Teaching and Learning Efficiently
Felipe H Razo Ph. D.
Animath Inc. San Diego, CA


Learning and teaching, like other productive activities, is more effective (getting desired effects) and efficient (at lowest cost, safer, faster) when using better tools and under better environments. Better tools and learning environments, particularly in schools, our “learning factories,” means good curricula, materials, supplies, desks, teachers, classrooms, libraries, laboratories, buildings, play, lunch areas, facilities and administration. These are what it takes to support meaningful, safe, enjoyable living, teaching and learning. The purpose of this document is to promote better environments for learning by focusing, as strongly as possible on the diverse natural instincts and productive motivation of learners, particularly children. To do this, many opportunities are presented as tools, supports and environments that could help prepare children for their future. This will include many proven successful traditional, old and new, real or simulated teaching materials, technologies, strategies, real, realistic situations and experiences.

Although there is naturally a higher impact of formative experiences during the pre-school, elementary and high school levels, the benefits from these extend through life. Given the complexity of the human condition, real-life and educational contexts, this book does not suggest any specific promising "magic pill" setting, technology, facility, procedure or organization, but instead, the things, simple and complex that could bring positive outcomes.

Since the objectives in our society are for students and children to learn and master curricular subjects in the most effective, efficient and enduring ways possible, special attention is given to proper identification of objectives, selection and use of tools, new and old, to best support the academic subjects and topics, as currently stated by today’s institutions. The use of scientific procedures and technologies for teaching will therefore be advocated for the identification and definition of critical needs, and the exploration of best available, affordable, safe, efficient ways and means, including the newest, most powerful, safe computer-based multimedia tools and environments for their merit.

In regards to electronic technology supports to education, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE; http://www.iste.org/) in their Educational Technology Standards, have suggested various ways in which new computer, communications and interfacing technologies can help students, teachers, coaches and administrators. Today, ISTE standards, as well as recommendations from the TPACK organization (TPACK, Technological, Pedagogical, Area Content Knowledge; http://tpack.org/) can provide helpful considerations and strategies to students, teachers and administrators. Please use the links and take a few moments to review the ISTE standards and TPACK recommendations.

Another important consideration regards to often high expectations for new technologies to transform education, "at the click of a button": Although that possibility would be desirable, there must be reasons why in spite of the billions spent and the years of attempts to improve education through "miracle" technologies of different kinds, things do not seem to have changed much. Televisions, laser discs, large and small computers, "information superhighways," intelligent portable” devices, "smart boards" and "electronic pads" have, for the most part, come and gone, and the great success of technologies realized in other areas of human activity continue to fail to transform significantly, specifically the academic performance of most students. And with that, the outcomes of various organizational and institutional education strategies have come and gone through the years without claim to their often high-tooted promises and expectations for impact. Why? Could it be because classrooms are more complicated places than what we tend to assume? Also, could there be a need to identify better: more specifically and clearly, what makes us want to learn which ideas or skills, why ("what is in it" for me,) when and how?

Regarding the format and availability of this writing, it is the intention of making it openly available and accessible as an evolving, Internet-based document, aimed primarily to benefit any and all readers, teachers, parents and anybody concerned about the future and education. Much of the material and resources presented hopefully helps the reader understand why technologies that are successful in other environments, and considered reasonably promising for educational purposes, might not be as successful in K-12 classrooms or under independent learning environments.

The approach here will be basic: analyze the specific, real needs, nature and situation of learners, educators and facilities, and then explore the possible approaches and physical products that can be helpful. This approach implies that it is important to properly define the curricular and pedagogical present and future targets for institutions and individuals, and then consider what tools, including old and new materials and methods, low and high technologies that could be helpful, safe, effective, efficient and cost-justifiable.

