Monday, March 31, 2014

Book Review: The Talent Code

Title: The Talent Code
Author: Daniel Coyle

I picked up The Talent Code at the recommendation of an Accelerated Math seminar speaker, and I was blown away by the book.  The premise is in the subtitle: "Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How." Coyle spent over a year traveling the globe to various talent hot spots and studying numerous masters and coaches (both alive and dead) to see what made them great.  He wasn't concerned what the talent was - tennis, soccer, violin, singing, education, art, his daughter's piano teacher -- he just wanted to find world-class talent.  

What he discovered was a little thing you probably didn't know you had -- myelin.  Myelin is an insulator wrapped around your neural circuitry that helps make your neural connections more smooth and efficient.  Consider it to be like the insulation wrapped around the cord connecting your lamp to the wall outlet. If that insulation is in good condition, your lamp will light well. If not, well, let's just say you'll have problems.  The same holds true with your connections between your brain and your muscles. You need myelin to make things work well.

The theme of the book is a resounding "Skill is insulation that wraps neural circuits and grows according to certain signals.Coyle investigated three ways to make that myelin sheath grow where you want it to grow.  
  1. Practice: Many people know about the 10,000 Hour Rule to becoming an expert. Coyle takes that a step further. Your practice must be deep practice -- always reaching just beyond where you are now. That "sweet spot" is where your practice must live to be effective.  To put that in perspective: You will never become a concert pianist if your 10,000 hours of practice revolve around playing "Mary Had a Little Lamb."  Good practicers will focus on microskills to make the macroskills better. This could include practice in slow motion (If a passerby can recognize the song, you're doing it wrong) or in extreme conditions (playing with a smaller heavier ball on a smaller field). Regardless of geography or the skill being practiced, Coyle said that everyone in that sweet spot tended to have this face. 
  2. Ignition: You need a certain level of passion to put in all this practice.  (10,000 hours equates to roughly 10 years of concentrated effort.) That passion comes from an ignition point.  Maybe a countryman (or woman) did something amazing like win Wimbledon, a World Series, or Olympic medal. Maybe you think you can hit it big in music like that other girl who went to the voice coach on the other side of town. Maybe you just want to go to college. Practice creates myelin and ignition creates the passion to want to do all the practice.
  3. Coaching: Great coaches will know exactly how to push students to deep practice.  They tend to be older (60s to 70s) and have a massive matrix of information to work from. In their decades of work, they have experienced many things and can bring that to the table when working with students/athletes/musicians/whathaveyou.  They are able to quickly discern the personality and the situation they are in to know the best route to wrap that myelin (though they may not think of it that way) around the student's circuitry.  Oddly, they tend to speak little and focus on minute details (how to hold a binder, where to place your hands on the ball, how to form your vocal chords, etc.)
Application to Education:
Practice, practice, practice.  Keep the focus on a passionate goal, and push the students toward that goal. Practice isn't always fun, but when skills are viewed through the lens of myelin, it is the most important thing we do to help our students become great. 

You can read more about myelin and deep practice on The Talent Code Web Site (which I have only glanced at). 

On a personal note, I have mentioned a number of times in this blog about an illness I am recovering from. On June 3, 2012, I was hospitalized with a disease I have never heard of before.  Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare auto-immune disorder that attacks the myelin sheath. To say that I lost skill would be an understatement. (Let's be fair. My case was mild compared to those who were totally paralyzed, needed a respirator or pacemaker, and endured intense PT before being released from the hospital).  GBS affected my gross and fine motor skills. At my worse I could not open a straw wrapper or cut my food. Nearly two years later, I am still weakened on my left side and need to constantly monitor my exercise to find the right balance between regaining my health and pushing myself over the edge. Oddly, GBS affected me physically, not mentally. I never lost mental skills (that I know of...). I wish I went into GBS with this book in my arsenal. I may have approached my recovery differently.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Skyping with Josh Burns

After interviewing Josh Burns for my 20 Year Profile Series, I asked him if he would do a Skype chat with my middle school class.  Just to review, Josh is the social media director at his church in Chicago.  He works with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, and web development all day.  What better person to have speak to my students who are just now starting to realize their voice on the web?

