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Book Review – Education and Learning to Think

Here are two quotes from Education and Learning to Think, an interesting little research-based book published by the National Research Council way back in 1987!

Higher order thinking is nonalgorithmic. That is, the path of action is not fully specified in advance.

Higher order thinking tends to be complex. The total path is not “visible” (mentally speaking) from any single vantage point.

Higher order thinking often yields multiple solutions, each with costs and benefits, rather than unique solutions.

Higher order thinking involves nuanced judgment and interpretation.

Higher order thinking involves the application of multiple criteria, which sometimes conflict with one another.

Higher order thinking often involves uncertainty. Not everything that bears on the task at hand is known.

Higher order thinking involves self-regulation of the thinking process. We do not recognize higher order thinking in an individual when someone else “calls the plays” at every step.

Higher order thinking involves imposing meaning, finding structure in apparent disorder.

Higher order thinking is effortful. There is considerable mental work involved in the kinds of elaborations and judgments required. (p. 3)

The seventh item on the list, self-regulation, is one that I think is particularly lacking in many K-12 schools because the teachers “call the plays” so much of the time…

Here’s what I think is the money quote:

The goals of increasing thinking and reasoning ability are old ones for educators. . . . But these goals were part of the high literacy tradition; they did not, by and large, apply to the more recent schools for the masses. Although it is not new to include thinking, problem solving, and reasoning in someone’s school curriculum, it is new to include it in everyone’s curriculum. It is new to take seriously the aspiration of making thinking and problem solving a regular part of a school program for all of the population . . . It is a new challenge to develop educational programs that assume that all individuals, not just an elite, can become competent thinkers. (p. 7)

I liked this book. It's very short, but it made me think. I give it 4 highlighters.

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At an information feast, what value must graduates and teachers bring to the table?

On page 52 of Free: The Future of a Radical Price, Chris Anderson notes:

Products that can become commoditized and cheap tend to do so, and companies seeking profits move upstream in search of new scarcities. Where abundance drives the cost of something to the floor, value shifts to adjacent levels.

And that’s really it, in a nutshell, for our students and our school systems, isn’t it? Because the need to store information in our heads has diminished yet again as our storage media have become more sophisticated (this time it’s computers and the Internet instead of books), the value that our graduates bring to their jobs increasingly is dependent on what they can do with what they know, not merely what they know. Because previously-scarce information is now freely and abundantly available on the Web, the value that teachers bring to their current jobs is not how well they can spew forth content and then assess what kids can regurgitate but rather how well they can – and their students can – think critically about and act upon important facts and concepts.

I think most educators and policymakers have yet to give much thought to the occurrence (or magnitude) of this shift…

[Many folks have disagreed with the premise of this book, but I found much to think about inside. I give it 3 highlighters.]

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Biosciences will hire no dropouts

CaughtinthemiddleRichard Longworth says…

Men and women who carried lunch pails and spent their days on assembly lines could earn good wages, own their own homes, feed their families, and keep a cottage by the lake. It was a safe, solid way of life, and it didn’t require much book learning. One step up the ladder stood the trades, the jobs in construction and nursing and repair. The junior colleges and vocational schools taught these trades and taught them well. If they didn’t teach much science or math, that was all right, because only students going to universities needed that knowledge. . . . The Midwest has lost the knack to compete in the new economy, and the schools have lost their ability to teach it. (pp. 179–180)

Globalization may be the most egalitarian force in history. . . . If you’re good, you’ve got a chance. If you've got the education and the skills, the door is open. But if you don’t . . . you’re out of luck. . . . If the Midwest’s future contains manufacturing, it will be high-end, high-tech manufacturing, demanding two-year degrees at the least. Biosciences will hire no dropouts. (pp. 172–173)

[Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism]

This is an important book for anyone who lives in the Midwest (or any other primarily rural area). It's a depressing book, but an important book. I learned a ton. I give it 5 highlighters.

