When Can You Trust the Experts


Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Learning How to Learn for Youth available on YouTube!

Exciting news is that the first five incredible videos of the new Coursera MOOC Learning How to Learn for Youth are now available on YouTube, here. Don’t miss them—and pass the link along to friends and family!  What greater gift than the free gift of how to learn effectively? (And have fun while doing it!)

Books of the Week

  • Our first recommended book this week is When Can You Trust the Experts: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education, by Daniel Willingham. This is a good, much-needed book—what we particularly like is that Dan takes a step back to look at the big picture of what educators (and parents) want to get from education. You’ll learn about Enlightenment to Romantic approaches to education, how to charlatans can use their looks to help them unfairly pass tests of legitimacy (Dan’s bald pate is perhaps a signal of his trustworthiness), and much, much more. Incidentally, another great book by Willingham is his Why Don’t Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom.
  • Our second recommended book is Behavioral Neuroscience of Learning and Memory, edited by Robert Clark and Stephen Martin. (Yes, despite the price, we bought the hard copy so we could mark it up—the color pictures are a treat.) Clark is a Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UCSD’s School of Medicine, while and Martin is a neuroscientist and Discovery Fellow at the University of Dundee.  This book provides an excellent overview of what’s known at a foundational level about memory and how we learn. There’s a fantastic discussion of the long-term memory medial temporal lobe memory system (see, for example, the diagram on page 25); we only wish that research was more advanced so that the chapter on working memory could have been similarly as informative.  (See this fascinating article on changing concepts in working memory in Nature Neuroscience.)

Why Practice is a Vitally Important Aspect of Learning

Barb’s New York Times op-ed advocating practice of math, benign and solidly research-based though it was, was denigrated by some leaders of reform approaches to mathematics education who are poorly versed in the neuroscience of learning. Here’s an outstanding article by Mike Hobbiss in the npj Science of Learning community with more about the neuroscience behind why the approach Barb counseled is worthwhile. We also can’t help but also allude yet again to this powerful paper, now nearing 6,000 citations: “Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching.”

It can sometimes be difficult for parents to understand why some educators, unlike practitioners from other fields that have gained so much in recent decades from multidisciplinary interaction, can be so unwilling to accept insights from beyond their own siloed training.  The foreword by Neal Stephenson to David Foster Wallace’s Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity has the best (and funniest) discussion we’ve ever seen of the academic “circling the wagons” mentality, particularly regarding math. Wallace’s book is worth getting for Stephenson’s foreword alone.

Here is a great discussion by Daniel Willingham of the need to cleanse the field of education of bad practice based on fads and smoke-and-mirrors research. ResearchEd is leading the charge—Barb will be speaking at ResearchEd Vancouver, BC on February 9th.

Travelschool with Smartick

This interesting article by Katrina Intal on the Smartick blog asks “What if instead of going to traditional school, you took an RV and traveled to find your next learning opportunity? … The Harman-Woods are a travelschool family who pursue and encourage immersive and hands-on learning through real-life experiences.”

But how to handle a subject like math?  Lindsey Harman-Woods notes: “I heard about Smartick while listening to The BraveWriter Podcast. Julie was interviewing Barbara Oakley regarding her book How To Learn. We were struggling with math in our homeschool, as so many families do, so my ears perked up at Barbara’s recommendation of Smartick. We started the 15-day trial that week. Suddenly all three of my boys were THRILLED about math. I couldn’t believe it!!”

Smartick’s approach is great for any family looking to give their children a solid foundation in math—check it out!

What happened when someone had a chance to ask a question of the world’s most famous mathematician

This whimsically illustrated piece describes Ben Orlin’s question that he posed to Andrew Wiles—the storied mathematician who solved Fermat’s Last Theorem. [Hat tip Joe Muskatel]

Hide Your Phone When You’re Trying to Work. Seriously.

This excellent New York Times article by Tim Herrera describes how your cell phone can mess with your thinking: “A 2017 study in The Journal of the Association of Consumer Research found that the mere presence of your phone—even if it’s powered off, and even if you’re actively and successfully ignoring it —‘reduces available cognitive capacity,’ which the study’s authors call ‘brain drain.’” Read the whole thing.

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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