Archive for the ‘Book Summaries’ Category

Bull Spotting: Finding Facts in the Age of Misinformation by Loren Collins

Friday, January 6th, 2017

Bullspotting

Bull Spotting: Finding Facts in the Age of Misinformation by Loren Collins will help you spot and avoid lies in a world with more accessible truth and lies than ever. In the age of fake news you can learn how to use the tools of critical thinking to identify the common features and trends of misinformation campaigns. Loren will help you tell the difference between real conspiracies and conspiracy theories, real science from pseudoscience, and history from fantasy.

Loren Collins

  • Loren is and attorney and firm associate with the Law Office of W. Bryant Greene, III, P. C. He is the creator of Barackryphal, a website that debunks the fallacies propounded by birthers regarding the birth and citizenship of President Obama. He has written for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the topics of misinformation and critical thinking.

1. Baloney Detection

  • Operating in the world efficiently depends on one’s ability to identify crap, also known as misinformation. Today we are constantly bombarded with information, which makes crap detection more import than ever. We tend to rely on common sense, but recall that there was a time when common sense told our ancestors that the world was flat. It can be helpful, but we need to look to science to uncover the truth.
  • Most of us are not conditioned to distinguish between good and bad sources. We favor information from sources we like and visa versa. We accept information that supports our beliefs, and doubt information that doesn’t. This is know as confirmation bias. Other biases include having our thinking impacted by how something is framed, and putting more weight on recent information.
  • People evolved to spot patterns even when they don’t exist and to create stories, myths, to explain the patterns. The ancient Greeks, for example, created different Gods to explain how the world worked.
  • A common feature of creative misinformation is the reliance of anomalies. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t produce a cohesive alternative theory. The idea is that if you can undermine one detail of the consensus view you have disproved it. If you see this in action, it tends to be a good means of spotting misinformation. Occam’s razor tells us that the explanation that makes the fewest assumptions is most likely to be the correct one.

2. Denialism

  • Denialism concerns the rejection of truth accepted by experts. In some cases popular opinion denies scientific facts. For example, a 2010 poll showed that 40% of Americans believe humankind was created in our present form less than ten thousand years ago. The primary tactic is to look for anomalies that can poke holes in established theories. Deniers do not advance a cohesive alternative theory that can be tested.
  • When confronted with evidence, deniers will often say it is forged or fake. When evidence can’t be denied they may say that it means something else like the Nazi gas chambers were not used for mass killings. Fake experts are also associated with deniers. While they may have college degrees, the degrees are usually in unrelated fields. Subjective experiences and anecdotes are often treated as solid evidence.
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Catching Up or Leading the Way Yong Zhao

Monday, January 4th, 2010
Catching Up

Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization by Yong Zhao (©2009, ASCD: Alexandria, VA) tells the story of how China seems to want an education that America seems eager to throw away. This is one that respects individual talents, supports divergent thinking, tolerates deviation, and encourages creativity. At the same time, the US government is pushing for the kind of education that China is moving away from. This is one that features standardization of curricula and an emphasis on preparing students for standardized tests. He wonders why Americans who hold individual rights in high regard would let the government dictate what children should learn, when they should learn it, and how they are evaluated.

Meet Yong Zhao

  • Dr. Zhao grew up in China and immigrated to the US in the 1990’s. Yong Zhao is currently Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education, College of Education at the University of Oregon, where he also serves as the director of the Center for Advanced Technology in Education (CATE). He is a fellow of the International Academy for Education. Until December, 2010, Yong Zhao was University Distinguished Professor at the College of Education, Michigan State University, where he also served as the founding director of the Center for Teaching and Technology, executive director of the Confucius Institute, as well as the US-China Center.

Get My Kid Out of Here

  • Zhao relates a story about his son who told him that he figured out how to get a better score on Michigan’s NCLB tests. His strategy was to stop being creative and imaginative. Instead he would follow the scoring rubric, that was analyzed and taught by his teacher. His score did improve but for this and other reasons the Zhaos decided to move him to a school that was not governed by NCLB.
  • The most serious consequence of NCLB is that it leads to homogenization of talents. While the intention is to ensure every child receives a good education, the problem is that NCLB practically defines good education as being able to show good scores in a limited number of subjects. As schools conform to standardized curriculum, children are deprived of opportunities to develop talents in other areas. If it works, we will develop a group of individuals with the same abilities, skills, and knowledge. American needs a citizenry of creative individuals with a wide range of talents to sustain its tradition of innovation. Reforms aimed as saving America are putting America in danger.

