Archive for February, 2010
Alice Waters promotes school gardens as a way to “help students learn the pleasure of physical work.”
Caitlin Flanagan, however, denounces school gardens as a patronizing and unfounded encroachment on the back-to-basics curricula that schools should be advancing.
In “Cultivating Failure: How school gardens cheat out most vulnerable students,” Flanagan contends we should see these initiatives for what they really are: “a way of bestowing field work and low expectations on a giant population of students who might become troublesome if they actually got an education.”
It is a stinging and provocative criticism, and one that I recommend reading — but her argument is powerfully rebutted, I think, with the following clip that woefully exposes the frightening ignorance kids have of what real, whole foods even look like.
Confronted with the fact that diet related disease is the biggest killer in the United States. Jamie’s one wish to change the world is to teach every kid about food. Please take 20 minutes and watch his passionate TED Prize talk, embedded below, about how we are slowly killing ourselves and our children with the foods we (don’t) eat.
Earlier posts discussed how simply “standing up may be as important as exercise” and the development of treadmill desks and classroom walkstations. Olivia Johnson, a NYT blogger who writes on the “influence of science and biology on modern life,” urges us to “stand up while you read this!“
There’s a more sinister aspect to sitting. Several strands of evidence suggest that there’s a “physiology of inactivity”: that when you spend long periods sitting, your body actually does things that are bad for you.
As an example, consider lipoprotein lipase. This is a molecule that plays a central role in how the body processes fats; it’s produced by many tissues, including muscles. Low levels of lipoprotein lipase are associated with a variety of health problems, including heart disease. Studies in rats show that leg muscles only produce this molecule when they are actively being flexed (for example, when the animal is standing up and ambling about). The implication is that when you sit, a crucial part of your metabolism slows down.
It is equally promising and scary that so many of the little things we do can add up to such a large effect on our health. Johnson cites studies of (in)activity that found active walkers who significantly reduced the number of steps they took each day “by using the elevator instead of the stairs and driving to work instead of walking” became fatter in just a period of two weeks because their bodies became worse at metabolizing sugars and fats.
People in work places who simply stood up to stretch, walked to their colleagues’ offices rather than send an email, and generally ambled throughout the day “had smaller waists and better profiles for sugar and fat metabolism than those who did their sitting in long, uninterrupted chunks.” A study of movement practices and habits by doctors “doing the same job, the same week, on identical wards found that some individuals walked four times farther than others at work each day.”
The takeaway: Better health isn’t a marathon away. Simply stand-up for it!
I earlier referenced an article in The Atlantic that asked, “What makes a great teacher?” The entire article by Amanda Ripley is a must-read for anyone interested in human capital, but I want to highlight some of the factors that Teach for America has identified as being the most predictive of teacher success:
Teachers who scored high in “life satisfaction”—reporting that they were very content with their lives—were 43 percent more likely to perform well in the classroom than their less satisfied colleagues. These teachers “may be more adept at engaging their pupils, and their zest and enthusiasm may spread to their students,” the study suggested.
In general, though, Teach for America’s staffers have discovered that past performance—especially the kind you can measure—is the best predictor of future performance. Recruits who have achieved big, measurable goals in college tend to do so as teachers. And the two best metrics of previous success tend to be grade-point average and “leadership achievement”—a record of running something and showing tangible results. If you not only led a tutoring program but doubled its size, that’s promising.
Knowledge matters, but not in every case. In studies of high-school math teachers, majoring in the subject seems to predict better results in the classroom. And more generally, people who attended a selective college are more likely to excel as teachers (although graduating from an Ivy League school does not unto itself predict significant gains in a Teach for America classroom). Meanwhile, a master’s degree in education seems to have no impact on classroom effectiveness.
Related: Bill Gates on how to make a teacher great, which begins around the 8:00 mark on the TED talk embedded below. Some notes and quotes from Gates’ presentation:
- The state of our public school system is stark: “Over 30% of kids [in the United States] never finish high school. For minority kids, it’s over 50%. Even if you graduate from high school, if you’re low income, you have less than a 25% chance of ever completing a college degree. If you’re low income in the United States, you have a higher change of going to jail than you do of getting a four-year degree.”
