College Dropout Has 26 Million Students – and No Teacher’s License!

There are a variety of ways to learn and college is not the only way, especially now.

Mr. Marolla

Each year, I have between 80 and 150 students.  This is called ‘having influence over young people’.

In NY State, you need at least 18 ‘education credits’, a BA and then an MS/MA from a University.

Then you need to take a Content Specialty Exam (CSE), the LAST (a liberal arts exam), and an ATS-W (teacher theory / jargon) exam.

The State has implemented more exams to take for people who went through the system after I did.  Each one of these exams has a fee attached to it.  It must be a great moneymaker for NY state government and colleges – seeing all the people going to college to become teachers.

I’ve mentioned code.org and seattleclouds.com.  Here is another site run by a guy with 26 million students.  He dropped out of college.  This means he doesn’t have a teaching credential.  Just like Salman Khan over at khanacademy.org.  How…

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Stay Unpluggable

too much tech

“They say I’m crazy, but it takes all my time.”  — Joe Walsh

For the whole song =====> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXWvKDSwvls

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I use and generally like using technology. I think that students can get access to content for research and study.  Heck, I email and upload and blog and text and play games and network with the best of ’em. But lately I have been seeing students and faculty members completely disconnected from the place they are in because they are in the middle of a message or Words with Friends or whatever.

There is a state of being though that results in being completely unplugged.  This state once was a bit easier to reach.  One could sit with a book or a journal or a sketch pad in order to create, think, plan or meditate.  While I know that these things are all still possible and people even claim they can do this with their tech, but I have to say that the mere digital clutter with which we typically surround ourselves creates enough interior noise that it is nearly impossible to shut off. That noise seems to keep a low-boil of stress because it reminds us of what we need to do or who needs dealing with who isn’t near us right now and we end up ignoring the real people and experiences (learning and otherwise) that are in front of us.

off switch

I am going to encourage all of you reading this blog to exercise the off-switch on your technology from time to time. There are lots of ways to do it.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Short time-frame:

  1. Switch your phone off. Push away from your desk.  Take the headphones off and go for a walk in in a park or in the woods. Resist the urge to turn it back on.
  2. Go to the bathroom WITHOUT your phone. I know that sounds weird, but some of you know that it has been a while since you have been alone with your thoughts in the privy.
  3. Make dinner for a friend without having the phone or computer or TV on. Have everyone agree to “switch off” during dinner. Sit through a meal with that person (or group) and talk or sit in silence.
  4. Sit in a room with the lights off. Make sure you are not hungry or sleepy and just sit for 15 or 30 minutes with nothing but your thoughts.
  5. Attend a religious service. like vespers, that uses no technology for worship.

Longer time-frame:

  1. Take a hiking or canoe trip. Go with the intention of leaving your technology off. Cook your own food and plan your days according to a paper map and the weather conditions around you.  (If you have never done this before, maybe you should try it with a professional or a group with a guide).
  2. Spend a few days in a hermitage. Hermits usually don’t have a good reputation in our culture, but throughout time, different cultures and religions have created physical spaces without a lot of stimulation to increase the ability to contemplate. They do exist in these modern times and can be the thing to help you readjust to the pressures of your life simply by taking away stimulation, noise and the calls for your attention.

Use Your Super Secret Mutant Power: Your Strengths (Part One, Finding Your Strengths)

Mutant Power

Perhaps some of you are fans of the X-Men comics or movies.  If you don’t know them, the story is not hard to understand. The X-Men are humans who have mutated or are mutating. Most of them come into the story after starting normal lives, thinking they were humans just like everyone else.

But then it happens: they sprout wings or grow scales or shoot fire out of their fingertips.  They think the abilities are cool, at first, but then others see them as freaks or weirdos who need to be rounded up or killed or have their mutations “cured.” No mutant seems to have the same powers as another mutant and in that way they are unique. It makes for interesting stories and the fight scenes and bad guy/good guy match-ups are super cool.

The thing I notice, probably because I am a geeky teacher and I think like this, is that many of us are like this.  We have our own mutations that make us unique. When we are young, we marvel in the things we can do or that we care about.  We are “experts” with the names of our family members and how they are related to us or the way we color or the things we know about who lives in each house on our streets. But then we go to school.

In grade school, we all learn pretty quickly that some people are better at things than others. We also learn that some of the things we are good at may or may not be valued at school.  School tends to force all students to value the same skills which works great for some and not for others.  One very unfortunate thing that often happens to people as they pass through school is that they tend to define themselves by the skills and knowledge they lack and not by the positive skills or knowledge that they have.

