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Education Bookcast

Education Bookcast is a podcast in which we talk about one education-related book or article per episode.
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Education Bookcast
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Jun 25, 2017

It reduces productivity, prevents learning, reduces effective IQ, disrupts relationships, undermines creative thinking, and saps self-control. It increases the risk of depression, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and ADHD. 

What is it? Lack of sleep.

Sleep is essential for learning. We spend around a third of our lives in this state, and yet we take up much less than one third of our time thinking about how to make it better. In Night School, not only can we learn all about how sleep works, but also we can find out how to get better at sleeping.

The "sleep problem" around the world is quite serious. Over 30% of British and American adults and around 80% of American teenagers do not get the sleep they need. 1 in 10 British adults takes some form of medication to help them sleep. Lack of sleep is responsible for $150 billion of lost productivity per year, and about 100,000 road deaths per year, not to mention the increased rates of heart disease and other ailments mentioned above.

But this book is not only for those who have problems sleeping. Just as it is possible to improve your fitness at any level, so it is possible to improve your sleep even if it is already good. You can become a "super-sleeper" - someone who always has a good night's sleep and wakes up refreshed. Super-sleepers have been shown to have better health, greater happiness, and more wealth, on average, than the rest of the population.

Enjoy the episode.

May 5, 2017

Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk Do Schools Kill Creativity is the most popular TED talk ever given, with just under 45 million views at the time of my writing this. It is so influential that Robinson has a page on his website devoted to feedback forms about how the talk changed people's lives.

It is also nonsense. And yet, somehow, I was also convinced by it when I first heard it. The weakness of Robinson's arguments combined with the powerful effect he seems to have on people are testament to his incredible skill as a public speaker. The talk demands closer scrutiny even if only to take notes on how to give persuasive presentations.

Almost all of Robinson's claims given in the talk are either given without any supporting evidence or argumentation, or are demonstrably wrong. A large portion of his statements are of the "I strongly believe that..." form, reminiscent a church pastor or of George W. Bush. The remaining time is padded out with well-chosen jokes and anecdotes, which appear to support his case, but, more importantly, build rapport with his audience.

In this episode of the podcast, I provide a critique of Do Schools Kill Creativity, highlighting both the speaker's rhetorical devices and the failings of his argument.

Enjoy the episode.

Music by podcastthemes.com. Audio samples from TED.com.

Apr 13, 2017

I thought it was about time to cover something about books on this book-related podcast!

Keith Stanovich and Annie Cunningham are two researchers who have spent their careers working together to understand the effects of reading on knowledge. Their research aims to answer a few questions in particular:

1. How much does reading matter in increasing people's knowledge? Is amount of reading irrelevant, since amount of information absorbed depends so much more strongly on innate intelligence than it does on exposure to more information?

2. How does reading compare to other sources of knowledge? Is reading particularly important or special in some way, or do people tend to gain as much and as high-quality information from other sources?

The answers to these two sets of questions are very clear from Stanovich and Cunningham's research:

1. Reading is a much more important factor than innate intelligence, as far as knowledge is concerned. Extent of exposure to print even in literate societies varies greatly between individuals, and general knowledge, as well as applied knowledge, correlate strongly with measures of reading volume, but only weakly with measures of intelligence.

2. Reading completely outstrips other sources of information in terms of effect on knowledge. For example, when comparing old people to young people, the greater knowledge of the older people could be completely statistically explained by the amount of reading that they had done in their lives. All that matters is that the older people had read more!

Over multiple studies, the two researchers hammer home these points again and again. It reminds us of how high-quality text can be as a medium, and of how exposure and practice tend to go underrated in favour of natural talent in Western cultures. (This last point is a common theme on this podcast which I have talked about extensively, with episodes such as Mindset; my series on high performers including Bounce, Genius Explained, The Talent Code, and Outliers; and most recently in The Geography of Thought.)

Enjoy the episode. And get reading!

Music by podcastthemes.com.

Apr 8, 2017

11% of children and 4% of adults in the US are said to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Dr Richard Saul has been a specialist in attention and learning problems in children and adults since the 1970's. He says that there is no such thing as ADHD. 

What, then, are all these children and adults suffering from? Dr Saul answers this question very thoroughly. It could be any of the following:

  • Vision problems
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Substance abuse
  • Mood disorders (bipolar disorder, depression)
  • Hearing problems
  • Learning disabilities
  • Sensory processing disorder
  • Giftedness
  • Seizure disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Tourette's syndrome
  • Asperger's syndrome
  • Neurochemical distractibility/impulsivity
  • Schizophrenia
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Poor diet
  • Iron deficiency
  • Allergies
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Pituitary tumour
  • Prematurity
  • Heavy metal poisoning

If you or someone you know has been suspected to have ADHD or been diagnosed with it, then you might be interested to find out what is at the root of the problem from this book.

