Thursday, November 30, 2006

Learning Multipliers

Here's an excellent set of ideas and suggestions for becoming a more effective student and learner.

From Hacking Knowledge: 77 Ways to Learn Faster, Deeper, and Better by Online Education Database.
For Teachers, Tutors, and Parents

56. Be engaging. Lectures are one-sided and often counter-productive. Information merely heard or witnessed (from a chalkboard for instance) is often forgotten. Teaching is not simply talking. Talking isn't enough. Ask students questions, present scenarios, engage them.

57. Use information pyramids. Learning happens in layers. Build base knowledge upon which you can add advanced concepts.

58. Use video games. Video games get a bad rap because of certain violent games. But video games in general can often be an effective aid to learning.

59. Role play. Younger people often learn better by being part of a learning experience. For example, history is easier to absorb through reenactments.

60. Apply the 80/20 rule. This rule is often interpreted in different ways. In this case, the 80/20 rule means that some concepts, say about 20% of a curriculum, require more effort and time, say about 80%, than others. So be prepared to expand on complex topics.

61. Tell stories. Venus Flytrap, a character from the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati, once taught a student gang member about atoms, electrons, and protons by saying that an atom was one big neighborhood, and the protons and neutrons had their own smaller neighborhoods and never mixed. Just like rival gangs. The story worked, and understanding sparked in the students eyes.

62. Go beyond the public school curriculum. The public school system is woefully lacking in teaching advanced learning and brainstorming methods. It's not that the methods cannot be taught; they just aren't. To learn more, you have to pay a premium in additional time and effort, and sometimes money for commercially available learning tools. There's nothing wrong with that in itself, but what is taught in schools needs to be expanded. This article's author has proven that a nine-year old can learn (some) university level math, if the learning is approached correctly.

63. Use applied learning. If a high school student were having trouble in math, say with fractions, one example of applied learning might be photography, lenses, f-stops, etc. Another example is cooking and measurement of ingredients. Tailor the applied learning to the interest of the student.

For Students and Self-Studiers

64. Be engaged. Surprise. Sometimes students are bored because they know more than is being taught, maybe even more than a teacher. (Hopefully teachers will assess what each student already knows.) Students should discuss with a teacher if they feel that the material being covered is not challenging. Also consider asking for additional materials.

65. Teach yourself. Teachers cannot always change their curricula. If you're not being challenged, challenge yourself. Some countries still apply country-wide exams for all students. If your lecturer didn't cover a topic, you should learn it on your own. Don't wait for someone to teach you. Lectures are most effective when you've pre-introduced yourself to concepts.

66. Collaborate. If studying by yourself isn't working, maybe a study group will help.

67. Do unto others: teach something. The best way to learn something better is to teach it to someone else. It forces you to learn, if you are motivated enough to share your knowledge.

68. Write about it. An effective way to "teach" something is to create an FAQ or a wiki containing everything you know about a topic. Or blog about the topic. Doing so helps you to realize what you know and more importantly what you don't. You don't even have to spend money if you grab a freebie account with Typepad, Wordpress, or Blogger.

69. Learn by experience. Pretty obvious, right? It means put in the necessary time. An expert is often defined as someone who has put in 10,000 hours into some experience or endeavor. That's approximately 5 years of 40 hours per week, every week. Are you an expert without realizing it? If you're not, do you have the dedication to be an expert?

70. Quiz yourself. Testing what you've learned will reinforce the information. Flash cards are one of the best ways, and are not just for kids.

71. Learn the right things first. Learn the basics. Case in point: a frustrating way to learn a new language is to learn grammar and spelling and sentence constructs first. This is not the way a baby learns a language, and there's no reason why an adult or young adult has to start differently, despite "expert" opinion. Try for yourself and see the difference.

72. Plan your learning. If you have a long-term plan to learn something, then to quote Led Zeppelin, "There are two paths you can go by." You can take a haphazard approach to learning, or you can put in a bit of planning and find an optimum path. Plan your time and balance your learning and living.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Oh My Aching Back!

It seems like everything we've ever been taught is wrong. Last week the cholesterol scare was exposed and now sitting up straight is bad for you.

