Practice, even with failure, more important than talent – update

October 25, 2012 links to this story from an excellent page on picking a topic for an essay — English teachers, social studies teachers, you should probably make this page a part of your syllabus for essays, really.  A few teachers use the page, and when they assign essays this post starts rising in the hit count.

But that was five years ago.  There’s more information, and even an update at Stanford Magazine.  So, we’ll update here, too:

Carol Dweck, author of Mindset

Carol Dweck, Stanford University

Every teacher needs to get familiar with the work of Carol Dweck. She’s a Stanford psychologist who is advising the Blackburn Rovers from England’s Premier League, on how to win, and how to develop winning ways.

Your students need you to have this stuff.

A 60-year-old academic psychologist might seem an unlikely sports motivation guru. But Dweck’s expertise—and her recent book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success—bear directly on the sort of problem facing the Rovers. Through more than three decades of systematic research, she has been figuring out answers to why some people achieve their potential while equally talented others don’t—why some become Muhammad Ali and others Mike Tyson. The key, she found, isn’t ability; it’s whether you look at ability as something inherent that needs to be demonstrated or as something that can be developed.

What’s more, Dweck has shown that people can learn to adopt the latter belief and make dramatic strides in performance. These days, she’s sought out wherever motivation and achievement matter, from education and parenting to business management and personal development. [emphasis added]

I can’t do justice here, in short form, to Dweck’s work described by Marina Krakovsky.  See this story in Stanford Magazine [2007].

Update from Stanford Magazine:

Psychology professor Carol Dweck has spent her career figuring out why some people give up in the face of failure while others are motivated to learn from their mistakes and improve. It’s all about fixed mindsets versus growth mindsets (“The Effort Effect,” March/April 2007)

Now Dweck has formed Mindset Works, which “helps human beings reach their full potential.” Its signature product is Brainology, software developed by Dweck and educational researcher Lisa S. Blackwell and now available at following successful pilots in the United States and abroad. The program aims to motivate middle school and high school students to do better in all their subjects by teaching them how the brain works and how to boost their intelligence.

Also, no discussion of this topic can be complete without at least a mention of Malcolm Gladwell‘s work.  In a recent book, Outliers, Gladwell notes what has come to be called the “10,000 hour rule.”  Gladwell observed that most experts were made by practice at a skill, rather than talent — and that mastery was achieved after about 10,000 hours of practice.  Wikipedia describes the idea Gladwell outlines:

A common theme that appears throughout Outliers is the “10,000-Hour Rule”, based on a study by Anders Ericsson. Gladwell claims that greatness requires enormous time, using the source of The Beatles’ musical talents and Gates’ computer savvy as examples.[3] The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time, therefore meeting the 10,000-Hour Rule. Gladwell asserts that all of the time The Beatles spent performing shaped their talent, and quotes Beatles’ biographer Philip Norman as saying, “So by the time they returned to England from Hamburg, Germany, ‘they sounded like no one else. It was the making of them.'”[3] Gates met the 10,000-Hour Rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13, and spent 10,000 hours programming on it.[3]

Does Gladwell mention Dweck’s work?  Is Dweck’s work confirmed by Ericsson’s?  There’s a lot of room for discussion there, especially in an essay.

For writing, for writing essays, practice provides dramatic improvement for students — that much is certain.


X-ray nudes: Safe for classrooms?

June 23, 2010

Here’s one way to make study of x-rays interesting:

X-ray nudes, from Eizo Pinup Calendar 2010, via A Quantum of Knowledge

Miss September - EIZO X-Ray Pinup Calendar 2010 - via A Quantum of Knowledge; ad agency, BUTTER

See this one, a couple more, and a good explanation of x-rays at A Quantum of Knowledge, “X-rated X-rays.

Um, also there is disturbing news for Kermit the Frog.

They are x-rays.  Are they still too risqué for use in, say, a senior physics class?  Let’s stipulate that the images are sexist (did they do any nude males?).  Could they serve any educational purpose?  If a physics teacher used some of these in a presentation on x-rays, would the principal and school board complain?  Would they get students — males students, especially — interested in studying x-rays?