Here are some thoughts I tweeted while Josh was talking... Oh, one of his thoughts after the fact. 
  1. Tweets

    1. I just had my first ever Skype chat in class. Now I feel like a real teacher.
    2.  Retweeted by 
      Just Skyped w/ a class of 7th & 8th graders. Out of 11, 2 of them are on Facebook. All of them are on Snapchat/Instagram.
    3. "That one device changed the landscape of jobs for millions of people" talking about iPhone.
    4. "My job didn't even exist when I was a senior in high school."
    5. "You should prepare yourself for jobs that don't even exist."
    6. "You can build your own platforms to change the world."
    7. "The potential you have to create now is light years ahead of where I was 10 years ago."

Like any good teacher, I assigned homework. Here are some snippets the students took away from our chat with Josh.
  • Mr.Dunlap put him under a spell to make him love technology.
  • He says that you can do amazing things on the internet when you connect to it. He pointed out to do it while you are young. Also, he said to prepare yourself so that you could get a job that may not even exist.
  • His job didn't exist when he was little. 
  • When he started getting into technology and the internet, things were just developing.
  • In college he realized he could really use social media for great things. In his dorm room he and his friend made a YouTube video show which would get a couple hundred views a week. After this he figured if he loves social media why not use it for something good. 
  • One thing that surprised me was that he said it was more time consuming than most people think. I thought it would only take a few hours to create a complicated website.

Thanks, Josh, for stopping in to visit with us today.  It was great! 

Why can't they have normal names?

Yurimoko is collecting marbles for her marble collection. On Monday she adds 2 marbles. Tuesday, she triples her marbles, and on Wednesday she loses 3 marbles. If she had 33 marbles at the end of Wednesday, how many marbles did Yurimoko start the week with?*
I spent most of my adult life teaching math (among other things) in upper elementary school. If you're like me, you've noticed that names in word problems have changed a bit, like in the paragraph above.  I'm all for broadening the cultural minds of my mostly Caucasian student population, but have you ever asked  yourself, "Why not just call her Mary? I mean, I can't even pronounce half these names." 

I've thought that many times, then I adopted a girl named Bokyung

I was in an elementary math class this morning. An ethnic name came up in a word problem, and I was reminded again... It's not a bad thing for the kids to see names from other countries.  Maybe it's not the complete answer to a culturally sensitive world, but it's a start. 

What do you think? 

*Two disclaimers: 1. I made up the name Yurimoko. 2. I have no idea what the answer is.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Socially Aware Videos, Spring 2014

This is one of my favorite projects!

My goal was two-fold. One, I wanted students to grapple with tough social issues in the world. At an affluent private school we are somewhat insulated from many issues gripping the globe. I hoped to bring that home to the students. Two, I wanted them to learn some video editing skills.

First, I had them watch a series of videos to make them aware of the needs out there. Next, they broke into small teams to create a video based on one of these social issues. I purposely give them very little instruction about which tools to use. This gives them freedom to use things they have at their disposal or may have played with in the past. It also allows them to explore new tools too.

I found it interesting that two of my three teams used a similar concept, but I liked the way it looked. The soundtrack helped keep things moving.

You can see two of the projects below.

What video projects are your students working on?  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Book Review: Life to Her Years

Shortly after becoming a daddy, I stumbled upon a brand new blog called Life to Her Years, which is written specifically to dads with daughters. I loved the blog and immediately started following it.   The blog has cute pictures of dads and daughters with pithy pieces of advice.  Let's face it.  Every girl needs a strong daddy figure to help her grow up with self-esteem and self-confidence.
Michael Mitchell, creator of the blog, has recently turned the blog into a book, which I just finished reading. While the pictures and captions would be familiar to any reader of the blog, seeing them all condensed into one place is just an amazing experience for any daddy.  Seriously, if you can read the whole thing and not get a tear in your eye at least one time, I doubt you are a real man. 
I'm thinking this would make a great Father's Day gift for a dad who is raising some young ladies. Just follow the link below, buy it, and your Father's Day shopping is over.

