Category: Uncategorized

Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization, by Edward Slingerland.  We were a little taken aback at the title and topic of this book.  After all, drunkenness is not a state most of us aspire to—at least not most of the time—and alcoholism is a tremendous bane.  Yet, while acknowledging alcohol’s dark side, Slingerland makes a credible case that alcohol, by virtue of its ability to tone down the ever-self-conscious prefrontal cortex, can have a helpful impact on the human condition, including the fostering of trust and opening of creativity. By turns witty and thought-provoking, Slingerland leads us through a new perspective on alcohol. This passage gives a sense of the book’s style and approach: 

“A significant portion of the Incan Empire’s organized labor was directed toward the production and distribution of the corn-based intoxicant chicha. Even ancient dead people were obsessed with getting wasted. It is hard to find a culture that did not send off their dead with copious quantities of alcohol, cannabis, or other intoxicants. Chinese tombs from the Shang Dynasty were packed with elaborate wine vessels of every shape and size, in both pottery and bronze. This represented a cultural investment equivalent, in today’s terms, to burying a few brand-new Mercedes SUVs in the ground with their trunks full of vintage Burgundy. Ancient Egyptian elites, the world’s first wine snobs, were sent off in tombs full of jars that carefully recorded the vintage, quality, and name of their content’s maker. Because of its centrality in human life, economic and political power has often been grounded in the ability to produce or supply intoxicants.”

Drunk is an interesting and thoughtful read—also good for audio listening.

A review of our MOOC Uncommon Sense Teaching 

Here is a fine review by education innovator Martijn Klabbers of Eindhoven University of Technology of our Uncommon Sense Teaching MOOC. As Martijn notes: “Enter ’Uncommon Sense Teaching’. An uncommonly interesting course for teachers, looking at the inside of learning. Great explanations, solid universal insights, presented in a fun way. Not only interesting for teachers but also for people that want to have more insight in their learning process. A strong follow-up on ‘Learning How to Learn’. And this is only part 1.

“And the timing is perfect. In these uncertain times, teachers are slowly turning back to the new normal, to the regular classrooms, if possible. Some have enriched themselves with online teaching experience, others with a few online deceptions, most with a foggy mind and tired of the constant uncertainty and fear of what the next year will bring. All are looking forward to a bit of guidance.”

Barb’s article in India Today 

Here’s Barb’s concise article about the four keys to effective learning in India Today, the most widely circulated magazine in India, with a readership of close to 8 million. 

Barb’s Off to Germany and Poland!

Today Barb is heading to Leipzig working with medical online learning company Lecturio September 20-24, Dresden to speak for the Bundeskongress Evangelische Schule Sep 30 – Oct 1, to Poland to speak for the University of Zielona Góra on October 4th, and to the Bauhaus University Weimar to keynote for the Annual Meeting of the eTeach Network 2021 on October 8th. She feels great to be back in action meeting visionary educators and learning more about educational systems around the world!

Grass-roots action against bad behaviour has spurred reform in research in psychology

Researcher Jelte Wicherts describes how fabrication and falsification in the field of psychology, prompted by the egregious case of Dutch psychologist Diederik Stapel, has led to efforts to reform research. As Wicherts describes, what happened before the Stapel case was demoralizing: “before Stapel, researchers were broadly unaware of these problems or dismissed them as inconsequential. Some months before the case became public, a concerned colleague and I proposed to create an archive that would preserve the data collected by researchers in our department, to ensure reproducibility and reuse. A council of prominent colleagues dismissed our proposal on the basis that competing departments had no similar plans. Reasonable suggestions that we made to promote data sharing were dismissed on the unfounded grounds that psychology data sets can never be safely anonymized and would be misused out of jealousy, to attack well-meaning researchers. And I learnt about at least one serious attempt by senior researchers to have me disinvited from holding a workshop for young researchers because it was too critical of suboptimal practices.

But what happened after the Stapel case, Wicherts notes, was inspiring: “an open debate that went far beyond misconduct and focused on improving research. Numerous researchers, many early in their careers, used social media to call for bias-countering practices, such as sharing data and plans for analysis. It changed the conversation. Before 2011, my applications for grants to study statistical errors and biases in psychology were repeatedly rejected as low priority. By 2012, I had received funding and set up my current research group.”

Read the whole thing. We hope that the field of education will follow psychology’s outstanding example.

The link between great thinking and obsessive walking

This fascinating article by Jeremy DeSilva starts with Charles Darwin’s well-known walking habits, and leads to a fine discussion of the effect of walking on creativity. As DeSilva notes: “Marilyn Oppezzo, a Stanford University psychologist, used to walk around campus with her Ph.D. advisor to discuss lab results and brainstorm new projects. One day they came up with an experiment to look at the effects of walking on creative thinking. Was there something to the age-old idea that walking and thinking are linked?

“Oppezzo designed an elegant experiment. A group of Stanford students were asked to list as many creative uses for common objects as they could. A Frisbee, for example, can be used as a dog toy, but it can also be used as a hat, a plate, a bird bath, or a small shovel. The more novel uses a student listed, the higher the creativity score. Half the students sat for an hour before they were given their test. The others walked on a treadmill.

“The results were staggering. Creativity scores improved by 60 percent after a walk.”

[Hat tip Ashley Liddiard.]

