3 Steps to Create Expertise based on K. Anders Ericsson’s Research

By  now, you have probably heard about the “10,000” rule, the notion, popularized by Malcom Gadwell, that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an “expert” in a skill.

How in the world as an educator, are you going to be able to accomplish this with your students?

  1. Read Florida State University professor Anders Ericsson’s new book, Peak- Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. Ericsson, the researcher who helped lay the research foundation for the “10,000 hour” rule has co-written a lively, entertaining book with Robert Pool, that helps clarify the reality behind the “10,000 hour” rule, reminding us that it is not quite as simple as repeating the same C major scale for 10,0000 hours and becoming Yo-Yo Ma. In some cases, it doesn’t even take 10,000 hours to become extremely competent in something.
  2. Maybe your students can achieve something more like competency in 1,000 hours? But….It does take deliberate practice. That is it takes consistent, regular, specific feedback to ensure that the repetition leads to improvement.  The more you are able to carve time in your day to work with individuals, or  small groups, or to model the appropriate way to tackle a problem or write a paper, the more likely you are to increase proficiency.
  3. The student must have a clear vision or understanding of what “expertise” is. This is where modeling the behavior, the skill, the competency through your own demonstration is essential. Sharing the “ideal” essay. Demonstrating the steps of  solving inequalities, speaking in the World Language you are teaching, are all essential.
  4. Okay, so here is the bonus number 4. Making all of this explicit to your students. Let them know about this book and Ericsson’s brilliant research which lays out these ideas with great clarity and with excellent, memorable examples. Let them know that racing through their homework while listening to music and chatting online with friends is not the path to expertise! I especially loved the story about how Ben Franklin learned to write well!


Just remember, all of our students are not going to be “experts” with the short time that we have with them. But, in general, many of our schools seem to do a good job with developing students with enough proficiency to be life-long learners and highly productive citizens. Many also become experts later in life. It is reassuring to know that we have an important  part in this process.

I think two other important topics that can be understood from Ericsson and Pool’s excellent book is that we as educators of course could use specific feedback about our teaching practice, so videotaping our lessons, pairing with a trusted colleague, and having a clear idea of what we are trying to accomplish can help us all.

Additionally, Ericsson echoes a theme established by Carol Dweck in Mindset- The New Psychology of Success,  that IQ is not the sole determinant of success!! This is such a radical paradigm shift for our society, that I think we are still just in the early stages of adopting to this notion. I hope Ericsson, Pool, Dweck and others leading in this way achieve greater recognition than simply a best-selling book- I hope their ideas actually become so widely accepted that the notion of aptitude testing or academic placements based on test scores fall by the wayside as the antiquated notions they are.

Moreover, I hope all life long learners are inspired to  continue their journey of “dreaming, learning, doing” and help inspire others on this challenging journey.

Defining Culture at Indiana University


In Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried characters are revealed and humanized through the objects they carried on them as they trudged through VietNam.  It is easy to think that in our modern consumerist culture we are unique in being defined by our possessions as well- logos on shirts, pants, phones.

But is this really new?

Indiana University explores this idea in their exhibit-“Thoughts, Things, and Theories-What is Culture?” at Mathers Museum of Culture open Tuesday through Friday now through December 2017.

The installation features commonplace artifacts such as a 1967 suburban American home, juxtaposed with a dwelling compound from contemporaneous Nigeria inviting viewers to contemplate how our “possessions” fulfill a practical as well as cultural role, tying us to a larger “process” or narrative.

The exhibit tells this story through the phases of life, displaying cultural artifacts such as “Birth and Infancy” and culminating in “Death and Afterlife,” with viewers encouraged to think, discuss, and question every step of the way.

According to their website, “culture is a complicated topic because individual practices from one region or upbringing to another vary greatly, but it’s also a simple one-despite these differences, all cultures are structured around universal needs to fulfill.”

