Studying Van Gogh

The Artist Who Sparked His Interest :: Vincent Van Gogh

Recently, my youngest son is fascinated with art. He likes looking at paintings, talking about them and learning about the artists. He is drawing more, working through the “hard” parts and developing a growth mindset. 

In fact, after visiting the Morse Museum he returned to the hotel room, set himself up in front of the window and declared he was “doing art.” He didn’t end up drawing anything, but he did have an awesome view of the setting sun. I think that counts as observational skill-building!

I’d like to take credit for his interest, but Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings caught his eye. In November, we learned about Van Gogh; his life and paintings were fascinating and we gobbled up as many books about him as possible (Mike Venezia’s artist series is a favorite around here). However, I think the artist concept truly hit home when we started making our own impressionist art.  After learning about Van Gogh, we made oil pastel drawings of Starry Night.

a child's drawing of Van Gogh's Starry Night

C’s (age 7) recreation of Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh.

a child's depiction of Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night

R’s (age 10.5) recreation of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

oil pastel recreation of Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night.

Liz’s recreation of Van Gogh’s Starry Night (using only 12 oil pastels).

Studying Master Artists

We’ve always taken the kids to museums and read books about artists. Last year, we studied Monet; a few of his paintings were on display at our local museum. For our family, it makes the experience much more valuable if the kids know something about the topic ahead of time. This is especially true for my older, more active child. If he is truly interested, he can wander in a museum for hours. If not, we’re done in thirty minutes!

For this project, we’ve been studying the “masters” with a guided curriculum. I purchased the first set of ‘Meet the Masters‘ lessons. So far, we’ve completed three out of five artists (Van Gogh, Monet, Cassat, Picasso, Mondrian), and the kids look forward to listening and learning new techniques. It has taken our art and art appreciation to the next level with just the right combination of art history and hands-on application. And no, I do not get paid to say that. We just like the curriculum.

I’m not too worried about stifling their creativity with a formal curriculum. We don’t follow it completely, but it does teach them techniques to apply to other art work. I see the value in copying master artists; my kids pay attention to the details and start to internalize the lessons of light, value and color. Then, they get to apply those same skills to their own art. Since they are confident in their skills, they are willing to spend more time drawing and experimenting. Thankfully, that means more art time for me too.

Diary of a First Year FLL Coach

First Year FLL Coach – Me?

August 22, 2016
Today, I asked the 4-H robotics leaders if our club was going to participate in First Lego League this year. “Sure,” they said, “and would you mind being one of our first year FLL coaches?”

August 30, 2016
The FLL challenge comes out today. It’s called Animal Allies. I can’t wait to find out more about it.

September 5, 2016
Today, I gave a brief presentation to our club about First Lego League. I think I scared some parents, but gained the interests of the more experienced student members. We now have a team of seven students.

The coaches and mentors navigated the FLL computer system and got our team registered and the kit ordered. I had an easier time since I had gone through a Jr. FLL season with my older son two years ago.

September 18, 2016
One of our mentors (and 4-H robotics leader) built the game board. The kit and game mat arrived and the kids spent the meeting building pieces.

A picture of two 4x8 robot game boards

This was from our practice competition.

September 25, 2016
The game board is fascinating and the students finally finished putting together all of the pieces. We did a team building exercise and ran out of time.

October 2, 2016
We now have nine team members. The team has decided to split up into three groups and begin building a base robot. The team will then vote for the best design.

October 16, 2016
It took another meeting to finish and decide on the robot design. Now, the other teams are copying the robot design so that each team can work on the robot game. There has been little discussion about the animal project; everyone is more interested in the robot game.

 

The Robot Game, The Robot Presentation & The Project

October 23, 2016
Teams are finally working on programs to complete the robot game challenge. There have been some problems with such a big team. Everyone wants to work on the robot. Our initial talks about animal projects are centered on reducing ocean pollution. We are also registered for a practice tournament November 12. I have spoken to my sister-in-law twice in the last few weeks to clarify FLL rules. (She’s a FLL veteran coach and is immensely helpful).

October 30, 2016
More work on the robot game. My co-coach is amazing at finding team building challenges so the kids can develop their “core values.”

