The Great Connections Seminar

The Great Connections Seminar
Discussing ethics

Saturday, December 31, 2011


Flourishing has the latest theory based on research of Martin Seligman, one of the godfathers of the Positive Psychology movement. His other books, such as Authentic Happiness and Learned Optimism are excellent, scientific, and extremely useful in improving individual lives.

I haven't read this, his first book in ten years, but it looks very good, promising "an electrifying new theory of what makes a good life." I'll be curious to see how much is truly new because what the summary proposes sounds very much like the excellent life as described by Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"The Best Money I Ever Spent."

Read why a student from Naperville North High School decided to spend his hard-earned money on our Great Connections seminar rather than go to Europe - and decided it was the best money he ever spent.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Two year olds can remember

For years, developmental psychologists have claimed that children cannot remember much of anything before the age of three. New research shows that it varies by person, some remembering far earlier.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

MITx and to Online or Not to Online

MIT is launching a new educational initiative, MITx, which will offer courses with MIT credentialing. It's an extension of their Opencourseware offerings.

The game-changing aspect is: no admission process and no prerequisites required. You want to take it, you can. If you show mastery, you get the credential, for a small charge. 

How they implement this will be crucial. In this
New York Times article reviewing eight books on higher education, Anthony Graft makes the astute comment:

Online courses, the other popular suggestion, can work well—so long as one also provides competent human supervision online, twenty-four hours a day, which makes such courses just as expensive as the traditional sort."

Online courses without "competent human supervision" can work well if:
1. You want to acquire knowledge or mastery of a specific set of facts, ideas, and/or skills.
2. You already know how to reason fairly well about the domain of knowledge you're studying.
3. You're good at working on your own.
4. You're good at coming up with questions on your own AND good at finding the answers.

Just some of the reasons why I think young people need in-person instruction.

Hattip Pat Peterson

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Student Debt

Very useful website on student debt, including a state-by-state map which opens to a list of average debt, tuition and other facts for EACH college in that state!

Hattip Vanessa Tomlinson Smyth of the Goodlark Educational Foundation.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"Don't Lecture Me"

Good article about professors at the University of Maryland and Harvard using "peer instruction" in large classes to facilitate learning in physics and other subjects. This means the professor doesn't lecture, but proposes questions to answer about the text all students should have read, and then the students talk to each other about the question to come up with the answer.

It has a nice video example and links to the research supporting the methods.

"Mazur now teaches all of his classes using a “peer-instruction” approach. Rather than teaching by telling, he teaches by questioning. Mazur says it’s a particularly effective way to teach large classes."

"I don't go into the class lecturing on what I think they need, no they tell me what it is they want me to cover." "I find out from the students what they need "You can forget facts but you cannot forget understanding." He sounds like a fantastic teacher!

This is similar to the methods we use at the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, called "Socratic Seminars." Here's a description of what a Socratic Seminar is, and why it works so well. And here's a short video in which you can see a bit about how it works.

Hattip Dave Saum.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How to Get More Out of Google

Here's a great website, Infographic from "Hack College," that teaches students - and anyone else - how to do better, more efficient and successful searches on Google. It details how to use the Boolean search terms - "operators" - more successfully to find exactly what you need.

Hattip Rachel Davison.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Science Scares

The American Council on Science and Health has published a study examining the National Resources Defense Council's claims of 13 disease cluster areas in 42 states around the U.S.

"a peer-reviewed analysis by ACSH, using well-established principles of scientific investigation, shows that only one of the 42 sites meets the scientific definition of a disease cluster...

  • "All but five of the purported clusters lack any supportive evidence at all;
  • "13 examples cited by NRDC as confirmed disease clusters are in fact places where investigations by public health officials are still ongoing;
  • "Several cases have already been ruled out by public health officials as disease clusters as no statistically significant elevations of any disease have been found;
  • "Only four of the NRDC-claimed sites are possible clusters, and just one of the 42 can actually be identified as a disease cluster based on the scientific definition."
What does this have to do with education? I see the rising number of specious claims about the links between disease and technology, medicine, and science as a result of poor science education and poor scientific thinking.

This kind of thinking can be difficult - it often doesn't follow intuitive human reasoning tendencies, especially conclusions based on statistically-based evidence. But good education in reasoning and especially reasoning about statistics would make a world of difference.

Someone who's been thinking a lot about how to improve students' "statistical literacy" is Professor Milo Schield at Augsburg College. Here he has a wealth of information and resources about this issue. I suspect the people at NRDC need a course from him - in the hope that they weren't bending the facts on purpose.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rediscovery of What We Already Knew in Montessori

Apparently the Erikson Institute's new program "The Early Mathematics Education Project," recently instituted at 300 Chicago public schools, incorporates real objects and events to teach young children the fundamentals of mathematics. This was reported today in the Wall Street Journal in an article titled "New Calculation: Math in Preschool."