Among the options, it will be important to include any and all all practical available material and tools of use and information technology. This would include traditional objects and methods (e.g. hands-on mock-ups, worksheets, art projects, exploration activities, field trips, surveys, etc.) as well as standard and specialized equipment and setups, such as touch-screens, "smart boards", audio-video processors, on-line access over the Internet, disability assisting materials and activities (i.e. Assistive Technologies, Kurzweil stations, etc.) Among the “new” tools would be all standard computers and “productivity” software (e.g. Word processing, spreadsheets, graphics, sound and animation authoring, etc.), as well as specialized products with specific functional and/or curricular purpose, such as AutoCad, Geometer Sketchpad, Geo-mapping, GPS, Virtual-interactive games, automated tools and robotics simulations, laboratory and classroom data sensing, logging and audiovisual presentation devices, etc.

Throughout the book, the planning and presentation of teaching and learning activities will follow the most common, simplified standard lesson plan formats, designed to include“infusions” of diverse technologies. Infusions that illustrate real life objects and actions within the topic and content subject, with clarity, and in as many different forms of "representation" and as helpful and possible.

Helpful objects and actions can be used to communicate and promote ideas and knowledge that can be shared from one area to another. The materials in the infusions can help with their effects over the human cognitive system (System -IPO- Model of Learning, MMR-MSR-SSE, F. Razo, 2010), that is: better communications through stronger sensory stimulation, symbolization and opportunities for efficient understanding, active participation and assimilation, through motion and repetition.

Teaching and learning can also be improved through constant and better diagnostics (assessment) and reflection for each and all environments and processes involved. In particular, there will be a need to keep analyzing and improving the facilitation and inclusion required by students and populations with special needs.

Finally, the book is infused with live links to support access to on-line research, analysis, discussion and participation in the topics presented. A proper understanding will also be required of the primary objectives of parents, teachers, administrators and society, all concerned with the readiness of our children for a future filled with increasingly complex, interconnected, and competitive challenges and opportunities.

Although there is a myriad of sources of research information in most any topic these days, popular on-line search tools such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. are suggested as an initial step. Within the text descriptions ahead, key terms will be flagged with the symbol ?, which is used to activate a corresponding hyper-link to a Google web search engine (www.google.com) page to request additional information. The reader can then select one or more of the links suggested in the search results page. A new window-page will then be opened and closed freely at the end of its consultation.

Good luck and enjoy this exploration.


Chapter 1 The biological basis for learning and the use of technologies.

Objective: In this chapter, students will investigate and review the basic concepts of learning, education and educational technology.

To begin, a basic definition of terms will be introduced regarding learning and the basic human physical biology that supports it, starting with the collection of information from the environment through our five senses, to the processing, interpretation, definition of patterns, decision-making processing by nerve tissue and brain, leading to the assimilation and diverse knowledge, effects and responses allowed by the muscular and skeletal means in the human body.

What is learning?
For our purposes, the first term to be explored is learning ? . The Microsoft Encarta Dictionary® states that learning is “The acquisition of knowledge or skills”. The word Knowledge is defined (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/learning) as “general awareness or possession of information, facts, ideas, truths, or principles”,and skills as “the ability to do something well. Why and how do people acquire knowledge and/or skills? For the general purposes of this text, we will assume that knowledge and skills are needed because they prepare people to live better by dealing more effectively and efficiently with the environment, using our bodies sensorial, nerve and motor systems and the controls by our brain. Knowledge and skills empower us to survive and manage our environment better, safer, faster, and more economically.

Human learning: The senses collecting information for the brain
How does learning happen?
Figure 1.1 below, presents an overview of the process of learning, framed conceptually in a general systems model (INPUT, PROCESSING/STORAGE, OUTPUT). The diagram in figure 1.1 (to be labeled MMR-MSR) describes how the patterns of the world (1- A Meaningful Real World) are perceived by the five natural senses of vision, hearing, smell, taste, in various representation forms (2 - in Multiple Representation forms) are perceived in simultaneous collection of information by the senses (3 - Multiple Senses: INPUT; VIEWING/READING, LISTENING, FEELING) to support the productive interpretation and development (4 - Assimilation through Repetition - VISUAL, AUDIBLE and TACTILE ?) to deal with the simple and complex patterns of the world. The brain will therefore organize, arrange, rearrange and store information (mostly in forms of constructed PATTERNS, which include those in a LANGUAGE), and will eventually be retrieved and used to drive back corresponding responses (OUTPUT; WRITING, SPEAKING, PHYSICAL FORCE and MOVEMENT) meant to TRANSFORM the real world. The contribution of the smell and taste senses is de emphasized in this overview diagram, to reflect thediminished role these senses currently have in the processes of general academic learning.


