Category: Uncategorized

The Book of Why

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect, by computer scientist and philosopher Judea Pearl. For anyone with the slightest interest in statistics, mathematics, or figuring out whether the public is being duped by yet another “solidly researched” fad, this book is for you.  Judea himself observes “In Statistics 101, every student learns to chant, ‘Correlation is not causation.’ With good reason! The rooster’s crow is highly correlated with the sunrise; yet it does not cause the sunrise. Unfortunately, statistics has fetishized this commonsense observation. It tells us that correlation is not causation, but it does not tell us what causation is. In vain will you search the index of a statistics textbook for an entry on ‘cause.’ Students are not allowed to say that X is the cause of Y—only that X and Y are ‘related’ or ‘associated.’

But, in large part due to Pearl’s research, “…things have changed dramatically in the past three decades. Nowadays, thanks to carefully crafted causal models, contemporary scientists can address problems that would have once been considered unsolvable or even beyond the pale of scientific inquiry. For example, only a hundred years ago, the question of whether cigarette smoking causes a health hazard would have been considered unscientific. The mere mention of the words ‘cause’ or ‘effect’ would create a storm of objections in any reputable statistical journal. Even two decades ago, asking a statistician a question like ‘Was it the aspirin that stopped my headache?’ would have been like asking if he believed in voodoo. To quote an esteemed colleague of mine, it would be “‘more of a cocktail conversation topic than a scientific inquiry.’ But today, epidemiologists, social scientists, computer scientists, and at least some enlightened economists and statisticians pose such questions routinely and answer them with mathematical precision. To me, this change is nothing short of a revolution. I dare to call it the Causal Revolution, a scientific shakeup that embraces rather than denies our innate cognitive gift of understanding cause and effect.”

We love this book, which explains the new science of causality in a straightforward fashion. You’ll find yourself thinking about correlations—and causations—in a new way.   

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

Coming up by popular demand, Barb and her colleagues Beth Rogowsky and Chris Kobus will be doing the second live webinar presenting practical insights and ideas from their groundbreaking new book Uncommon Sense Teaching. The workshop will be held on June 21, 22, & 23, 2021 from 12:00 – 4:00 PM, ET. It will give an in-depth and counterintuitive look at how many approaches previously thought to be helpful for learning can actually harm students’ ability to learn and turn them off on educational systems.  You will discover and review powerful new insights from neuroscience that provide practical tools to help your students learn more effectively.  Wherever and whatever you teach, you will find this workshop provides great new insights on learning that aren’t contained in Learning How to Learnor anywhere else. This is a great way to gain fresh perspectives on teaching over the summerand have fun while you are at it! This is a great way to gain fresh perspectives on teaching over the summerand have fun while you are at it! Space is limited, so reserve your seat now

Barb in Europe in September/October 2021

Barb will be resuming her international travels by speaking for the Federal Congress for Protestant Schools in Dresden on September 30 and October 1, 2021. If you are interested in her speaking at an event in Europe in the last two weeks of September or the first two weeks of October, please reach out here

Kati Kariko Helped Shield the World From the Coronavirus

This amazing story describes how Kati Kariko laid the foundation for the stunningly successful vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Notice how Kati had to fight against an enormous array of top-flight experts who couldn’t be bothered to believe there was something to her research.  

Wonderful Overview Graphic of Learning How to Learn

Here’s a fabulous infographic by Outerbridge of our Learning How to Learn course—there’s also a great accompanying synopsis of the key ideas in our course.  Enjoy!

Our Apologies for Last Week’s Bad Link 

We loved the article “How Coining a Phrase Can Lead to an Inigo Montoya Moment,” but sadly, the link we provided was a bad one. Now you have the right one to help satisfy your curiosity!

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

Out on Good Behavior: Teaching Math while Looking Over Your Shoulder

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Out on Good Behavior: Teaching Math while Looking Over Your Shoulder, by Barry Garelick. We greatly enjoyed and got a lot out of this brief, sardonic memoir of an outstanding math teacher in an era when teaching math in public schools is becoming increasingly divorced from what neuroscience has revealed about how students actually learn math. Garelick’s witty observations give a sense of what’s going on in a way that would be difficult for most parents to discover—and some of Garelick’s observations are priceless: “I once told my eighth-grade algebra class that my classroom is one place where they won’t hear the words ‘growth mindset’—to which the class reacted with wild applause. Someone then asked what my objections to ‘growth mindset’ were.  I said I didn’t like how it was interpreted: Motivational cliches like ‘I can’t do it…yet’ supposedly build up confidence leading to motivation and success. I believe it’s the other way around: success causes motivation more than motivation causes success. [Or, as researchers Szu-Han Wang and Richard Morris have noted: “we rapidly remember what interests us, but what interests us takes time to develop.” And this Slate Star Codex article about growth mindset remains timeless.] 