According to the article, "Evidence is mounting about the importance of teaching math in preschool and kindergarten."

I'm glad they've just discovered this! But it's not a new calculation: Montessori schools have been teaching fundamental mathematical concepts in preschool (Children's House to us) for over 100 years, because Maria Montessori discovered the importance of doing so that long ago.

We use fabulous, beautiful materials, such as the Trinomial Cube. Here's the equation it represents:

And the Golden Bead materials teach the basics of addition and subtraction so that even 4 year olds can do equations to the millions.

The Montessori Method has dozens of carefully designed and tested mathematical materials to work with.

One of the first graduates from my school, Council Oak Montessori, is now a parent of a three year old there. He came to a parent meeting and described how the mathematics materials helped him in all his later school career (and even to today), by teaching him how to concretize and visualize mathematical operations. And he didn't start at our school until 2nd grade.

Ah well, it's great that the students at CPS are getting SOME mathematical concretization.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

More on the "99%"

Following up on my last post, I found a website, History is a Weapon, with the entire text of Zinn's People's History of the U.S.  Here's a quote from Chapter 24 on this webpage:

"One percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth. The rest of the wealth is distributed in such a way as to turn those in the 99 percent against one another...Against the reality of that desperate, bitter battle for resources made scarce by elite control, I am taking the liberty of uniting those 99 percent as 'the people.'"

Not only is it clear from the text that this is the origin of the Occupy movement's "99%" mantra, but the Occupy movement is advertising on the very webpage of the book which discusses this issue. No wonder: over 1 million copies of this textbook have been sold and used at high schools and universities across the country in the past 20 years.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Is Howard Zinn the originator of the "99%"?

Researching some quotes of Howard Zinn, author of the widely used history text, The People's History of the United States, I came across a 2004 blog entry from historian Michael Kazin on George Mason University's History News Network about Zinn's book that said this:

"According to Zinn, '99 percent" of Americans share a  "commonality" that is profoundly at odds with the interests of their rulers.' And knowledge of that awesome fact is 'exactly what the governments of the United States, and the wealthy elite allied to them--from the Founding Fathers to now--have tried their best to prevent.'"

Since many, many young people today are educated using Zinn's book - is this where they got the "we are the 99%" slogan?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Manipulating Happiness - Maria Montessori

In this article , researcher Robert Biswas-Diener writes in the International Journal of Well-Being about the Montessori Method and its relation to optimal living:

"One  Montessori   teacher   I   interviewed told me that using the term "work" to describe the children's activites lends   a   sense   of   dignity   and   importance   to   what   they   do,   and   set   up   kids   for   a   lifetime   of   believing that work can be fun, rewarding, and educational...When I asked Ella [a Montessori student] what, specifically, she liked about 'work,' her answer was immediate "I like that it is challenging.' Either  Ella  is  being  fed  some  excellent  propaganda  or  she  is  participating  in  a  school  system   which   fosters   enjoyment   alongside   learning.   Which   begs   the   tough   question:   Was   Maria   Montessori   a   happiness-­‐‑enabler?"

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"What's the little difference that makes the big difference" between apes and humans!

Watching this NOVA special, Ape Genius, I almost fell over (while exercising!) when I heard one of the researchers say that in their quest to understand the apes and their relation to us, they were trying to find out "what's the little difference that makes the big difference."

And these were not neurologists, talking about brain anatomy/physiology differences! These were cognitive psychologists and anthropologists. I'm afraid it is yet another example of the deterioration of education.

"The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes"is Reason! Humankind's ability to conceptualize abstract ideas.  It makes ALL the difference.

I suspect this ignorance on the part of the scientists is a result of the century+ attack on Reason and that attack's influence in the humanities and sciences.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"My Teacher is an App"

Learning through the Internet reminds me of Isaac Asimov's Encyclopedia Galactica in his Foundation trilogy - all the knowledge available at one's fingertips. A life-altering resource of knowledge.

"My Teacher Is An App" discusses elementary schools using computers for most of the learning, or "hybrid" models in which children do some in-person work, often through a homeschool, but more work through computers.

It's good that their virtual experiences and activities are so much richer than the mere paper and pencil learning of traditional schools. But I worry that they will not get enough real-world experience through such systems to develop their senses, their motor abilities, their knowledge, and their imaginations well.

We are living animals and our reason is highly connected to the functioning of our bodies. In the '90's, Antonio Damasio began demonstrating how poorly reason operates without a well-functioning connection to emotion; reason cannot enable us to choose well if cut off from emotion which relay our deepest core values and needs to the reasoning mind.

