Category: Uncategorized

Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation, by Susan Williams, tells a fascinating tale about how love, racism, and politics can intertwine to affect an entire country.  Sir Seretse Khama was born to inherit the throne of leadership in the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland. This area would become Botswana, and Khama was to be elected its first president.  Seretse’s strong stance against corruption has helped make today’s Botswana one of the most advanced, with the highest GDP, in all of Africa. 

But behind all this is an extraordinary love story between Khama and his wife, Lady Khama. She was born Ruth Williams, the daughter of George and Dorothy Williams of South London. Initially, virtually everyone who was anyone in  Bechuanaland and England opposed the weddingthe English because they opposed a white woman marrying, of all people, a black man, and the Batswana because they opposed Khama marrying, of all people, a white woman. But the Batswana were soon to prove much more accepting, while the English powers that be (save for Churchill!) dug in their heels. We found the book to be a bit heavy on the behind-the-scenes political maneuveringwe would have loved to have known more of what Seretse and Ruth themselves were thinking. But then, a biographer can only work with what’s available. How Seretse and Ruth found a way through a world of rampant prejudice is the stuff of legend. 

Stunning New Neural Visualization Technique

A new technique called “Light Beads Microscopy” has shattered the ceiling of what was possible at large-scale recordings of the brain.  Alipasha Vaziri’s lab has been able to record from 1 million neurons at 5Hz. That is not only ten times more and twice as fast as the previous record, it also means researchers are now only 2 log 10 below the mouse brain and ~6 log 10 below the human brain. Terry comments with excitement about the fantastic imagery: “I see a lot of traveling waves and synchronous bursting.” And if you check the link, you can see the tremendous imagery,  too! [Hat tip: Gerald Pao.]

The Life Changing Value of a Book 

LHTLer Kathy Maloney writes “I was so excited to read in the 2/19 email that you chose Simon Singh’s book Fermat’s Enigma! That book has meant so much to me for such a long time. I’d had math phobia and anxiety for so long until I read his book. I still count on my fingers to this day and math still kind of stresses me out, but that book made me see how math relates to nature, to humanity, to everyday life, and how it has inspired passion in so many people throughout history. I had no idea how much drama there has been related to math! I’ve never been interested in history and even less interested in reading about math, but this amazing book just completely hooked me and made me see math in a totally different way. Learning there was a time in history when the concept of zero had not yet been discovered was mind blowing for me. I’ve read it a few times, given it to people, and I think it’s my favorite book of all time, fiction or non-fiction. I found the book because around 1998 I happened to watch the PBS Nova episode called “The Proof” about Andrew Wile and his pursuit in proving Fermat’s Last Theorem. Watching it, I just could not believe that this guy shut himself in his attic for seven years to solve a math problem. Why, why would someone do that?! Further, that this introverted, quiet man actually got emotional on camera talking about—math?! Who in the world tears up talking about math? I had to know more, so I found Simon Singh’s book and it totally changed my thinking and appreciation for something I’d hated and been afraid of most of my life. I highly recommend watching “The Proof” if you can find it, absolutely fascinating. Thank you so much for spreading the word about this great book. I just finished your Coursera Learning How to Learn course and I’m reading A Mind For Numbers right now. You do great and valuable work, thanks for all of it!”

Making Millions Out of Worsening Racism

We’ve been asked why we haven’t touted the book White Fragility—especially since we are so profoundly supportive of efforts to lift education for the disadvantaged. This article by Charles Fain Lehman of the Manhattan Institute sums up our thoughts pretty well—we are not into helping build the financial empire of someone who, in reality, seems to encourage seeing racism everywhere so she can make a buck off it. Key grafs: “DiAngelo’s wealth is jarring in part because of her criticisms of white privilege. It is also surprising given that available evidence suggests the anti-bias training she peddles does not work.

“A review of nearly 1,000 studies of anti-bias tools found little evidence that they have any impact. In fact, recent studies suggest anti-bias training’s primary effect may be to encourage discrimination: Firms with diversity training end up with fewer minorities in management, and field research finds that training both reinforces stereotypes and increases animosity against minority groups.

“But DiAngelo’s concept of ‘white fragility’ offers an answer to that academic evidence: The negative responses whites express when told they’re racist are simply evidence that they lack ‘racial stamina’—and indicate that more $40,000 anti-bias sessions are necessary.”

Incidentally, the review article that Lehman refers to is “Prejudice Reduction: What Works? A Review and Assessment of Research and Practice.” This article concludes: “Notwithstanding the enormous literature on prejudice, psychologists are a long way from demonstrating the most effective ways to reduce prejudice. Due to weaknesses in the internal and external validity of existing research, the literature does not reveal whether, when, and why interventions reduce prejudice in the world… Entire genres of prejudice-reduction interventions, including diversity training, educational programs, and sensitivity training in health and law enforcement professions, have never been evaluated with experimental methods.”

If you are genuinely into social justice, as we are, it is vitally important to rely on sound scientific approaches and not just jump on the bandwagon with knee-jerk virtue-signaling that can actually worsen the situation. That way lies the destructive path of pathological altruism. If you are involved in a training program, ask the tough questions to make sure that program has concrete scientific evidence of its efficacy—don’t accept vague answers. An excellent book about training programs that “everybody knows” work—but which in reality worsen the situation, is Redirect, by premier psychologist Timothy Wilson, who (sort of) originated the concept of 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert.

