Category: Uncategorized


Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Fantastic New Rollout of Features on IDoRecall

The new, useful features just don’t stop coming with Barb’s favorite flashcard system, IDoRecall.  The new native desktop apps for Windows and Mac computers has just launched. This desktop version works even when you don’t have an Internet connection, since all of your content is stored locally on your machine. It syncs with the cloud when there is a connection so that if you switch back to the browser version on your computer or phone, your account will be up to date. 

With the new notetaking feature, you can create linked spaced-repetition flashcards (recalls) to the facts, formulas, and concepts in your notes that you want to remember, just like you do with the other files and videos in your iDoRecall library. When you practice a recall linked to a note, if you struggle with an answer, just click the source link, the note will open at the relevant location.

Since spacing over time is important in the consumption of materials, not just in retrieval practice… iDoRecall now tells you how far along in reading (or watching) for each file in your library. This is the concept of “progressive reading.”  

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.

 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. (Barb’s iDoRecall’s Chief Learning Science Advisor, because she enjoys working with them and watching them continually improving their system.)

Book of the Week

Tecumseh and the Prophet: The Shawnee Brothers Who Defied a Nation, by Peter Cozzens.  Tenskwatawa was a klutz who, as a youth, managed to shoot one of his eyes out with an arrow—he became a debauched alcoholic living on handouts. But, as Cozzens book reveals, after a near-death experience, Tenskwatawa turned away from alcohol and became known as the Prophet. Together with his brother, Tecumseh, the siblings worked hard against long odds to unite Native Americans against the American “Long Knives” who were constantly encroaching on Indian lands.  

This fascinating book gives insight into the margins of the nascent United States during the latter 1700s and early to mid-1800s. What makes the book all the more interesting is that, despite the heroic nature of their cause, It’s not like the siblings were perfect people. Tecumseh, who hated torture and treated even his enemies with respect, abandoned women and divorced his wives with the most trivial of excuses, even such minor transgressions as a few feathers left on a plucked turkey. And the Prophet was still a self-serving wheeler dealer even after his near-death experience—although he never drank again.

This fascinating, little known era of history about iconic Americans also is a fine book for audio listening (although you may want to keep your cell phone handy to look up place names). Enjoy!

A Running Argument about Color

Barb and her Hero Hubby Phil have long had a running lively discussion: what Barb sees as sand-colored is seen by Phil as olive-colored. (Neither Barb nor Phil tests out as color-blind.) They’ve never gotten an answer to the question. But while we’re on colors, here’s a wonderful video on cultural effects of how people analyze colors.  

How to Give a Public Talk, by MIT’s AI Expert Patrick Winston

Terry recommends this terrific video by his former AI colleague Patrick Winston, who gave a version of this talk at MIT for many decades before sadly passing away last year.  What’s particularly fun about this video is how Patrick will tongue-in-cheek violate half the dictums he gives, showing why those dictums shouldn’t be violated.  And you’ll never forget the broken pointer.

Vodaphone on the New Era of Connected Education (in Spanish)

Vodaphone has conducted a great set of interviews, (overlaid into Spanish), including one with Sugata Mitra and another with Barb, about the future of learning.  

And Here’s a Nice Letter We Received in Russian 🙂 (“Уважаемая Барбара Оукли”)

Я бы хотел выразить благодарность за вашу книгу, думай как математик. То что вы описали в начале книги это точно про меня. В школе математика для меня была сущим адом. Учитель по математике говорил на непонятном языке, и я реально думал о том что я не то что к математике а вообще ни к чему не способен. Но как то учась в колледже я нашёл в интернете вашу книгу она перевернула мою жизнь. Я поступил в колледж в 26 лет, поздно конечно но благодаря вашей книги и я изменил жизнь и закончил колледж по электротехники. Все ваши советы реально работают. Я безумно вам благодарен. 

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

Inferno: The True Story of a B-17 Gunner’s Heroism and the Bloodiest Military Campaign in Aviation History, by Joe Pappalardo, a contributing editor at Popular Mechanics. A critically important aerial front in the WWII battles against the Nazis was the daylight forays of the US Army Air Force (USAAF) over the skies of Western Europe from 1942 until near the end of the war. Over 30,000 USAAF personnel were killed—as author Pappalardo notes “For some scale, the U.S. Marines suffered 24,500 killed in action during World War II.” Barb’s bomber-pilot-to-be father, Al Grim, caught pneumonia during training in 1942. This nearly mortal illness held him back as his initial pilot training cohort went on to be killed virtually to a man over Europe in circumstances similar to those Pappalardo describes in Inferno. (Barb’s gifted uncle, Rodney Grim, was killed during training when another young pilot rammed his plane, as poignantly described in the Grave Discovery: Discovering Grave Stones and Stories blog. (Yes, Rodney Grim is Barb’s brother’s name, tooit was a bit of a shocker for the living Rodney to see “his” gravestone in the Opheim Montana graveyard, although, of course, the military got his name wrong.)

