child, skinner, cognitive load, reticular activating system, brain, teachers, effect, learning, students, educators, thinking, milky way, pedagogy, working, happen, system, people, critical thinking, classroom, fact
Steve Pearlman, Kieran O'Mahony
Steve Pearlman 00:00
I know everyone's really going to enjoy this discussion. And in fact, Kiran and I spoke for so long that I'm breaking this episode down into two episodes. And I think everyone will appreciate the insights he offers into the brain itself and how that works, and the tips he offers for what we can do to better access the healthy working brain and maximize its capabilities for learning for all students, especially perhaps for those students who we think might struggle with school more. But I have to say that what most impressed me about his book, or at least what I found most interesting, personally, was the way Kieran tracked back how many of our current practices today are based either on misunderstandings of past scientific findings, or based on scientific findings that were forward thinking for their time, but that no longer truly reflect our understanding of how the mind works. Specifically, I think you'll hear about how people like Skinner and Thorndyke and diamond arrived at some truly groundbreaking discoveries for their day and very interesting discoveries. But how our educational system is effectively dis formed as a result. So enough of me, here's my interview with Kieran Kieran, welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for joining me on pedagogy.
Kieran O'Mahony 01:24
Thank you, Steve. It's a pleasure to be here. And I think
Steve Pearlman 01:26
people are going to hear immediately the sickening contrast between my castrucci have an accent and your rather lyrical accent that they're gonna get to listen to you today.
Kieran O'Mahony 01:36
Thank you so much, you know, i The interesting thing about the accent is I'm here and United States longer than I was in Ireland, but the accent won't leave me. And I believe it's because of you know, it's connected to Broca's area and verticals area. But we don't have to get into that right now.
Steve Pearlman 01:52
But maybe you can give me a little bit of background, give our listeners a little bit of background, or just a large overview about what your books about.
Kieran O'Mahony 02:00
Yeah, when I came here to the United States, all I wanted to do was to try and figure out why students in my country at the time which I was living in a small city and inner city school with a lot of children who are disengaged and disruptive and, and then we had a spate of suicides, and that really rocked my boat, I didn't understand why a child at 13 couldn't enjoy school enough that he wanted to come on his birthday. And instead he committed suicide. And I thought, Okay, any place that has life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, they must surely know the answer to that. And I came here for all, I finally I was naive for one weekend to grab that information and go back and and see if I could apply it in high school. And when I got here, I realized that it was a way more complex than I thought I was very naive to even think that I could solve it. And I was lucky enough to get involved in a program at the University of Washington where I ended up eventually with the Life Center, which is learning in informal and formula environments. And that was a NSF grant. 10 years $50 million for universities, including the AI Labs, which the brain lab at University of Washington, Stanford, Sri, and a bunch of other people. And I thought, Okay, this 10 years, all this money, all these people together, we're bound to solve my problem. And guess what, end of 10 years, money is gone, people are going back to the slides, places, and I had absolutely nothing to show for it. I was absolutely a bit. It's like, how could this be? It's impossible. And I was about to give up on education, maybe there is no solution. And my plan was to go get a job because I was making no money at that point. And I thought I got a job at Microsoft, I had an offer. And then suddenly the miracle happened. And this is the piece that got my attention out of left field came to nurses, I can imagine now you're thinking about two nurses. And you think, Wow, that was interesting. These work
Steve Pearlman 03:54
comes in interesting story, please, we're up against that kind of podcast, but but keep rolling with it.
Kieran O'Mahony 03:59
These were two very old nurses in their retirement year, and they had one last project from the NIH. Now we never looked for grants from from medical, because we're educators, right? NIH had this one project and and they were they were getting this five year grant $5 million. And they were told you can't do this without a learning scientist. And they said, What's that? He said, Just go to the School of Education and ask for one, and they came across campus. And they walked in and they happen to come into the on the last week of when we were shutting down the office, and I was the last learning scientists in the block. And they said we need a learning scientist and I looked at them and I thought, I don't think there's anybody here. They told me what they had. And the project really got my interest and it was okay. The State of Washington was about to legalize marijuana. And they wanted to know the impact of alcohol, marijuana cocaine on adolescent brain. And I have a child I had a child was a teenager at that time. And I thought I need to know that myself. And I said, Well, what's the deal is that we are we, we want to include all this medical research, and we want someone to liaison it to the school system. So I signed up for five years with these people, I moved across to the School of Nursing. And in that five years, the gift for me was I got to work with these neuroscientists who knew everything about attention, about about stress, about nutrition, about exercise, all the things that we as parents and educators needed to know. And I realized that they had information locked in their ivory towers, and published in these academic journals that nobody could read except them. And so in that five years, I was able to translate information that was that liberated me into understanding pedagogy from the neural stratas. And that was a huge breakthrough for me.