Maybe the best way to get kids interested, in the best Tom Sawyer fashion, would be to tell them not to go to A Quantum of Knowledge to look at the x-rays.  Does your school’s filtering block these pictures?

A Quantum of Knowledge found out about the pictures from Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy.  Phil asks the question, “Are they racy?”

Look at the comments there — it sort of boils down to the shoes, doesn’t it?  Well, that, and the series of the poses.  Any one of the poses might be clinically interesting as an x-ray, but together, they spell “pornography.”

Do they?

In the comments at Bad Astronomy:  A discussion of footbinding in China, complete with x-rays; links to more x-rays of feet (presumably female) in stiletto heels; a discussion about whether the calendar photos from EIZO might be photo-shopped or otherwise edited, and not straight up x-rays.

Science nerds, you know?


A vision of students, today (thanks, Bug Girl!)

April 30, 2009

Bug Girl put this up, and you can watch it there and comment on it there in a lively and informative discussion, but it’s just too good not to show here:

Teachers, show it to your colleagues, and especially to your librarians and your administrators.

Students, show it to your teachers.

And, go thou and do likewise.




Oh, and note that Bug Girl’s post was a year ago.

Other stuff to see:

Torturing children, the Constitution, and a teacher’s duty to protect children

June 23, 2008

This is the device Ohio teacher John Freshwater was using to shock students and brand them with crosses: A BD-10A high-frequency generator tester for leak detection, from Electro-Technic Products, Inc.:

   BD10ASV  OUTPUT: 10,000-50,000 volts at frequency of approx. 1/2 megahertz. Power 230 V, with a momentary ON/OFF switch

BD-10A high frequency generator tester leak detector, from Electro-Technic Products.  “BD10ASV OUTPUT: 10,000-50,000 volts at frequency of approx. 1/2 megahertz. Power 230 V, with a momentary ON/OFF switch”

As described at the company’s website:

  • Model BD-10A is the standard tester
  • Model BD-10AS features a momentary ON/OFF switch
  • OUTPUT: 10,000-50,000 volts at frequency of approx. 1/2 megahertz

The company also offers a line of instruments for teaching science — notably absent from that part of the catalog is this shocking device (literally).

Generally, this tester should not produce serious injury, even when misapplied. Standard middle school lab safety rules would suggest that it should never be used to “test” a human for leaks. Such voltages are designed to produce sparks. Sparks do not always behave as one expects, or hopes. High voltages may make cool looking sparks, but the effects of high voltage jolts differ from person to person. It may be harmful.

“We have instructions to warn people that it’s not a toy,” said Cuzelis, who owns Electro-Technic Products in Chicago. “If this device is directed for seconds (on the skin), that’s a clear misuse of the product.”

Cuzelis said he is not aware of anyone seriously hurt with the device and said that his company has never been sued for injuries.

What sort of lab safety rules did Freshwater have for other experiments?

If you discovered your child’s science teacher had this device, designed to produce high-voltage sparks to highlight holes in rubber and plastic liners of tanks, would you be concerned? If you know what should go on in a science class, you’d know there is probably little use for such a device in a classroom. It’s been described as a Tesla coil.

Tesla coils of extremely small voltages can be safe. They should be safe. But one occasionally finds a safety warning, such as this generalized note at Wikipedia:

Even lower power vacuum tube or solid state Tesla Coils can deliver RF currents that are capable of causing temporary internal tissue, nerve, or joint damage through Joule heating. In addition, an RF arc can carbonize flesh, causing a painful and dangerous bone-deep RF burn that may take months to heal. Because of these risks, knowledgeable experimenters avoid contact with streamers from all but the smallest systems. Professionals usually use other means of protection such as a Faraday cage or a chain mail suit to prevent dangerous currents from entering their body.