Pappalardo uses the unlikely tale of a ne’er-do-well winner of the Medal of Honor, Maynard Harrison Smith, as a narrative device to help readers understand the horrors endured by men who were often facing near certain death. The central sections of Pappalardo’s book, describing what it was like to be flying a burning, just ready-to-snap-apart “flying fortress” while being strafed by German aces, are enough to keep you on the edge of your seat (don’t even try reading at bedtime.) The undercurrent theme of the book is precision bombing—a will-o’-the-wisp target if ever there was one. If you enjoy learning about important, but little-known topics of military history, this book is for you.

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

Coming up soon, 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. Space is limited, so reserve your seat now

Chocolate and Cognition

There’s been plenty of research evidence that cocoa is helpful for not only cardiovascular function, but also for cognition.  This recent study “Dietary flavanols improve cerebral cortical oxygenation and cognition in healthy adults,” strengthens those findings even further.  If you’re already in the peak of physical health as an exercise buff, cocoa may not make much of a difference. But for non-athletes, a little cocoa seems to be a genuine day brightener, especially if you are doing difficult cognitive work.  Just be careful that the cocoa hasn’t had all the goodness stripped out of it.  (Barb uses CocoaVia, which appears to use some of the most effective commercially available processing methods for retaining flavonoids.)

A tanulás tanulása: Learning How to Learn for Hungarian Speakers!

Terry and Barb’s book Learning How to Learn: How to Succeed in School Without Spending All Your Time Studying; A Guide for Kids and Teens is now available in Hungarian as A tanulás tanulása—it’s at all the bookstores and via e-shops in Hungary. Dr Lilla Kocsis has done some wonderful short videos videos in Hungarian about the book on Facebook, (it’s enough to make Barb want to squeeze in time to be learning Hungarian!). And don’t forget, the MOOC Learning How to Learn is now available in Hungarian as A tanulás tanulása: Hatékony mentális eszközök, melyek segítenek megbirkózni a nehéz tantárgyakkal.

Politics in Academia: A Case Study

Academic environments form a vital underpinning for all of education. This post relates the sad saga of trying to publish scientific findings informatively critical of that environment. As psychologist Glenn Geher notes: 

“The most difficult paper that my team (the New Paltz Evolutionary Psychology Lab) and I have ever tried to publish was a paper on the topic of political motivations that underlie academic values of academics. 

That paper, inspired by a visit to our campus from NYU’s Jonathan Haidt, founder of the Heterodox Academy, was, a bit surprisingly to us, so controversial that it was rejected by nearly 10 different academic journals. Each rejection came with a new set of reasons. After some point, it started to seem to us that maybe academics just found this topic and our results too threatening. Maybe this paper simply was not politically correct. I cannot guarantee that this is what was going on, but I can tell you that we put a ton of time into the research and, as someone who’s been around the block when it comes to publishing empirical work in the behavioral sciences, I truly believe that this research was generally well-thought-out, well-implemented, and well-presented. And it actually has something to say about the academic world that is of potential value.”

Geher’s experience seems to involve a situation related to academia being run like a business. Big Business is rightly criticized for influencing researchers who then mislead the public about the efficacy or harm of their products. This is an obvious problem for the public that might be using their products, and it is the reason that conflicts of interest must be revealed, for example, in publishing papers and applying for grants.  But academia seems to censor research that might show them in a bad light. This is a more insidious, invisible problem for a public who relies on academia for education and sound scientific advice. It seems that unlike conflicts of interest involving researchers with ties to business, journal editors can have their own profound academic conflicts of interest that remain unacknowledged, perhaps most especially to themselves. The result, sadly, can be an erosion of public distrust of published findings.

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

Hit Lit!

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Hit Lit! Top Books of 2020 for LHTLers!

It’s been a wild and crazy 2020. But one thing we can say with certainty is that learning through reading is one of the best ways around to boost your spirits!  With that, here are the top books LHTLers have loved during 2020. (We won’t count our own Learning How to Learn, A Mind for Numbers, and Mindshift, which blew everything else out of the water as perennial favorites.)

Learning Tools

LHTLers also find the following learning tools to be perennially useful: 

The Science of Learning

Barb was fortunate to recently speak with some of the folks behind Learning Science Weekly.  This site features weekly emails with updates on the latest research relevant to how we learn. What we love about these emails is that, not only are they packed with links to a broad range of education-related research, but the commentary is insightful and fun—weekly email author Julia Huprich, Ph.D. is a real find. (Julia, next up, we’re looking for a book from you! 🙂 ) The emails also feature up-and-coming graduate students and their projects. And, well, animals. (All in line, as Julia notes, with research showing how cute critters can enhance focus.) Enjoy! 

More on the Science of Learning

This fine overview article on learning in general, and our Learning How to Learn MOOC, by blogger Mark Koester, provides a great overview of key points of our course and also takes readers on to other great resources.  Mark has created a few online courses himself, including one on learning travel Burmesehe’s clearly a man who loves learning. Mark’s concluding comments in relation to gaps in the tracking of learning are especially thought-provoking. 

Check out mmhmm for a Great Way to Present PowerPoints with You Inserted “Inside”!

We’ve looked with longing at mmhmm, a program that provides a way for you to speak online while appearing to be sitting in front of your slides, rather than boxed in a corner. Sadly, it’s not yet available for the PCbut if you’re a Mac user and you teach or make presentations online, it’s time to have a field day! [Hat tip: Jeffrey Perrone.]