Steve Pearlman 05:53
Let's talk a little bit about that. Because I, you know, my book does. And the whole premise of pedagogy is really sort of a similar approach, right? We want to bring things down to the science of learning. And so much of that now is emerging out of neuroscience, though every nerd scientist you meet will tell you, they want to be very cautious about direct correlations between what they're finding neuro scientifically in a pedagogy and so forth. But nevertheless, it seems to be informing us a great deal. But something that you do that I think just particularly important is your talk about several particular figures in educational history, and just the horrendous impact in some ways that they've had the tumultuous ramifications that they've had on teaching and how it has shaped I think, I certainly didn't realize it to this extent, some of our foundational perspectives about teaching and learning. And I think the best place to start there would be what he's talking about with respect to BF Skinner.
Kieran O'Mahony 06:50
Yeah, yeah, you're so right. In fact, and, and me, I mean, I grew up as a skinner person, I got all the typical training, even though it was in Europe at the time, and that unique for classrooms, and we were talking about classroom management. And we looked at children in that two dimensional world of, you know, behavior, good behavior, bad behavior. They were either compliant or non compliant. They were at risk or high risk, we labeled our children based on that two dimensional world that we had learned. And we started off with stimulus response, right. I mean, this is the whole point that Skinner gave us a model that seemed to work, it seemed to fit nicely with what was happening in the classroom. But the problem for me was the breakdown was that it didn't make sense. If you take me back to when I was a young teacher. And believe me, if you had this same model in medicine, there'd be a lot of law cases to lay lawsuits, that the younger teachers got the hardest children because the older teachers were either moved on to richer terrain, or they weren't able to manage the crazy kids we call them. And so in a school where I ended up my first couple of years, I that school was illusory, very difficult school. And we were talking about high school, middle school and high school. And I ended up with class sizes of 47 or 50. And I would get the lowest dream. And kids restreamed, you had the children who were very bright, the children who were less bright, the children who were not bright, and then there was the dumb kids. Now, we didn't call them that. But that's what it looked like. We they were like a one, a two, a three and a four. And they knew who they were. And the kids who were in a got very little, they might have gotten some metalwork and some woodwork, but mostly they got abused. And the kids up on top, they got Latin and Greek and French and, and they got trips and all kinds of stuff. And so we were in a system that was basically skin Aryan. And it didn't really work because I was fighting in battles every day in the station, just to try and get kids to read and write and hold pens and, and not fall out the window from the third floor. And so I really I quickly realized that if I was going to survive in that situation, I had to reinvent education right there in my class,
Steve Pearlman 09:06
if you could then talk a little bit about because this, for me was one of the most impactful parts of the text. And you speak about the tremendous impact that Skinner had on our whole paradigm of reward and punishment and grading and incentivizing students. And how Skinner himself never would have advocated for what we are doing right now. He never said there should be punishments, the way that we have crafted them or even rewards and something you write, I think that was really great. And the way of shaping it is that you say, you know, for Skinner, the brain was a black box, in order to do rigorous experimentation with regard to learning, it was only possible to measure what was going in stimulus and what was coming out response. So there's this great point that you're making, that he really had very limited set of experiments available to him and what he could do to start to understand it how the brain works are we sort of interpreting brain function by looking at inputs and outputs stimulus and response? But that missed a great deal of what the brains doing? Nevertheless, we sort of built a system on Skinner ism. Right?
