Motivation for SWT

From STEM Wiki Textbook

The motivation for the SWT is to create an interactive textbook, which can continuously update, adapt and grow. It is hoped that it will be a useful tool for students and educators of all types. The best way to understand the usefulness of this website is to experience it yourself.

Discovery Learning vs Traditional Lecture

Traditional lecture has its roots in the Socratic Method. It is a kind of interaction where the instructor asks questions of the class, then someone in the class answers or (in the interest of time) the teacher answers the questions themselves. It has been a useful teaching tool going back millennia and it is excellent at transmitting content, but has certain limitations. The learner (who is being questioned) is dependent on the teacher (who is questioning the learner) for the questions and sometimes for the answers too.

If a student relies on the teacher to provide all the answers, then "learning" has become a game of rote memorizing information without understanding. Having a good enough memory is a necessary condition for intelligence, but in a world with the internet and search engines, memorization of information has declined in value markedly.

If instead, a student can answer the questions, but relies on the teacher to provide said questions, then the student is probably understanding the content to a large extent, with two important caveats. First, the student clearly is not wondering about the content. They are not generalizing and abstracting what they learn so they can apply the new knowledge to other problems (both old and new). It suggests a lack of interest or creativity. Perhaps the student doesn't see any reason to go beyond the minimum expectation of the teacher. The second caveat is if the student requires the teacher to ask many extremely specific questions rather than being able to run with a more general (but clear) question. This suggests a deficit in deductive reasoning and/or their ability to boil down a problem. Students must learn to pull problems apart into smaller easier to solve problems and then see how those parts build into the original system. These are basic life skills and a cornerstone of mathematical and scientific thought.

Discovery learning is an evolution of the Socratic Method which attempts to fix the inadequacies mentioned above. When first introduced, it looks a lot like a traditional lecture. The teacher gradually moves from answering questions to simply asking questions. Then from asking questions about the topic to asking meta questions about how the students are thinking about the topic (ie questions about what the students should be asking themselves). Once the students have learned to effectively ask meta questions, the teacher doesn't have to ask any questions besides the ones that get the discussion started (and sometimes the students can even come up with those too). The transition takes a lot of time and patience. Students will adapt at different rates. The payoff is that the students will be better able to think for themselves, asking creative questions and solving them independently.

This is my take anyway. Feel free to check out other people's thoughts. Wikipedia's articles on discovery learning and inquiry-based learning are a good place to start.

Hint System

The SWT uses a hint system which is designed to simulate this kind of discovery learning as closely as possible. Students will always benefit more from having a caring, knowledgeable adult guiding them, but sometimes that adult isn't available. In these cases, having the hint system allows learning to continue. The main drawback to the hints is that they are static. An educator can rearrange the hints and tailor them to specific students and specific situations.

The hint system can also serve as an outline for an educator trying discovery learning out for the first time. Until they are comfortable, they can play the part of an interactive human version of the hint system.

The hint system is inspired by the Universal Hint System, which I have used occasionally when playing Adventure Puzzle Games.

Digital Manipulatives

The digital manipulatives are meant to take the textbook to the next level by adding interactivity, where before there were only static graphics. Sometimes digital manipulatives can do things that physical manipulatives cannot (Pythagorean Theorem, Circle Area (Box Method)). In situations where they are less effective than physical manipulatives, both can be used to compliment each other (say when first introducing base 10 blocks). Teachers are encouraged to use the apps in any way they see fit (with or without the rest of the SWT framework). In fact, trying out some of the apps in a few one off lessons can be a great way to trial the system to help teachers decide if they want to take their students on a deeper dive into the SWT.

Differentiation of Instruction

Once a strong student has become accustomed to the hint system and has developed enough patience and self regulation habits, they can be allowed to use the SWT independently. This will enable them to soar as high and as fast as they are capable of. The lessons come prepackaged with hints and digital manipulatives, so a teacher can easily hand off a lesson to a teacher assistant who can run a small group session to help students who are behind catch up. Separating out the strongest and weakest students ultimately shrinks the effective size of the class during the lesson, giving the teacher more time to devote to the average students. A win win! Students who catch up from behind or fail to excel independently, can be reintegrated into the class temporarily or permanently.

Video Instruction

TBA This will be similar to the hint system, but with less reading and lots of pausing.

Assessment App

TBA This will provide infinite practice (like Khan Academy/Kumon), with AI algorithms to watch for patterns and suggest solutions to problems. For example:

  • Trouble with division by 7 may indicate the student needs to practice their 7 times table.
  • If the student regularly finishes assignments early, enrichment material can be suggested, so they are gainfully employed.
  • Spending an inordinate amount of time on an easy word problem may mean the student has literacy issues.
  • The student makes more mistakes just before lunch, therefore tests should not occur just before lunch. Did they get breakfast? Is there a breakfast program at the school?
  • etc.