The Epigenetic Secrets Behind Dopamine, Drug Addiction, and Depression

Dopamine plays a key role in learning (animals with selective damage to their dopamine systems can’t learn new responses).  But researchers have recently made dramatic new advances in our understanding of neurotransmitters like dopamine.  As this fine article by neuroscientist R. Douglas Fields in Quanta reveals, “…serotonin and dopamine can regulate transcription of DNA into RNA and, as a consequence, the synthesis of specific proteins from them. That turns these well-known characters in neuroscience into double agents, acting obviously as neurotransmitters, but also as clandestine masters of epigenetics.”  And at last, an explanation for why serotonin reuptake inhibitors have a delayed response when used to help alleviate depression. [Hat tip: LHTL Lead Mentor Steven Cooke.] 

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 Look Like a Thing and I Love You

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place, by Janelle Shane.  Shane is a Colorado-based artificial intelligence researcher who makes computer-controlled holograms for studying the brain. She also runs the blog AI Weirdness, where she writes about “the sometimes hilarious, sometimes unsettling ways that machine learning algorithms get things wrong.”  Shane knows her stuff, and she’s also hysterically funny—a rare, killer combo of talents for an author.  If you’ve ever wondered about how machine learning and artificial intelligence works, this book is for you. And if you’re an expert on machine learning and artificial intelligence, but want to learn more about its bizarre antics and foibles, this book is also for you. We love the simple, bizarre illustrations, but this is also a surprisingly good book for listening. Enjoy!

Barb at SXSW—with Your Help!

Barb is planning to share insights on how to engage zoom-fatigued students at @SXSWEdu in March. She needs your help with getting the talk selected. Please upvote Barb’s two panels today—the last day of voting!

Learn to Solve a 3X3 Rubik’s Cube

Four time US Memory champion Nelson Dellis is back with a video on solving a Rubik’s Cubeblindfolded! And don’t forget Nelson’s terrific books on memory: 

The Learning Ideas Conference

One of Barb’s favorite conferences, filled with friendly people and fascinating ideas, is the International Conference on E-Learning in the Workplace (ICELW), now in its 14th year. In keeping with its innovative nature, the conference is changing its name and expanding its audience to include higher education as well as workplace learning, and to focus more clearly on new ideas and new uses of technologyhence the new name:  “The Learning Ideas Conference: Innovations in Learning and Technology for the Workplace and Higher Education.” It will take place June 16-18, 2021, both online and in New York. Proposals for virtual or online sessions are due by December 15.  

The University for Parents

We’ve become aware of a free resource to help parents help their families: The University for Parents. This great Atlanta-based institution focuses on “helping parent learners improve their self awareness, parenting skills, and workforce development skills so they can overcome the barriers to self sufficiency and become more empowered advocates for themselves and their children.” This program uses an “ecosystem approach to this community-restoring work with a laser focus on loosening the vicious grip of inter-generational Black poverty.” The program is also being built for replication nationwide.

Public School Enrollment Plummets, Private Schools See Gains

The nimble nature of private by comparison with public schools mean that, sadly, unequal access to quality education is increasing with the current pandemic.

The Queen’s Gambit TV series

We’ve been hearing great things about The Queen’s Gambit TV series. Along these lines James Haupert, Founder and CEO of the Center for Homeschooling, tells us:

“The Queen’s Gambit, season 1 on Netflix, is an extraordinary show.  It is set during the cold war era, about an orphaned chess prodigy Beth Harmon and her quest to become the greatest chess player in the world. While the plot is a little predictable, the sets and the clothing create a great “midcentury” (still getting used to that term) feel.

“What makes this show stand out is how they portray the chess matches. They do this in such an interesting way that even non-chess players find the action interesting, and understandable.  This show has created a great buzz about the world of chess among people who normally know nothing about it. I am amazed by how creative the productions are… I think it provides an inspiring example for all of us educators… This show proves it is possible, if done with imagination and with the audience in mind, to get people interested and excited about things they might not otherwise be interested in. Maybe there are some lessons we can extract from examining the production and storytelling that we can incorporate into our teaching?”

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 Incredible Journey of Plants

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

The Incredible Journey of Plants, by Stefano Mancuso. Have you ever wondered how avocados spread their seeds when their pits are so large? (Hint, when the mammoths died out, avocados almost did, too.) Or where the world’s most forlorn trees reside? Or what happened to the trees that survived the blast at Hiroshima? This oddly appealing book by neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso of the University of Florence (translated from the Italian by Gregory Conti), describes Mancuso’s unlikely admiration for invasive species and unusual plant survival-and-spread stories. 

As Mancuso notes: “One plant that truly has a terrible reputation in many parts of the world, and with all of the national and agencies involved in some way with invasive plants, is without a doubt the Eichhornia crassipes, or water hyacinth. Its rapid diffusion and its sovereign contempt for the vast majority of means with which humanity tries to fight it have combined to make it commonly considered the worst aquatic invasive species known to humanity. Furthermore, it has the dubious privilege of membership in the elite club of the ‘100 worst invasive species’ established by the Invasive Species Study Group… In short, deemed the vegetable personification of evil, it is hated by everyone. Without reservation. As you might imagine, it is exactly the kind of flora non grata that I find irresistible.” 