What Great Educators Can Do

This excellent article describes how East LA native Sergio Valdez played an integral part in Mars mission. Sergio was taught by legendary high school math teacher Jaime Escalante.  Escalante, the teacher in the ’80s film “Stand and Deliver,” certainly didn’t mess around with the likes of DiAngelo or modern reform math approaches—it is an unfortunate fact that Escalante was consistently blocked by school administrators and the teacher’s unions. It will be great when leaders in education return their focus to real education, following the extraordinary Escalante’s footsteps.  We have no doubt this will unfold—our hope is that it is sooner rather than later!

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

Fermat’s Enigma

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Fermat’s Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World’s Greatest Mathematical Problem, by Simon Singh. Wow, what a book!  You might expect this volume to be the next best thing to Ambien as a sleep-inducer, but instead, Fermat’s Enigma is a real page-turner, providing a dazzling overview of the growth of mathematics from Pythagoras, (whose different way of thinking led to his being burned to death by a proto-cancel culture mob), through Euclid, and on through the early mathematical giants of Euler,  Gauss, Sophie Germaine (a mathematical savant who managed to save Gauss’s life while inadvertently revealing she was a woman), the tragic geniuses Évariste Galois (who wrote as much as he could of his key mathematical discoveries the night before his death), and Yutaka Taniyama (spoiler alert—it didn’t go well for him).  You don’t need to know much more than elementary math to enjoy this book, because an enormous part of the story is the personalities and fascinating lives of the mathematicians. By the time we finally homed in on Andrew Wiles and his solution, we thought—well, the drama is done, we’re back to the humdrum modern world.  But that’s when the book really came alive. Highly recommended!

A Wonderful Article for Lay Audiences about the Beauty of Math

We have to bring your attention to this wonderful New York Times article by Gareth Cook on mathematician Terrence Tao. (As one of Tao’s students has joked ‘‘They will never make a movie about him… He doesn’t have a troubled life. He has a family, and they seem happy, and he’s usually smiling.”)

As Cook writes:

“The true work of the mathematician is not experienced until the later parts of graduate school, when the student is challenged to create knowledge in the form of a novel proof. It is common to fill page after page with an attempt, the seasons turning, only to arrive precisely where you began, empty-handed — or to realize that a subtle flaw of logic doomed the whole enterprise from its outset. The steady state of mathematical research is to be completely stuck. It is a process that Charles Fefferman of Princeton, himself a one time math prodigy turned Fields medalist, likens to ‘‘playing chess with the devil.’’ The rules of the devil’s game are special, though: The devil is vastly superior at chess, but, Fefferman explained, you may take back as many moves as you like, and the devil may not. You play a first game, and, of course, ‘‘he crushes you.’’ So you take back moves and try something different, and he crushes you again, ‘‘in much the same way.’’ If you are sufficiently wily, you will eventually discover a move that forces the devil to shift strategy; you still lose, but — aha! — you have your first clue.

That is an excellent article. It does a great (and rare) job of explaining for the lay audience the relevance and elegance and satisfaction of mathematics.”

Brain’s ‘Background Noise’ May Hold Clues to Persistent Mysteries

This prescient article in Quanta by Elizabeth Landau homes in on an area of much interest now to neuroscientists—there is fascinating information buried in seeming electrical noise in signals from the brain. As is often said nowadays “Someone’s noise is another one’s signal.” [Hat tip: LHTL Lead Mentor Steven Cooke.]

More on Attention versus “Diffuse Mode”

LHTLer Norman Rabin points out: “In my thinking about ‘default mode’ (diffuse mode), I personally find it very helpful to remember that there is physiological suppression of parts of the brain when humans pay attention—that’s why attention is often referred to as ‘selective attention.’”  Norman points toward this Scientific American article, which notes “… the harder you concentrate, the greater the suppression. One fundamental role of cognition is to select what your brain goes on to process. It does that, at least in part, by blocking irrelevant information.”

This little video from NOVA shows how selective attention is behind our perception of magic tricks. There is a related illusion called “change blindness,” which you can see here (it’s pretty cool). Terry observes “Despite all the neurons in the visual cortex, you can only fully process one object at a time.  That’s why attention is needed to choose what to process.  Other objects are suppressed.  What is amazing is that once you have noticed the change, you can’t not see it any more.”

A Twist on the Pomodoro Technique

Prof. Rajesh Tayal shares his version of the Pomodoro technique that he also teaches his students (he teaches professional courses such as those for chartered accountants).

  1. Study for 25 minutes without any distraction
  2. Use the next 5 minutes to think seriously and organise thoughts about the topic
  3. Then use the next 5 minutes I use for making bullet point or mind map notes
  4. Use the final 5 minutes to do body stretches, drink water, and a little walk.

After 3 cycles of 40 minutes each, he takes a 20 minute break. Ultimately, he finds this approach to be very powerful. You may find the same—it combines the Pomodoro with both retrieval practice and exercise, both of which are very helpful for learning.

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

Good Habits, Bad Habits

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Month

Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick, by Wendy Wood. It looks like we’re on a roll this month with fantastic reads! Good Habits, Bad Habits is one of those life-changing books where the implications of what you’re discovering unfold gradually, until it hits that you’ve been oblivious to a vital part of you.  Although Wendy writes in an easy-to-read, friendly way, the book is not just woo-woo fluffy stuff—Dr. Wood is a UK-born psychologist who is the Provost Professor of Psychology and Business at University of Southern California, as well as the Distinguished Visiting Professor at INSEAD Business School in Paris. Her research on the brain’s habitual system is world class. (Our very own Terry recommended this book to Barb.)  

As a bit of historical background, Skinnerian research about the habitual system was quashed about fifty years ago by the burgeoning cognitive revolution. “Cognivistas” claimed (with some legitimacy) that Skinner’s behaviorists had been suppressing them. The problem is that Skinner and his behavioral approaches were on to something big—a lot of learning does take place through simple stimulus-reinforcement. Only in the past decade has the value of stimulus-reinforcement (habit-based) learning come to be more widely appreciated—except, sadly, in the field of education. (But follow our merry, mischievous crew this year… there is much more on that to come!) 

