Friday, November 6, 2009

Best book ever on how to prepare students for college

I'm not always a Jay Matthews fan, but the book he discusses here looks like it's worth a read.

Best book ever on how to prepare students for college: "We have had blue ribbon commissions, congressional committees, corporate roundtables, university consortiums and dozens of non-profit organizations struggle with the central question of American education: How do we prepare students for success in college? The written output of these groups numbers tens of thousands of pages, at least. And yet I just got more useful information from a 198-page book written by an unknown assistant professor of education at Seton Hall University than I ever learned from those stacks of well-intentioned reports.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Use Humility to Improve Performance

A recent posting by on humility in the workplace. A crucial and often overlooked trait.

Use Humility to Improve Performance: "

I've written before about the importance of humility as a leadership trait. But, as was recently pointed out to me, humility is an important trait in employees, too.

When people act humbly, they are acknowledging their limitations and accepting that they cannot go it alone. This mindset is valuable to a team because it serves as an invitation for others to help. Humility, however, is not an excuse for slacking. It also means having the willingness to help others do their jobs when the need arises. It is a means for allowing different personalities to coordinate with each other.

Rick Hensley, an executive with Messer Construction, reminded me of the importance of this trait in employees after I mentioned humility in keynote address I recently delivered at Miami University. Rick, a vice president for information technology, has developed a 'personal humility index' that he uses when interviewing job candidates.

Among the things Rick looks for are self-awareness, a 'strong sense of modesty,' the 'use of we and team versus I and me,' and the candidate's desire to develop different levels of employees. Rick wants candidates to 'see themselves as others see them.' Trustworthiness, along with integrity and honesty, are essential.

Fostering humility at work requires leadership and putting what you believe into action. Here are some suggestions.

1. Look for signs of humility. You can spot hubris, the arrogant disregard of others and the opposite of humility, during job interviews. A job interview is the ideal time to talk about yourself, but arrogant employees will take credit for accomplishments while demonstrating a lack of awareness about what it takes to work with others. This shows up when you ask questions about failures; some may not know how to answer those questions because in their minds, mistakes were other employees' faults, not theirs. More humble employees will talk of the contributions of others, particularly when talking about how they solved challenges or dealt with problems. These candidates may make for stronger collaborators.

2. Show humility. If you expect your employees to be humble, lead by example and be humble yourself. Never ask the impossible. Support people with resources and manpower, and in crunch time, pitch in with the work load. Listen more than you speak, and actively encourage your employees to voice their ideas. Then, delegate authority and responsibility to them.

3. Insist on cooperation. Make it known that people on your team must work together to get things done. Cooperation requires respect for other people's abilities, that's easy. What's not so easy is an acknowledging that you may not be as good at a particular task as someone else. A good manager will find the right fit for your talents but you'll need to accept role and harmonize with others. Some of us have terrific presentation skills; others of us may be great with spreadsheets. Acknowledging that you lack a skill requires humility and facilitates cooperation. (Of course, as time goes on, you can seek to add new skills through training and development opportunities.)

Humility can be practiced by everyone in the workplace. Its presence makes for a more harmonious and collaborative work environment because people feel they can share their ideas without fear of being 'one-upped' or put down.


Americans Are Lonelier, but Don't Blame the Internet, Report Says

This confirms what I've thought for a while...

Americans Are Lonelier, but Don't Blame the Internet, Report Says: "

Americans tend to have fewer close confidants today than they did two decades ago -- but that isn't because they're all huddled over their computers playing World of Warcraft or reading the Volokh Conspiracy.

A report released Wednesday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project suggests that the Internet and other new communication technologies have, if anything, a modestly


Military Tries Out Virtual Schools – Las Vegas Review-Journal

Yet another move towards online education.

Military Tries Out Virtual Schools – Las Vegas Review-Journal: "This news item was posted to the iNACOL forums yesterday.
Military tries out virtual schools
Students, classes will move together
Oct. 19, 2009
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal…s-64720407.html
When members of the military are stationed overseas, they usually bring their families. They live in Germany or Japan or some other faraway place with a military base [...]"

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What is Strategic Innovation?

This is a pretty interesting presentation I ran across. I don't remember how I found it, but it seems to mirror some of the things we're trying to do.

A Family Man Dabbles in Ivy-League Learning

The future of education?