November 2, 2016
Our animal project is looking too much like a pollution/trash problem (which was last year’s FLL challenge). We have a mid-week meeting to focus on one animal and to flush out a general presentation idea for the practice tournament. The kids chose to study manatees.

November 6, 2016
I am out of town. More robot game. More team building.

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November 12, 2016
Practice Tournament. Everyone did very well and it gave the students (and coaches) a better idea of what FLL is all about. Our team did better than we thought they would.

November 19, 2016
The robot design has been modified so that there is now only one robot to compete in the robot game. That means two to three kids work on the programming while the coaches help the other kids flush out the robot and manatee presentations. Team building happens at the end of every meeting.

December 4, 11, 18
The holiday season is in full swing and we are only getting three to four kids at each Sunday meeting. This has made it difficult to move forward with our presentation since no one wants to make a group decision with only part of the team present.

December 25 & January 1
Since we meet on Sunday, we have cancelled these meetings to enjoy the holiday season (and because a lot of people are out of town).

 

Getting Ready for the Qualifying Tournament

January 5, 2017
We have an afternoon meeting at the library/park to refine the manatee and robot presentations. The students decide what they want to talk about and we (the coaches) help them by writing down main points on an index card. They are to take them home, write down what they want to say and try to memorize it for Saturday’s qualifying tournament.

January 7, 2017
The tournament is an hour away and the day is very cold and very wet. It’s a bit of a shock for our central Florida area. Thankfully, the gym is warm and the 24-team double tournament is buzzing with activity. I sent our schedule out yesterday and made a couple of copies to leave on our table. Everyone arrived on time and we were busy all day long. Our team table was close to the robot game area and the students took advantage of the location. They watched how the other team’s competed and enjoyed hanging out with one another.

This was one long day. We had to be there by 8:15 and the award ceremony finished at 4:00. Our team won the mechanical design/programming award and received an alternate bid to the regional tournament. My co-coach and I were thrilled. This is such a fabulous run for a first year team – and 7 out of 9 members can return next year! They will have a better idea of what to expect. I definitely see some areas for improvement. For example, we left more than 30-seconds on the clock for the robot game and they could do a better job at learning to share speaking roles during the presentations. But more importantly, everyone was well-supported, courteous and focused on building a good team (and good people).

January 2017
My co-coach contacted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission in our area and our team will visit their office to learn more about manatee rescue and how to write a regulation. Although our FLL season is over, we are still helping our team to go out into the community and hopefully, make a difference.

 

Reflections on Being a First Year FLL Coach

My co-coach and I were often coaching “from behind,” as he likes to say. We were trying to guide and ask questions (and sometimes direct) so that the students owned most of the decisions. That was really hard – especially as we tried to figure out the FLL rules. It took a lot of time to give everyone an equal voice, but I think it made for a stronger team. I also returned to being an adjunct instructor this past August and was trying to balance teaching on top of coaching. I felt like I didn’t prepare as much as I could (or should) have, but the students led the way and asked questions when they needed information.

I can’t say enough about First Lego League. This tournament is amazing and the purpose is not to win, or to get better at robotics. It’s to work as a team and to become familiar with the design thinking process. The purpose is to solve the world’s problems and to help kids (and their coaches) to know they have a voice and some power. They have power to work cooperatively. They have power to talk to government officials and business owners. This is project-based learning in action – with a little bit of legos and robotics thrown in for fun.

FETC 2017

Code to Learn: Using Scratch to Demonstrate Learning

I’ll be at FETC this week – and will be talking about my hopes and dreams for how to use Scratch. I’ve done a lot of research on coding and creativity and I’m bringing my ideas to FETC (thankfully, my poster was accepted)! I will be discussing the in-depth learning projects I have done with some of my students. I also have a passion for integrating coding into the curriculum and would love to see if other teachers are doing the same (check out my Wright Brothers course).

Creativity in Coding

For the last few years, I have been teaching Scratch during the summer months. Most of the time we do projects related to video games or general learning projects (animations, mazes, etc.). My one-week camps do not leave enough time for in-depth research projects. However, for those returning campers, I am able to challenge them with more advanced Scratch projects. I’ve had students create interactive country projects and create fractured fairy tales. Even though I am not in a K-12 school, I hope teachers will find these ideas (and lesson plans) useful.

