Monday, September 14, 2015

In a previous post I mentioned "LifeLong Learning" (LLL), but only in passing. Now I will go into more detail.

In the academic literature, LLL is described as a concept with multiple definitions. I prefer to focus on 2 of the definitions: learning throughout one's life and outside of a school building. When I first read about LLL, I thought to myself "That's what we need to adopt in the USA." Learning, especially over the lifespan, is not valued in the USA.  Americans focus on just getting through school to obtain a job as adults, and try to get into "good schools" along the way for a "better" (i.e. higher paying) future job. Instead of learning, money and entertainment are valued with popular media focusing on politics (money), business (money), sports (money and entertainment), and TV/movies (entertainment). Americans indicate how much they value certain occupations via salary levels. For example: professional athletes, actors, business leaders, and medical doctors receive high salaries. On the other hand, according to the USA Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2013, teachers are not even listed in the top 20 highest-paying occupations. Yet, they are responsible for formally educating each generation of children, who become the adult athletes, actors, business leaders, and medical doctors. I purposely used the word "value" in 2 ways: to suggest the level of importance Americans assign to different occupations and the monetary worth placed on these occupations.

Granted, learning is about gaining knowledge and skills to use in practical ways, such as in school and on a job. However, learning can help you take care of yourself and others. Learning may appear threatening because new or other information may counter your past learning. On the other hand, it can also free you from old assumptions and habits. It can show you an alternative way of looking at a topic and then you can choose to follow it or not. I've learned a lot from professors and books but also through listening and observing outside the classroom. Many tools exist to help students earn but I think learning itself can be seen as a tool for improving one's life and the lives of others.

About terminology, I prefer the term "learner" over "student" because the former suggests action whereas the latter suggests passivity. Actually, instead of "learner" what about "explorer"? For someone who is learning something for the first time, they really are exploring something. Also "explorer" suggests curiosity, risk, and adventure.

Friday, September 4, 2015

As an offshoot of my interest in teachers CPD, I am also curious about their professional development in their pre-service days, especially in teacher-training programs.  Having completed several courses in a graduate education program myself, I am interested in the current state of such training.  So, in light of this background, I read an article by Peggy Barmore at The Hechinger Report titled “Teacher colleges struggle to blend technology into teacher training” (  Her article reminded me of a program requirement in my graduate program:  complete a “technology” course in MS Office.  Yes, it was many years ago (in the previous century) so this course may not even be considered a “technology” course today.  However, even then I did not think such a course should be taught and I wondered about the rationale for it since technology was already changing, though not as quickly as now.  Through various jobs, I had already gained the knowledge and skills in MS Office to complete the course without any effort or learning.  Thus, I felt it was a waste of my time and money. 

In Barmore’s article, the teacher Mr. Gilman makes a good point about teaching technology to student-teachers:  “teaching them how to use the devices in the same manner [I do] is a different matter. You can read all about it … You can see things online. But, until you get up there and do it and make the mistakes … it’s totally different. You really can’t teach it.”  I believe that he means he can teach student-teachers the “how to” of using technology but not its application.  Also, an East Carolina University professor states that in their teacher education program, they require students to list their choice of technology and the rationale for their choices within their lesson plans.  I agree with this approach because then learning about technology is embedded within the student teaching and not taught as a separate course, divorced from their actual student teaching. 

Barmore discusses the different approaches taken by teacher-training programs and the struggles they experience in trying to decide where technology belongs in their programs.  For teacher-training programs, it’s about both learning how to use the technology and the rationale for using it.  I think Tony Wagner said it best at a 2012 TEDxNYED talk:  “The world no longer cares what you know but what you can do with what you know.”  To me, the order of technology also matters:  the “what” (am I going to teach) and the “why” (reason for what I will teach) come first and then the “how” (which tools, such as technology, will I use).  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

In an earlier post, I reviewed Paul Tough's book “How Children Succeed” in which he discusses the importance of children having grit, curiosity, and character to succeed in school. Besides reading about such non-cognitive factors, I am also interested in learning about what researchers have discovered regarding cognitive factors. Thus I read and review here Frances Jensen and Amy Ellis Nutt’s book “The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults.” 

This neurologist (Jensen) and science journalist (Nutt) focus their microscope on teenagers and young adults’ brains. They discuss and demonstrate with detailed drawings the development and functions of the different parts of the brain.  The part of the brain called the “frontal lobe” is used for making judgments, controlling impulses, and applying insight. This part develops last and is still developing during the teenage and young adult years. Based on my personal experience, I believe the subtitle of their book is more realistic (than the title) because it includes the words “young adults”. Though I do not have a “natural” science degree (I have several social science degrees), I have witnessed young adults throughout their 20’s, female and male, who were not able to anticipate the consequences of their decisions and actions.

