Blog : Undervisning

On how we construct trust

Baby taking a nap outside while mom is shopping.

83%.

“Can most people be trusted?”. If you ask the Danes, they will on a scale of 0-10 answer 8.3 on average, a very clear yes. This makes them the most trusting population in the world according to the OECD 2017 “How’s life” annual survey.

The probably complex historical and social context that has led to this state of affairs, the question whether the population’s homogeneity is a factor, or whether the Danes are simply too lazy to mistrust other people… will not be the subject of this article.

Nor will we address the question of whether the record high tax pressure is a prerequisite for the welfare society and a high trust score. Nor, conversely, whether the high trust level simply makes society so extraordinarily efficient that it can accommodate a large and inefficient public sector as well as a largely sub-optimal allocation of resources to tasks on a societal level, in part compensated for by undeclared work (which 40% of Danes make use of).

This article is specifically about how – and why – we construct trust at The Danish-French School of Copenhagen.

First we will consider the importance of the main tool that we are using – relationships and the approx. 17 practical principles we use to build them. They are summarized later in the next section, but might be worthwhile a read to better understand the article.

Then we will apply an information-theoretic perspective to each of the principles in order to illustrate how the process of reducing the amount of information addresses a fundamental need, strengthening relations and trust.

Finally we present a simple model that illustrates why trust deserves a very particular focus as a value in society.

Relationships and information condensation

Trust is about relations between people, hence the most important of our 17 principles, “Establish relationships”.

An important aspect that has turned out to be recurring in many of the 17 principles is the overarching idea of information reduction, or rather information condensation. The brain continuously processes enormous amounts of information and the task it accomplishes when distinguishing relevant from irrelevant – condensing the information – is a truly formidable effort. We see it as a sort of extra layer at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: the ability to give oneself a direction in the super-high-dimensional space of potentialities conveyed by our senses, but in essence akin to what the simplest organisms must be experiencing when following say a nutrient gradient.

From a didactical and a relationship-building perspective this also means that whenever one can help the child “find the gradient”, it is a fundamental need that is being addressed, resulting in a significant strengthening of the relationship and the trust.

This information-theoretic perspective sheds a new light on each of the 17 principles:

Principle How the principle acts as information condensing
1 Establish relationships
  1. When you have a relation, you know what to expect from each other, allowing to disregard an infinity of other options that one then doesn’t need to spend attention on.
  2. Relations create psychological safety that allows you to relax and focus on moving forward.
  3. Self-esteem results from the fact that the relation conveys recognition and reflection.
2 Agreements A clear and condensed formulation of what to expect.
3 Rules, recognizing justice and co-ownership Like in principle no. 2 but even more condensed. Also, fairness and justice imply a high degree of predictability.
4 Noise and quiet Clearly distinguish the information-carrying signals from the noise.
5 Simple explanations Information-dense nuggets.
6 High expectations A clear gradient to follow- which probably explains why they are so efficient.
7 Help others – social capital Supports in building relations, see principle no. 1.
8 Keep track of what the individual is doing / finishing things Staying focused on a gradient.
9 Children need to test Clarifying the limits of the playing field.
10 Repetition makes master Repetition is probably the most common information-condensing mechanism.
11 Set limits to the tasks, not the time spent Staying focused on a gradient.
12 Give options Reducing the high-dimensional space of possibilities to a few options.
13 Correct mistakes as early as possible – give and demand feedback Feedback condenses the vast “what-I-might-have-been-perceived-like” to the simple “what-actually-was”.
14 Do not steal the children’s play Favors relations, see principle 1.
15 Avoid “Shh!” and instead give specific messages Specific messages are obviously much more information-dense and actionable.
16 Only one adult at a time One responsible adult creates a simpler field of expectations than multiple persons.
17 Clear communication and honesty Should be self-explanatory.

 

And so it appears that information condensation is indeed a governing trait of our pedagogy.

A few aspects that are not covered by the 17 principles, but are relevant in a trust-building context:

Long-lasting relations

The multi-aged structure of the school favors long-lasting relationships. Our teachers typically follow the children for many years – potentially from when they are 2 to 15. This means that teachers and children can get to know each other very well, simply due to the sheer time they spend together. But it also means that all the group members are in it for the long run, further strengthening the incentives to construct strong relations.