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

The Charisma Myth

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism, by Olivia Fox Cabane.  Every once in a while, it’s good to return to a book that’s shown its worth through the years.  Just such a book is The Charisma Myth, which is one of the best books we’ve ever read about how to get along with people while simultaneously being more persuasive, influential, inspiring, and yes, charming. (Who knew that charm could be taught?)  If you feel uncomfortable in meeting people and interacting in public settings, this is one of the best books we could suggest to help.  Also good for audio.

A Great Review of Uncommon Sense Teaching

James Haupert, Founder and CEO of The Center for Homeschooling™, writes to say “I just want to let you know that your book, Uncommon Sense Teaching, is becoming very popular at the Center for Homeschooling with our followers.  Homeschooling parents are getting inspired to improve their teaching skills by reading your book. We are talking about it, and I’m heavily recommending it as a ‘must read’ if one wants to ‘up your teaching game.’ I posted a review on our website.  Caution: The review is a little heavy with the use of cooking metaphors, to make it easier to digest, as my audience likes a little sugar mixed with their science!” 

Better brainpower with age: Some mental abilities actually improve after turning 50!

This upbeat article from StudyFinds describes how two of three major components of attention and executive function actually increase with age.  “Alerting is characterized by a state of enhanced vigilance and preparedness in order to respond to incoming information. Orienting involves shifting brain resources to a particular location. The executive network shuts out distracting or conflicting information.

“‘We use all three processes constantly. For example, when you are driving a car, alerting is your increased preparedness when you approach an intersection. Orienting occurs when you shift your attention to an unexpected movement, such as a pedestrian,’ explains first author Dr Joao Verissimo, of the University of Lisbon, ‘And executive function allows you to inhibit distractions such as birds or billboards so you can stay focused on driving.’

“Remarkably, only alerting abilities were found to decline with age. In contrast, both orienting and executive inhibition actually got better. The latter two skills allow people to selectively attend to objects, and improve with lifelong practice, explain the researchers. The gains can be large enough to outweigh any underlying neural reductions.”

iDoRecall continues to change lives

Our favorite flashcard program, iDoRecall, is continuing to change academic lives.  One Harvard-trained MD, for example, uses iDR for his continuing medical education. He emigrated from Jamaica as a child and was able to matriculate to Harvard and pull himself out of poverty, and is now preceeding to mentor more inner-city youth for years to follow in his footsteps. Incidentally, the coupon code FriendOfBarb, will give a discount of 20% off of the annual subscription, and this discount recurs whenever you renew–it is iDR’s only recurring discount code.

Want to reduce Zoom fatigue?

This study suggests that the key to reducing Zoom fatigue is simply turning off your camera.  We agree!

Artificially intelligent Teacher’s Assistants

This Wall Street Journal article (behind a paywall) gives a good overview of developments in artificial intelligence aimed at keeping students engaged and saving educators’ time.  Opening graf: “Not all robots are good at math. Take ProJo, a program that researchers are testing to help students of all ages spot their math and science mistakes, embodied in a small, humanoid robot. Instead of standing in for an instructor, ProJo acts as a peer, inviting the students themselves to help it solve problems. ‘Let’s take turns,’ it might say. ‘I’m not so good at this.’

“ProJo can also help students work together and assess their growth and weaknesses, in both robot form and on a computer screen. It is one of a variety of teaching aids in development, boosted by artificial intelligence, that scientists and educators say could support tomorrow’s classrooms.”

As our own Terry has noted, “Education is going to be the killer app for deep learning.”

Online proctoring software

A first-of-its-kind study examined the security and privacy perceptions of students taking proctored exams. The article concludes: “As many universities and colleges return to the classroom, students may be less willing to trade their privacy for personal safety going forward… However, at the same time, online exam proctoring technology appears here to stay.”

Quality physical education (not just humdrum PE classes) really matter for helping kids to learn

Another worthwhile article from Study Finds reveals that “Dance, martial arts, and high-intensity team sports have a big impact on children’s academic prowess because they are ‘cognitively challenging.’ Researchers say instead of just increasing the number of PE classes within a week, schools should consider improving the quality of the lessons.”

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Set it & Forget it: Are you ready to transform your sleep?

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Set it & Forget it: Are you ready to transform your sleep? by Daniel Erichsen.  Barb’s been doing her darndest over these past few years to try to make sure she gets at least eight hours of sleep most evenings.  Well, there’s been a problem with that.  Mostly, she just can’t get eight hours of sleep—instead, she generally spends an hour or two staring into the darkness trying to fall asleep.

Enter Daniel Erichsen’s intriguing, easy-to-read but potentially life-changing Set it & Forget itDr. Erichsen is a pediatrician who has also studied sleep medicine at the University of Chicago—his passion is helping people to improve their sleep.  His counterintuitive advice?  We generally don’t need as much sleep as the “experts” say.  Erichsen suggests simple, workable approaches for detecting when you are truly sleepy, (as opposed to just tired), and perhaps most importantly, he provides advice for reducing the stress that causes so many of us to lose sleep. (Oddly enough, one of the most common stressors on top of all our other daily stressors is that we stress about not getting enough sleep!)  If you have trouble sleeping, this thought-provoking book, and other related books and podcasts by Dr. Erichsen, may help bring you to your dreams.

Aprendiendo a aprender para jovenes! A New MOOC for kids in Spanish!

