Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Comfort Zone and Learning

 I'm reading a book called License to Learn by Anna Switzer.  It's a great interesting book that blends personal experience with academic thinking and the learning sciences with some psychology. Pretty ambitious, illuminating, and engaging.

  To be honest, the first chapters annoyed me at their simplicity and the way that illustrative graphics were being used.  My complaints:

- the image of a comfort zone surrounded by a discomfort zone and then a panic zone seemed overly simplistic (I'm using different terms that were probably used in the book).
- I imagined that rather than a series of concentric circles, the concepts behind comfort zones should be shown on the initial graphic such as an X axis that maps high to low familiarity with the situation. And perhaps a Y axis that goes from no expectations to high performance, or significance or something. In this map, the lower left quadrant would be the high comfort zone.

 BUT, as I got to the next chapters (and they are short several page chapters), the analysis and imagery grew more sophisticated and addressed many of the issues that I was having with the opening.  As an editorial suggestion, I would have liked a note early on that this model will become more sophisticated in the upcoming chapters.  

Overall, I like the book. Even if I tend to think about graphics being more analytical and illustrative of underlying dynamics.

 I tend to think of these sorts of questions in light of some of the work that I do. For instance, in math education, a huge fork in the road starts with the math facts. Some kids really dig in and memorize the math facts effectively. They become fluent and proficient. This gives them enormous confidence as they go forward with math.  Many other kids do not become fluent which leads them to often have trouble following the conversation around math.

Look, we have three cars each with four wheels. These wheels each cost $200.  How much would it cost to buy new wheels? So, three cars times four wheels par car means that we have 12 wheels. The 12 wheels would cost twenty four hundred dollars.  

For kids fluent with math facts, this is pretty easy to follow. The kids lacking proficiency were unable to follow where the 12 wheels came from. These kids are the ones who put their head down on the desk in frustration and tune out.  

Of course, there are many reasons that kids do or don't become fluent. And of course, Mazlo before Lazlo is a powerful vision of what is realistic in planning a better educational system. YET, the data around the approach of Reflex Math defies that logic in that kids from every social economic strata seem to advance through the game-based learning program towards fluency at the same pace. Somehow, the engaging games and the part of the brain used for math resists the usual logic that kids' performance will generally correlate with socio economic strata. This is of course a very peculiar type of learning which could, perhaps be less affected by ACE type trauma?

For homeschoolers or study at home, Reflex is available as Time4MathFacts, with games to learn the multiplication times tables and the addition / subtraction math facts too.  

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