Impediments to trust

A direct impediment to trust typically occurs when the members of the group need to compete for a scarce resource, be it two children wanting the same toy, or two employees wanting the same job, etc. The guiding principles we have successfully applied in those cases were:

  1. share the resource, for instance taking turns. Very often it will from a global perspective be a better solution that the two members each get ~50% of the resource, rather than splitting 0% – 100%.
  2. in case the resource is not shareable, allocate the resource according to what is most aligned with the group’s mission. Discuss what best serves the greater purpose and apply that. Sometimes you just need to take one for the team.
  3. in either case, be conscious of and open about the conflict. When the solution is fair, it is much easier to accept it even if it is not at one’s own advantage.

Another impediment to trust stems from the average human being’s relative perception of success. When you sit in a train and the train next to you starts moving, you can get the impression that you are moving backwards. That is similar to when your friend has success and you feel it as your failure. Both impressions are factually wrong, resulting from a flaw in how our perception works. Suffice to imagine that you are seeing the situations from an absolute observer position and it becomes clear that your friend’s success is in part your success, and that the winning strategy is to help your friends, to energize your network. We teach that from an early age.

The why

We have covered the question of how we construct trust at the school. The reason why should become very clear when considering the following model:

Given some relatively obvious assumptions of a somewhat mathematical nature, we will conclude that it is worthwhile to act honestly and trustingly in the sense that the growth you can expect to experience in return depends exponentially on it.

The simulation works in the following way: a population consisting of a number of individuals undergo a number of transactions (iterations). Each individual is described by its capital, its honesty and its trust in each of the other individuals. Each transaction occurs between two randomly picked individuals A and B in the following way:

  1. A invests a value in B, where value = capital of A x trust between A and B.
  2. B generates some added value from the investment.
  3. a die is rolled and is compared to the honesty of B: B either returns the investment (successful transaction) or keeps the full investment (unsuccessful transaction).
  4. in case of a successful transaction, the trust between A and B is increased. Conversely it is decreased in case of an unsuccessful transaction.
  5. pick two new individuals A and B and go to 1 (unless the intended number of iterations has been reached)

The resulting simulated relations of trust in a sample of four different populations look like this after 200 iterations (The thickness of the line expresses the trust score, between 0 and 1):

The corresponding simulated total value of the population looks like this:

That… is a semilog plot.

It turned out that the y-axis had to be logarithmic to properly express how much of a winning strategy it is for a group of individuals to adopt an honest and trustful culture.

Conclusion

We have described that constructing trust amounts to building relations and how we do it. We emphasized the information-theoretic perspective, as we are uncovering that helping the children to condense the information, or understand, is a fantastic catalyst for trust.

We then saw that, perhaps surprisingly, growth depends exponentially on trust. Few other factors, if any, have that type of positive impact on society, suggesting that trust be the dearest treasure of any nation.

On the subtle connection between girls and STEM

It was back in the late ’90s, we were attending DTU’s course on digital electronics. Given the “historical” context – the upcoming dot.com bubble and digital revolution – it would turn out to be an important course. It gave us insights into the inner workings of computers, the foundations of the Internet-based society. In the subsequent decades, this type of heavy-weight development skills would give access to the highest yielding jobs, be determining in whether tech start-ups would make or break it  and provide a ticket to the gold rush of IT entrepreneurship. We were around a hundred guys in the auditorium. And a girl. One. On the advanced course the following semester, it was guys-only.

Fast-forward to 2017. IT is everywhere. IT has changed almost everything. Everyone is exposed to it, almost everyone depends on it. In even the least developed corners of the planet people are connected by mobile devices. The largest and fastest growing corporations are very young, only a few decades old, and were built on the IT-revolution by entrepreneurs in their twenties.

More than nine out of ten of the new-age entrepreneurs are men. The digital divide is (also) an extreme gender gap.

In order to understand what was going on on the gender parameter, we in January started a STEM course at the Danish-French School targeted primarily at girls. The objective was to build an interest for electronics, programming, physics and science in general through a playful, constructivist curriculum centered around drones and robotics. The age range of the initial 12 participants was 5-13, split equally between genders (6-6). After a few sessions, three of the boys and one of the girls had left the course and five new girls had joined, giving a final gender split of 10-3. Having boys on the course would turn out to be essential in explaining the subtle relationship between girls and STEM.