Fig. 1.1 A Systems Model (INPUT-PROCESSING-OUTPUT) of the complex process of learning

In Figure 1.2, there are three images of the visual sense in humans The first one presents a cross section of the human eye, starting when light captured from the environment reaches and passes through the pupil. cornea, and lens, to finally strike the light-sensitive retina in the back of each of the eye balls. The expanded view of the retina shown next displays the detail of its nerve cell arrays. These are called rods and cones. Rods and cones absorb different frequency-color radiation energy from the light received and convert that light energy into electrical signals ? , using a photosensitive protein called Opsin. These signals are then transmitted to the brain as visual information through the optical nerves. Through this process, our eyes can be compared to a present-day color video camera, capturing information from the environment and communicating it electronically to a "video processing computer" in the brain.

The closer view of the retina's rods and cones tissue in Figure 1.2 makes more visible the distinction among them: The rods are basically fast, color-blind shape detectors of light intensity, intended to support fast object-spatial and position sensing only. The cones are slower, but each able to selectively detect one of three different color frequencies in the received light: red, green, or blue. As the distinct intensity of signals from each of the types of cones is transmitted and processed in the brain, a unique color is determined as the combination (mix) of these (primary) colors.

The dual path structure of the optical nerves of both eyes, bringing visual information from the retina to the visual cortex zones in each eye to the back of the brain, is shown in the last image in Figure 1.2. The optical nerves bringing signals from the eyes to the brain are analogous (i.e. similar) to “data cables”, bringing visual (video) information from two color video cameras (the eyes) in a three-dimensional (3D) stereoscopic ? array able to sense depth, just like the three- dimensional video processing areas in today’s computers.

Currently, the design and construction of most electronic imaging devices that handle visual color are built with consideration to these primary colors sensed by the eyes (Red-Green-Blue, or RGB). A “subtractive” equivalent (Cyan-Yellow-Magenta, or CYM) is used for devices that mix ink to absorb, rather than produce selected color light. Further description of the RGB primary colors and mixing, as well as CYM coloring for printers is available through the "Encoding color in digital images" links included in Figure 1.7 ahead.

a b c
Fig. 1.2 The visual sense in humans – Eyes to brain

The auditory (hearing) system (Figure 1.3)feels thesounds from the environment receivedas physical vibrations of molecules in the air, processing them through the outer and inner ear, drum, anvil, hammer, cochlea, etc., to create electrical signals that are transmitted to the brain through auditory nerves. Here again, in the second image, there are dual auditory paths to bring auditory information from two “microphones” (the ears) in a stereoscopic array (to sense depth), to the "stereo" audio processing areas (auditory cortex) in the brain.

d e
Fig. 1.3 The auditory sense in humans

Similarly to the visual and auditory systems, the olfactory/smell and taste/flavor senses (Figure 1.4) also rely on various kinds of nerve cells and tissue to communicate smell and flavor sensation information to the brain. There seems to be limited spatial separation of information for olfactory information (two nostrils), and none (one palate) for taste/flavor information.

f g

Fig. 1.4 The olfactory and taste sense in humans

Finally, the perception of the environment through physical feel and touch contact involves a diversity of organs and complex processes that extend through different parts of the body, notably the skin and muscles. The feel and touch systems actually consist of two different but related structures, one for input of information, feeling and exploring physical objects, and the other for output, touch and movement reactions exerting pressure and modifying the environment, with the assistance of muscles and bones. Figures 1.5.a and 1.5.b show images of feel and touch (through skeletal muscle activation) as parts of the body . These include nerve routes to and from the medulla (dorsal horn), and the brain, related to involuntary, fast-response reflective(reflex)reaction ? functions, as well as slower, more rational, intentionalreactions involving the brain.