Our Learning How to Learn for Youth course in English is especially geared for youngsters who are struggling to learn—or who are already excellent at learning but want to be great. The popularity of this course has meant that a new version has been created in Spanish, Aprendiendo a aprender para jóvenes, via ESIC and Austral University, featuring wonderful Spanish-speaking instructors José Fernando Gallego Nicholls, Verónica Milla, and Javier Fontoba; under the direction of María Guijarro García. “Aprender a aprender para Jóvenes es para ti, para darte una visión práctica de cómo aprender más profundamente y con menos frustración. Las lecciones de este curso pueden ayudarte a aprender muchos temas y habilidades diferentes.”

Register now for the Fall 2021 One-Day Virtual On Course National Conference!

Barb will be giving the opening keynote for the On Course National Conference on October 8th. The closing session will be given by Jonathan Brennan, author of the excellent Online Teaching with Zoom. Whether you’ve been working with On Course strategies for years or just care deeply about the success of your students, you’ll find this is a powerful professional development conference. Expect to experience and learn proven strategies you can implement immediately to help your students reach more of their potential in college…and in life. The On Course National Conference is ideal for: 

  • Instructors and coordinators of student success and FYE programs
  • Faculty from all academic disciplines
  • Counselors, retention specialists, TRIO personnel, and student affairs staff
  • Administrators looking for proven approaches for improving student academic success and retention

Register here, and learn!  

A massiveand massively usefulreview of retrieval practice

This paper provides a tremendous overview of everything researchers know about the use of retrieval practice in classroom settings: “Retrieval Practice Consistently Benefits Student Learning: a Systematic Review of Applied Research in Schools and Classrooms.” It’s also one of the most thoughtful, carefully conducted meta analyses we’ve ever read. No surprise, the lead author is Pooja Agarwal, author of one of our favorite books: Powerful Teaching.

More ideas for motivating students

Here is Mr. Torre’ Mills’ motivational video for his students, which describes the  “4 Principles” that he developed based on the wonderful book Powerful Teaching. As Torre’ notes: “ I recorded the video because we are face to face but dealing with quarantines and I wanted to ensure that all understood my core values and the culture that I am trying to create in my classroom.”

Your Past Shapes your Future

Barb joins Karen and Krista in the awesome podcast Your Brain On… to discuss how the patterns and pathways picked up during past learning experiences influence how our brains react to future learning challenges when building new skills.  Here are part one and part two of the three-part series.

The Uncanny Sherlock Holmes of Science

Microbiologist Elisabeth Bik has an extraordinary talent—she is able to pick out, with superhuman acumen,  duplications in complex scientific papers. Her skill—and bravery—in exposing scientific shenanigans has opened a whole new approach to image sleuthing. We’d love to see a movie made of her, and her impact on science.  (And we’d love to see some fMRI imagery of her own brain in action!)  Although Bik’s skills are extraordinary, it looks as if she has a talent that at least some other mere mortals can learn. And artificial intelligence is homing in her methodology.

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Month

We can always tell when we’ve got a great book to read when we’re so excited about it that we sneak reading in even during the day, when we’re supposed to be working. And just such a book is Tom Reiss’s The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography.  This is a stunningly good book—to be deposited on Barb’s shelf of “favorite books of history.”  It’s always fantastic when you read a biography centered around a decent, caring, but daring human being who gives whatever it takes to do it right by his fellow humans.  

Just such a person was Alex Dumas, father of the famous novelist Alexandre Dumas, (author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers—whose key characters were clearly based on aspects of the novelist’s father). Alex, the son of a white marquis and a black enslaved woman, Marie-Cessette Dumas, was the first person of color in the French military to become general-in-chief of a French army. What an extraordinary man!  You can’t help but read about his exploits and come to believe he was an eighteenth-century superhero. 

Reiss provides a very different perspective on the French Revolution and its destroyer, Napoleon Bonaparte.  By providing an in-depth perspective of someone who knew Napoleon well, we come to see how narcissistic Napoleon actually was.  And where the French Revolution had begun the process of freeing all enslaved people in French dominions, Napoleon moved to re-enslave them and to re-institutionalize racism in France.  (Somehow, this is never emphasized in Napoleon biographies.)  In the end, however, it is the wonderful exploits of Alex Dumas that makes this extraordinary book such a delight to read. Also fantastic for audio.

How to Make Best Use of the Most Important Tool in a Software Developer’s Toolkit: Your Brain

This YouTube video on behalf of Class Central, features software expert Zach Caceres presenting with Barb about practical insights for programmers from neuroscience. These insights can enhance your ability to move to and beyond mastery in becoming an intuitive coder.

A Happy School Sets an Example with Uncommon Sense Teaching

LHTLer Brenda Benedict of the  Lake Superior Academy, a Montessori elementary charter school in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, writes: “I teach struggling readers over Zoom. (I live in Grand Rapids, MI). I took Learning How to Learn years ago and it has changed my teaching.

“I introduced the headmaster of the school, Susie Schlehuber, to Uncommon Sense Teaching. She is implementing the concepts to the teachers this week. Together we are showing teachers how to use the concepts in their teaching. The teachers are embracing it and preparing lessons to share with their students. It is very exciting!

“Thank you for your work. We are expecting a great school year of achievement with the students. I am currently taking the MOOC on Uncommon Sense Teaching and love it!” 

Now this is an exemplary school!  Please feel free to reach out to Brenda or Susie if you might have questions about how to enroll your child (if you live in Michigan), or to implement similar programs in your school.