Fun at the 3D printer

“You might spur scientific interest for subjects such as chemistry and biology. But the hard core subjects like physics and electronics… forget it.”, one female researcher warned. And so we began.

The course was comprised of 15 two-hour sessions, each consisting of an introduction (~15 min), free activities / free flight (~45 min), intermezzo (~15 min), free activities / free flight (~30 min), conclusion (~15 min). The sessions were framed by 2-5 volunteers depending on the days.

The free activities largely consisted of piloting the drones, but also disassembling/reassembling them, painting them with an air-brush, building obstacle courses, building a radio-controlled Arduino-based rover, programming the rover…

Training Mission: Save the baby-bear on the top of the mountain.

During the intermezzi we showed short videos (for instance FPV recordings), explained scientific principles (for instance how the GPS works, distances in the solar system, time dilation), tasted “astronaut” food…

From the start, all the children reacted very positively to the course. The training missions we had planned for the first day turned out to be too difficult, so from the second session we adjusted the missions to be “one-dimensional”, that is fly up/down, slide forward/back on the ground, left/right. One of the girls started building her own obstacle course and most of the others joined the trend.

 

The training area, the school’s gym, was split into four sections – three flight zones and a workshop table. The workshop table consisted of four stations: soldering, airbrush, Arduino programming, glue pistol.

 

The workshop table with four stations: Arduino programming, airbrush, soldering station and glue gun.

 

First FPV flight.

Each of the three flight zones had a drone that had to be shared between a number of children (~3) and an instructor. The roles of the instructor  (typically an older child) was to demonstrate the exercises, coach the children and, perhaps most importantly, to ensure that the children respected the turns. On several occasions we observed (and prevented) that the boys physically pulled the remote control out of the girls’ hands, with an enthusiastic “Let me show you!”. On one occasion an older brother almost tore off his sister’s FPV goggles.

Generally speaking, the enthusiasm of the boys had a tendency to shadow the participation of the girls. But more importantly, when the instructor explicitly shielded the girls, for instance by requiring the children to raise their hand before speaking, they seemed to bloom and started participating very actively.

Airbrush workshop.

One workshop that the girls found particularly interesting was the airbrush painting of the drones. When asked, the girls unanimously found it important that things look beautiful and the boys unanimously did not.

The participating children were slightly too young to do actual Arduino programming (the older ones were acting as flight instructors). However, one of the adult volunteers had built a radio-controlled rover, which could be programmed from the computer. A sequence of letters (w,s,a or d) were sent wirelessly to the robot which would then execute the corresponding commands (move forward, backwards, left, right). That type of programming spurred a lot of interest, for both boys and girls.

End-of-session evaluation. Fun: 5/5

Time will tell if these girls will eventually break the STEM gender stereotypes. What can be concluded as of now is that:

  • the interest in robotics is gender neutral in the sense that both boys and girls demonstrated a genuine fascination for the field
  • if not channeled, the boys tend to impede the girls from engaging and learning
  • during the 3½ months of exposure to the subject, the interest and engagement has increased for both genders

Our a priori expectation is that the continued exposure to the STEM subjects will nurture the interest as suggested in this experiment and will make the girls more receptive once we start addressing deeper technical aspects.

Drôles de drones

Chers tous

Le programme de STEM de cette saison est à présent prêt: nous allons construire, piloter, démonter, reprogrammer, imprimer (en 3D), customizer, recombiner… des robots.

       

Le programme a été conçu pour faire particulièrement appel au filles, entre autre en concevant les sessions autour d’histoires pertinentes.

Les sessions auront lieu les lundis de 16-18h, commençant le 20/02, voir programme préliminaire ci-dessous:

Date

2017-02-20    Intro + Vol

2017-02-27    Peinture & décoration

2017-03-06    Vol

2017-03-13    Impression 3D et construction

2017-03-20    Vol

2017-03-27    Vol

2017-04-03    Rover

2017-04-10    Vacances de Pâques

2017-04-17    Vacances de Pâques

2017-04-24    APM Planner & Librepilot

2017-05-01    Vol

2017-05-08    Racing / FPV

2017-05-15    Station de recyclage

2017-05-22    Vol

2017-05-29    Air show

Âge: environ 6+.