Gotta love such a contrarian, who also sagely observes that attempts to eradicate invasive species often simply make matters worse. Looking for a fun, yet nicely calming reading experience in today’s turbulent times? Settle back and enjoy!

Dan Pink’s Wonderful Masterclass on Sales and Persuasion

We are huge fans of Dan Pink’s books.  (See, for example, his recent Time: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.) So when Barb discovered that Dan’s Masterclass on Sales and Persuasion came out recently, she dropped everything to watch every video. It’s a wonderful class, chock full of clever strategies for everything from persuading a teenager to clean his unkempt room, to getting your boss to buy you a new computer system, to keeping yourself upbeat in the face of rejection and failure. Dan is a genuinely caring  instructor-persuader who epitomizes his own statement: “To be a good persuader, the best way to do that is to be a decent human being.”

Feel Free to Do a Good Deed for the Day 🙂

If you liked Learning How to Learn and the course textbook it was based on, A Mind for Numbers, feel free to upvote some of the positive reviews on Amazon. Several negative reviews have crept up to the front page—they were left, it seems, by people who have barely glanced at the book. (One review, for example, refers to Barb, the author, as a “he.”) Upvoting reviews you agree with, given your more thorough knowledge base, will help balance the perspectives with more informed insights.

Satirist Tom Lehrer has put his songs into the public domain

We’ve long been fans of Tom Lehrer, who taught at MIT while moonlighting to write bizarre, yet delightful songs such as “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park,” and “The Masochism Tango.” His “New Math” skewered educational approaches that just made children’s learning more difficult.  As Lehrer notes:

“But in the new approach, as you know, the important thing is to understand what you’re doing, rather than to get the right answer.” 


“…don’t panic! Base eight is just like base ten really – if you’re missing two fingers.”

Great news for all of us, Lehrer has put virtually his entire set of works into the public domain. Enjoy! [Hat tip: Pat Peterson.]

5 Reasons You Won’t Complete Your Online Course

This wonderful podcast by “Mother of Abundance” Xina Gooding Broderick gives an upbeat message about how to be successful in your online learning.  Agree or not with her approaches, Xina’s inspirational suggestions will help you towards success. Xina has a great deal of project management experience and is also a qualified funeral home director—she knows how to mitigate risks and coach us into a life with minimal regrets.

Discussing Concepts of the Book Breath

if you’re curious about any of the concepts mentioned in last week’s “Book of the Year” Breath, by James Nestor, and want to explore them with other LHTLer’s, come hang out in the forum! (Just update your session or go directly to the main discussion forum if you have trouble accessing the link.)

When it comes to breathing issues, you are not alone. Some members of our community are already working with Dr. Ted Belfor, the inventor of the Homeoblock device mentioned in the book, to breathe better. (And apologies, the author is James, not as mentioned last week, Mark, Nestor!)

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

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

Uncommon Sense Teaching

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

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

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, (more info below 🙂 ) 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.  Whether you are teaching at a university, in K-12, in business, in athletics, or you-name-it, you will find this workshop provides  a common framework, terminology, and practical exercises to develop your instruction on a soundly neuroscientific basis. Plus, you can finally interact with Barb live! As is her usual teaching practice, (even on Zoom), she’ll be coming early and staying late to answer questions. Space is limited, so reserve your seat now

Teacher’s Book of a Lifetime

Uncommon Sense Teaching: Practical Insights in Brain Science to Help Students Learn, by Barbara Oakley, Beth Rogowsky, and Terrence Sejnowski.(Penguin Random House) Our master work for anyone involved in education is finally orderable! As a LHTLer, we know you like diving into learning. You’ll find this book is the first to give in-depth, yet practically useful insights for teachers, professors, trainers, coaches, parents and caregivers and lay readers to help guide their inclusive teaching and learning to diverse audiences—or simply to better understand the learning process. Overflowing with magnificent imagery, (some of which will leave you laughing) Uncommon Sense Teaching walks you through not only the how’s, but also the why’s of great teaching and great learning. For example, have you ever wondered why the explanations students (or adults) give you about their struggles with learning—or explanations about anything—sometimes don’t seem related to their real underlying motivations?  Wonder no more. As explained in this excerpt from Chapter 6:

“The procedural goal-directed system is where the declarative and procedural systems can work together. The declarative system (which you are aware of) ‘primes’ the procedural learning pump, but is not able to explain how the procedural system operates. (It’s a little like a child pushing ‘send’ on a text message without understanding how the message arrives at its destination.) All the mistakes and successes you make in learning how to drive shape your driving reflexes. You are perfectly conscious of your mistakes, but not about how they lead to smooth, automatic driving. This is why conscious control is slow and inefficient. Slowly, the procedural system takes over, and after a lot of repetition it becomes fluid and automatic.

“Incidentally, it’s not as if the interactions between the declarative and procedural systems are a one-way street. The conscious goals of the declarative system can be driven non-consciously by the basal ganglia procedural system. Procedural learning works by using a value function that it has built over many years of experience in dealing with complex, uncertain conditions in the world. The value function helps the procedural system to maximize future rewards. Rewards are typically innate (like food and water) or involve distant payoffs (like going to school).  If you ask someone why they made a decision, they can devise a story that has little to do with the procedural system’s value function. This is because the value function for procedural goal-based learning is as inaccessible to consciousness as the procedural habit-based value function for bike riding. Putting it bluntly, the declarative system is clueless when it comes to the procedural system.