From Medical News Today, Don't Sit Up Straight, It's Bad For Your Back.
It seems that sitting up straight, something many of us are taught from a very early age, is not good for your back, say researchers from Scotland and Canada. They found that sitting up straight strains your back unnecessarily. Ideally, you should lean slightly back, at an angle of about 135 degrees, they say.

The researchers, at Woodend Hospital, Aberdeen, Scotland, used a novel form of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) on 22 healthy volunteers to identify which positions are best, and which are worst, for our backs. The Positional MRI Machine allows the patient to move around during the examination.

The volunteers were asked to sit in three different positions:

1. Slouching. The person hunches forward, with feet touching the floor.
2. Upright, at 90 degrees, with feet touching the floor.
3. Relaxed, reclined backwards at 135 degrees, with feet touching the floor.

Measurements of spinal angles, spinal disk height, and movements were taken. When undue strain is placed on a disk, it moves - often out of place. The researchers found that the upright position, at 90 degrees, caused disks to move the most, while the relaxed position (135 degrees) caused disks to move the least. In other words, the upright position is the worst for the back, while the relaxed position is the best.

Study leader, Dr. Waseem Bashir, University of Alberta Hospital, Canada, said "Sitting in a sound anatomic position is essential, since the strain put on the spine and its associated ligaments over time can lead to pain, deformity and chronic illness."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

NCLB Perspective

I highly recommend this very long but excellent survey of NCLB piece that appears in today's New York Times Magazine (What It Takes to Make a Student by Paul Tough). Here are a few observations to whet your appetite.
Education Trust officials intended their data to refute the idea that family background is the leading cause of student performance. But on closer examination, their data largely confirm that idea, demonstrating clearly that the best predictors of a school’s achievement scores are the race and wealth of its student body. A public school that enrolls mostly well-off white kids has a 1 in 4 chance of earning consistently high test scores, Harris found; a school with mostly poor minority kids has a 1 in 300 chance.
Toll put it this way: “We want to change the conversation from ‘You can’t educate these kids’ to ‘You can only educate these kids if. ...’ ” And to a great extent, she and the other principals have done so. The message inherent in the success of their schools is that if poor students are going to catch up, they will require not the same education that middle-class children receive but one that is considerably better; they need more time in class than middle-class students, better-trained teachers and a curriculum that prepares them psychologically and emotionally, as well as intellectually, for the challenges ahead of them.

Right now, of course, they are not getting more than middle-class students; they are getting less. For instance, nationwide, the best and most experienced teachers are allowed to choose where they teach. And since most state contracts offer teachers no bonus or incentive for teaching in a school with a high population of needy children, the best teachers tend to go where they are needed the least. A study that the Education Trust issued in June used data from Illinois to demonstrate the point. Illinois measures the quality of its teachers and divides their scores into four quartiles, and those numbers show glaring racial inequities. In majority-white schools, bad teachers are rare: just 11 percent of the teachers are in the lowest quartile. But in schools with practically no white students, 88 percent of the teachers are in the worst quartile. The same disturbing pattern holds true in terms of poverty. At schools where more than 90 percent of the students are poor — where excellent teachers are needed the most — just 1 percent of teachers are in the highest quartile.

Government spending on education does not tend to compensate for these inequities; in fact, it often makes them worse. Goodwin Liu, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, has compiled persuasive evidence for what he calls the country’s “education apartheid.” In states with more poor children, spending per pupil is lower. In Mississippi, for instance, it is $5,391 a year; in Connecticut, it is $9,588. Most education financing comes from state and local governments, but the federal supplement for poor children, Title 1, is “regressive,” Liu points out, because it is tied to the amount each state spends. So the federal government gives Arkansas $964 to help educate each poor child in the state, and it gives Massachusetts $2,048 for each poor child there.

Without making a much more serious commitment to the education of poor and minority students, it is hard to see how the federal government will be able to deliver on the promise contained in No Child Left Behind. The law made states responsible for turning their poorest children into accomplished scholars in a little more than a decade — a national undertaking on the order of a moon landing — but provided them with little assistance or even direction as to how they might accomplish that goal. And recently, many advocates have begun to argue that the Education Department has quietly given up on No Child Left Behind.