The Two Gaps

  • Two gaps are commonly cited as reasons why American schools need to improve. One is the performance gap between whites and minorities, primarily blacks and Hispanics. The other is the gap between average performance of American students and students from other first world countries. Zhao cites work by Berliner (2006) in pointing out that we didn’t need NCLB testing to tell us where to find failing schools since the common characteristic they share is poverty. There is strong evidence to support the idea that even a small reduction in family poverty significantly improves school behavior and student performance. Test bias also contributes. When tested for creative and practical abilities, minorities do much better.
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Class Rank Weighs Down True Learning by Thomas R. Guskey

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Class Rank Weighs Down True Learning by Thomas R. Guskey – Phi Delta Kappan, March 2014, V95 N6, pp. 15-19. This is my summary of this fine article, which makes the point that teaching and grading schemes that work to select the most talented students often fail to benefit all students and to notice promising students. This may cause you to rethink what your high school is doing regarding this matter. Here is the link to the abstract. You will probably need a subscription if you want to view the full article, or you could hit your nearest college library.

Thomas R Guskey, PhD

  • Thomas is a professor of educational psychology at the University of Kentucky. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago, and began his career in education as a middle school teacher. He served as an administrator in Chicago Public Schools, and was the first Director of the Center for the Improvement of Teaching and Learning, a national educational research center. He is the author/editor of 18 books and over 200 articles published in prominent research journals as well as Educational Leadership, Phi Delta Kappan, and School Administrator. You can find him on Twitter @tguskey or email him at guskey@uky.edu
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Code Breaker: Increase Creativity, Remix Assessment, and Develop a Class of Coder Ninjas! by Brian Aspinall

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018
Code Breaker

Code Breaker: Increase Creativity, Remix Assessment, and Develop a Class of Coder Ninjas! by Brian Aspinall shares his experiences and those of some colleagues in the process of teaching coding from kindergarten to high school. It deals with computational thinking which is a fundamental skill at the heart of engineering and mathematics. It includes coding and much more, and can even happen without technology. Make sure your school has a few copies.

Preface

  • We live in an era of access as answers to knowledge-based questions can be quickly retrieved. As for coding, we have been teaching that in many forms since the 1960s. Like many, Brian is a self-taught coder. He offers ten reasons for teaching coding. They include building self-confidence, allowing students to create, self-expression, teaching storytelling, opportunities for risk-taking, reinforcing math principles, and teaching problem-solving. It is required for many future jobs, developing teamwork, and helping humanity.

1. The Clarity of Poop

2. A Wing and a Papert

  • Here we get some learning theory. Assimilation happens when you incorporate new things into your current understanding. Accommodation happens when you learn new things and have to change what you currently understand. People learn best when they are involved in making or constructing things in the real world. To do this you need some control over your own learning. Learning should be concrete and computers are a good way to teach this. Computational thinking is a fundamental skill and it is at the heart of engineering and mathematics.
  • Coding Rock, Paper, Scissors to Teach Probability
  • Indigenous Trail: Trees and Coding a Micro:Bit Compass
  • What Is Computational Thinking? Computational Thinking can take on a variety of forms.
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Counting What Counts: Reframing Education Outcomes by Yong Zhao & Friends

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017
Counting

Counting What Counts: Reframing Education Outcomes by Yong Zhao and friends takes on the current system with its focus on standardized tests and their sole focus on cognitive skills. Chapters are devoted to defining a variety of non-cognitive skills that are connected with success in life and the current status of how to assess them. They make a case for a new paradigm that would move the system towards more personalized learning and assessment with more focus on non-cognitive skills. Be sure to add this fine book to your professional development library.

Introduction – The Danger of Misguiding Outcomes: Lessons From Easter Island – Yong Zhao

  • Yong uses the story of how the natives of Easter Island overexploited the resources in a race to build ever bigger statues. He compares this to the current race to produce students with excellent tests scores. Here he makes the case that the obsession with test scores has and will continue to damage our education ecosystem. It has resulted in cheating, teaching to the test, focusing on students on the pass/fail border, and limiting the focus on subjects not tested. We are destroying teacher autonomy as we ignore real challenges like poverty, unsafe neighborhoods, and unequal access.
  • We are striving to produce a homogeneous population rather than supporting diverse talents. Routine knowledge and skills are stressed and they can easily be outsourced or automated. There are many negative side effects that are not considered unlike drug companies that must evaluate and publish side effects of their products. Creativity and non-cognitive skills are ignored. Students good at taking tests might not be good at anything else.

1. Numbers Can Lie: The Meaning and Limitations of Test Scores – Yong Zhao

  • Humans are too complex to be reduced to a single number, and such numbers should not be used to make life-changing decisions. Research indicates that IQ tests have limited predictive power. Personality variables like high and stable self-esteem appear to be decisive for life success. SAT and ACT tests are much less predictive of college success than a student’s high school GPA. After many years, the Common Core Standards don’t appear to make students college ready, while motivation, time management skills, and awareness of postsecondary norms and culture do.
  • A look at international tests shows that U.S. students have been bad at test taking for a long time. Such scores would suggest that by now the U.S. would be an economic backwater, but the facts suggest otherwise. It’s possible that countries that obsess about tests more than we do have discouraged the cultivation of creative and entrepreneurial spirits.
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Creating A New Teacher Profession – edited by Goldhaber & Hannaway

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Here is a review of an Edited book by Goldhaber and Hannaway that looks at a wide variety of human resource issues in education. Everyone who does any teacher hiring, evaluation, or staff development should have this book. It is also essential for policy makers. The bottom line is that we have an outmoded system and that we won’t know what works unless we try the type of alternatives discussed here.

Click here to see my review of this book.

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Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World – by Tony Wagner

Monday, December 5th, 2016
Creating Inovators

Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World by Tony Wagner (© 2012, Scribner: New York, NY) explores what parents, teachers, and employers must do to develop the capacities of young people to become innovators. Tony profiles innovators to identify patterns in their childhood that made them what they are. He shows how to apply his findings to education and tells parents how to compensate for poor schools. Keys include collaboration, interdisciplinary problem-solving, and intrinsic motivation. Sixty original videos are included that you can access via a smartphone. Go to Creating Innovators for a trailer.

A Primer on Innovation

  • Innovation is about the process by which new things take place. It involves using novel and creative ways to create value via new products, services, business models, or processes. It involves valuable original ideas or insights that you somehow implement. It’s creative problem solving applied to the real world. Incremental innovation significantly improves products, processes, or services. Disruptive innovations create a new or fundamentally different product or service that disrupts markets and displaces dominant technologies.
  • Innovations can be technical like Apple’s iPod, iPhone, and iPad. They can also be social like the nonviolent strategies of Gandhi and M. L. King.

Skills of Innovators/Nature of Creativity

  • Tony offers the following as the main skills needed: 1) critical thinking and problem solving 2) collaboration across networks and leading by influence 3) agility and adaptability 4) initiative and entrepreneurship 5) accessing and analyzing information 6) effective oral and written communication 7) curiosity and imagination. It is also necessary to imagine the world from multiple perspectives, see all aspects of a problem, be optimistic, experiment to explore problems with a bias towards action, work with others as the day of the lone genius seems to be over. For places like Google and Apple, intellectual curiosity is more important than smarts. They also want people who will take control of a situation rather than waiting to be lead.

What Is Needed

  • Creativity is a habit and like any habit, it can be either encouraged or discouraged. Teachers that value the right answer more than provocative questions tend to drum the curiosity out of students early on. Creativity can be encouraged or discouraged.
  • Tony cites work of Teresa Amibile’s who says that creativity or innovation has three components. They are expertise, creative thinking skills, and motivation. She believes that motivation is the most important and that intrinsic motivation has more impact than extrinsic motivation. Tony adds that childhood play should lead to adolescent passion and adult purpose. They are the three interrelated elements of intrinsic motivation. He notes that a disproportionate number of innovative people attended Montessori schools where play is an important part of the curriculum.

What Is Needed

  • Knowing how to find those things you are interested in and that motivate you is way more important than specific things you study. This implies that you should put a buffet of opportunities in front of children and let them engage in unstructured play. If a child finds an interest, it should be encouraged.
  • Tony tells of a course at Stanford where students work in teams to solve open-ended problems. Most high school and college courses that feature individual competition, specific content, and extrinsic incentives like grades and GPA. What is needed are courses that feature teamwork, multidisciplinary approaches, and the intrinsic incentives of exploration, empowerment, and play.
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Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education by Sir Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015
Creative

Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education by Sir Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica ©2015 offers advice for educators and policy makers that can bring rigorous, personalized, and engaged education to everyone. As a leading voice in education, it’s vital that anyone interested hear what Sir Ken has to say. If you haven’t seen his number one TED Talk check that out too. Click at the bottom on any page to purchase this necessary book.

Sir Ken Robinson, PhD and Lou Aronica

  • Sir Ken is an English author, speaker, and international advisor on education in the arts to governments, non-profits, education, and arts bodies. He was Director of The Arts in Schools Project (1985–89), Professor of Arts Education at the University of Warwick (1989–2001), and was knighted in 2003 for services to education. He is the author of The Element, Finding Your Element, and Out of Ours Minds. His 2006 TED Talk How Schools Kill Creativity is the most watched in history with over 33 million views. Originally from a working-class Liverpool family, Robinson now lives in Los Angeles with his wife Marie-Therese and children James and Kate.
  • Lou Aronica is the author of three novels and the coauthor of several works of nonfiction, including the national best sellers The Culture Code, The Element, and Finding Your Element.