Kieran O'Mahony 10:14
Right. That's a very good way of seeing it. In fact, Skinner was a great scientist, and because of his understanding of what he thought was science, in terms of the measurements of what was then and what came out, and then ignoring what was going on inside because it was it was you can see it, so therefore, but his logic was that you can still have scientific principles arrive by watching what went in, and what came out that that was a science in itself. And for many years, a lot of schooling happened on that model. The big crisis was and he published his book on 1957, the book online on linguistics and language behavior. And as soon as he published it, Noam Chomsky came out with his theory said look at, and he was a young linguist at that point, he says, this is this is completely wrong. All children universally across the world have innate grammar built in. It's not external, its internal. And that's a big shift. And it's 100% shift. And yet, nobody understood what their argument was even about, because the black box of the brain was not available to us either. And Noam Chomsky, of course, being a young linguist, and, and Skinner being this really the right person at the top of his career, that the argument didn't get very far. And in fact, he was dismissed by Skinner. And there's a very good black and white 1960s video, you can still find about Skinner saying, Well, I got the 60 page letter from this young kid who said that, you know, when I read it, I read the first page, and I realized he knew nothing, and I threw it away. Well, that was, that was a big mistake, because Chomsky was right. And Chomsky was right on three things that Skinner had had mistaken. And the first one was language, that language was acquired, and not from the outside by, you know, dealing with mom and dad. It was basically an innate capacity and the more experience we have in the world, the more that that innate capacity engages with grammar and with the vocabulary. And of course, we know today that the rich have the vocabulary, the better the child will have, and all kinds of connections to education and to life. And so then the second thing that Skinner had said was that the infant is born tabula rasa, that the child's brain is empty when it's born. Well, every mom or every day, or every doctor will tell you, every nurse will tell you, when that baby pops out, it knows a lot, it knows quite a lot. In fact, and and if you grab it by the fingers like this, you can swing it in and hold on for dear life. And so in other words, the the child, the infant is also have innate capacity. And if you if you start with the idea that you've got nothing, clean slate, and you have to put stuff in while you're already on the wrong track. And the third thing that that Skinner said that there's still a lot of confusion about an argument about is that we have no free will. And every action that you do that behavior that follows it, it causes you to impact the next action so that your free will is limited. And so these are arguments that should have happened back in the 60s and 70s. And people walk away saying we know what the answers are. But they didn't happen in a very good way. And it certainly wasn't brought to educational training systems and teachers never talked about these.
Steve Pearlman 13:26
Right? So how does if I'm a teacher listening today, so many educators and Educational Administrators are listening today and thinking about the nature of their curricula? What are we doing in education? And how is our education shaped around the Skinner issed model? And where did that go wrong? Because I think for so many people listening, they're saying, Well, of course rewards and punishment is a valuable learning tool. It's been proven that people are incentivized by rewards and disincentivize by various punishments, or what have you. Why wouldn't we want a system built on predicated on that?
Kieran O'Mahony 13:59
Very, very good question. And, and there's a lot of different answers. But I start off with the first one to do with the idea that if your world is basically limited to two dimensions, which is bad or good reward versus punishment, then you're missing out on today's child, because today's child has grown up with this cell phone this this new technology that you know, when you and I bought computers back in the 70s or 60s, whenever we bought our computers, we got these textbooks, we had to read them to make understanding, you give a child today a form they know exactly what to do with it, these children are already processing in the fourth dimension and to understand dimensions, in terms of a string segment is one NRP leaveners to a cube with three and four dimension is is a cube over time. And when you think about the children's capacity to engage across and to to have conversations with people who are not present and to have conversation at the same time with people who are present and can do that in the four dimensional space. We're talking about we have left the school system a long way behind us. And and our school system is still two dimensional. And you expect children to be compliant and behave in this good or bad thing, while they're already processing out there. And they have solutions and questions that are not even on the syllabus. And so our school system is behind from that point of view. But the big crisis for me is that we stratify and label our students from day one. And when we do that, we don't understand plasticity. And we do not have any connection to reticular activating system, these are things that are so critical for the teacher to understand. Because when you when you begin to influence a child's reticular, activating system, and you and you and you give them beliefs, and then their brain takes over and starts to confirm their beliefs for them, you have children who say things like, Well, I'm no good at math, they're better than me.
