2nd November 2021

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Heads up—as Barb is heading into heavy work on the final two MOOCs of the Uncommon Sense Teaching specialization, and another exciting three-MOOC specialization to be announced, we will be moving to a “once a month” schedule, (along with occasional bonus emails), for our Cheery Friday email.  So savor each one!

Book of the Week

Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World, by Andrea Pitzer.  This wonderful book relates the exploits of intrepid polar explorer William Barents, who became a European legend after his death in 1597.  It can be tough to relate the story of a man about whom little is known aside from his occasional appearance in the diaries and reminiscences of others.  But Pitzer provides a great feeling for Barents’ uncompromising goal of reaching China through a northern route.  The true glory of Icebound, however, is Pitzer’s way with words.  Here, for example, is her description of how a ship is built: 

“Barents had begun exploration just as the Dutch dominated European shipbuilding. Though the craft was evolving, ships remained in that moment artisanal projects, in which each vessel was made by hand with little in the way of diagrams or written plans. Builders began with a set of blocks in a line on which they set the keel—the spine of the ship. Perpendicular to the keel, arcing planks known as ribs rose to breathe a shape into the cage of the hull. With the ribs in place, planks running parallel to the waterline could be attached, and L-shaped knees set inside to brace and bind the structure. Planks, keels, and ribs were all still cut and shaped by hand. They had to be hammered and plugged, with joining pegs pounded in then cut flush to the exterior planks. One or more decks could be laid to divide the ship into levels, from the cargo hold at the very bottom of the ship; to the orlop in the middle, which held the guns and sleeping sailors; and the upper deck, which sat open to the elements topside. The ‘ceiling’ of the ship—not the roof but the planks along the sides of the vessel—would finish off the interior.”

It is entrancing to read Pitzer’s portrayal of the crew’s exploits, as nearly every day brought an ingenious new escape from death. (Pro tip: Remain armed around polar bears.)  Pitzer herself has travelled to Russia retracing Barents’ voyages—it is little wonder her descriptions are so evocative. An excellent read, especially if you want to appreciate sitting cozily at home on a winter’s eve.  

Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman on the Biology of Learning

We are big fans of neuroscientist Andrew Huberman and his podcasts and writing.  Here is a not-to-be-missed discussion of how to focus more effectively and learn more efficiently.  You can catch Dr. Huberman’s many past podcasts here. You can sign up for Dr. Huberman’s newsletters here. [Hat tip: Adam Trybus.]

Bianca Jones Marlin Traces How Sensory Inputs Shape the Brain

This fascinating article about Columbia University neuroscientist Bianca Jones Marlin describes the biology behind some of our most human experiences, including building family relationships. Marlin is definitely a researcher to keep an eye on.

“This Is My Brain on Salvia”

This article from Wired gives an interesting perspective on how the default mode network shapes our thinking—and what happens when that network is disabled.  


And while we’re alluding to Wired, we might as well run a link to a story about all the Dune memes out there.  We’ve been fans of Frank Herbert, the author of Dune, for nearly forty years. Barb actually has an autographed copy of Dune, because her father was Frank Herbert’s veterinarian in Port Townsend, Washington.  (As Barb’s friends have explained, this is perhaps her biggest claim to fame.)  

Here is a wonderful deconstruction by Dune director Denis Villeneuve as he breaks down the iconic Gom Jabbar scene in the movie.

Japanese version of Uncommon Sense Teaching! 日本語版オンラインコース! 

Here is the link to a Japanese version of Uncommon Sense Teaching developed by Hiroyo Saito, Director of Instructional Design and Technology Services at Haverford College. Hiroyo writes:



A Meta-Analytic Review of the Benefit of Spacing out Retrieval Practice Episodes on Retention

Here are some counterintuitive meta-analytic findings related to spaced repetition: “Overall, these results support the advantage of spacing out the retrieval practice episodes on the same content, but do not support the widely held belief that inter-retrieval intervals should be progressively increased until a retention test.” [Hat tip: Nicole Charest, co-instructor of Apprendre comment apprendre, the French edition of Learning How to Learn.]

Digitally Enhanced Education Webinars

All of the University of Kent short talks on teaching and learning have moved to a new YouTube channel here. Check them out!

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

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