Monday, July 14, 2014

Today's Reads, Views, and Links

Today is the true halfway mark of my summer.  It's the start of the second session of summer school at the ALC.

So here are my mid summer reads, views, and links.

I came across this link on Twitter last night, the 20 most popular TED Talks.  Of course, Ken Robinson's Do Schools Kill Creativity was #1, but this one from, Shawn Achor, is my personal favorite.  It's not only insightful but also hilarious.


Extreme Learners.  What an interesting title.  Forget life-long learners.  How do we create more extremely learners in our schools today? Here is an interesting read on what makes an "Extreme Learner."

The problem for teachers is that schools don't really want extreme learners.  Now bear with me for a second.

Let's say you're an English teacher.  You begin the year with short stories.  One of the stories you teach is "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe.  An extreme learner would, for example, fall in love Poe and read everything she can get her hands on related to Poe.  So instead of reading the next short story after "The Black Cat," say, "The Bride Comes to Yellow Skys," this extreme learner is devouring all of Poe's poems, essays, and even his one novel.

On top of that, she discovers that Poe had a profound influence on H.P. Lovecraft.  Now she off reading all of his short stories, books, and essays.  That leads here to the fact that Lovecraft's profound influence on some of today's horror writers.  So now she is off reading everything ever written by Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Ramsey Campbell, and Clive Barker.

All the while the class is rushing along with poetry, drama, and a novel . . . none of which the extreme learner reads because she is off devouring what she is really interested in.

Though she learns a ton, guess what her grade would be?  Yet, this teacher would have half a dozen kids who did all the work, read all the stuff, and took the tests who earn A's but - in reality - learn very little.  (Just ask the kids in your class sometime if they've ever taken a class and gotten an A but learned nothing.  Better yet, ask yourself.)

And that's the problem with extreme learners . . . and our schools.


If you know me, I've been preaching this for a few years now: 4 Steps Towards a More Personal Classroom.

Here are the four ways -

1.  Really, truly get to know your students.

* for me, this is easy.  I begin my Lit & Lang 9R class with a homework assignment: list 111 things about yourself.  The kids freak out, but I share with them my list and calm their nerves a bit. I tell them you can list just about anything:  my favorite color is blue, I'm right handed, I love 90's grunge music, we just found a kitten, I have four kids, I love Star Wars, I saw Metallica when I was 16 . . . There I just listed seven things in ten seconds.  So 111 isn't tough.

The tough part is pouring over it the first week of school so I can get to know my students better.  But it's absolutely vital.

2.  Tailor student learning.

* for me, not so easy.  I try to give students freedom of topics and freedom to choose what form they want to write and how they want to write, but that doesn't necessarily mean "tailored learning."

3.  Help them set their own goals.

* I'm interested in this one.  This will be a goal of mine for next year.

4.  Use technology to help students interact.

* for me, this is easy.  This is how I teach.


This is amazing.  Ever wonder what it's like to watch the internet in real time?

Click here.

I saw this last year, but I haven't thought of it since I saw this on Twitter last night.  It would be interesting to see a comparison of what the internet would have looked like in 1994.  Then 2004.  And now in 2014.


I can definitely use this with my Teaching and Learning 250 class at UND this fall: My top early career teaching myths.  I can certainly relate to these too!


Now here is the million dollar question, especially for Millennials and Gen Z students as they enter the workforce and go through school: Can work ethic be taught?

Not only that, but the greater question is what is the best way to teach work ethic?

Model it?  Praise and study examples?  Toss children in and let them sink or swim?  Coddle and entitle them and hope for the best (this seems to be the most popular method today!)?

My father was a hard worker.  The man loved to be outside and for most of his life he had two jobs: a truck driver and a farmer.  Yet, the first moment I had, I was up in my room reading and writing or listening to music.  I didn't share his work ethic . . . for driving truck or farming.  But I did for reading and writing, something that is now actually paying off for me.  So I'm not sure all work ethics look alike.

My sister and her husband are also incredible hard workers.  I mean, come on, they had a dairy farm for many years!  Work doesn't get harder than that!  Should I send Cash and Kenz to spend a summer with them?  Would that instill in them a work ethic?