Uncommon Sense Teaching Makes the Retrieval Practice Hall of Fame!

As you probably recall, our favorite book on teaching is Pooja Agarwal and Patrice Bain’s Powerful Teaching (which we reviewed here). We’re happy to report that our very own Uncommon Sense Teaching made it onto the retrieval practice “Hall of Fame”—see their recommended books related to retrieval practice here

Matthew Walker (author of Why We Sleep) and Dan Ariely are Sadly Moved to Our Hall of Shame

Two figures we’ve admired in the past have come under scrutiny for serious ethical issues with their work.  We ourselves have touted the book Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker, as an important book on sleep’s value. (We’re ashamed to have touted it as one of our books of the year.)  Walker’s book, as it turns out, is riddled with inaccuracies and misrepresentations, as described in this outstanding analysis by Alexey Guzey (himself an early student of Learning How to Learn). 

As Wikipedia notes: “Walker failed to disclose that numerous meta-analyses involving over 4 million adults found the lowest mortality was associated with 7 hours of sleep, and that the increased risk of death associated with sleeping more than 7 hours was significantly greater than the risk of sleeping less than 7 hours as defined by a J-shaped curve.” As Guzey concludes: “…imagine that a 20-year-old who naturally needs to sleep for 7 hours a night, reads Why We Sleep, gets scared, and decides to spend the full 8 hours in bed every day. Then, assuming that they live until 75, they will waste more than 20,000 hours or more than 2 years of their life, with uncertain long-term side-effects.”  But there’s far, far more, including evidence for misrepresentation of the institution where Walker received his doctorate (the institution Walker had claimed apparently doesn’t issue doctorates), plagiarism, and, well, just making stuff up if it supports what Walker wants to say.  (Here is Walker’s response to some of the criticism.)

And we were also sad to learn of retraction and problematic research by Dan Ariely, who has studied, of all things, honesty.  Many companies (including some online learning platforms), ask students to sign integrity statements before beginning quizzes or fill-in forms.  This approach has often arisen in conjunction with Ariely’s findings.  Unfortunately, there’s good evidence that the data for this research was cooked.  

An Uplifting Message for Students

This wonderful video message for a Week 6 School Assembly at Sydney Grammar School in Sydney, Australia, gives a sense of the kind of upbeat insights and reminders that teachers can give their students.  Relax and enjoy Ms. Julia Wilson’s message—and perhaps share some similar motivational messages with your own students at your school!

Tea-Shirts for Tea Lovers

After last week’s discussion of teapots, we discovered this interesting online store that sells “tea-shirts” for tea aficionados.  If you’re a fan of tea, you might enjoy perusing their offerings.

Barbara Oakley ร่วมมือกับ LHL Brainery ส่งเสริมคนไทยให้เรียนรู้อะไรก็ได้ บนโลกใบนี้

Barbara Oakley ร่วมมือกับ LHL Brainery ในการสนับสนุนให้คนไทยได้เข้าถึงเนื้อหาของหลักสูตรระดับโลกอย่าง Learning How to Learn ผลงานด้านประสาทวิทยาของการศึกษาแบบเข้าใจง่ายและเทคนิคที่สามารถนำไปใช้ประโยชน์ได้จริง เพื่อส่งเสริมการสร้างทักษะการเรียนรู้ให้ผู้เรียนมีความพร้อมสำหรับการเรียนหรือการทำงานแบบก้าวกระโดดในอนาคต เพราะไม่ว่าคุณจะอยู่ในสายอาชีพไหน ทักษะการเรียนรู้เป็นสิ่งพื้นฐานที่จะทำให้คุณสามารถทำทุกอย่างที่ปรารถนาให้ประสบความสำเร็จได้อย่างง่ายและรวดเร็วขึ้น ขอเชิญติดตามเรื่องราวของ Learning How to Learn ได้ที่ LHL Brainery Facebook.

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World, by Robert Lawson and Benjamin Powell. In keeping with our enthusiasm for alcoholic beverages and our own previous personal experiences with Marxism, we couldn’t help but be tickled by Lawson and Powell’s enlightening tales of travel through socialist societies. As Bob and Ben note: “In this book … we’re aiming for a popular audience that will appreciate not just our economic insights but our down-to-earth honesty. We wrote this book because too many people seem to be dangerously ignorant of what socialism is, how it functions, and its historical track record. We also wanted to get drunk in Cuba, and this was a great way to write off our expenses.” This peek-behind-the-curtain book describes what’s really happening in socialist countries throughout the world—not just retelling blinkered academic theory. Plus… beer.

“Economics in Nouns and Verbs”

Since we’re talking economics, this recent, foundational paper by Santa Fe Institute scholar Brian Arthur, the father of complexity economics, reveals how algebraic mathematics restricts economic modelling to what can be expressed only in quantitative nouns, and which forces theory to leave out matters to do with process, formation, adjustment, creation and nonequilibrium. This also has profound implications in relation to linguistics.  Interestingly, Arthur notes: “…let me note that a body of theory with verbs already exists in economics—Austrian economics… I believe the Austrian approach deserves a more central place in economic theory.”

