"A great teacher is smart enough and connected enough to run an interactive conversation, a participatory seminar in the concepts that need to be learned. We shouldn’t even consider wasting a professor’s time on real-time monologues.”
Seth Godin recently contended that college and university lectures are an expensive, archaic way of disseminating information to students. Data suggests that students who listen and take notes on laptops don’t do any better than those who write by hand. Seth goes one step further and questions why live lectures are happening at all. With cheap access to good technology at an all time high, professors should be filming their lectures and putting them online for free. Students can watch the lectures at their own pace and can re-watch them for increased value.
In K-12 education we call this a flipped classroom. Students watch the lesson prior to class and use the scheduled class time to review homework, work in small groups and use their new found knowledge to investigate interesting problems. It’s a wonderful way to organize a course and works exceptionally well in technical classes such as math and science.
However, there are some downsides. Flipping a classroom puts extra pressure on students to come to class having spent a significant time learning and watching on their own. In an increasingly busy and stressful world, students are struggling to keep up in a traditional schooling system. What happens when a student misses one or two lectures in a flipped class? They’ll show up and be completely lost. Yes, they can spend the class time watching the lecture, but it’s still a net loss because the other students will have had an opportunity to practice and use their knowledge. What if the student misses a few lessons in a row? It could be devastating.
A hybrid method would likely be more effective. Film the lectures and lessons as they happen with all the students present. Most modern elementary and secondary classes don’t have 60+ minute lectures anyway. Plenty of time is given for students to practice immediately after they’ve learned. Ideally, the teacher would film the lesson and have it available instantly so that students who need to review could do so at their own pace without requiring the teachers attention (a la asking questions).
The reality is Seth is totally right. School is becoming very expensive and the information that the teachers and professors is increasingly becoming a commodity (see YouTube on any educational topic). In his AltMBA, Seth has students work together and review each others work at a pace that is intense. At the end of the day, his students are making art, putting it into the world, having it critiqued and revising it. This is where the real learning happens!
Discipline = Freedom
Says Jocko Wilnick a former Navy Seal commander. His photographs of a Timex watch reading 4:40 am have become legendary. He’s not waking up to take the picture, that’s the time he begins his daily workout.
“I like to get it done before the sun rises.” says Wilnick.
Why on God’s green Earth would someone get up that early to workout?
Discipline = Freedom is why.
Not only does waking early give you an opportunity to get the most difficult part of your day (well for most of us) out of the way early, it forces you to remained disciplined. It takes commitment to follow such a tough and well, early schedule.
By conditioning yourself to follow such a regime, it will inedibly spill over to other parts of your life. You may find the grit needed to finish that last email before the day’s done much easier once you’ve adapted to an early morning workout.
You’ll also find yourself reinvigorated knowing that you’ve seized the day. Invitations and opportunities will now be easier to accept knowing that you’re one step ahead of the rest of the working world.
For me, it’s been an emmesly positive experience. Don’t get me wrong, when my alarm goes at 5 am there is nothing but pain. Once I’m able to bury those emotions, stepping on the treadmill becomes a piece of cake. I find that simply ignoring my thoughts and getting to it makes it much easier to endure. Speed is important too. The faster I can get on the treadmill, the more likely I’ll have any second thoughts. I’m simply a robot doing what robots do best - follow instructions. After about 5 - 10 minutes of sweating, my body and mind can’t tell if it’s 5 am or 5 pm. The rest is a piece of cake.
The best part of the morning workout is the time it frees up in the afternoon and evenings. I get more Freedom to spend time with my kids. I’m open to more activities after work. I’m finding that I can get lots more done.
Yes discipline = freedom. Try it out for a month and see what happens.
The slide-cast version (with slides) of a chapel talk I did on November 20, 2017. Approximately 700 students from K-12 were in attendance to hear the importance of setting goals and making sacrifices to achieve them.
Part of my job as a science educator is to deepen the learning for each student. The basics are nice, but sometimes its interesting to pursue the latest questions and discoveries in science. A few years ago, the Higgs Boson changed the way we understand the universe. I wrote about it in a science teachers magazine. Check it out!
How much of your professional time is spent in meetings? According to Psychology Today, 30% of the average professionals day is spent in meetings. If that person works an 8 hour working day, 2.5 hours are spent in meetings (including lunch) reporting, brainstorming, debating, creating action plans and whatever else happens there.