Prix: gratuit pour les enfants de l’école. Participants externes: 750,-. Prix spécial membres des Journées Francophones: 350,-

Prévoir l’achat de matériel (drones, rover, moteurs, circuits électroniques…), achetable à l’école dans la mesure où nous avons des stocks (a priori entre 200 et 800,- en fonction du choix de projet).

Inscription avant le 05/02.

 

“Nisserne i Nordvest”

“Nisserne i Nordvest”

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3101 IMG_3105En forælder til et barn i 0. klasse har skrevet et juleteaterstykke, “Nisserne i Nordvest”, som skolebørnene øver på hver fredag. Mens nogle øver, maler andre kulisser. På mandag holder børnene generalprøve for børnehaven, og på tirsdag har stykket premiere for forældre, bedsteforældre og søskende.

Fysik om onsdagen

Onsdag eftermiddag har en gruppe skolebørn fysik med Stefan i fysiklokalet på Svanevej Privatskole på Ørnevej. Indtil videre har de arbejdet med syre/base-forhold og indikatorer. Gruppen består af Basile, Alborz, Gisli, Nesa, Alix, Morvarid, Sacha, Agnes, Noah og Ignacio.

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Thanksgiving

I engelsk arbejder vi med Thanksgiving. De yngste børns undervisning har fokuseret på pilgrimme og rejsen til “the new world”. Herunder er billeder af børnenes egne produktioner af paptallerkenpilgrimme.2015-10-02 15.03.352015-10-02 15.01.522015-10-02 15.02.19

Sladrehank vs whistleblower, et eksempel på differentieret undervisning i Den dansk-franske Skole

Hvornår fløjter man? Hvornår bruger man en fløjte? I hvilke erhverv bruger man en fløjte og hvorfor? Disse spørgsmål var indledningen til en tværfaglig lektion i dansk og samfundsfag, der handlede om sladrehanke, Edward Snowden, regler og betydningen af at have whistleblowers. Undervisningen indbefattede samtlige skolebørn og var differentieret, så alle kunne være med.

På skolen har vi nogle faste regler, som i sin tid blev skabt med de børn, der gik i skolen på daværende tidspunkt. Det er ved at være fem år siden, og det er ikke sikkert at alle regler stadig er lige relevante. Derfor fik de ældste elever til opgave at gennemlæse og eventuelt revidere de nuværende regler med henblik på at diskutere og vurdere, om der er brug for nye regler. Deres diskussioner skulle præsenteres ved undervisningens afslutning.

Mens de store arbejdede i grupper med regelsættet, arbejdede de små med en gennemgang af de nuværende regler. Fx blev der taget stilling til hver enkelt regel for livet i fællesskabet, og børnene blev enige om, at det var rart med de regler, da de er med til at gøre huset til et rart og trygt sted for alle. Men hvad sker der, hvis der ikke er regler? Og er der nogen, der ikke har nogen regler? Samtalen faldt hurtigt på Pippe Langstrømpe, der sover med fødderne på hovedpuden og spiser pandekager, når hun vil. Der opstod straks efter en bekymring, for hvem trøster Pippi Langstrømpe?

Herefter så vi en animeret kortfilm – “Vitello graver et hul” – med fokus på regler, men også til en snak om venskaber og autencitet. Mens vi så filmen, skulle børnene lægge mærke til, hvilke regler drengen Vitello har.

Der er mange gode argumenter for at arbejde med ovenstående temaer, og vi afsluttede lektionerne med at binde det at have et regelsæt sammen med betydningen af at have whistleblower. En, der tør at råbe op og sige fra, når noget er forkert. En, der er modig og går foran, og som vælger at ofre for “the greater good”.

Dagens undervisning med samtaler, diskussioner og elevernes egne præsentationer er med at plante et frø og en bevidsthed om, at det at få et samfund til at fungere kræver en løbende, aktiv indsats – og at det er vigtigt, at den enkelte tør rejse sig for at værne om fællesskabet.

whistleblower