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Get comfortable with discomfort

Michael Port says…

When we are thinking small, we crave preordained outcomes. We want to know what’s going to happen before we begin. Control is an illusion. The need to know how and where prevents all progress. Outcomes are not the starting point. . . . When we seek to control it, it’s because we fear the unknown, the out of control. What we fear is reality because ultimately it can never be controlled. [The Think Big Manifesto, pp. 106–107]

Related posts

I had hoped for more from this book. Although it had a few good quotes, I felt that much of it was fairly uninspiring. It just never grabbed me. I give it 2 highlighters.

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Book review – The travels of a t-shirt in the global economy

tshirttravelsI just finished reading The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Dr. Pietra Rivoli, Professor of Economics at Georgetown University. It was quite an interesting book. Here are some things that I learned:

  • Some Americans have been voicing their concerns about the negative impacts of cheap labor and clothing from China on our country’s textile and apparel companies. These “groans” by American corporations and others are identical to the concerns raised in earlier centuries by British manufacturers about cheap cotton from India and/or the New England area of the United States. They’re also identical to the concerns raised in the late 1800s by New England manufacturers as the industry moved to the Southern states, and the concerns raised by Southern manufacturers in the early 20th century as the industry moved to Japan, and the concerns raised by Japanese manufacturers in the later 20th century as the industry moved to Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, and China. (Chapter 5)
  • No matter how bad working conditions are in factories in Chinese, Vietnam, and other developing countries compared to Western standards, those factory jobs still are a significantly-empowering move up for the primarily-female workers who otherwise would be mired in abject rural poverty back home in their village. As the author put it, it may be rough in the factory but it “beats the hell out of life on the farm” (p. 90).
  • Global activism has made textile/apparel factory jobs, even in developing countries, much better and much safer than ever was the case during the Industrial Revolution in England and America. (p. 101)
  • You have to read the book to understand the sheer lunacy of the regulations, tariffs, quotas, and other restrictions that American manufacturers and lobbyists have gotten enacted into law. That said, nothing is going to save the United States textile and apparel industry. Right now, the author says, it’s “kept alive only by unnatural acts of life support in Washington” (p. 208). Moreover, most of the protectionist measures put into place actually have hurt the American industries in the long run. (Chapter 8)
  • China will overwhelmingly dominate the global textile/apparel industry for at least the next few decades.
  • There is an extremely robust aftermarket in developing countries for castoff clothing from the U.S., Europe, and other industrialized nations. You know those personal shoppers at high-end clothing stores that will call you when something comes in that they think you’ll like? The same thing occurs in Tanzania except it’s for donated t-shirts brought to Goodwill and The Salvation Army that have made it to Tanzanian street markets. Chapters 10 and 11, which describe all of this, were my favorite part of the book.
  • Implementation of textile recycling programs (like we have for newspaper, glass, metal cans, and plastic) would easily pay for itself.

This book took a while to pick up steam but overall I thought it was well worth the read. If you decide to pick up a copy, happy reading! 

I give this one 3 highlighters.

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8 indispensable items for presenters

I’m getting more requests to come speak to groups. Here are 8 items that are indispensable to me as a presenter (click on each image for a larger version)…

1. Presentation remote

remoteThe Interlink RemotePoint Navigator is without a doubt the best presentation remote that I’ve ever seen. It has the usual functions: forward, backward, laser pointer, and “slide hide” (which turns the screen to black). But its aesthetic feel is what distinguishes it from its competitors. This device is designed perfectly for the human hand. I’ve had numerous people borrow this remote, either because they forgot theirs or because they don’t have one. I invariably get some kind of comment like, “Ooh, this is NICE. Where can I get one?” It comes with a USB dongle and a bag and, although a little pricy, is worth every penny. I have three – stashed in my home, office, and car – so that I always have one readily available.