Corporate meetings originally began at the dawn of the industrial era when managers met with workers at the start of the shift to prepare them for the day’s work. Prior to that, corporate deals were done over dinner among families or at parties.
Town hall meetings were common place from the Victorian era onward where people would meet to discuss issues that affected the community.
Of course there was those Greek philosopher guys who held some open forums too.
Modern day meetings have negative malaise surrounding them. Everyone who attends usually has something better to be doing and most of the communication at these meetings can be done via technology like Google docs or email.
While meetings are increasingly becoming useless, our need for more human interaction is not. Meetings do offer a way for people - real people - to interact.
Why not change the culture of meetings by having people work instead of listen? Come, talk, gossip, plan brainstorm, but do work. Have a goal. You can’t leave this meeting unless you generate 3 new ideas and have a plan in place to implement them. Meeting should be like team sporting events where we come together work for a common goal. When the game is over we head back and prepare for the next one.
What does your classroom look like? It a place where people come to chat, finish some questions and maybe listen to some instructions? Or is it a place where students show up, work with a common goal and create something new, interesting and helps the world?
The word innovation has been thrown around the education community as a key attribute for success in modern times. Many educators are ‘innovating’ in their classrooms. Design thinking and genius hours are being developed under the umbrella of innovation and deemed necessary for the education of the whole student. Innovation labs are popping up in well-funded schools equipped with 3d printers and iMacs loaded with AutoCAD. The idea is that students are facing a world where innovation is necessary for success.
No argument here with the general definition of innovation.
The issue comes from the overuse of the word innovation in the classroom. There’s still a very gray definition of what actually constitutes innovation. Is it inventing something new and exciting? Is it updating an existing technology to make it more efficient? Is it 3d printing a Darth Vadar egg holder? Is all of these ideas?
We need to tread very lightly when talk about the value of innovation in education. If we teach a student to use AutoCad to 3d print an object they’ve designed, we’re only providing a map for innovation and not engaging in the process itself. When we give someone a map, they usually follow it without wandering too far off course.
Real innovation comes from within. It’s comes from the recognition of a problem that needs to be solved. The most important innovations in history were born out of conflict, disasters and impossible situations (see microwave, printing press and nuclear energy). The greatest achievement of the human brain is it’s ability to work with less to achieve more.
We do students a disservice when we hand them expensive tools with step-by-step instructions on how to use them and call it innovation. Instead, we need to teach students to look for interesting problems to solve and let them figure out how to do it.
In a recent "Ask Me Anything” on Reddit, the internet asked teachers what the biggest change in education has been from 1997 to 2017. The overwhelming response was failure. 20 years ago students understood that failure was a part of education and without the proper effort (and luck) you could conceivably fail a test, essay or course. Today there is no failure. Students cannot be held back, failing a test results in the opportunity to re-test and re-test and re-test until the student achieves the mark they desire.
What is the ramification for this?
First the good: Having the opportunity to fail without actually failing should empower students to take greater risks in their academic careers. Instead of writing an essay to meet the standards of the rubric, maybe a student writes a manifesto on the current state of the politics of their school. They may fail, but at the same time they’ve made a gross statement and perhaps ruffled some feathers. If they have to redo the essay they’ll do so knowing that they’ve put themselves out there.
Now the bad: This generally isn’t what happens. Students who take risks will do so regardless of the culture of failure in their school. Instead, knowing that you can’t fail seems to breed a culture of indifference. Why put the extra work in if you’re not worried about failing?
Indifference is the greatest threat to education.
While the idea of failure has changed, the result is the massive inflation of indifference. This threat doesn’t effect the high-flying high achievers. They’ll continue to their best work no matter what. It’s the kids who aren’t particularly motivated in school who get effected the most. Fear of failure is real and will motivate anyone even if they know there’s no consequences.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
Paint rollers, insulin, butter tarts and life jackets. These are all Canadian inventions and the main theme of Governor David Johnston’s and entrepreneur Tom Jenkins' new book called Ingenious: How Canadian Innovators Made the World Smarter, Smaller, Kinder, Safer, Healthier, Wealthier and Happier.
"We want that eight-year-old girl in Regina, who is thinking about starting a company, to be inspired by hearing a story of a similar young woman in New Brunswick doing something phenomenal,” Mr. Jenkins said.