Garelick presciently observes: “Where students frequently see through ineffective educational fads, people in education—after buying into such theories—see what they want to see.” Out on Good Behavior is well worth reading if you care about what your child is learning—or not learning—in school, particularly when it comes to math.

An Important Key to Finland’s Vaunted Education System

Mathematics professor Robert Craigen has observed that a US degree in math education is “practically free of any content that would qualify one for the professional designation of ‘mathematician.’” This means that math educators within the US know little to nothing of any form of higher-level math. It could be reasonably argued that schools of education have a vested interest in ensuring that teachers take plenty of credits in teacher preparation and “teacher-lite” math, as opposed to the tougher math courses demanded of regular college math students. 

As this fascinating comparison of Kumon and Russian forms of mathematics notes: “…a recent evaluation of elementary mathematics training found only one percent of traditional graduate teaching programs [within the US] earned an A for adequately covering critical math content.” 

By contrast, Finland’s vaunted educational system requires elementary, middle, and high school teachers to receive an entire undergraduate degree in their subject—not a watered-down set of a few simplified courses—before going on to receive their master’s degree in teaching. This puts teachers in Finland on par with professionals such as doctors and lawyers. (Only preschool teachers in Finland require BA in education.)

For more information about Finland’s educational system, see:

  • Teacher education in Finland
  • Teacher Status in Finland (Google for Education) Notably, 40% of students in Finland take the vocational upper secondary studies tract, which means that Finland is ensuring a straightforward pathway for vocational students—unlike the US. As the report notes: “Completion of the Finnish Matriculation Examination (undertaken in the General upper secondary education tract) or a post-secondary level vocational qualification provides general eligibility for higher education (which is also free of charge though highly competitive).” In other words, everybody deserves the right to a free education, but you’d better prove yourself worthy of taxpayer’s money if you want to get it.

Would higher teacher salaries for US teachers encourage movement toward a Finnish type, higher quality education system that earned more societal respect? Or would a higher salary without a shift to higher expectations in teacher training and qualifications simply eliminate any incentive to improve the current US system? Fans of Finnish methods of teaching like to bring to our attention that the Finnish system places great trust in their teachers to be doing the right thing without testing and comparisons.  But such trust is not given lightly—teachers clearly must do a great deal to earn that trust. Americans thinking they can just stride right in and be like the Finns by removing tests and comparisons —without upgrading the training and character expected of teachers under the Finnish system—are clearly setting up US systems for even more problems.

[Hat tip, Professor Kenzen Chen]

As we observed in a Cheery Friday email nearly five years ago, it’s important to realize there is much controversy about Finland’s educational “achievements.” Finland has scored high on PISA, but lower on other internationally recognized tests. In fact, while countries like Chile and Korea have increased by more than 20 points for their 8th-grade students over the past decade on the 2011 TIMSS test, Finland’s performance has declined by an eye-opening 38 points.

Some see PISA as skewing their assessments to favor countries that conform to specific theories espoused by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which runs PISA. Professor Yong Zhao, author of Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon?: Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World (a book we hold in high esteem), argues here that PISA results should be ignored entirely. He is not alone in his criticism. You might be surprised to learn, as Professor Zhao discusses in his book, that students in different countries can get quite different questions on the PISA—meaning that entire countries can vary markedly in their rankings due to behind-the-scenes decisions on which questions to score and include. If you have an interest in the testing controversy, check out our friend Manabu Watanabe’s series of intriguing articles and follow the links. See also “Exceptional Learning Results From Exceptionally Good Textbooks: Singapore Yes! Finland No!

Old-fashioned Math Tutoring Website

As Ivy Style clothiers notes: “Everyone Is right wing when it comes to the things they care about.”  In other words, “when people are passionate about something—baseball, poetry, clothing—they tend to venerate tradition, to wish to conserve and maintain established standards of excellence, and to resist change.”  Whatever your inclinations, if you really want your child to learn math, you may wish to check out this old-fashioned math tutoring website, which features tutors with expertise in math that’s virtually unequalled by most of today’s US math teachers. (Keep in mind that Barb’s previous work as a Russian translator aboard Soviet trawlers during the Cold War have made her particularly attuned to the perils of indoctrination qua education.)

Experience: Being a Bartender in Antarctica

Speaking of adventures, it’s our opinion that there’s little that beats adventure to help keep your mind open to new learning. As long time LHTLers know, Barb met her Hero Husband at the South Pole Station in Antarctica—this article gives a bit of a sense of what it was like: 

“I’d wanted to visit Antarctica ever since I was a child, but in the end it was a wearying job in Silicon Valley that led me to make the leap. After a particularly bad day at the office, I thought, “Where’s the farthest I can go to get away?” To my delight, a quick internet search revealed work was available at three US research stations. I convinced the right people I was the man they needed to look after the liquid nitrogen and helium used as coolants for the radio telescopes at the South Pole Station.