Steve Pearlman 15:54
Let me pause you there for just a second, because I'm sure many listeners need a primer on the reticular activating system. So please give us a sense of what that is. And then we'll go back into why that's a consequence to the Skinner's model.
Kieran O'Mahony 16:08
Yeah, okay, good. The reticular activating system, and I'll call it the rise RAs, for sure. It's a small clump of neurons right at the back of the brainstem here, and its job is to be the filter for the brain. And so if you have a say, we'll say 20, or 30 million bits of information coming to your brain every second, and your brain has to deal with that, then you'd be overloaded. It's like, okay, my heart is gone, my blood is flying, my temperature is good, my my nails are growing my hair is blah, blah, I mean, there's a million things happening every second that the body has to manage. And if you had to do that, on your conscious level, you wouldn't be able to talk to me right now or listen to me. And so about, we'll say, between 20 and 30, are allowed and to the conscious level, and therefore you can focus now in the background, your brain is still doing stuff, because you're sitting down, you're leaning and you're, you're able to see you're able to hear all that stuff was happening. And so the reticular activating system is your filter. Now, it also has involuntary items that happen as well. So if there was a loud crash right now, or if there was a flash or there was squealing brakes, you would have no choice, but you'd have to try and figure out what's going on. And while you're trying to figure that out, you wouldn't be able to hear what I'm saying you would be focused on survival. And that's a part of the reticular activating system helping you to survive all that sound, that noise, that stuff. If you're in a big party room, a lot of people a lot of fun happening, and your child starts to cry over in the corner, you will pick that sound out over all the rest of the noise. That's the way the brain is designed. And so on the reticular activating system, when a child shows up in the classroom, and the child says, you know, I'm no good at math. And then the teacher gives them back a sheet of their math, and there's a whole bunch of red marks on it. And the child sees the red marks and says, Hey, I told you, I'm no good at math. And so why would I even try, I give up, it's easy for me to stop, because I'm no good at math. And you confirm and my brain confirm that I'm no good at math. Whereas if I had chosen instead of to mark the ones that I was wrong with the red marks, I put lovely green or some other color on the ones that were correct. Say, look at this, John, you got seven out of 10, right today, that's fantastic. Let's get a tomorrow, let's get nine tomorrow. Let's get 10 Tomorrow, and the child says I'm good at math. I'm okay. And so that's how the internal voice of a learner is, is first of all made explicit. Because we as parents and teachers understand reticular activating system, and we're helping them to put new beliefs in their mind. It's such a shock for teachers always to say things like, if you would only apply yourself, I know you've got more potential. And the child's like, yeah, I don't know how to do that. Because their reticular activating system is working against them.
Steve Pearlman 18:56
Can you go into that more, because I think this relates us back to what you were saying in your text with respect to Skinner ism, and this idea of cognitive load, when we force students into putting so much cognitive load into worrying about the grade right into worrying about the reward and punishment system itself, that they have less cognitive load available to them with respect to just focusing on learning and this thing that you're saying about the reticular activating system right plays into that because as they're already have a diminished cognitive load for learning, we are then building onto that diminished cognitive load this misuse of the reticular activating system and further narrowing that which their brains are willing to engage intellectually. Is that a fair way to talk about what you're saying? And how would you build on it?