Teapots and Equity

Barb likes to collect teapots. Not just any teapots, but Yíxīng teapots, made from an extraordinary clay, sometimes of a purple color, from an area near Dīngshān, China.  It seems this area has been mined for teapot and utensil clay for over a thousand years. When used in teapots, Yíxīng clay absorbs tiny amounts of tea flavor with each brewing. This absorption also allows Yíxīng teapots to gradually develop a beautiful patina. One of the highlights of Barb’s life was visiting Dīngshān on the Yangtze River Delta to tour the teapot shops, especially Yíxīng Zǐshā Factory Number 1, with its extraordinary showroom.

Later, while visiting Hong Kong’s tea shops, Barb stumbled across and bought a very special Yíxīng “Revolution” teapot.  By contrast with Yíxīng teapots made during virtually every other era, the Revolution teapot is downright ugly—pretty much like a cowpie pooped from a defective stamping machine. Worse yet, this pitiful teapot dribbles when you try to pour, and the lid doesn’t fit.  There is nothing special about the Revolution teapot, aside from its ugliness. How could such teapots come into existence, in an area that had produced extraordinarily beautiful and creative teapots for over a millennium? 

It all goes back to equity and fairness.  During the Cultural Revolution, if you made a teapot that was creative, or beautiful, or that stood out in any way from other teapots, you were killed—one of the millions that are conservatively estimated to have died due to willful human action during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. (Actual data on the number of deaths is virtually impossible to obtain, since much has been hidden by the government.) 

Many of the murders and deaths, not to mention the crippling of creativity, were in the seemingly well-intentioned name of equity and fairness.  In pottery-making, for example, it was considered unfair to others if you showed talent or creativity. Worse yet, if you produced something that stood out for its beauty, it was clear you were deliberately trying to make others feel badly for their other, lesser talents. Off you would go, never to be seen again. If you were a potter, your best hope of staying alive was to keep your head down and make the worst pots you could. 

While translating in the Soviet Union during Cold War, Barb saw much the same social forces at play.  Anyone becoming too infected by pernicious ideas related to freedom of speech and thought could, overnight, disappear. This was not a joking matter—in fact, a throwaway quip at the wrong time, in front of the wrong person, could mean death. 

Here is an excerpt from Barb’s Hair of the Dog: Tales from a Russian Trawler, describing her interactions with her Soviet shipmates during the Cold War in the early 1980s.

 “Have you ever heard of Stalin?” [the officer’s stewardess] asked. 

“Of course.” I’d noticed a picture of him on the captain’s wall. 

“You have?”

“Yes.” I tugged at the tablecloth and continued. “Did you know Stalin was responsible for the deaths of at least twenty million people during his purges?” 

“Have you ever known anyone who lost somebody during those so­-called purges?” [the captain] scoffed. 

“Yes,” I said. “Most of my teachers lost at least one member of their family.” 

“Oh,” said the captain. He’d thought he had me. “Well, as you say, everybody makes mistakes.” 

“How can you believe that communism is a good system when such terrible things can happen under it?” I probed. 

The captain glanced at Irena, looking uncomfortable. “What we have now is not communism, it is socialism. That’s why we have problems. When the whole world is communist, there will be no problems.”

Equity in Education

One might think, oh, but here in the West, we would never start down such a horrific pathway, particularly when it comes to education!  But of course, all in the name of equity and fairness, we have.  This tremendous article by Maxwell Meyer, “The Two-Front War on Academic Standards,” gives a good overview of the unfolding educational approaches that cripple students’ abilities to learn and be creative in a standard school setting. Here are some key excerpts:

“…[T]here are several alarming trends in education policy that I believe constitute a serious threat to our country. It’s a Two-Front War on Academic Standards. 

“The first front is essentially an effort to rein in our best students, to make sure they aren’t getting any unfair advantages, or doing too much better than others. It takes many forms — eliminating test-based admission at magnet schools, doing away with advanced coursework, etc — but really comes down to one issue: in any system that rewards achievement, differentiated ability produces a gap between students, which is viewed as an inequity. Just like the ‘wealth gap’ or the ‘gender pay gap,’ the ‘achievement gap’ is the subject of almost myopic focus by political activists. And as we know, the solution to some students doing better than others (inequity) is to make all students do the same (equity).

“Of course, that’s not how any of this works. Pulling one student down the ladder doesn’t make it any easier for the students below to climb. But let’s suppose that the stated goal of equity is actually earnest. Wouldn’t we expect to see an effort to pull the lower students up – to give them a hand? Theoretically, yes. But in reality, there is no serious effort to raise standards at the bottom of the performance distribution. Instead, we reduce the standards or eliminate them entirely, giving these students the boot. If there are no standards, there can be no failure, nor can there be any blame for the failure. This is the second front in the war: ‘helping’ students who struggle by eliminating all expectations of them.”

Meyer’s article deserves a careful, full read by anyone interested in advancing genuine learning and creativity.

That’s all for this week. Have a thoughtful week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team


Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Month

Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey.  It took us a bit to get used to McConaughey’s style. But once he hits his stride with stories, Greenlights soars as an unparalleled autobiography of a funny, tough, unfailingly curious extrovert with a sense that the world is conspiring to make him happy.  This is the kind of book you read so you’ve got funny stories to haul out when you’re sitting around jawing with friends. But the book goes much deeper than that, with insights ranging from the sacrifices and risks needed to get to where you want to go, to finding the love of one’s life, to the value of listening to your intuition.  Highly recommended—also good for audio (McConaughey himself is the narrator). 

Uncommon Sense Teaching Wins Award!