Good Habits, Bad Habits is an extraordinary book. Your relationships, productivity, health, and ability to learn will all benefit from reading it—and it’s so well-written that you’ll enjoy every word.  Also excellent as an audio book.

Barb Opening the Learning & the Brain Conference

Barb will be giving the opening keynote for the Learning & the Brain Conference, where she will discuss “Keeping Students Focused, Motivated, and Engaged in the Classroom and Online.” You’ll learn how little spurts of dopamine can make an enormous difference in your students’ attitudes—and how you can encourage those dopamine spurts.  You may also wish to attend Barb’s surprisingly practical second talk about the mysterious procedural learning system and its importance in learning math. (Psst—the procedural system also helps with learning art, language, music, dance, and pretty much any subject you want to name, so you’ll get a lot out of this talk whatever your discipline.)  

The all-star line up of speakers at this conference is extraordinary—Paul Kirschner, Carol Ann Tomlinson, Dan Willingham, Daisy Christodoulou, Richard Mayer, James Lang, and many, many more. This conference is definitely worth your while. What’s even better is that with registration, you have access to all the video-taped speeches for a whole month, allowing you to check out those talks you wanted to see that are in different tracks.

Top Influential Computer Scientists Today

A new listing has been published of the most influential computer scientists alive today. Two of the top ten are heavily into online learning, including Coursera’s mastermind co-founder Daphne Koller and the genius underpinning Georgia Tech’s breakthrough low-cost masters’ program, Zvi Galil. (Here is a fantastic interview with Zvi about his inspiring “earthquake” of a low-cost graduate program.) Clearly the intersection between computer science and online learning is an outstanding way to have high impact!

A Virtual Workshop on Engaging Learners through Zoom 

Jonathan Brennan, author of the superb strategy manual Engaging Learners through Zoom, has put together a virtual workshop on the topic to be held March 5th.  Dozens of active learning strategy examples with step-by-step directions, along with ideas for including diverse content across a broad range of disciplines. Register here for yourself or a group. Another Engaging with Zoom workshop  will be held just prior to the OnCourse national conference.  

An Innovative Conference on Learning by Students and for Students

McGill University is breaking innovative new ground in education with students organizing the webinar conference “Rediscovering Learning: Engineering New Perspectives”—a conference intended directly for students themselves to help them learn. The speakers’ talks will range in topics from self-mentorship, leadership in engineering environments, metacognition, and equity in STEM fields—all through the lens of learning and adaptation. There will also be panels on diversity and accessibility in engineering, told from student and faculty perspectives. Finally, there will be a mingling session at the end designed to allow for direct interaction with the speakers. Barb’s keynote will focus on reviewing key insights from Learning How to Learn that are practically useful for students in their studies. 

Incidentally, whatever high school or university you may be affiliated with, you may wish to send some of your students to this conference to get ideas about putting together your own student-run conference. Register here!

Engaged Learning in Engineering (ELINE), the organizer of the conference, is a new committee that’s been formed under the Engineering Undergraduate Society. Their purpose is to help engineering students more deeply learn the skills, technical or “soft,” that they need to succeed in academia and industry. Their end goal is to create more passionate and involved lifelong learners.

We look forward to seeing you at the conference!

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

Think Again

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Month

We have long been fans of Adam Grant, whose powerful book Give and Take is one of our favorites.  His newest book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, is worth the price of the book in the first chapters alone. Grant nails it, for example, with his discussion of the problems of being too smart—as our own Santiago Ramon y Cajal has pointed out, geniuses can flounder not because of their intelligence, but because of their lack of flexibility.  Key graf:

“Mental horsepower doesn’t guarantee mental dexterity. No matter how much brainpower you have, if you lack the motivation to change your mind, you’ll miss many occasions to think again. Research reveals that the higher you score on an IQ test, the more likely you are to fall for stereotypes, because you’re faster at recognizing patterns. And recent experiments suggest that the smarter you are, the more you might struggle to update your beliefs. One study investigated whether being a math whiz makes you better at analyzing data. The answer is yes—if you’re told the data are about something bland, like a treatment for skin rashes. But what if the exact same data are labeled as focusing on an ideological issue that activates strong emotions—like gun laws in the United States? Being a quant jock makes you more accurate in interpreting the results—as long as they support your beliefs. Yet if the empirical pattern clashes with your ideology, math prowess is no longer an asset; it actually becomes a liability. The better you are at crunching numbers, the more spectacularly you fail at analyzing patterns that contradict your views. If they were liberals, math geniuses did worse than their peers at evaluating evidence that gun bans failed. If they were conservatives, they did worse at assessing evidence that gun bans worked. In psychology there are at least two biases that drive this pattern. One is confirmation bias: seeing what we expect to see. The other is desirability bias: seeing what we want to see. These biases don’t just prevent us from applying our intelligence. They can actually contort our intelligence into a weapon against the truth. We find reasons to preach our faith more deeply, prosecute our case more passionately…” 

Adam’s fascinating book contains so much more, on “idea cults,” the problems with perspective-taking, resisting the impulse to simplify, the difference between skepticism and denialism…  The insights don’t stop coming. Think Again is also a great book for audio

The Science of Reasoning With Unreasonable People

We’re on a bit of an Adam Grant binge here today by also drawing your attention to his most-recent op-ed in the New York Times on how to reason with unreasonable people. The key? Truly understanding their perspectives. As Grant notes: “When we try to change a person’s mind, our first impulse is to preach about why we’re right and prosecute them for being wrong. Yet experiments show that preaching and prosecuting typically backfire—and what doesn’t sway people may strengthen their beliefs. Much as a vaccine inoculates the physical immune system against a virus, the act of resistance fortifies the psychological immune system. Refuting a point of view produces antibodies against future attempts at influence, making people more certain of their own opinions and more ready to rebut alternatives.”