Kieran O'Mahony 19:42
Yeah, I would change a few of the words I would say instead of it cognitive load is a thing but opposite. That is your working memory space. Had a
Steve Pearlman 19:51
go G will resume in just a moment. But first, if you're a high school, college or graduate school educator, then I'd like to offer you a full free A preview of my online level one critical thinking program for students. I actually develop this program because so many educators have asked me for a way to jumpstart their students critical thinking skills. This program, which is approximately a three hour student experience does the following. It teaches your students three essential mindsets for thinking critically, it teaches them a copyrighted neurobiological process for thinking critically about any subject in any discipline. And then it does something particularly distinct, it prompts students through a step by step process in which they actually compose a very short essay entirely driven by their own critical thinking. Students can complete this program outside of class with no impact on your class time, and you can see the final product when they're done. I think you'll find this to be an exceptional program for your students. But whether you assign it or not, I'm confident that it will be an asset to you in terms of infusing critical thinking in your own approach to teaching. So provided you're an educator, I'd be excited to grant you a free preview of this program, please just come to the critical thinking initiative.org/podcasts, sign up with a.edu email address. Or if you don't have a.edu email address, just email info at the critical thinking initiative.org. With confirmation that you're an educator, again, please just come to the critical thinking initiative.org/podcasts and sign up for a free preview of the entire program. Please make sure you either sign up with a.edu email address, or email me at info at the critical thinking initiative.org with other confirmation that you're an educator and I'd be excited to grant you free access to a program preview. And for everyone who's listening. Please remember to like and share pedagogy. Find the critical thinking initiative on Facebook and LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter at at Steve J. Perlman. That's at Steve J. Perlman. Now back to headed Goji,
Kieran O'Mahony 22:08
your cognitive load is a thing but opposite that is your working memory space. And so what's filling up is the working memory space, the cognitive load is what's causing it to fill up. And the cognitive load can be the content. It can be the teachers attitude, it can be the the way the teacher shows up the words they use, it could be their body language, that's all cognitive load. So give
Steve Pearlman 22:28
me an example. What does that mean for educators in terms of how body language is affecting cognitive load?
Kieran O'Mahony 22:33
So So I come into class and I'm wearing my my cowboy hat and my fun gear and the T and the kids say, Oh, Miss Johnson's having fun today. We're okay. And she comes in the next day. And she's got that strict look. And her glasses are down over her nose. And she achieved those things like, well, that test didn't go too well did it? And now there's like, and so my working memory is now full because I'm worried I'm scared and and I know that my stuff is going to be the worst. Because that's who I am. I think badly because meritocratic system tells me, you know, you're not good enough. And that's the way it is. Now, we'll come to that in a second. But why it's me, as opposed to a little child who says that doesn't matter. I can handle this, and why that happens in the classroom. But in the case of the working memory, think about this. Most people don't ever think about how big is my working memory? I mean, is it is it something I can measure? And that's where a 1956 in that famous cognitive room that day when George Miller produced his paper, the famous paper the magical number seven plus or minus two? Yes, that was that was the limitation on working memory. And as he did that, Herbert Simon was in the same room and he said, George, I think that's an amazing paper. He says, but I'm sure you're wrong. And he said, What do you mean? So I think seven is way too much. I'm convinced it's more like three. And they had a talk, and they went out for coffee and all that. But nobody did anything until 2010. And that's when Professor Cowen and Wisconsin. He said to George, because George Miller died only two years ago, he said to George Miller, look at nobody replicated your study, can we go back and and do it again and increase the end from 500 to 5000. See what happens. And sure enough, they came back with three plus or minus two. In other words, you take any person, the limitation on their working memory is probably five if they're having a good day, and probably two if they're having a bad day, or one. And so for me, when I walk, think about my classroom, I assume all my kids are having a bad day. And I I work to the bottom layer, I think about that low cognitive load for them. And I have only one concept per whatever I'm teaching. If I'm teaching math, I just do one concept. And I do that well and then I empty out their working memory space and do it again. I'm gonna ask you this and I'm not putting you on the spot. So cuz you may or may not know the answer. It doesn't matter. This is for all of our people listening outside. What Your idea if the working memory space will say for URI is one cubic foot. That's the amount of information I can hold on it. What by comparison is the rest of my brain? Is it the kitchen table? Is it the house of the streets?
Steve Pearlman 25:14
Somebody probably something to the effect of the Milky Way or something around that scale.