2. Up-down timer

timerI strongly encourage anyone who presents, including classroom teachers and professors, to invest in an inexpensive timer, particularly one that counts both up and down. A timer keeps you on track, lets you know if you need to speed up or slow down a bit, and sends a message to participants that you consider their time to be important. My latest timer, the Component Design TM15, has extra-large digits for easy reading and a loud alarm, which is helpful to me because I like to roam around when I present and often am not near the podium. I also like the fact that mine has a fold-down stand rather than a clip that sticks out from the back. This gives it a smaller profile in my travel bag. One disadvantage of mine is that there’s no on-off switch, which means I have to take the battery out to prevent accidental operation.

3. Screen timer

OnlinestopwatchI’m a pretty strong believer that, no matter how engaging you are as a presenter, listeners’ brains are mush after 45 minutes or so. That’s why for even short presentations I create opportunities for participants to take mini-breaks. Typically I’ll pause my presentation after 10 to 15 minutes, throw up a 60– or 120–second countdown slide, and ask them to share some thoughts with their neighbors. When I’m doing a presentation or workshop that’s longer than an hour, we take bigger breaks: 10 to 15 minutes, get up and stretch your legs and lips, hit the restroom, get a drink of water, check your cell phone voice mail, and so on. I have found this online screen timer to be absolutely wonderful for getting people back into the room on time (and use this downloadable one as an alternative when I don’t have Internet access). I start it up before I let them loose so they know to keep an eye on the time. This has worked much better than simply telling folks to check their watch.

4. Wireless broadband

wirelessbroadbandI pay a monthly fee for wireless broadband from Verizon (and am grateful for the Iowa State University discount). I carry around this USB dongle and can plug it into any of my laptops or netbooks that have the Verizon software installed on them. Sometimes I need this when I require Internet access on the road but am not near an open wireless access point. Its primary use, however, occurs when I visit schools that either can’t give me Internet access, won’t give me Internet access, or give me Internet access but filter and block everything so tightly that I can’t show anything (you know who you are, people!). So, plain and simple, it’s my school district filter bypass and I’ve had to use it on numerous occasions.

5. USB memory stick

flashkeyNothing’s worse as a presenter than bringing your own laptop and then having some technology problem just a few minutes before your presentation starts. This is particularly true if you’re supposed to be some sort of ‘technology expert’ that others might even be paying to listen to. Almost nothing destroys that professional aura quicker than fumbling around with your very own computer! So I ALWAYS bring my presentation files on a USB stick: every slide, every video, every Internet URL. I have only had to fall back on this option a couple of times, but when I have I’ve been grateful that I was prescient enough to load it up and bring it along.

6. Audio and video cables

IMG_6265 My move to Iowa has put me in more rural schools than ever before, many of which are quite old. One of the things I am finding i that older school auditoriums typically are not configured very well for laptop-driven presentations. Although, as noted above, I rarely pin myself to the podium, I at least like to be somewhat near my laptop. That’s difficult to do when I am up front and the laptop/projector is in the back right corner, in the projection booth at the rear of the auditorium, or smack dab in the middle of the auditorium rows (and, yes, I’ve had all three of these happen to me). I invested in some audio and VGA video cables – along with 12– to 15–foot extension cables for each. These have proved useful on numerous occasions.

7. Travel speakers

speakersIt’s rare when I fail to have some kind of multimedia content in my presentations. But it’s tough to show a video or play an audio file if the audience can’t hear it. I ask the folks who invite me to please have speakers available but time after time I show up and they don’t have any, or they had some but now can’t find them, or they have some but someone is using them, etc. So I started bringing my own. My Griffin Journi speakers are a little large and I know that there are smaller ones out there. They’re pretty loud, though, so I’m hanging on to them for now. One advantage of my speakers is that they have a rechargeable battery that allows usage without needing an electrical outlet. The wrap-around leather cover flips over and slides into a slot on the back and thus creates a self-contained stand to keep the speakers upright.

