R2: A Place to Start

ReadingthuRsday-R2I recently came across a document from the National Forum on Information Literacy that addressed literacy standards for Adult Learners. While some are reminiscent of Bloom’s Hierarchy, the descriptions and actions associated with each level are focused on both print and electronic resources. I began to think about students who are trying to use electronic sources, but do not know where to start. start-here

Students often have difficulty determining which information is appropriate when dealing with electronic sources. I suggest student think about where their information if coming from, in other words, students should be aware of biased sites and sites which have false information. I suggest students pay attention to .org, .com, .edu, and .gov as clues to the sites they choose. Of course, this is easier talked about than done. When a site is amateurish, and it has format and grammar or spelling errors, one is more apt to not trust the site. geekclubbooks_mazeHowever, sites that are very polished are often very tempting for students looking for quick information. So, I now encourage students to go ahead and look at Wikipedia, but with the idea such a site is a starting point, a place to find some key terms and to get some type of very “loose” notion of how to proceed. I also caution about the use of blogs. Some blogs just sound so good, students are easily swayed. So, once again, I remind students blog might help them get a “feel” for their topic, but blogs are just a place to graze and not a place to fill one’s plate.ConfusionLaptop

For a student who is a novice to finding and using information to write a paper, to understand a concept, or to just get more information, the wide array of information available in electronic and print sources is overwhelming. So, it is important to share our experiences with students about how we find source material and use source material. A few minutes during instructors’ explanations about papers and projects about how to locate good source material and a few suggestions for sites and databases give our students a better chance of being a good consumer.

Start with a Story

Karen DoughertyHere in the Boomer Box, we’ve been thinking about and talking about the power of narrative as a teaching tool. We realize that many of our colleagues are loathe to consider education a “product,” but to our aging brains it seems to pretty clear that we are indeed in the business of selling knowledge—as well as a few other vital and useful products (see our Tuesday series on Skills).

Perhaps it is that reluctance to view ourselves as salesfolk that keeps us from snitching the best ideas from those who are proudly in the business of selling stuff. Our friends at Amazon recognize the power of a good story to get their message across, so much so that a currently popular ad uses no words at all. When Amazon wants us to know that “we sell wide variety of stuff to solve your life’s problems and we’ll get it to you fast,” here’s what they show us:

My colleague Anne Stahl has tapped into an ad from Lowe’s to help her students grasp the connection between frustration and aggression:

neurotribesThe technique doesn’t have to be visual. I’m currently reading Neurotribes by Steve Silberman. The book is intimidatingly thick and includes a lot of technical information about autism and its variants. Why would I want to read it? Because I heard an NPR interview with Silberman in which he shared stories about the history of autism.  Silberman’s book begins with verbal portraits of Henry Cavendish and Paul Dirac, brilliant scientists whose contributions literally rocked our world, while both of them exhibited classic traits associated with autism.

Looking to foist some knowledge off on your students? Start with a story.

Gumbel’s Got Skills

Building SkillsOn Sunday, October 25, Bryant Gumbel hosted “Brain Surgery Live with mental_floss” on the National Geographic Channel. During the two-hour program, Gumbel spoke with several members of the team performing the delicate surgery, patient Greg Grindley’s family members in the waiting room, a neurosurgeon from Los Angeles, and, incredibly, Mr. Grindley himself. Gumbel also provided smooth transitions to previously recorded video footage of the patient and his family, as well as interesting tidbits about the brain.

Gumbel’s expertise as ringmaster during this two-hour multi-ring show was apparent, offering some great examples of essential skills for any workplace or situation. The surgical team members, virtuosi in their highly specialized craft, also illustrated the essential workplace skills that employers value.brainsurgerylivehed

Here are a few of the essential skills in evidence:

  • Code switching. Gumbel’s questions for the experts showed that he had done his homework, as he was comfortable asking about the technical aspects of their work. At the same time, he spoke to Grindley’s anxious family in a manner that was compassionate but not patronizing.
  • Flexibility. No one could have known for certain that the procedure would proceed as planned. Gumbel must have had some questions and strategies in mind beforehand, but the flow of the program was entirely spontaneous. Thinking on the fly is an art form in itself.
  • Time management. With two hours of live broadcast time to fill, everyone involved had to be aware of time constraints.  Some segments may have needed to be stretched, while others were perhaps shortened. The expertise in managing time minimized any awkwardness.
  • Courtesy. Gumbel and the entire team were exquisitely considerate not only of the patient, his family, and one another, but also to the home audience. Participation was invited via questions submitted on Twitter,  and clear, reassuring explanations were offered at the outset to allay any fears on the part of the audience.
  • Willingness to learn. A member of the mental_floss staff noted that Gumbel immediately solicited feedback from the team about how he could improve his performance. Although he was probably the most experienced broadcast professional in the mix, he displayed a desire to grow.

Have you seen a show or movie lately that showcased essential skills? We’d love to share your thoughts.

Planning Versus Spontaneity

Brian picIt’s almost hoops time again. In the Bluegrass state, most of the emotion centers on UK. Other alma maters have their ardent fans, but “big blue” is the statewide phenomenon for fan mania. Superb athletes combine with great coaching to produce moves that would seem impossible, or at least unlikely, to most mortals. Natural gifts play a huge part, but not all. On the gym floor, throughout all the unseen practices, players practice and execute a host of fundamentals under the watchful eyes of the coaches. Moves are practiced hundreds, perhaps thousands of times.

When a game is underway, lots of these moves show up, and they appear spontaneous, and by this time they are. The moves take place like a flash of lightning—often with agility and speed that hardly take thought. It is hard for the observer to realize that these moves started out long before by taking thought. Thought invested long enough, side by side with action, leads to spontaneity.

Kentucky forward Julius Randle (30) dunks the ball in second half action during a Third Round NCAA Tournament game between Wichita State and Kentucky on Sunday, March 23, 2014, at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. At right is Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison (2). (AP Photo/ St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee)Being a teacher or a student operates the same way. Learning begins with piecework drills. Small parts are perfected and then connected into larger patterns. At some magical point, thought and labor fall into the background, and what the learner has been taking, begins to take the learner. An old mentor put it like this: “What you take takes you.” I grew up hearing the saying, “Do you get it yet?” The asker wanted to hear, “Yes, I get it now.”

The gifted and talented attract the most attention, but the “big blue” are not the only game going.  Driveways, playgrounds, and gyms sport a multitude of those who love to play hoops even though they will never have paraphernalia dedicated to them in a sporting goods store, win a press-worthy title, or earn a paycheck for playing. They love to play, sweat, compete, and enjoy the beauty and thrill of the game.

plan-to-be-spontaneous-tomorrow_6175-lIn the classroom, most teachers and students will never take the spotlight either. However, their labors are rewarding and fitting for useful and even enjoyable everyday goals. As the teaching and learning go on, so do the fundamentals and the endless practice. Prime time arrives with papers and tests. Then the magic happens. The amazing answer jumps onto the page, or the crafted sentence flows out into print. Spontaneity has arrived.

Future Career for “That Guy”?

Who’s “that guy”? He would be the student who doesn’t actually know what’s going on in your class, but is pretty sure that he can still wing a good answer on the test. (OK, so sometimes gals do this, too.) The good news is that we needn’t worry any more about what’s to become of him—he’s going to be a sportscaster! Thanks, as always, to the good folks at www.xkcd.com for their willingness to share a chuckle.  Oh, and enjoy your weekend.

 

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Estate Sale Treasure

ReadingthuRsday-R2Estate sales are bittersweet for me. I am thrilled at finding a special treasure, but I always feel a little sad that someone’s items, and in many ways a person’s life, are on display. Folks in my neighborhood recently hosted an estate sale for an elderly neighbor who was in Assisted Living. Her husband had passed away several years ago, the children were widely spread across the country, and her house was full of items no longer appropriate for her life. estatesale1

While I know little of the history of the family, I did know the husband was once a professor of Physics, and I could tell both husband and wife were readers. The house overflowed with books. stackofbooksThere were books in a book room, books in a study, books in the garage, and books scattered in other rooms of the house. There were old books, classics, westerns, suspense, cookbooks, Math and science books, books from several eras, philosophy books, art books, and all kinds of books on almost any subject. I stayed within a budget and I did not spend the children’s college money, but it was very difficult not to buy so many of the books.

One of my most gleeful purchases was a 1956 Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language (Unabridged). The dictionary is about eight inches deep, and I love it. When I was in grade school, I loved going to the school library and opening the huge dictionary and just looking up a word. The dictionary was huge and the pages were sometimes difficult to move for small hands, but I felt a real triumph when I found “my” word. I was not the best speller in the world, so sometimes finding my word took a while. I loved the feel of that big dictionary, and I wondered how there could be so many words.cooldictionary

When I got my unabridged dictionary home and explored it a little more, I found it was “based upon the broad foundations laid down by Noah Webster.” My dictionary has appendices of foreign words and phrases, commercial and financial terms in eight languages, a chronicle of historical events, The Charter of the United Nations, and over 3000 illustrations. I admit it is not real practical to lug my dictionary around, but it looks beautiful laid out on an old sewing machine at our home. I have found so much pleasure in the purchase, the discovery of contents, and the display of my dictionary, I think it is safe to say I am getting my two dollars’ worth which was how much it cost me. I am glad I could give it a new home where it will be treasured. Oh, the simple joys of books and words.