That causes many of us to think about ourselves in the negative. Education becomes a battle to overcome our deficits rather than us learning and in our strengths. testing_cartoonWhile this comic is meant to be humorous, it points out the way our education system often deals with people. It is one of the main reason many people learn to hate school and formal learning; they know they will be asked to do things or know things that they don’t know or have a difficult time doing.

Schools don’t do a great job either defining strengths or working to develop them in people who don’t already lean in that direction. In fact, I went looking for a definition of strength and I found one that applies. It is taken from the Journal of College and Character:

“According to Rath(2007), a strength is consistent and near perfect performance on an activity. This definition is comprised of three factors: talents or naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior; knowledge, which consists of facts and lessons learned; and skills, or the steps of an activity. These combine to create strengths.” (Bowers & Lopez, 2010)

So your strengths are:

1) Talents or things you do naturally

2) Knowledge that you have about something

3) Skills you possess

Here is the deal.  We all have things that we know and can do that makes us an expert with that particular thing. There are things that we gravitate towards partially because we have those strengths. Some of us like to meet new people or we like figuring out how machines work. Some of us like taking care of babies and others like tending a garden. Some of us love studying history and others love the precision of math.

Alternatively, things you don’t do well and you don’t gravitate towards are weaknesses.  These are the things you would rather not do. We all have them. Some of us hate to cook and others hate to clean.  Some people don’t like to read while others don’t like sitting and watching a movie. Some people hate physical activities and other people cannot stand being cooped up indoors.

Weakness are:

1) Lack of Talent like not being good at spelling or reading aloud or feeling unsure of where to stand when playing sports or an no eye for art and no ear for music or lack of sensitivity to the emotional states of others.

2) Lack of Knowledge: like the History of the Kings and Queens of England or the Civil War or how many Pokemon characters were derived from Pikachu or the correct present-perfect tense of a verb.

3) Lack of Skill: like the fact that you cannot kick-flip a skateboard or Eskimo roll a kayak or talk comfortably with members of the opposite sex or you don’t know how to write a college entrance essay or apply for a home loan.

If you sit down and think about it, you could probably make a list of your strengths. You could think of things that you lean toward. You could also make a list of your weaknesses that trouble you and vex you.

If you are having a hard time coming up with things, people around you are great sources of information about this stuff. They see you being happy or sad or joyful or frustrated in all kinds of situations in ways you don’t even know about. Talk to them. They will surprise you with their observations when you come out and ask them. They can validate some of the things you probably already know about yourself and they can surprise you with some things you didn’t know.

Citations:

Bowers, Kelly M., & Lopez, Shane J.. (February 2010). Capitalizing on Personal Strengths in College. Journal of College & Character,VOLUME 11(Issue NO. 1), pp. 1-11.

https://www.strengths.umn.edu/sites/default/files/public/Capitalizing%20on%20Personal%20Strengths%20in%20College.pdf

Two Websites with Additional Information

http://lifehacker.com/5993132/to-figure-out-what-youre-good-at-become-an-explorer

http://www.vocationvillage.com/strengths-assessment-10-ways-to-know-what-you-are-good-at-doing/

Formal Education is an Invading Army 2.0

OC-Vikingu-sirojumi-un-1

Between 700-900 AD, the Vikings made military incursions and wound up creating settlements in Great Britain. In their longboats they brought instruments of war, but they also brought their religion, language and knowledge of the sea. We use common words, like “knife, hell or kid,” but we have more complex words like “overwhelm” (which literally means “over the helm” for a way to sink or capsize a Viking longboat). Sometimes we even use the word berserk, (which is a article of clothing made from a bear’s fur as the word means “bear shirt” and was thought to make the wearer invincible in battle) and we now use that word to describe a person who is insanely belligerent and ready to destroy whatever is necessary.  Perhaps you can see the connection.We even get the names of our days of the week “Wednesday, Thursday, Friday” and possibly “Tuesday” from the Viking culture. (See this Wikipedia entry for more words: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_words_of_Old_Norse_origin)

These are words we know and use all of the time because they were brought into English via war and raiding parties. The memory of the wars, death occupation and destruction is long gone, but the words and concepts lay enshrined in our everyday language and carry with them not only their current meanings but their histories, like ancient fossils, with them.

So what does this have to do with education? I usually start my classes in the semester by getting them to look at how formal, K12 education has permeated their thinking about learning.  They all believe that school is a place to learn, but most of them say that the important things they know how to do or really value about themselves was not something that they learned as content, concepts or skills in a formal classroom setting.

