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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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Now displaying: February, 2018
Feb 28, 2018

Although ostensibly about economics, this book is in fact about the effect of poverty of various kinds on the mind.

Poverty is a shortage of resources. It could be money, time (busy people are "time-poor"), or some other resource. When people experience scarcity, their minds automatically, subconsciously devote mental resources to the issue. The results of this are two.

1. They are more rational in their approach to the use of the resource, and use it more prudently. For example, usually supermarkets will have more than one size of packs of things, with the idea that if you buy a six-pack, it is cheaper per can than buying six individual cans of drink. However, sometimes supermarkets will play a trick, making the larger pack more expensive per item than the individual item. Poor people get caught out by this kind of trick much less often, as they are paying attention to prices, and reasoning about what is the best use of their money.

2. More importantly, the automatic assignment of mental resources to deal with the scarcity reduces the remaining free mental resources. This means that they have lower self-control, and - rather shockingly - have lower effective intelligence (i.e. they behave as if they were less intelligent than they "really" are, since some of their mental energy is constantly being consigned to worrying about money).

This has important consequences for thinking about the way the mind operates, as well as, on a social level, the effect of poverty on people's mental abilities. I hope you can see how, despite appearances, this book is in fact very relevant to education.

Enjoy the episode.

Music by podcastthemes.com.

Feb 27, 2018

Edward de Bono's work can mostly be divided into two parts: models of how the mind works; and applications of principles extracted from those models to improve thinking, particularly creative thinking. The Mechanism of Mind is his first book, and it primarily deals with the first of these two parts.

De Bono wrote The Mechanism of Mind in 1969, at a time when not much was known about the brain, nor about complex adaptive systems (the types of physical objects and situations studied by the fields of mathematics and physics known as chaos theory, complexity theory, and dynamical systems). De Bono's key insight was to realise that the brain is a complex adaptive system, and to run with this insight to produce new insights into how human thinking works, how it differs from the working of computers, and how to make the most of it.

The Mechanism of Mind introduces the reader to how de Bono thought that the brain probably worked when he was writing in 1969, by providing a series of analogies or "models" - the polythene-and-pins model, the jelly-and-ink model, and the thousand-bulb model. These aim to clarify the behaviour of the brain both in terms of what kinds of things the brain does, and how this behaviour arises from the brain's structure. His expectations from 1969 were surprisingly close to the overall understood behaviour of the brain (or, at least, small collections of neurons) according to modern neuroscience.

Overall, the book serves as a stimulus to thought, and need not be believed in its entirety. It is, after all, one man's guess at how the brain worked based on what was known to science half a century ago. Nevertheless, his explanations do support a number of interesting propositions about thinking, with important consequences for the nature of creativity, which he explains in detail in his other books.

Enjoy the episode.

Music by podcastthemes.com.

Feb 1, 2018

Cal Newport is a computer scientist at Georgetown University who writes a blog called Study Hacks about effective study methods. We have covered one of his books already, So Good They Can't Ignore You, when I wanted to discuss career advice.

Before writing How to Become a Straight-A Student, Newport visited a number of university campuses in the USA and looked for students who got the best grades. Curiously, he found that these usually came in two types - those who were constantly grinding away in their studies, as one might expect from a top student; and those who seemed to their peers never to be overworked, and led full extra-curricular and social lives, but always seemed to do the best in their courses. Newport interviewed these, and their approaches to study make the basis of this book.

It's interesting to see some of the cognitive science ideas like those put forward by Benedict Carey's How We Learn being put into action by these students, generally without any of them being aware that they are doing so, as they apparently happened upon their study techniques by themselves. It is particularly enlightening to see how they prioritise certain important cognitive features - for example, considering coloured pens for notes to be superfluous (despite scientific evidence that this would improve memory). It would appear that these successful students have figured out the relative importance of various techniques or insights into learning without having to carry out any scientific experiments or read the cognitive science literature.

This is the first study guide that I am covering on the podcast, and I don't intend to cover very many. I'm more interested in talking about fundamentals on this podcast than in sharing tips and tricks. The fact that I like the author (due to his other books), and that his approach seems more empirical than other study guides, but less clinically divorced from the real world than scientific books and articles, led me to want to share it with you. I hope it helps you in your studies, or in your teaching.

Enjoy the episode.

Music by podcastthemes.com.

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