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Why Wonder?

Aristotle said that wonder is what makes men philosophise.  It is also wonder, that brings about myth.  The difference between philosophy and myth is that myth has a narrative which makes the point.  But instead of using gods and the mythical elements of stories, humanity turned to logic and discovered ways to make an argument without the embellishments, like monsters and the supernatural, which were used in the ancient Greek times, to feed the idea. 

We have developed ways of laying out arguments for centuries, but we continue to wonder.  What instigates curiosity in our modern world?  What gaps are we filling with our arguments?  Death? Art? Political stances? Ethical approaches to science?  The underlying arguments we make are putting forward points on how to progress.  We don’t argue -intentionally, for ways of moving backwards.  To live a more eco friendly lifestyle by grasping traditions and past practises is on trend.  Hidden behind these ‘simpler’ ideas is actually the intention of progression.

Learning is key to progression, and with that is the teaching.  What do we teach?  How do we teach it?  Why do we teach it?  

Surely the answers to these questions are found in exploring the individual and deciphering a goal.  Engaging with a pupil and deciphering, what do they wonder?  A conversation can do more than develop an answer, it can raise more questions and instigate more wonder.  

If we were to take the classical Greek mythology, and put it in todays context, how would it be used to describe our world and how could we use this to develop our teaching methods?  Take the story of the Pandora’s Box.  Curiosity leads to all the bad things in the world escaping from the vessel, but with it, also escapes hope. It is a story related with a lesson described through metaphors, imagery and characters.   All individuals are characters with life stories to impart and knowledge to share.   Community it key in this process of sharing and the wider spread this community is, the better we can communicate about the issues we face in the world.  

Author

Anna-Maria Amato  

Care for Grandparents Month

June is care for Grandparents month.  We all know, here at 8Billionminds, how great learning is for you and the incredible potential for the accessibility of learning through the internet.   The question is, how can we bring online learning to the older generation, who do not yet have it? 

How many people who are already in your life, do not have access to online learning?  Why is this?  Answering these questions will not only allow you to help them, but also reach out to others in the community, as there will no doubt be others with similar issues.  

1) Adapt: Consider, where do people go normally and what activities do they normally engage in? If your usual time is spent having a meal with an elderly relative, why not explore finding a new recipe using the internet.  It is a simple thing to research and it has longevity.  You may get the recipe out again in the future.

2) Connect: In the current crisis, many elderly people are isolated and are missing their friends.  Linking them up to a zoom meeting will not only combat loneliness but generate the potential for them to meet new people and join new groups which normally would have been out of geographical reach.

This includes the public programming of museums and galleries.  Rather than being limited to local events, you can participate in workshops run by a library in New York, for example.

3) Practicalities: Logistics such as using touch screens and health problems need to be taken into account.  Organising a suitable chair and a magnified screen may be necessary.  

The most important thing to remember is to listen.  Learning is a two way thing.  Just having a conversation,  listening and sharing is a great way to learn.  So when you next make contact share something you have learnt and start a new dialogue.  

Author

Anna-Maria Amato



Coronavirus and Education

Coronavirus has fundamentally changed the way both we and future generations will acquire information. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), over 1.2 billion children who were once learning within a classroom environment are now undertaking lessons virtually or, sadly, out of education for the foreseeable future. The prestigious University of Cambridge has announced that all its lectures are to go entirely online for the 2020-2021 academic year, raising questions among today’s youth as to what exactly their tuition fees are going towards – and will undoubtedly allow cheaper online-learning platforms to compete for its market share. Disabled students and alumni at the university have criticised the institution on social media in recent weeks for the fact their requests for online learning options, to overcome building inaccessibility issues, had been continually rejected and only by way of a global pandemic has the institution moved towards the 21st century. It therefore seems this pandemic is set to become the biggest catalyst for educational change in a generation. But what exactly might those changes be?

Firstly, many people – myself included – have utilised confinement to their homes as a chance to undertake online classes to upskill themselves, either while furloughed or waiting for the jobs market to reopen. With unemployment reaching 40 million in the United States alone, many are now using their time to proactively add new skills and qualifications to their CV to become that ‘standout candidate’ in an increasingly competitive employment market. Some online learning platforms have recorded, last month alone, a 360% increase in the number of students enrolling on their courses as they seek to expand their skillset. The combination of having no alternative means to learn except online, alongside more free time, undoubtedly means that more individuals will continue to make time to acquire a skill or learn something new in the months ahead.

