Sunday, September 29, 2013

Being Human 2013

Having just attended Being Human 2013, a conference of anthropologists, neuroscientists, psychologists, designers, and others in San Francisco, I now sit down to summarize the sessions and my personal thoughts about them as one who works with and prepares others to work with adolescents. Warning: this is a long post!

Session 1: The Biology and Psychology of Ethical Behavior
Robert Sapolsky, Susan Fiske, Josh Greene

It's often hard for us to acknowledge just how much we have in common with our animal cousins, but it's important to recognize our evolutionary history as a step to understanding what it really means to be human. But it's also extremely important to note just how far we've moved past those commonalities in both constructive and deconstructive ways. While other animals can empathize, we do so in much more abstract ways and for a much broader range of individuals - even fictional ones! We understand not only that others think differently than we do, but that they think differently about US! We are able to delay gratification not only for now, but in some cases for a lifetime. But we can also be uniquely cruel and aggressive - using relationships and ideologies to divide and discriminate in ways that no other species does (think passive-aggression and outgroup stereotyping of people within our own race).

Being human is a unique and challenging prospect, and as we look forward it is essential that we learn to better understand and relate with others. Currently, we tend to map our relationships with others across two factors in a matrix. The factors are warmth and competence. We tend to express disgust those who are neither warm nor competent, pity those who we perceive as warm but incompetent, envy those who are not warm but competent, and have pride in those who are both warm and competent. In my field of adolescent educational psychology, I find it discouraging that the majority of individuals place teens in the first category; they are perceived as neither warm nor competent, therefore most people have contempt for them. Why is this so? Have we completely lost sight of the fact that teens are people who are training to become adults? That they are struggling to find their role in society?

The disgust we feel for people in this low warmth-low competence category can be so profound that we don't even use the same part of the brain - the medial prefrontal cortex - that we use to think about PEOPLE when we consider them and their motivations.

As educators, how can we help ourselves, those around us, and our own students to overcome this significant bias? The answer lies in how we think about others. When we think about people we don't know, we tend to focus on what we expect them to be like - essentially trying to stereotype or assimilate them into our existing perceptions. But when we think about people we know, we tend to focus on things that are different from what we expected. In other words, as we develop relationships with people, we really do get to know them and come to understand how they are different from our preconceived ideas. This is particularly true when we think about people with whom we are working toward a common goal.

These findings are consistent in the moral dimension. For most people, their gut reaction for those in their ingroup is to trust them and to be cooperative - to share resources and work toward the common good. But our gut reaction toward the outgroup is to be individualistic and "protect what's ours." And the more distant the outgroup - both physically and ideologically - the less sympathetic our reactions.

So let's consider how this information might translate to the classroom environment. First, we might have get-to-know-you activities that reveal surprising information about our students. We could ask questions like, "What is one thing that your classmates might be surprised to find out about you?" It is also extremely important to get our students into other people's heads, both real and fictional. As we learn about historical and literary characters, we can go beyond questions like, "How do you think she felt?" and ask more pointed and intriguing questions like, "Do you think she liked broccoli?" These unusual questions promote cognitive disequilibrium and higher-order thinking as students attempt to find clues to reveal unusual answers.

Second, it is important to establish our class as a community of learners from the very first day of class. When students understand that they are not competing against each other, but rather working together toward the common goal of understanding and achievement, they might more clearly see their peers as unique and important individuals.

Next, it seems obvious that the use of well-developed group work and team-based learning is essential. Teachers must carefully consider the makeup of these groups and teams, with an understanding that deliberate and systematic exposure to people of different backgrounds in ways that reveal commonalities and celebrate differences in beliefs, perceptions, ways of thinking, etc. (known as the contact hypothesis) can result in profound change. As stated at the conference, "Experience with diversity makes people more nuanced in their understanding and treatment of each other"

Additionally, the findings in moral development strongly suggest the need to integrate Noddings' theme of Caring for Strangers and the World into our curriculum in order to combat the sense of us vs. them and the tribalistic responses that it inspires. As we discuss modern issues, we can ask questions like, "What really matters?" and, perhaps more importantly, "Who really matters?"

Finally, we should take into account two important factors. First, that all of the activities and processes described above require a lot of frontal lobe involvement and the frontal lobes are very "expensive," meaning that they require a lot of energy. This means that our students must understand the importance of proper "fueling" of the brain; in other words, they must learn about and practice proper nutrition. And secondly, that knowledge is power. Telling our students that they may hold inaccurate perceptions of and biases toward one another and expressing the need for change as a theme of our classes may be a giant step toward solving this significant problem.

Session 2: Human Emotion
Richie Davidson, Paul Ekman, Esther Sternberg

"Emotion is the stuff that gives life color, it is the quality which propels us to act, it is what enables us to approach the things we love; to withdraw from the things that may be problematic. It is the key ingredient that distinguishes one human being from another." -Richie Davidson

We often hear people talk about positive and negative emotions, but these are really misnomers. What really mean are constructive and destructive emotions. Sadness isn't negative if it spurs us to compassionate action! But we have to wonder about the impact of the modern digital world on our own and, perhaps even more significantly, adolescents' emotional well-being. Modern media almost constantly reveals the suffering of others, both at home and across the world, which begs the question, "What is the result of repeated experiences of concern/empathy about observed suffering when action is not possible?" How can we possibly handle feeling consistently impotent in our ability to help others and solve the overwhelming problems that surround us?