Kieran O'Mahony 25:18
Exactly. It's absolutely ginormous. And other words, what we're dealing with for me, and you is only like one cubic foot compared to the Milky Way. Now, I happen to get that milky way from a conference that I was at at Google. And then we're talking about brain and how to use brain in business. And then something happened in Seattle, where I where I live, the Allen Institute for Brain Sciences here and Paul Allen, before he passed away, he went to Stanford, and he asked Steve Smith, Steve Smith, who is a brilliant neuroscientist, who invented this thing called trichology, or typography, where you could take a walk down from the top of your head into the striatum, right in the middle of your brain and see all the stuff that's going on. Now, we obviously can't walk down, but we can see what's going on neuron by neuron, a axon by axon and all these beautiful synapses. You can see them all in there. And so this is an amazing breakthrough. And so Paul Allen went down to Stanford, and he said to Steve, I know you're retired, he said, I want you to come back to work in Seattle, move up here, we'll give you a beautiful office overlooking Lake Union. And I want you to teach my people at aibs everything you know about tractography. And he did, and he came up here, and I called him up and I said, Hey, Steve, would you come and talk to my teachers, I had 250 teachers in the big conference hall. And he said, I'd love to. So he came in. And of course, I shouldn't have done that, because he stole the show. He was absolute mazing. Man, and he still is. And so he said, you know, he spent his whole life at the synapse. And the synapse is the most is the tiniest thing you can ever imagine. 100 billion neurons in here and 100 billion synapses. And that means that neurons don't touch there's a space in between. And that tiny space is where the magic of learning happens. And he says, there's 10,000 Things happen at that space. And that's why neurosciences won't tell you they know everything. Because it's impossible to know everything. It's really impossible. But what we do know is that if you if you if you understand how the synapse works, you can improve education. And so this is what he said. He said that thing about one cubic foot, and the Milky Way is wrong. And I thought, I hate when I'm wrong, I hate stuff. And he said, It's not the Milky Way. He says it's 15 Milky Way's and I'm going oh my god, that means that the working memory space is even smaller than a pinhead for a child.
Steve Pearlman 27:42
It the problem is as you and you kind of get into this in your book, that because of this background that we have, in terms of our conception of what learning is that we're focused on that little, little cube of working memory much more than we are in tapping the larger spheres, or Milky Way's the many Milky Way's have brand capacity? What do we do to make the shift? How do we shift over into tapping into the Milky Way's instead of just working on that working memory so much?
Kieran O'Mahony 28:12
That's a great question. And we do it every day, by the way. And that's the beautiful thing about knowing that when you can change your vocabulary, and you talk about working memory, as opposed to just content like math or science. If you talk about reticular activating system, and how you know, that's going to impact the child's capacity for belief and self talk, and especially negative spiraling self talk, when you talk about the amygdala hijack the fact that some children will immediately go into reactive, involuntary freeze, fight flight or fawn, those four F's are going to absolutely shut your classroom down, when you know these things. And you know, especially about mirror neurons, and you can get a child to mirror you and suddenly come out of that depression or that anxiety or that fear, and understand that I have this huge capacity, why wouldn't the child know that they have this amazing capacity and potential? Instead of thinking that I'm no good at math? Why wouldn't I know that I have amazing capacity. And if I don't know it on Monday, I'll probably learn it by Tuesday or Wednesday. It's a very different, it's a very simple shift in the teachers thinking system, and then it moves into the child. However, if I'm in a school where there's PBIS, or some other methodology that's used, like clipping, and I assume that teachers know what this is PBIS and clipping where we're measuring the child's negative stuff, we're focusing on the negative. And so if you show off my class, Steve, and you do something, say, why weren't you paying attention, and I clip you down, and it's a public shaming. It's up on the whiteboard, and you can see your colors change and your name is up there. And if you go down another one or a third one, you'll get an email sent home to mom. It's like well, what's that going to do to my reticular activating system? See where I'm going with this? Yes, our methods Our focus still on the Skinner world instead of the cognitive world. Because the
Steve Pearlman 30:04
belief is that if we give you this negative shutdown, that, therefore, it's going to motivate you this through the Skinner behaviorist model of negative stimulus will motivate you to do better, when in fact, what's happening is, we're activating the reticular activating system in a negative way, we're causing cognitive load, the student is getting more worried. And the student's mind therefore becomes less able to perform the intellectual tasks that we're seeking.