After reading articles by Mitch Resnik, Karen Brennan, and Samuel Papert (most well-known for his book, Mindstorms), I felt like they had created Scratch for this very purpose. After a bit, I realized they had. Check out their Scratch foundation.

Regardless, I think our mission is the same – to keep the creativity in coding. To use Scratch (and computers) to create and not just to consume. For the record, I am not affiliated with MIT or Scratch, nor do they endorse this poster session (though, I hope they would if they knew about it)!

If you will be attending FETC this week, I will be talking about my poster session on Wednesday, January 25 from 4:00 – 5:00 PM  – Booth #2500.

UPDATE: To find the Scratch lessons, check out the Scratch Lessons, Challenges & Prompts page.

Following our interests – drawing

Evolution of a Drawing Parent

When I was pregnant I had dreams of all of the cool things I would do with my child. We would sit together and color, go for long walks and do a lot of drawing. All of the parents can see where this is headed, right? My first child was born and he hated to color; he refused to pick up any writing instrument. He wanted to build, destroy and take things apart. He was fascinated by machines, noisy toys and television. So, I quietly put away my own interests (art and drawing) for his interests. We bought him wood blocks and spent hours building. We jumped into legos and computers. We taught him to create with these things, rather than to passively consume them.

a picture of a kid's drawing

Drawn by R, age 11. We’ve done some prep work from the book, Drawing with Children.

Same Parents, Different Kids

A few years later, we added another son to our family.  He seemed quieter and more willing to pick up a pencil, but he was enthralled with his older brother’s antics. And so I waited. My older son showed an interest in drawing (around age 8) and my younger son (now age 7) is also showing a strong interest in drawing and art history. I can’t say that I am an especially patient person, but I am thrilled that their interests are finally dovetailing my own.

A picture of a kid drawing a skyscraper.

C, age 6, drawing an Atlanta building for the city project.

Drawing Instruction at Home

Four years ago, a friend turned us onto Mark Kistler’s online video lessons. Since we’re homeschoolers, we buy a yearly subscription through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. The videos are separated by skill level and novice artists can stop the videos as much as they want. He takes the students step-by-step while infusing his lessons with the language of art. He speaks of perspective and shadowing. He addresses the importance of direction and the size of foreground objects. He does all of this while drawing – it’s his natural language and the students don’t realize they are picking up art terms. It gives them the confidence to add these elements to their own drawings.

a picture of a blob monster, drawn by a 7-year-old.

Drawn by C, age 7. Instruction by Mark Kistler.

Returning to Drawing

Although I incorporated art into our daily life anyway – it was to help the kids learn to love art – not really to increase my own drawing ability. During their younger years, I felt like I needed to become an expert educator/parent and so my art took a back seat for the past eleven years. But, after a little bit of soul-searching this past year (mid-life crisis, perhaps) and thanks to a few other resources (the book Essentialism, and the web site, Craftsy), I have brought art to the forefront of my life. I am drawing more and refining my ability. Thankfully, my kids are on board.

A picture of a hand-drawn, pencil drawing of a lily.

Drawn by Liz looking at a color picture of a lily.

 

Following his interests – Frank Lloyd Wright

My eldest child is quite the extrovert. His high energy levels fuel his interests and he takes to new ideas with a fierce passion. So, it’s not quite surprising that my “robot engineer” now wants to be an architect when he grows up. And who sparked this interest? Frank Lloyd Wright.

a picture of two lego houses made in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright

R’s take on Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.

Art and Architecture

After a particularly lucky day at our “Friends of the Library” sale, I brought home a kids’ book on Frank Lloyd Wright. He did some work in Florida and I thought it might be a fun side project for us. Not that I need an excuse to travel, but an “educational” trip is often easily justified.

He read through the book, found other relevant sources, and was well on his way to loving Frank Lloyd Wright. These books sparked some lego creations, a Minecraft structure and a deep desire to visit Falling Water.

Picture of inside of frank lloyd wright house in Minecraft

The interior of the Minecraft structure: this one was designed after Wright’s own home.