Grant wanted a friend to rethink his blanket resistance to vaccines—but Grant realized if he really wanted to do so, he needed to rethink his approach, including his tendencies toward being a logic bully. The real person who changed in this exercise? Grant himself.

Routine childhood vaccines decline amidst COVID-19 pandemic

And speaking of vaccinations, Barb’s oldest sister Carolyn was amongst the last of the children to catch polio before vaccines became available (Carolyn’s sad life was recounted in Barb’s autobiographical Evil Genes.) Witnessing polio’s effects up close has made Barb all the more interested in how vaccinations can change lives.  This interview article  with Barb’s pediatrician daughter Rosie Oakley in the Black Hills Pioneer gives an overview of what’s happening in rural areas with vaccinations—and is not too far off describing what’s happening in urban areas, as well. Key grafs:

“This year in particular there has certainly been a drop off in immunizations,” [Rosie] said. “We have families that are nervous to take their children into clinic because of COVID, and so they are skipping multiple well child checks.” Oakley said the drop in regular visits and vaccinations worries her because children who are not vaccinated miss out on a critical period for protection against diseases, some of which can be life threatening. Oakley cited meningitis (an infection of fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord), and epiglottitis (a condition that occurs when cartilage surrounding the windpipe swells and blocks air flow to the lungs) as two main examples.

“There are some life threatening illnesses prevented by vaccines that occur more often in kids, such as epiglottitis,” Oakley said. “This is why it is so important to immunize children before they are adults. It is for the same reason we make children wear seatbelts in the car, cover electrical outlets in the home, or give them bitter tasting medicine when they have an infection: they are too young to know better and it is in their best interest.

“Every year in our community we have multiple children who come into our clinic or emergency department with life threatening illnesses that could have been prevented if they had been immunized,” she continued.

Learning How to Learn with Learning Issues 

LHTLer Megan C writes to tell us: “My 14-year-old daughter has struggled with learning issues which were only diagnosed last year. After taking your course, I purchased Learning How to Learn and made her read it. She has applied many of the strategies to her own learning and is now crushing it at school. She is applying to independent high school and she was asked to write about a book that she read outside of school that has made a significant impact on her life. This is what she wrote: 

A book that I really enjoyed over the past year is Learning How to Learn by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terry Sejnowski. This book is about how to properly and efficiently study. It shows diagrams and pictures of strategies to study. It is based on neuroscience, something I am fascinated by. At the end of every chapter there are guiding questions to help the reader remember the material more. I liked this book because I can sometimes have trouble focusing and finding a good study strategy. After reading this book, I have learned a lot of helpful strategies that I have used this school year. For example, I study for 25 minutes and do not stop. Then after 25 minutes, I take a 15 minute break. I have found this strategy really helpful. I think it is interesting to use science about the brain to help you develop better learning habits.  

Thank you for helping my daughter develop a sense of agency in her own learning growth. 

Don’t forget to remembermemory champion Nelson Dellis has squeezed a few final slots open at Barb’s request

Nelson’s wonderful memory mastery course now has a final extra slot just for you (if you get there fast enough!) before enrollment closes today.  Enroll here—your memory will thank you! 

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

P Is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the week

We have it directly from Barb’s pediatrician daughter Rosie that P Is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever, by Raj Haldar, Chris Carpenter, and illustrator Maria Beddia is actually one of the greatest children’s books evuh!  Many children get tired of spelling rulesP Is for Pterodactyl features words that break all the rules. You and your gleeful youngster will have a blast with this bizarrely educational book. 

Let your imagination become innovation with Barb’s home team at Oakland University!

We can’t resist telling you about the Engineering and Computer Science Day at Barb’s home Oakland University, in beautiful Rochester, Michigan.  (Pssst, we’re pretty good at cars around here.) If you’re trying to inspire your offspring or mentees to consider an outstanding engineering and computer science program, you couldn’t find an easier way to do it than to sign up for this virtual tour of Oakland’s Engineering Center. You’ll hear all about the wonderful opportunities available at this top-notch—but low cost—engineering and computer science program. It runs this Saturday (tomorrow!), January 30  from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Eastern time.  Register for this free event here.

Study reveals what the brain does during daydreams

One recommendation we’ve commonly been hearing of late is that one should try to avoid the default mode network (diffuse mode), and keep your focus as much as possible to improve your happiness levels. Well, yes—that is, if you’re willing to give up on both creativity and mental relaxation in your quest for happiness. This fine article from Science News describes why the mind wandering and default mode activities can be so valuable. Key graf: “The findings suggest that tuning out the outside world and letting your thoughts flow freely and creatively are necessary to promote mind relaxation and exploration, according to the researchers.

“’If you focus all the time on your goals, you can miss important information. And so, having a free-association thought process that randomly generates memories and imaginative experiences can lead you to new ideas and insights,’ said study co-author Zachary Irving, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Virginia.”

This Study Finds article by Craig T. Lee, “Daydreaming can be creatively beneficial for office workers,” adds even more thoughtful insight. (Barb tends to get a bit defensive about the value of mind wandering and daydreaming, because she does so much of it…Wait, what?!)