Kieran O'Mahony 30:32
And you fill up their working memory space, and it's all negative. That's what you've done. Now, the bad news about the working memory space is you can fill it like that with a word with a gesture, with body language, are by by just not showing up. All these things can cause the child's working memory space to fill up. The good news is you can empty it like that just as fast by saying, Oh, I'm so glad you're here. Steve, I love your name. Pearlman is the best name I've ever heard. And suddenly you think, you know what, I'm okay, I liked this class, I can do math,
Steve Pearlman 31:03
I would be remiss, I think if I didn't get into a little bit about what you're talking about with respect to Edward elite Thorndyke. And the shift from effect to effect because this seems like an absolutely critical. And, again, much like Skinner, for me a fascinating insight and window into something that happened in the past that got misinterpreted, and then got brought and carries through today, because we misunderstood something that a scientist did. And nevertheless, it took roots in our educational construct very deep roots. In fact,
Kieran O'Mahony 31:37
absolutely. And and here's the interesting thing, and I'm sure any of our listeners today will know if you have a cat or a dog at home, you know that that cat or dog is really intelligent, and you know that the cat or the dog has emotions, and you can, you can almost talk to that kind of dog. And we understand that today. But back in 1920 1921 2223, when when Thorndyke was doing his experiments with his little cat in the puzzle box, and that puzzle box experimenters was what caused the very first love of education cause a lot of effect. And this is the beautiful thing about what happened. Because I know for a fact that 80 to 90% of people when they're writing sentences, and they have to write the word effect, they often think should it be an A or an E. And it's a hard one because it's always so confusing. Yeah, effect an effect are very difficult to figure out. In psychology effect means emotions, the effect of qualities and, and so most people don't even think about that. But for me, when he did the Law of Effect back in 1920s, and it was a ffrct, he was already acknowledging that his cat, when the cat was in that puzzle box, trying to figure a way out, and the cat did figure a way out. And over time, he got faster and and was able to understand that as soon as you put me in that box, I know how to get out. And that was how he figured out that learning was happening based on first of all happenstance and just struggling. And then finally, understanding that there is there is a little lever between the slats and there was a little string with my nose to push and I can open this door anytime I want. And the cat had emotions and the cat had intelligence. But he couldn't say that back in 1920s, because it was not accepted that cats or animals had the same qualities as humans will say. And so he changed it from the law of effect to the law of effect. And for me, the effect was the results. And from that moment on, we are looking for results in school output outcomes. And it fitted nicely with Skinner's model that inputs were going in over here, the stimulus and the outputs were the response. And so tonday kind of matched up with Skinner,
Steve Pearlman 33:47
if I can read from your text on this because I think you put it so well, you're right Thorndyke dichotomous dilemma effect, Trump's effect exists in classrooms everywhere, if teachers approach their kids with results effect as the measure of success is easy to set up a system of assessment that looks like high stakes tests. If on the other hand, they approach their tests with emotional maturity and effect as the measure of success. School looks entirely different sense of belonging, safety, and social emotional frameworks, assuming uppermost status in teachers mindsets, and method, I think, wow, we really have unquestionably bought into effect for the most part as a powerful force and not given enough or maybe shouldn't even be paying attention to effect nearly as much at all. And to put the preponderance of our effort on a fact, which I think is starting to happen a little bit now. Don't you think that's starting to seep into education, but how it traces all the way back to this one place is fascinating and how endemic it is. Within our educational structure is just absolutely stirring, I think.
Kieran O'Mahony 34:56
Absolutely. I love what you say and and I know that the Answer is to stay on the effects side. Now most of the experimental interventions that I work on, I'm always called into somebody's office, like an administrator or a superintendent or a principal and says, Look, I know you're doing some interesting work with my teachers. But please don't upset the numbers. And I'm thinking, like, I don't even think about numbers. It's not about numbers. It's not about content. It's about a fact emotion, when the children are emotionally engaged on something, your numbers will be fantastic. And that's always what happens. We can we can take the numbers from the low 40s, or 50s, up to the high 90s. And they say, How did you do that? And as because we didn't focus on content. We don't focus on content, we focus on children, we focus on Play, we focus on fun. And then we're always working in the phonological loop. We're working we're thinking about brain we're working in the visual spatial sketchpad. We're working to grow the and I'm saying stupid words here, because that's how neuroscientists think the you know the language children for Sigelei the antonym for Sigelei. All these are white matter tracks that we as parents and teachers can build in children's brains so that they can become good at math and science. But they won't do that if they're stuck in the broken working memory space, or if their reticular activating system is telling them that they can't do it.