“The bar there, probably the most remote on Earth, was called Club 90 South. Despite being surrounded by ice for 800 miles in every direction, and 8,000 miles away from the local bars I knew, it seemed completely familiar to me: there were six bar stools, a scattering of tables and couches, a pool table, TV and music….”

Ah, memories! Are you at a point where you are thinking to try a memorable experience?  Let this be your nudge…

Last But Not Least!

Here’s a fine write up by Coursera about a talk Barb recently gave for Courserians: Connecting the Dots: Dr. Barbara Oakley on the Science of How We Learn. Enjoy!

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

Heroes & Hormones

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Heroes & Hormones: From Screen Slave to Superhero, by Mali Alcobi.  Mali is an expert in  work-life balance who helps both employees and organizations develop systems that help people lead productive, yet happy lives.  Mali speaks around the world on this topic—which is how Barb happened to meet her and to read her book. Heroes and Hormones is one of those deceptively simple reads that teaches a few critical points—like how to train yourself to prioritize family even as you are pulling your weight at work.    This book also has a good review of what you need to be doing healthwise, from exercise to the right foods, to keep your life on track—and not wake up one day at your seeming career peak only to find your family has given up on you, and your body is beginning to show the aftereffects of too much stress and too little care. This quick read will help you balance your priorities with dozens of practical tips.  

Mali is the founder of Dynamix – Work-Life Balance. Barb and Mali will be speaking for Microsoft together next month—Barb can say with confidence that Mali is a great choice if your company is looking for a work-life balance speaker.   

200+ Hours of FREE Conference Recordings on Online Learning

This excellent article by Heba Ledwon of Class Central provides links to hundreds of hours of information, up-to-the-minute insights on online learning from top conferences around the world. As Heba points out “Class Central contributed to a number of events. 

Also check out the presentation by Class Central’s Dhawal Shah at Learning with MOOCS VII on the recent development of the MOOC world.”  Take a look at all the MOOCs Dhawal has done—it’s no wonder Class Central is so in-the-know!

Massive List of Thousands of Free Certificates and Badges

And Class Central knocks it out of the park again with this listing of thousands of courses with free certificates and badges offered by MOOC platforms, universities, companies, and nonprofits worldwide. Our thanks to authors Rui Ma & Heba Ledwon for pulling this useful compendium together!

The Ultimate Deliberate Practice Guide: How to Be the Best

Here is a wonderful overview by Farnam Street of deliberate practice. “Deliberate practice means practicing with a clear awareness of the specific components of a skill we’re aiming to improve and exactly how to improve them. Unlike regular practice, in which we work on a skill by repeating it again and again until it becomes almost mindless, deliberate practice is a laser-focused activity. It requires us to pay unwavering attention to what we’re doing at any given moment and whether it’s an improvement or not.”  If you are trying to improve in any area, let this article be your guide.

How Coining a Phrase Can Lead to an Inigo Montoya Moment

Okay, we’re not only fans of etymology–we’re also fans of the movie and book The Princess Bride.  So we really enjoyed this article on the term “to coin a phrase,” which can mean, on the one hand, “to use a cliché,” and on the other, “to create a new phrase,” Say what–aren’t those two meanings the opposite of one another?  Teasing out what’s actually going on is why we so enjoyed reading this article.

Course Hero, Meet CourseVillain

This is a fascinating article about how technology can be used to ferret out whether your tests and projects might be being posted online against your wishes.  Personally, we favor making tests and old classwork available for other students–it helps level the playing field and prevents cliques with special inside knowledge from having a special advantage that outsiders or newcomers don’t have. This is why we’re such big fans of Course Hero.  No surprise, Course Hero, great company that they are, are working graciously with CourseVillian to try to ensure that professors can easily see if there’s material they want removed.  Five stars to Course Hero!  