According to Johnston, over 100 lesson plans have been created by educators for use in the classroom all across the country. The obvious goal is to inspire entrepreneurship among impressionable students.
This is an outstanding idea, but we must be very careful how we approach this topic. Entrepreneurship can be one of the most exhilarating, self-satisfying careers around. Setting your own goals, hours and salary can be extremely enticing.
The challenge is that for every successful life jacket, there are plenty (and I mean a number of MEGA ) of failures. Spend some time in silicon valley and you’ll quickly see that great ideas do not always end up in success stories. People face bankruptcy, mental health issues and straight-up fatigue when they’re chasing down dreams. As one notable entrepreneur said “It’s about the hustle.”
Children are born innovators. They’re naturally altruistic, they revel in helping solve problems and if you ever watched a kid build a fort - they’re ingenious. Teaching kids to be innovators is redundant. They already process the skill set. It’s raw and not entirely efficient, but given enough time and space any kid can innovate.
Instead of teaching them innovation, we should focus on building up the core competencies of any successful entrepreneur: grit, tenacity, commitment, communication. These are common themes among the most successful innovators (see Steve Jobs, Tony Robbins, Chris Sacca for more information).
By far the most important skill for future innovators is teach them to look for interesting problems to solve. Much of our success as an innovative nation comes from necessity. The life jacket, insulin and dump trucks are just a few examples. Instead of providing materials to a kid and tell them to invent something, push them up against and real world problem and step back.
Full disclosure: I have no intention of living to be 100 years old. However, I am fascinated with longevity. The subtle yet important difference between living to be old and longevity is health. Obviously someone who lives into their 90s has to be healthy, but there's more to it. Longevity is the ability to remain as youthful as possible for as long as possible. Who wants to be a 95 year old that is confined to a bed all day? To you, healthy aging might mean playing golf everyday when you retire. To others it might be relaxing by the ocean with a good book. For me, healthy aging means that I remain active well into my 80s. I hope that by the time I hit 60 I'm still able to run a 10k under an hour. I'd like to be able to live 130 lbs over my head. I'd like to be able to put my socks on without sitting down. It all sounds wonderful doesn't it? Problem is we can't (easily) slow the aging process. There are four pillars to healthy living:
The video below focuses on diet and why fasting is a key component for longevity. Calorie restriction is a hot area of research for ant-aging scientists. Results have shown that fasting can extend the life of monkey's, mice and even worms!
One of the greatest discoveries in science has to be the size of the universe. When we look up in the night sky, not only are we seeing stars that are immensely far away, but extremely old. The deeper we look into the universe, the further back in time we are seeing. The universe is so grand that some of the stars we see in the sky have long died out and their light is only reaching us now. Check out this website for a glimpse into the size and depth of outer space. Each one of those dots is a star that may contain planets which may contain life. Welcome to the rabbit hole.
Commitment is a fleeting trait among young people. A busy technology rich lifestyle can create an environment where you may feel committed to a goal, but in reality you are just contributing. All great dreams come at a cost. Commitment will help you get there quicker!
This is a slide-cast of a talk I did at my school on February 13th, 2017. Enjoy!
The battle of Jena-Auerstadt was fought between the Prussian and French armies. This was the time of Napoleon. His army moved across Europe like a great hurricane, decisively defeating any army it met and the Prussians were no exception. This battle was so lop-sided that a Prussian artillery officer was moved to write arguably the greatest war manual ever written. Carl von Clausewitz forged the pages of On War from memories realized during the battle of Auerstadt. His writing is so powerful that it continues to inform military maneuvers in the modern age.
One rarely known fact lies buried in the history pages of Jena-Auerstadt battle. Quietly, the roots of modern education were sewn in the ashes of the Prussian defeat. Fredrick the Great was completely shocked at the dismay of the Prussian army and he immediately moved forward plans to establish a state funded education system. He recognized that the poor performance of his troops was a result of their inability to follow orders properly.
Only a short while later, a guy by the name of Hoarace Mann took a trip to Prussia in 1843 with the hopes of learning more about state funded education. Not only was he impressed by the system, he implemented exactly the same system back in the United States.
The goal of industrial age Prussian education was to prepare students for work in the factories. There was never any sense that students would be expected to move beyond their basic 8 years of education. Why would a layman want anything other than good factory job?