MOOC of the Month: Machine Learning for Everyone with Eric Siegel Specialization

If you’re interested in learning more about machine learning and how to use it, this course is accessible and useful for both business-level learners and dyed-in-the-wool techies. It covers both state-of-the-art techniques and the business-side best practices. Eric is a dynamite instructor and the course is very highly rated.  Check it out here!  

Mental models—A blog, with flashcards!

A LHTLer has started a blog, Wise Charlie, (Yes indeed, Charlie Munger is pretty wise!) on mental modes. Our LHTLer observes: “Wise Charlie helps you become a better leader using mental models.  Mental models are big ideas from big disciplines, like business, psychology, science, engineering, and more. These models can provide solutions to recurring problems, forming a sort of playbook with strategic tactics. An understanding of the key concepts from different disciplines will help you ask the right questions and allow you to more easily jump boundaries from one discipline to another. This is a pathway to great leadership and strategic thinking.”

Flashcards are one of the best ways to help you gain procedural fluency with varying ideas.  As it turns out, you can purchase flashcards about these key mental models—practice with these cards can help you more easily pull the ideas to mind when you need them. Each card has a simple definition of a model with a funny example.  Wise Charlie has a special 15%  discount code for fellow LHTLers: LHTL.  If you’re a fan of useful mental models, these cards can be a great way to truly master the ideas. 

Talking out loud to yourself is a technology for thinking

We’re fans of Dr. Nana Ariel, who wrote this thoughtful article on the value of talking to yourself. (Nana is our kind of person!)  Key graf: “The idea that speaking out loud and thinking are closely related isn’t new. It emerged in Ancient Greece and Rome, in the work of such great orators as Marcus Tullius Cicero. But perhaps the most intriguing modern development of the idea appeared in the essay ‘On the Gradual Formation of Thoughts During Speech’ (1805) by the German writer Heinrich von Kleist. Here, Kleist describes his habit of using speech as a thinking method, and speculates that if we can’t discover something just by thinking about it, we might discover it in the process of free speech. He writes that we usually hold an abstract beginning of a thought, but active speech helps to turn the obscure thought into a whole idea. It’s not thought that produces speech but, rather, speech is a creative process that in turn generates thought. Just as ‘appetite comes with eating’, Kleist argues, ‘ideas come with speaking’.”

Dr. Ariel will also be starring in the upcoming Hebrew version of Learning How to Learn from Tel Aviv University—stay tuned!

Don’t forget to rememberfinal signup opportunity for memory champion Nelson Dellis’s class

This wonderful memory mastery course starts Feb 1st.  Enroll here—your memory will thank you! 

Missing Link on the Controversial Controversial Episode of the Podcast Take the Lead Where Barb Lets Loose on Critics of Online Learning 

Sorry—last week’s Cheery Friday email was missing the direct link to Dr. Diane Hamilton’s podcast interview with Barb.  Here it isenjoy! 

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

Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write: How to Get a Contract and Advance Before Writing Your Book, by Elizabeth Lyon. We’re often asked how to get started in publishing a non-fiction book. You can’t do any better than to read Elizabeth Lyon’s guide, which provides a crash course on how to write a book proposal that (along with three sample chapters), will help you sell your book idea without having to write the entire book.  A few things to note. It’s easy to overlook the importance of doing the market analysis—that is, analyzing the books that will compete with yours.  But that’s one of the first issues you should explore. What’s different about your book that hasn’t already been said in many other books?  It’s also easy to overlook the importance of developing your own personal platform.  Not everyone is going to be a Harvard professor or have a “sailed through Yale” resume. But, even so, you need some innovative dash of panache to establish your credibility as an expert.  You also need to keep in mind that it’s not enough to even just be an expert in your subject—you also want to captivate your audience.  Lyon gives great insight into how to do precisely that.

Final Signup Opportunity for Champion Teacher of Memory Nelson Dellis

We mentioned a bit ago that our friend Nelson Dellis is not only the four-time US Memory Champion, but is also perhaps the best teacher of memory tools in the world. The official course launch is February 1st, but meanwhile, Nelson is adding even more value by releasing a 6-part video series for free. This extraordinary course contains all the memory techniques and strategies he’s mastered and worked on for the last 10+ years, all jammed into one engaging, upbeat online class. Highly recommended!  Nelson’s classes often close out within minutes of opening—again, this early pre-registration for our LHTL community will allow you to go to the front of the line. We should note that Nelson’s video editing uses the same approach we use on Learning How to Learn—except he’s a much better video editor than Barb is. This class is going to be memorably special!

Barb Lets Loose on Critics of Online Learning in a Controversial Episode of the Podcast Take the Lead

Dr. Diane Hamilton is an awesome interviewer who asks some of the most perceptive questions around. Her seemingly innocuous approach can lull interviewees into revealing their candid thoughts—which can make for the very best of podcasting. As the podcast description notes:

“A lot of professors contend that online education will never be as good as face-to-face learning, but Coursera’s inaugural “Innovation Instructor” merely chuckles at that notion. Dr. Barbara Oakley maintains that a lot of the resistance from these professors is due to the fact that their online courses simply stink. They are so used to trapping students inside a classroom that they don’t know how to engage students effectively in a setting where they have the choice to simply get away. In this conversation with Dr. Diane Hamilton, Dr. Barbara talks about her upcoming book, Learn Like a Pro, where she gives the most updated advice on learning taken from breakthroughs in neuroscience and psychology. Come and join in as she unfurls her mind on all things learning and shares some of the learning habits that she has for herself.”