We’re delighted to announce that Uncommon Sense Teaching has made the top 10 of Learning Ladders’ “Best Books for Educators Summer 2021” awards. The awards panel featured teachers, school leaders, and EdTech entrepreneurs including Learning Ladders’ founder, Matt Koster-Marcon, who is also Chair of the EdTech Special Interest Group at BESA.  We’re proud to be included in the list, and would also like to congratulate the other shortlisted books for their incredible work. Visit the full list of recommended books, which cover topics such as wellbeing, educational leadership, and diversity and inclusion in schools.

A fine review of Uncommon Sense Teaching and of the Course Hero Education Summit 

Zainab Cheema, a US-based humanities professor, has written an excellent two-part (part 1 and part 2) review of Uncommon Sense Teaching that does a great job of summarizing key elements of the book.

And EVERY conference should be lucky enough to have a review such as what Zainab has written about Course Hero’s online Education Summit 2021.  Included in both Part 1 and Part 2 of the review are links to the relevant talks, along with a super-helpful discussion of what was covered.  (We found Dr. Luke Wood’s talk “The Effects of Racial Microaggressions” to be especially informative.)

Class Central’s upcoming Study Group venture

Starting August 23, Class Central is running a free Bootcamp, learning about Responsive Web Design via FreeCodeCamp. It’s more ambitious than the previous Study Groups – 12 weeks duration, with weekly 2-hour live sessions with Jessica Rose. You can find the details here

Keeping yourself on track with exercise

Sometimes it’s easy to talk yourself out of the importance of keeping up with an exercise program.  This article in Medium by LHTLer Kerem provides a good overview of the many benefits of exercise for both cognition and memory—and gives a good reminder for us all!

Барбара ОАКЛИ: Нейробиология в образовании подготовит Россию к прыжку в будущее

Here’s a nice interview with Barb in Russian published in Russia’s The Teacher’s Newspaper.  If you speak Russian (or use Google translate), enjoy!

Homing in on why spaced retrieval is so important and effective

This research indicates that spacing retrieval practice out by about an hour seems to be a good approach in helping mice to remember specific tasks.  Spacing out the retrieval practice in this way appears optimal in strengthening the neuronal connections involved in that specific memory.  

Remote learning not that bad? 7 in 10 parents say their kids are more focused in virtual classroom

Research is revealing that some 70% of parents feel their kids actually focus better while learning remotely.  “According to a recent survey of 2,000 American parents with school-age children and their children, one in three kids are excited by remote learning. Moreover, 72 percent of parents think virtual learning is a game-changer that will be around long after the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Homeschooling exploded among Black, Asian and Latino students

This Washington Post article details the rise in homeschooling, which is even higher outside white communities. Key grafs: “The percentage of schoolchildren in home-school has nearly tripled since mid-2019. By May of this year, the U.S. Census Bureau found more than one out of every 12 students were being home-schooled…

“Between 2019 and May 2021, home schooling rates jumped from about one percent to eight percent for Black students — a more than sixfold increase. Among Hispanic students, rates jumped from two percent to nine percent. The increase was less dramatic for White families, where home schooling doubled from four to eight percent over the same time period. Between 2016, the year of the most recently available data for Asian American families, and May, home-school rates went from one to five percent….

“In many cases, the migration from mainstream education shows the rising fears among parents of color that schools are failing their children, and the growing awareness of racial disparities in the treatment and outcomes for children of color. Despite aspiring to be “the great equalizer,” inequality is still deeply embedded in the nation’s public schools system, with yawning achievement gaps marking the performance between White and Asian students and Black and Latino ones. For parents already frustrated with their child’s education, the pandemic provided another reason to give home schooling a try.”

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Clean: The New Science of Skin

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Clean: The New Science of Skin, by James Hamblin.  Clean begins with a startling claim: author James Hamblin, a medical doctor, had stopped showering for five years and had given up as well on shampoo, conditioner, or soap, except on his hands.  With this unusual introduction, Hamblin moves on to describe soap, skin, and the entire set of related industries.  The book is filled with interesting factoids, such as that the pharmaceutical industry is tightly regulated at great expense, but the cosmetics industry is basically the wild west—“there are currently no legal requirements for any cosmetic manufacturer marketing products to American consumers to test their products for safety.”  That, in a nutshell, is why you can find seemingly elegant $60 creams and lotions with the same basic ingredients as a $6 tube. 

Clean was named a Best Book of 2020 by NPR and Vanity Fair. This is an especially worthwhile book if you have skin issues, or have ever wondered why—and whether it’s reasonable—to spend so much on skin products. Clean is also a good book for audio.

Getting ahead of technology in education

Barb’s article in ELearning Inside that tells the inside story of making the Uncommon Sense Teaching MOOC.  Here’s an excerpt: “It wasn’t easy. Terry was at the Salk Institute in San Diego, which had its own studio setup. Beth flew out from Pennsylvania to film in my garage studio in South Dakota, where we were both able to film together. Thanks to the magic of the greenscreen, we all appeared together virtually seamlessly on screen. Each video was carefully scripted and imagery was prepared—a process that took many months. Surprises were in store—Beth, a serious senior educator, turned out to have a Jane Curtin-like SNL comedic flair; her turns as a good witch and inept yoga master helped bring the course to spirited life. The video editing team, led by Juan Aristizabal, pulled off a near-television-like set of animations that made complex neuroscientific findings seem as simple and easy-to-understand as listening to a choir (literally—a bizarre choir is one of the key metaphors used in the course).” 