Fast forward to today. Can you recognize the archaic pillars of the industrial education system in our schools? Maybe they’re even haunting your classroom. Memorization, conformation to authority, rows and lines of desks all speak to the ghosts of our past.
Clausewitz wrote On War after being appalled at the actions of his troops. He sought to change the way warfare was fought. He was an artist. We face the same crisis today.
Are we setting our kids up to lose the battle of Auerstadt?
I recently applied to be an Apple Distinguished Educator and thought I'd share my video. I'm currently working for Apple as an Apple Learning Specialist so this designation was a natural progression. I've really enjoyed using Apple products in the classroom and they have greatly transformed the way students experience science. Worksheets are a thing of the past. Instead students use technology as a means to investigate, communicate and innovate their scientific knowledge. Enjoy the video!
This article by Vox media got me thinking about obesity and all the baggage it carries (no pun intended) in western culture. Dr Jason Fung is a doctor in Toronto who’s treatment of obesity goes against traditional methods. He took a tremendous amount of heat for a tweet which appeared to "fat shame" two speakers at an obesity conference. Some of the blowback came directly from Yoni Freedhoff - an obesity doctor who I greatly respect.
There is little debate about the current state of obesity in the world. A recent article in the Guardian even suggested that China is now experiencing an obesity crisis. Not only is it on the rise, it seems to be accelerating, especially among youth. As a result of this epidemic an explosion of profit seeking endeavours have appeared. From the Atikin’s diet to the Wheat Belly movement, there is a plethora of information - most of it not so good - on how to lose weight and prevent diabetes. My favourite is The Glueten Lie where a religious history professor just tells everyone to chill out about the foods we eat because nothing is going to kill us. Just eat in moderation he suggests.
The reality is that we really don’t have any solid evidence pointing out why we’re getting fatter and fatter. When science can’t help us, pseudoscience usually takes its place. We’re not sure why life arose on this planet so religion fills the void. We can’t really grasp the reasons why people commit terrorist acts so the conspiracy theorists give us the answers we need. The same is happening with obesity. We just don’t have any solid evidence to suggest a weight loss plan - and more importantly - keep fat off. Nobody argues against the idea that we’re moving less and eating more, but the obesity crisis seems to have a very loose correlation with physical activity. There’s a portion of the population who can move less, eat more and have a healthy weight which inevitably puts a kibosh to any theory suggesting we need more exercise.
Fung contends that it’s insulin that’s the culprit. More specifically it’s insulin resistance that causes us to have difficulty maintaining a low weight. This is a result of constant eating during the day which sends our insulin levels on a roller coaster ride. By fasting and simply not eating, we’ll lower our insulin levels making us more sensitive and therefore improving our body's ability to burn fat. On top of that, well we’re not eating so we can’t overeat!
Freedhoff and company take a more traditional view towards the causes of obesity. He feels that calorie intake should be lower than calorie expenditure in order to lose weight. One can increase their calorie burning rate by exercise. Move more, eat less. This is by far the most popular means to treat weight loss.
Here’s the paradox - both ideas work. It seems silly to me to flame each other when there is no credible evidence suggesting that one theory is better than the other. I get where Fung is coming from when he points out the irony of obesity doctors being overweight. Freedhoff counters with more of a cultural rebuttal believing that obesity is increasing because we don’t empower the obese to help themselves.
If you’re looking for advice on losing weight, be careful what you read. The human body is extremely complex and treating it with a simple black and white diet program is risky. Throw in the fact that we’re living busy and complex lives and you have a recipe for failure. It’s important to find a program that fits with your lifestyle and commit to it. Check out my blog on commitment if you’re not sure how important that aspect is.
In a world filled with instant gratification and abundance of choice, commitment to a long-term goal becomes much more difficult to achieve. This is especially true for young people who are trying to find their way amongst all this noise.
Yet, there are plenty of people in this world who are quietly committing themselves to dreams, goals and aspirations with a humbleness that is inspiring. It’s important that educators highlight these individuals whether they’re from the past or present. Students often get confused with the subtle difference between contribution and commitment. They may feel like they’re committed to school, a sports team or a club but in reality they’re only contributing to it.
Here’s the difference: When you have bacon and eggs for breakfast, you’re reaping the rewards of animals who have provided a source of nutrition through contribution and commitment. The eggs? Well a chicken contributed to your breakfast. And the pig? Well he committed to it. There are those who approach a goal with full effort, but carefully walk the line. When the going gets tough or motivation isn’t there, they put their efforts elsewhere. Commitment on the other hand is when you leave no exit. Achieving your goals is the only option. Burn the boats as the saying goes.
