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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Neuromarketing, Neurolearning, and a Warning

Neuromarketing—the study of the brains response to advertising—is everywhere these days. Neuromarketers are as brash as to propose that there is a buy button in the brain.

Of course the marketing is way out in front of the science, but that doesn’t mean that folks aren’t diving in—learning brain basics, sifting through brain research, and even conducting fMRI studies. Figuring out how the brain works just makes sense from a marketing perspective.

One wishes that educators pursued neuroscience with the same vigor as their business brethren. Why not a quest to discover learning button in the brain? Why not a race between the learning button and the buy button folk? Why not a cognitive psychology requirement for pre-service teachers?

Brain basics are essential to determining the merits of brain-based learning. In fact, anything with the prefix neuro should come with the warning “consumer beware”. Deena Skolnick a graduate student at Yale, conducted a study that asked her subjects to judge different explanation of psychological phenomena. She found that including a few sentences of neuroscience was all that was needed to make bad explanations look like good ones in the eyes of experts and novices. The message is clear, the next time you see neuro attached, beware of seduction and manipulation.

The best defense against manipulation is to realize the limits of neuroscience by studying the brain yourself. A good place to start is the Society for Neuroscience. You can get a free copy of Brain Facts there and jumpstart your knowledge of neuroscience today.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Something about Stossel

For those of you who missed it a while back, here is the 20/20 report “Stupid in America”. After you finish viewing it, you can check out my earlier entry Stossel gets stupid with America. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Experience and Education

John Dewey, "The history of educational theory is marked by opposition between the idea that education is development from within and that it is formation from without; that it is based upon natural endowments and that education is a process of overcoming natural inclination and substituting in its place habits acquired under external pressure."

China 2006:

Thousands of students in central China rioted this week because they were duped by university officials. The protests were the most prolonged student protests since Tiananmen Square. Classrooms were ransacked, windows smashed and there were even clashes with police. It is important to note that the government did not roll the tanks in this time. Why the riot? According to the NYT News Service:

Students at Shengda, a privately run college with 13,000 students outside Zhengzhou, say they were assured on admission, and repeatedly afterwards, that they would get graduation certificates that would appear identical to those issued by Zhengzhou, the top university in the province.

When this year's graduating seniors picked up their diplomas on Friday and saw the revised language, the reaction was instantaneous and incendiary. "We bought a Mercedes-Benz and they delivered a Santana," said one angry graduate, referring to a low-priced Volkswagen sedan made in China.

I like the car metaphor.

Imagine if we applied cars to diplomas in this country? Ah, the possibilities…Yale? Tufts? Illinois State? SUNY Purchase?

And what about John Dewey? After all he visited China once.

Reader's Digest is right, laughter is the best medicine

Sometimes you just have to take time and laugh. Last night, Charlie was running around the upstairs, yelling and carrying on way past his bed time. After trying unsuccessfully to catch him, I announced, “That’s it I’m going to bed.” To which Charlie replied, “Good night, daddy.” Everybody laughed, and everybody eventually made it to bed. Ending the day with a belly laughter took me to a good, peacful place right before falling asleep. The day felt better.

Laughter is important; it makes you feel better, and it just may improve your health. In the spirit of good spirits I offer Is Psychology a Science to whet your apetite, Statz Rappers, and if you haven’t seen it yet, The Evolution of Dance. Enjoy…

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Schools need knowledge champions

I’ve been reading about Knowledge Management (KM) lately, and am convinced that schools need knowledge champions—folks who will facilitate the effective acquisition of new knowledge from multiple sources. Today, new knowledge can come from anywhere—students, parents, professional organizations, other schools, design firms, start-ups, blogs, wikis, phone conversations, instant messages. Knowledge champions are passionate about new ideas, innovations, and knowledge. They are fueled by curiosity. They look toward a multitude of outside sources and networks always synthesizing what they find. An email, an IM, and an article in Fast Company are synthesized into something new. Knowledge champions are all about how we can take ideas and turn them into something that increases student achievement.

Public schools desperately need knowledge champions because schols are stale places for most students. If we view students as consumers of information student boredom takes on new meaning. Could it be that the information kids are given at school, just isn’t that compelling? We live in a world of verbs, yet teachers still argue about nouns (content). When teachers do get around to verbs they are usually consumed with coverage instead of innovation. When the subject of wikis or blogs is broached the questions focus on grading and not student engagement. In such a system, is it any wonder that students are board to death?