- This confronts us with one of the most important questions of our time: “How do you make our education system better?” The answer is “by having great teachers.”
- The single most important factor on student achievement is teacher quality. For example, “A top quartile teacher will increase the performance of their class, based on test scores, by over 10% in a single year.” This means that if, for just two years, every student in the United States were taught by a top-quartile teacher, then the achievement gap between the U.S. and Asia would disappear entirely. The simple solution, then, is to provide kids with top-quartile teachers. But before you can do this, you need to assess whether they have any commonalities. In other words, what makes a great teacher?
- Surprisingly, it may not be what most people think. The best teachers are not necessarily the most senior or experienced: “Once somebody has taught for three years, their teaching quality does not change thereafter.” Nor do they possess master’s degrees in education. In fact, there is absolutely no general effect or correlation between teachers with a master’s degree and the achievement outcomes of their students. Teach for America teachers and math instructors who majored in math while an undergraduate were found to have, on the whole, slightly positive effects on academic achievement. But overwhelmingly, the most predictive variable of teacher quality was their past performance. The specifics that were responsible for past performance, however, are not yet studied well enough. And sadly, “on average, slightly better teachers leave the profession [more than bad teachers.]“
- Suggestions for how to gather and analyze teacher improvement data, including team teaching and digital video, are discussed.
Finally, in December of 2008, the always provocative Malcolm Gladwell was fascinated by the question, “How do we hire when we can’t tell who’s right for the job?“
This is the quarterback problem. There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they’ll do once they’re hired. So how do we know whom to choose in cases like that? In recent years, a number of fields have begun to wrestle with this problem, but none with such profound social consequences as the profession of teaching.
Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford, estimates that the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half’s worth of material. That difference amounts to a year’s worth of learning in a single year. Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a “bad” school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher. Teacher effects are also much stronger than class-size effects. You’d have to cut the average class almost in half to get the same boost that you’d get if you switched from an average teacher to a teacher in the eighty-fifth percentile. And remember that a good teacher costs as much as an average one, whereas halving class size would require that you build twice as many classrooms and hire twice as many teachers.
Educational-reform efforts typically start with a push for higher standards for teachers—that is, for the academic and cognitive requirements for entering the profession to be as stiff as possible. But after you’ve seen how complex the elements of effective teaching are, this emphasis on book smarts suddenly seems peculiar. The preschool teacher with the alphabet book was sensitive to her students’ needs and knew how to let the two girls on the right wiggle and squirm without disrupting the rest of the students; the trigonometry teacher knew how to complete a circuit of his classroom in two and a half minutes and make everyone feel as if he or she were getting his personal attention. But these aren’t cognitive skills.
Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon (CCUM) Mission Statement, La Paloma de Paz:
We come together in las Barrancas del Cobre to create peace and harmony, sharing with/of all that is provided to us by our Mother Earth. — Caballo Blanco de la Paz, Race Director
A recent six-part interview on the Sharp Brains blog introduces Daniel as a best-selling author whose claim to fame is his ability to “vividly describe autistic savantism from the inside” —
Wikipedia notes that he is one of fewer than 50 autistic savants in the world, perhaps best known for “reciting pi from memory to 22,514 digits” and learning the Icelandic language in just seven days —
This must-watch 60 Minutes story explains, “[Daniel] may very well be a scientific Rosetta stone, a key to understanding the brain” —
The Science Channel calls him, simply, Brain Man. Their documentary on Daniel Tammet is available in five parts on YouTube, the first of which is here:
New research from the University of California, Berkeley, shows that an hour’s nap can dramatically boost and restore your brain power. Indeed, the findings suggest that a biphasic sleep schedule not only refreshes the mind, but can make you smarter.
Conversely, the more hours we spend awake, the more sluggish our minds become. The results support previous data that pulling an all-nighter decreases the ability to cram in new facts by nearly 40 percent, due to a shutdown of brain regions during sleep deprivation.
Related: How long should you nap for?