We should approach our goals like pigs on a breakfast plate. If you start down the path and it doesn’t feel right, then clearly you’re not committed. Terry Fox was pulled of the road near Thunder Bay, Ontario. While he was being wheeled away from the hospital, journalists stuck a mic in his face and asked him how he was doing. His voice cracked as he whimpered “I have a tumour in both my lungs, but if there’s anyway I can get back out there, I will.” Terry set a goal greater than himself. When it was ripped away from him, it wasn’t the tumour in the lungs that bothered him so much. It was the inability to achieve his mission - to run across Canada for cancer research. Terry ran like a pig.
Throughout history there are plenty of people who committed to a cause no matter the cost. Churchill standing up to Hitler alone, Jesus spending his 30s spreading the word of God and Nelson Mandela’s struggle to end Apartheid are just a few examples of a commitment to something grand, noble and more important than the individual.
As educators we need to take notes from history to inspire our students to commit to an idea greater than themselves. When you are doing something for someone else and leave no exit, magical things can happen. It no longer becomes about the goal, but instead about the journey. Terry fox only finished 50% of his goal yet there isn’t a Canadian who would give him a ‘D’ for his effort.
Today’s education system supports failure. Why don’t we use that to our advantage and inspire students to leave no exits and take a leap of faith towards their goals.
Steven Pressfield named resistance as that powerful force that prevents us from making art. It manifests itself in many forms including friends, alcohol and fear. I contend that fear is the biggest contributor to lack solid artistic production in your life.
You haven't written that book because you're afraid of the effort required, the ridicule of your peers and costs of failure.
Here's the thing: Somewhere along the way we've been told that art has to be a published book or a youtube video with a million hits. Sure it's nice when those things happen, but the reality is not doing art is far more detrimental to your health than making art that society deems unworthy. It's art because it pushes the boundaries and limits of you and your vision of the world.
When you overcome the resistance of fear, you'll soon see that banging away on your craft can fill a massive void in your self actualization.
Who cares if it's bad?
Just finished the first book on my Kobo - Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.
A straight forward no nonsense leadership book backfilled with intense combat tales of Navy Seals in Iraq. It was really interesting to see how they transformed their war stories into leadership training. Nice to see some practical approaches for the average person who reads military books!
Here's some key take aways:
- Be a humble leader. Take all the advice you can get.
- Own leadership. Admit to your mistakes right away and have an action plan to fix them.
- Discipline = Freedom. The more you discipline your lifestyle, the more freedom you're granted. Seems a bit redundant, but the theory is that if you're disciplined enough to wake up in the morning and workout, the more time you will have during the day. The more disciplined your diet, the healthier you will be (and the less damage you will do if you cheat).
- Lead yourself out of a job. Enable people to lead themselves. Have their back and offer a high level of autonomy. Teams should be able to survive on their own in times of distress (like combat).
- Lead up and down the chain of command. The challenge with leadership is making often unwelcome orders doable and committable. Don't sugar coat things. Just explain the WHY behind it.
- Lead from the front. The best form of leadership is getting dirty with the team. Don't get too caught up in the details (they use leading a patrol from the front or back) but stay on the same level. Lead from the middle of the patrol so that you're keenly aware of whats going on up ahead and behind.
- Know your role in the whole pie. Understand where you fit into an organizations strategic objectives and adjust your leadership accordingly.
Are you a gamer? You probably are whether you know it or like it. In the open, games are competitions between people, groups, organizations or countries. Doesn't really matter, as long as it is a competition. In schools, we compete based on grades. It's a measuring stick and the carrot at the end of the stick is the belief that higher grades equals future success.
This of course, is totally wrong.
Competition should be based on ideas, not grades. In the real world it's your idea that wins over another division, group or company, how much you remember about the process of the idea. Students should be assessed based on their grit, ingenuity and ability to communicate. In the end ideas win the day and being able to teach students how to grow them from conception to reality is the best way we can help.
Here's the video version of my presentation slides from my grit talk on Monday. Slide notes are attached!
Hot of the heels of my recent talk on grit, here's a video made by a Michigan high school teacher. Students need to learn the point of school, and it ain't grades.