The most malignant element of the original law was that it required all states to achieve proficiency but then allowed each state to define proficiency for itself. It took state governments a couple of years to realize just what that meant, but now they have caught on — and many of them are engaged in an ignoble competition to see which state can demand the least of its students. At the head of this pack right now is Mississippi, which has declared 89 percent of its fourth-grade students to be proficient readers, the highest percentage in the nation, while in fact, the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that only 18 percent of Mississippi fourth graders know how to read at an appropriate level — the second-lowest score of any state. In the past year, Arizona, Maryland, Ohio, North Dakota and Idaho all followed Mississippi’s lead and slashed their standards in order to allow themselves to label uneducated students educated. The federal government has permitted these maneuvers, and after several years of tough talk about enforcing the law’s standards, the Education Department has in the past year begun cutting one deal after another with states that want to redefine “success” for their schools. (When I spoke to Spellings this month, she said she would “appeal to the better angels of governors and state policy makers” to keep their standards in line with national benchmarks.)

The absence of any robust federal effort to improve high-poverty schools undercuts and distorts the debate over the responsibility for their problems. It is true, as the Thernstroms write in their book, that “dysfunctional families and poverty are no excuse for widespread, chronic educational failure.” But while those factors are not an excuse, they’re certainly an explanation; as researchers like Lareau and Brooks-Gunn have made clear, poverty and dysfunction are enormous disadvantages for any child to overcome.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Christian Questioning of Richard Dawkins

I watched Lewis Black's "Red, White, and Screwed" and just thought that his explanation of Darwin and Evolution should be taught in every high school in America but Lewis Black may exercise a vocabulary a bit too blue for some.

This is an alternative;

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Created Equal, Schooled into Uniform Nothingness

James Hillman explains the concept of "All men are created equal" better than anything I've read before.

From The Soul's Code by James Hillman:

In our nation the distinction between truth and opinion has solidified into the wall between church and state, between revealed truth and polls of popular opinion. Yet the Declaration of Independence asserts that the American democratic state is founded upon the transcendent "Truth": "All Men are created equal."

What is the basis of this claim? Inequalities are there before the first breath. Any nurse in the birthing section of a hospital can confirm that inequality exists from the beginning. Infants differ from one another. Genetic studies show innate differences of skills, temperaments, intensities. as for the circumstances into which we descend, what could be more unequal than our environments? Some are disadvantaged, others privileged by nurture and nature both - and from the beginning.

Since neither nurture nor nature gives equality, where do we even get the idea? It cannot be induced from the facts of life; nor can equality be reduced to a factor common to all human beings, such as erect posture, symbolic language, or manipulation of fire, because individual differences elaborate the common factor in billions of ways. Equality can only be deduced from uniqueness, from what the Scholastic philosophers called the "principle of individuality." I am imagining this uniqueness as the haeccitas (Medieval Latin for "thisness") in the genius as the formative factor given with each person's birth so that he or she is this one and not some other one, anyone, or no one.

So equality must be axiomatic, a given; as the Declaration of Independence says, that we are equal is a truth self-evident. we are equal by the logic of eachness. Each by definition is distinct from every other each and therefore equal as such. we are equal because each brings a specific calling into the world, and we are unequal in every other respect - unfairly, unjustly, utterly unequal, except in the fact of each's unique genius. Democracy rests, therefore, upon the foundation of an acorn.

the acorn pushes beyond the edge; it's principal passion is realization. the calling demands untrammeled freedom of pursuit, a freedom "live on arrival" and this freedom cannot be guaranteed by society. (If the opportunities for freedom are decreed by society, then society has the superior power, and freedom becomes subject to society's authority.) As democratic equality can find no other logical ground but the uniqueness of each individual's calling, so freedom is founded upon the full independence of calling. When the writers of the Declaration of Independence stated that all are born equal, they saw that the proposition necessarily entailed a companion: All are born free. It is the fact of calling that makes us equal, and the act of calling that demands we be free. The principle guarantor of both is the invisible individual genius.