Secondly, even educational activities that once required physical interaction have now entered the digital age. For example, some schools in Lebanon, according to the WEF, have moved their Physical Education classes to online platforms altogether. Students are required to film themselves exercising by way of creating ‘Personal Trainer’ videos for their peers, showcasing their unique dance moves or warm-ups, and subsequently must use video editing software to professionalise them. This PE-ICT crossover is certainly here to stay, as parents acknowledged their children had not only met their exercise requirements but had also learned about video formatting and editing in the process. This is definitely something they would not have otherwise been able to do whilst simply running around a track. Seen as a win-win by Lebanese teachers, students, and parents alike, it is hard to envisage such ingenuity disappearing from lesson plans.

As children return to school, the digital element which they have grown used to over the last several months will not dissipate to ‘business as usual’ any time soon. Governments across the world are already investing in cloud-based software which will undoubtedly make remote online learning more accessible, if not compulsory. To end on a note of positivity, it is actually ‘poorer’ nations that are utilising this pandemic to get their children online. Again, whilst the WEF have said the cost of online learning platforms run the risk of leaving less-affluent students behind, thanks to the increased presence of free-to-use online forums to share and exchange knowledge, such as 8Billionminds, and free-to-use software like Google Hangouts to exchange ideas, there are many reasons to be hopeful that this digitisation of education as a result of COVID-19 will be positively affect children the world over.

Thanks to the WEF for its March 2020 Report on COVID’s impact on Global Education for the statistical information included in this post. 

Author

Lloyd Ross

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Why Giving Is One of the 5 Ways to Wellbeing

Wellbeing can be defined in many ways, but broadly speaking, our life satisfaction and feelings which derive from the realisation of potential and our daily functioning, mark a global understanding of good mental wellbeing. 


In 2008 the NEF (New Economics Foundation) produced a document as a result of a mental capital and wellbeing project, which sets out 5 actions to improve everyone’s mental wellbeing through life. They are:

  • To Connect
  • To Be Active
  • To Take Notice
  • To Keep Learning 
  • To Give

As for the final point, volunteering is a great opportunity for people to give. It enriches our communities in so many ways, as well as contributing to our own personal growth. On average 1 in 5 people in employment volunteered in 2018.

The positive messages, that building our confidence and self esteem reinforces in ourselves, champions the concept of volunteering as a practical way of contributing to our communities.

Research shows that those with high self-esteem predominantly focus on growth and improvement rather than their counterparts who focus on making mistakes. Being in a volunteering setting where you can learn and develop both yourself and your skills also helps boasts the sense of achievement you feel, which again reinforces the high self-esteem many positive people feel.

Finally, volunteering is also a way of finding a sense of identity.  Whether it is by putting yourself in a new environment or exploring new interests or strengthening interests close to your heart, it really can generate a sense of place and togetherness. 8Billionminds echoes that. Made up of a team of more than 20 volunteers it is gratifying that we are all working with the ethos that, behind the global learning platform we are building, we believe in the strength of live learning and focusing on people’s growth and improvement above all else. 


Author

Anna-Maria Amato

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Reading and Assistive Technology

 

The importance of reading cannot be overstated.  It underpins access to education, ‘if you can read, you can learn anything’.

Even though it is a skill that we have been learning in our masses since the popularisation of printing it is a skill that does not come naturally to everyone. 

Globally 14% of the world’s population cannot read or write.  In the UK, the National Literacy Trust reports that 1 in 5 children leave primary school unable to read or write properly.  

Technology can support reading skills in many ways.

Firstly, there are the obvious ways that assistive technologies (such as text to speech) can support the skill-based challenges associated with reading.  These challenges are sounding out words, developing fluency and developing comprehension.  

Secondly, technology can help to develop an interest and motivation to read.  There are many ways that this is achieved but one way is simply by providing a variety of platforms on which a person can access and read a book.  In doing so, truth can be found in Serafini’s statement that ‘there is no such thing as a child who hates to read; there are only children who have not found the right book.’  For many people who are reluctant readers, the right book is an e-reader or an iPad.   

Assistive technologies on electronic readers can create an immersive environment where you can read and listen to the words simultaneously alongside real-time highlighting of the text.  This follow along captures and prolongs attention spans and of course improves fluency and comprehension of the text. 