A Family Man Dabbles in Ivy-League Learning

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss has died

French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss has died: "

ALeqM5g4fjX9rSZYoTo9fmfb7fc60beP8Q.jpgThe man widely considered to be the father of modern anthropological study has passed away at 100 years of age. NYT, Bloomberg, Wikipedia, AFP.

'Among the more striking conclusions of his work was the idea that there is no fundamental difference between the belief systems and myths of so-called 'primitive' races and those of modern western societies.'


Monday, November 2, 2009

Cartoon: "Greetings, Earthling."

Cartoon: "Greetings, Earthling.": "

Greetings earthlings


Educational Video Games Mix Cool With Purpose

Educational Video Games Mix Cool With Purpose: "A series of games may have overcome the “chocolate-covered broccoli” model that prevailed in the 1980s and 1990s."

Robbing Students and Teachers of Joy

Robbing Students and Teachers of Joy: "

Reading is FunMaybe I'm just too lazy or unimaginative so I stole the title of my last post to make this one. Whatever.

I'm not sure why but this topic runs pretty deep with me. I found Alfie Kohn's article this morning on twitter (I like the fact that he brings back stuff from the archives, I wish more people would do that. Old is not bad) and thought I'd highlight a few gems found inside it.

While I recognize many peoples opposition to Kohn's highly progressive, Deweyesque slants, I find myself more in agreement with him than opposition. In the case of this article, I find it hard to disagree.

I would begin by defining joy as a clear sense of satisfaction at the work or relationships that surround us. That's the definition, I'll use as I explore this idea. This does not equate with happiness, it's perhaps part of it but I'm talking about a sense of purpose and success. This is directly linked to a passion based learning environment.

Joy has been in short supply in some classrooms for as long as there have been classrooms. But I join Deborah Meier in wondering whether things are worse now, not only because more people are less happy but because this is taken for granted; we don’t even see it as a problem that requires our attention.

I can't remember having "joy" or "student's attitude toward school" on any meeting agenda in 20+ years in education. It's less important than if the school sports teams get new uniforms or if we'll stop allowing students to bring potato chips as snacks.

It’s simply stunning, therefore, that some traditionalists actually complain about an excessive concern with children’s happiness. Earlier this year, I came across an essay by an administrator who attempted to explain the supposed inferiority of U.S. schools by asserting that, whereas parents in other countries ask their children, "What did you learn in school today?," American parents ask, "Did you enjoy school today?"

Would that it were true! The author Frank McCourt, who taught at a prestigious New York City high school for 18 years, told the journalist John Merrow that only once in all that time had a parent ever asked him, "Is my child enjoying school?" Instead, all he—and, presumably, the students themselves—heard from parents were questions about test scores, college applications, and getting the work done.

It bugs me when my own kids, who do very well in school say they don't really like school. I know that it's the right thing to say when you're a kid but even when we get past the surface response, it's clear that learning isn't all that pleasureable. This is not because we have bad teachers, it's because we have schools that place student satisfaction way below everything else. "It doesn't matter if they like it  or not." Really? What are the chances your student's will be proficient in using Mathematics after high school if they hated it? Again, this is about everything we do being akin to spending 6 hours playing HALO, but there has to be an element of joy, don't you think? Those classrooms where joy is the unspoken or spoken default environment, are the ones where good learning happens everyday. I have no data to back that up so you can dismiss that as opinion but I'd stand by the claim. But as I consider what we're doing to teachers in the quest for "higher achievement", I think we could remedy much of their stress but supporting them and encouraging them more strongly to make learning a joyful experience.

Academic excellence, the usual rationale for such decisions, is actually far more likely to flourish when students enjoy what they’re doing. "Children (and adults, too) learn best when they are happy," as Nel Noddings observes in her book Happiness and Education. How they feel—about themselves, about their teachers, about the curriculum and the whole experience of school—is crucially related to the quality of their learning. Richer thinking is more likely to occur in an atmosphere of exuberant discovery, in the kind of place where kids plunge into their projects and can’t wait to pick up where they left off yesterday.