And yet, as discussed earlier, compassion toward others really is the key to the survival of our species. While we cannot yet answer these questions, we do know that compassionate action, and even compassionate meditation!, are extremely beneficial for our emotional well-being, our interpersonal relationships, and even global interactions. And yet we are seeing a decline in compassion, particularly face-to-face emotional support and assistance. This ability seems to be inherent in the human species - it is evident in nearly all toddlers - and it feels good in our bodies and brains, so what is happening? Is it possible that entertainment (and an educational system) that celebrates competition over collaboration may be severely effecting our children's compassionate instincts? And how might we, as educators help improve our students' emotional well-being?

One idea is to more carefully consider the designs of our schools and classrooms. It is well known that stress can significantly impair the immune system and memory. Thus, our students, who are more stressed than they have ever been before, are struggling cognitively, emotionally, and physically.

Consider your classroom. How is it designed? What do students see, smell, touch, hear? Is your school/classroom a calming, beautiful place that relieves stress and promotes healing? Are there places where students can sit and have social support and compassion? Is there a meditation labyrinth for students to walk between classes? Is there good airflow and natural light? Are there opportunities to engage in meditation, yoga, service, physical activity? How might we impact our students' wellness and achievement by improving the design of our schools and classrooms?

For ourselves and our students, we have significant findings now to indicate the profound role of meditation in personal well-being.Even a little training increases prosocial responses, improves resilience, improves immune system, and speeds healing. This is particularly true of global compassion meditation, in which we cultivate a feeling of love and compassion toward everyone.

Self-control also plays a tremendous role, particularly when developed from childhood. Kids who are better at self-control are least likely to use drugs and have better health, more financial success, and fewer criminal convictions, as adults. This, to me, seems to be an irrefutable argument for explicit instruction in self-regulation in our classes. If we can help our students learn to set goals, monitor their progress, and self-evaluate, we can make a major difference in their happiness and success, and in the world at large. In short, we must help our students (and ourselves) take responsibility for the shaping of their (and our) own brains.

However, we must also realize the extraordinarily strong connections we have with everyone else on the planet. Therefore, we have to learn to focus outwardly AND inwardly in order to truly help humanity thrive. As stated so beautifully by Albert Einstein, "A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

So the challenge here, in my opinion, is to help students feel connected to the world in constructive ways. To see the struggles of others and provide them with paths toward action, through career exploration and service-learning opportunities. To learn to express their emotions in constructive ways and to regulate both their emotions and their actions in order to find lasting happiness and success.

Session 3: Human Relationships
Helen Fisher, Justin Garcia, Laurie Santos

The next session may be slightly less relevant to educators, but was certainly no less interesting. The panel focused on romantic love, sex, and relationships. According to Helen Fisher, "Love is the most important thing we do in our lives." And we, as educators, certainly understand the strong need that our students have for love and belonging.

But we also see a very strong shift in the dating culture and relationships of adolescents and young adults, moving to more of a "hookup culture" than we've ever seen before. This may be due, in part, to the earlier onset of puberty - on average at age 11 - and the later age of childbirth, resulting in, on average, nearly 15 years of reproductive ability during which the person has no desire to actually have children. So what do we expect to have happen? Particularly when we know that the frontal lobes, which consider consequences and really analyze events, are not fully developed during this time.

The thing is, what we're seeing is really a shift in how people approach committed relationships. The once-prevalent "courting" system has been replaced with physical intimacy with the hope of developing a lasting bond. The main problem arises when realize that we all think that we know what other people - especially those who are close to us - like and want, but we are generally horribly incorrect.

We tend to make two significant errors in our thinking: one is the egocentric bias and the other is the altercentric bias. The egocentric bias is pretty simple and horribly powerful. We tend to assume that others believe the same way we do and want the same things we do. This is particularly true of those with whom we have close relationships because we assume that they are "just like us." This causes problems not only in the bedroom, but throughout life, and is particularly true of adolescents who are already, from a purely developmental perspective, extremely self-absorbed.

The altercentric bias is also very prevalent in adolescents (and all of us - this conference, may I remind you, was not specific to adolescence or education). Dr. Santos defined this bias as follows: "As you read minds, sometimes you might take more into account what others might be thinking than what you know to be true." For example, you might go to a restaurant you know is terrible because it's highly rated on Yelp. In other words, we get messed up by what other people think. She went on to propose that, "If we have minds that are great at picking up what other people think, we might not have great filters for the quality of that information. As a result, we may end up conforming more than we should." In the words of Mark Twain, "In the matter of slavish imitation, man is the monkey's superior all the time. The average man is destitute of independence of opinion. He is not interested in contriving a opinion of his own, by study and reflection, but is only anxious to find out what his neighbor's opinion is and slavishly adopt it."

