and were allowed to use the Internet to help solve problems.
In our discussion session after, we noted how effective just having encouragement (the 'kind grandmother' style of teaching) seemed to be very effective from our own experiences, and admired how new computing and communication technology could improve education. There were reservations however on how the same technology could waste the time of children, either by communicating with each other or by playing games.
You can watch the entire video online.
Afterwards, 15 of us had an excellent trip to the Beaty Biodiversity museum located on UBC campus. Our tour guide, Melissa, did a superb job in walking us through the museum and teaching us various aspects and quirks of evolution, including:
- Fungi and animals are closely related by DNA, and for instance sperm and spores share many similarities.
- The local stickleback fish (which we got to hold jars of specimens of) has seen very fast evolution
- Most of the 3.5 billion years of life was occupied by single-celled organisms, and we were shown a fossil of a group of such organisms that have been around for billions of years
- Detailed results on evolution and species still has a long way to go: although 1.9 million species have been classified, this is only a small percentage of what is estimated to exist, and for instance we know next to nothing about the different mosses and how they are related.
- Whales today have vestigial legs (which can be seen on the blue whale skeleton imported from PEI), and some of us were shown photos of whale fossils with full legs after the tour.
- Although the bald eagle is on the way to recovery, the blue whale is still very much at risk of extinction from repeated collisions with international shipping vessels. The giant whale skeleton on display was thought to have died in this way.
The museum is a great place to visit and I encourage everyone to do so. For myself, I've been there twice now and could easily spend another entire day exploring areas of the museum I've not yet seen.