8. Contractor power strips

powerstripsI usually encourage my workshop participants to bring their own laptops. I’m not threatened by their presence and understand that people can be both paying attention and also checking their e-mail on occasion. In fact, sometimes they pay better attention because they can keep one eye on things back home rather than being anxious about what’s occurring in their absence. However, rarely are we in a location that has sufficient access to electrical outlets. While this usually is not a problem for a 60–minute session, it’s a huge issue when we’re doing an all-day workshop. I carry four industrial-strength power strips in my car. I’ve used these so often that I’m considering investing in a few more. I like these because the cord is 15 feet long, which is incredibly helpful when existing outlets are far from participants’ tables.

All of this has evolved for me over time. As I run into presentation dilemmas, I try to invest in things that eliminate those problems for future events. What else have you found to be useful for your own presentations?

The Game of School – Wrap-up

I’ve had a lot of fun these past ten days posting quotes from Robert Fried’s The Game of School. I think Fried does a fabulous job of highlighting how schools as institutions have largely moved away from many of our desired ends for students and their learning. Not always, not for every kid, but mostly… And, as I hope you have seen for the past 10 days, he’s also eminently quotable.

Here’s a quick list of all of the posts:

I also have Fried’s books, The Passionate Learner and The Passionate Teacher, sitting on my shelf. I’m looking forward to digging into those as well.

For those of you who noted that you were inspired to go out and get a copy of The Game of School, I hope that you enjoy the book as much as I did. Happy reading!

I give this one 5 highlighters.

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The bottom billion

[cross-posted at LeaderTalk]

I just finished Dr. Paul Collier's award-winning book, The Bottom Billion. An economics professor at Oxford University, Collier notes that traditionally we have thought of the world's population as being made up of '€˜a rich world of one billion people facing a poor world of five billion people'€™ (p. 3).

Bottombillion01
Instead, we need to recognize that the developing world should be divided into two groups, the middle four billion and the bottom billion. The countries in the middle group have economies that are growing, life expectancies that are rising, infant mortality rates that are dropping, and malnutrition rates that are declining. They still have a long way to go compared to the developed world, but they are making progress. India and China are both part of the middle four billion, despite once being poorer than many of the countries in the bottom billion.

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In contrast, the bottom billion people continue to live in '€˜the fourteenth century, [doomed by] civil war, plague, and ignorance'€™ (p. 3). Their economies are not growing and, '€˜given the power of compound growth rates, [the] differences between the bottom billion and the rest of the developing world will rapidly cumulate into two different worlds'€™ (p. 10). The bottom billion not only are '€˜falling behind … [they are] falling apart'€™ (p. 3).

Below is a graph of the growth rates of the bottom five billion over the past few decades [note that the actual growth rates were not this linear; Collier reported his figures by decades so I had to approximate]. Growth rates were as follows:

Bottombillion03
When these growth rates are plotted cumulatively, the chart looks something like this:

Bottombillion04
As you can see, the bottom billion are barely better off than they were 35 years ago. About 70 percent of the bottom billion lives in Africa. The bottom billion includes countries such as Somalia, Afghanistan, Haiti, Yemen, and North Korea.

I have greatly appreciated how this book has reoriented my thinking about global economic development challenges. Being a data guy, I have jumped into some of Collier'€™s numbers in order to help me envision what the challenges are that face the bottom billion. As we look toward the plight of our own disadvantaged student populations, we would be well-advised to look for data that help us reorient our thinking so that we may appropriately address our learning challenges. What data do you have that might shake up the thinking of your educators, students, and families?

[I learned a lot from this book. I give it 4 highlighters.]

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Johnny Bunko

Johnny Bunko: a cartoon Joe who hates his dead-end accounting job. A set of
magic chopsticks. And Diana, a Greek-anime goddess of job satisfaction. Mix ‘em
together and you have the latest business manga. That’s right, I said
business manga.

Lesson 1: There is no plan. The
average worker will have a gazillion jobs before she’s 42
. Don’t do things
you hate or are worthless just ‘cause you think they’ll get you somewhere. Do
stuff ‘cause you love it and it’s valuable to you. This is the path to success
and fulfilllment, grasshopper.

