Thursday, February 18, 2010

Textbooks, Real Books, Lean Books, Reference Books, Poetry and More !

I thought I was being efficient. I'd use the WorldCat List Maker so we can easily keep track of the books being considered as texts for the Learning Frameworks course. Then MaryAnn told me there were only a few titles on the list. A few titles don't make for a very interesting list.

So I thought about the fact that this class is supposed to be an overture to the CORE. Might this be a place where we could think out loud about some other kinds of readings?

We've talked about the possibility of including some "lean books" so I added some of those to my list. Note especially the Thinker's Guides from the Foundation for Critical Thinking (most are 50 pages or less and can be had for as little as a$1.00 when bought in large lots). And don't overlook their auxiliary web site for improving critical thinking called Can a web site be a text?

I also wondered out loud if we might include some "real books." (memoirs, non-fiction, self-help, etc.) And what about a little poetry?

Remember. We're in brainstorming mode. So (almost) anything goes...

Since I personally would like to see StrengthsQuest included I decided to add a little reference book that would both pay the fee and provide an easy handbook for interpreting results.

There's always discussion of a self-produced book like the one that UNT did for similar course. While desireable, it may not be practical given the timelines we're working with right now.

And last, but certainly not least are those few lonely textbooks whose publishers we will hear from in a few weeks.

If you'd like to look at the entire list you can do that too.

PS. You can add to the list either by emailing the title to me or by becoming a WorldCat member,creating your own list, and using a set of common tags (I suggest two word tags with a hyphen in between). For examples, look all the way to the bottom of my main list.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Own Your Words

I had a bright idea.

I'd pass index cards around at the meeting and have people write their personal definitions of "significant learning experiences." But I ran into a snag.

What I really wanted to do was attach them (as comments) to the earlier post "What is an SLE?" as comments.

But there was a problem.

I didn't want to allow anonymous posts or comments.

In the 90s there was a famous online virtual community called The Well. There were incredible conversations including some of the most brilliant people around. But The Well had one rule that is quite different from the Internet of today. You had to reveal who you were. "You own your words" was the oft stated principle.

I have a feeling that the Internet of today would be much better if such a rule existed. Unfortunately that boat has left the dock.

But not here. On the blogs that I administer the rules of The Well will be observed.

PS. Here are the index card definitions I picked up at the meeting. Some of them are quite good.


1. Learning that causes one to see things / the world, etc ... differently, to see new/different connections.

2. An emotional intellectual and behavioral event that is life changing.

3. When the students are engaged in a risk-free learning environment and have a sense of success.

4. When I can do something I couldn't do before -- and remember it the next day or longer.

6. When I know/see/understanding in a new way.

7. Something that can be applied outside a classroom or enhance further learning.

8. Understanding a concept or information and the ability to apply that learning to future learning/ working experiences.

9. One that can be transferred between settings and reinforced in a personally meaningful way for long term memory.

10. Something that effects my mind and behavior. Involved with someone / something that is new and important to me.

11. An experience that is based on the need to know.

Monday, February 8, 2010

How to Learn Brain-Based Learning and More ... Using Brain Based Learning Principles: an Experiential Approach

1. Assign students to do research on brain-based learning as homework. Don't give any more details than that. (At least not until you've gone through this experience at least once). This could also be adjusted depending on what your objectives are. Mine is to give them an experience which builds on their existing habits, then moves beyond it.

2. At the next class each student should bring a hardcopy article of his or her choosing on the topic at hand (brain-based learning). The article should be marked up and/or annotated in a way that would demonstrate that the student has actually read it, spent some time with it, engaged with it on some level.

3. Instructor begins by checking markups on papers of students present. Only those who have a marked up copy can participate In discussion. (If we do this early in the semester .. without warning .. I suspect the "preparation for class index" will rise). This piece can be omitted, of course) if it doesn't fit with your objectives.

4. Either with assistance or entirely on their own students should construct their own 12 commandments for brain-based learning. It's a single group-authored document that is, in one version of this, done in the classroom that has been vacated by the instructor. Students must agree on language, order of the commandments, presentafion format, how or whether to give credit to sources. (They should remember it will be due at the next class meeting. This is an intentional constraint). I envision this as perhaps the first group project of the semester. Again, in keeping with the objective of providing them with experiences where they make mistakes, then learn (mostly from themselves and each other) how to move beyond them. This could also provide an excellent learning moment for encountering the skills of cooperative learning. (See almost anything by David and Roger Johnson).

5. If you do decide to let students do the list entirely on their own...this would be a good activity for the following class. They can present it to instructor with a kind of "reading aloud" ceremony. Let them discuss the process that resulted in the 12 commandments document. Part of the assignment is their "presentation" must include as much of the rationale for their decisions on the content of the document as they can recall. Again, the instructor can highlight key cooperative learning skills, both observed and needed.

6. Watch Brain Rules video and show the students the book. Help them note the differences between their list and the ones in the video and the book. Can they explain any of those differences? Finally they (the students as a whole) should rank order the brain rules list in terms of what order would be best for students. There is no wrong answer here but you do want to push them to justify their choices.

7. As a summing up activity and assessment, each student will write a reflection on the whole experience in their e-portfolio. A grade will be taken. They should be told that the quality of their contribution will be evaluated primarily on the basis of the following definition of reflection:
a. "Reflective differs from thoughtful in its stronger implication of orderly processes of thought, such as analysis and logical reasoning, in its suggestion of a definite aim, such as the understanding of a thing's nature or of its relation to other things or the reaching of a definite conclusion." From: "Thoughtful." Webster's New Dictionary of Synonyms. Springfield: Merriam Webster, 1984. COMMENT: This may be too difficult. I'll try to find a way to make it not quite so, yet still challenging. On the other hand, it could provide a significant teaching moment, especially if you allow them drop this grade.
8. Consider challenging the students' decision about how and whether to give credit unless,of course, it was perfect in every way. Please note: This is optional and is left to the very end because it may violate some of the principles of brain-based learning. The instructor may also want to include one of the best videos ever on the consequences of plagiarism.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Brain-Based Learning as a Problem to Be Solved

My task as I understood it was to create an activity that would incorporate active learning and include an educative assessment piece. This activity is not fully developed, but is suggestive. I will try to remove the rough edges in time. Let me begin with the resources I have in mind:

Resource 1: John Medina. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School.Seattle: Pear, 2008.
This is a superb book recommended by one of our librarians who until joining us recently was a librarian at Microsoft where this book and the accompanying videos are, apparently, all the rage. I'm selecting it as a resource because it has the business angle, the author has impeccable credentials, and the video material is dynamite. The DVD with one 3-5 minute clip for each of the 12 "rules" comes free with purchase of the book and the free web site at is also quite good.

Resource 2: "Brain based education: Fad or breakthrough?" YouTube.
Professor Daniel Willingham looks at when and how neuroscience can inform education. The professor also has very good credentials. Some may not particularly like his demeanor. But that is beside the point. "

The problem for the class to work out is "Who shall we believe? Or "Is Dr. Medina's work in the 95% group of publications that Willingham says is garbage?"

I'm tempted to stop right here and simply put these rich materials into the hands of creative teachers and let them make a significant learning experience out of this. I've got some ideas on how to proceed but I probably won't be able to post them for a while. Until then, feel free to extend this activity stem with comments...