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EdTech: Isn’t It Time We Focused On Visual Learning?

Picasso, da Vinci, Frank Lloyd Wright, Spielberg, Michelangelo, Newton, Einstein, Feynman...not a bad group to hang out with at the lunch table.


I am a guest lecturer at a great high school in Long Island. This school has been described as the Fame high school of Long Island and it truly is just that. If I had known about this place my child would have been there in a heartbeat and their life would have been much better.  The high school they went to was basically a jail. You had metal detectors, cop cars on patrol everyday, ex-police were hired as security guards, school IDs that had to be worn face out at all times or you got sent to internal suspension. The honors students and the athletes had Oz, and then the rest of the students, you know the regular ones who needed guidance and help, they were kept in General Population. It was basically “County” with a diploma. All this and $10,000.00 a year average taxes for the district.

I am fortunate to be able to guest lecture at the high school for the arts but only for 150 minutes a week. The art coordinator there is around 5 feet tall and about 98 pounds of pure passion, dedication and intelligence. She is in every sense of the word an educator. Knowledgeable, incredible, open-minded, just a true pleasure to be around and the students know it and listen to every word she says. She has helped these students garner millions of dollars in scholarships and she does it all with a pencil and paper.

The whole thing started by me taking a tour one day as part of a college day presentation. I asked if they taught Web or interactive design. She said they did but the teacher just quit cold one morning. I offered to take over the class as a guest lecturer. She said great. Now here is a very traditional artist who really doesn’t know that much about digital design but knows enough to know that it is important to her student’s futures. A true educator never stops learning and that is what the students pick up on. BTW – They all adore her and rightfully so.


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I have been there for about 18 months. Nicest group of people. The students are completely dedicated on the whole and perform once a month for the entire school – great stuff – very diverse and eclectic showings. The one thing they all have in common is they are primarily visual learners. They process learning through their eyes and memory. Not through reading about something – by actually doing it – participating. “Tell me and I will listen, show me and I will learn”.

The other day they had some parents come through to talk to the teachers. They came by my area and we spoke for a bit. Remember this school is part of the BOCES program. When most people think of BOCES they think the non-traditional student. A father in the group said to me that he could immediately see the value of the school but his friends all heard BOCES and thought, “Oh the child must have a learning disability”. I told him well yes they do, according to our educational system – DaVinci, Michelangelo, Newton, Einstein, Feynman all had learning disabilities. Jim Clark the developer of Silicon Graphics, Netscape, WebMD was considered to have a learning disability as well. He was told to drop out of high school and go into the Navy – that was his best bet. He did and fortunately for him someone there recognized he was dyslexic and helped him to overcome the disability.

BTW – he developed the concepts that have most dramatically changed the world in the last 100 years. How would you like to have him as alumni of your high school?

Do schools kill creativity?

According to Sir Ken Robinson the answer is yes they do. He tells a great story to back this up.

A mother was very concerned about her daughter. The teachers all told her she wasn’t well mentally. She just couldn’t sit still.  They told the mother that they thought it best if she was brought to a school for the mentally disabled. Obviously the mother was frantic. She immediately brought the child to a doctor for tests.

The doctor sat with the mother and child for a few minutes and observed the child. Remember this was in the mid 1900s – so no fancy equipment, no MRIs, no CAT Scans, no blood tests were available the doctor just watched and observed. After a few minutes he asked the mother if he could speak to her outside the office. Before he left he turned on the radio in his office.

The mother and he just stood in the hallway with the office door open. The child got up and started to move around the office to the beat of the music that was playing on the radio, assured no one cold see her. The doctor quietly said to the mother, “Your daughter is not ill, she is simply a dancer. Enroll her in dance school. She will be fine”.

The young lady has gone on to choreograph for Andrew Lloyd Weber and others she also has won several Tony awards for her work. She opened a world- class dance company and has been very successful.

Today they would have pumped her with so much medication it would have stunned a mammoth. She couldn’t pass the test so “No Child Left a Dime”.

What in the name of all that is good are we doing for the visual learner? Can technology help them? Well let’s see. What about instead of reading about a chemistry problem they could actually experience one? What about instead of reading about the collision of atoms they could cause the same experiment in class or at home? What about learning by doing – you know that old chestnut – basically Dewey’s theories on education. How about posing a question to be discussed?

Now this is not to say that visual learners cannot do well on written tests. I am totally a visual learner. Back when I took my SATs the top score was 1600 combined. The morning of my SATs my high school football teammate pulled up at my house. Woke me up and told me we had to go take a test at the school. When I asked what it was he said it was for getting into college. So basically I had a 15 second PSAT course. Stan would be proud.

As we sped down Peninsula Boulevard I was wondering what this was all for as I woke up from a hard sleep. I entered our cafeteria and sat down next to two other friends. The hours went by and I finished the test. My friends said how do you think you did? Now knowing that the top score was 1600 I said I bet I got about 1100. When I got back the results I scored a 1060. Some things you just don’t forget.

How I did it I don’t know. When I read something like instructions the words become just a gray haze. I can’t follow along. I have never used a software manual. Now I have written several manuals for my students and very simply if you can’t say it in ten steps than the software you are using is poorly designed. It is flawed, just like our educational system. If you could visualize the current educational system it makes the chart used for the hearings to end the conflict in Afghanistan look like a fast food lunch menu.

As you can see from the list of visual learners we are not stupid. We simply learn differently. The world has changed actually it has finally caught up with this method of thinking and learning. Maybe now it is the age of the visual learner? Isn’t it time we use technology to engage this group? Secretary of Education Arne Duncan thinks so. Here is a link and a section from an article dealing with the use of engaging interactive learning materials.

Speaking before the Association of American Publishers on March 4, Duncan said most young people couldn’t remember a time without the Internet.

“But right now,” he said, “many students’ learning experiences in school don’t match the reality outside of school. We need to bridge this gap. We need to make school more relevant and engaging. We must make the on-demand, personalized tech applications that are part of students’ daily lives a more strategic part of their academic lives.”

He added: “If we fail to do this for all our students, we’ll fail to prepare them for the future that awaits them, and the skills the world will require of them.”

Maybe it is time to truly focus? Get the picture?

More articles filed under Columns,Long Island Education

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