As I said before, his interests vary and you never know what might stick. Well…that was six months ago and while the intensity has chilled, the interest is still there. He recently spent hours pouring over a book about tiny homes, and we just discovered this book at our local library.  My younger son and I have also been absorbing information. We’re learning just as much about this very cool architect-artist.

picture of frank lloyd wright home in Minecraft

A Wright-inspired home built in Minecraft.

Art Interest

In fact, my younger son has shown an increase interest in artistic endeavors. He has been very interested in drawing and painting. This past spring, we made it halfway through this fabulous Craftsy course on colored pencils. Both of the boys sat and tried out the lessons before the pull of summer (and the pool) took over. At the present time, we’re diving more deeply into art, art history and various techniques, and I couldn’t be happier. I can’t wait to see what we do next.

IMG_2460

This is my attempt at recreating an autumn leaf using appropriate color-pencil blending techniques.

Create Stories with Scratch

This past summer, I facilitated six classes on MIT’s icon-based programming language, Scratch, and simultaneously helped fifth – ninth graders learn about computer programming. I taught four sessions of “Video Games From Scratch,” and two sessions of “Create From Scratch.” These last two sessions focused on creating conversations and stories with Scratch. I don’t want to be a biased teacher, but these were DEFINITELY my favorite programming classes.

Our class met for eight days; each class was an hour. After a few days of basic concepts (animation, movement), I asked them to create a conversation between sprites. We started with storyboards.

picture of computer with scratch 1.4

Storyboarding

Nothing too complicated – just a simple six-panel, hand-drawn storyboard to tell the events of their conversation. There was a lot of resistance to pre-planning. I asked anyway. Most of them complied (probably because they were locked out of their computers until they finished their storyboard).

Their programmed conversations were allowed to veer, twist and change from their original storyboard. The results were interesting and somewhat mixed, but it prepared them for the deeper challenge of recreating a classic fairy tale in Scratch.

pciture of a projected screen with a scratch project

In the computer lab – sharing projects was an important part of the class.

Recreating classic stories with Scratch

When students returned from the weekend break, I asked them to work on their capstone project: a classic fairy tale. Students were free to retell the story, or add an alternate ending, fracture the tale, etc.

My class was a good mix of boys and girls, but both groups willingly accepted the assignment. Some chose to retell the story with a funny ending. Some made silly graphics which altered the story. Some spent a lot of time creating beautiful graphics, but didn’t change the story arc. There was a lot of choice, creativity and fun.

a picture of humpty dumpty stories with scratch

This “Humpty Dumpty” retelling has a funny ending. Created by one of the students in my class – https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/116815328/

Video Games vs. Stories with Scratch

Why was this my favorite class? Well…I am the mother of two boys. I am married to a man. All of the males in my household love to play video games.

I do not.

I know! I feel terrible just writing that sentence, however, I have come to accept and embrace my biases. I like board games and card games. I enjoy learning about history, cognitive psychology and education. I love art and making art. I cannot live without reading books. I enjoy writing, though, not necessarily fictional stories. I love bringing art and writing together – with technology. That’s why I love Scratch and that’s why I loved this “Create” class more than the popular video game class. Hopefully, it left some of the students with a similar feeling – a way to embrace technology that doesn’t revolve solely around video games.

Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

I’ve missed blogging. It’s been a busy August and I’ve been occupied with other pursuits, but I am ready to get back to writing. (We’ll see if my schedule agrees with me). In the meantime, I wanted to call attention to my new Udemy class, “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids.

Udemy Course: Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids

I created this course hoping that other teachers (and parents) will find a single starting point with regards to children’s “maker education.” So much of being a maker is a willingness to tinker, to explore and to learn on your own.  However, there’s a lot of information out there and it can be overwhelming.

In this course, I focus on three main areas: simple electronics, sewing and coding using MIT’s icon-based programming language, Scratch. Each section starts with a “take-apart” lesson, followed by some hands-on activities, and includes a follow up for teachers to integrate these lessons into the curriculum. There’s even a link to some of the research being done on maker education.

