When We Use the Word FACT(S)

Standard

If you were to ask any of my former students at the University of Connecticut for something they remember me saying, I believe one that would be offered frequently is this one: “The only thing that’s certain is the existence of uncertainty.” Yes, I know the same is true of death and either taxes or jail. But I’d suggest that the most understood / acknowledged certainty is indeed uncertainty.

Which brings me to my response on Facebook to the “Agreed?” question that accompanied the posting of the photo shown above on Facebook. Here is my response, copied directly from Facebook:

Yes, know the differences between ‘FACTS’ and FEELINGS … BUT also know that most ‘FACTS’ are not facts (hence the single quotes on FACTS) … Using the word, facts, means there is certainty in the statement. There are only TWO ways to have certainty: (1) Defining it to be so (e.g., “My name is John because my parents named (defined) me that” or “2+2=4 because of the definitions of 2, +, =, and 4”); and (2) something has been measured often enough that the uncertainty is zero —> there is certainty (e.g., the acceleration due to gravity at a particular point on the earth’s surface). OTHERWISE, everything has uncertainty and thus is NOT CERTAIN!!!

Wasn’t initially thinking about this … But I would suggest that there CAN BE (maybe, honestly, there ALWAYS IS) uncertainty in our FEELINGS as well. What’s your thinking on this suggestion from me?

Bottom line: There is NO ROOM FOR DISAGREEMENT about FACTS. Understood???

We educators must work with our students to understand that most ‘facts’ are indeed not facts. When they they overlook the reality that uncertainty is rarely negligible, they make their significant efforts to reach outcomes possibly worthless. They must understand that changes in procedures used / materials used / outcomes deemed acceptable quite frequently must be Considered. 

I can ‘hear’ some of you reading this now: “He’s an engineer and thus his students were studying engineering … That’s where uncertainty is important.” Balderdash!!! One reality I would hope everyone reading this post would accept is this: Uncertainty is a reality for everyone and everything!

My Thoughts on a “Power of Positivity” Post

Standard

NOTE: Originally posted on Medium.com:

I want to share my thoughts on a Power of Positivity post from my Facebook subscription. For me, as I started to read it, a fleury of ideas surfaced. The messages from the post should have been obvious and I guess they were / are. But the story and images shared were ‘OMG’ / ‘WOW’ inspiring for me. I know: “What took so long?” More on my reactions to the post later; first, some background … I’m thinking some of you might find this background material familiar.

Remember back in school (for me that’s so long ago, I believe dirt was clear’ as it hadn’t become dirty as yet), we had the standardized tests; our teacher would announce: “Next week on the 24th, we’ll be taking the XYZ Test.” No practice tests, no home prep, no computer administering (had no computers — electricity was reasonably new (again, I’m old…). I certainly don’t remember higher stress levels for anyone involved.

But I digress. On those tests, there always seemed to be a ‘reading comprehension’ section. Probably the tests still do today as well. We were supplied a piece to read, after which we were given questions to assess our comprehension skills. I’ll share another fact about my life. I studied engineering including being awarded a PhD. I was a true geek — > i.e., my comprehension piece was not that different from a simple rewrite of what was supplied; multiple-guess questions, if used, were mostly just that: guesses.

Why? Because I was never required to write pieces that forced me to honestly Consider [Shameless plug for this blog — my thoughts on Considerations / Considering]!!! Other than our final report after a summer NSF Traineeship, the longest paper I believe I was assigned in undergraduate college was three pages. High school most certainly required more. Graduate school changed that of course. I had to learn how to Learn Effectively  — to Consider pieces and their possibly related material in order to be able to use that learning to address meaningful situations. Again more of my thoughts and efforts on these topics posted on this blog.

OK, back to the Power of Positivity post … The image of the holes remaining in the fence really hit home. Yes, we apologize, yes we hopefully learn and refine our words and actions. But the holes remain … My thoughts and plans:

  • I must do my best to eliminate the initial issues as much as I can — fewer nails driven, fewer nails to be removed, fewer holes remaining.
  • Neither I nor anyone else can ever get to a point where no nails are driven and thus no holes to be dealt with. We are all human and perfection is a valuable target but one never reachable.
  • Therefore, whether it’s in the initial period when we’re Effectively Learning through Considering or when our imperfections happen, we will have holes remaining  B— which I believe should be our responsibility, beyond and not in substitution for the absolutely critical seeking and receiving forgiveness.
  • What would / could we do in the case of literal holes in the fence. We could locate / mark the holes. We could fill the holes with compound. We could then sand the compound / fence as needed and paint using matching paint.
  • Depending upon our selections made and skills used, the holes would likely disappear at some distance from the fence, especially with shorter glances. But close-up study would still reveal the locations of the original holes.
  • Likewise, for the figurative driving of nails, the location of the ‘holes’ cannot be completely eliminated, regardless of efforts made. With the impossibility of eliminating the behavior holes completely, hopefully fewer of them will arise — testing the forgiveness offered, especially for those really tough ones that cause the re-identification of the previously mended behavior holes.

Bottom line then: There has to be an upgrade of trust between both parties … The offended must trust the offending to be empathic and diligent to eliminate most of the behavior nail driving. The offending must trust the offended to accept that efforts are being made but that perfection won’t happen. Ideally they can support each other in addressing and understanding the behavior nails driving and holes — keeping them from becoming issues / wedges between each other.

I trust this discussion of my Considerations might be of some value to you. Maybe at the processing level, maybe at the behavior level, maybe both …

WOW! AGAIN, WOW!!!