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

You Never Forget Your First

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Month

You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe.  If you’re a history buff, as we are, you will get a lot out of Coe’s seemingly lighthearted and oft-times irreverent look at George Washington.  We’ve long wished for a fairly dispassionate book about Washington that discussed his good and bad sides without taking snide potshots or putting him on a pedestal. Alexis Coe’s book walks that fine line—perhaps most importantly, she is able to outline Washington’s integrity combined with a deep-rooted racial hypocrisy that is sometimes quite breath-taking. Here’s a sample from the book’s beginning that gives a sense of Coe’s delightful, but deeply thought-provoking alternative take on America’s leading founder: 

“All of the Founding Fathers have problems. Thomas Jefferson strikes modern audiences as beyond hypocritical, John Adams as tiresome, and James Madison as downright boring. But according to Washington’s own biographers, he’s in real trouble. Joseph Ellis calls him ‘the original marble man.’ Ron Chernow says he is ‘composed of too much marble to be quite human.’ Harlow Giles Unger says he’s ‘as stonelike as the Mount Rushmore sculpture.’ What is to blame for Washington’s inhuman stature? Well, for starters, his renowned self-control. ‘My countenance never yet betrayed my feelings,’ Washington once said. That was an exaggeration, but he was discreet enough to land himself, as Richard Brookhiser has lamented, in ‘our wallets, but not our hearts.’ Every biographer humbly endeavors to break Washington out of his sepulchre—by proceeding in almost the exact same way as the one who came before him. First, his biographers stick a portrait of the man Ellis calls America’s “‘foundingest father’ on the cover. Many favor Washington’s most iconic image, his rigid and gloomy face on the one-dollar bill, but most prefer a painting that shows his whole body, because his thighs drive them wild. Brookhiser, examining a portrait from 1792, can’t help but notice how ‘well-developed’ they are. Ellis admires how they ‘allowed him to grip a horse’s flanks tightly and hold his seat in the saddle with uncommon ease.’ For Chernow, Washington’s “‘muscular thighs’ were just the beginning. He was a ‘superb physical specimen, with a magnificent physique . . . powerfully rough-hewn and endowed with matchless strength. When he clenched his jaw, his cheek and jaw muscles seemed to ripple right through his skin.’ They pair that visual coffin of a cover with a verbal coffin of a title, often adhering to the same stale format. George Washington: A Biography. George Washington: A Life. George Washington: A President. The more adventurous among them might throw in a hyperbolic word or two (Destiny! Power! Genius!) or a phrase borrowed from Washington’s time, immediately lost on potential new readers (‘His Excellency’ or “‘For Fear of an Elected King’). With titles this stodgy, presidential biographies will always appear as if they are for men of a certain age, intended to be purchased on Presidents’ or Father’s Day. The Thigh Men, as I came to think of these kinds of biographers over the years, are a decidedly ‘size matters’ crowd. Chernow’s book on Washington, which won the Pulitzer Prize, clocks in at almost a thousand pages, a record among single-volume editions on our first president—in no small part because it takes every opportunity to remind readers that the great general was very, very manly.”

Interview with Barb on MyTutor

Here’s Barb’s recording with Bertie Hubbard, MyTutor’s wonderfully upbeat and inspiring CEO. This presentation gives a swift review of key ideas related to learning that might be very helpful for you to watch with your child, children, or students. MyTutor is a fabulous tutoring organization in the UK, so it’s worth checking out if you would like help in learning for a youngster.  

Nelson’s Everest Memory Masterclass

Nelson’s Everest Memory Masterclass saw great success during his last cohort a couple of months ago. Due to popular demand, he’s re-opening the class for a limited time. 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 (with or without masks on!), to remembering numbers, speeches, and passwords, Nelson’s class has it all! Register here.

On Course 

We’ve long been fans of On Course, which provides practical insights on how to keep students on track in their learning.  The upcoming April 29-May 1st On Course National Conference offers many breakout sessions modeling engaged virtual learning, with an opening keynote by Dr. Nicole McDonald, author of Becoming a Student-Ready College as well as a closing keynote on Equity in Virtual Learning by Dr. Jonathan Brennan, author of Engaging Learners through Zoom

Also, If you (or any of your colleagues) would like to attend the April 29th 1-Day Engaging Learners through Zoom workshop, you can register or learn more.  As one attendee has observed, “If you don’t rate this session a 10, you weren’t paying attention.”

Isambard Kingdom Brunel—One of History’s Greatest Engineering Geniuses

We happened to stumble on this wonderful article about another of our favorite historical charactersIsambard Kingdom Brunel, who, along with his father, Sir Marc Isambard, created some of the greatest engineering advances in history, including  the construction of the Thames Tunnel,the Great Western Railway (GWR), the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship, and many famous bridges, all of which helped revolutionize public transport and modern engineering.  Isambard Kingdom Brunel was unquestionably the Elon Musk of his age. 

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

CorkScrew Solutions

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

CorkScrew Solutions: Problem Solving with a Twist, by Clarke Ching. We love Clarke Ching’s writing, so we’d probably read a book of his even if it was about dirt.  But in fact, this latest book by Clarke is a delightful, quick, and highly informative read about how to solve problems when any approach you take to solving the problem has a major drawback. You’ll find a valuable set of tools—enjoy!

