Saturday, June 15, 2013

Which apple will your child hold?

I agreed to review an iPad education app this week, which led me to thinking,
which led to all kinds of problems--the review will have to wait.

To learn something requires physical changes in the brain--this is not metaphorical. If your neurons don't get more spiky growing more dendrites, then not a whole lot is happening. This costs materials and free energy. Learning, at some level, hurts, much as athletic training does, and both lead to observable physical changes.

Every organism alive today exists because its ancestors were clever enough to conserve their energy for things that mattered, Algebra II be damned.

A carrot from our classroom.

Saying learning should be enjoyable is like saying wind sprints with full pads on should be fun--there are good reasons to do either, but both require bucking a few eons' worth of evolution. Wouldn't know it from some of the nonsense floating around the ed world, though.

Turns out that the physical changes that occur appear to only occur on the relatively few neurons needed to master the task at hand.
"I think it’s fair to say that in the past it was generally believed that a whole cortical region would change when learning occurred in that region, that a large group of neurons would show a fairly modest change in overall structure.
Our findings show that this is not the case. Instead, a very small number of neurons specifically activated by learning show an expansion of structure that’s both surprisingly extensive – there’s a dramatic increase in the size and complexity of the affected neurons – and yet highly restricted to a small subset of cells."

This has profound consequences. Staring at a screen will create plenty of dendritic spikes, but, I suspect, in a very narrow range of cells.

What can a toddler learn from a screen? Which causes more wide-spread dendritic development, staring at a picture of a leaf, or holding one?

No one ever got rich packaging maple leaves for classrooms, though plenty of teachers, to their credit, continue to bring them into classrooms.

You want children to learn about the natural world? Toss the computers until they get to a place in abstract thinking when they can distinguish what's real from the tools that shape their world.

Steve Jobs and his cult of human design be damned.

No comments: