In Case You Missed It: TED’s First TV Special

I enjoy the occasional TED talk, so it was great to find out that their first TV special that aired this past Tuesday on PBS centered around Education. The musician, John Legend hosted, and talks were given by several education leaders trying to emphasize some of the things needed in education.

Some of the speakers included Angela Duckworth on Grit, Bill Gates on Measures of Effective Teaching, Sir Ken Robinson on the need to start a revolution, Geoffrey Canada on education reform, and Pearl Arredondo telling her own personal story of grit. My favorite talk, though, was Rita F. Pierson’s. Her topic was about what I think matters most in education: Heart. It’s always about the connection and relationship you make with the kids, and your belief in them. You can watch her short talk below, or click the PBS link above to see them all.

How Rational Are Our Choices?

A rational person might take a few light reads when they go on vacation, but instead I chose to read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. One downside to a Kindle is you don’t really get a sense of the physicality of a book. Kahneman, a cognitive psychologist, won the Nobel for economics in 2002. His book delves into his life’s research.

First, he describes the two different systems at play in our brains: 1) Fast thinking, which is automatic, subconscious, emotional, and requires very little effort. 2) Slow thinking which is conscious, requires much effort, is more logical, and is deliberate. He provides plenty of evidence of why we might overestimate human judgement, and in general, we do not make very rational choices. In test after test, human subjects mostly fail to think statistically and don’t do the math. The final part of his book discusses his research on happiness. Our minds on that topic are also divided. We can measure our happiness by our experiences, but what dominates our own perception of happiness is how we remember the peak and valleys of the pain and pleasures.

It’s not a light read like one of Malcolm Gladwell’s book that pieces together research of other people. Rather, it’s an intriguing account (and sometimes memoir) of his own research on how we think. I highly recommend it. Thinking Fast and Slow is a difficult book to summarize or review, so I’ll simply link to a couple of of them:

Here is the WSJ’s review and the NYTimes review.

There’s one simple math question in his book used as an example that I like:

A ball and a bat together cost $1.10. The bat cost a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

Over 50% of Harvard and M.I.T. students got this wrong. Why? They did not bother to check. They relied on their intuition that happened to deceive them.

After writing about our divided brains with two systems, Kahneman says that these systems of thinking aren’t really separate but it’s important to be aware of those two systems. It’s amazing how irrational some of our own decisions are. Kahneman suggests that we approach our thoughts as an outsider at times. It will help us lower our overconfidence and reduce many of our own invisible biases. As we become more aware of how we think and when we should tap into deeper thinking, I hope we can help our students to do the same. 

Here’s a TED talk he gave a couple of years ago.

How do You Learn Best?

I often like to think about how my students learn best, and I don’t believe there is one correct way. I personally learn a lot from the stand-and-deliver lecture format, from reading, from small group discussions, from doing, from writing, reflecting, and through collaboration. This was true for me this past week when I attended the National Association of Independent School’s Annual Conference and participated in edcampis. I learned many things in a wide variety of formats.

Some liken what we know about the brain and learning to what Galileo and his contemporaries knew about our solar system: significant, but in its infancy. Most experts claim that our brains are all wired differently.

My goal isn’t then to find the one best practice to teach students, but to learn and provide them with a variety of best practices, so that they can be empowered to learn about anything, anytime, anywhere, and in any format.

TED talks are a format that fascinate me. Some have argued that they are simply a modern secular version of a 20 minute sermon (delivered to most over the internet). While independent school folk were gathering in Seattle for the annual conference, this year’s annual TED talks were taking place in Long Beach, CA. The first two talks released were polar opposites of each other. One talk warned us about of our excess waste and the economic, environmental, and democratic catastrophes that are happening right now (the secular version of fire and brimstone). The other talk was full of optimism, hope, and abundance. I enjoy thinking about and grappling with this kind of discourse. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle and we all have biases that lean one way or the other. My bias in this case is towards optimism. As an educator, I believe it’s not only us, but our students that will have to solve many of these complex problems.

Boolean choices are often thrust in front of us:

  • You’re either with us or against us.
  • The best ideas happen in isolation or they happen through collaboration.
  • Phonics vs. Whole Language (if you’re old enough to remember that)
  • Boys play with guns. Girls play with dolls.
  • VHS or Beta
  • Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

The TED talk below explores and celebrates introversion, but acknowledges that there is a spectrum between introversion and extroversion. People that lie somewhere in the middle of this spectrum are called ambiverts (a term I had never heard before). Where on this spectrum do our students lie, and are we supporting both their current needs and providing opportunities for them to stretch and grow outside their comfort zone?

What Is EdCamp IS?

Earlier this summer, I met with some educators from Boston, Philly, and Raleigh who had attended and organized EdCamps before. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of them until we met. Since this year’s National Association of Independent School’s Annual Conference was going to be in Seattle, they thought it would be great to have an edcamp with a focus on independent schools (IS) on the Saturday following the big national conference. Those I met, the ones who have done this before, were from out of town. They needed a few local people to help and organize the event. Once I learned what edcamps were about, I had to say yes.