Simple Electronics

A year ago, I took a course from the Tinkering Studio. It satisfied the “missing link” of my maker education. I’ve been teaching computer programming concepts to elementary and middle school students for a few years, but was a little nervous about dismantling and building with electronics. Thankfully, after a year of tinkering – and acquiring a soldering iron – I now feel more comfortable introducing simple electronics to kids.*

At summer camp, my students used the circuit blocks to learn about electricity (and short circuited batteries by accident). They made marker bots and messed around with design principles. “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids” adds to these projects by introducing a take-apart lesson which is then re-purposed into a sewn LED flashlight. I’ve also included an experiment for conductors and insulators, videos on how to make a simple flashlight, and my favorite way to make circuit art.

IMG_2293

Sewing with Kids

I’ve been sewing for many years; it was one of the first things I had to learn completely on my own. I had to design my own curriculum, find mentors, make mistakes and practice deliberately.  This was my first (unknown) foray into the “maker movement.” These days – with kids, work and homemade dinners – I don’t sew nearly as much as I did fifteen years ago.

Instead, I’ve been sewing with my own children. In a Montessori primary curriculum, we introduce sewing at age three. These activities are broken down into steps (stringing, making a knot, sewing with burlap, etc). As my children grow, we continue to sew, but the projects are more advanced. This past summer, I also taught sewing at our local “college for kids” camp.

I think sewing is a key component of maker education and I’m excited that it’s part of the course, “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids.” Hand-sewing topics include: taking apart a t-shirt, making a wristband, making a LED flashlight and incorporating sewing into a classroom.

sewing with kids - learning stitches

With an ink pen, I draw out dashes and dots to teach two simple stitches.

Code to Learn with Scratch

Although I’ve been sewing for a number of years, I came to computer programming and robotics through my oldest son. At the age of six, he said he wanted to be a robot engineer. I set out to find hands-on materials that broke down advanced concepts. I stumbled on Lego Education kits and the icon-based programming language, Scratch. I started a business for others kids who were interested in robotics. For the past three years, I have been teaching classes and hosting summer camps.

Along the way, I noticed that many kids came to Scratch because they loved video games. They wanted to make their own – so we did. But we also created stories, conversations and short animations. While creating these programs, the students were learning programming concepts – without even trying.

In my Udemy course, I demonstrate how to use Scratch, but I focus on simple, creative projects that you can do with your students. For upper elementary and middle school students, the sky is the limit. They can create all sorts of games, animations and stories that can reflect their learning. They can use Scratch as a paintbrush to demonstrate their knowledge. Learning can be creative and fun.

I had a lot of fun creating the course and I learned a lot. About everything. Especially movie editing and breaking down concepts. If you are interested in taking the course – “Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids” – use this link for 50% off.

pciture of a projected screen with a scratch project

In the computer lab – sharing projects was an important part of the class.

*With regards to electronics – I still have a lot to learn. My soldering is ugly and I need more practice. As my oldest child takes more of an interest in electronics, we’ll learn this stuff together, but in the meantime, we’re happy to stay at the level of batteries and bulbs.

 

 

 

Sewing with Kids

This is the last week of CFK camp.  I don’t want to play favorites with my five classes – sewing, Scratch programming and web design – but the projects coming out of the sewing class definitely carry that “wow” factor. Sewing with kids is always an adventure. Sewing with sixteen kids (rising 5th – 9th graders) for only an hour at a time? Well…that requires an organized teacher and some fabulous assistants.

Thankfully, I have had some wonderful counselors-in-training (CITs). These high school students didn’t know much about sewing, but were more than willing to jump in and help out.

sewing with kids - organization

Gallon-size Ziploc bags are great for storing projects between classes.

Beginning Sewing with Kids

On the first day, we took apart a t-shirt. Sadly, I have no pictures of this – probably because it’s the first day  – and I’m busy helping everyone get started. Afterward, we passed out embroidery hoops, a piece of muslin fabric (that I’ve drawn on), embroidery floss, and a needle. The kids get started and I walked around, gently correcting, and helping students who are stuck.

sewing with kids - learning stitches

With an ink pen, I drew out dashes and dots to teach two simple stitches.

Sewing with Kids – Project Progression

CFK runs for two weeks (Monday – Thursday), and they offer two sessions during the summer. The progression of projects has differed for my classes, but both groups began by making a needle book. The idea for this project came from the book, Sewing School, though I’ve adapted it for an older audience.

sewing with kids - needle book being decorated with flower

sewing with kids - needle books

The kids can “draw” any design on the front and choose either a running stitch, or a whip stitch to bind their two pieces of fabric.

