A Display Case at the Purdy-Kresge Museum at Wayne State University

I was walking up the stairs one Saturday morning looking for a book to browse at the Purdy Kresge Library at Wayne State University in Detroit and I noticed this in a display case.

 

beatles white album

And I couldn’t help but smile.

Not from any nostalgia or special fondness for the Beatles White Album, for which I have very little. All I remember from listening to the album in my youth in the late 70’s and early 80’s was a queasy feeling from the jarringly  disjointed batch of songs which seem to be an “album” only in the sense that they were all collected in one spot.  What happened to the poppy Beatles that I adored?

I appreciated the album more now and understand the sonic coherence that binds the album together.

But this display case struck me as the perfect appreciation for the album. A few books, a photo of the band members, each in their own little window on the page, barely a band anymore, yet still existing as something called “The Beatles” counterbalanced with a photo of the the four members still seemingly in their prime Beatlish glory.  The title cards, an assemblage of words word processed and presented not quite evenly in the window, likely hastily assembled, which mimic the impressions the songs might initially leave upon a listener (is this song finished yet?) yet which belie the true artistry the band and producers imbued in their craft even at this period in their history.

And then the CD jewel case. Small, unassuming, yet in the foreground of the display, a reminder that yes the band at its best really was about the music. But what is a CD jewel case-but itself an artifact from another time- a time of compressed sound, tiny words on a booklet that lacked any of the grandeur and heft of vinyl and its impressive graphics.  A time of repacking and re-marketing.

Yet, how fitting it all was, to be located in an upper floor of a graduate research library in Detroit, hidden behind glass, celebrating an anniversary of a band, long since broken up, whose cultural impact still continues, but maybe only for those of us old enough to choose to remember, and smile, how “the life goes on.”

The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath-Review

Chip Heath and Dan Heath have returned with another  engaging book, The Power of Moments. The question, these bestselling authors strive to answer in The Power of Moments is “Why do certain experiences have extraordinary impact?” And I would add-“and why does that matter…”

Chip and Dan Heath, brothers, business professors, writers, have written a series of books that survey research from both business and psychology to create a very engaging, easily accessible guide to living, creating and succeeding.

In The Power of Moments they strive to understand one small question, “Why do we remember certain things more than others?” This is a springboard for understanding not only how memories are formed but why these memories have such strong sway over our lives and how to use that for own own growth and development.

They identify four main attributes for a memorable experience- elevation,insight, pride, and connection. That is, an experience that taps into one of these four domains will have more longevity and resonance than one that does not.

What makes their work engaging is the breezy, accessible writing style, filled with numerous examples and anecdotes that illustrate their research (a tactic they delve into in their popular book Made to Stick-Why Some Ideas Thrive and Others Die).

As an educator, I believe most teachers and schools already create moments like this-think of graduation, honors nights, plays, concerts, athletic events-etc. As they illustrate in The Power of Moments- what if we found ways to bring more of that into the classroom in an intentional way?

Many schools do this of course, through senior speeches, creative role plays, living museums, simulations, interesting labs, etc., but it does get more challenging in light of an increasingly disengaged student population and the demands of an increasingly narrow set of outcomes. While spending several weeks on a fascinating research project may be incredibly memorable and significant to a student- we also know that it likely will not raise the student’s score on the final exam, or on the standardized test in the spring.

In a grand irony, as the employment sector clamors for a highly educated workforce of excellent communicators, subtle thinkers, rigorous analysts, profound problem solvers, and capable critical thinkers, they have thrown their lot in the most narrow set of outcomes possible- a simple data point that is easily verifiable, measurable, comparable, yet of little value. For an educator, a data point that may determine whether or not  you are employed the following year.

So, will you choose your job, or creating a memorable moment? Where is the guide to finding that elusive middle ground where both are possible?

In an effort to be fast paced and accessible, the Power of Moments picks research to support their claims and does little to highlight when that research might be limited or whether other factors might contribute to the outcomes they claim.

An example that was especially glaring for me was the highlighting of Stanton Elementary School in Washington D.C. According to the narrative established in The Power of Moments, the school had an amazing success using one of the memory creating tactics of “deepening ties” in which staff made a one hour home visit to the students families during the school year. As they tell it, this simple fact alone was enough to significantly increase parent engagement and student behavior and achievement.

Of course, they don’t mention that the school developed a brand new staff, new administration, as well as likely implemented a new curriculum, new discipline policy, and probably lost a fair amount of students through the school closure process. One wonders, is it possible that any of these other factors could have had any impact whatsoever on more parents attending conferences or on an increase in test scores? Could it be multiple factors? Could it be the novelty effect itself?

It should be noted, that although the test scores rose, it was still significantly below average, and there were still a high level of student absenteeism in the school.  Given, that the school website does not contain any current achievement data that I could locate, one wonders if the home visits continue to succeed and the school now has the highest test scores in the district? It should be noted that the principal is now leaving after seven years at the helm. One wonders how much staff has turned over in that time period as well?

The editing and precision of language ,while permissible in self-published work and blogging  fall short from a work of a major publishing house- Simon and Schuster.