This connection is developed through sensory-perceptual-motor experience, through physical interaction with the world, through interaction with other people. These experiences can be simulated on computer but not replaced.

What happens to a person's ability to reason well and wisely about life-choices if they don't have sufficient real-life experience?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Montessori Mafia and India

"But most highly creative achievers don’t begin with brilliant ideas, they discover them."

The Wall Street Journal had two immensely contrasting articles on education April 5th: "The Montessori Mafia" was one of them - reviewing the remarkable evidence for the creative advantages of a Montessori education. 

In the same issue, April 5th, I was saddened to read the article "India Graduates Millions, But Too Few Are Fit to Hire," which featured some of the rampant corruption and cynicism in Indian colleges.

"I was not prepared at all to get a job," says Pradeep Singh, 23, who graduated last year from RKDF College of Engineering, one of the city of Bhopal's oldest engineering schools. He has been on five job interviews—none of which led to work."

"Mr. Singh and several other engineering graduates said they learned quickly that they needn't bother to go to some classes. "The faculty take it very casually, and the students take it very casually, like they've all agreed not to be bothered too much," Mr. Singh says. He says he routinely missed a couple of days of classes a week, and it took just three or four days of cramming from the textbook at the end of the semester to pass the exams."

What are such students thinking? Apparently, they have no idea that they need the engineering knowledge to perform on the job. The same kind of thinking that led to the Bhopal disaster years ago. What would lead to such an idea? (not that this is unique: plenty of U.S. students seem to act the same way).
Hattip John Gillis.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Thinking without the concept of number

Read about the remarkably limited language of the Piraha Tribe of the Amazon in this article - they literally have no concept of number.

Further, "No one paints and there is no art."

"Whatever isn't important in the present is soon forgotten...Very few can remember the names of all four grandparents."

No wonder there's only about 350 of them - could their in-the-moment-only life support more? Very, very doubtful.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bother me, I'm thinking

This new research on the link between creativity and distractability should give all educators pause. It's another piece of the evidence that teachers should "follow the child" as Maria Montessori advised.

Jonah Lehrer on Distractions, ADHD and Creativity | Head Case -

Monday, February 21, 2011

Empathy in the Classroom

Lila Jokanovic shared this documentary with me, "Children Full of Life" about a Japanese classroom with a teacher who nurtures the empathy between his students. It's fascinating how much more developed children can be in such an environment.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How Great Entrepreneurs Think

Here's an article about a wonderful new study, detailing how great entrepreneurs think. Lots of material here with implications for education.

"Sarasvathy (the researcher) concluded that master entrepreneurs rely on what she calls effectual reasoning. Brilliant improvisers, the entrepreneurs don't start out with concrete goals. Instead, they constantly assess how to use their personal strengths and whatever resources they have at hand to develop goals on the fly, while creatively reacting to contingencies...This is not say entrepreneurs don't have goals, only that those goals are broad and--like luggage--may shift during flight."

Here are some of their attitudes: "I don't believe in market research. Instead of asking all the questions, I'd try and make some sales."

"Ultimately, the best test of any product is to go to your target market and pretend like it's a real business."

"I always live by  the motto 'Ready, fire, aim.' I think if you spend too much time doing "ready, aim, aim, aim," you're never going to see all the good things that would happen if you actually started doing it. I think business plans are interesting, but they have no real meaning, because you can't put in all the positive things that will occur...if you know intrinsincally that this is possible, you just have to find out how to make it possible, which you can't do ahead of time."

Ah, here's the creator coming out in them: "if you know intrinsically that this is possible" - these people get an idea that some product or service would be valuable and then they find a way to make it work. They use their own creativity and independent judgment to determine whether something it's valuable.

One of the reasons even the best of market research doesn't always work is that people often don't know what they want or need, or whether they will like a product until they actually try it - especially something really new. Research shows that a small number of people accept a new product right away, but most take a while.

I suspect great entrepreneurs are at least intuitively aware of this, which is why they focus on getting the product out to market and selling it as soon as possible - let people try it, see if/that they like it, then spread the word.

What are the implications for education? Students need encouragement to try new things, to dare to come up with original combinations, and most of all, to rely on their own judgment. They need problems to solve with open-ended possibilities, not test answers.

Hattip John Enright via Tyler Cowen

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How do innovators think?

See this Harvard Business Review article in which researchers Fryer and Dyer discuss their 6-year, 3,000 person study of creative business executives. They discern some of the key characteristics to the creative in business...mentioning that how you get taught in kindergarten can make a difference for the rest of your life.