I cannot help but think that schools increasingly violate the sacred trust of nurturing our offspring to recognize and follow their individual spirits. NCLB is the political poison that has transformed schools from places of learning into factories of unholy conformity.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More on Math

I'd be negligent if I did not bring this recent New York Times article to your attention. It reports on the failure of 90's math techniques and the return of schools to more tried and true methodologies. It's a good read.

From: As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics by Tamar Lewin.
Across the nation, the reconsideration of what should be taught and how has been accelerated by a report in September by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the nation’s leading group of math teachers.

It was a report from this same group in 1989 that influenced a generation of teachers to let children explore their own solutions to problems, write and draw pictures about math, and use tools like the calculator at the same time they learn algorithms.

But this fall, the group changed course, recommending a tighter focus on basic math skills and an end to “mile wide, inch deep” state standards that force schools to teach dozens of math topics in each grade. In fourth grade, for example, the report recommends that the curriculum should center on the “quick recall” of multiplication and division, the area of two-dimensional shapes and an understanding of decimals.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Colleges for Nerds

Here's a very nice article that introduces some relatively unknown schools that appeal to students who like the technical side of life.

From The 25 Best Colleges for Nerds:
14.Robotics: Movies like “Terminator" and “I, Robot” may be science fiction, but that’s just for the present. They not only proved box-office hits for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Will Smith, but have brought to the fore the increasingly profound effect robots will have in the future of the earth. The Robotics Design Studio at the Wellesley College offers robot-geeks the opportunity to design, build and invent their own LEGO robots. For the sit-at-homes, NASA offers a distributed, distance-learning summer course in Robotics and Engineering every year.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Restoring Reasonable Student Loan Interest Rates

I just received news that Joe Courtney won the Second Congressional of Connecticut by a little over 90 votes! As a Democrat he'll have the opportunity to contribute to the effort by Democrats to restore sanity to college student loan interest rates.

From CNN, "Dems: make student loans student friendly
Companies that make money in education have had good friends in Congress. That may change under the Democrats, says Fortune's Bethany McLean" by Bethany McLean, Fortune editor-at-large.
George Miller (D-California), who is likely to become the new chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, wants to cut interest rates on student loans in half.

Last spring Senator Hillary Clinton (D-New York) introduced a Student Borrower Bill of Rights. Among its tenets are a cap on loan interest as a percentage of a borrower's income. "A Democratic majority will definitely have an opportunity to change student-loan law," says Michael Dannenberg, who directs education policy at the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank.

It's no secret that change is needed. A just-released report commissioned by the Secretary of Education calls for "complete restructuring of the current federal financial aid system."

Cost is a major culprit. Tuition has grown at double digits for more than a decade, and federal aid has not kept up, resulting in often crippling levels of student debt.

As a blogger using the name "collegedebt4life" writes, "We went into debt to get an education so that we could get good jobs, and we find that we have mortgaged away the rest of our lives by taking out student loans."

Read the entire article here.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Parent Alert! TeenScreen Entrapping Students

This Wikipedia page references numerous sites that are warning parents and concerned citizens that the NCLB program is allowing drug companies and their surrogates to entrap teens into taking a "test" that will identify the child as needing medication.

From Wikipedia;

TeenScreen is a national mental health and suicide risk screening program for students and adolescents. The screening itself generally consists of a short (usually around ten minutes) questionnaire [1] and is conducted in public and private schools, doctor's offices, clinics, youth groups, shelters, and other youth-serving organizations and settings.[2]

Sites such as TeenScreenTruth warn:
One of the things TeenScreen fails to openly disclose is that the percent of false-positives for their pencil and paper screening "tool" - called the Columbia Suicide Screen (CSS) - is 84%, which means that the chances of your child walking away falsely labeled as "suicidal" or "mentally ill" is 84%!

Strong evidence suggests that the intended treatment for those so labeled is psychiatric drugging, using antidepressants and mood-altering drugs such as Ritalin, Xanax, Celexa, Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Thorazine, Luvox and other similar drugs which are known by the FDA (and the pharmaceutical companies) to cause depression, violence, suicide and homicide. In a recent survey of child psychiatrists it was discovered that 9 out of 10 children in their care were on at least one of these or similar drugs. Despite the recent FDA "black box" warnings, it is not unusual for a child to be put on two or more psychotropic antidepressant drugs — drugs that the FDA says can trigger suicidal thoughts.