Living a stress-free life may have benefits, but also a downside

We’ve long wondered that people with stressful jobs where you have to think quickly, like emergency room physicians, often seem to be more on the ball cognitively.  It’s almost a chicken and egg situationdo they seem smarter because they’re naturally smarter (there’s a lot of filtering through the process of becoming a doctor, after all). Or do they seem smarter because the job itself makes them smarter? This informative press release about new research sheds light on this process. Key grafs:  “Stress is a universal human experience that almost everyone deals with from time to time. But a new study found that not only do some people report feeling no stress at all, but that there may be downsides to not experiencing stress.

“The researchers found that people who reported experiencing no stressors were more likely to experience better daily well-being and fewer chronic health conditions. However, they were also more likely to have lower cognitive function, as well.

“David M. Almeida, professor of human development and family studies at Penn State, said the study suggests that small, daily stressors could potentially benefit the brain, despite being an inconvenience.”

A conversation between Barb and concert pianist Monika Mašanauskaitė

This podcast, with exceptional pianist Monika Mašanauskaitė, dives into the important differences between the procedural and declarative learning systems.  Among other topics, we explore whether cramming is possible in procedural learning.

Stanford researchers identify four causes for ‘Zoom fatigue’ and their simple fixes

Here is one of the most informative articles we’ve seen on why Zoom fatigue happens, and how to avoid it:

“Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense… Both the amount of eye contact we engage in on video chats, as well as the size of faces on screens is unnatural.

“In a normal meeting, people will variously be looking at the speaker, taking notes or looking elsewhere. But on Zoom calls, everyone is looking at everyone, all the time. A listener is treated nonverbally like a speaker, so even if you don’t speak once in a meeting, you are still looking at faces staring at you. The amount of eye contact is dramatically increased. “Social anxiety of public speaking is one of the biggest phobias that exists in our population,” Bailenson said. “When you’re standing up there and everybody’s staring at you, that’s a stressful experience.”

“Another source of stress is that, depending on your monitor size and whether you’re using an external monitor, faces on videoconferencing calls can appear too large for comfort. “In general, for most setups, if it’s a one-on-one conversation when you’re with coworkers or even strangers on video, you’re seeing their face at a size which simulates a personal space that you normally experience when you’re with somebody intimately,” Bailenson said.

“When someone’s face is that close to ours in real life, our brains interpret it as an intense situation that is either going to lead to mating or to conflict. “What’s happening, in effect, when you’re using Zoom for many, many hours is you’re in this hyper-aroused state,” Bailenson said.

Solution: Until the platforms change their interface, Bailenson recommends taking Zoom out of the full-screen option and reducing the size of the Zoom window relative to the monitor to minimize face size, and to use an external keyboard to allow an increase in the personal space bubble between oneself and the grid.”

How to Approach Peer-Assessed AssignmentsThe Problem of Cheating.

This useful checklist by MOOC maven Pat Bowden gives insight into how to write peer-assessed assignments.  Pat has also written an outstanding article describing the problems with cheating/plagiarizing on online courses.  This problem started out bad when MOOCs first began, and has only been getting worse since.  We suspect that the first MOOC platform to successfully solve the cheating and plagiarizing problem in more than a simply cosmetic way will see the value of their certificates increase significantly.

Five Tips for Improving Memory and Recall

Here’s an overview article by Barb in DIY Genius on staying focused and being productive on the job and while learning. Key grafs:

“Just like some people are taller and some people are shorter, people also differ in making long-term memory links. For some people, it’s simple, and for others, it takes more time and effort. Personally, I don’t have a very good long-term memory, so I have to go over something many times to remember it, which makes spaced repetition invaluable to me.

“With spaced repetition, you’ll go over something 5-10 times before you put it away, and then you’ll go over it again a few more times the next day. This requires you to practice recalling information over a longer time, strengthening those connections in your memory. 

“If you want to remember something for a year, you probably want to repeat it until you’ve got it down pretty well. The goal is to call it back to mind just as you’re about to forget it, so maybe you would practice recalling it every few weeks or so. This kind of spaced repetition is an excellent tactic for ensuring you’ve got that information stored in your long-term memory.”

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 Cancer Code

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Month

The Cancer Code: A Revolutionary New Understanding of a Medical Mystery, by Dr. Jason Fung.  This is an extraordinarily insightful book. If you simply have an interest in a disease that has killed far more than COVID has, or you fear cancer might be in the future for you or a loved one, this book will give you ideas for subtle tweaks that could make an enormous difference in what unfolds long term.