For example, one entrepreneur received “countless emotional thank you’s from people saying “Couch to 5k changed their lives” (p. 161.)  “Countless” really? Also, were these emotions favorable? Anger and sadness are also emotions. Were these lives changed for the better? But precise writing, modest claims from conflicting research and clear analysis do not sell books in the voluminous ways that the Heath and their cottage industry have achieved.  Interestingly, the founder of the program mentioned above did not even invent the program for which he is recognized-alternating walking and running. This is form of locomotion is as old as human mobility itself -and even as a training method was more formally developed by running coach, Jeff Galloway in 1974 as RUN WALK RUN. I do not see Mr. Galloway’s work cited in The Power of Moments. 

Indeed, that is really the heart of this book-marketing.  How can I package this to appeal to as many people as possible? To this end, the Heath’s are utterly brilliant and I give them tremendous regard. Now that they have achieved enviable success, I wish they would turn their formidable communication skills to honestly communicate that real research is slow, full of conflicting data, and occasionally wrong; but ultimately more satisfying and significant, like human social progress itself.

Until we as educators, which the Heath’s assuredly are, acknowledge that true research is fraught with complexity, nuance, and confusing results, we are doing a disservice to our students and the general public as well.

I would recommend checking this out from the library as I did and appreciating the breezy, optimistic view of human progress, as well as a cautionary tale for the perils of superimposing a signal where there is only noise.

Solving Poverty in Africa with Drones-Research from Oakland University

snow-and-treewaiting

Regular readers of this blog know that I am in deep admiration for those researchers who are using their skills to tackle the seemingly intractable problems that plague so many-especially poverty and extreme poverty.

I am in awe of researchers such as Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug who was widely considered the father of the “green revolution,” the wonderful work at MSU helping to tackle  food scarcity in Flint with the Flint Eats app and other creative uses of technology such as the Michigan State University research teaching farmers in East Africa using video technology.  

Now we can add Oakland University researcher, Jon Carroll to the list of researchers using technology to solve the problem of poverty in Africa. Dr. Carroll is using drones to create very precise images of water and chlorophyll in the plants which can then lead to precise, hyper-localized solutions for crop  yield leading to a very sustainable agricultural model.

In the excellent article by OU News, Dr. Carroll talks about the impact that this research experience had on him.

He states, “This was a very different kind of project because I was surrounded by the people who were going to be affected by this research.”

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why is sustainable agriculture important to Jon Carroll?
  2. How did he use the drone technology to improve crop yields?
  3. What are some of the solutions he might recommend to farmers?
  4. Why was this experience so memorable for him?
  5. How else could you imagine using the drone technology to help the farmers in Africa?

Rust Belt America-Flint in Perspective

Those of us who live in Michigan, are well versed with the challenges facing the Flint community over the last several decades (and longer.)

Beginning with the hit by Michael Moore- Roger and Me which explored the devastating impact that the decline on the auto industry had on the community, through the Water Crisis, the emergency manager, and so on, a multi-disciplinary course called “Rust Belt America-Flint in Perspective,” could be an important addition to a university curriculum or upper level high school thematic unit.

An important element to the Flint story would be the work the many glimmers of hope-including the Flint Institute of Arts, currently undergoing a major expansion. They are putting on an important exhibit through the end of March, curated by the Smithsonian Anacostia, called Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence, which I also wrote about here.

I would encourage anyone who is able to visit the Flint Institute of Arts to catch this moving, challenging, and ultimately hopeful exhibit.

To add to the inspiring work to improve the lives of the citizens of Flint, I would like to point out the work of Michigan State University researcher Joshua Introne, assistant professor in the Department of Media and Information. Introne’s work is an app that would help turn Flint from a food desert into a food oasis.

A food desert is an area with limited access to healthy, fresh food options. Through this app, “Flint Eats” Introne hopes to provide a flow of information to consumers and retailers to improve access to healthy food.

As reported in the MSU Today article by Kristen Parker,”The key is that we have to build some trust back into the community,” We have to give residents a sense of ownership over the food system. The project is not an app. The project is trying to address some fundamental social and economic problems. The app is really the visible part of this much larger effort.”

Here’s hoping Introne’s work succeeds and is one of many bright spots to emerge from Flint.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What is the a food desert?
  2. What factors contribute to a food desert?
  3. How does the Flint Eats app address a root cause of the food desert in Flint-identify the root cause.
  4. What other solutions to address this issue might you consider?
  5. Below is a sample list of topics/questions  for a course called, “Rust Belt America: Flint in Perspective”-what would you add or change?

graypath

RUST BELT AMERICA: FLINT IN PERSPECTIVE TOPICS

  1. Naming the Rust Belt- What is the Rust Belt?  How is it named? Who is able to name a region?
  2. Why is Flint, a city with a current population of about 97,000 important to study? What are the historical trends and demographics of Flint? In what ways do demographics define a city/region? How can you examine Flint from the lens of human geography?
  3. Boom and Bust Cycles in Flint- Examining the Economic History of Flint.
  4. Flint and the World: Macroeconomic backdrop to the Crisis
  5. Timeline of Crisis: What actually happened and when did it happen? An urban studies/journalism perspective.
  6. The Crisis and Citizens-how did the crisis impact citizens and how did they respond? How were self-governance and representative democracy impacted? A political science perspective.
  7. The Crisis and Children-how did this affect the most vulnerable and what are the long term impacts of lead on brain development-a neuropsychological and mental health perspective.
  8. Flint and Culture: How did artists respond to the crisis? An MFA perspective.
  9. Flint in the Media: How has Flint been portrayed in the media? A media studies perspective.
  10. Flint and Opportunity: What are some promising developments in Flint- a business/entrepreneur perspective.
  11. What does Flint mean to the region, the country, the world? Is the “Rust Belt” still a meaningful name? A summation and next steps.