Freshwater was using a solid state Tesla coil, if I understand the news articles correctly. Knowing that these sparks can cause deep tissue and bone damage in extreme cases, I suspect that I would not allow students to experience shocks as a normal course of a science classroom, especially from an industrial device not designed with multiple safety escapes built in.

Freshwater had been zapping students for years.

Here is a classic photo of what a Tesla coil does, a much larger coil than that used by John Freshwater, and a photo not from any classroom; from Mega Volt:

Tesla coil in action, from Mike Tedesco

Tesla coil in action, from Mike Tedesco

There is nothing in the Ohio science standards to suggest regular use of a Tesla coil in contact with students performs any educational function.

I offer this background to suggest that the normal classroom procedures designed to ensure the safety of students were not well enforced in Freshwater’s classrooms, nor was there adequate attention paid to the material that should have been taught in the class.

The teacher, John Freshwater, has been dismissed by his local school board. Freshwater supporters argue that this is a case of religious discrimination, because Freshwater kept a Bible on his desk.

Among the complaints are that he burned crosses onto the arms of students with the high-voltage leak detector shown above. This gives an entirely new and ironic meaning to the phrase “cross to bear.”

Cafe Philos wrote the most succinct summary of the case I have found, “The Firing of John Freshwater.” Discussion at that site has been robust. Paul Sunstone included photos of one of the students’ arms showing injuries from the schocks. He also included links to news stories that will bring you up to date.

Amazingly, this misuse of an electrical device may not be the most controversial point. While you and I may think this physical abuse goes beyond the pale, Freshwater has defenders who claim he was just trying to instill Biblical morality in the kids, as if that would excuse any of these actions. Over at Cafe Philos, I’ve been trying to explain just why it is that Freshwater does not have a First Amendment right to teach religion in his science class. There is another commenter with the handle “Atheist” who acts for all the world like a sock puppet for anti-First Amendment forces, i.e., not exactly defending a rational atheist position.

Below the fold I reproduce one of my answers to questions Atheist posed. More resources at the end.

Read the rest of this entry »

Louisiana creationists gear up campaign to deceive students

June 20, 2008

My earlier post urging readers to contact Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to urge him to veto the latest creationist eruption the Louisiana Lege gave him, produced an interesting comment. A fellow named Wayne provided links to a presentation by some guy named Perry Marshall, in which Marshall flails vainly against evolution theory.  The video is billed as one the Louisiana Coalition for Science “fears.”  Wayne wants to know, should we keep children from seeing it?

Marshall apparently isn’t even an engineer, but instead designs ads for internet placement — at least one step removed from the usual joke about engineers as creationists. Of course, that doesn’t help any of his arguments.

Wayne linked to three YouTube presentations, about half of the presentation Marshall made at an unidentified church (there are five segments total, I gather). What you see is bad PowerPoint slides, with audio. Marshall suggests that evolution couldn’t get from the American pronghorn antelope to the African giraffe, but in classic creationist form, he doesn’t address the unique signs of evolution we find in giraffes (neck, vagus nerve, for example) nor in pronghorns (bred for speed to beat the American cheetah, which is now extinct, and thereby hangs a great tale of sleuthing by evolution).

Marshall’s presentation is insulting. To me as a historian, it’s astounding how he can’t accurately list sequences of events well known to history. The science errors he makes are errors any 7th-grade student might make — but he’s passing them off as valid criticism of evolution theory.

Here’s the first YouTube presentation, and below the fold, my response to Wayne.

These presentations are an omen. They are sent to us as a warning for what the Discovery Institute will try to sneak into classrooms if Jindal signs that bill into law — heck, they’ll try anyway, but we don’t have to drill holes in our kids’ heads to make it easier for con men and snake oil salesmen to get their fingers in there.

My response below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

50 good P-12 education blogs

June 11, 2008

Scott McLeod at Dangerously Irrelevant has a list of 50 good and great blogs that focus on education, P-12.

1. Through some glitch in the screening process, Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub sneaked onto the list. The bubbles in the Bathtub seem deeper and warmer as we just think about it.  We’re flattered to be listed, even with an asterisk.