As the book begins, you might think—well, been there, done that—the book’s just describing how it’s carcinogens that cause cancer.  Oh yes, and maybe genetics.  But in Dr. Fung’s masterful hands, you gradually learn that cancer often involves a process where cells revert to primordial states. In these states, rather than playing nicely with the rest of the cells of the body, malignant cancers forge ahead on their own ancient kill-or-be-killed fashion, using ancient anaerobic pathways to fuel themselves while poisoning other cells and gaining building materials for new malignancies.  

You will gain extraordinary insight into cancer that is often not conveyed by cancer experts.  This is a not-to-be-missed book. Also great for audio.

Online Course of the Week

We are delighted to point LHTLers toward the fantastic lecture series “First Principles of Computer Vision,” presented by Barb’s friend Shree Nayar,  T. C. Chang Professor of Computer Science in the School of Engineering at Columbia University. Shree is the real deal—a man totally dedicated to helping everyone learn about vital topics such as computer vision. You will love Shree’s gentle, happy demeanor, and the wonderful way he presents the material—we cannot recommend this lecture series more highly.  You can find the series on YouTube or on Columbia University’s website.  Enjoy!

From Education Revolution to Massive Success

We highly recommend this upcoming talk with Zvi Galil—the Georgia Tech mastermind behind bringing low-cost, high-quality graduate-level education to us all.  As this description page of the talk notes: “In March 2020, universities around the world were suddenly forced to move some or all of their teaching online.  Georgia Tech had begun this process six years prior. In January 2014,  they shocked the education sector by offering a fully-online version of their master’s in Computer Science (OMSCS), for a tenth of the tuition fee… OMSCS’ growth has been phenomenal. By this spring, the programme enrolled 11,300 students — and it is still growing every semester. It is apparently the largest master’s programme in the world in any subject online or on-campus. Their success has inspired similar MOOC-based programmes at other universities. The programme in itself contributes to a nationwide 10% growth of Computer Science graduates – one of the biggest skill shortages in the labor market. 

“The conversation will cover the story of OMSCS: how Dean Galil started it, the controversy, change management, reinventing the teaching and service model, artificial teaching assistants, what has been learned, and the role the programme and its successors have played before and during the pandemic. And perhaps most interesting: how the learners of the online vs the on campus programs are different and have different needs.  Dr. Zvi Galil will also share his view on the role that online programmes can play in the future of higher education.” Register today for this free, open-to-the-public, not-to-be-missed webinar.

Interview with Barb on MyTutor

Barb will be giving a quick half hour presentation on March 24th at 2:00 pm Eastern, 6:00 pm London time for teens on how to learn effectively, followed by a half hour of Q & A.  It’s an enjoyable way to have a quick learning review–or to introduce your kids or students to ideas on how to improve their learning. Sign up here!

How Being More Productive Starts With Doing Nothing

This persuasive but behind-a-pay-wall Wall Street Journal article by Annemarie Dooling weaves in a discussion with Barb. Key grafs: 

“In our efforts to squeeze every second from the day, it seems counterintuitive to watch a pot of coffee boil or gaze out the window. But your brain uses those free periods for important cleanup work, neuroscience research indicates. And during the pandemic, as the boundaries between work and home have blurred, it has become harder to create mental breaks.

“Even brief timeouts help the brain reinforce long-term learning and productivity. You come out of downtime able to learn more, and can access that learning faster. “‘When you take a break, you may want to do something mind-consuming to help with motivation, but technically your best way of taking a break is to do something mindless,’ says Barbara Oakley, a professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan who teaches a popular online course on how to open your mind to learning.” 

(And we know which course Annemarie means! 😉 )

Learning How to Learn is Helpful Even For More Advanced Materials

LHTLer Nikolai Pankratiev writes to tell us “I just want to say a BIG THANK YOU for your great course Learning How to Learn. I was looking for some tips on how to learn Tensorflow—a highly technical course from Google involving Artificial Intelligence. Someone mentioned your course as a good starting point. Despite initial skepticism, I decided to follow the course—it was a great experience! Very importantly I learned some psychologically liberating tricks that reinforced my engagement to learn. Thank you very much.”


Last week, we alluded to the eye-popping read, The Miseducation of America’s Elites,” by the former New York Times reporter Bari Weiss, noting that she had resigned due to the rampant anti-Semitism in the New York Times workplace. As several astute LHTLers have pointed out, Bari actually resigned due to a number of factors, including anti-Semitism, cancel culture, intolerance to differing opinions of management and staff, bad office environment in general, the firing of a colleague, and more. We stand corrected!