Talking Back, Talking Black

We’re big fans of John McWhorter’s great work on language. (His most recent book on The Creole Debate and Talking Back, Talking Black is right up our alley and we hope to review it soon). On Thursday, February 11 at 7pm EST, there will be a virtual conversation with John McWhorter about viewpoint diversity among Black intellectuals and the state of open inquiry in higher education today. Advanced registration is required. For more information on the event, please click here

Synthesis—online enrichment club, looking for both students and also for exceptional facilitators 

Synthesis is an online enrichment club where students ages 8-14 learn about decision making and problem solving through team games. It’s based on the most popular class at Ad Astra, the school Elon Musk and Josh Dahn started at SpaceX. 

Synthesis is looking for exceptional facilitators to join their team. Having previous classroom experience is great, but is not required. What Synthesis is really looking for art smart, adaptive generalists who are passionate about helping students and putting education on a bright new path. 

  • Synthesis is  hiring for part-time (flexible, with a minimum of 3 hours per week) at $100/hour. [Apply here]
  • Check out Synthesis itself if you are a parent, teacher, or caregiver. It looks like a fascinating program!

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

Negative Self-Talk & How to Change It

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Negative Self-Talk & How to Change It, by Shad Helmstetter.  After reading about how one of Caesar’s assassins, Brutus, shifted himself from probable victory into suicidal defeat at the Battle of Philippi, (at least as detailed in The Last Assassin),  we became interested in negative self-talk. Helmstetter’s short, uplifting book tackles an important issue––how we talk to ourselves makes a big difference in how we feel about ourselves, how we interact with others, and ultimately, how successful we are, at least according to however we define success.  As Helmstetter notes, “The problem is that Negative Self-Talk Disorder is an unconsciously acquired disorder that becomes physically, chemically, wired into your brain. (It becomes an actual disorder––faulty wiring––in the brain.) If you do nothing to change it, it not only stays, it also gets progressively worse. It becomes a part of your programs, and follows the rules under which your brain operates. Imagine meeting a sour, pessimistic, down-in-the-mouth person who is negative about everything. When you meet someone like that, it is clear that person did not suddenly become a negative, unhappy person overnight. People who are super-negative––whether they are aware of it or not––have worked at it. Probably for years. Day after day, thought after thought, they have, usually without knowing it, wired their brains to see the world in a darker, more insecure, less enlightened and optimistic way.”

If you’re looking for ideas about how to get yourself out of a negative way of treating yourself,  Helmstetter’s book is a good place to start. The book is a bit of a self-promotion for his audio materials, but then, we like Helmstetter’s audio materials, so we didn’t mind.

A Beautiful Visual Explanation of Bayes Theorem

Bayes Theorem is one of the most useful theorems around, especially when it comes to new breakthroughs in artificial intelligence.  This terrific video by 3Blue1Brown allows you to understand the theorem in a concrete visual way.  The video also showcases teaching at its best. 

Learning & the Brain Online Educational Conference

Barb gave the opening keynote for the last Harvard-MIT-Dana Alliance “Learning & the Brain” educational conference in Boston in November, 2019–one of her last live, face-to-face engagements before the COVID social-distancing shutdown. The good news is that on Feb. 20, 2021, the conference returns in online form. The lineup of speakers is incredible!  And Barb’s own talk will include wonderful updates on learning from her speech last year. (Neuroscience is advancing rapidly!)  Register for this outstanding online conference here.

5 Ways to Support Kids With ADHD During Remote Learning

When it comes to special challenges, perhaps our most frequent question from parents and teachers relates to helping students with ADD and ADHD. This outstanding article by Katy Reckdahl in Edutopia provides useful background and excellent tips that are also useful for all students.  Key grafs: 

“ADHD affects the entire brain,” says Adiaha Spinks-Franklin, MD, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and an associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine. “Your brain does not make enough dopamine or epinephrine—chemicals that are important for self-control and self-regulation. So students with ADHD can’t regulate their impulses, their attention, their emotions. They struggle with being disorganized and with time and money management.”

Remote classrooms pose special problems. Researchers recently found that 31 percent of parents of kids with ADHD described remote learning as “very challenging” and struggled to support their children at home. Educators and students can be at a disadvantage, too. In the physical classroom, teachers can generally see when students with ADHD are confused, fidgety, and in need of a quick refocus prompt—but many of these signals are lost in translation during Zoom instruction. And because learning from home is generally more independent, it requires more focus and organization, two qualities that are often in short supply for students with ADHD.

To support kids with ADHD in elementary and middle school, the educators we spoke with said they’re focusing on the fundamentals of smart online teaching: brain and body breaks, chunking lessons into shorter units, and connecting with and soliciting feedback from their students—but especially those with ADHD—as often as possible. “In regular classrooms, the whole first quarter is about understanding students’ learning styles and creating partnerships with them to learn what I might do to help them,” says New Orleans elementary school educator Sari Levy. “We can’t forget that point when we’re teaching digitally.”

If you are interested in helping students keep their focus, you’ll enjoy reading the whole article.

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 Coaching Habit

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Happy New Year for all 2.4 million Learning How to Learners who receive this Cheery Friday newsletter!  You’re an inspiration for all of us with your desire to learn and grow. May your 2021 be bright and filled with new and happy discoveries in your learning!

Book of the Week

The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever, by Michael Bungay Stanier.  This book is fantastic as a New Year’s gift to yourself that will give to many others in the future.