I believe for most of us, formal education has made it’s incursion into our pasts. It has sorted us, told us what to value and not value about ourselves and often made us exchange things we value, believe or are curious about for the things that teachers and tests wanted us to believe or care about. While not all of those things we have gotten from our formal educations are bad, many of the things we have learned run contrary to what we know in our working lives to be true.

Learning Contradiction One:

For example, when we learn about how to cook a family recipe, we are in a meaningful context, connected to the content and interested in the product.  We stand in the kitchen with Grandma and ask her questions about how she does something or what spices in what amount. She answers those questions, but also tells us stories about how the recipe came to be or times in the past that she has made it and because we are connected to her and our family, we are also connected to what she is teaching us.  When the activity is complete, we have a delicious meal that is probably eaten with loved ones and reminds us about happy times in our own past.

In a school setting we are in a somewhat random group of people, learning information which may connect to us or not, but connecting it to us is not the point of school. We are expected to answer questions on tests or assignments, creating products that we don’t care about after the activity is completed and when the class is over, we probably will never need to interact with that teacher or other students again. This sets us up to NOT have many needs satisfied in this experience, consequently it is more difficult to retain and recall information learned in this way.

Because of what schools are or what we expect them to be, they need to employ tactics that place value on how well a person retains the seemingly random stream of information and skills coming at them in school. They invade like the Norsemen of old and that pillage and plunder, taking goods and people for their own and leaving the rest.

Learning Contradiction Two:

Schools place a lot of value on assignments and tests.  While we think of these things as part of learning, what often happens is that we learn to value the result.  How did you do on the test? or What did you get on that assignment? means how many points did you earn from the correct answers you were able to put on the page. In fact, we expect “good students” to get As because they are able to get all the answers right, all of the time. If we truly believed that learning was advanced by collecting as many right answers as quickly as possible, we should teach students to cheat as efficiently as possible.

We all have probably made mistakes. We have learned from our mistakes. Often we learn more from our mistakes or “wrong answers” than we do from our “right answers.” The invading army still is inside our heads telling us that we need to get correct answers, even though we know through experience that we learn better if we are allowed to make mistakes.  The invader is not focused on our goals or our happiness, but on its own goals and happiness.

If Learning Is Boring, You’re Doing It Wrong

boring imsge

When students enter my “Introduction to the College Experience” course, the think that learning is boring.  They figure with a syllogism like this

P1 – 1) School is a that helps students learn.

P2 – 2)  School is boring.

Egro 3) Learning is boring.

While P1 might be true some of the time, without a conditional, it isn’t always true which therefore makes it false. P2 is also demonstrably false so some people some of the time and therefore makes the conclusion false.

I would say that P1 is NOT true most of the time and P2 IS true most of the time which makes the conclusion seem true, but I would actually argue with the validity of the underlying notions in P1. For many students, school is not a place where students learn or at least learn effectively and they don’t learn things they want to learn, which begs the question, of what is learning in the first place.

What is learning?

When I asked a student in class today if she knew how to ride a bicycle, she said yes, but she hadn’t ridden in over 3 years. When I asked her if she learned anything in her Earth Science class last year, she also said yes.  I then asked her if she was to be given a grade based on a test on a test of whether or not she could ride a bike or a test covering what she learned about Earth Science, she told me that she’d rather take the bike test. When I asked why, she said it was because she knew she could pass because she actually knows how to do that. While it is true that Earth Science might be more complex than bike riding for most people, it is also true that this student sees a real difference between these two learning experiences and it is instructive to note.

When we learn things that we want to know and things we can connect to ourselves, learning is fun. Even if it is difficult, like falling off the bicycle or struggling to understand the evaporation/condensation/precipitation cycle, we continue to try because we want what is there and we can connect something important to our ability to ride a bike or understand earth science to something we want in the world (“I want to ride to the store with my friends” OR “I want to understand how clouds form”).

How do we get learning wrong?

Marcus Lemonis, in my favorite TV show (The Profit  http://www.cnbcprime.com/the-profit/) talks about business being about People, Products and Process. Often, when we are in classes for school, we are not connected enough to the subject matter or the people or the purpose. We need to know that our brains are hardwired to learn. We need to focus the our attention on things that are worth learning or place ourselves in situations where we are likely to care about the People, Products or the Way (Process) we use to learn.