Introduction: One Minute to Midnight

  • The current reforms are being driven by political and commercial interests that misunderstand how real people learn, and how great schools work. As a result they are damaging the prospects of countless young people. The standards culture is harming students. In response, Sir Ken continues to push for a more balanced, individualized, and creative approach to education. Instead, schools take children with voracious appetites for learning and see to it that their appetites are dulled as they go through school. Current efforts focused on raising standards through competition and accountability do not work, and compound the problems they claim to solve. If you design a system based on standardization and conformity, you suppress individuality, imagination, and creativity. Schools that were designed to produce factory workers resemble factories with their assembly line approach. Current reforms stick with this approach only to be less in tune with the circumstances of the 21st century. Sir Ken thinks that schools need to be transformed not reformed, and that we know how to do it even though we aren’t.
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David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

David and Goliath
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants is Malcolm Gladwell’s fourth best-selling book to be summarized here. I’ve been a big fan ever since I summarized The Tipping Point. If you like to give books as gifts, please click below and get copies for yourself and your favorite bookworms.

Why Goliath was the Underdog

  • In the story of David and Goliath, it turned out that it was Goliath’s size that made him a better target for David’s sling. Warfare of the time featured cavalry, infantry, and a third group that fired projectiles like arrows and rocks. The infantry represented sitting ducks as they were relatively stationary compared to the cavalry. The humble infantryman, however, had better odds taking on a charging horse with a spear to the belly. Calvary could take on the projectile boys as they were moving targets that were much harder to hit. This is like a game of rock, paper, scissors were the odds depend on the matchup. For Goliath, facing a slinger like David was like facing a modern rival with a handgun.

Use Your Assets, Hide Your Weaknesses

  • Gladwell uses the David and Goliath story as a metaphor for how we should not always assume that the people who seem to have the upper hand really do. He tells a number of stories of how people who didn’t seem to have a chance won the day. One features a man from India who decided to coach his daughter’s basketball team. His girls were not especially tall or skilled, but he changed the odds by changing how the game was played. He realized that the other teams didn’t defend over half the court. When he put in a full-court press that lasted the entire game, he found that there were enough turnovers which lead to easy baskets to allow his team to triumph over superior talent.
  • There is also the story of Lawrence of Arabia whose troops were successful because they took advantage of their main asset, which was speed. This showed that material resources are not always an advantage. Rather than trying to improve on your weaknesses, sometimes it is better just to hide them.
  • Even wealth can be a disadvantage when it comes to raising kids. Malcolm tells the story of a successful businessman who worked in his father’s scrap metal yard. It was hard, dirty work and it made him realize that he needed to work hard to make sure he would enjoy a better future. It was his family’s very lack of wealth that gave him the qualities that allowed him to be wealthy today. Ironically, he now has a problem as his kids want for nothing. He fears they won’t develop the qualities that made him successful. While poverty can be stressful and debilitating, it seems that just enough wealth can make you relatively happy while still letting you develop desirable qualities. The same also seems to work for class size as classes that are too big or too small have their own downsides.
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Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, Heath Bros.

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Decisive

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip & Dan Heath shares research and cool stories that show how our decisions are disrupted by an array of biases and irrationalities. They go on to introduce a four-step process designed to counteract these problems. Their fresh strategies and practical tools will enable you to make better choices at work and beyond. If you want to increase your chances of making the right decision at the right moment, this book is for you. Click the icon at the bottom of any page to buy this important book for yourself and your key colleagues.

The Heath Brothers

  • Chip Heath is a professor at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. Dan Heath is a senior fellow at Duke University’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE). They are the authors of the bestsellers Switch and Made to Stick.
  • While working on this book, the authors asked that I forego my usually summary approach and do a more traditional book review highlighting a few useful concepts and to use my educational expertise to show readers how to apply them to their life. I have tried to honor this request and thank them for their input.

Introduction

  • Chip and Dan start with the key core difficulties that negatively impact our decision making. We think we know everything there is to know prior to making a decision. We also tend to be overconfident in our knowledge of the future and seek only data that confirms what we believe. We let our emotions get in the way, and often present choices in either/or terms.
  • Doug: In education, I’ve seen each of these whenever decisions were made whether by myself as principal or by a collaborative process. It is important to challenge your own thinking and say things like “you may have a point” when a colleague disagrees. Everyone knows that they aren’t always right, but it’s hard for many people to investigate the possibility that they are wrong prior to committing to a decision. They are more likely to dig in and defend their position.

Ask: What Else We Could Do/Buy?

  • When dealing with budget issues, you should always ask “what else could we buy” if we didn’t buy the item(s) we are considering? A good example today is what could we buy with all the money we are spending on textbooks and standardized testing?
  • The vanishing options test would also allow you to consider what to do with an administrative position when someone leaves. Always ask “how else you could accomplish the person’s function, and is there some part of what they are doing that doesn’t need to be done.” I have found that for administrators, the job will expand to fill the day with tasks that aren’t mission critical.
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