Dakotas, gardens, and procrastination

19th April 2019

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Books of the Week

In the past few months, we dipped back and forth between two completely different books about local history—one book centering on the Caucasus, and the other set in the Dakotas.

  • Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War, by Thomas de Waal. What a revelation to find a book that can even-handedly parse one of the most gut-wrenching wars of the late 20th century. De Waal doesn’t take the easy way out in his conclusions about the cause of this disastrous, still-unresolved conflict, which could set the spark for future world war. This book about an important, but often neglected, area of the world is well-worth reading.
  • Dakota: The Story of the Northern Plains, by Norman K. Risjord  We’re guessing that, unless you live in North or South Dakota, that you haven’t necessarily had a yen to discover the history of that area.  But you’re missing a treat with this book’s perspective on a little-known, sparsely populated area of the US. Risjord’s “big picture” perspective starts with the geology of the Dakotas, which leads to the earliest traces and growing presence of Native Americans in the area. Onwards the narrative goes to the French and American expeditions, revealing the area’s connection with Canada. As with elsewhere in the US, governmental intervention was devastating for the Native American tribes of the Dakotas—Risjord lays out the blatant scheming and corruption, which carried through to the Swedish and other immigrants.  An insightful look at the history of one of the most beautiful, but less-often-visited, areas in the US.

An Effortless Way to Improve Your Memory

This outstanding article in BBC Future summarizes recent research findings that reveal doing nothing at all for a brief period after initially learning something can help memory processes to better assimilate the material. (See also “Brief wakeful resting boosts new memories over the long term,” and “Enhanced Brain Correlations during Rest Are Related to Memory for Recent Experiences.”)

Could this be related to why cooperative learning techniques, where instructors ask students to work in groups to grapple with material that’s just been taught, can be helpful?  Those with higher working memory capacity can usually follow right along with the lecture, and then lead the group’s conversation during the group discussion. Those with lower capacity working memory can follow along with the group’s discussion, but not focus as intently on the conversation, which might allow their hippocampi to go to work processing the information and offloading their hippocampal buffers. Incidentally, there is some evidence that the more time you spend focusing, the more you may suppress the default mode network, and thus may suppress consolidation—that is, making sense of and creating memories related to the material.

Intriguing stuff, all of this—it will be fascinating to see what future research will reveal!

Procrastination Makes The New York Times

Here’s an interesting article about procrastination by the Charlotte Lieberman in the New York Times. But all of the experts Lieberman interviews avoid mention of the Pomodoro Technique, a favorite of LHTLers. Perhaps that’s what happens when a powerful mental tool is so simple, and is developed by a design consultant with a masters degree like Francesco Cirillo, instead of by a prominent psychologist, business professor, or New York Times best-selling author. (Academics, much like lawyers, can sometimes have incentives to “complexify” matters.) Cirillo’s simple technique makes use of some of the best of what we’re finding from neuroscience—such as, as noted in the above paragraph, researchers have found that taking brief periods of rest helps the brain to consolidate the material. And of course, knowing you’re going to get a reward at the end of your period of focus, as with the Pomodoro technique, is a powerful incentive.

Slow learning can be better learning

As this explanation and video snippet about learning by Barb, Terry, and Greg reveal, “Those with poorer working memories can actually be at an advantage.” This is via the Times Educational Supplementone of Britain’s best educational publications.

An optimal way to structure your workday

We like this article by Dr. Travis Bradberry that talks about how to structure your workday. There’s a bit of misleading implication that an 8-hour approach is wrong-headed, but the reality is, even extended, 8 hour days can be very productive if they are broken up between periods of intense focus and more “diffuse mode” type breaks. [Hat tip Kyle Marcroft]

Zimbabwe and Hyperinflation: Who Wants to Be a Trillionaire?

If you want to see some great editing of educational video—not to mention some very intriguing subject-matter, you’ll enjoy MRU’s short video on the causes of hyperinflation. Check out the course itself. Who knew macroeconomics could be so fun?

Moments in Great Teaching

If you want to see great teaching in action, watch this three-minute video of Anant Agarwal teaching an electronic circuits class.  We’ve never seen a cooler use for a chainsaw. Want to learn circuits themselves? You couldn’t do better than to check out EdX’s Circuits and Electronics 1: Basic Circuit Analysis.

The Essential Ingredient for a ‘Deep Education’

This wonderful article by Shannon Watkins at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal describes the deep friendship between Harvard University philosopher Cornel West and Princeton philosopher Robert P. George. The two hold vastly different political beliefs while maintaining their strong friendship—a fantastic example for today’s society.

Schools Need to Teach Kids How Not to Be Offended, Educator Pleads

This short article about describes the work of educator Irshad Manji. Key grafs: “Discussions about what is and isn’t ‘politically correct’ have dominated social media in recent years, but Manji believes ‘giving offense is the price of diversity, not an impediment to diversity.’”

“This is why she suggests schools should teach the next generation of adults — who will undoubtedly be debating politics and other polarizing issues — how not to feel insulted when faced with differing viewpoints.”

How to Remember Coursework

This insightful essay by Pat Bowden of Online Learning Success provides a handy checklist of ways to ensure the MOOCs and courses you take stick 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

View more Cheery Friday e-mails >