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Biography of Speaker

Natalie Uomini is a cognitive scientist who is interested in the origins of intelligence. She combines methods from anthropology, archaeology, psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, and animal behaviour to study how we came to be human. I am fascinated by similarities across cultures (what all humans share) and the cultural differences in how people think and see the world.

Event/Session Details/Discussions/Highlights

Natalie Uomini talk outline was, first she introduced the general research questions and then an experiment about teaching, then how to make stone tools and experiment on origami and conclude with some thoughts of her about unschooling.

Talk outline

1. Introduction
2. Oldowan teaching
3. Imitation and viewpoint
4. Unschooling

Teaching is helping other people learn. The ingredients of teaching
1. Recognition of a knowledge gap between yourself and the other person 2. Some action to help close the gap.
3. Monitor the learners progress
4. Adapt the teaching to learners need
5. Recognise when the learner has achieved the goal.


2 Stages of learning are there
1. Acquisition of skills: fast stage
2. Further development of skills: slow stage

But how is this learning happening
● Individual learning (trial and error)
● Social learning – Learning has method & technique, knowledge and know-how, Declarative Vs Procedural and Conceptual understanding & motor execution. There are different ways of learning and different experiments are explained.
● There is much cross-cultural variation
In the way in the amount of observation that people do, so in this experiment they studied children from the U.S. and children from Mexico and they found out that the U.S. children were not watching what was happening they were just looking at their smartphones and the Mexico children were very much paying attention to everything around them and they were able to just learn the skill without any trouble.
The questions she were thinking of when she was doing the research are
1. How were prehistoric stone- making skills transmitted?
2. What teaching and learning strategies were used in the past?
3. How do unschooled people learn?

Stone tool-making(knapping)

A video was played by her about a demonstration of how prehistoric people actually had to make their tool. These skills that were done in the past were very much about hand skills and you have to have a strategy or conceptual knowledge of what order to hit these things in.

Milestones in human technology evolution

People who work on the technology and in human past talk about different milestones, so the first one would be around three million years ago and it’s been called a momentous threshold in our evolution because it was essentially different from what other creatures were doing at the time and there is another milestone when people are using those stone to get a lot of meat ,so they were eating carcasses and the stone allowed them to really get into those carcasses to get much more meat to feed their brains and their bodies and this also allowed their brains to grow very large and that’s why we have large brains even though now we don’t need to eat meat necessarily but in at one point in the past that was what allowed the brains to get large and the third milestone is around 2 million years or one point eight million years ago with the schoolian and there people are started to turning these stones into a shape and this is when probably people started to have apprentices and in particular and then we started seeing virtuosos, that is very rare stone tools that appear to be extremely symmetrical , and beautiful and this took a lot skills and time.

Oldowan teaching

This experiment explains how these skills were passed on in particular she asked how much teaching was needed to learn these earliest tool-making skills? and collaborated with an evolutionary biologist and we made an experiment in five conditions so we people either they could only see the tools or they could watch somebody doing it or they could interact and the teacher could really only make very basic things like pointing or slowing down their movements in the complex gesture condition ,people were allowed to use their hands to make signs or indicate things for example and in the verbal language condition they could talk and interact normally. We used a chain design where somebody was taught and then they had to teach the next person and they had to teach the next person and so on and we looked at how well they were able to make these tools and we tested 184 students. We made an experimental setup and in the beginning there was an expert who started the chain. They chose one of those five conditions and taught somebody and then they were tested so the person had five minutes to make as many good tools as possible from this chunk of rock and then they became the teacher for the next student. The results are they are looking at the amount of good tools that were made from this rock because when you are good at making stone tools
you can take a rock and make a lot of useful tools from it. And they did a graph with the results. And the conclusion is acquiring skills to make the earliest human technology (Oldowan tools) is greatly enhanced by teaching.
And the second experiment was about origami study and she explained it.
● Observational learning by video watching
● 32 participants-75% right-handed
● 8 origami figures
● 4 viewing conditions
● Performance measures (direction of asymmetry, similar to original, completion time, number of pauses and rewind)
The conclusion is no effect of viewing position on performance or quality of origami learning.