Let’s make schools a place for the curious instead of the apathetic. Let’s make ourselves knowledge champions.

  1. Dig for new knowledge.

  2. Network for new knowledge.

  3. Synthesize new knowledge.

  4. Apply new knowledge.

  5. Execute new knowledge.

  6. Spread new knowledge like a virus.

  7. Remain curious.

Finally, let’s follow this process in our classrooms and make our students knowledge champions.

Related Posts
Knowledge Management and the Classroom

Monday, June 12, 2006

Expand Graduations

There’s talk about getting rid of 8th grade graduation in Chicago. In many ways graduations fly in the face of high expectations. After all, if we expect children to graduate, then why the pomp and circumstance? Why the ceremony? What’s the big deal; isn’t graduation the expectation and not the exception? I felt this way throughout my academic and teaching career. But there are good reasons to rethink this stance.

Most parents love graduation ceremonies. In fact, it may be the only time a parent makes special arrangements to get involved in their child’s education. Graduation trumps all other school activities when it comes to parental involvement; even parent-teacher night.

Perhaps we need celebrations honoring the successful completion of each grade. Viewed this way education is similar to a video game. Each grade is a level. Each level is more challenging than the one preceding it. Each level culminates in an award. It’s a win-win: kids love video games and parents love ceremonies.

Make them biannual events. When students demonstrate mastery of a grade level allow them to move on. Give them badges; have pinning ceremonies; get the parents into the school. Talk to the parents at these events. Work the parents. Build the community that education professors and pundits love to talk about.

Some will say, “What about the student who fails?” The answer is evident. The ceremonies are for the students who are successful; therein lays there value. It is time to do away with graduations and replace them with regular academic ceremonies that honor kids and parents for making it to the next level. Only then will education become an expectation and not an exception.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Teaching with Expertise in Mind

Nobel Laureate V.S Naipaul is right when he says that “Most people are not really free. They are confined by the niche in the world that they carve out for themselves. They limit themselves to fewer possibilities by the narrowness of their vision.” This is true in education and the limits are damning. Teachers, parents and administrators limit academic achievement by feeding in to a defeatist mindset that says “can’t” instead of “can”.

Actual phrases I’ve heard that retard academic achievement and intellectual growth:
  • “That’s too hard for him.”
  • “My students will never be able to do that. Do you know my students?”
  • “They can’t.”
  • “He can’t.”
  • “She can’t.”
  • “Let’s be realistic…”
Statements like these indicate low expectations, and we could debate expectations theory all day and get no where; instead, let’s look at what the experts have to say about education and expertise.

First we need to clarify that education is not easy or natural for children. According to MIT Professor Steven Pinker, “education is a technology that tries to make up for what the human mind is innately bad at. Children don’t go to school to learn to walk, talk, recognize objects, or remember the personalities of their friends, even though these tasks are much harder than reading, adding, or remembering dates in history. They do have to go to school to learn written language, arithmetic, and science, because those bodies of knowledge and skill were invented too recently for any species-wide knack for them to have evolved.” So let’s admit that school work is both difficult and necessary.

Professor K. Anders Ericsson, from Florida State, has spent the last 20 years studying expertise and believes that there are no special inherited qualities that distinguish persons with expert abilities. The key is a willingness to “stretch yourself to the limit and increase control over your performance.”

Ericsson even breaks it down into a cogent individual study plan:

  1. Set a goal. Identify a skill you want to improve.

  2. Practice. Design a detailed plan for improvement.

  3. Critique. Analyze your advancement. If you’re not getting better consider a new plan.

It’s not a big jump to turn this framework into a lesson plan.
One more thing about Ericsson, he claims that expert level skills can be attained in 200 hours!

So our brains aren’t wired for school; however, with a detailed focused plan and hard work we can attain expertise. That’s powerful stuff when thought of in terms of education. The truth is that it's all "can" except for those who preach the gospel of "can't".

Must Reads

Ericsson’s The Road to Excellence
Pinker’s The Blank Slate
Restak’s The New Brain

Thursday, June 01, 2006


We used to look like this at While Charlie Sleeps. I think that we've come a long way. But you decide. For more information on why we changed check out this post from a while back.