E-readers also provide the potent alchemy of 

  1. Shorter length sentences
  2. More white space 
  3. Adjustable font size 

This combination can simplify the reading process not just for people with dyslexia but for others who struggle to read.  The consequence is that people are likely to spend more time reading.  Generally, increased time spent on reading will result in increased skill levels.  

The connection of reading devices to the internet offers an additional way that technology can stimulate interest in reading.  The internet offers access to a community of readers which in turn can promote awareness of a particular book and by extension interest in reading.

Goodreads is a well-known online site that does this.  Its tag is ‘Meet your next favourite book’.  There is provision on this site for book reviews, to log the books that you have read and generally to converse about the world of characters in novels that you are reading or want to read. 

Digitalbooktalk offers something similar.  It has been described as ‘trailers for books’.  You can watch short videos recommending popular books and you can submit your own.

The National Literacy Trust’s 2020 survey indicated that 53% of children enjoy reading ‘very much’ or ‘quite a lot’.  One of the reasons that children may not enjoy books is because their reading skills are limited and thus too is the type of story they can access.  When a child falls behind their peers they may be stuck with rudimentary texts which are unlikely to invoke interest or excitement, whilst their peers have gone on to read fantastical tales of wizards and zombies and never-ending beanstalks.

A child may fall behind if they fail to grasp phonics, the association of the correct sound(s) with the correct letter(s).  Synthetic phonics is by far the most widely used approach to teach reading and writing.  A child is taught to produce each individual sound in a word and then blend them together to sound out the word.  For some this connection becomes an easy automatic process. For others the recollection remains fragmented or delayed and it must be practised again and again and again.  Fortunately, there are many apps which can help a child (or adult) to do this. 

Once a person accomplishes the basic skills of reading: sounding out words, fluency, and comprehension, they are on their way to becoming an independent reader.  For some, this will only be possible with the use of technology.  

The inclusion of technology in our personal and professional lives is widespread.  Sometimes it may feel intrusive and extraneous but assistive technologies for reading is one area where technology can actually be essential for some.

references

https://www.commonsense.org/education/articles/4-inspired-tech-solutions-for-reluctant-readers

https://www.digitalbooktalk.net/

https://www.educationalappstore.com/best-apps/phonics-apps-for-kids

https://www.goodreads.com/

https://www.literacytrust.org.uk

https://www.texthelp.com/en-gb/company/education-blog/november-2017/five-reasons-struggling-readers-benefit-from-tech/

Author 

Jinaka Ugochukwu

Why Learn a New Language?

 

Language is a precious human resource. It connects us, and gives us the ability to express abstract thoughts and interpretations of the universe from within our mind..  It gives us the potential to communicate in a way which is within our control to manipulate, strategically design and deliver a certain outcome.  It gives us power over each other but also, and, more importantly, it is a way to show compassion and empathy.

The words Ludwig van Beethoven used in his famous love letter to his unnamed ‘Immortal beloved’, became immortal through that incredible strength of feeling conveyed through the language, living long past his lifetime and inspiring us today in 2020.

Out of the 6,500 languages on Earth today, one-third of these are spoken by less than 1000 people.  Languages are dying out as we move towards a more global world. It isn’t, however, the weakest languages that fade.  For example, Pirahã, spoken in the Amazon, reflects their more complex social structure, compared to the language of comparatively simple city dwellers.

So what does it mean to speak one of the most commonly used languages in the world?  Why is it powerful, and is its widespread nature making it more so, leading it to be even more widespread?  Is this another way to control aspects of our civilisation? Is it a way to have an impact? Like the invention of a new weapon, movement in new territories and the development of agriculture, language is more than just expression.  It is a tool. We collaboratively advance our civilisation and in order to do this, we must work together. Out of those languages, how many of them, have answers to concepts and problems we struggle with, whether they be philosophical, artistic or scientific?  How do we learn?  

The process of learning a language in itself, is beneficial, aside from any use it may have when in practice.  Research has revealed that learning a second language as an infant helps children develop a higher IQ, in a very similar way that learning a musical instrument does. But what are the benefits of learning a language as an adult?  One study concluded that bilingual adults showed Alzheimer's symptoms 5-6 years later than people who only spoke one language. Learning a new skill is good for wellbeing, and learning a language specifically, improves ability to multitask, make lists and focus. 

With a new language, you can impart positive feelings to someone who may be outside your community.  You can learn about other cultures and you can bond with new people. So, even if it’s just a few words, what language could you pick up now?

