Sunday January 21, 2018

The key to new learning : Keep your cup empty

Relax, kick off our shoes, take a deep breath, shut up and listen...

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By Parthak Prodhan, MD
A professor from the nearby university hears about Nan-in, a famous Japanese Zen master from the Meiji era. One day the professor finally decides to make a trip to Nan-in’s village and listen to his words on Zen.

As per tradition, Nan-in receives his guest and goes on to first serves tea. The master quietly pours tea into his visitors cup. However, Nan-in continues to pour tea to the brim, and much more. The professor watches the overflow and he just could no longer restrain himself. “It is full. No more will go in!” the professor blurts out. Nan-in relies “Ah- ha. That is the exact question! When you have come to learn, is your cup empty or full? Like this cup, you may be full of your own opinions and ideas. If full, unfortunately, I cannot teach you anything. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” This Zen story puts forth a simple but profound message.

It is always the perceptual limitations of our own mind that prevent us from seeing the truth. “All the powers in the universe are already ours. It is we who have put our hands before our eyes and cry that it is dark.” -Swami Vivekananda, one of the most influential spiritual leader in Hinduism once said. One will have to unlearn all our preconceived notions and prejudices before one can learn anew.

Related: How Japan worships Goddess of Learning

This becomes ever so important in today’s world as we transition from the linear growth to an exponential growth of human knowledge. The “Knowledge Doubling Curve” indicates that until 1900, human knowledge doubled approximately every century and by the end of World War II knowledge was doubling every 25 years. With this explosion in information  it is predicted that the “internet of things” will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours. The Internet is currently estimated to be 5 million terabytes of which Google has indexed roughly 200 TB or just 0.004% of its total size and several billion petabytes of data storage would be needed to index the entire human brain!! Unfortunately, much of the information one learns in college will be obsolete in just a few years.

So, as the story implies, the key to new learning is to open ourselves to the endless possibilities. Intellectual curiosity is the secret sauce and ingredient for this glorious future. “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day. ” Albert Einstein advised the youth.

As Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher rightly said “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Furthermore, the fact that our optic nerve is 30 times thicker than our auditory nerve is an invitation for a multi-sensory mode of learning.

So, we may have to just relax, kick off our shoes, take a deep breath, shut up and listen, as we open our minds to the endless future possibilities.

Parthak is a board certified doctor (Pediatric critical care)  and teaches at University of Arkansas, Little Rock, USA.

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A lesson in the woods may boost kids’ learning

Moreover, the number of times the teacher had to redirect a student's attention to their work was roughly halved immediately after an outdoor lesson.

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Just sitting in classrooms makes children more dull. Wikimedia Commons
Just sitting in classrooms makes children more dull. Wikimedia Commons
  • To help students concentrate and learn more, teachers have found a new way of teaching them.
  • This technique of teaching outdoors will boost children’s mental capabilities to learn and remember.

Are your students unable to concentrate on their lessons in the classroom? Take them for outdoor learning sessions.

According to a study, a lesson in the lap of nature can significantly increase children’s attention level and boost their learning.

While adults exposed to parks, trees or wildlife have been known to experience benefits such as increased physical activity, stress reduction, rejuvenated attention and increased motivation, in children, even a view of greenery through a classroom window can have positive effects on their attention span, the researchers said.

The study showed that post an outdoor lesson, students were significantly more attentive and engaged with their schoolwork and were not overexcited or inattentive.

Taking students outside help them concentrate more. Wikimedia Commons
Taking students outside help them concentrate more. Wikimedia Commons

Moreover, the number of times the teacher had to redirect a student’s attention to their work was roughly halved immediately after an outdoor lesson.

“Our teachers were able to teach uninterrupted for almost twice as long at a time after the outdoor lesson and we saw the nature effect with our sceptical teacher as well,” said Ming Kuo, a scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the US.

For the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, researchers tested their hypothesis in third graders (9-10 years old) in a school.

A few minutes outside help students concentrate better. VOA
A few minutes outside help students concentrate better. VOA

Over a 10-week period, an experienced teacher held one lesson a week outdoors and a similar lesson in her regular classroom and another, more sceptical teacher did the same. Their outdoor “classroom” was a grassy spot just outside the school, in view of a wooded area.

A previous research suggested that 15 minutes of self-paced exercise can also significantly improve a child’s mood, attention and memory. IANS

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