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


Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art, by Rebecca Wragg Sykes. We have to admit, like many a fellow Homo sapiens, we’re enamored of Neanderthals. So we were very excited to get our hands on this book. And indeed, Kindred did a great job of pointing out not only the surprising intelligence of Neanderthals and their cunning abilities with stone tools, but also of describing the enormous time spans involved in the Neanderthal sojourn in Europe and parts of Asia.  We did notice that reviewers often observed that the book was “fact packed,” which can often be a bit of code to avoid unkindness.  Sadly, after a while, the facts grew monotonous, while interpretation was often lacking. The lead up to why the Neanderthals vanished was something of a bustalthough humans are a reasonable bet to being the culprits, at least in part, we instead hear of inbreeding and disease. 

Kindred is an interesting read if you’re into the current nitty-gritty of Neanderthal anthropological findings. But if you’re looking for a more conclusive read, you may wish to wait a few more years until more definitive findings might come available.

CaffeineWhy We Love It…

Here’s an interesting article by Chris Melore in StudyFinds related to caffeine’s effect on sleep and cognition. Key grafs: “The surprising results reveal caffeine use does not result in poorer sleep. However, researchers find there are significant changes in the volume of gray matter just in the 10 days with or without caffeine in a person’s system.

“After 10 days of no caffeine, participants had a much higher volume of gray matter in the brain than they did while consuming caffeine. The differences are especially noticeable in the brain’s right medial temporal lobe. This area includes the hippocampus, which is essential for memory consolidation… While caffeine may shrink the amount of gray matter in the brain, the study finds these changes don’t last for long if a person stops consuming the stimulant. Researchers say gray matter regenerated in the subjects during their 10 days on the placebo pills.”

Cajal Embroidery Project 2020

LHTLer Susan Van Wyck has made us aware of a fascinating project to honor the beloved father of modern neuroscience Santiago Ramón y Cajal, who, along with his breakthrough discoveries, is also famous for his “beautiful, detailed, and accurate, illustrations of the histology of the central nervous system.”  (Cajal and his father had fought since his earliest days about Cajal’s desire to be an artist versus his father’s desire for him to become a doctor. In the end, Cajal found a way to fulfill both careers!)  The large, multi-panel embroidery has been featured on the cover of many scientific journals, and for good reason!

The Value of Reading More Broadly—and of a Great Environmental Education Program!

 Apropos last week’s comment from us about the importance of also reading conservative sites, Professor Howard Drossman, the TREE Semester Director and Professor of Environmental Education at Colorado College, writes: “Loved your point about reading conservative sites. Though I lean liberal, I took the time to search more about the Washington Beacon last week and found an article by Mother Jones (no less) touting the Beacon‘s journalism. Good for you to call out those who only read one side!”

Incidentally, as Colorado College’s informative article observes, Teaching and Research in Environmental Education (TREE) Semester has received a statewide award for Innovation in Environmental Education for its outstanding work in preparing future leaders in environmental education who learn how to inspire K-12 students to become ecological stewards. The program is one of only nine accredited environmental education programs in North America, and one of only two such undergraduate programs in the country. If you’re interested in environmental education, this program is well worth checking out!

When Education Becomes a Cult

This important article, The Miseducation of America’s Elites,” by the former New York Times reporter Bari Weiss (she resigned due to the rampant anti-Semitism in the New York Times workplace), describes the cult-like indoctrination, rather than education, going on in elite schools.  It’s an eye-popping read. 

Listening is Essential. Here’s How to Get Better at It.

This article by Megan Collins in EdSurge reminds us that listening is a skill we can cultivate.  Megan notes “Providing a variety of paths to listening may not be enough; a proactive approach is essential. Developing ‘listening hours’ either in person or via Zoom is a great tool to start this work. In these sessions, parents, teachers or even students can meet with school leaders to discuss certain topics. Remember: The purpose of these sessions is to listen not to respond, defend or resolve. These listening sessions also allow opportunities to develop insight into experiences and perspectives that are not your own; a key component in developing empathy.”

Practical Tips for Online Teaching

CJ Hong, the Lead Mentor for the Chinese version of Learning How to Learn, found this little article with practical tips about online teaching to be helpful—you may find it helpful, as well.

A Correction with Regard the Discussion of Botswana 

With regard our book recommendation of The Colour Bar from several weeks ago, LHTLer Peter Miskelly writes to say “Hi Barb, LHTL‘er from way back, still read the email. Setswana is a prefix language. Tswana is the stem noun. Botswana the country, motswana is one person, batswana is two or more. So they are not botswanans but batswana. (Worked there for two years). BTW my son is now doing LHTL.”

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

Taking the Stress Out of Homework

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Month

Taking the Stress Out of Homework: Organizational, Content-Specific, and Test-Prep Strategies to Help Your Children Help Themselves, by Abby Freireich and Brian Platzer. This wonderful book is a much-needed masterpiece—chock-full of simple, easy-to-implement ideas that will enable you to help your child whatever your own background or skill levels. One thing we particularly like about this book is that it shows you exactly how to be most effective you’re your help, whether the topic is math, reading, writing, or what-have-you. For example, Freireich and Platzer write:

“We’re about to walk you through some of the most common mistakes we see our students make. But the real question is: How are you supposed to give all this advice?