I don't know that I've ever heard a better explanation for the adolescent psychological landscape than this. First, they are so consumed by their own struggles that they assume that everyone is looking at them and/or believes what they believe. Once they move past that, they care so much about what others think that they often conform even when the conformation contradicts their own knowledge and beliefs. Please notice that these are not malicious behaviors, nor are they exclusive to adolescence! We all struggle with these biases, but as adults we are more capable of reasoning through them than adolescents are. We MUST empathize and engage with teens to help them develop their own identities, opinions, perspectives, and beliefs; to distinguish their identities from those of their friends while respecting differences; and to hold to their beliefs when it makes sense to do so.

Session 4: The Future of Being Human
David Eagleman, Natasha Vita-More, Jer Thorpe

The conference concluded with a discussion of the future of humanity, particularly in light of modern and future technologies. I particularly enjoyed the introduction by Being Human founder Peter Baumann, who said that, "We are all living in someone else's future. When we envision the future, we imagine people just like us, but with fancier toys. But the real question is whether they will think like we do."

Of the three presentations in this session, I found David Eagleman's the most intriguing from the perspective of trying to understand the human condition and how we can better interact with and educate others. Dr. Eagleman declared that man is equally incapable of seeing what happens in the infinitely small from which we emerged and the infinitely huge of which we are a part. Many of us now don't even understand what's really happening at our own scales. What we are able to experience is limited by our biology, and each animal has its own window on reality. This window is called an umwelt, a German word that means, "the surrounding world," or the sphere that you can pick up on. We all think our own umwelt is all that's really out there in the objective world. This idea of umwelt is particularly relevant to secondary educators. We call this idea adolescent egocentrism. We know that the vast majority of teens have a bit of tunnel vision, perceiving only what is most relevant to their own lives and their own experiences and believing that everyone else is most concerned with these factors as well.

The question for Dr. Eagleman is, "How will our technologies expand our umwelt and, therefore, our experience of being human?" He went on to demonstrate and discuss technologies that allow us to substitute and even add new senses, and proposed that we can marry our technology to our biology. The brain can figure out how to communicate with it (e.g., artificial retina, cochlear implant). The brain's umwelt is just a bunch of electrical pulses - it is, after all, just stuck up there in our skulls all day every day and doesn't actually "see" or "hear" anything - and it's really good at extracting patterns and somehow converting that into private, subjective experience. Therefore, Dr. Eagleman proposes what he calls the "MPH model of evolution" (Mr. Potato Head). The brain doesn't care what the peripherals are that we plug in - ears, eyes, 20-fingered mole noses - your particular plug-and-play devices are what determine your experience of reality. But they aren't what we have to stick with. The system is infinitely flexible and we are, or have the potential to be, something other than a "natural species."

So how is technology altering the umwelt of modern adolescents? Mr. Thorpe indicated that we all already have "email sense," in that we experience a sense of loss when we cannot access our email. I would argue that today's teens have Facebook and texting senses; that they intuit the passing of the world around them through their thumbs in ways that you and I simply cannot understand. So how much further might this go? To what extent might today's teens, or those that follow, develop unique senses and umwelts through their devices.

And with this possibility, we then have several very difficult ethical questions to ask ourselves, including "What could become of human nature?" and "Who do we want to become?" Dr. Vita-More, who, I will admit, was my least favorite presenter of the day as she struck me as more of a salesperson than an intellectual, strongly argued that parts of us have already evolved into "digitality." Thus, we must revisit the Cartesian idea of duality. Can our minds exist without our bodies, infinitely evolving and existing online? And, in fact, is the time coming in which we might be able to indefinitely upgrade our bodies to accompany that mind into the future?

This was all a bit beyond my personal comfort zone, though I certainly see her point. And the final presenter brought things back to my own realm of understanding as he discussed data as a form of existence and humanity. This may be even more true for today's adolescents than it has been for me and my peers. Data ownership is a giant issue going forward. We get requests for others to use our data, but we never get to use it ourselves.

According to Mr. Thorpe, we should have a personal relationship with our data. We should have access to it, know what it is, and know what it means. We should be able to visualize it and use it to create new understandings of and even new vocabularies around our own existence. Additionally, data is now a major factor in the preservation of culture. Mr. Thorpe posits that the most important cultural artifacts of the 21st century will be databases and asks, "What would it be like to have these databases played back to you?" Not linearly, but in an interactive and connected way. What would it be like to truly experience the past through the integration of ideas and data points? Whoa.

In closing, we often romanticize the past and talk about how simple things were and how lovely life was and how human everyone was. But, in looking backward, Eagleman states that, "It's not clear that things ever were the way they always were." We romanticize the past and, in turn, we fantasize the future. Peter Baumann reminded us, however, that we are living now, with the people who surround us right now. And while it is valuable to envision and plan for the future, we must also recognize the significance and importance of living in this time with these people and learn to exercise understanding, compassion, self-control, mindfulness, humanity, to find peace and beauty in our lives.