Author: Anna-Maria Amato

 

Warts, Witches and International Women's Day

Ntozake Shange famously said, 'where there is a woman, there is magic'.  

My favourite history lessons were the ones about medieval times and the witch hunts.  I enjoyed the direct links between the stories we hear now and the history of society.  Now I don’t think Ntozake Shange was referring to anything like that.  It did lead to me thinking, however, what is the definition of magic?  It is wonderful,  it is exciting.  

The stereotype of a witch was an old, single unattractive woman living on the outskirts of the settlement.  Literature has added warts.  Historically, sure, a woman on her own was mistrusted and mistreated.  This was who the unexplained negative things got blamed on, and so we have the witch hunts.  

The idea of a spinster has many negative connotations, but many positive ones have come out of a woman being by herself: fiercely independent, self assured, strong.  But international women’s day is about recognising the achievements of women.  It is about ALL women and it is a celebration.  We have come far, and this is not due to centuries of passivity.  It is due to bringing about change through action.  Action is what comes after dreaming.  

It’s the frightening part.  The daring part.  The brave part.  

Feeding this action is learning.  A fools errand it would certainly be if we went out into the world without a bank of knowledge to arm us.  To understand what needs changing and decipher how to change it.  Our progress on this planet relies on it.  

   Author: Anna-Maria Amato

Sharing Learning This Valentines Day

When you have dedicated time, energy and passion in learning a subject and exploring a concept full of endless possibilities, to also aid discovery for someone else is something really special.   

When Marie Curie first arrived in France she was Marie Sklodovska, and met Pierre Curie while she was a penniless student.  They shared their love for physics throughout their productive relationship, which led to them to winning the first of two Nobel Prizes that Marie Curie won.  Learning is great solo.  It’s great in a team, and it’s great with friends. Some of the greatest minds of our time, however, have teamed up with their romantic partners to learn and discover this wonderfully mysterious world we live in.  

Frida Kahlo’s relationship with Diego Rivera, a rollercoaster it may have been, surmounted the difficulties and endured time.  They inspired each other and supported each other’s creative pursuits. Frida said in one of her letters, ‘I’d like to paint you, but there are no colours, because there are so many, in my confusion, the tangible form of my great love.’
She explored their relationship and the pains of her life and love in her work, teaching not just Diego, but the world, her unique concept of beauty. 

What passions do you share with those around you?  What can you light up for them and what do they bring to light for you?

Author:
Anna-Maria Amato

5 Community Things to do for your Wellbeing

As Christmas approaches, we feel the need to reach out to people with the awareness that for many, Christmas can be quite an emotional and sad time.  Contributing to community is something which is good for your mental health any time of year for everyone.  We all need to connect and give to maintain a good sense of wellbeing.  Here are 5 things you can do this Christmas to connect with people:

  1. Volunteer.  It seems quite obvious. Give your time, your skills.  It will make you feel valuable and you will be because there is always someone who can benefit from what you have to offer.
  2. Share knowledge.  Have you ever wowed at someone telling you something you didn’t know?  How would you feel if you could do the same for someone else?  It can be a fact you came across, something you have committed time to learning or something someone has taught you.
  3. Start an interest group.  Do you have a hobby you would like to develop? There is most likely others with the same interest.  You can support each other with opportunities and sharing experiences.
  4. Do things in company.  It could be something mundane.  It could be something you need motivation to do, such as going for a jog.  It is great to get to know your neighbours this way.  Having geographically close friends makes home.
  5. Remember your existing friends and connections. It’s great to meet new people but it can be refreshing to renew or give existing friendships a boost.  You might introduce a new common interest or strengthen one you already have.

Whatever you do this holiday, whether you enjoy solitude or chose to connect, remember there is always scope to find someone who is in the same boat as you.

Self-Improvement September

The summer has flown by and it's hard to believe we're now in September.
Whilst the days get shorter and the nights get cooler, it's not all bad news as September is self-improvement month.
This is a chance to focus on a few things you've been wanting to change, perhaps your current lifestyle or mindset or even just to try something new. To have a month of super self-improving, we've compiled a list of easy tips to help you on your way.

1. Make your goal/goals specific with a deadline
Then you will know exactly what you are aiming for and when it has been achieved.

2. Plan how you can achieve your goal
You want to reduce eating meat? Okay, how are you going to do this?
Figure out techniques and break down the goal into small manageable steps. For example, allowing only 5 portions per week, or one per day at lunch.