Read the whole thing!

Plant, tree, bird, and you-name-it discovery apps

One of the blessings of our time is not only Shazam, the wondrous music app, but analogous apps to help us discover the names of plants (Picture This); types of rocks (Rock Identifier ); species of birds (Merlin, which uses both imagery and sound—here’s a nice New York Times write-up about the app); and the location of walking trails (AllTrails). Theodolite allows you to point your phone out onto the horizon and (with an additional in-app purchase), be able to tell the names of the hills and mountains in the vicinity (how did we live without it!)  And we can’t help but enjoy seeing what other people think of the wines we drink: Vivino. (Can you tell we’re morning larks rather than night owls with the lack of star constellation apps in our list?)  

These apps aren’t foolproof—the Rock Identifier app, for example, identified Barb’s big toe as a quartz crystal. But when these types of apps work properly, which is increasingly the case, they are awesome. If you’d like, head on over to the discussion forum to discuss some of your favorite apps to help you recognize objects or features. That way, we can all learn from each other as we enjoy!  

Changing your life

Here is an inspiring message from this week’s email stack: “My name is Alice and I live in the UK. I was an engineer for 6 years before the pandemic, when I was put on furlough (government support scheme for those whose work is not needed due to Covid). I thought I’d use my time productively and decided to take an online course or two, and I stumbled across your Mindshift MOOC. [Hyperlink added] I don’t think I’d be exaggerating when I say it changed my life. Before that I never considered that I could do anything but engineering, even though my career in it hadn’t been great. It really inspired me to take the leap and use my skills to retrain for a completely different career. I studied really hard and learnt to code, and now am loving my new job as a data analyst/developer! Not only is coding and IT skills in general pandemic-proof, but I am so much happier now than I was as an engineer. So now that all my retraining efforts have been so successful, I just wanted to reach out and say a big THANK YOU for inspiring me to do it, and how to go about it! Keep up the good work  – Alice”

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

Uncommon Sense Teaching: The MOOC!

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Today is a very special announcement—we have just launched the new Coursera MOOC Uncommon Sense Teaching!  This MOOC is ideal for instructors of all kinds: K12 teachers, professors, parents, business trainers, and instructional designers, as well as those who are simply interested in how we learn.  

Uncommon Sense Teaching also provides valuable, evidence-based professional development training for your school or district. This information is especially important given the compelling need for effective teaching as students and teachers begin to recover from the educational disarray left by COVID. 

Here are some of the critical areas covered we cover:

  • Teaching and learning inclusively in diverse classrooms

  • Scaffolding, differentiation, and active learning

  • The two major pathways the brain uses for learning—declarative and procedural

  • Why and how to teach through both pathways

  • How to promote neural consolidation for long-term retention

  • The value of metaphor in helping with learning

  • Why both explicit instruction and active learning are necessary

  • The perils—and advantages—of multi-tasking

  • How to handle procrastination

  • Broadening the desire for lifelong learning

  • Motivating students in the classroom

  • Testing for fairness and success

  • And much more!

We’ve also filled the course is filled with gifs and imagery (they are in the PowerPoint resources under each video), that you can use to make your own presentations about any aspect of the material. For those of you who have been waiting for clear, cogent, neuroscientifically-based insight into how to teach so that students truly understand and learn, the wait is over.  And, as always when it comes to our Learning How to Learn crew, we have fun while we’re at it! (Don’t miss our promotional video!) 

Course Hero’s Education Summit

As a reminder, we’re fans of Course Hero and its ability to help level the playing field for students.  

Now you have the opportunity to learn more about the latest in teaching and learning by attending Course Hero’s free Education Summit: What Matters Now? on July 28th through 30th. (Here is a video vignette from Barb with a key teaching insight. Notice how Barb’s forehead is sweat-covered in the 98-degree studio!)  

Barb will be giving the opening keynote for the conference—”Sparking A Curious Mind: Learning How to Learn in Today’s World” Wed Jul 28, 9:20 AM – 9:50 AM PDT.  She’ll also be giving an extended workshop for instructors on Friday.  We’ll see you at the Summit!

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

What will remain in teaching post-pandemic?

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

What will remain in teaching post-pandemic?

Barb’s distinguished friend, MOOC maven Shigeru Miyagawa, Professor of Linguistics at MIT has given a fascinating and thought-provoking brief talk for Kent University’s lightning talk series on what influences the pandemic will leave in its wake when it comes to teaching.  

Barb on “Talking to Teens”

Here’s Barb speaking Andy Earle on the popular podcast “Talking to Teens.”  We especially like the show notes and the specific guidance on what to say to your teens that grew from the discussion—this is a quality podcast. (Incidentally, Andy is currently traveling the world and living in a different country each month.)

Learning math through play in Roblox —help your kids catch up in math this summer!