Monday, March 17, 2014

It's Time to Innovate Again

As we enter the fourth quarter, my middle school students are embarking upon their next Innovation Project. This will be their second round of innovation, so they are familiar with the process.  I gave them three options this time around.

  1. Create a totally new project, based on what someone else did or another idea that popped into their heads.
  2. Continue their previous project. They had to convince me they would learn a new skill along the way and dramatically increase the size of the previous project.
  3. Work in groups on the same project.  They had to convince me that the project would be large enough to constitute multiple students and they would have plans for conflict resolution. 

Here are the projects will be working on this marking period.

  • Kate will continue her Revolutionary War blog, doubling her posts and adding video to the blog. 
  • Cooper and Jacob will use MineCraft to create a PvP arena. (I gather that PvP = person vs person). 
  • Connor will create a tutorial for playing Black Ops 2 Zombies, specifically talking about getting and using staffs. (I really feel out of touch with current gaming.)
  • Daniel, Waite, and Matthew will create an interactive video on YouTube. In theory, viewers will be able to select different videos to help create the plot of a story.
  • Dominic will create a website about basketball legend Dominique Wilkins.
  • Justin wants to give his MineCraft Empire State Building another shot.
  • Sam and Drew will work together to build a MineCraft castle. 

What projects are your students working on? 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Book Review: The App Generation

Title: The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World
Author: Howard Gardner, Katie Davis

I couldn't resist a book about technology written by the Multiple Intelligences mastermind.  

I really enjoyed this book, but I must say it was not an easy one to read. While I enjoy reading pop non-fiction, this one was written more like a college textbook -- which I have not read in a very long time. 

The authors spent considerable time investigating changes over the years. For instance, the way we think of generations has changed dramatically. While it used to relate to major worldwide events (The Great Depression, WWII, Cold War, etc), we now think in terms of major technological shifts.  Likewise, they spent time discussing major schools of thought in educational philosophies.  

Next, they looked into how the digital age has changed the way students think and act, zeroing in on how three different people from three distinct generations view and use technology. I was surprised to see how students today tend to view life in terms of "apps." Since each app does something different, it is easy to compartmentalize life into different "apps." Students also seem to view school assignments more along the lines of "Just tell me what to do to succeed" rather than "I'm going to do my best on this." 

Finally, Gardner looked at how the behaviorist and the constructivist can each use apps to teach, but the kinds of apps they use would be vastly different. Not surprisingly, I agreed with his assessment of these apps and how they should be used in schools. Students should be using these tools to create new things rather than merely play games to practice rote skills. (See this old post to see my view on creation vs consumption.)

Overall, I'm glad I read the book. It's to know that a leading educational mind confirmed that I'm barking up the right tree in respect to how I approach teaching and learning to the App Generation. 

Have you read the book? What did you think? 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Katee: The Baking Lawyer

I am celebrating my 20th year of teaching by profiling former students who are doing great things in their field. As I've watched them grow into adults, I have been impressed with an aspect of their lives and want to share them with you. I fully recognize that I was merely a small part in their growth and development, but I can't help to be proud. By highlighting these former students I hope to encourage other teachers that what we do is a noble and worthy cause. We have the ability to boost others to greatness we have never considered.

There was this one year that I thought I would be a good volleyball coach.  After all, I enjoyed some backyard volleyball and did well in the church league. I must be good enough to coach school volleyball. Right? Ummm… No. I was the Assistant JV Girls Volleyball Coach. While I loved it, I realized that it would take more time and work than I could offer, so my coaching career fizzled out after one season.