My brother, who is now in upper management at Crystal Sugar in Crookston, is another hard worker, logging insane hours at his job (in fact, during the strike I think he worked a month (maybe longer) without a single day off!).  Should I hold him up as an example of work ethic and praise him to my kids?

I don't have the answer, but what I do know, especially after reading Mindset by Carol Dweck, is that work ethic is the great leveler.  What I mean by that is it doesn't take much talent to work really, really hard.  It's like the coach's old saying, "hustle is the ultimate talent."

And coaches will take hard workers with average talent over gifted athletes who are lazy any day.

I mean have you ever heard of anyone getting fired for working too damn hard?  I haven't.  But I've heard the phrase, "very talented but so lazy" often.

Look at this example - Jerry Rice.  The greatest wide receiver to ever play.  He has three super bowl rings.  He would certainly even be in the consideration for greatest player in NFL history.  Yet, his workouts were legendary.  And he worked that way after his rookie year and after his 15th year.

Now look at Randy Moss.  The most talented wide receiver to ever play.  No question.  The NFL has never seen his blend of size and speed.  Look at his rookie year, 1998, where he dominated in every single game.  Yet, he has never won a championship.  And he is not in the same conversation as Rice.  Why?  Because Moss didn't have a work ethic.  There were stories of how he'd show up at the stadium, put his uniform on, and walk onto the field and play.  No stretching.  No warm ups.  Just talent and ego.  Who knows what he would have been able to accomplish, and the mark he'd have left on the league, if he had had Rice's work ethic.

So I don't care how you teach it, we as parents and teachers have to find a way to teach work ethic.


Speaking of work ethic, here is an interesting article that suggests work ethic is NOT the biggest threat to American Workers.

What is then? You ask.  Great question.  It's technology.

Simply put, we are struggling to have enough jobs for all of our people.

The article looks at the impact of technology is farming.  A century ago, a vast majority of our population worked in agriculture.  Now 1.5% of our population does.  Technology in agriculture has given us a major supply of food.

Now we have to have a vast supply of jobs.  And how do we do that?  It's simple: create your own job.  And this is where work ethic comes in to play again.  I don't know that many entrepreneurs, but the ones I do know and have read about are not exactly lazy.  The work and they hustle and they ship.

We need more of that.  Now.

People have always created their own jobs.  The trouble is that those who didn't (or couldn't) could always fall back on manual labor.  As Tom Brokaw put in in his The Time of our Lives, if you had a good pair of gloves, boots, and a strong back in America, you could make a good living.    But thanks to technology, those who couldn't create their own jobs now battle for the few manual labor jobs available.  And even if you get one, as Thomas Friedman has observes in That Used to Be Us, you better be a life-long learner to constantly stay relevant in your field.


This article, 8 Pieces of Advice for Thriving in a World of Constant Change, offers a great connection to the one of technology threatening the job marker.

In addition to work ethic and being a life long, curious learner, I think these pieces of advice are what every American student should learn at an early age.

  1. Become an anti-disciplinarian. We use the word “anti-disciplinary” at the MIT Media Lab. We want people who both break the boundaries of disciplines and can move seamlessly between them. Worldviews and frameworks are so different between the traditional disciplines that practitioners have a difficult time talking to each other. The anti-disciplinarian has a global worldview that means you can translate what you learn from one discipline into another. That means you can pull together insights and translate them usefully for others. As disciplines keep changing and reinventing themselves, and as the world gets more connected, being able to move seamlessly between these different languages becomes increasingly important.
  2. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. I grew up going back and forth between the U.S. and Japan. In Japan, they called me an American; in America, they called me Japanese. As a result, I felt out of place in both places — but I realized that I was learning more than the people who were comfortable. So I say: get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable. The reason I went shark diving was because I was afraid of sharks; the reason I once lived in Dubai was that, when I first visited the Middle East, I was so confused and uncomfortable that I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn. In fact, I only learn when I’m outside my comfort zone. We all need to get out of the echo-chamber.

And finally the best thing I've seen all summer (though it breaks my heart at the same time as the little guy will be moving with his family to a larger house and the veteran will be moving into an assisted living complex.  Let's hope their relationship can continue.  And let's be glad that it existed in the first place!)

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