When we are in situations where we know very little about the subject so we have little background knowledge, we cannot place the information we are supposed to be learning to anything meaningful that will stick. We get bored and frustrated. In short we fail to launch because we are not connected. That isn’t learning

We also don’t learn when we are not challenged. All of us do things where we know we will be successful, where we have enough skill or knowledge to perform well.  Stretching to do something new is scary. Making mistakes is not valued in school so we learn to take little if any risk and we don’t move so we get bored.  That isn’t learning either

How should we get learning right? 

Our brains our wired to spot patterns and notice variance in the pattern. We should be looking for the sweet spot when we learn. What is that? When you find a task that is easy enough for you to attempt it but hard enough where you are not successful all the time. No teacher or school can tell you where that spot is.  You have to discover it on it on your own. You have to monitor your thoughts: Is this too easy? Is it too hard? Or do I not know enough yet?

When I mountain bike on a trail, I push myself. Technically speaking, I am not a terrible rider, but I am not a good or great one. I am competent. I know how to ride and what to look for.  Sometimes I get into a rhythm and it feels like magic the way the bike and I turn together like a seamless machine. But, if I ever hope to better, I need to fall down. I need to push myself beyond what I think I am capable of. If I stop pushing, I can relax but I will soon be bored.

5 Levels of Maslow I Use in Learning

Maslow

Maslow helped us rank our human needs and as students and teachers we sometimes forget why that is important, meeting our needs is a primal force that often operates below our consciousness. Raising those needs to our conscious perception can impact the way we arrange our learning and troubleshoot when things go wrong.

According to Maslow, we have physical and safety needs that trump other needs like growth or esteem needs. We have seen the effects on people who don’t have what they need and how it warps them. But we often don’t look at situations for the need satisfying value that they might have.  Some instructors think more about the content they are teaching than the context of the learner whom they are attempting to teach. Some teachers and administrators think concentration on the needs of their learners to be “touchy feely” and frankly, unnecessary. As students and teachers, we can overlook our needs and see them as extras or wants.

My students often tell me that while they believe that food and water would be needs, having companions is not a need.  I remind them that all humans come into the world connected to another person, literally and that without help until at least about the age 5 – 7, most human children would die if left totally on their own.

When learning or teaching or working, we should look for and encourage environments that satisfy the greatest number of needs. Need satisfying environments give us what we often seek and those things are beyond money or material things.  In fact, most are not.

1. Survival

This goes almost without saying.  If you are hungry or cold or homeless, you will not be thinking about quality learning or work. I have had a number of homeless students or students who were experiencing some other basic for of deprivation, but they wanted to continue their educations.  I can tell you, without a stable environment, they were just going through the motions. Even those of us with reasonably stable situations need to be on the lookout when our basic health and well-being or that of a fellow student is not being care for that it will negatively and immediately influence learning and working.

From a less extreme situation, recall a time when you were trying to learn when you had to use the restroom or you were starting to get sick. How much were you actually retaining of what you were supposedly learning?

2. Safety and Security

While this seems outside of what normally happens in a class, I have heard from many students that they have been in schools where they constantly were in fear for their lives and safety. It was a preoccupation that never allowed them to settle in and trust the best intentions and lessons that a teacher might have.

Think about your own self.  If you are in a place where you have to make a lonely walk in the dark after a night class or cars are being broken into in the parking lot, that can influence your decision to attend classes. Fear can loom large and can crowd out a student’s ability to focus on the learning or work at hand.

3. Belonging

This is where my students usually have a problem. They think that we don’t need each other.  I try to get them to look at the positive. I ask them to think about what it feels like when they do belong or they feel that sense of belonging to a group, even if it is with the people who smoke weed in the parking lot, they all need to feel like there is somewhere that they fit in.

I tell them to make friends in class.  Friends make people more likely to learn or care about what is happening in class.  It pairs experiences we want to have with information we might need to learn, but often when people want to get better at learning something, we don’t tell them to go out and make friends with others who are trying to do the same thing.

4. Freedom and Purpose

While these can be combined in a variety of ways, I find that people who have a sense of purpose and feel empowered to accomplish the things they set out to do are happier and learn better and faster than those who feel aimless and have efforts thwarted. While it is true that some of this would be based on an individual’s outlook and personality because some people naturally are more positive and resilient in the face of adversity, but schools and classrooms can and should build purpose into activities and learning.

Think about a time when you have been asked to do something that you consider to be pointless or when you have worked really hard on something only to have your efforts go unrecognized or blocked. That is not something that you look forward to. If purpose and the ability to achieve purpose is available, people become animated and connected to what they are learning.