But in pointing this out, I fear that I’m appearing to accept an odious premise—namely, that joy must be justified as a means to the end of better academic performance. Not so: It’s an end in itself. Not the only end, perhaps, but a damned important one. Thus, anyone who has spent time in classrooms that vibrate with enthusiasm needs to keep such memories alive in all their specificity to serve as so many yardsticks against which to measure what we’ve lost: 6-year-olds listening to a story, rapt and breathless; teenagers so immersed in an activity that they forget to worry about appearing cool; those little explosions of delight attendant on figuring something out.

Nobody seeks to snuff out joy intentionally, it just happens. The antidote is to be intentional about including joy in the classroom. We can fall into the same trap as parents. The fact we love our children should make this minimal but we've all been guilty of getting so caught up in accomplishing our various goals that we forget to experience joy and live in world where mistakes are valued, where working together on a project is fulfilling and where we celebrate completing a challenging task. Again, this is not some airy, fairy thing, this is, as Kohn suggests, an end, in and of itself. These not be separate, but seriously, if I had to choose between rigor and joy, I'd pick joy every time. But I don't think we have to choose.

I'll end with this quote from Taylor Caldwell

"Learning should be a joy

and full of excitement.

It is life's greatest adventure;

it is an illustrated excursion into the minds of noble and learned men."

Now there's a mission statement that matters.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by John-Morgan



NBA Players Rely on Video Games to Round Out Their Play

NBA Players Rely on Video Games to Round Out Their Play: "

Sports video games have always tried to bring the best of the sport to the gamer, with developers looking at players to pick up their nuances, habits and tendencies to make the game as realistic as possible for the person who plays the video game. But it appears some players are taking it a step further and taking what they see in the video game and incorporating it into the real life game.

Take for example the game of basketball. According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, Memphis Grizzlies guard Michael Conley is an avid player of NBA 2K9. Recently, while playing the game, he noted a move and shot by the virtual version of Rajon Rondo. Conely was so impressed with the move that he incorporated it into his on-court repertoire and dubbed it the Euro Step. And Conley isn't the only one.

According to the LAT story:

New York Knicks guard Nate Robinson said he invented and practiced his dunk moves on NBA2K9 three weeks before winning the slam-dunk contest at the All-Star game last February. Robinson watched his avatar do alley-oop dunks from the baseline and windmill dunks, and catch balls off the glass and turn them into dunks. He imagined the possibilities in real life.

"With the video games, you can try different dunks that people have never seen before," Robinson said.

Apparently, more an more players are playing the video game counterpart to their sport to pick up what other players or teams may do.

It interesting look at how life is imitating art.


Molyneaux, Milo, Sky Net and Artificial Intelligence in 'Cloud Gaming'

This kind of thing is, for me, absolutely fascinating and is the future of gaming and probably humanity. It may well be the Terminator meets the Matrix, but wow!

Molyneaux, Milo, Sky Net and Artificial Intelligence in 'Cloud Gaming': "

Fable teller Peter Molyneaux is a grand visionary, and even if his games don't always reach the heights of his aspirations for them, he's well worth listening to. That vision and Lionhead's cutting-edge work in artificial intelligence for games are just two of the reasons Microsoft tapped Lionhead to build a Project Natal tech demo for E3 and made Molyneaux creative director of its Game Studios Europe this year. In an interview with Tech Radar's Home Cinema blog, the Milo maestro rejects Microsoft's Project Natal as a 'control' scheme and makes an interesting point about the power of cloud gaming.

For Microsoft, the gesture-driven, player-sensing Project Natal is key to delivering that sense of wonder. Molyneaux promotes this theme by making an interesting distinction between 'control' and interactivity. Riffing on a line he drew in his Milo demo at E3, Molyneaux explains:

You don't meet computer game characters when you use a controller. You control computer game characters. And that is fundamental.

And yeah, I can sit back and watch someone playing and controlling a character and I think that's very entertaining and I've got completely used to it. But when I am actually sitting or standing or interacting with something who can obviously see me and obviously react to me, then that is meeting something – and it doesn't matter if it is a robot or a boy or a senior citizen or whatever – it is so totally new and different that you cannot help but make people feel slightly self-conscious.

So self-conscious, in fact, that a few observers thought Milo seemed a bit creepy. Turns out those folks may just have Sky Net on the brain:

When you present this to people then some people have that reaction. There was a high correlation between people whose favorite film was "Terminator" and the people who were creeped out by it!