3. Don't compare yourself to other people
This will stunt your progress and can be a confidence killer. Everyone starts at different places in life, so its about how much you grow, not where you reach.

4. If you fail that's okay
Part of self-improvement is to make mistakes and learn from them.To succeed well, increase your rate of failure!

5. It is 'self' improvement, but you don't have to do it alone
Getting together with friends or a partner to help each other can be really effective (as long as you don't compare yourself to them).
It can be fun and you are more likely to stick to your goals when you keep each other in check.

Let us know if you have any other tips or advice that we can share for you, good luck!

Why we need to connect the world face-to-face

Imagine if every person on the planet was connected and incentivised to speak, learn and share with each other face-to-face online!


There would be 3 main benefits:

1) Increased real education; i.e encouraging curiosity, independent thought and face-to-face interaction
2) Increased and improved social groups; i.e increasing the number and diversity of people that someone can interact with on a daily basis
3) Increased accessibility and opportunity; i.e ensuring people, and thus their knowledge, are truly accessible to everyone else, and thus reducing worldwide inequality

These points are explored in greater depth in the following 4 paragraphs, with a proposed solution after.


Most of us are not content with the current education systems. I personally don't think that my potential has ever been realised throughout my schooling. It felt more like spoon-fed information and keeping children out of trouble, rather than real education. Real education does not happen via a single teacher in a single room. Real education happens when you explore, meet new people, share stories, experiences and develop in a multitude of locations with a variety of 'teachers'. Education is exploring, having the freedom to fail, to then self-improve, while keeping your curiosity intact. It is not cramming for an exam or being spoon-fed, and it certainly isn't not testing your knowledge on the real world. Often school seems to beat out our instinctual curiosity in life, which Ken Robinson so brilliantly describes in his TED talk 'schools kill creativity'.


Adding to the general poor education we face, I believe that many of the world's problems come from 'sticky social groups' i.e when people stick to social groups similar to their own. This prevents them developing their understanding of others - limiting their empathy - which can lead to tendencies such as fear, hate, violence, far-right extreme views and war. Throughout history, and in most parts of the world there will always be 'groups' or 'tribes' of people of certain types that have prejudice against others. Most of the reasons for why this happens usually boil down to poor education, which can be amplified by a lack of exposure to others at a young age, and indoctrination from parents or politicians. At the heart for why people are prejudice is a perceived fear for their own personal safety - in which I believe education helps to alleviate. That is why education is so key to reducing conflict.

If, across Europe, say each individual has frequent interactions with people from say Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan etc, then perhaps we wouldn't be at so many wars, and we would look after our fellow beings more - especially the most desperate people such as the migrants crossing the mediterranean sea.

Not having a good education sadly affects most of the world. The dire consequences of these are of course vast: fear, miscommunication, and naive actions ... resulting in criminal activities, war, violence, and destruction to our planet. Consequently, we need a global education system which is truly accessible to everyone. The increased diversity and number of connections that each person can make with others around the world, the better the education, and the better the world is for all of us.

The solution:
What does this new education system look like?

Imagine an ethical Facebook-like site, but for live-learning sessions. Where you are actively encouraged and supported to connect with new people. Where instead of browsing cat videos and getting lured into commenting about frivolous material, you are learning, being inspired, hearing amazing stories, and having unique insights into other people's lives -- and it is all tailored to you! Via this platform you are also learning how to share your own life, which increases your self-worth, your confidence - realising what you do and don't know, which helps you to improve your self-understanding and future prospects. Furthermore, the platform would improve your curiosity in who and what to speak or learn about next, all while improving your independent thought through having stimulating conversations.

To ensure true accessibility of people's knowledge, traditional money could not be used as the inequality is too vast around the globe to include everyone. Consequently, a time-based system would need to be used, in which people trade in time. When you share, you earn minutes. When you learn, you spend them. Simple.

Imagine the possibilities for what you could speak, learn or share about with people globally. The possibilities are truly endless as the human mind is as vast as the universe.

Fortunately, a group of volunteers have been working on this solution for the past few years, and it is almost ready to launch.

Along with 15 volunteers, we have created the first version of the site which will launch on 28th May. All we need now is for you to try it, and to help us grow it into this beautiful vision. Please support us along this journey. It won't be easy, but the most important things never are!

We hope you will delve into fellow minds with us and reap the benefits!

Author: Samuel Naef

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