Enjoy the episode.

Music by podcastthemes.com.

Apr 8, 2017

This continues the episode about The Geography of Thought, looking at more ways in which the cultural differences manifest themselves in differing psychologies of people from different parts of the world. Themes include:

  • Visual perception;
  • Descriptions and understandings of the self;
  • Attitudes to choice;
  • "Fitting in" versus uniqueness;
  • Attitudes to the law and contractual agreements;
  • Factors affecting motivation;
  • Preference for different types of reasoning; and
  • Approaches to blame and causality.

I also answer some questions posed at the beginning of last episode, namely:

  • Why do modern Asians excel at science and maths, and yet have few Nobel prizewinners?
  • Why were the ancient Chinese good at algebra and arithmetic, but bad at geometry, which the ancient Greeks excelled in?
  • Why did the West outpace the East in science and technology, given how far ahead China was in the fourteenth century?

The big idea here, as before, is that our thinking about psychology and education may be less universal than we realised. Many things that we thought were fundamental parts of human nature turn out to vary from culture to culture. It's a sobering thought, and has led me to have to rethink a range of conclusions about education, psychology, and human nature that I was previously quite confident about.

Enjoy the episode.

Music by podcastthemes.com.

Mar 5, 2017

Unlike many books that I cover, this is one that I read recently and felt an urgent need to share its contents even before I got to the appropriate theme in a series of episodes. It hit me right where it hurts - in my fundamental assumptions about human nature.

As I research the field of education and produce this podcast, I have been generally assuming that people are more or less the same everywhere in their fundamental modes of thinking and feeling. I presumed that the topic of motivation, for example, or that of cognitive biases, can be covered in a more or less general way. However, this book has had me realise that different people from different places think in very, very different ways... and that I (and the majority of my listeners) are among the people on the extreme end of a spectrum that runs from East to West.

People in the East and West think differently from each other in fundamental ways. Consider the following:

  • Which two of these three would you consider to form a natural group: monkey, cow, banana? Westerners almost always group the monkey with the cow, as they are both animals (categorisation focus). Easterners group the monkey with the banana (relationship focus).
  • There are 24 pens. 18 are blue, 5 are green, and 1 is purple. You can have one. Which one would you like? Westerners tend to choose the purple pen (scarcity makes it seem more valuable, plus they like to feel unique). Easterners ask for a blue pen (they want to fit in).
  • Which task would you be more motivated to do: one you choose yourself, or one that your mother chooses for you? Westerners prefer to choose their own (autonomy as a motivational driver); Easterner are more motivated when their mother chose the task (what the hell?!).

I hope you can see that this totally changes how I have to think about things. I now have to contextualise not only everything I think about, but *everything I read*, since so many psychologists say things as if they were universal, but then they are overturned once you test these things on people from a different culture! This even includes apparently "universal" traits such as cognitive biases, with Easterners usually avoiding the Fundamental Attribution Error where Westerners almost universally fall for it; and the principle of scarcity, an idea with strong ties to economics that rarer things are considered more valuable, which seems to not always be followed by people from the East.

Hopefully, you will find your mind broadened, and your assumptions annoyingly and uncomfortably challenged, just as mine were.

Enjoy the episode.

Music by podcastthemes.com.

Feb 19, 2017

I've received a lot of messages from listeners (as well as from an author!) in the past few days. Several of these messages are things that I would like to share, and there are two in particular that I would like to talk about since I imagine there may be many listeners who have the same questions.

Firstly, I talk about my interactions with the folks at Reacting to the Past, and in particular with Mark Carnes, who emailed me within a day of the release of the episode about his book (Minds on Fire).

I then talk about homeschooling, as I had a request from a listener for information on this topic, as she is considering homeschooling her children. Although I plan to cover homeschooling and unschooling in some detail on the podcast, I do not have plans to do this for some time as there are other topics to cover, and so I thought it would be good to have a quick summary for those who are bursting to hear about it.

Finally, I talk about social media, and in particular its use at university. A listener contacted me requesting that I advise him on this, and so I thought it would be helpful to more people if I discussed it on the podcast.