Again, this is so true of today's adolescents. They feel stuck in a time of chaos and unpredictability and dream of the idyllic future in which they can do what they want and they'll be who they want to be. What they often don't realize is that now is the perfect time for them to develop brain patterns, personality traits, habits, and characteristics that will make them most successful in the future.

Finally, while all of the sessions were really thought-provoking and even life-affirming, the most powerful pieces for me were the "brain breaks" that were provided in the forms of the extraordinary animator (dancer) Marquese Scott and the unique musician ELEW. These performances, above all else that day, reminded me of what it really means to be human. Our brains are so unique, so special, in their composition and function. No other species in the world creates music and dance the way these men did just because it's beautiful to do so. I encourage you to go online and watch them, as well as any of the other sessions that I might have convinced you would be interesting, at

This was a truly altering experience and I think it will take a significant amount of time for me to fully process and integrate it, but it also has the potential to change a great many things about my life, most importantly pertaining to my personal relationships and my interactions with and perceptions of others throughout the world, including the millions of teens who need our support and guidance.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

L&B NYC: Ben Bernstein

L&B 2013 NYC Ben Bernstein - Performance Anxiety and How to Reduce It Books: Test Success! How to Be Calm, Confident & Focused on Any Test and Teen Success! How to Be Calm, Confident & Focused The importance of context is so vital in terms of positive outcome. Viola Spolin: Improvisation for the Theater. The first 40 pages should be a stand-alone text for all teachers. The Yerkes-Dodson Curve of performance vs. stress Everyone needs to know about this curve. Perhaps especially teachers and coaches. What is performance? preparation + spontaneity = presence Presence is something we need to teach in schools. The ability to access what you have learned (preparation) and then use it in novel ways (spontaneity) For example, cooking, sports, and sex all require this combination What is stress? Stress is a function of disconnection Rather than pointing fingers, we need to look inside to see our reactions to stressors. How do we respond to them? "Separation is an optical delusion" Einstein Dalai Lama: When we experience stress, we are disconnecting from the whole in some way. We are like a three-legged stool. The three legs are Spirit, Body, and Mond. All legs need to be balanced and functioning or we will be destabilized. Spirit: Focused Body: Calm Mind: Confident Awareness and tools. You must be able to be aware of when you are out of balance and use tools to come back into balance Personalizing Download the Performance Inventory from his site. Fill it out for a stressful performance situation. Total scores and fill in your "stool" at the bottom Tools Staying Focused What is focus? Having a goal and taking actions that get you to the goal What is your goal? What are your distractions? Visualize the goal. Take action toward your goal. Visualize the distraction. Stop the distraction. Ask, "Is this taking me to my goal?" Listen to the voice that's going to give you specific direction to get you back on track. Fulfill the direction of the voice. To reduce stress: 1. Cultivate your awareness of disconnection. 2. Use the following core tools to reconnect. Focus Stop and ask, "Is this distraction taking me to my goal? Listen to your inner voice for the next step. Fulfill your purpose. Get yourself back on track. If the spirit is not engaged, you are starting off on the wrong footing.  If you see distraction in yourself and others, find out why.  The goals have to be our own. For our students, we have to find a way to connect what we need them to do with what they want to do. Confidence Confide in your confidant. Let go of the negativity. Reflect back something accurate and positive. Envision taking small, manageable steps. This relates to all of those negative thoughts that creep in. They make us feel disconnected because we feel like we're "the only one" that's bad at something. We must confide in someone - a friend, a parent, a teacher, or even the imagined "best version" of ourselves - who can then encourage us. Calm Breathe deeply down to your belly. Ground yourself. Feel the floor. Release tension. Sense your surroundings through your five senses. Disconnected from our bodies and our environment. Must re-establish that connection through mindfulness. We need to do all of this, too. We need to be more "with" our students.

