It’s all about learning


“A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem” – Albert Einstein

Justin Lanier (@j_lanier) recently blogged a story that succinctly captured my current thoughts on pedagogy. Justin’s post was a welcome relief with what seems to me a growing pre-occupation with trends, styles or approaches to teaching – (guilty here, see related post). For instance, a Twitter conversation highlighted to me that my way of Project-Based Learning (PBL) could confuse some as  it did not follow the 8 Essential Elements of PBL published by BIE. That conversation shook me enough to hide the link to my PBL page; however, I stand by my way because it’s been gleaned from my personal and professional experience which is really relevant to the computing subjects I teach…. I just don’t say I do PBL anymore.

But let me move on to what I really want to write about here….

The tagline of this blog is – It’s all about learning – and I’ve come to appreciate that this is precisely why I blog…to share my learning journey, mostly through my teaching practice. Part of this journey is my search for what it is that optimises learning and my Tag cloud shows quite a variety of these. Truth be told, what really works for me in optimising learning is not a teaching approach or style. It’s no secret either. It’s building relationships….and relevant posts are under the tag: You Matter, a phrase largely credited to @AngelaMaiers, and one I’ve extended to You Matter, I Care.

Regarding content, my Tag cloud also includes metaphors and analogies, stories, focus on literacy, and lots more under a very generic tag of learning strategies. When asked, I often say that what learning needs is a context – real world or make-believe.

Here’s a book that explains why what works for me actually works….and it contains more tools/strategies….and how-tos….and encouragement …and it is called ….

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

an imaginative approach to teaching – by Kieran Egan

The premise of the book is to tap into the students’ emotions and imagination using cognitive tools they develop as they grow.

The book is narrative in style and you can almost hear the author speaking. Egan encourages teachers to make use of these tools, mix-and match and leverage growth in students (i.e. can still use stories and play even when they are ready for theoretic thinking or abstraction). Being practical-oriented, the book is perhaps better used as a reference, e.g. select tools, rather than read from start to finish.

The tools are so ‘obvious’ from one’s own learning experience that they seem ordinary and perhaps why they aren’t used more often. What tools are there?

Part 1: A Tool kit for Learning

  • story
  • metaphor
  • binary opposites
  • rhyme, rhythm and pattern
  • jokes and humor
  • mental imagery
  • gossip
  • play
  • mystery
  • embryonic tools of literacy

Part 2: A Tool Kit for Literacy

  • sense of reality
  • extremes of experience and limits of reality
  • associate with heroes
  • sense of wonder
  • collections and hobbies
  • knowledge and human meaning
  • narrative understanding
  • revolt and idealism
  • changing the context
  • literate eye
  • embryonic tools of theoretic thinking

Part 3: A Tool Kit of Theoretic Thinking

  • sense of abstract reality
  • sense of agency
  • grasp of general ideas and their anomalies
  • search for authority and truth
  • meta-narrative understanding

The list certainly affirms tools that worked for me such as stories, metaphors, changing the context (e.g. problems vs exercises, teaching equations big-picture style),  association with heroes (e.g. Polya, Jedis), sense of agency (Cloud, Dream),  as well as some I haven’t blogged about.  AND I’ve now got a host of other tools to explore including mystery, revolt and idealism as well as meta-narrative understanding.

and since I’ve fallen in love with Inquiry learning, it may just take that form. A mystery would make a nice inquiry, no?

p.s. If you don’t want to buy the book, resources are available online on

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5 thoughts on “It’s all about learning

  1. Tim Milkins says:

    A top post Malyn. I agree with you that great teaching is borne from a desire to learn and that teaching is received best through a shared and mutual relationship of trust and respect. As you have also written, context is the key for understanding. I frequently use historical, current and emerging facts to add context, reason, to most of what I teach/learn. All educators develop their own pedagogical toolkits and most share many common tools.

    Your insight and exploration of Teaching and Learning always keep me thinking. You have given more for me to add to my bag of tricks. Thanks again.

  2. Justin Lanier says:

    That idea of “You Matter, I Care” is enormous, Malyn. What a great turn of phrase. The work that students do is important because *they* are important. If I can make a kid feel this, and further make them feel a connection to the subject at hand, then the rest is just fun.

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