The greatest joy I had that season was working with the girls. One of our JV captains was a fiery 9th grade  lady named Katee, whom I had in my sixth grade class. As a student and as an athlete I appreciated her intensity, her drive to succeed, and her leadership capabilities. Katee was a respected member of our team, and without her the team would not have been at all successful.

Not long ago, Katee found me on LinkedIn, and I saw an interesting suffix to her name: J. D. I had no idea what J. D. stood for so, I looked it up: Juris Doctor. That got my attention, so I asked her about it and to participate in this blog series.  Here is what she’s been up to.

After graduating from Calvary, I attended Kentucky Christian University from 2006-2010. I was a 4 year starter for the volleyball team, where we were 4 time NCCAA Mid-East Region Champions and made 4 appearances at the NCCAA National Tournament. I personally obtained a few honors and set a few records. I received a Bachelor of Science in 2010. I graduated Cum Laude with a joint-major; one in Biblical Studies, and one in History. I also have a double minor; one in Business, and the other in Legal Studies.
I then attended Capital University Law School from 2010-2013 where I graduated and obtained my Juris Doctorate (J.D.) in May of 2013.

As you can see, volleyball is still a major part of her life and she has continued to be a great player.  Currently, she works as a personal trainer, coaching other girls to become awesome volleyball stars.

While Katee studies to take the bar exam this summer, she has an interesting job in West Virginia.

Professionally, I am working on a joint venture between the Federal Government, the State of West Virginia’s Office of the Insurance Commissioner, and a Private Corporation which deals in government contracts. Funded by a federal grant, we are working to educate people throughout West Virginia communities regarding the new healthcare requirements which were voted into law back in 2010.

Katee’s mom recently passed away, which leaves a big hole in her life right now.

I would not be where I am if it wasn’t for the support of my family. My mom was my biggest fan and biggest encouragement. There was hardly ever a home game where she and my family weren’t sitting in the stands cheering me on, even though it was a 2 hour drive. She always encouraged me to do my best, to work hard, and that I was smarter than I thought. The times I wanted to quit, she told me to keep going. Everything I am, I owe to my mother.

Katee intends for her mother’s memory to live on for a long time. I was amazed at how she kept coming up in Katee’s future plans.

Mom and I always talked about starting a bakery – so I intend to do that as well at some point in my life.
I have started plans for a non-profit in the next few years. My mother was such a giving, selfless person that I feel that would be the perfect way to honor her legacy – to continue to love God and help people. It’s just at the bare minimum, first-step planning stages.
Mom taught me that the sky is the limit. I have no intentions of staying in one place for the rest of my life. I get bored easily and I plan on doing just about anything and everything I can fit in this crazy life.

As you know, I enjoy hearing student memories of our time together. How closely do their memories align with mine? Katee’s memories reinforce how great it is to work in K-12 school, where it’s easy to bump into someone from any grade level. Being a coach, even for that one year, really helped me connect with some of those girls for the rest of their career.

I remember that I respected you for being so kind. That’s not to say you weren’t strict or in charge, but I remember – even into High School, the concern you had for your former students, going out of your way to wave and smile as you walked by in the hallway, or to ask how we were doing or how our day was. It’s a very admirable trait. I have known lots of teachers in my 21 year learning career and you are by far in the top of the ones that I remember fondly.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Katee can do as a lawyer, baker, and lover of people in the future, and I’m glad we got reconnected -- through LinkedIn of all things. :)
Some fun facts that didn’t make it to the narrative:

  • She hates movie theaters -- claiming an insane fear.
  • There is a love of cosmic brownies (what’s that!??!?!) and says they better not go extinct like Twinkies did.
  • Apparently, there is a picture out there that law school friends created and she can’t get rid of.
  • When she was in 6th grade, Katee had allergy testing.  She is the first person I ever heard of who was allergic to cockroaches.
  • I once shared a hotel bed with her dad when we went to Space Camp.
  • She has two dogs… a crazy dog lady is better than a crazy cat lady in my book.
  • She loves to spend time with her two beautiful nieces.  (I also had her sister in class and in volleyball.)