She showed the picture of a child, this picture is a Neanderthal child and it’s a reconstruction and it shows us how different people can be and this child lived around 50000 years ago and it was not related to us, so it was a parallel branch of humans that went extinct and in fact their brains were larger than our brains and they were making the extremely complex tools stone tools that even now we struggle to reconstruct ,so they were very smart and yet they lived very primitive and they were hunting mammoths and large really large animals and they were extremely talented and very strong physically and they didn’t have school and somehow they manage to pass all these skills for they need to survive.

How to reconstruct the pre-history of teaching?

One of the way to reconstruct the pre-history of teaching is really to look at how people in different societies can learn and teach
● Hypothesis: Teaching is to help others learn difficult skills.
● Archaeological evidence: Acheulean tools too hard to learn by individuals
● Experimental evidence: demonstrative teaching is best.
True learning?
Classroom education is a recent invention. It is not very effective.
Forms of teaching
Language involvement varies greatly
Children are highly observant
All people learning
● Let them learn of their own interest
● Respect their skills and knowledge
● Be a perfect role model
● Allow free time for them to experiment
● Be patient, be available
● Encourage people to help others learn


● Sophia: I was wondering if the participants in the origami experiment used their prior knowledge of how to fold a paper rather than imitating hand gestures. They saw that
the paper had to be folded diagonally, for example, but they already knew how to fold a piece of paper diagonally. I think stone knapping is more complex because you really have to imitate specific hand movements. Then it would matter more if participants had an egocentric view?
Presentor: Yes, absolutely. The paper folding is already familiar to students in Liverpool, so stone napping is much more opaque and much harder to really interpret so in fact I did some experiments with stone toolmaking and we found that it’s really takes its changing the brain so actually the training really does change something in the brain structure and the learning going on in them.
● Debasish: Based on the reading of the article in the presentation this is societies where the student has been given, you know a frame or somewhere he feels important where he can directly answer a question and for example, he is called forward to demonstrate while he is learning or when teacher is someone whom he can directly connect with whether emotionally social, the learning is faster because the student is able to know to catch the attention with the teacher so based on this your observation from paper of being on the egocentric side or allocentric side, so we conclude or frame a larger conclusion from presentation that the article that the student feels important or emotional or others are fulfilled to a greater extent there the learning is faster?
Presentor: I mean you have all thought a lot more about how to really practice your teaching and how to make effective teaching and I have experience as a school teacher myself but only for two years so not so long but I could really see the difference between how teaching affects learning and it really important that students have to really feel engaged and feel involved and the viewpoint really make an effect so for example a simple change that make in my classroom instead of having me standing there facing the students and make a circle with all the students, everyone sits in a circle so everyone is facing together and everyone feels like side by side and it increases the communication and especially for the shy students who are afraid to talk feels less shy and get more engaged .This is certainly something important to think about and changes can be made in the classroom and can increase the effectiveness.
● Vishnu: Do you think the way the learner takes in information and tries to learn those kinds of things affects this like we can broadly categorize the learners as an audio learner, visual learner and so on, so do you think that has in any ways any influence over their learning and their distance?
Presentor: People really there are so many different types of learners that seems to be naturally just how we are born and in fact most people are not verbal, visual learners and our school system is based on this verbal or visual teaching style but in fact most people don’t learn that way, they learn through manipulating objects and other kind of sensory input so absolutely this is something that really needs to be carefully considered in teaching because we are teachers , we tend to teach in the learning style we have. Like I am a linguistic verbal person and so for me it’s very difficult to imagine, like how a kinematic learner could learn things and we have to really push ourselves to design our lessons in a way that will be accessible to those different
learning styles and it’s very good and also ask the learners themselves because often they have some idea of some way to implement a lesson in their way.

List of Participants

Attendance /No. of participants: 29
Male: 14 Female: 15
List of the participants :
Amrita Sadanand
Gayathri Manikutty
Baker Matovu
Bhavani Rao
Debasish Brahma
Deepu S
Divya Vishnu
Isaac Likambagire
Malini Frey
Meenu Prakash
Nihal Kaur
Shankar Ramesh
Sidney Strauss
Sophia von Lieres
Sri Vidya
Tzur Sayag
Veena Suresh
Vishnu Jayan
Natalie Uomini
Source of Funding: Organized by AL & CWEGE Flyer

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