The authors make the case that the brain still has “plasticity”, i.e. it is still malleable in the teenage and adult years, as long as it has not been damaged by alcohol, smoking, and drug use. Since the emphasis in the general press has been on early childhood, Jensen and Nutts’ research will reassure educators and parents that they can still positively affect the development of the minds of young people at this later stage. 

Jensen and Nutt warn parents (and educators I would say) that after a teenage or young adult learns about this late development of the frontal lobe, they may claim that something is not their fault.  However, Jensen and Nutt suggest this response:  “Your brain is sometimes an explanation; it’s never an excuse” and “[you] have the capacity to modify and the responsibility for modifying [your] own behavior” (page 82). How? By reminding and explaining to them again and again!  With teenagers and young adults you appeal to their interest in what’s going on in their bodies. This reminds me of an article I recently read about a school district providing professional development to all adults who came into contact with students, even bus drivers. In this professional development course, a bus driver learned that students of the 21st century ask for reasons instead of just following instructions like she did as a child. Once she gave them a reason for the requested behavior, they usually cooperated. Same with presenting “science” to teenagers and young adults because that way they will not just think that mom or dad is asking them to do something just because of a personal preference.

I disagree with Jensen and Nutt on two issues.  They believe it's best to study in the same place but I think it depends on the student. Also, even if the student studies in the same room (their bedroom) with the same furniture (their desk, chair, and lamp), it will not look exactly the same wherever they take an exam because even though they will be sitting in a chair and at a desk it will look otherwise different (other students in the room, details of the room, different desk and chair).

The second issue about which I disagree is sleep.  Jensen and Nutt provide scientific evidence that students at that age have different sleep and wake cycles than their parents.  Though I have read other publications about these different sleep cycles and that some schools start later in light of such sleep research, I wonder if students will just stay up even later since they know that they have a later starting time?  Will it really work starting the school day later?  Again, just like where to study, I think it depends on the student (their daily schedule, their responsibilities, their stressors, their physical environment). 

My conclusion:  great read for parents, educators, and anyone else interested or responsible for the care and education of teenagers and young adults. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Most academic books I choose to read focus on education or sociology or both because education and sociology are two of my professional fields of study. I recently finished reading the book "Emergency Management and Social Intelligence: A Comprehensive All-Hazards Approach" by Charna Epstein, Ameya Pawar, and Scott Simon. The authors skillfully connect education and sociology and deftly apply them to an on-going contemporary social issue. Before reading it, I never considered applying "social intelligence" to emergency situations and knew nothing about the field of emergency management. This book corrects my oversight and lack of knowledge. The authors' define "social intelligence" as "a method by which emergency management gains critical situation awareness of a community in relative real time. This is achieved through a process of leveraging existing data, information, social capital, and preexisting conditions to develop a composite understanding of what is happening in a community. Making sense of preexisting conditions requires gathering intelligence ..." (p. xix). In other words, emergency management personnel need to educate themselves by researching, studying, and reflecting on information about the immediate and surrounding communities to better prepare and respond to these social disasters. The authors list past disasters such as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and oil spills. They discuss each disaster, the immediate aftermath, the long-term situation, and how things could have and should have been done differently by organizations responsible for providing assistance, assuming they had applied social intelligence before the disaster struck.

This book also supports a broad approach to education in which I am particularly interested: lifelong learning. People in general, but especially professionals in the field of emergency management, must embrace and follow the concept of lifelong learning by learning about the communities for which they are responsible. Lifelong learning can be viewed as vital for one's professional advancement but also out of care and concern for human beings. The authors show how a lack of social intelligence led to certain statements, assumptions, and actions (or not) on the part of professionals. For example, during Hurricane Katrina, the Director of FEMA stated that victims shared some responsibility for their suffering by not adhering to the mandatory evacuation order. Had he done his homework, he would have known that some residents were so poor they did not have cars, gas for their cars, another place to stay, and / or credit cards at their disposal.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

On the bus ride to my office a few weeks ago, I noticed a young child with his parents.  He was fussing so I started chatting with him to distract him, with mom and dad’s approval of course.  Subsequently, I learned that the family were French.  This caused me to recall a conclusion I had already reached but not shared in my blog about teacher’s professional preparation and continuing professional development (CPD). 