L&B NYC: Paul Tough

L&B 2013 NYC Paul Tough - Beyond Smart: How Grit, Curiosity, and Character Help Students Succeed and Thrive The cognitive hypothesis - the idea we're all working around with that IQ is really what matters for success. But new research shows that things like grit, conscientiousness, self-control, etc. matter at least as much. Non-cognitive functions. Nadine Burke Harris - stress ( What was really making her young patients sick was the stress, violence, noise and chaos that surrounded them every day. She often felt like a battlefield surgeon rather than a family physician. Adults who experienced significant amounts of trauma have cancer, emphysema, suicide, etc., rates that are twice as high as their counterparts. The stress response system is, in some ways, like a muscle. It needs regular use to develop properly, but this use should be mild and occasional. But if you experience severe and/or lasting trauma, it disables that response and causes severe and lasting problems. There is an antidote to toxic stress: parents. Children who form secure attachment with their parents have a kind of insulation against toxic stress. Seriously significant in study of rats who engage in "licking and grooming" behavior - smarter, braver, etc. Human equivalent holding and singing and talking and soothing. There is a strong connection between infant brain chemistry and adult cognition and behavior. If we want to intervene in character development, there are two key periods: infancy and adolescence. Adolescence because they are able to engage in metacognition for the first time. Try to take advantage of that natural tendency to help them change their thinking and their behavior and their character. Study of KIPP schools and Riverdale school - polar opposites. Both groups of students were doing great on paper, achieving, but seemed to lack that deep inner grit and resilience that we need to succeed and thrive. Worked with psychologists from UPenn and came up with a list of seven key characteristics: Optimism Zest Curiosity Self-control Gratitude Social Intelligence Grit - perseverance in pursuit of a passion. There's a 12-question grit test on her website ( This test is highly predictive of future success. Character report card ( used for teachers to evaluate these characteristics in their students. The message of the report card is that the students can improve and change - use it as a tool to create a growth mindset. Not at all punitive. Not waiting to change and improve character because a student has done something bad. It's all about creating a positive climate and creating great future citizens. But calling it a "report card" may be problematic. It's really a point of discussion. Students are often unable to work on these things because they are protected from everything. Character strengths like grit and self-control are born out of failure, and in today's society no one really fails at anything. We often confuse stress with challenge. Students may be working unbelievably hard (stress) but are not particularly challenged, interested, motivated and therefore are not developing great characteristics.  Failure is not a guarantee of resilience. In many cases it just wears them down. There's an adversity gap in this country. Some kids have too much and actually need some protection. Others, particularly affluent students, have almost none. In trying to protect our kids too much we may be doing more harm than good. In a study correlating experiences with adversity with mental health and happiness, those who had experienced no adversity (or very little) were no happier than the ones who had experienced a ton. Those who had experienced SOME (3 or 4 items on their checklist out of 12) were happiest and healthiest. Must help students learn to manage failure. When you play chess, you lose a lot and you make a lot of mistakes. Faced with this in middle school, there are two temptations: 1. chess is stupid anyway haha, 2. wallow in your failure. By focusing on metacognition, you can guide students between these temptations. Help them figure out what they did wrong, why they did it, build the knowledge and confidence needed to improve. For infants, we must provide "licking and grooming," but at some point we must transition, pull back, and let children solve their own problems, stand on their own, and learn how to fail. We don't need to manufacture adversity for our kids; they face it all the time in school, sports, with siblings, and in social situations. What really makes a difference is how we react to it, how we talk about it, and how we model failure. For kids in high-poverty areas, the answer is not to let them fail more. We've been letting them fail too much for too long. It's hard to believe that kids who have been exposed to toxic stress and have altered brain chemistry because of it could ever succeed, but some do. Seems rare and random. But for the first time we're starting to understand the science behind it - how the environment can cause such massive biological and social problems and how interventions can lead to success. In all of these stories, there is help - someone who reaches out and supports and helps, family member, teacher, coach, neighbor, friend. And this help focuses on development of character, not IQ. We can do it individually and we can do it systematically by appealing to administration and building it into our school and social structures. Tail-end of Dennis Charney, M.D. - Resilience: The Science of Mastering life's Greatest Challenges Resilience is about as genetic as anxiety and depression! But it's not destiny, just a vulnerability. His model of resilience:

L&B NYC: Robert Brooks

L&B 2013 NYC Robert Brooks - The Power of Mindsets: Nurturing Motivation and Resilience in Students Gah! This guy is hilarious! :) Sam Goldstein at UofU worked with him on a lot of research! Over 100 articles posted there, lots of materials from presentations, etc. Mindset goes back a long way - locus of control, attribution theory, learned helplessness/optimism, self-efficacy The power of mindsets Mindsets: The assumptions and expectations we have for ourselves and others that guide our behavior We all have words and images that we use to describe ourselves. Those dramatically impact how we behave and perform. Name two or three of your greatest success. Name two or three of your worst experiences. What did you learn from both? These are mindset questions. Every child you work with knows how you feel about yourself and how you feel about your kids. And that will directly impact their mindsets and what they will accomplish. If you want to touch the hearts and minds of children and change their mindsets, you must identify their strengths (their islands of competence) and have those as your primary mindset. ARTICLE ON HIS WEBSITE: You get what you expect What is the mindset of educators and other professionals who touch both the hearts and minds of students, nurturing motivation, learning, and resilience? Do we identify and discuss this mindset at staff meetings? Every school has a mindset Ask kids, "What do you like about your school? What do you wish you could change?" Tests scare and confuse kids. Even the disruption of the schedule can be a major problem. Features of a positive mindset The heart and soul of this work: - To believe in the capacity of students to become more hopeful and resilient. To believe we can serve as a "charismatic adult." Why is it that some children can grow up in horrendous situations and yet as adults be optimistic and dignified? Why can some grow up in horribly abusive situations and end up healthy and happy? "School is a place where my deficits rather than my strengths are highlighted." "Going to school is like climbing Mt. Everest every day without equipment or training. Then I do it again every night: it's called homework." In every study of resilience, there was a person who helped and guided and supported The ones who make it have during their childhood or adolescence a charismatic adult - someone from whom the child or adolescent gathers strength. Often a teacher. ( Ask yourself at the end of each day: Are the children in my classes stronger today because of what I've done, or less strong? Charismatic adults believe no child should ever be written off, because you never know how they're going to end up as adults. (YouTube: Think Different: Obsessive Compulsive writing on chalkboard cartoon - gotta use this to teach behaviorism! We are the authors of our own lives. We have far more control than we give ourselves credit for. But we don't have control over everything. But that is not an excuse to not try. Features of a positive mindset (cont.) - To be knowledgeable about the material we are teaching and excited about our role as an educator - To believe that all children from birth want to learn and be successful There are some words that must be banned from our schools: lazy, unmotivated, doesn't care. Whenever you say these words you've written off a child. Robert White: one of the major motivations in life is the drive to be effective and successful (competence motivation), and it's there from birth. When we say that kids aren't motivated at school, we actually mean that they aren't motivated to do what we're trying to get them to do. - To believe that all students are motivated, but unfortunately, some are dominated by "avoidance motivation" as a way of protecting themselves from situations that they believe will lead to failure and humiliation. We must ask how to lessen avoidance and teach students in the ways in which they learn best and avoid a "prescription for failure." Too often, the work we give and the way we teach in schools is a prescription for failure. How do we lessen avoidance motivation? Ask the kids why they feel this way! Ask them what should be changed! We must stop punishing suffering kids! - To believe that if the strategies we are using with students are not effective then we must ask, "What is it that we can do differently to help the situation?" rather than continue to wait for the student to change first. This should not be seen as blaming but rather as empowering ourselves. People who are resilient, when faced with a challenge, look for things they can do differently. "If the horse is dead, get off!" In education, we seem to have a hard time getting off the horse. ( AMAZING results from getting kids involved rather than punishing them. Latino kids asked to tutor younger kids in reading (We need your help). Drop-out rate went from 45% to 3%.  YouTube: Stuck on the escalator ( Read Daniel Pink's "Drive" (quotes Edward Deci (self-determination theory) a lot - Features of a positive mindset (cont.) - To create "motivating environments" that nurture intrinsic motivation, learning, and a "resilient mindset": Deci's focus on basic needs that apply to administrators, staff, and students 1. Relatedness: The need to belong and feel connection (and let's add the word welcome). When any member of the school environment feels alienated, learning and achievement will be compromised and anger and resentment will become dominant features. Ask your kids: What can teachers/administrators do to make you feel welcome? Greet by name, smile.  2. Autonomy: The need for self-determination and autonomy, which are significant features of a sense of intrinsic motivation, ownership, and resilience. a. What kind of choices and decisions do we provide staff and students? Do we encourage their feedback and participation? Kids who are given a choice do more homework, better work, and feel their teachers care more. Lots of articles on his website. b. Do our disciplinary practices promote self-discipline and self-control as well as nurturing a safe environment? Start the year by saying that there are two or three non-negotiable rules, then ask what rules we need in the classroom for everyone to feel safe, learn, etc. Student council should form school rules. 3. Competence. The need to feel competent. To identify, reinforce, and display each youngster's "islands of competence" -- we must adopt a strength-based model if we are to nurture motivation and a "resilient mindset." Every teacher should write down each student's islands of competence and focus on those (seating chart, TeacherKit app, etc. so they're always in front of us) a. Do we provide students with an opportunity to contribute to and make a positive difference in their environment? SOS - Serving Our School, buttons for students to wear, if they're wearing the button (they sign up for times) they help with odd jobs around the school. Bullying reduced, attendance and achievement up. b. Do we foster the attitude that mistakes are experiences from which to learn?  Some kids would rather be violent than look stupid. Would rather act out than look stupid. The best way to get rid of a raging elephant in a school is to talk about it. Ask the first day: Who in this class thinks they'll make a mistake this year? Your hand should be the first to go up. Talk about a time a teacher embarrassed you and how it made you feel. Then brainstorm together ways to remove the fear of humiliation in the classroom so they can take appropriate risks and learn. "Don't Argue with Children"