We’d like to point you toward this important new learning platform for kids: Brainika.  (Barb has consulted pro bono in the development of this wonderful platform.) To help kids develop an intuitive sense for math, the platform uses Roblox to cleverly teach fundamental concepts through spaced repletion, recall, deliberate practice, feedback, and positive reinforcement. All of these approaches are some of the best ways possible to help the brain develop mathematical intuition through the procedural system.  And Brainika’s curriculum is compliant with Common Core Standards for K to 5th grades. If you are a parent looking to use the summer to help your child catch back up on learning, check out Brainika! If you are a school teacher or an educator who uses Game-based learning and would like to use Brainika Math game in Roblox in class or for home assignments for FREE reach out to

Becoming an Intuitive Coder

As these pair of brilliant articles show, James Bowen, a Java, DevOps, online teacher and author, has taken the fundamental concepts of procedural and declarative learning and applied them specifically to improving one’s coding ability.  This first article is an introduction to developers of the idea, and the second article applies these ideas to the learning of Kotlin instead of Python. Ultimately, James is trying to help coders unpack the ability to recognize an opportunity consciously, but execute the skill automatically. 

James has written an ebook for new starters in the world of software development that’s available on GumRoad with a 30% discount for LHTH folk via the link. (Here is a free sample so you can check it out.)  

Defining the skills citizens will need in the future world of work

This McKinsey analysis, based on a survey of 18,000 people in 15 countries identified a set of 56 foundational skills that will benefit all citizens and showed that higher proficiency in them is already associated with a higher likelihood of employment, higher incomes, and job satisfaction. These skills are ones that governments may wish to prioritize. Of course, the question then becomes, can some of the soft skills that the report advocates teaching actually be learned with current teaching methods?  [Hat tip: Prof. dr. Nick van Dam]

Quick overview of optogenetics

This nice little article gives a good overview of the optogenetic breakthroughs that are doing so much to revolutionize our understanding of neuroscience.  [Hat tip: Victoria S.]

Elderly ‘SuperAgers’ have memory skills ‘nearly identical’ to 25-year-olds

This fascinating article provides insight, not only into how some elderly individuals are able to retain good memory function, but also how memory encoding takes place. Key graf: “‘In the visual cortex, there are populations of neurons that are selectively involved in processing different categories of images, such as faces, houses or scenes,’ notes lead study author Yuta Katsumi, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Psychiatry at MGH [Massachusetts General Hospital]. ‘This selective function of each group of neurons makes them more efficient at processing what you see and creating a distinct memory of those images, which can then easily be retrieved.’

“As one ages, that selectivity (technically called neural differentiation) tends to deteriorate. As a result, neurons that at one time primarily responded to faces may activate for other visual cues. This makes it much harder for the brain to create unique neural activation patterns for various image categories. In simpler terms, this process of neuronal diminishment is a major reason why it is so common for older adults to have trouble recalling if they’ve read, seen, or eaten something specific in the past.”

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

The Swerve

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt. One of the things we love about reading is that it allows us to discover how much we don’t know.  We had no clue, for example, about how the works of ancient Roman writers were able to make their way through two thousand years of mold, mildew, bookworms (the real kind), fire, and purposeful destruction. Greenblatt allows us to follow in the footsteps of Italian politician and humanist Poggio Braccilioni who, in the early 1400s, undertook journeys to northern Europe to seek out such ancient manuscripts as he could find hidden away in monasteries.  By leaning in to Poggio’s methods, we learn how and why manuscripts survived—often under the care of monks who were utterly opposed to the ideas contained in those ancient, heretical documents.  One of Poggio’s discoveries was epic. It was, in fact, Lucretius’s De rerum natura: On the Nature of Things, a poem that spelled out a shockingly prescient worldview of a world derived only of atoms that swerve—not the divine intervention of the traditional Roman deities.  

Greenblatt explores the nature of the Italian world of the middle ages, and also shows how important free thought, shocking though it may be, has been for the development of the modern world. The Swerve is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Non-fiction—highly recommended, and an excellent book for audio listening. [Hat tip, Sadegh Nabavi]

Nelson’s Everest Memory Masterclass 

Last week we mentioned memory expert Nelson Dellis’s return trip to Everest (one day, he’ll summit!) This week, we’d like to bring to your attention Nelson’s masterclass on memory, which saw great success during his last two cohorts this year—his students have loved it! 

 Due to popular demand, Nelson is re-opening the class for a limited time (July 8th-11th). It’s a great class that teaches the basics of memory techniques all the way to the more complex—from how to remember your life, where you put your keys, people’s names and faces, to remembering numbers, speeches, and passwords, Nelson’s class has it all!  

Here is the link (which will be live until Sunday July 11th).  Don’t forget to go for it! 

The Cultural Implications Of Silence Around The World

Here’s a fascinating article by Carrie Shearer on the cultural implications of silence. One key graf (of many!): 

“In many Asian countries, it is considered polite to pause for a few seconds before answering a question to show that you have reflected upon the question and your response, thus demonstrating sufficient gravitas. Contrasting to this are many Western countries where silence is viewed as a void that must be filled. In these cultures, if they cannot answer a question immediately, people are concerned that the speaker may think that they do not know the answer. 

“Imagine the confusion this could cause in a conversation between a Malaysian and an American. When the Malaysian doesn’t respond immediately, the American says something else, hoping to elicit a response from the Malaysian; while the Malaysian is waiting for silence so that they may rejoin the discussion.” [Hat tip: Gemma Herbertson of Neurofrontiers.]

The Absurdity of Today’s Online World

We’ve become fans of Lubalin, who chronicles and brings to life the weird conversations that take place online. His “Is This Available” will give solace to all who have encountered internet trolls.  As one commenter notes: “The character changes, facial expressions and literal reading of misspelled words is priceless.” Not to mention the music.  

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team