5. Fun/Learning

Maslow calls this self-actualization, but I call it learning and I equate it with fun. I believe that what we call fun is a state of mind where our conscious self-perception (or just thinking about ourselves) and we just experience what is going on around us; we become totally absorbed and the perception of the passage of time disappears.

This rarely happens in classrooms.  These are usually the places where people state at the clock waiting for torture to end. But I think all of us have gotten pulled into an interesting subject, movie, book, person, sporting event when our consciousness was totally engrossed.  Think about how much you could learn if you were in that state all the time. Teachers can create these spaces in classrooms and students should seek out teachers who can do this.

I have some specific ideas about how this can be done, but let me hear what some of the rest of you think.  Add something to the comments section.

Your Brain’s Secret Weapon: Curiosity

Surrealism

If you have spent any time around a 3 year-old, you know that they are question generating machines. Humans across cultures naturally develop the ability and the desire to know about the world around them. Formalized education, aka school does a pretty good job taking this ability away from most of us, or at least marginalizing it. What happens when you use it? What happens when you don’t use it? How can you develop you natural curiosity?

What happens when you are curious:

Learning is driven by the desire to know. It’s as if curiosity is a thirst an learning is a tall drink of water. When you allow your natural curiosity enter into a situation, you will learn exponentially faster. When you lead your responses to a situation with questions, you will learn and make fewer errors (especially the kind that are difficult to correct).

When we enter a situation, for example an interaction with a friend, lover or spouse things go better when we are curious. When you first meet someone, you begin by finding out information about that person. If he/she is someone who interests you, you tend to have long conversations or interactions with him/her to find out more about how he/she thinks or reacts in a situation. In fact, it is this initial curiosity that fuels most romantic relationships.

When we engage in our hobbies or take classes in something we care about, we enter those experiences with questions. We have decided that we want to know more about that thing. We have questions. We talk about that thing, read about it and make friends with people who share that interest. Curiosity is the fuel for those relationships and those activities. In the best situations, it helps us expand our circle of friends, our employment opportunities and our expertise.

What happens when you AREN’T curious:

Humans tend to overestimate what they know a subject and underestimate the problems they don’t know about. Folks who aren’t curious tend to make assumptions about the world around them to explain what is going on. Folks who don’t practice curiosity in situations tend to offer false reasons for things that are happening. They don’t understand why they are not getting jobs or failing in their relationships. They are quick to find reasons outside of themselves (blaming) without knowing what is really happening. They also attribute their good fortune to “luck” and therefore don’t understand what is causing that good fortune or what might cause it to end.

For example, if a friend does something you don’t like and you assume why he/she has done that thing, you might end up saying or doing things that will hurt that relationship. Oftentimes, this is expressed as our need to be “right.” Being right might sooth your hurt for awhile, but it will keep you from understanding what is happening. Asking that person questions will allow you to understand and communicate your care for him/her.  Also, if that person actually is a big jerk, you will definitely know that because you actually asked why they did something.

In learning situations when you aren’t curious, you don’t question what you are being told, you don’t apply it to yourself and it fails to make an impact on you. Think about required classes you have had to take that didn’t interest you. You remember so much less because you didn’t plug the skills or information you were were supposed to be learning. Failure to be curious can cost you relationships, learning and employment opportunities.

How do you practice being curious:

While we all enter the world as bundles of curiosity, we don’t all remain that way. Staying curious is a habit that one can cultivate. Below are some specific things you can do to keep a curious mind:

  • Make a list of questions that you would like to know the answers to. They can be simple or complex, but create a list of them and review the list once a day. If you drink a morning coffee, like I do, try and review your daily questions over that first cup of coffee.
  • When you are faced with a complicated problem, make a list of questions you have that are specifically about that problem. Set about answering them. Try not to assume what you know.  If you need to, write down what you think you know about the problem and then make sure to say how you know that to be true.
  • If you have a person or a situation that just irritates you, question the situation as if you were not a person in the situation. In other words, imagine that you were looking at things from the outside. What questions would you have if you were a stranger?
  • Expose yourself to new experiences. Try new restaurants or recipes. Learn a language or a musical instrument. Learn to dance or how to program a computer. This makes your mind flex because you are placing it in situations where you cannot assume what you know.
  • Have conversations with people with whom you aren’t likely to agree. They will challenge you to consider not only their positions, but the value of your own.
  • Read books on subjects that you don’t know about.  The author didn’t know about it when he/she came into the world either and learned about it. The book is an expression of what he/she has learned.

Your curiosity is what makes you knowledgeable and interesting to others. It helps you learn faster and have better relationships with those around you, but your innate curiosity needs to be grown, nurtured and sometimes challenged.