First a bit of background about myself:  I was born and raised in the US.  English is my native and only (so far) language.  From an academic standpoint, I understood the argument for learning a second language for native-English speakers in the US.  However, it was not until I pursued a graduate degree in London England that I came to believe that learning a second  language was especially important for teachers.  Though all of my classmates spoke English I was exposed to many students from different countries.  Even my British classmates and I misunderstood each other due to our different “English” languages.  I also realized, for the first time, that I had an “accent”.  By attending classes with my classmates, eating meals with other students, staying at a student residence, and sightseeing in London, I personally experienced (and not just read) about a different country, culture, and land.  I done some reading about travelling and living in London before my first course but it’s different than being there.  Through my conversations with students and professors and my reflections on all my experiences (both in and outside the classroom in London), I came to believe that as an educator I had a responsibility to become more intimately aware of the world beyond my native country’s borders.  My classmates and professors not just formally taught me but informally showed me how people did things differently, including education.  I will always remember a certain approach to education, such as tuition free higher education in Germany, because my classmate from Germany told me about this issue.  Granted, I could have found this information on the Internet but this, and many other exchanges, led me to the conclusion that I could learn so much from other people outside of the US.  One way was to immerse myself in a second language because through language one can learn much more about a country’s issues.

For teachers, present and potential, who have difficulty learning a language, their struggle can remind them of how their students feel when they are learning something new.  As an educator I believe that every teacher, and future teacher, in the US should be required to learn a second language to receive their teaching certificate.  It can be part of their teacher prep program.  To me, it does not matter so much which language they learn.  It’s more about the process rather than the product.  By becoming proficient in a second language teachers can establish relationships with teachers in other countries.  Granted, US teachers can teach each other a lot but those from other countries offer an additional lens.  Just as US teachers can also do the same for teachers in other countries.  Needless to say, I am following my own advice by re-learning French.  Though I took several years of it in high school and college I have forgotten 90% of it.

Friday, March 6, 2015

A few weeks ago I finished a science reporter's book "How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens".  In it, Benedict Carey testifies to my experience in graduate school of figuring out a solution to a problem when not actively working on it or thinking about it.  This approach worked 75% of the time for me.  It's been a few weeks since I read the book so I'm testing another statement of his:  how to better remember information.  After reading or hearing something, he suggests letting time go by and then trying to recall as much as possible without re-reading the text or notes.  Recall the information by self-testing with flash cards, saying it aloud, or writing about it, all without referring to notes.  Re-reading text or notes gives students the mistaken impression that they know the information.  Instead, they are just recognizing the information.  Carey claims that students forget what they learn because they often cram for exams at the last minute, which works for the short-term but not long term.  Cramming prevents the brain from forgetting unimportant or distracting details because not enough time has passed.  A bit of forgetting is needed to help you later remember.  Going to sleep at different times also helps:  for tests that require lots of memorization students should go to bed at the usual time and get up early for a review.  For creative work, music, or athletics, students should stay up a bit later and wake up later because their early morning sleep helps this kind of thinking.  For study areas and study times:   vary them because then the memories will not just be connected to one place and this will help students remember information under different conditions.  Study time should be divided up 2 or 3 chunks, instead of trying to do it in one sitting.  Finally, he urges students to start a project as early as possible so that their brain has time to "percolate", to use Carey's expression.  Though I have repeatedly used the word "student" in this post, Carey does address his book to both students and non-students. 

Carey provides an historical look at the science of learning from his perspective as a science reporter.  He also shares examples of how he unknowingly followed some of these ideas about learning in his own days as a student.  His statements about forgetting, text recognition, and varying sleep and wake times are all new to me.  As an educator, I would try these different approaches to check which of them work for me.  Then, I could share these ideas with my students, as different approaches that they could also try.

Friday, January 2, 2015

In my December 3, 2014 post I focused on teachers Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and suggested that teachers learn a second language.  Here are several additional suggestions:

1) Teachers can keep a daily journal.  If on paper, they can put a security lock on it so no one, including spouse and kids, can see it.  If on a computer, they can protect it with a password.  It's for venting about their day, exploring crazy ideas that may or may not work, spelling out hopes for the future, and offering prayers to reach their students.

2) If a teacher learns something  new about "teaching" it will not cross over or help them learn about their subject matter or vice versa -- teachers must learn about "teaching" and their "subject matter" separately.  

3) Teachers need a computer and Internet access at home so that they can remain in touch with their students, parents, and colleageus.  If an idea occurs to them and they need to send an email or perform some research then they need to have Internet access at that point and not just when they return to the school building.
4) Teachers can learn about academic subjects other than the one they teach.  I'm not advocating that teachers pursue multiple degrees necessarily but they can become familiar with other fields.  For example, teachers can take training or self-educate themselves in the fields of psychology, sociology, and education.  In psychology, teachers can learn about neuroscience, learning disabilities, personality development, and mental health issues to name a few.  Sociology knowledge can include an examination of education, race, gender, organizations, and families within the context of a society.  As part of this process, teachers can create a reading list for themselves which can include resources such as books, newsletters, magazines, blogs, fiction, non-fiction, journal articles, and international publications.