Please keep in mind that any opinions shared in this episode are my own, and that this is an unusually opinion-heavy episode of the podcast. I am usually quite insistent on proper evidence, but here I am relaxing that requirement to be able to talk about things more freely in terms of my feelings or conjectures on certain topics, rather than hard facts that I know to be true.

Enjoy the episode.

Feb 19, 2017

The words "theory" and "fun" in such close proximity may make you suspicious. Or, they may make you curious. "Fun" is one of those ideas that is so natural and intuitive, and yet for that very reason is so hard to pin down.

Raph Koster has a somewhat peculiar view of what fun is: "Fun is just another word for learning." As the head of Sony Online Entertainment, I'm inclined to believe him. If fun is learning, how do we ensure everyone in education gets more of it - and the right kind?

This book is a meditation on certain central themes in the theory of games and play, and provokes us to think about why games aren't used more in education. (Correction: I try to provoke you to think this, based on some concepts taken from the text.) The problem seems not to be whether games teach, as they always do. They problem is that they aren't teaching the right things.

We go in with questions. We come out with an understanding of the central problem of game design for education. Not a bad way to spend an hour.

Enjoy the episode.

Feb 17, 2017

In recent episodes, we have been discussing games and play, and their relevance to education, as well as to an improved understanding of human psychology. In this episode, I approach some central questions of the field: What is a game? What is a toy? What is play? What is fun?

It is by their very naturalness that play, fun, and games are hard to define. We can sense what they are, and that's exactly what makes them hard to put them into words. Jesse Schell surveys the literature and puts together the ideas and definitions of many thinkers to come up with his own favourite definitions.

Jesse Schell's book The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses is a thick, exhaustive tome on a complex subject. There's no way I could do his book justice in a single episode - it would need to be a quadruple-bill at least. But I wanted to introduce my audience to his book, and what better way to do it than through the fundamental questions of the field?

Enjoy the episode.

Feb 17, 2017

This is a continuation of the episode on Minds on Fire by Mark Carnes. The main idea of this part of the episode is the effects that Reacting to the Past, and role-play in general, have on the "self", i.e. the psychological construct of our selves.

Enjoy the episode.

Feb 16, 2017

Last episode, we looked at the various ways in which games can both improve our theoretical understanding of human psychology and of learning, and also at how they can be used practically to improve people's lives. In this episode, I want to discuss a particular practical application of games, and that is in so-called Reacting to the Past.

Reacting to the Past is a type of live role-playing game where each participant plays a character from a particular historical time and place. For example, the setting may be the French revolution, and players would take the roles of King Louis XVI, Lafayette, Robespierre, and others. Each player's (secret) objective is in line with what those personages wanted to happen historically - for example, Louis XVI's aim is to crush the revolution and preserve the monarchy, whereas Robespierre aims to overthrow the monarchy, institute universal male suffrage, and end slavery in French colonies.

On every conceivable measure, Reacting to the Past games have been shown scientifically to be superior to traditional classes. The effects are so numerous as to be hard to list. Students come out of Reacting to the Past games with:

  • improved public speaking;
  • greater resilience in the face of failure;
  • improved leadership and team-working skills;
  • greater acceptance of the role of fortune and randomness in life;
  • a stronger (actual) social network, and friends for life;
  • greater capacity for empathy;
  • a more positive attitude to their studies;
  • increased self-esteem, even while their narcissism reduces; and
  • much deeper and more solid knowledge of history than those taking part in traditional classes on the same material.

It's remarkable!

In the episode, I go through the way that the classes are run and the benefits that they bring, and I compare them to the ordinary student experience. I also share the ideas behind *why* this pedagogical approach seems to work so well. I hope you can join me in enthusiasm for this teaching method.

Enjoy the episode.

Jan 2, 2017

This episode serves two purposes. On the one hand, I want to go over some more ideas from Jane McGonigal's book, as it is so rich in fresh and original ideas (they're fresh to me, anyway).

On the other hand, I would like to go through a pointed criticism of the book entitled Jane McGonigal's Mind is Broken written by Edward Champion. Given how much I got from her book, I am surprised that there are people who are so strongly against it. I think it is good to go through it in the name of balance, though I can't pretend that I share Edward Champion's opinion, or believe that his piece is particularly well argued.

Enjoy the episode.

 

Jan 2, 2017

Jane McGonigal is a game designer who believes that, in many ways, games bring out the best in people. The reason for their popularity, she claims, is that they satisfy fundamental human needs. This leads, for example, to the highly insightful and completely counterintuitive notion that a big reason for people playing games is that it makes them feel productive.