If you’re like us, you like to help other people.  One of the best ways to do that is by serving as a sounding board and coach for your co-workers, friends, children, bosses, and partners.  But what’s the best way to do that?  Stanier’s The Coaching Habit is basically the best book we’ve ever read about how to truly change other people’s brains for the better.  As Stanier notes: “…our brains are wired to have a strong preference for clarity and certainty, it’s no wonder that we like to give advice. Even if it’s the wrong advice—and it often is—giving it feels more comfortable than the ambiguity of asking a question. In our training programs, we call this urge the Advice Monster. You have the best of intentions to stay curious and ask a few good questions. But in the moment, just as you are moving to that better way of working, the Advice Monster leaps out of the darkness and hijacks the conversation. Before you realize what’s happening, your mind is turned towards finding The Answer and you’re leaping in to offer ideas, suggestions and recommended ways forward.”  Read Stanier’s wonderful book to learn how to tame your advice monster and be the mentor you’ve always wanted to be.  Highly recommended! Also great for audio listening.

ASEE Presents: Barb’s Synchronous Master Class On Effective Teaching

Next week, Barb and colleagues (and a special mystery guest!) will be doing the first live webinar presenting practical insights and ideas from their groundbreaking new book Uncommon Sense Teaching. This workshop, on the afternoons of January 6, 7, and 8th, 2021, gives an unprecedented look at new insights from neuroscience that give you practical tools that can help your students learn more effectively.  Wherever you teach, you will find this workshop provides great new insights on learning that aren’t even contained in Learning How to Learn. There are a few seats left, so reserve your seat now.

A Fantastic Strategy to Help You Finish Books 

4-time US Memory Champion Nelson Dellis and polymath Nelson Dellis has a new and wonderful video on how to read more books.  This one’s worth watching. Barb uses a somewhat similar strategy, but since she often reads Kindle books, she just sets a goal of 5 or 10% (or perhaps 1 or 2% for heavily math-oriented books, or when she’s tired).

Don’t forget Nelson’s informative books on memory:

The Hayek article on Fast and Slow Learners

We recently mentioned our inability to find the full link to a paper on fast and slow learners by slow learner Friedrich Hayek, winner of the Nobel Prize. Several intrepid LHTLers send us the link.  The article is Chapter 4 (page 50 of the book, which is actually pdf page 28). [Hat tip: Ben Strauss, Mattheus von Guttenberg, Evelyne Theodose, and Geoff Phillips.]

Are You a Teacher? You Can Help Your Students Learn How to Learn Better!

One teacher writes “I just finished reading your book Learning How to Learn and I am dying to teach these concepts to my students. (If only I had known these things as a teenager!) I found an article on your blog titled “Integrating Learning How to Learn into a High School Setting” and am interested in knowing if there are materials or resources already available for teachers to implement in their classrooms. If so, would you be able to direct me to them?”

We’ve got so much to help the many teachers in this situation!  If you might go to our MOOC  Learning How to Learn for Youth, and check the resources for teachers, you’ll find a mountain of activities pertaining to how to help your students incorporate useful new learning strategies into their studies.

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

SELF Journal: Undated 13-Week Planning, Productivity and Positivity System

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Our happiest holiday wishes to you during this traditional time of joy. The year 2021 promises to be a happier one worldwide, with vaccines finally on the near horizon!  If you’re looking for a little more joy and cheer, remember that learning something—anything—new can be just the ticket to getting neurons doing their neurogenesis thing, leading to brighter outlooks and more happiness!

Book of the Month

SELF Journal: Undated 13-Week Planning, Productivity and Positivity System for Max Achievement and Goal Success — Track Gratitude, Habits and Goals Daily and Weekly, by BestSelf.  We were given this wonderful book not long ago, and were stunned by both its simplicity and effectiveness.  Just as is recommended in one of our favorite MOOCs (Yale’s The Science of Well-Being), each day begins with a little place where you can annotate what you are grateful for—this helps you start your day on the right foot. (There are many other proven tricks from positive psychology interwoven in the pages.) The journal serves as a coach to help you prioritize your most critical tasks and budget your time, including your also-important time off, effectively. The SELF Journal is also a flexible book that allows you to skip vacation days, even while it helps you be consistent in heading toward your long-term goals.  We love it!  If you are looking to start 2021 off with a productive, up beat bang, this is the book to get!

Different Aspects of Intelligence

Barb became aware of different facets of intelligence when she worked in the fields as a teen picking raspberries.  She’d get up at 4:00 am and head off to work—pay was given by the number of hallocks (berry boxes) picked. Barb would watch some of the champion pickers—of the same age and background as she—and marvel at how they quickly mastered their picking in a way that Barb just couldn’t manage.  Later in high school, Barb worked evenings as a waitress. Here, too, her clumsiness, along with her laggardly working memory, made things difficult.  (When she finally gave her two weeks’ notice, her boss kindly responded “It’s okay Barb, you don’t need to wait two weeks—you can quit now.”)   

All this is a way of introducing this silent movie animated presentation of the many different facets of intelligence by educational psychologist Kevin McGrew.  This paper on African approaches to quantifying intelligence by Seth Oppong at the University of Botswana provides an enlightening contrast. Also relevant here is a paper on slow and fast learners by slow learner Friedrich Hayek, winner of the Nobel Prize. (Unfortunately, we can’t seem to find a direct link to Hayek’s full article.)

Learning to Play a Musical Instrument Does Seem to Help You Do Better in School

Here’s a wonderful article about research that is beginning to tease apart the causal link between learning music and learning in general. As Terra Marquette notes in Study Finds: “It  can be hard to admit when we are wrong, but sometimes the strongest proponents are originally among the ranks of the non-believers. Such is the case for some music professors who set out to debunk the theory that music can play a major role in learning. A recent study reveals having an ear for music really does help children with their reading and math skills.

“Although previous studies have uncovered a relationship between musical and academic achievement, researchers of the current investigation wanted more proof.

“‘There has been this notion for a long time that not only are these areas related, but there’s a cause-and-effect relationship,’ says lead study author Martin J. Bergee from the University of Kansas in a media release. ‘The more you study music, the better you’re going to be at math or reading. That’s always been suspect with me.’