2. There are 49 very good blogs on that list, a few of which I’ve not heard of before, some of my old favorites, and all of them very interesting that I’ve checked out so far. Go check them out. They deserve the traffic. You deserve the information.

In fact, just to give them all a link boost, I’ll copy McLeod’s list below the fold.

School’s out for me, with just a little cleanup and an amazing training burden left for the summer. This last semester has been a doozy. I’ve not blogged nearly so much as I should have. There are a lot of issues left on the table. It’s nice to be on the list; I wish there were more comments. I find the feedback useful, fun, and instructive, like older son Kenny’s chastisement this morning subtly slipped into comments on the Mencken typewriter post.

Where should education bloggers be going, Dear Readers? Where should this blog be going?

McLeod’s list below the fold; comments are open for the whole summer.

Read the rest of this entry »

Testing boosts memory, study doesn’t

March 7, 2008

This is why football players remember the games better than they remember the practices.

Is this really news? It was a jarring reminder to me. Ed at Not Exactly Rocket Science (just before his blog was swallowed up by the many-tentacled Seed Magazine empire) noted a study that shows testing improves performance more than study.

But a new study reveals that the tests themselves do more good for our ability to learn that the many hours before them spent relentlessly poring over notes and textbook. The act of repeatedly retrieving and using learned information drives memories into long-term storage, while repetitive revision produced almost no benefits.

More quizzes instead of warm-up studies? More tests? Longer tests? What do you think? Certainly this questions the wisdom of high-stakes, end of education testing; it also calls into question the practice of evaluating teachers solely on the basis of test scores.  Much grist for the discussion mill.

Here’s the citation to the study: Karpicke, J.D., Roediger, H.L. (2008). The Critical Importance of Retrieval for Learning. Science, 319(5865), 966-968. DOI: 10.1126/science.1152408

Karpicke is at Purdue; Roediger is at Washington University in St. Louis.

Worried about plagiarism? You don’t know the half of it

November 24, 2007


Larry Lessig, speaking at TED, makes the case for kids who use stuff borrowed from others in their classroom presentations.

First, this speech should open your eyes to the danger of our only preaching against plagiarism to kids who borrow copyrighted stuff off the internet (see especially the last two minutes of his almost-19 minute presentation). What’s the alternative, you ask? See what Prof. Lessig says. What are the alternatives?

Second, Lessig shows how to use slides in a live presentation, to significantly increase the content delivered and the effectiveness of the delivery.


Tip of the old scrub brush to Presentation Zen. Go there now and read Garr Reynolds’ take on Lessig’s presentation.

Who is Larry Lessig? You don’t know TED? See below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Practice, even with failure, more important than talent

November 20, 2007

Every teacher needs to get familiar with the work of Carol Dweck. She’s a Stanford psychologist who is advising the Blackburn Rovers from England’s Premier League, on how to win, and how to develop winning ways.

Your students need you to have this stuff.

A 60-year-old academic psychologist might seem an unlikely sports motivation guru. But Dweck’s expertise—and her recent book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success—bear directly on the sort of problem facing the Rovers. Through more than three decades of systematic research, she has been figuring out answers to why some people achieve their potential while equally talented others don’t—why some become Muhammad Ali and others Mike Tyson. The key, she found, isn’t ability; it’s whether you look at ability as something inherent that needs to be demonstrated or as something that can be developed.

What’s more, Dweck has shown that people can learn to adopt the latter belief and make dramatic strides in performance. These days, she’s sought out wherever motivation and achievement matter, from education and parenting to business management and personal development. [emphasis added]

I can’t do justice to Dweck’s work. See this story in Stanford Magazine.

See a significant update on this article, in October 2012, here.


Texas History Day, and National History Day 2008

November 12, 2007

Your classes are gearing up for the competition, no?

Alfie Kohn might not like the idea of competition in history. In a state famous for competition in almost everything, but most famous for athletic competitions to the detriment of academics, I find great appeal in a contest that requires kids to find, analyze and write history.