She peppers her book with reality "fixes" - comparisons of games with reality, where games come out on top, and lead the way to a better future. Here is a full list of those fixes.

  1. Unnecessary obstacles: Compared with games, reality is too easy. Games challenge us with voluntary obstacles and help us put our personal strengths to better use.
  2. Emotional activation: Compared with games, reality is depressing. Games focus our energy, with relentless optimism, on something we're good at and enjoy.
  3. More satisfying work: Compared with games, reality is unproductive. Games give us clearer missions and more satisfying, hands-on work.
  4. Better hope of success: Compared with games, reality is hopeless. Games eliminate our fear of failure and improve our chances of success.
  5. Stronger social connectivity: Compared with games, reality is disconnected. Games build stronger social bonds and lead to more active social networks. The more time we spend interacting within our social networks, the more likely we are to generate a subset of positive emotions known as "prosocial emotions."
  6. Epic scale: Compared with games, reality is trivial. Games make us a part of something bigger and give epic meaning in our actions.
  7. Wholehearted participation: Compared with games, reality is hard to get into. Games motivate us to participate more fully in whatever we're doing.
  8. Meaningful rewards when we need them most: Compared with games, reality is pointless and unrewarding. Games help us feel more rewarded for making our best effort.
  9. More fun with strangers: Compared with games, reality is lonely and isolating. Games help us band together and create powerful communities from scratch.
  10. Happiness hacks: Compared with games, reality is hard to swallow. Games make it easier to take good advice and try out happier habits.
  11. A sustainable engagement economy: Compared with games, reality is unsustainable. The gratifications we get from playing games are an infinitely renewable resource.
  12. More epic wins: Compared with games, reality is unambitious. Games help us define awe-inspiring goals and tackle seemingly impossible social missions together.
  13. Ten thousand hours collaborating: Compared with games, reality is disorganised and divided. Games help us make a more concerted effort - and over time, they give us collaboration superpowers.
  14. Massively multiplayer foresight: Reality is stuck in the present. Games help us imagine the future together.

The book has many case studies and psychological experiments backing up the points that it makes. Overall it reads like a sort of manifesto, but for me, the most important thing was the way in which it explained things about people that I never realised before. It gave me a new perspective on human motivation, on learning, and on myself. I hope you will gain from it as I did.

Enjoy the episode.

Jan 2, 2017

Malke Rosenfeld is the creator of Math in your Feet, a program to teach students mathematical concepts through the medium of dance. (Really!) She does school workshops and teacher trainings, and now has a new book, Math on the Move, describing her approach and the theory behind it. We talk about interdisciplinary learning, embodied learning, liking vs. hating maths, and attitudes to "alternative" teaching methods.

Malke herself, like many people, never really "got" maths while she was at school. After getting involved in the percussive dance scene, she one day woke up to the possibility that "surely there's math in this". From there, she went on to develop her unusual, and potentially controversial, but certainly fun, pedagogy.

She draws on the ideas of Seymour Papert from his book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas, and on modern neurological research showing the extent to which we think through our bodies, and have to understand things in many ways for them to really sink in.

Enjoy the episode.

Jan 2, 2017

Today we have an interview with Sargy Letuchy, a public school teacher from Chicago, who has produced some materials to help other teachers with standards-based learning. The Visual Edge is a workbook of graphic organisers for K-12 teachers in the United States. Along the way, we also discuss some other pertinent education topics.

Enjoy the episode.

Jan 2, 2017

Depending on what counts as knowing a language, I speak anything between 7 and 12 languages, namely:

  • English, Polish, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, French, Russian, and Persian well;
  • Hungarian to a lesser extent; and
  • Georgian, Armenian, Lithuanian, and Tibetan in the past, now mostly forgotten.

Besides this, I have some knowledge of classical languages (Latin, classical Chinese, and ancient Greek); one constructed language (Esperanto); and there are a couple more languages that I've had a smaller amount of exposure to (Turkish and Maltese).

I think that my experiences may be worth sharing to a general audience interested in education, and in teaching and learning languages in particular.

First, I recount my story. How did I get from bilingual child to adult polyglot? Secondly, I talk about my methods for learning, Finally, I share some lessons learned from my experiences.

This episode does not make use of references or scientific studies, but just relates my personal experience. It is a case study that gives a sense of what it feels like and how it works to learn numerous languages. I hope that you can take something useful from it.

Enjoy the episode.

 

music by http://www.podcastthemes.com

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