Lean in to the Discomfort

When you walk in to a room full of people, choose someone who seems the most different from you (on the surface) or the person that seems the “scariest” to start a conversation with. Start there. Lean in to the Discomfort of having that awkward first conversation. In all likelihood, you DO have something in common with the person – seek to find it. If you always start with the conversation that you perceive to be the most difficult one to have, you will, over time, reduce your own fear of talking to strangers.

Diagram showing 10% of the iceberg above the surface

90% of an iceberg is unseen beneath the surface of the water

About 90% of an iceberg is unseen beneath the surface of the water and likewise, the majority of who we are as a person is beneath what you can see or hear on the surface. Consider all the characteristics of a person that you can’t “see”:

  • what sports do they like
  • what do they do for a living
  • what is their family like
  • what do they do for fun
  • where do they live
  • what do they do when they hang out with friends
  • what are their favorite foods

Whether at a conference or having Thanksgiving Dinner with far-flung relatives, there is so much to learn from the people that surround us. But we have to actually engage them in conversations and interact. If we want our students to interact more to learn, we need to get better at modeling this willingness to have conversations with strangers or those who differ from us.

When I walk into a room and feel the first uncomfortable feelings of having to mingle or that I will be alone in a room full of people, I remember the phrase “Lean in to the Discomfort,” take a deep breath, and begin the first conversation.

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AMATYC Keynote Notes: Durable Learning

In the 2016 AMATYC keynote, I covered three main themes:

  1. Interaction & Impasse
  2. Challenge & Curiosity
  3. Durable Learning (this post)

Three triangles surrounding a central triangle with the letters C, I, and D

Here are references and resources for Durable Learning:

What is durable learning? The learning design practices that make learning “stick” over the long-term. These include (but are not limited to) spaced repetition, knowledge retrieval, interleaving, and varied practice.

A really good book on the subject of durable learning is “Make It Stick” by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel.

We also took a dive into some cognitive science and again, there is a fantastic, easy-to-read book I recommend “Cognitive Development and Learning in Instructional Contexts” by James Brynes.

We explored the idea of a schema – a mental representation of what all instances of something have in common (plural is schemata). In particular, schemata help you to categorize your experiences,  they help you remember what you are experiencing, they help you to comprehend what you are experiencing, and are important in developing the ability to problem solve.

Visual representation (with no numbers) of distribution - shown as a set of arcs

A schema for distribution

When confronted with a new situation, learners try to run a schema they already have. This leads to all sorts of interesting misconceptions.

not-distribution

By engaging the learner in varied practice, we hope to modify the existing schema.

No numbers representation of distribution with visual arcs and plus-minus signs to hold the spaces

A better mental schema for distribution because the spaces are now held by plus-minus signs

To help the learners refine schema, we can abandon massed practice for varied practice. In massed practice, the learner does nothing but activate the exact same schema over and over. In varied practice, the learner has to distinguish between different schemata in order to successfully complete the practice.

massed-practice-and-varied-practice

There is a lengthier talk I gave on cognitive science in the context of algebra called “Algebra is Weightlifting for the Brain” (not the world’s best recording, but you’ll hear more about the ideas of Information Processing Theory and see plenty of math examples).

We didn’t quite get to interleaving in the talk, but we will cover that during the teaching challenge.

What is the Teaching Challenge?

For the next year, I will send you a teaching challenge every week to help us, together, change the way students learn and engage. The challenge will be delivered each week by email and will include:

  1. Something to learn or ponder
  2. Best practices shared by participants in previous challenges
  3. A new challenge

Sign up for the teaching challenge here. All are welcome.

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AMATYC Keynote Notes: Challenge and Curiosity

In the 2016 AMATYC keynote, I covered three main themes:

  1. Interaction & Impasse (last post)
  2. Challenge & Curiosity (this post)
  3. Durable Learning

Here are references and resources for Challenge & Curiosity:

First, I have to point you to one of my favorite books on the subject, A Theory of Fun for Game Design, by Raph Koster.

Quote from Game Design: “How do I get somebody to learn something that is long and difficult and takes a lot of commitment, but get them to learn it well?” – James Gee

How do players learn a game? 