“Bergee and co-author Kevin Weingarten from the University of Washington created a complex controlled study that included such factors as race, income, and education. The team was sure that greater scrutiny would break the so-called link between students’ musical and mathematical achievements.”

A Final Reminder to Check Out IDoRecall

Barb’s favorite flashcard system, IDoRecall, iDoRecall, has a free version but if you are interested, they are offering 20% off the LEARNER ANNUAL SUBSCRIPTION during the rest of December. Use the code BetterDaysAhead during checkout. Basically, iDoRecall is a fantastic product, beautifully designed by David Handel, MD, who graduated at the top of his medical school class by using the techniques he shares in iDoRecall.  One thing we especially love about iDoRecall is its intuitive simplicity, but if you’d like to do a deep dive into its based-on-solid-science underpinnings, here’s an hour-long exploratory video.  Educators are encouraged to reach out to David from their school email addresses to arrange a free trial for their classes. 

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 Last Assassin: The Hunt for the Killers of Julius Caesar

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

The Last Assassin: The Hunt for the Killers of Julius Caesar, by Peter Stothard. The Roman Empire is an endless source of fascination—this new book lends a different perspective to the Empire’s most pivotal event.  Frankly, we have never read a book of history that had such a great starting hook, as Cassius, the last living assassin of Caesar, awaits his fate.  While dangling on this hook, we were led through the often self-serving saga of the Caesar’s killers and the civil war that the killing provoked. A book like this helps you appreciate the comparatively benign politics of today. Incidentally, we kept our cell phone handy to look up place names and found ourselves discovering all sorts of fascinating new geographic spots we hope to visit post-COVID. 

Barb on the Jim Rutt Show 

Jim Rutt is a polymath who the New York Times once referred to as “the Internet’s bad boy” due to his reputation for creative mischief. Jim has been affiliated with the Santa Fe Institute since 2002, serving as Chairman from 2009 thru 2012. This podcast conversation moves in rapid-fire fashion to discuss fluency across domains, understanding-centered learning & the limits of procedural understanding, cultural-based education differences, slow educational evolution, online education, primary vs secondary biological learning, the direct instruction education method, the role of confidence in learning, comparing learning sports to learning math, and more. Well worth a listen!

The Second Year of the MOOC: A Review of MOOC Stats and Trends in 2020

Dhawal Shah, CEO of Class Central, writes a prescient overview of what’s happened in the world of MOOCs since the advent of COVID-19.  Key graf: “Of all the learners that ever registered on a MOOC platform, one third did so in 2020, making 2020 MOOCs’ most consequential year since the ‘Year of the MOOC”.  In 2020, the big MOOC providers got bigger, and the biggest one [Coursera] pulled further ahead of the rest. Now in its ninth year, the modern MOOC movement has crossed 180 million learners…”

Barb Discusses the Future of Online Education 

On December 22nd

  • At 6:30 am Eastern, Barb will be speaking for the IT Ukraine Association conference about how to battle inertia in education.
  • At 8:00 am Eastern, Barb will be speaking live with one of her favorite digital learning experts (and favorite people!), Talia Kolodny, about the future of online education. 

Don’t miss Barb at her friendly, provocative best. 🙂

Puzzle of the Week for Schools in the Pandemic

Here’s an intriguing puzzle posed by Statistics.com: What explains the increasing drop-off in math scores as students get older? Email them if you might have a solution to the conundrum. [Hat tip: Kelly Papapavlou]

A visionary seminar for Freshman, “BLD 121: Survive and Thrive,” at Michigan State University

Professor Kathleen Hoag of Michigan State University writes:  “I co-teach a freshman “Survive and Thrive Freshman Seminar” at MSU. We have used the book A Mind for Numbers since 2017 when the course started. It really is very well received by the students as a whole and has helped quite a few overcome their procrastination. Procrastination, poor sleep hygiene, and cell phones are the bane of so many students! We do what we can to provide them a stark realization of how it adversely impacts them and a roadmap to get past it.  I was just grading the final exam reflection we ask the students to write. The topic must be an impactful experience from any of their courses this semester. I thought you would appreciate reading what one of my students wrote:

  • WHAT? In BLD 121, I read the book A Mind for Numbers (Oakley) which specifically provided insight on procrastination as well as techniques to overcome it. 
  • SO WHAT? This book had great advice for how to stop procrastination. At first when I was reading it I felt bad about myself because I realized that in high school I had a very fixed mindset and a problem with procrastination. However, as I kept reading I got hopeful because the author provided some really good strategies to overcome procrastination and explain why it happens in the first place. It made me feel assured and almost optimistic because procrastination is something a lot of people face but can be fixed with effort and work. 
  • NOW WHAT? After reading this book, I began writing lists daily, giving myself rewards for assignments, and using something like the pomodoro technique. Every day I would write a new list according to my semester calendar with each class and assignment I had to attend/complete. Then on the days that I felt super unmotivated to finish a task I would reward myself with something afterward. Some rewards included getting 10 minutes on my phone, watching TV for 5-10 minutes, or getting a snack. I also used something like the pomodoro technique while I did some bigger assignments that I felt unmotivated to finish. I would set a timer on my phone for 20 or 30 minutes (depending on how big the assignment was – bigger assignment meant 30 min) and work on a paper or worksheet during that time with my phone completely out of sight. I did not let myself stop working while the timer was on, and then once the timer was done, I would give myself five minutes on my phone and do it over again. Overall, A Mind for Numbers drastically changed the way I complete schoolwork by eliminating procrastination through three techniques that I tried this semester. 

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

Get the course recommended text, A Mind for Numbers!