After making a needle book, my first class went straight to pin cushions, whereas I had my second group jump into card art.

The students can begin their next project as soon as they finish the current one. Since the students choose their own designs, some take longer, while others finish quickly and are ready to move on.

Students can make pin cushions, embroidered card art, a wristband and a simple drawstring bag. For those that finish early and are more advanced in their sewing skills, they can take some of the fabric scraps and create their own pillow or stuffed cutie.

sewing with kids - card art

If we have additional time, students can make wall art – a picture drawn with floss – which can be framed. This example was made by S, age 13.

sewing with kids - a needle book with an embroidered picture of the setting sun.

A very detailed needle book; made by A, age 10. Pokemon wristband; made by M, age 10.

sewing with kids - free sewing

One of the more experienced campers decided to make her own stuffy. Again, I didn’t get a picture of the finished project…

 

Science of Learning

Middle school, high school and college students: put down those textbooks and stop cramming for tests. There’s more to the science of learning than re-reading a textbook. Instead, space your learning, test yourself repeatedly (with flashcards), and try to solve a problem BEFORE you understand the question. These actions have been shown to increase recall, which usually means a higher test score.

While you’re at it – it would be helpful if you had a growth mindset and a lot of curiosity.

Picture of the book, make it stick: the science of learning

Science of Learning

The authors, cognitive researchers (and one storyteller), neatly summarize current learning research. They weave results throughout the book – using stories and repetitive recall – all while interleaving new information with the old.

It’s been a fascinating read and there are a number of small changes any teacher can make to assist students with learning and remembering content.

Understanding matters

It’s difficult to be creative and use information in a new way if can’t remember, or don’t understand, the basics. For example, it’s difficult to apply multiplication to a new situation (or to learn from your experience), if you don’t know that 3 x 2 = 6. The authors are not in favor of ‘drill n kill,’ but they indicate a need for basic understanding before one can apply knowledge in a creative way.

Learn two different but related tasks at the same time

I struggle the most with this bit of research. The authors note that focusing on one area (e.g. determining the volume of a cube), is not as valuable as trying to figure out the volume of a cube, a cylinder and a cone – all at the same time. So, instead of getting the formula for the cube down pat and then moving on, they suggest learning all of the formulas at once. The learning will be slower, but later recall is shown to be stronger than if you focus on one topic before moving on. The theory is that we do not apply our learning in isolated ways. Instead, we may have to figure out the volume of geometric solid and we don’t know which one it will be. By practicing all of the formulas, we are better equipped to know which solution to choose.

New learners are better than experts at teaching

Although I learned this tidbit during my own experiences, it was nice to see it validated by research. It turns out that students are much better at figuring out how to teach content than a subject expert. The reasoning is that experts have internalized the ‘basics’ of their subject, whereas new students recognize where they struggle with learning. They know which concepts are more difficult because they themselves are trying to process the information.

Feedback is more important than grading

As an educator, I’ve always hated the way tests are used for high-stakes decisions. Are we testing for knowledge acquisition, or do we want to use the tests to help students learn more? It turns out that feedback is incredibly important. Teachers know this, but can’t always put it into practice. Testing is a valuable tool, but there needs to be accurate feedback for students’ knowledge to grow.

“Test” your students often

But not with such high stakes. The authors found that frequently asking students to recall information interrupted the process of forgetting. It was much more effective than re-reading material (and highlighting, etc.). Asking yourself questions – without looking at the book – was better at solidifying the information in your brain. At the start of class, teachers can ask questions about the day’s topic of discussion. Students can create flashcards to “quiz” themselves to keep from forgetting the information.

Spacing

Immediate testing isn’t good at predicting later recall, however, spaced testing does a great job of strengthening recall. For teachers, introduce new material and then allow a day to pass. Test your students – ask them questions at the start of class – to strengthen their recall of previous material. I think I might put a note on my calendar a week later, two weeks later, etc. to remember to bring up the topic again.