Then the students get together to present and discuss history — and usually about 60 Texas kids go on to the National History Day festival. (Details here from the Texas State Historical Association)

Q. What is Texas History Day?

A. Texas History Day, a part of the National History Day program, is a yearlong education program that culminates in an annual state-level history fair for students in grades six through twelve. It provides an opportunity for students to demonstrate their interest in, and knowledge of, history through creative and original papers, performances, documentaries, individual interpretive web sites, or three-dimensional exhibits.

Over the course of the school year, students research and produce a History Day entry, the results of which are presented at a regional competition in early spring. From there, some students advance to the state fair in May, or even to the national contest held each June at the University of Maryland at College Park. At each level of competition, outstanding achievement may be recognized through certificates, medals, trophies, or monetary awards. The most important rewards are the skills and insight that students acquire as they move through the History Day program.

As many as 33,000 young Texans are involved in the program at the regional and state level each year. More than 900 students participate in Texas History Day, and approximately 60 students represent Texas at National History Day each year.

The 2008 National History Day Theme is “Conflict and Compromise in History.”

Texas has 23 regions for preliminary rounds. Details here. A list of sample topics for Texas students should give lots of good ideas.

The topics and the papers promise a lot. These projects could make good lesson plans. (Who publishes the winning entries? I have not found that yet.)

Don’t forget the Texas History Day T-shirt Design Contest — entries are due by December 14, 2007.

Neuroscience, culture, and practical application

September 23, 2007

The oak tree at Jena's high school -- now cut down

My hypothesis is that a normal person may not peruse this site, The Situationist, without finding something of use for the person’s work or homelife — or at a minimum, something extremely intrigueing about a problem the person has in an organization to which the person belongs.

For example, check out these discussions:

  1. On the Jena 6
  2. On l’affaire Chemerinsky at UC-Irvine
  3. On college debt
  4. On confronting mistakes — especially one’s own

It’s a project at Harvard, interdisciplinary so far as I can tell.  Here’s the explanation:

There is a dominant conception of the human animal as a rational, or at least reasonable, preference-driven chooser, whose behavior reflects preferences, moderated by information processing and will, but little else. Laws, policies, and the most influential legal theories are premised on that same conception. Social psychology and related fields have discovered countless ways in which that conception is wrong. “The situation” refers to causally significant features around us and within us that we do not notice or believe are irrelevant in explaining human behavior. Situationism” is an approach that is deliberately attentive to the situation. It is informed by social science—particularly social psychology, social cognition, and related fields—and the discoveries of market actors devoted to influencing consumer behavior—marketers, public relations experts, and the like. The Situationist is a forum for scholars, students, lawyers, policymakers, and interested citizens to examine, discuss, and debate the effect of situational forces – that is, non-salient factors around and within us – on law, policy, politics, policy theory, and our social, political, and economic institutions. The Situationist is associated with The Project on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School. To visit the Project’s website, click here.

Go see, and report back, if you don’t mind.

Typewriter of the moment: The Living Classroom

August 10, 2007

Typewriter donated by Anya to the Living Classroom, at the Community School of West Seattle, WashingtonSlight deviation from my usual practice of featuring the technological marvel of the writing machine of a well-known writer — these writers are not yet well known.

Someone brought in a vintage Smith-Corona typewriter to one of my favorite classrooms, at the Community School in West Seattle. Photographic evidence shows the machine is still in good working order (better than my Royal), and the students have already figured out how to make it work (see photo below).

My typing career began with my mother’s and father’s Royal, similar to the one I now own. It got me to ninth grade with no problems. I took typing classes on the classic, newsroom Underwoods, about the time that the IBM Selectric was making in-roads. In my senior year of high school I got an Underwood portable — brother Dwight was selling for Underwood-Olivetti. Later I got an old, junked Olivetti electric that was gray, would do line-and-a-half as well as double spacing, and which had a pitch somewhere between 10 and 12 pica. It was heavy and industrial, but the typeface was so readable that it was popular with my debater colleagues — we used to carry the machine with us to tournaments after I joined the college debate squad.