"A number of the innovative entrepreneurs also went to Montessori schools, where they learned to follow their curiosity. To paraphrase the famous Apple ad campaign, innovators not only learned early on to think different, they act different (and even talk different)."

Hattip to Mark Berger.

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Challenging the Left: The case for intellectual diversity"

Well-written article from The New Individualist by Robert Bradley about the intellectual problems at his high school alma mater. The saddest statement was this:

"My advertised Interim Term class presents students with a different view on economics and business. I have a number of publications and have lectured at many colleges and universities. But never in my five years at Kinkaid has a teacher introduced himself/herself and engaged me in a discussion about my viewpoint. Not even a “Hello, I am …. Tell me about ….”"

Why? Because it reveals how the faculty is unintellectual. Yet, they're in charge of teaching students ideas!

I was very fortunate that when I went to high school in the '60's, one of my most interesting teachers was a lifelong Democrat, Mr. Woll. He made sure we students learned about the full range of the political spectrum, so we could make up our own minds. But then, he was highly intellectual, even ran "The Eggheads" club where we debated all kinds of ideas. I think he was unusual even in his day!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"To really learn, quit studying and take a test"

A new study from Purdue, discussed in this New York Times article, finds that students who take a test about material they've learned have 50% more recall of the material than those who either repeatedly study the material, or those who study and draw diagrams of it.

I can see immediately two important learning principles operative in these results: 

1. The test focuses attention and motivation, which always makes someone remember better and, as the writer mentioned, shows the person what they don't know, possibly interesting them in correcting their ignorance.

But do most students care about what they don't know? My observation is that many just want to get done with what they're studying to go on to the next requirement.

2. The article's analysis claims that testing requires active reconstruction of material, which helps recall. They used a free-form essay as the test in which the student reconstructed the material learned.

Actively reconstructing knowledge requires a person to not only recall what they've learned, but conceptually organize it and this does help with learning and retention.

But whether testing always helps is not clear to me. Multiple choice tests, so often used, require recognition of material rather than active recall and reconstruction. So the inference from this study, that testing results in better learning, is flawed. 

In Montessori, students study through learning materials, such as these. They are designed to illustrate concepts through real objects - a better way to fix knowledge in memory than mere paper and pen, as it engages the senses and the students' activity. 

And we use a three-period lesson to teach the student how to use each learning material:

1. Teacher names objects in material and demonstrates its use, with as few words as possible.
2. Student practices material, with teacher asking "show me this" etc.
3. Student demonstrates use of material/meaning to teacher, with the teacher asking "what's this" etc.

This last step requires the student to reconstruct his own knowledge in order to present it correctly - giving him an opportunity to see the gaps, like a test. When a child thinks he has mastered the material, he can ask the teacher to "test out" of it by demonstrating how much he knows about using it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses"

Sickening but not surprising research findings from "an unusually large-scale study" are summarized in this article from the Chicago Tribune. The sad result of Progressive education's long history.

"Half of students did not take a single course requiring 20 pages of writing during their prior semester, and one-third did not take a single course requiring even 40 pages of reading per week."

"information from 24 schools, meant to be a representative sample, which provided Collegiate Learning Assessment data on students who took the standardized test in their first semester in fall 2005 and at the end of their sophomore years in spring 2007. The schools took part on the condition that their institutions not be identified....After four years, 36 percent of students did not demonstrate significant improvement, compared to 45 percent after two...

"Students from families with different levels of parental education enter college with different learning levels but learn at about the same rates while attending college. The racial gap between black and white students going in, however, widens: Black students improve their assessment scores at lower levels than whites."

Hattip to John Enright.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Examining the Value of the Beleagured For-Profit Sector

Peter Woods, president of the National Association of Scholars (NAS) has written a thoughtful article on the criticisms, attacks on, and value of for-profit colleges. NAS is concerned with supporting the value of a liberal arts education, so one wouldn't think they would be much concerned about most for-profits, which tend to be highly career-focused. But he says "But they are very much part of what I take to be the fundamental transformation of American post-secondary education—and that is very much a matter of concern to NAS and to anyone concerned with the survival of liberal education.

You can read it here in 4 installments:

Part I "For-Profit Colleges on the Brink."

Part II

Part III

Part IV "For Profits Break the Monopoly on What a College Can Be"

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Teaching Statistics Delightfully

Here's a brilliant lesson on health/wealth statistics by Hans Rosling: "200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes." It underlines the power of the Internet to teach complex principles simply, if the product is done well. You can see more of his videos at the Open University here. What he demonstrates is the mental power to take numbers about a subject and embody them as meaningful information. If only statistics teachers did this more often...