“As a more specific example, when you meet someone for the first time, you have a ‘gut feeling’ about them.  Where did that come from? After all, you have never met them before. If you try to articulate your feelings, you will make up some story about their mannerisms or facial appearance, but the real reasons go back to how you have been brought up, as well as the many people you have met in your life and your outcomes interacting with them, even though you may have forgotten them. This is also why politics and religion can be such fraught topics. Inclinations in this area are driven in part by nonconscious motivations arising from the procedural system. This means that conscious, declarative discussion generally cannot get at the real motivations.”

Rave reviews about Uncommon Sense Teaching from top educators are already pouring in:

 “The authors bring to this highly practical, user-friendly book a deep understanding of teachers and classrooms, the implications of neuroscientific findings for successful teaching and learning, and the ability to write about complex ideas in an approachable way.”

     —Carol Ann Tomlinson, EdD, author of How to Differentiate Instruction in Academically Diverse Classrooms

Uncommon Sense Teaching is the first book I’ve found that perfectly blends neuroscience, cognitive psychology, learning strategies/theories, and practical tips for teachers into one delicious meal. Not too heavy on the neuro, not too light on the cognitive, large portions of learning and teaching implications served with a sauce of witty and accessible writing. If there were a Michelin Guide for education books, this one would receive a 3-star rating.”

     —Paul A. Kirschner, Emeritus Professor of Educational Psychology, Open University of the Netherlands

“There are two reasons why everyone involved in education and training should read Uncommon Sense Teaching. First, the book integrates neuroscience, human cognition, and education into a coherent whole that is unique. Second, the writing is exceptionally clear, managing to convey complex ideas with infectious enthusiasm. The result is a masterpiece.”

     —John Sweller, Emeritus Professor of Educational Psychology, University of New South Wales

A Favor for Barb and Terry

If you’d like to learn more about teaching learning (and also do Barb and Terry a big favor by pre-ordering the book), order your copy (and copies for friends!) of Uncommon Sense Teaching now.

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

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Year!

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor. We’ve long had the feeling that breathing and breathing techniques are supremely important. Yet it’s been tough to find a solid scientifically-based book that gives a trustworthy overview of the subject—until James Nestor came along.  Nestor’s extraordinary willingness to not only make himself try out the various techniques and therapies he’s describing, but also to do in-depth scientific and historical research, and on top of that, to write with the grace and beauty of a Pulitzer Prize winner, are virtually unparalleled in popular literature. Who knew that a book on breath could be hard to put down—and so important?

You’ll learn why it’s important to keep your mouth closed whenever possible (it turns out you must use—or you’ll lose—the ability to breath through your nose). You’ll also discover why the human face has, in recent centuries, created breeding grounds for the sinus infections that frequently plague us—and how it is possible to widen our mouths and fix the crooked teeth and sinus problems caused by soft foods and well-meaning orthodontists. (Nestor makes the prescient point that old skulls meant to display the inadequacy of “non-civilized” peoples instead illustrate that civilization wreaks havoc on sinuses and teeth.) 

Discussions of the history of a subject are often disconnected from modern day findings, and thus more than a little boring. But in Nestor’s able hands, we’re able to see how the ancients’ abilities to, for example, stay warm even during the iciest of conditions informs our modern understanding of the impact of breath on the autonomic nervous system; and how, in the 1830s, artist George Catlin gained an uncanny understanding of Native American breathing techniques—knowledge that was sadly lost save for Catlin’s efforts to document it. We even get a surprisingly relevant visit to the catacombs of Paris.

The end of the book contains a helpful recapitulation of the most important techniques in the book (and more), along with links to relevant websites. This is the best book we’ve read all year—and one of our top ten ever.  Don’t miss it. (Also, this book is perfect for listening on Audible).

Barb Keynoting for the World Engineering Education Forum and the Global Engineering Deans Council (WEEF/GEDC) Virtual Conference

WEEF/GEDC, a conference for professors, academics, engineering educators, industry leaders, researchers, students and governmental organizations, is a uniquely designed virtual conference to be held from 16 – 19 November 2020. Barb’s keynote is titled “Active Learning: Those Words Do Not Mean What You Think They Mean.” She’ll be appearing at 9:30 AM Eastern time November 16. Conference registration is here.

Non-invasive Stimulation of the Vagus Nerve in Adults Enhances Language Learning

This fascinating article describes research involving stimulation of the vagus nerve to enhance some types of learning. Could it be that breathing techniques, which can stimulate or depress certain nervous systems, might someday be used to enhance learning or detect engagement?

Our Mind-Boggling Sense of Smell

Nautilus—one of our favorite science magazines that somehow keeps resurrecting from the dead—has published a wonderful article by Ann-Sophie Barwich that describes how research has inadvertently neglected the olfactory sense. This is especially un-good because the sense of smell is perhaps the one external sense most closely connected to the internal workings of the brain. [Hat tip: LHTL Lead Mentor Steven Cooke.]