In my junior year at the University of Utah, on a Thomas J. Watson, Jr., Memorial scholarship from IBM, I purchased a Correcting Selectric II (no, IBM offered no discount). About 20 years later, tired of the massive repair bills and hoping word processors would forever banish it from our house, my wife donated that typewriter to the Salvation Army. I found another at a garage sale, and got it for $10.00. The mechanism on that one sprang out of the case about a year later, and we eventually donated it, too.

Perry W. Buffington found the Royal that graces my home office now, largely unused but full of sentiment. (I think Buff wanted me to write more.)

These kids in Washington — they don’t know the value of the tool they have. They can’t know.  Lucky kids.

Paper typed in the Living Classroom

Photo from the Living Classroom; work product from a student.

History is the Dickens — or could be

June 26, 2007

Faithful readers here may note some long, substantive comments from another “Ed,” who is connected with the Open History Project, it turns out. I’ve linked to the OHP before, but not often enough. It really is a treasure trove.

For example, there is a page of links to computer/internet media works. Included there is a fascinating animation from the British site accompanying what was a PBS Masterpiece Theatre program in the U.S. from Charles Dickens’ novel, Bleak House. The animation, by a creative crew called Rufflebrothers (Mark and Tim Ruffle), covers the life of Charles Dickens. As a simple cartoon, it’s droll — notice Dickens’ siblings dropping dead in an early scene. As a piece of history pedagoguery, it’s brilliant. [It’s Flash animation, and I can’t copy it to paste a sample.]

(I can’t find this animation on the PBS website for Bleak House — but there is another, simpler timeline, covering Dickens and more authors.)

Watch the British animation of Dickens’ life, then go back and take it scene by scene. A pocket watch allows you to see what else was happening in history at that moment. Careful linking allows you to get much more detail — in the scene where his siblings are shown dying (as they did, in fact), the feature gives the details of each of Charles’ brothers and sisters, opening a door of new understanding for the inspiration of the characters in Dickens’ work (It was originally Tiny Fred? Really? After Dickens’ younger brother Frederick?).

Imagine such an animation for the life of George Washington, or for the life of Abraham Lincoln, or Henry Ford, Queen Victoria, Sam Houston, Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, or Albert Einstein.

What in the world can we do to encourage BBC to do more like this? Who else can get in on the act?

What other treasures await you at the Open History Project?

Whither history?

June 25, 2007

Very few high school students say they want to grow up to be historians. As a profession, we ignore history.

Still, a few do. More seriously, what happens in the high school class depends a lot on what is being done by professional historians. What is that?

Historian Keith Thomas wrote a long piece about where history is headed for The Times of London, in October 2006. It even has hints about it of how to make history more intrigueing in high school. Go see. Read the rest of this entry »

Resources for new teachers, change provocateurs

June 22, 2007

New teachers, especially teachers from alternative certification programs, have all sorts of stories about people who observe and supervise their training and work.

There is the guy whose district bought laptops for every high school student and insisted teachers use the computers daily, but whose principal refused to look at the on-line courses he had developed to meet the district’s guidelines (and whom the principal subsequently rated down for not having the lesson plans the principal refused to look at).  There is the drama coach whose supervisor complained the students shouldn’t have been out of school for the state competition, which they won.  There is the mathematician from the telecommunications industry whose supervisor didn’t know geometry, or algebra, or calculus, and insisted the teacher should be offering multiplication table timed quizzes to advanced math classes.  The guy whose principal thought history documentaries selected from the school’s libraries were just Hollywood movies, and therefore inappropriate for history classes.

More than enough horror stories to go around.

One teacher tells a few horror stories from his student teaching days, but tells us he went on to get his school’s distinguished alumnus award.  And so, he shares some of his best material, here:  Horace Mann Educated Financial Solutions, “Reach Every Child.”

Go make change.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Car Family, which is really the same guy.

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