This is the first I've heard of this program so I'm sure we'll be returning to the subject. In the meantime, ask questions.

Why? TeenScreenFacts claims kids are being lured into taking these tests without parental notification.

Someone in your school may ask you to participate in a program called "TeenScreen". They might even tell you that if you agree to take the test and take a form home to your parents to sign they'll give you a movie or a pizza coupon. Don't be fooled. Because that free pizza or movie pass could easily lead to someone deciding you have a mental disorder and need to be on psychiatric drugs -- all based on how you answer some pretty stupid questions.

TeenScreen is a 10 minute mental health screening test that ends up in kids being labeled, diagnosed with a mental illness and put on psychiatric drugs. When it was done in Colorado , 71% of the kids who took the test were told they had a mental disorder.

Once a teen is told that he has a mental disorder, which is decided by how he answers their questions, his parents are called and told that their kid needs treatment. In other words, drugs.

Out of the last thirteen school shooters, nine of them were taking these drugs. And those are just the ones we know about -- the others were most likely on these drugs as well. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just last year said that psychiatric drugs can actually cause kids including teens to kill themselves.

It's possible that if the parents refuse to give the drug to their kid, the TeenScreen people will try to have him taken away from his home by the child welfare agencies to force him to take drugs.

Just as bad, if the TeenScreen people decide after looking at the result of the test that the teen will hurt himself or hurt other people (like you could even know that from reading a stupid test) they might call the police to come and arrest the teen.

TeenScreen is nothing more than a front group for psychiatrists and drug companies to make money off of you.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

School 2.0: Web Experiment

A while ago I came across this wonderful experiment that was tried in India.

An Indian physicist puts a PC with a high speed internet connection in a wall in the slums and watches what happens. Based on the results, he talks about issues of digital divide, computer education and kids, the dynamics of the third world getting online.

New Delhi physicist Sugata Mitra has a radical proposal for bringing his country's next generation into the Info Age

from a Businessweek Online Daily Briefing,
March 2, 2000.

Edited by Paul Judge

Sugata Mitra has a PhD in physics and heads research efforts at New Delhi's NIIT, a fast-growing software and education company with sales of more than $200 million and a market cap over $2 billion. But Mitra's passion is computer-based education, specifically for India's poor. He believes that children, even terribly poor kids with little education, can quickly teach themselves the rudiments of computer literacy. The key, he contends, is for teachers and other adults to give them free rein, so their natural curiosity takes over and they teach themselves. He calls the concept "minimally invasive education."

To test his ideas, Mitra 13 months ago launched something he calls "the hole in the wall experiment." He took a PC connected to a high-speed data connection and imbedded it in a concrete wall next to NIIT's headquarters in the south end of New Delhi. The wall separates the company's grounds from a garbage-strewn empty lot used by the poor as a public bathroom. Mitra simply left the computer on, connected to the Internet, and allowed any passerby to play with it. He monitored activity on the PC using a remote computer and a video camera mounted in a nearby tree.

What happens next is absolutely fascinating. Here's a small sample:

Q: What else have you learned?

A: Well, I tried another experiment. I went to a middle-class school and chose some ninth graders, two girls and two boys. I called their physics teacher in and asked him, "What are you going to teach these children next year at this time?" He mentioned viscosity. I asked him to write down five possible exam questions on the subject. I then took the four children and said, "Look here guys. I have a little problem for you." They read the questions and said they didn't understand them, it was Greek to them. So I said, "Here's a terminal. I'll give you two hours to find the answers."

Then I did my usual thing: I closed the door and went off somewhere else.

They answered all five questions in two hours. The physics teacher checked the answers, and they were correct. That, of itself, doesn't mean much. But I said to him, "Talk to the children and find out if they really learned something about this subject." So he spent half an hour talking to them. He came out and said, "They don't know everything about this subject or everything I would teach them. But they do know one hell of a lot about it. And they know a couple of things about it I didn't know."