Teachers of World History or Humanities will find this article especially interesting and could likely spark an interesting discussion about what items help explain our culture. I could imagine an especially creative teacher to create an activity where students create their own “museum” either actually in the classroom or in text or graphic form that is inspired by the topics raised in this exhibit.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What is culture?
  2. What are some of the countries represented in Indiana University’s exhibit?
  3. In the “Childhood” exhibit, toys were used to help prepare children for adult roles and responsibilities-is this still the case? What are some examples?
  4. A great question from the article,” When does a person cease being a child and begin an adult life?”
  5. Which of your favorite possessions do you think that your “peers” in other parts of the world also have? Which of your possessions do you think they don’t have?
  6. How would you create a similar exhibition?
  7. What else does this inspire you to “dream, learn,do?”


The Name Game-University of Toledo Analyzes Baby Naming Trends

What is in a name?

Well, a specific time in history according to University of Toledo graduate student  Ram Mukherjee. Ram analyzed data for girl baby names from 1880 to 2004 and found many interesting patterns.

Do you know a Grace? Unless they are over 100 years old, they were probably from the resurgent wave of Grace’s born in the late 1990’s to early 2000’s.

Their research focused on identifying the trends of baby names and found that some were due to influences in popular culture, and others were a slight variation on a more traditional name. The next step is to use their data to try to predict trends for future names.

This article and research could be used by high school math teachers as a brief warm up activity as it includes a graph with the most common names. It could also be used to foster a discussion of data modeling techniques and could spark a discussion of how to view this data to actually make the predictions for the next set of popular names. I think it is also interesting to consider how popular culture impacts something as fundamental as child naming.

Interestingly, the article notes that “out of 104,100 unique names, 64,911 are female and 39,119 are male.” Anyone care to speculate as to why this might be?

Questions for Discussion

  1. How did they analyze this data?
  2. Elizabeth and Kelly were popular in the 1920’s and then surged again together in the 1970’s-any guesses as to why this might be?
  3. Which were some of the least common names?
  4. Do you think it might be better to have a common name, or a unique name? Explain your answer?
  5. How else could you present the data to communicate the important information?



What Makes a Hero?- An Artist’s Perspective


What makes a hero?

Is it strength?



Athletic Prowess?


For Kendall College of Art and Design associate professor Donna St. John, it is a bit more ambiguous. Her solo work at Saugatuck Center for the Arts explores the full humanity of individuals considered to be heroes in her exhibit- Tribute of Authentic Heroism: Investigation of Grace, Vision, Clarity and Purpose.

As part of this exhibit, Professor St. John worked with area high school students to explore themes of social justice and create works reflecting their own understanding of heroism, which will be exhibited along with her work.

What a wonderful opportunity for these students to wrestle with such an important topic, to learn from an accomplished artist and to have their works publicly displayed at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts.

Perhaps we can include in our exploration of heroism and social justice, those individuals who tirelessly serve to educate our next generation of thinkers, dreamers and makers?

All educators should take a look at the link to the Kendall College of Art and Design article on professor St. John’s work for more inspiration. Perhaps this will travel?

Questions for Discussion

  1. What makes a hero?
  2. Why is it important to remember that heroes are human- with flaws and weaknesses?
  3. How did the ancient Greeks view heroes?
  4. How has our vision of heroism changed?
  5. How does art impact social change?
  6. What stylistic elements do you notice in St. John’s work?
  7. Who would be on your list of heroes?
  8. What else does this inspire you to “dream, learn, do?”


International Law and Sustainable Agriculture

Most of us are excited about the great progress technology is making to improve crop yields, reduce chemical use in agriculture and making agriculture more sustainable to help feed our growing population. But will the simple act of farmers using this technology feed the world?

Doubtful according to the University of Kansas Law Professor, John Head. In Head’s new book, “International Law and Agroecological Husbandry: Building Legal Foundations for a New Agriculture,” he argues that there must be international legal mechanisms to ensure that the benefits of this technology are distributed equitably.


