Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes

9th February 2023

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Month

Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle, by Daniel L. Everett.  At a time when ChatGPT has everyone’s attention, this timeless book of exploration by linguist Daniel Everett lends perspective on the nature of language.  It also describes what might be called the views of “happy stoics” (the Pirahã) and their perspectives on life itself.  

Daniel Everett was a brilliant missionary, graduating at the top of his class from the Moody Bible Institute, who was sent to crack the seemingly uncrackable Pirahã language in the far-off reaches of the Amazon and translate the bible into Pirahã.  What Everett found was unexpected—that the Pirahã language appeared to overthrow the vaunted linguistic theories of MIT’s Noam Chomsky. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the Pirahã worldview challenged and changed Everett in ways he himself would never have predicted. 

Interestingly, Chomsky’s recursion theory, convincingly rebutted by Everett’s hard-won research, was developed with Marc Hauser, the disgraced former professor who resigned from Harvard after substantive allegations of scientific misconduct. As our own Terry Sejnowski describes in his Deep Learning Revolution, Chomsky’s theorizing is thought to have held back advances in artificial intelligence by decades. (We suspect far more will come out about Chomsky and his theories after his passing.)  If you like adventure, language, numerical thinking, or what happens when worldviews collide, you’ll almost certainly love Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes, just as we did. Enjoy!

Calling all Lithuanians…

Barb will be in Lithuania in the May 24-25 timeframe. Would you like her to speak about the neuroscience of learning and teaching at your institution? If so, reach out to by February 17th.

Engaging Learners through Zoom Workshop

Need new strategies to teach through Zoom? A virtual professional development workshop that is actually energizing and fun? The Engaging Learners through Zoom Workshop offers teachers, college educators, administrators, and trainers the antidote to Zoom fatigue!  It’s so good even Barb (co-instructor of the highly rated “Teaching Online” MOOC on Coursera) is attending! Jonathan’s book on engaging learners on Zoom is also worthwhile. You’ll discover:

  • Multiple synchronous online learning structures backed by cognitive neuroscience
  • Dozens of active learning strategy examples with step-by-step directions
  • Ideas for including diverse content across numerous disciplines

The Most Perceptive Essay We’ve Read about ChatGPT and Educational Assessment

Don’t miss this brilliant essay by polymath Daisy Christodoulou about the perils of conclusion-jumping when it comes to ChatGPT.  Key grafs:

“If computers really are so brilliant at these typical academic skills that are taught in schools, maybe we should stop teaching them completely or only teach the particularly advanced, specialist and niche ones that computers can’t do?

“No. First of all, we will always want to teach academic skills for personal development. It’s good to be able to read, write and count even if a computer is faster and quicker. We didn’t stop teaching PE because of the invention of the car, or drawing because of the invention of the camera.”

If you’re into ChatGPT (and who isn’t, these days?), this essay can’t be missed!

University of Texas to Offer Large-Scale Online Master’s Degree in A.I.

Inspired in part by the Georgia Institute of Technology, which became the first leading computer science school to start a large-scale, low-cost online master’s degree, The University of Texas at Austin is starting a large-scale, low-cost online Master of Science degree program in artificial intelligence.  As this New York Times article notes:

“The first of its kind among elite computing schools, the new program could help swiftly expand the A.I. work force in the United States as tech giants like Microsoft rush to invest billions in the field.

“The university announced the initiative amid a clamor over new technology powered by artificial intelligence that can generate humanlike art and texts. And while some of the technology industry’s biggest companies are laying off workers after years of rapid growth, hiring in A.I. is expected to stay strong.

“University officials said they planned to train thousands of graduate students in sought-after skills like machine learning, for a tuition of about $10,000, starting in the spring of 2024. School officials said the cost was intended to make A.I. education more affordable. By contrast, Johns Hopkins University offers an online M.S. degree in artificial intelligence for more than $45,000.”

A Sizzling Video Book Review of A Mind for Numbers

Business Analyst Pallavi Dharkar gives an eminently informative and watchable review of A Mind for Numbers.  She has a book club—we’ve followed her LinkedIn profile to learn more; her book choices are (obviously) terrific!  

Most Children in Poor Countries Are Being Failed by Their Schools

This fascinating article in The Economist describes winning efforts in education in both poor and wealthy countries through tightly structured approaches to schooling.  (Direct instruction!) Key quotes from the paywalled article: 

“In America…there is growing awareness that schools have been clinging to modish but ineffective “child-led” ways of teaching reading that other developed countries such as Britain have junked. Literacy programmes that were dismissed as old-fashioned are coming back into favour.

“McGraw Hill, an American publishing company, sells a series of highly scripted courses aimed at primary-school children. Bryan Wickman of the National Institute for Direct Instruction, a charity in Oregon, says that using the simplest, clearest language possible is crucial when teaching the smallest children. He says the idea that lessons based on scripts must inevitably bore children should surprise anyone who enjoys other things that are performed from scripts, such as plays…

“[T]eachers sometimes bristle at the constraints that scripts impose: “It is not what they teach you in teacher school.” Sceptics often come round…when they see kids making swift progress. Mr Wickman points out that other expensively trained professionals, such as pilots and surgeons, also have procedures that they must follow to the letter. After some initial complaints (similar to those expressed by dubious teachers) such regimented approaches have become widespread in those fields. They help reduce mistakes, and spread better ways of doing things.” 

There Is No Thinking without Memorizing

This beautifully-written article “There Is No Thinking without Memorizing” by Professor Jon Schaff gives a great overview of counterintuitive notions in education. Key graf: “We deploy faddish educational notions such as ‘critical thinking’ to the detriment of our students. What is often derided as ‘rote-learning’ is actually essential to sophisticated analysis. Memorization creates a base of knowledge. We draw upon this foundational knowledge as we engage in more conceptual thinking.”

Inspiring Feedback for the Day

You’re never too old to learn, as one LHTLer notes:

“I’m a 39 years old veterinary medicine student with an aviation background. I learned how to fly through repetitive practice (actual flying), while in vet school I’m learning to be a doctor through repetitive lectures and written exams. I find vet school very challenging, but I apply what I learned from your course every day of my academic career. So, I want to sincerely thank you for creating and making “Learning how to learn” available to anyone. It is the best help and tool a student can have!”

Celia Angelica Barnett, BS, LMU-CVM Class of 2025, Student Ambassador, Tutor

That’s all for now. Have a happy month in Learning How to Learn!

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

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