Deep Neural Networks Help to Explain Living Brains

This explanatory article by Anil Ananthaswamy in Quanta Magazine provides the most elegant, readable description we’ve ever read about deep neural networks. This one is well worth your time, and also describes some of the deep neural network work on olfaction, which, as noted above, is still in its rudimentary stages.  

Olive Oil Tasting

Long time LHTLers know that we’re keen fans of well-made extra-virgin olive oil. (Our favorite book on olive oil, which we can’t help but mention again, is Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.)  We recently took  an online class-tasting on olive oil from our favorite olive oil company, and enjoyed the heck out of it.  If you’d like to try a new learning experience involving both smell and taste, we highly recommend expert taster Alexis Kerner’s Olive Oil Lovers tasting classes.

Launch of the World Wide Theoretical Neuroscience Seminar (WWTNS). 

WWTNS is a weekly digital seminar on Zoom targeting the theoretical neuroscience community. Speakers have the occasion to talk about theoretical aspects of their work which cannot be discussed in a setting where the majority of the audience consists of experimentalists. The seminars are 45 min long followed by a discussion and are held on Wednesdays at 5 pm in Western Europe, i.e., 11 am EST and 8 am PST.  The talks are recorded with authorization of the speaker and will be available to everybody on our YouTube channel. 

The first seminar will be on November, 4, 2020 at 8 am PST. The speaker will be Larry Abbott (Columbia University).  The title of his talk is:  Vector Addition in the Navigational Circuits of the Fly.

The abstract of the talk is available on the WWTNS website. To participate in the seminar you need to fill out a registration form, after which you will receive an email telling you how to connect.

Dutch Translation of Learning How to Learn

Many translators have helped with the Dutch and other language caption translations of Learning How to Learn. But Christiane Andries has taken on the task of finishing and finalizing a comprehensive set of translations for LHLT, which are now complete. As she notes: “I  hope it will help a number of students from the Dutch language community to take the course with success. From my experience in teaching information technology, I know that although most students have a basic knowledge of English, it is often not sufficient to study more complex subjects.” With Christiane’s help atop scores of other translators, Learning How to Learn is now even more accessible! 

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

Leif and the Fall

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Leif and the Fall, by Allison Sweet Grant and Adam Grant.  All the other leaves say that “All leaves fall in the fall.”  But Leif applies creativity to learn that success grows from plenty of failures in this beautifully illustrated little story. If you are a parent, caregiver, relative, or friend, you couldn’t do better to help a child’s creativity than reading this uplifting book together. 

We also greatly enjoyed Allison and Adam’s children’s book The Gift Behind the Box. Adam Grant wrote one of our very favorite books, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success (which also discusses Barb’s work on Pathological Altruism.)

The Brain Maps Out Ideas and Memories Like Spaces

We’ve long been interested in the power of cognitive maps to fuel cognition, not just about space, but about virtually everything. In this beautifully researched and written article by Jordana Cepelewicz in Quanta Magazine, (via Pocket Worthy), she notes: “In the past few decades, research has shown that for at least two of our faculties, memory and navigation, those metaphors may have a physical basis in the brain. A small seahorse-shaped structure, the hippocampus, is essential to both those functions, and evidence has started to suggest that the same coding scheme — a grid-based form of representation — may underlie them. Recent insights have prompted some researchers to propose that this same coding scheme can help us navigate other kinds of information, including sights, sounds and abstract concepts. The most ambitious suggestions even venture that these grid codes could be the key to understanding how the brain processes all details of general knowledge, perception and memory.” 

The pictures in this article are especially helpful. Enjoy!  [Hat tip: LHTL Lead Mentor Steven Cooke.]

Rethinking Assessment

Our friend Al McConville, Director of Learning and Innovation at Bedales, who was responsible for the kid-friendly approach of our book Learning How to Learn, has pulled together a group of UK education people to launch this movement to help rethink assessment: What unites Al’s group is a sense that we’re not assessing broadly enough, and that timed tests are just one element of knowing how a young person is developing. “Tests are all good,” Al notes, “but if that’s all a kid ever does, it’s pretty dispiriting!”

Along these lines, the Chartered College of Teaching is hosting a (free) discussion on November 5, 2020, chaired by Dame Alison Peacock looking at the future of exams and rethinking assessment. You can register here.

“When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

Researchers have long observed that people have an optimism bias—they like to hear and react to good news, easily absorbing it into their thinking, even as they discount negative or harmful information. This Pollyanna lifestyle leads to an evolutionary conundrum. How can people survive if they are continually discounting risk and refusing to take obvious precautions in the face of threat?  The solution may lie within the findings of this fascinating study by Neil Garrett and colleagues from The Journal of Neuroscience involving “valence-dependent learning asymmetry.”  

The crux of the matter is that when individuals perceive themselves to be in physical danger, they begin to think differently—their minds open to new information, even though it may be negative, allowing them to learn and reshape their thinking. The stress helps them see reality instead of roses.