“If Lisa’s mom sat her down and said, ‘Use correct homophones and don’t write long sentences and watch out for pronoun antecedents and don’t repeat words and avoid cliches,’ Lisa would run out of the room screaming.

“If your child is open to your feedback, make it a game that allows her to do the critical thinking, rather than simply stating which errors need to be corrected.  Point to a sentence or line of text, and ask them if they can identify two or three mechanical or grammatical errors.  This puts them in the driver’s seat (in editing, we should have revised this cliché!) and means that they are more likely to internalize the edits needed.”

If you are a parent or caregiver, you want this book—it provides the best material we know of to help you help your child learn better! Also good as an audio read.

Barb Speaking for Coursera’s Bold & Innovative Educator Series

At 8:00 am Eastern time (6:30 pm India Standard Time) on Tuesday, March 9th, Barb will be giving an online webinar “Uncommon Sense Teaching in a Post-COVID World” for Coursera’s Bold & Innovative Educator Series. This talk gives an excellent perspective on the good—and the bad—aspects of active learning, and also provides insights from research about high-impact teaching interventions.  If you are looking to lead your institution with better practices based on sound research—and have a little fun seeing how driving mindlesslessly along a road is related to student motivation—this talk is for you.  The webinar is free: Register here.

IDoRecallNow You (or Your Students) Can Study with Buddies!

We have often described iDoRecall (iDR) as our favorite flashcard system (Barb has volunteered as their Chief Learning Science Advisor, basically because iDR is a learning system that leverages a host of cognitive science-backed principles.) With iDR, users create spaced-repetition flashcards linked to the facts and concepts in their learning materials that they want to remember. When they practice memory retrieval, if they struggle with an answer, they can click to view the source learning file or video at the precise location where they learned it. “Learning materials” in the setting of iDR can be PDFs, Word-compatible files, PowerPoints, image files, and videos. 

One of iDR’s unique features is the ability to create a GROUP. Students can use this feature to create a study group and invite classmates to join in and gang tackle a subject, sharing their flashcards and study materials with their friends. Group members can clone this content into their individual iDR accounts. When they clone flashcards that have source-linked files into their personal iDR accounts, the source links, when clicked, will open the linked content at the precise, relevant locations.

David Handel, MD, created iDoRecall based upon the strategies that helped him graduate #1 in his medical school class. Before he started using the cognitive science-backed principles to guide his studying, he had been a lifelong mediocre student. Here is a demo of the GROUPS section of the iDoRecall that is part of a comprehensive deep-dive video.

Here is a special coupon code you can use at checkout:  FriendOfBarb. This coupon gives a 20% discount for all types of subscriptions and is unlike any other coupon iDoRecall has ever created in that it’s recurring. This means that when your subscription renews, the discount is reapplied to the renewal, perpetually. 

5 Online Learning Strategies for Students

Here’s an article by Barb in e-Student about online learning strategies for students. 

Going to Extremes 

We received a raft of supportive emails about last week’s Cheery Friday emphasizing the need for proof of efficacy with regard anti-bias training. Many readers share researchers’ concerns that the explosion of untried programs may well be worsening instead of improving bias. But we were surprised to also receive several emails observing that we shouldn’t have looked at or linked to a conservative website—no matter that the reporting might be accurate or that it cites a high-quality scientific study.  

In this regard, we’d like to gently observe that genuine learning means being able to assess the quality of an article for yourself, and not just instantly discard information because it’s not from your own crowd. Would we want conservatives to spurn reading progressive periodicals simply because the periodical didn’t agree with their leanings?  Refusing to take the time to open-mindedly consider others’ perspectives is how extremism begins.  Cass Sunstein’s outstanding Going to Extremes provides an excellent description of this phenomenon. Here is a relevant excerpt:

“Much of the time, groups of people end up thinking and doing things that group members would never think or do on their own. This is true for groups of teenagers, who are willing to run risks that individuals would avoid. It is certainly true for those prone to violence, including terrorists and those who commit genocide. It is true for investors and corporate executives. It is true for government officials, neighborhood groups, social reformers, political protestors, police officers, student organizations, labor unions, and juries. Some of the best and worst developments in social life are a product of group dynamics, in which members of organizations, both small and large, move one another in new directions… When people find themselves in groups of like-minded types, they are especially likely to move to extremes… Political extremism is often a product of group polarization, and social segregation is a useful tool for producing polarization.”

Sunstein’s Going to Extremes is one of the top ten books we would recommend that all well-read people should read.

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

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