So what is an edcamp? I learned that edcamps are ‘unconferences.’ Don’t worry, I also had to look up what the term ‘unconference’ meant. Basically, unconferences are free participant driven conferences where (in this case) educators come with the goal of sharing and presenting something they’ve learned. They also have the option to attend sessions and learn from others. There are no official keynotes. Teachers assemble in the morning and time is given so people can write down what they’d like to share (perhaps it’s an innovative way to use a tech tool in a meaningful way, a reflection on what is considered a best practice, a discussion led by many different teachers on a hot topic in education, perhaps a response to one of the featured speakers from the official conference). These are posted on a schedule. Then everyone moves to the sessions that interest them most.

One hope, is that by scheduling EdCampIS after the NAIS conference, we can get educators from across the country who are here for that to attend. How are these conferences free? Often they involve sponsors to provide space, lunch, t-shirts, etc., however, we are going to have participants lunch on their own as there are lots of great eateries and one of our association schools is providing the venue. We may just need to find a coffee sponsor for the morning gathering. It is in Seattle after all.

Save the date: Saturday, March 3, 2012 at The Northwest School in Seattle (a ten minute walk from the Washington State Convention Center). For more information go to our wiki page.

It’s too soon to tell how many people will attend, but hopefully word will start spreading. In the meantime, you can check out this video of EdCamp Philly. It’s a great overview of an EdCamp event.

You can also check out other EdCamps around the country at the official EdCamp Wiki.

Don’t forget to click on the NAIS conference link above. It’s an official conference, so there are some great topics covered, and a diverse array of featured speakers including: Bill Gates, Amy Chua (Tiger Mom),  and Sarah Kay (I didn’t know I liked poetry slam until I saw her TED talk). I haven’t had much time to post lately, so I’ll include it below. Hopefully both the NAIS conference and the EdCampIS ‘unconference’ will bring many of you to Seattle this winter.

A Few Things I Learned at the Fall PNAIS Conference

PNAIS11 Innovation and Change in the Classroom

This year’s PNAIS fall conference was an exciting one for me. As a member of the planning committee, a presenter, an attendee, and an exhibitor, it was quite the juggling act to wear all these hats. I did learn a lot and had a great time doing so. It was held at The Overlake School which has a beautiful campus in Redmond, WA.

There was a lot of discussion over the keynote: Sal Khan. His TED talk is at the bottom of this post. Some were intrigued, others inspired, some puzzled, and others were left shaking their heads.

  • I learned that when educators leave having to grapple with many questions, rich discussions often emerge.
  • I learned that I can continue to meet people face to face that I’ve only tweeted with before and make new virtual colleagues that I will no doubt meet in the near future.
  • I learned that many people have never heard of an edcamp or ‘unconference’ before which is going to make co-organizing it a lot of fun (I’ll post more on that in a few weeks).
  • I learned a lot about change.
  • Teachers were validated by the closing keynote, TJ Vasser, one of the first African Americans to attend the same high school Bill Gates attended, talk about social change – And that social change happens because of teachers.
  • I learned I could get over my fear of public speaking.
  • I learned I could adapt.
  • I started out preparing a presentation about using social media to network and learn, and instead realized that in order to learn one really has to embrace uncertainty.
  • I learned that in order to inspire ‘life long learners’ you have to be one yourself.
  • I learned that starting to serve on an accreditation team the Sunday after the fall conference on a week that ends with parent conferences may have been a bit ambitious.
Learning can be rejuvenating and inspiring. I am looking forward to more opportunities to learn this year.

Doodling Improves Comprehension

I haven’t posted a TED talk in a while, but this one is great short one.

“Studies show that sketching and doodling improve our comprehension — and our creative thinking. So why do we still feel embarrassed when we’re caught doodling in a meeting? Sunni Brown says: Doodlers, unite! She makes the case for unlocking your brain via pad and pen.”

 

Begin With Ourselves

Diversity can be a touchy subject. It can make people uncomfortable. Diversity, however cannot be ignored. We need to talk about it.

Today, as part of our in-service days, we had a facilitator guide us on beginning that conversation. It was a great start because it wasn’t a session led by someone who had all the answers, but because it was someone who helped us talk, begin to refine, and help us agree on how we define various terms. She started us out with 7 terms:

  • Diversity
  • Cultural Competency
  • Multicultural Curriculum
  • Inclusivity
  • Privilege
  • Equity
  • Multiple Perspectives
All of these can have multiple meanings, and all are important in beginning an honest, safe talk on diversity. An example that came up was a possible hiring practice in an independent school. If it says on the job description: Masters degree and 5 years of independent school experience recommended, is the school potentially ruling out diverse voices that come from a public or parochial school?
For some, diversity brings up the notion of “been there, done that,” but really, diversity is an ongoing endeavor. It promotes social justice, takes away assumptions and prejudices, and teaches us that there is value in what is different. Our school values states that we “actively cultivate and awareness and respect for diversity in all its forms.” Before we can do that with our students, our families, and our greater community, we need to begin with ourselves.
Our facilitator began with an excellent TED talk which I’ve included below. It really is worth the 18 minutes.