This in turn may explain the central sociological idea of the greatest philosophers of the Middle Ages, Ibn Khaldun, related to societal cohesion under fearful external pressures. (This concept, aṣabiyyah, has also been translated as “group solidarity” or “tribalism.”) For example, imagine you are hanging around in pre-history on the Italic Peninsula when some yokels a couple hills over start trying to boss you around, demanding tribute. Forget about it! But wait a minute, those Gauls from up north are pretty durn scary—maybe it won’t hurt to open our minds to some alliances. And thus begins the Roman Empire. 

Or, in a more recent example, the British had been wanting “peace in our time” against Hitler, and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain waved an agreement that seemed to guarantee it. Time to relax and celebrate! Unfortunately, this benighted, “Let’s look at the bright side!” attitude bought Hitler time and allowed him to take his first crucial victories. This greatly prolonged World War II, leading to the slaughter of dozens of millions.

Garrett et al’s findings may also explain why people have ignored warnings about the effects of an upcoming pandemic such as COVID-19, or the electric grid being wiped out by a combination of a solar superstorm and cheap design shortcuts, or the tragedy of an asteroid hit when preparation could divert the danger. Epidemiologists, engineers, and astronomers, know it’s only a matter of time before the danger unfolds, but for others, well, in general, it’s more pleasant to focus on something positive. This focus on the positive also helps explain the frequent feel-good band aid patches instead of real fixes for the educationally disadvantaged, and the sad state of affairs in the USA involving the deinstitutionalized homeless.

Of course it’s easy to say “That explains why those guys are ignoring the obvious” when focusing on our own favored danger, while turning a Pollyanna eye to perhaps more important dangers (or dangerously prohibitive costs) being pointed out by those who don’t ascribe to our belief systems. 

As Garrett’s findings reveal, once your eyes are open to real danger, it becomes a learning opportunity for other genuine, yet here-to-fore ignored dangers. Could you perhaps use Garrett’s findings to broaden your mindset and your learning? And to help implement reality-oriented protective policies for your organization?

To learn more about the brilliant Ibn Khaldun and aṣabiyyah, we highly recommend War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires, by Peter Turchin. Oh yes, and the quote about hanging was written by English writer and proto-neuroscientist Samuel Johnson over 200 years ago. La plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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

Something Deeply Hidden

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime, by Sean Carroll. We have to admit, we know nothing about quantum physics. (Well, at least Barb, who is writing this review, knew nothing about quantum physics. Terry, on the other hand, studied relativity with John Wheeler at Princeton, so he can dish on quanta when he feels like it.) Sean Carroll is a magnificent writer—understandably, this book became an instant New York Times best seller.  Just take a gander at this paragraph: “Note the subtle difference between Planck’s suggestion and Einstein’s. Planck says that light of a fixed frequency is emitted in certain energy amounts, while Einstein says that’s because light literally is discrete particles. It’s the difference between saying that a certain coffee machine makes exactly one cup at a time, and saying that coffee only exists in the form of one-cup-size amounts. That might make sense when we’re talking about matter particles like electrons and protons, but just a few decades earlier Maxwell had triumphantly explained that light was a wave, not a particle. Einstein’s proposal was threatening to undo that triumph. Planck himself was reluctant to accept this wild new idea, but it did explain the data. In a wild new idea’s search for acceptance, that’s a powerful advantage to have.”

Barb can’t say she emerged from Something Deeply Hidden having a good grasp of quantum physics, (although maybe another version of her in a different world does), but she now has a much greater appreciation for some of the discipline’s oddly beautiful ideas. Also, it’s interesting to know that Schrödinger didn’t like cats. 


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

Barb will be doing the first live webinar presenting practical insights and ideas from her upcoming book Uncommon Sense Teaching, (Barb Oakley, Beth Rogowsky, and Terrence Sejnowski, to be published by Penguin Random House on June 15, 2021). This workshop, on the afternoons of January 6, 7, and 8th, gives an unprecedented look at new insights from neuroscience that give you practical tools that can help your students learn more effectively.  Whether you are teaching at a university or in K-12, you will find this workshop provides  a common framework, terminology, and practical exercises to develop your teaching on a soundly neuroscientific basis. Although intended for STEM, instructors from any discipline can benefit from these insights. Space is limited, so reserve your seat now

Tired of Looking Gray and Boring When Teaching Online?

Here’s the interesting tech journey of a law professor who decided to spice up his online teaching by adding different cameras and using a teleprompter to allow him to gaze directly into the camera while still seeing what he’s presenting. Another approach, if you want to superimpose yourself into a PowerPoint, is to use Vidblaster—which we plan to experiment more with.

A Productivity System for Developers on Listenable

Our friend James Bowen, a Java developer and DevOps engineer working at Australia Post, has developed a productivity system for developers on Listenable. You may wish to check it out. (James’s blog is here.)

Virtual Workshop: “La Ciencia del Aprendizaje,” accredited by Universidad Antonio Nariño (Colombia) 

On 24th and 31th October, the co-instructor and lead of the Spanish version of our MOOC Aprendiendo a Aprender, Orlando Trejo, will be teaching a virtual workshop to Spanish speakers, where he will revisit in an interactive format the strategies presented at Learning How to Learn and Mindshift

This workshop will be officially accredited by Universidad Antonio Nariño (Colombia), which will grant a certificate to participants. The cost of participation is ($30); here is more information about the program and registration.