Molyneaux also gives some insight into how Natal is forcing him to rethink the language of game design:

I had to stop myself thinking as a designer "okay, how am I going to get the player to navigate, what is the equivalent of the thumb-stick? How am I going to get the player to put some things into the game, what is the equivalent of the button presses..."

And I had to stop myself thinking like that, because this is completely new and different. It is like when I went from mouse-based games to controller-based games. When I first did that I was always constantly thinking "god, how am I going to get the player to look round?"

But gestures are only part of the game where Natal is concerned. The real promise lies in the ability to tie the object recognition to artificial intelligence that can infer players' emotions and intentions, using that data to drive more responsive worlds and realistic characters. You know, the kind that are actually worth 'meeting.' Finding the computing power to create these sophisticated characters hasn't been easy. Molyneaux sees the distributed power of cloud gaming as the answer.

The cloud is really important. When you actually start thinking about what we can do in the cloud, especially with artificial intelligence – which people really haven't talked a lot about. 


Our human brains have evolved through millions of years to be able to recognize objects with no effort at all. What with the cloud, what we can do is that when we release something that has object recognition in it, the database of things that are being recognized and held in the cloud can continue to grow and improve. By the millions of people actually interacting with objects locally down here and sending the information back 'up' to the cloud, behind the scenes. 


And from that some amazing and wonderful things will happen. The same with speech. The idea that the whole experience you have with the cloud doesn't need to be locked to the content on your DVD or content that you download. It is very much a living world that we can create now.

Good to know: Molyneaux plans to suck us in with the wonder of cute AI children who can recognize our emotions, remember every object we've ever touched or thing we've said and store it in a giant database in the 'cloud.' Sounds like the creeped out reaction of 'Terminator' fans to Milo could be spot on. I guess the robot revolution won't be televised; instead, we'll be interactively charmed into submission. Thanks, Molyneaux.


Enough With The School Projects!

Enough With The School Projects!: "

First, disclaimer. I think my local schools are great and the vast majority of teachers that I’ve worked with have been wonderful.

But this emphasis on getting children to learn “creatively” is not always more fun and a better way to teach.

Not for me. Not for my kids.

For the past week, my son has been tasked with taking digital photos of different geometric shapes.

An example of symmetry

The above flowers are supposed to be an example of symmetry.

And I am at a complete loss as to how this helps my son learn geometry better than, say, giving him a written test on symmetry, angles, hexagons, and pentagons.

I realize this is supposed to make them aware of geometric shapes in the world around us. But think of the work what went into this. First, the school had to make sure that kids with no digital cameras or computers were supplied with school cameras and time to upload photos there. And even if you take them at home, each kid has to upload fifteen photos and caption them to the school computers.

I can only image the time it’s going to take the teachers to correct all of these projects.

Wouldn’t it be more efficient to use the technology for something else, something it’s more suited for, when it seems a written test could do for simply recognizing geometric shapes? Or maybe you could have a test with real world photos and present a slide show as a test.

I realize that some kids are visual learners and this plays to their strengths. But time after time, I’ve seen my children struggle with these visual projects. The theory seems to be that they’ll learn plotting and writing technique better if they create a poster with pockets in which to place plot elements and main characters. They’ll learn to absorb stories better if they create a diorama of their favorite scene for their book report.

No doubt some kids do and these are a godsend to them. But, meanwhile, there are also kids–including mine–struggling so hard with making a pretty diorama or a lovely poster that they completely lose track of the lesson, which is to learn how to analyze books. Then, of course, the kids are judged on how well they did their art project, not how well they absorbed the lessons. And the kids who get a bad grade are frustrated because the grade is low not because they didn’t learn the lesson but because they’re not good at art.

I’m not sure what this geometry project is teaching my kid other than how to take photos with a digital camera and upload the photos, something he already knew how to do. It is teaching him that his mother gets very cranky when her work computer, the only one set up to upload photos, gets taken over for several hours for a school project.

It would be very good if schools and teachers would not only consider the kids who learn best visually or “creatively” but also the kids who learn better through the written word and start giving kids the choice about which to do.

And, I, for one, could stop investing in countless quantities of poster board, stop saving various sizes of cardboard boxes, and stop trying to figure out how to staff a diorama with other than stick figures.

And I could get my computer back.