The 5-minute nap produced few beneﬁts in comparison with the no-nap control. The 10-minute nap produced immediate improvements in all outcome measures (including sleep latency, subjective sleepiness, fatigue, vigor, and cognitive performance), with some of these beneﬁts maintained for as long as 155 minutes. The 20- minute nap was associated with improvements emerging 35 minutes after napping and lasting up to 125 minutes after napping. The 30-minute nap produced a period of impaired alertness and performance immediately after napping, indicative of sleep inertia, followed by improvements lasting up to 155 minutes after the nap.
A cool video of Shaun White breaking-down his gold medal winning snowboard half-pipe performance—his passion, energy, and joy of sport is infectious.
Both of Shaun’s runs, as originally aired, can be viewed here.
Look. At. Those. Quads!
The winners of the annual World Press Photo Contest were recently announced. A strict copyright policy prohibits me from embedding any of the images into my blog, but be sure to click through to these amazing photos:
- David Miralle, Jr. took 1st place in the “Sports Action: Stories” category for chronicling the 2009 Ironman World Championships. This shot of a lone cyclist on Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway is almost eerie—and this picture warning spectators of athletes in pain is destined to become a poster for the most masochistic of endurance athlete.
- My favorite collection in the sports action stories category took 2nd place—the World Masters Games in Sydney, shot by Craig Golding. Every one of his images captures the human spirit and sporting ethic.
- Elizabeth Kreutz’s photo of Lance Armstrong’s spidery-veined leg is equally disgusting and weirdly awesome—and one in a series of a pictures documenting Lance’s Tour de France comeback that took 1st prize in the “Sports Features: Stories” category.
- There is a quiet dignity, powerful pride, and an undertone of sadness in Denis Rouvre’s portraits of Senegalese wrestles.
- Finally, Stepan Rudik captures the violent brutality of street fighting boys and young men in the Ukraine.
The question about the enduring place, symbolism, and purpose of the college and university library reminded me of Liz Coleman’s fantastic and necessary call-to-arms for radical reform in higher education (video embedded below). As one commenter on the TED website noted:
“When the impulse is to change the world, the academy is more likely to engender a learned helplessness, than to create a sense of empowerment.” Beautiful. She’s advocating the same as Jeffrey Sachs, an academia of Searchers, not Researchers. People who try and fail and try again until they find a method that works and then share it with their colleagues, people who learn through engagement.
“Deep thought matters when you’re contemplating what to do about things that matter…
So what do you do when you feel overwhelmed? You have two things—you have a mind and other people. Start with those and change the world.”
A simple and effective way to integrate some play into your next downtown/city/urban run:
Simply strap on the running shoes and head out on our run, but follow these simple rules: 1) you can’t run for more than 5 blocks without either sprinting 1 block or running 1 block balanced “on the curb”; 2) anytime you pass a bench, you must stop and jump onto it three times; 3) anytime you have to stop at a stoplight or stop sign, go into a deep squat and hold it until it’s time to run again; 4) anytime you go up a flight of stairs, you have to go back down to the bottom and climb the stairs one more time.
I also like the “cartlek run” on this TriFuel list of “15 best triathlon workouts you aren’t doing.”
So exercise fails. Do we have a better idea?
Yes, in fact we do.
The answer is authentic, joyful, functional movement.
For those who have never seen or experienced it, authentic movement looks and feels nothing like exercise:
- Exercise tends to be single plane; functional movement is multi-joint and multi-plane.
- Exercise is monotonous; movement is engaging.
- Exercise is specialized; movement is diverse.
- Exercise is scripted; movement is authentic and intuitive.
- Exercise is performed according to a program; movement is opportunistic.
- Exercise feels mechanized and forced; movement feels expressive and creative.
- Exercise is a means towards an end; movement is an end in itself.
Movement is better because it’s expansive and offers more options for physical creativity and expression. There’s more possibility and more room for the imagination. It’s more inviting, more engaging. And best of all, it’s less adversarial.
“I simply want to celebrate the fact that right near your home, year in and year out, a community college is quietly—and with very little financial encouragement—saving lives and minds. I can’t think of a more efficient, hopeful or egalitarian machine, with the possible exception of the bicycle.”