  • They give it a try
  • They push at boundaries
  • They try over and over
  • They seek patterns

It looks something like this:

Shows web of many nodes and branches coming off a person, with bridges between branches and potential paths to expand knowledge.

How does a player learn a game?

How do we teach students?

  • We tell them what we’re going to tell them.
  • We tell them.
  • We tell them what we told them.
  • We have them practice repetitively.

It looks something like this:

Very few linear paths branching out from the person at the center. Few nodes and few places to expand on knowledge.

How do we teach students?

Reference: Productive Failure in Mathematical Problem Solving

There’s a much wider body of research on productive failure worth reading.

Video: Playing to Learn Math

Resource: Good Questions from Cornell

Resource: Classroom Voting Questions from Carroll College

Design more activities that let the student figure out the mathematical puzzle, instead of providing all the secrets yourself.

Shows the graph of a rational function with vertical asymptote at x=5 and horizontal asymptote at y=2.

Explain the differences in the graphs: The student is given five rational functions to graph, each function looks only slightly different mathematically but produces very different results.

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AMATYC Keynote Notes: Interaction and Impasse

Thursday I had the honor of providing the opening keynote for the AMATYC Conference in Denver, “Learning Math is Not a Spectator Sport.” I expect the video of the talk will be available to share next week, and rather than provide the slides (124 mostly stick-figure drawings), I’ll point you to some resources that will likely give you the information you’re looking for between now and when the full presentation becomes available.

Selfie with room full of participants in the background

Keynote Selfie

We covered three main themes:

  1. Interaction & Impasse (this post)
  2. Challenge & Curiosity
  3. Durable Learning

I’ll provide resources for each of these categories, starting with Interaction and Impasse, in this post.

Interaction and Impasse

 

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Steal Back Your Time and Accomplish Your Goals

I began a “sabbatical” from regular work-for-someone-else life about a month ago. I work from home. I have a startup. I want to accept just enough work to get by financially (but not more than that). I want to achieve that some kind of illusion of work-life balance. I want to exercise more. I have several passion projects that I’ve wanted to spend time on for a very very long time.

If you’ve ever had a period of time like this (or if you just work remotely), you know that finding some kind of structure to your hours, days, weeks, and projects can be daunting. If you’re not careful, you always feel guilty about what you’re doing. I spent two years working remotely for a European company, and found that tracking the hours I actually worked was helpful for bringing balance to the remote working life. But I hate bookkeeping and so I evolved a simple system of moving glass pebbles for each hour I worked during the week.

Now I’ve modified this system to include a breakdown of how I want to spend my hours, and specific goals I have. At the beginning of the week, I have a clean slate for hours/goals I want to accomplish (and it can vary from week to week):

fluid-work-full-slate

The full slate for last week included three exercise goals (hit daily step goal, meditation/yoga three times, strength training three times). Also in the work-life-balance category, I had a personal writing goal of 6 hours a week. You can see the bulk of my time for the week should be spent in working on the startup (roughly 3 hours a day) and accumulating some billable hours (roughly 4 hours a day).

As each day progresses, I simply move the right “pebbles” into the accomplishments for the day. This creates a nice feeling of accomplishment, and as I look back over the week, I can see the patterns to my days. Here are 4 days from last week.

fluid-work-4-days

When I’m not feeling very “work” productive, I simply focus on getting other goals I can accomplish until I feel more productive. On some days that means I can absolutely justify going for an hour-long walk outside in the sunshine, because I have a step goal to reach. Other days (like today) it means permission to spend an hour writing a blog post (personal writing). Sometimes, the pebbles validate my feeling of not being productive enough, and motivate me to do better. Other times, the pebbles show me that I’m spending too much time on a particular project and ignoring other places where I need to focus my attention.

I’ve tried using apps for doing something like this (HabitBull is a good one), but I find that an app is too easy to ignore. If I put the collection of pebbles for weekly hours and goals somewhere visible, it is a daily reminder of what I want to be doing with my time and helps me to meet those goals.

I think this same sort of strategy can be helpful for anyone who is trying to steal back their time to reach a goal, whether that be studying for a degree, trying to meet an exercise/diet goal, writing a book, or spending time with your family. We live in an age of distraction. You have to actively steal back your time from the Internet and digital distractions in your life to accomplish your goals.

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