Try to solve the problem BEFORE you know how

I find this particular tidbit to be quite fascinating. The authors’ discovered that when learners tried to answer a question – before they knew the correct way to do so – it strengthened the learning on the subject. So, try to solve that hard math or sociology problem and then learn about the topic. I wonder it has to do with alerting your brain to pay attention. It sounds like something from Making Thinking Visible.

Encourage a Growth Mindset

We could also label this section, “mind over matter.” If you think you aren’t good at something, you never will be. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Carol Dweck’s research on having a ‘growth mindset’ has shown that students who are praised for effort work harder on the next challenge. Those who were praised for being smart and failed to solve the problem, gave up on the next challenge.

Learning something new is supposed to be hard

As much as educators like to make learning fun and help students find interest in what they are doing, there comes a point when we acknowledge that making new connections in your brain can be a difficult task. But, hopefully we can let students know that it’s supposed to be hard, but that if you keep trying it will get easier.  Teach them how the brain works.  “Try, try and try again” is an old adage that has fallen out of favor in our high-stakes world of testing. We expect students to learn, retain information without giving appropriate feedback, and then we get all huffy when they give up. Perhaps, rather than grading students on content, we could grade effort. Elementary school assessment could be portfolio-based, thus encouraging a growth mindset.

The brain is not a muscle, but the more we use it, the more we deliberately practice, the stronger our neural connections become. Since we adopted a growth mindset four years ago, we have seen remarkable effort and retention in our own lives (and not just for our children). Now, when French learning gets hard, I think that perhaps, I’m not learning it in the way that I should be, rather than thinking that I’m just not good at languages. I still struggle with certain topics and it is still frustrating to know that learning doesn’t come easily, but knowledge is power.

Why do we require certain subjects in school?

Since it’s outside of the scope of this book, there was no discussion about WHY we are teaching the subjects that we do. WHY do high school and college students need to take certain courses? WHY do we think it’s okay to place such pressure on a high stakes test for entrance to college? WHY do we require a generalist education when we really value deep learning? WHY is trigonometry and physics and four years of English required for college admissions? WHY can’t students pursue their own interests – and still get into college? Can you tell this is passionate topic of mine?

The authors’ tips on how to study are very valuable to a high school or college student, but in the end, it does seem just like a way to “game” the system. Are you really internalizing that information for the long haul? Is it relevant? They’ve noted that being an expert in one field does not transfer to another topic. Yes, making connections between different topics helps to strengthen your knowledge, but you still have to put in the effort to learn a new subject. Why not give high school students the choice of what topics to pursue – maybe ensuring that they choose three “easy” ones and three “hard” ones. But, the subject matter would be up to them.

Tips for Lifelong Learners

There were three major “tips” the authors gave for lifelong learners. That’s those of us who are not learning in a classroom, but are still learning by choice or for a career. To be honest, they sounded a lot like the things we do in project-based learning. So, maybe it’s not such a bad thing for teachers to incorporate into their classrooms…

Generation

In order to truly understand a topic, you need to generate something about it (hence, this blog post). Your grasp of the material starts out awkward, you aren’t sure where to begin or how to organize anything, but if you can just “blurt” something out, you have a place to begin. Then, your brain takes over and even when you are not consciously acting on that topic, your brain is still making connections. It’s still processing the subject. But you have to engage the material, not just passively absorb it. Suggestions include: creating an interactive program to show what you learned, writing a blog post, or drawing a picture that helps you to remember how everything is connected.

Reflection

While you are generating a piece (written, produced, etc.) on your newly acquired topic, be sure to reflect on what you have learned. What mistakes did you make and how could you correct them? What choice would you make instead of the one you chose? How do others in the field go about solving that problem? Can you visualize a new situation.

Elaboration

Practice and exposure to the topic is important, but deliberate practice matters more. Deliberate practice is hard. It is often regimented and you may need a coach or mentor to help you through. It makes me recall the words of a French teacher. She said that she employs a wide variety of French exposure (cartoons, books, visuals with words, songs) because to truly know another language, you have to “get it in your fingertips.” I think of that expression every time we tackle a new subject.

So what else have I gotten out of this book? I think it’s time to step up my French learning. I need to do more generation and elaboration. And I need to do more frequent testing. I’ve been using Duolingo, but I need to tie it to more consistent learning. It might be time to break out the flashcards.