 And stay tuned for more free opportunities, resources, virtual meetings and workshops for Ibero-American students, which will be announced at the Spanish version.

Entrepreneurship Is Skyrocketing During the Pandemic

This upbeat article in FEE provides an inspiring exploration of the opportunities that are arising for new ways of meeting people’s needs as a consequence of the pandemic. It appears this is nowhere more obvious than in education.  “Many students started this school year with remote learning only, as district schools, especially in urban areas, remain indefinitely closed for full-time, in-person instruction. Michael Strong, a longtime educator, author, and successful entrepreneur, quickly recognized that parents are dissatisfied with their children’s remote district schooling and want a high-quality, affordable alternative. “There is such immense demand… Once parents get regular school piped into their homes, they see that school isn’t always a great fit. They take on significantly more ownership of their child’s education and look for more options.” Strong recently launched Expanse, a virtual school that provides high-touch, project-based, live remote learning to middle schoolers throughout the US. [Hat tip, Pat Peterson.]

Találkozzon Barbara Oakley-val! (A workshop for Hungarians) 

Szeretettel várjuk a Szegedi Tudományegyetemen, ahol Barbara Oakley 2020. október 24-én tart webináriumokat.

Az online, interaktív előadások programja:

  1. október 24.

13:00 A tanulás tanulása

14:30 Ássunk mélyebbre a tanulás tudományában

16:00 Az online oktatás tanulságai világjárvány idején

 A részvétel ingyenes, ám regisztrációhoz kötött. A regisztráció határideje október 18. További információ itt található.

Sorry for the bad link last week…Neuro Learning Hacks

Here’s the right quick learning hack from TikTok [Hat tip Jeffery Parent], which, as we’d mentioned, articulates key ideas that this far longer but deeply informative discussion between Joe Rogan and neuroscientist Andrew Huberman.

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

Teachers vs Tech? The Case for an Ed Tech Revolution

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Month

Teachers vs Tech? The Case for an Ed Tech Revolution, by Daisy Christodoulou. We’re tremendous fans of “force of nature” Daisy Christdoulou, author of Seven Myths about Education. In her newest book, Daisy makes the perceptive, balanced case for using technology for many critical teaching-related purposes, including personalized learning, make learning more active, and improving teachers’ reach and engagement with students. When combined with Daisy’s perceptive asides and experience, Teachers vs Tech makes for a compelling read.  

For example, think you can always “just look it up?” As Daisy shows, just looking things up can be worse than just being wrong—it can allow you and your students to be suckered by big tech into their self-serving, deceptive world. Want your students to learn independently? It’s not as simple as that—in fact, students don’t get better at learning independently by just learning independently. Think a video project can help your students learn more about the material? Think again—such a project can ultimately help students learn far more about video-making than about what you’re actually trying to teach.

Amongst all her intriguing perspectives, Daisy has a special insight into rubrics, and why rubrics can mislead teachers into believing students understand the material when they don’t. (Here is some of her published research on the topic.)  Indeed, there is excellent research evidence that just because a student may mouth or write the words you want to hear does not mean they actually understand what you want them to understand.

In the end, Daisy writes like a great teacher—we especially liked the illustrations and straightforward layout that made Daisy’s ideas easier to “chunk” and internalize. In these pandemic days, teachers and parents are pausing to reset their expectations about what the online world can bring to education. Daisy’s book provides an intriguing guide to what lies ahead.

Neuro Learning Hacks

Here’s a quick learning hack from TikTok [Hat tip Jeffery Parent], which articulates key ideas this far longer but deeply informative discussion between Joe Rogan and neuroscientist Andrew Huberman. [Hat tip Cal Newport—don’t miss Cal’s fabulous book Deep Work!]

Evolutionary and Heritable Axes Shape Our Brain

Sometimes as science advances, what seemed unimaginably complex at first can actually be broken down and explained in very simple ways.  In just such a fashion, as this article in Medical Press explains, scientists are discovering that the human brain—in fact, the brain of all primates—is organized along two primary axes. “One axis stretches from the posterior (back) to the frontal part of the cortex. This reflects a functional hierarchy from basic capabilities such as vision and movement to abstract, highly complex skills such as cognition, memory, and social skills. A second axis leads from the dorsal (upper) to the ventral (lower) part of the cortex. Whereas the ventral system has been associated with functions assigning meaning and motivation, the dorsal system may relate to space, time, and movement.” This supports the hypothesis that “ the cerebral cortex developed from two different origins, the amygdala and olfactory cortex on the one hand and the hippocampus on the other hand. From these origins two different lines of cortical development arose, reflecting waves from less to more differentiated areas starting at each origin.”

A Podcast between Atharva Khisti and Barb on Mentor Chat

Here’s Part 2 of the informative and fun-to-listen to chat between Atharva and Barb—enjoy! (Part 1 was last week.)

Google Has a Plan to Disrupt the College Degree

As this Inc. article notes, Google’s new certificate program takes only six months to complete, and will be a fraction of the cost of college. Key graf: “Although traditional degrees are still deemed necessary in fields like law or medicine, more and more employers have signaled that they no longer view them as a must-have—Apple, IBM, and Google, just to name a few.”

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