L&B NYC - Heidi Grant Halvorson

L&B 2013 NYC Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD How the Science of Mindsets and Motivation Provides the Key to Unlocking Our Children's Fullest Potential Books: Focus, Succeed Mindsets Students sitting in a classroom are not all having the same experience if they have different mindsets Determine what you pay attention to and what you remember/encode Impact the interpretation and meaning of your experiences Influence how you feel about setbacks, and whether those feelings fuel (growth) or dampen (fixed) your motivation Influence what motivates you Determine in large part which strategies work best for you What happens when I get "the carrot?" Do I advance or stay safe? Promotion & Prevention Mindsets How do YOU think about your goals? - preventing negative events - imagining how things could go wrong - seizing opportunities - imagine good things you hope will happen A goal can be an opporunity to... Gain                                                                Avoid Loss Achievements, Rewards, Advancement        Danger, Punishments, Mistakes What you ideally want to do                           What you feel you should do Going from 0 to +1                                         (Not) Going from 0 to -1 Promotion Focs = Seeking Gain Love, adventure, fun, going for the win Prevention Focus = Avoiding Loss Costs, Safety & Health, Security, Accuracy We all have both of these and often switch between depending on situation (best to say "When you are promotion/prevention focused...", both we also have a dominant one. Dominant one may be different for different contexts (e.g., promotion-focused at work, prevention-focused as a parent) We beat ourselves up for not being able to do it all, but hopefully this will help us understand. Our motivational systems have strengths and weaknesses. Finding a cure for cancer and making sure the taxes get filed are very different motivationally. Strengths Promotion - creativity, innovation, speed, confidence, seizing opportunities Prevention - planning, maintenance, accuracy, cautiousness, reliability Weaknesses Promotion - Ignoring pitfalls, no plan b (best case scenario planners), mistakes/sloppier work, poor maintainers Prevention - Missed opportunities, conservative/status quo (the devil you know...), slower, inflexible Where do these come from? - Childhood experience         - Good things: presence of positives, absence of negatives         - Bad things: presence of negatives, absence of positives - Temperament         - negative affectivity (tuned in to the presence/absence of negatives) - prevention focus         - positive affectivity (tuned in to the presence/absence of positives) - promotion focus - Parenting Styles                                         Promotion                                Prevention Child behaves                        Bolstering                                 Calmness, peacefulness Child misbehaves                  Love withdrawal                        Punishing                                         Giving and taking away of pos        Giving and taking away of neg - Age         - Younger people are generally more promotion-focused (advancement, insensitive to risk, less to lose)         - As we age, we often become more prevention-focused (hanging on to gains, concerned with safety/security/health) - Culture         - Independent (America) v. Interdependent (East Asia, South America) self         - When goals are individual = more promotion focus (Western countries, US in particular)         - When goals benefit group = more prevention focused (Eastern Asian, South American, also rigid rule-based societies like Germany and Japan) Creating Motivational Fit When our experiences, the way we work, and/or the feedback we receive sustain our motivation How they work best (what feels right?) Promotion: motivation=eagerness, optimism, praise, embrace risk, say "Yes!", not dwelling on past mistakes, "gut" decisions, relying on instincts Prevention: motivation=vigilance, realism (even pessimism, defensive pessimism - things might go wrong and I have to do everything I can to make sure they won't, not the same as fear of failure), constructive criticism/self-sacrifice, Avoid risk, say "no!", learning from past mistakes, decisions based on reason and evidence Other ways to create fit                                                         Promotion                                Prevention Think about what you do                        In WHY terms                          In HOW terms Think in the                                             Abstract                                   Concrete (There was more, but she was running out of time. They're in the book) You want them to do X Promotion: the benefits of doing X, approach gain Prevention: the costs of not doing X, avoid loss Take a step back and look at the person you're working with. What is that person's focus? Don't do what feels right to you, do what feels right to them. Very subtle changes in language make a huge difference. If you're addressing a group, make sure that your message contains phrasing toward both. People will zero in on the part of your message that matches their focus. Changing Focus (Neither is better or worse, but you might want to evoke the strengths of one or the other) Again, tailor your language to the focus you want to develop - reasons why they should do it, get them thinking about considerations for the future, reflect on the past, use positive reinforcement (promotion) or threat of removal punishment (prevention) - to activate that focus How does all this help educators? - Focus is easy to identify - Offers guidance about what is motivating, which strategies work best, where problems may lie - Feedback should be tailored to fit focus, so it's more motivating and persuasive - Focus can be changed to restore balance, to suit the task and to help get the job done, when necessary Take the test!

L&B NYC - Sean L. Beilock

Learning and Performance in School: Mindset, Attitudes and Anxiety L&B New York Sian Beilock Math anxiety begins to develop as early as first grade More math anxiety = poorer performance in math Just a correlation, don't have a direction of causality Students who are the highest in executive functioning show a higher correlation. In other words, those who are usually at the top of their class perform the worst on math tasks when their anxiety is high. The worries may rob them of the brain power needed to complete the tasks Higher achievement may equal higher susceptibility Not just people who are bad at math are showing anxiety. Where does the math anxiety come from (it's higher than for other subjects) Elementary Education majors have the highest levels of math anxiety of all college majors Elementary teachers in US are 97% female. May be having a particularly strong impact on the girls in their classrooms via modeling For girls, the higher the teacher's math anxiety, the lower the girls' math achievement No correlation for boys Girls in math-anxious-teacher classrooms confirmed academic stereotypes (books for girls, math for boys) more strongly at the end of the school year, even though they didn't at the beginning of the year. Girls who DON'T confirm the stereotype have much better math ability, same as boys. Girls who confirm it perform significantly lower than boys, other girls. We MUST equip the teachers so they are not anxious! Parents play a role too. Teacher and mom are the worst for a girl. But non-anxious parents can help counteract teacher effect and vice versa. The anxiety robs people of the ability to show what they know Pain centers activate when math anxious people are told they have to do math Her research shows that pressure/anxiety reduce performance/accuracy on tasks that require a heavier working memory load (requiring executive function, involvement of frontal cortex. not true of easy tasks) Treatment Write about your worries before you go in to a high stress situation - reduces ruminations, takes that load off of working memory, downloads them so they won't "pop up" during performance. Expressive Writing by James Penebaker ( Boost score on high stakes final by 6% just by doing this writing - boosted to same level as low-anxiety students Many students are able to re-evaluate their feelings and find insight by the end of the writing - like writing a really angry email you're never going to send Whole toolbox of techniques in her book Choke Testing helps people learn! Get them ready through practice tests. People need experience with the types of situations that make them anxious "Success is more than simply what you know. Attitudes, motivation and anxieties are critical."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