Lesson 2: Think strengths, not weaknesses. Diana
invokes the sacred bobbleheads of Seligman and
Buckingham. Capitalize on what
you’re good at. End sentences with prepositions. Who cares? Screw that ‘fill in
the gaps’ crap. Allow yourself to bring out your best. Follow
your heart with a vengeance. That’s what remarkable leaders do
. Be
f’n amazing
.

Lesson 3: It’s not about you. It’s
not about you. It’s not about you
. Really. It’s about them. Help your
students-customers-clients-stakeholders solve their problems. The
most valuable people in any job bring out the best in others
. Be helpful.
Add value. It’s not about you.

Lesson 4: Persistence trumps talent. The
fall of dropping water wears away the stone
. Keep
on sucking until you succeed
. What are you afraid of?

Lesson 5: Make excellent mistakes.

If your strategy is to lie low, do your job, follow instructions, and hope
that nobody notices you, (a) nobody will ever notice you, and (b)
you’re actually increasing the chances of something bad happening.

If, on the other hand, you develop a reputation as the person who is always
pushing the envelope, challenging the organization to go to the next level, and
using your influence to get good stuff done, you’ve got the world’s best job
security.

You
can’t shrink your way to greatness
.

Try again. Fail again.
Fail better
. Fail smarter. Being
safe is risky. Being risky is safe
.

Lesson 6: Leave an imprint. Make a difference. Do
something meaningful. Stand
for something big and important. Stop being ordinary
. Make the world a
better place. What are you waiting for?

A rehash of earlier works? Absolutely. A super fun way to spend an hour? You
betcha.

Watch the trailer.
Buy
the book
. But whatever you do, don’t let your local adolescents get hold of
it or they’ll really start asking questions about whatever it is you’re
‘teaching’ them.

Oh, did I mention it’s written by Daniel
Pink
? Rock on.

[I loved this book. I give it 5 highlighters.]

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Book review – Everything bad is good for you

I just finished reading Everything
Bad Is Good For You
. The author, Steven Johnson, makes a quite-convincing
case that today's popular culture and media (video games, television, Internet,
movies), rather than being 'cheap pleasures that pale beside the intellectual
riches of yesterday
,' are much more cognitively complex than what we had
available to us just a decade or two ago. If you haven't yet read this book, I
highly recommend it. Kottke.org
has a short blurb on the book along with a number of excellent links to other
resources and commentary.

One of my favorite parts of the book is at the beginning. First Johnson
quotes Marshall
McLuhan
:

The student of media soon comes to expect the new media of any period
whatever to be classed as pseudo by those who acquired the patterns of earlier
media, whatever they may happen to be.

Johnson then hypothesizes what critics might have said if video games
preceded books rather than the other way around:

Reading books chronically understimulates the senses. Unlike the
long-standing tradition of game playing – which engages the child in a vivid,
three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical soundscapes,
navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements – books are simply a
barren string of words on the page.

Books are also tragically isolating. While games have for many years
engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, building and
exploring worlds together, books force the child to sequester him- or herself in
a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children. These new
‘libraries’ that have arisen in recent years to facilitate reading activities
are a frightening sight: dozens of young children, normally so vivacious and
socially interactive, sitting alone in cubicles, reading silently, oblivious to
their peers.

But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that
they follow a fixed linear path. You can’t control their narratives in any
fashion – you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. This risks
instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though
they’re powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active,
participatory process; it’s a submissive one. The book readers of the younger
generation are learning to ‘follow the plot’ instead of learning to lead.

As Johnson notes, these new forms of communication, participation, and
learning have worth. They're not the vast intellectual wastelands that cultural
critics often claim them to be. Reading still has a great deal of value, as Johnson clearly
states in other parts of his book, but so do these other forms of media. We might sometimes wish that the
subject matter or content matter of these media forms were different – for
example, I personally wish that some video games weren't so violent and gory – but the
bottom line is that the intellectual complexity of popular media is much greater
than before. We would be better served to tap into the affordances of these new
media forms rather than criticizing them simply because they're new and
different.

I give this one 4 higlighters.

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