That's not a wow for the children, it's a wow for the Internet. It shows you what it's capable of. The slum children don't have physics teachers. But if I could make them curious enough, then all the content they need is out there. The greatest expert on earth on viscosity probably has his papers up there on the Web somewhere. Creating content is not what's important. What is important is infrastructure and access ... The teacher's job is very simple. It's to help the children ask the right questions.

Now, you're asking why this stuff is important. This fellow may as well be talking to America. Our schools are technologically impoverished not because we don't have machines but because we have adults who are afraid of them and can't allow kids to just have at them. This is a case of bureaucratic insanity dictating educational priorities.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Taxes Roll Downhill

Since Bush took office every election seems to be the most important. This one is no exception. Our country is slipping into the hole that's being dug by Bush consisting of massive debt, epidemic war, and the abandonment of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. These are America's darkest and most dangerous days.

As an American the only way I've ever been taught to change things is to vote. If that doesn't work I fear we'll be seeing something worse.

Joe Lieberman has betrayed his party and his country and recently is employing the political tactics of the Hitler youth by terrorizing Lamont campaigners and supporters. This man is a shameful example of what Washington is today. He should be fired and asked to leave the state. The stain of his service will forever blemish Connecticut politics.

I have never had any use for Rob Simmons. He has always inflated his resume with non-accomplishment in the House.

These days Connecticut families pay $1.00 in federal taxes and receive $.66 back. Our schools are not as well equipped as the caves of the Taliban. In a high-tech world our kids are lucky to see a computer in most classrooms. Our teachers may as well be Luddites. This has got to stop. Connecticut is well on its way to becoming an intellectual third world entity and I am not joking.

Lamont and Courtney can change this. I whole-heartedly endorse their election.

At the state level, Rell spends money as fast as Bush does and the state has nothing to show for it except higher taxes at the local level. The next tax dollar used for special education relief to small towns will be the first.

Sadly, she may win and Democrats will have to listen to tales of how high taxes are. Rell is spending, Democrats get blamed - go figure. Better yet, go vote for DeStefano.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

WWI Prison Camp Flier

BoingBoing has a fascinating entry from someone whose grandfather was interned in a prisoner of war camp during World War I. The documents and commentary are fascinating stuff and certainly worthy of Social Studies discussion.

See for yourself.

Ultra-short Stories

Wired magazine recently wrote a piece on the six word short story. That's right six words. Samples from famous authors are included and surprising the stories inspire all kinds of compelling emotions.

This looks like a wonderful class competition or assignment.

Check it out.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Twisting in the Idiot Wind

A number of recent brain studies indicate that one indicator of learning disability is detectable when a person lacks the ability to grasp a joke. In other words, some people simply cannot intellectually juggle the nuance that a single phrase containing two ideas can express.

Keith Olbermann addresses one such instance.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Online Libraries

This article lists numerous references to online libraries that students and teachers can take advantage of.

From: Generation of online libraries is born,

Google Book Search ( By far the most known online library to date, the Google book project has scanned the pages of "thousands" of works into digital format.

Text from classics in the public domain is available in full. Summaries or snippets of books still under copyright are provided of books still under copyright protection.

A search engine taking the place of library card indexes makes it possible to seek authors' names, publication dates, or words or expressions in the texts or titles.

Open Content Alliance ( Most open.

For the moment the library has 35,000 scanned books, mostly in English. All of the works are not copyright protected -- often more than 50 years old -- and downloadable, printable, and free to be re-used for commercial purposes. The search engine is less sophisticated than that of Google Books but can scout out reference words if the quality of the scanned pages is sufficient.

- Windows Live Search Books, an online literature search engine being developed by Microsoft Computer, is slated for release "later this year."

The Windows Live Search Books Publisher Program website ( invites authors and publishers send their books to be scanned.

- Gallica, the site of the national Library of France. Lists 90,000 digitized books available in "image mode" but does not feature scanning by key words wihin page text.

- Specialized websites: offer text versions of digitized works, usually classics, that can be downloaded for reading or printing and allow searches by key words.

For example the site of "complete works of Shakespeare" ( created in 1993 or the site of Molière ( Other sites highlight poetry, essays, books or other themes.

Cartoons (click to site of ownership):