I would love to hear what you think about the questions posed above and to hear about other good news coming from Flint.  Please plan a visit to check out the Flint Institute of Arts and best of luck to the Flint Eats team!

 

Fashion and Function at Central Michigan University

What does it mean to be beautiful?

This is a question humans throughout history and across cultures grapple. So often, our traditions present images of a certain type of ideals of beauty that rarely have relevance for the vast majority of people.

tree-and-rock

These stereotypes and ideals often leave individuals with disabilities out of the narrative completely.

That is changing and being challenged more frequently as witnessed by an exhibit by Central Michigan University audiology professor, Stacey Lim, called, “(dis)ABLED BEAUTY: the evolution of beauty, disability, and beauty,” which is running through August at CMU’s Clarke Historical Library.

Professor Lim, was born with profound hearing loss as well as a keen interest in fashion.

“I think being able to express yourself physically help breaks down the negative stereotypes of people with disabilities.” — Stacey Lim

If you and your students are looking for hope and inspiration on the power of creativity and technology to make a difference in people’s lives, in short, the best of what we as educators are aspiring to, please read Gary Piatek’s article and check out the exhibit next time you are on Central Michigan University’s Campus.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What was professor Lim’s motivation for this exhibit?
  2. What was professor Lim and her collaborator, Tameka Ellington’s first research project?
  3. What university has the largest collection of hearing aids?
  4. What is professor Lim’s hope for this exhibit?
  5. What  other research questions can you generate that would extend this research?

75 Years of the Nuclear Age- University of Chicago

On December, 2 1942, in a lab at the University of Chicago, scientists created the first self-sustained controlled nuclear chain reaction.

Seventy five years later, the university is engaging in a thought-provoking reflection and examination of this event with events throughout the community and via excellent resources posted on their website.

One of the most compelling is the public art installation of Nuclear Thresholds which is integrated into Henry Moore’s Nuclear Energy.

The seventy five foot long black cords lay in a messy heap next to Moore’s well contained forms, leaving the viewer uneasy, unsure of what to make of the thin black materials.

For sure, this piece will generate conversation and hopefully a deeper reflection on the role this technological advancement has played in our society.

If you missed the actual anniversary last month, I believe a well thought out thematic unit can still explore the numerous questions evoked by this anniversary. A great video resource produced by UChicago Creative is a must see for all secondary educators interested in using this topic for critical reasoning and discussion-Nuclear Reactions-a Complex Legacy. 

How are you teaching about this significant historical event?

It seems like following the inspiration of University of Chicago and approaching it with a multidisciplinary perspective might be a wonderful way to engage your students and discuss a topic whose relevance is as timely as ever. The video concludes with a call for interdisciplinary collaboration to tackle the world’s biggest problems and asks, “What is your contribution going to be?”

A great question to reflect upon as we begin this new year.

Questions for Discussion following the video:

  1. What is your reaction to the quote by University of Chicago president, George Wells Beadle in 1967?
  2. What was the initial reaction to the development of the atomic bomb?
  3. How did the University of Chicago faculty respond to the development of the atomic bomb?
  4. How was nuclear technology used to benefit people?
  5. The video asks,” How do we get to a world without nuclear weapons?”

 

Rethinking Assessment from MIT

One of the greatest challenges educators face is how to accurately assess student learning.

So often, the assessment tools are divorced from both the curriculum and common sense,  leaving the educator struggling to chase not only a moving target, but a target that changes with shifting political winds.

This is true even in the emerging pedagogy of “maker spaces.” The maker movement which is growing in popularity in the U.S. currently has all the trappings of just another educational fad, despite its well-intentioned ideals.

In an effort to legitimize the movement, there is now an effort to create assessments that might help educators understand the student learning process. So, MIT in collaboration with Maker Ed    has developed a research project to study this-Beyond Rubrics.

The three main questions the Beyond Rubrics projects will attempt to answer, according to the website:

 

  • What might embedded assessment in maker activities look like?
  • How do teachers codesign embedded assessments for maker-centered learning, and practice the skills necessary for implementing them?
  • How does embedded assessment in making support the student learning experience?

 

In all honesty, I am not sure these research questions are necessarily unique to the “maker” movement. Eliminate the word “maker” from any of the above sentences and you have the essential questions that all educators grapple with daily as they wrestle with educating students for a world that does not yet exist, assessed on outcomes that can be analyzed using the most advanced statistical techniques, but tell us nothing.

Best of luck.