R. Keith Sawyer - Creative Teaching for the 21st Century

Creative Teaching for the 21st Century
Learning & the Brain Conference February 2013
R. Keith Sawyer, PhD
Washington University, St. Louis / Atari

Newsweek: Creativity in America
BusinessWeek: The Innovation Economy

The Challenge: There's some concern that we're not creating the creative graduates that we need

Tapping America's Potential: The Education for Innovation Initiative (report from the Business Round Table) July 2005
Innovate America (report from Council on Competitiveness)
Rising Above the Gathering Storm

According to these reports, we need:
- Better K-12 education
- Increased Higher Education quality and funding
- Increased R&D funding
- Intellectual property protection and tax credits
The focus of all of these reports is on improved education
Missing: an understanding of how innovation works, how people learn for creativity, and how to redesign schools


Broadly accepted view that creativity is the lone genius having the lightbulb flash of insight
But in reality, there's always a story of collaboration behind innovation - Group Genius (his book)

A lot of books talking about how the Internet is bringing us into a new era of collective intelligence (e.g., Infotopia, Democratizing Innovation, Wikinomics, The Wisdom of Crowds)
Model of producers and consumers as separate entities is no longer accurate. Web 2.0 is blurring the boundaries.
Most creativity studies have focused on what's going on in an individual's mind. But examining collaborative creativity allows us to explore how the sum of the parts can be more than the whole. (e.g., improv jazz or theater troupes)

The Creative Classroom (book Structure and Improvisation in Creative Teaching)
- The core is collaborative conversation,
- where the classroom flow is improvisational:
- Teacher and students build knowledge together, and
- unexpected insights emerge.
*I have really been trying to do this this semester, and my classes have come to some extraordinary insights that I have never thought of before, but I also worry that I'm not channeling and guiding them sufficiently to prepare them in the curriculum as well as I need to.

What we shouldn't do: Instructionism (Seymour Papert)
- Knowledge is a collection of static facts and procedures
- The goal of schooling is to get these facts and procedures into students' heads
- Teachers know these facts and procedures; their job is to transmit them (transmission and aquisition model)
- Curriculum: Simple facts and procedures should be learned first
- Assessment: To evaluate learning, assess how many facts and procedures have been acquired
Where's the creative learning? Problems with Instructionism:
- The knowledge acquired is relatively superficial
- Retention is low
- Transfer to new situations is weak
- Ability to integrate knowledge is weak
- Ability to work adaptively with knowledge is weak

Creative learning
- Knowledge: Deeper conceptual understanding
- The goal of schooling: Prepare students to build new knowledge
- Teachers: Scaffold and facilitate collaborative knowledge building
- Curriculum: Integrated and contextualized knowledge
- Assessment: Formative and authentic
Sawyer, 2006, Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences

Fundamentally opposed to Instructionism Active Learning - Students work with, and use, facts/skills/concepts as they solve complex real-world problems (learning facts and procedures in context) - Students work in collaborative teams because the tasks are demanding (authentic need for collaboration, not just for the hell of it) - The professor guides and supports students as they work on their projects and problems This is the kind of learning environment you need if you want creative output/learning The Key Components - Start with a problem or design challenge - Students explore the problem through inquiry and discussion - Students work to find solutions - The process must be guided by the instructor - Students create tangible products that address the problem (there is more and more lit proving that externalizing learning through the creation of products (design thinking) improves learning and retention - Prototypes and sub-tasks are required elements Four Challenges for Instructors 1. Identifying a good problem or design challenge (within ZPD, closely connected to core) 2. Helping students learn actively 3. Fostering effective collaboration 4. Supporting the creation of shared artifacts and effective critiques The Vision is Taking Shape InvenTeams (Lemelson-MIT) (Excite, Empower, Encourage) Camp Invention Wireless Handhelds - he showed a really cool software in which teacher can track which students are working with whom and what they're working on, but didn't mention the name Integrated Teaching and Learning Laboratory, UC Boulder No lecture halls, just spaces for kids to get together and work collaboratively How do we get there? Myth: The flash of insight, Reality: Emergence over time Myth: Straight path to success, Reality: Multiple dead ends Myth: The lone genius, Reality: Small ideas from many people Tapping the Creativity of Teachers In innovative organizations, professionals: - Continually learn - Work collaboratively - Engage in 'mutual tinkering' where small sparks add up to big ideas - Change teams, assignments, and organizations frequently (not as much in education, but...) The Take-Home Message -Creativity is more important to our students and our society than at any time in history. - Recent research shows... Bah! He went fast and then blanked the screen! No silver bullet that's going to change the face of schooling. It's what we have to do collaboratively to create the creative schools of the future.