One of the key aspects to his vision, is long term planning and thinking as espoused by a few of my heroes such as Wendell Berry and the visionaries at the Long Now Foundation. Head talks about the need to move beyond thinking in 5 year cycles and to vision decades into the future such as developing a “50 year farm bill” that Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson wrote about in a NY Times article.

Check out Mike Krings’ feature on John Head and his book for more details of this important, perhaps essential element, of a transition to a sustainable, equitable world. I think creative educators might create a wonderful activity- a thematic unit on sustainable agriculture integrating the science, the marketing, the economics, and the legal. How would you do this in your classroom? Let us know!

Questions for Discussion

  1. What is the “extractive agriculture” system?
  2. What are elements of an “agro-ecological” approach?
  3. Why will simply implementing higher yield crops not simply solve the problem of food insecurity?
  4. Why is long-term planning and thinking essential to solving issues of food insecurity?
  5. How do you think professor Head’s background impacted his interest in this topic?
  6. The article talks about the  need for new global treaties to address this topic-what might these treaties consist of? Who would be the involved nations?
  7. What else does this inspire you to “dream, learn, do?”


Feeding the World from the University of Minnesota

For an inspiring source of information on efforts to feed the world check out the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities website.

In these dark days of midwest winter, when the cold earth seems barren of life, this series of articles and videos on kernza, a new higher protein wheat, that will stay in production for five years, reducing the need for tilling the soil is truly inspiring. As is the feature on the graduate student, Caroline Jones, who is going into accounting to help reduce poverty by working in non-profits dedicated to this mission.


I enjoyed the wonderful feature on professor James Bradeen, who is researching ways to reduce chemical use in food production. The post features a great series of info graphics and brief videos highlighting the importance of the potato in food security. Did you know the potato has over 39,000 genes and that over 1 million people died during the potato famine?

I really love how the University of Minnesota web and news team integrated these inspiring and informational stories in a thematic way.

As an educator concerned with helping students think of non-traditional careers (plant research is non-traditional in suburban Detroit, as is accounting for non-profits!!), I really love how the team wove the personalities into the science.

I think educators who are interested in helping students find ways to solve-pressing real world problems would find this series of features from the University of Minnesota to be a great resource.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why is food security such an important issue?
  2. How many potato genes are involved in detecting pathogens?
  3. Why is reducing chemical use in food production important?
  4. What are the benefits of kernza? Can you think of any negative consequences?
  5. Why is the potato such an important element of food security?
  6. How has genetic research changed in the past ten years? How has this change been helpful?
  7. Where did Caroline Jones work as a field accountant? What does she see is her true passion?
  8. What other crops do you think are essential to food security?
  9. What crops are important in your state?
  10. Why is an interdisciplinary approach essential to solving the issue of food insecurity and hunger?
  11. What else does this inspire you to “dream, learn, and do?”

Bee Research from Montana State University

For an insightful look at the effect of virus on bee pollination, check out Michelle Flenniken’s article. 

The article describes the work of three Montana State University graduate students who presented at an international pollinator research conference. The students highlighted research that showed the impact of Lake Sinai viruses, which have been discovered in bee colonies internationally, including Montana, and are associated with significant colony loss.

This colony loss, on the average of 33% per year is a concern for “scientists” and “people who care about food security” according to the article.

One of the researchers, Laura Brutscher, investigates which genes are expressed when the bee is infected with a pathogen, helping to understand how they fight off the virus at the cellular level.

The article includes a link to additional pollinator research occurring at Montana State University, which educators might find helpful for additional enrichment information. It includes excellent research reports including a bee identification guide- very cool! Biology and Ecology teachers will find this information especially helpful.


Questions for Discussion

  1. What are the Lake Sinai viruses?
  2. What are the implications of colony loss for food security?
  3. What is the process of pollination?
  4. What was the hypothesis that Laura Brutscher investigated?
  5. How do you imagine this data was actually collected?
  6. According to the additional information from the pollinator research link at Montana State University what are some “pollinator friendly  plants?”
  7. What implications can you imagine for studying how bees immune systems respond to viruses?
  8. What else does this inspire you to “dream, learn, do?”