Standard

Are you familiar with Quora – the website and app? It was recommended in a recent discussion that I check it out. Which I did. It’s a site where anyone can submit, read, answer, and rate (upvote, downvote) questions and answers on topics that interest you. I registered, completed my profile, and chose topics that interest me. For example, I checked the civil war among others because of my strong interest in anything dealing with this part of USA history.

So, now I can go to the Quora website / app and find questions associated with my topics of choice – as well as those aligned with my profile. For example, I see questions associated with Lehigh University, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Connecticut because of my profile. And I get questions (I presume because of my faculty career) dealing with major college period choices and their impact on life and career beyond college.

These questions have really astounded me – to say the least. A few examples: How do I get over lost years (2 years) in college? Why is everything in life a competition? How do I find my real purpose in life? Should I prioritize earning money or getting a education in my early 20s? How do I deal with failure as I have failed in every field of life? Get the drift? To be sure, some of these are likely from individuals seeking to ask that question from hell, the one that didn’t come to mind until they decided “I need a really good question.” But I’m sure that some of them represent true personal concerns. Hence this post’s title – WOW!!!

Some of these honest questions, maybe most, are from people at troubled points in their life. Regardless of whether they should be “there” at this point in their life or not, they are AND they need to get help – including but certainly not exclusively from the Quora answers and comments!

Here’s my real concern: Where were the family, teachers, clergy, and community that should have facilitated the development of skills / responsibilities these people need to at least recognize these questions and concerns? And, if the answer is something similar to “We did our part to help them develop those skills” – my response is “No you didn’t; you need to revisit those efforts and revise how you can really make a difference!!!” Your lack of success and all of our lack of understanding that we need to be more vigilant are the reasons, to me at least, there are so many instances of devaluing one’s value and ability to contribute, leading too often (once is too often) to the suicides or law-breaking behaviors we read and hear about so often. Please note I’m not pointing fingers; I include myself when I say WE can and must do better. Contributing to Quora postings might be a good effort to add.

As an educator, I am a absolute believer that the number one goal of formal education must be the facilitating of all students’ development of at least four skills: Effective Learning, problem identifying / solving, communicating, and working in groups. Absolute, number one… Troubling situations / concerns in anyone’s life is, indeed, a problem to be solved! With these skills, our students and all of us can recognize the existence of the problem at least. And our students and all of us can get any assistance we need to deal with this problem.

As always, thanks for Considering this post. If you have thoughts, feedback is always sought If you believe it has value, I’d appreciate your sharing it with others.

The Learning Mindset

Standard

I have a few “never miss” blog posts. You know, the ones that we subscribe to and look forward to Considering carefully and deeply. One such blog is Blue Cereal Education, written by Dallas Koehn, a colleague that I met via the #OklaEd Twitter chat (Sunday evenings at 9:00 Eastern Time). One of his posts  recently encountered was about Pre-AP classes and their importance. What follows in this blog post are comments that I uploaded to his post. I recommend that particular post and his blog in general to your Consideration. My thoughts / comments:

Once again, you’ve “hit the nail on the head” as the saying goes. I had never encountered ‘Pre-AP’ until this post. Unlike you, I’m not a fan of the College Board, its programs and materials. In fact, I’m most bothered by the scripted approach to the AP classes. I’m bothered that any people would believe they ‘know’ what students should truly understand and be able to use. I’m bothered that they seem to think lesson plan delivery is the way to get there. I’m bothered that they believe a multiple-guess exam is the way to assess the level of learning. BUT I do like the “Blue Cereal Education” thinking on their Pre-AP program –> another opportunity for teachers to hopefully facilitate Effective Learning and Joy of Learning habit development for young students (as I interpret your points at least).

I love most of this post and your knack for expressing your thoughts so well. But this paragraph in particular grabbed me: “I certainly understand how difficult it is to lead a class through an advanced curriculum and facilitate higher level thinking skills when some members of that class lack the knowledge, know-how, or mindset to follow along. Since time immemorial, teachers have been fighting the sand trap of ‘teaching to the middle’ – losing the low, boring the high, dragging half the middle bravely towards adequacy.” For me, the most critical and difficult issue is the students’ mindsets.

I struggle as I expect you and many educators do with the issue of a student’s Effective Learning / Joy of Learning (how to learn, wanting to learn) mindset. Those that have it are the ideal students we like to work with – regardless of lack of knowledge or know-how, issues teachers are expected to facilitate. Those that don’t have it somehow need help to get it… But there is no “Mindset Online Store” we can direct them to in order for them to get it! Sadly, they don’t have it, most likely, because their family / neighborhood culture doesn’t promote it.

So the best ‘answer’ is to somehow to facilitate culture change, sadly something that cannot happen quickly. One thought I’ve expressed often is to promote local dialogue led by LOCAL PEOPLE possessing the mindset – believing that they have the best potential to influence those who don’t possess the mindset. It’s what I refer to as the Spider Plant model. Local believers (spider plants) reach out (send out runners) and change non-believers to believers (starting new spider plants) – and the cycle continues. But, again, this takes time… I don’t know any alternative.

Critical, however, is that teachers from pre-school on MUST also build upon even the smallest glimmer of motivation. The Spider Plant model can and will work within the classroom regardless of level as well.

I’m often asked about the LOCAL PEOPLE I mention. They do exist. It might be the parent, grandparent, or uncle of the child; it might be a member of the clergy, a local business person, a community center staff member, a ‘non-affiliated’ local citizen, an older mindset-bearing student, …. But we read / hear about them frequently. I’ve got to believe they are in ALL local neighborhoods.

Great Blue Cereal blog post and my thoughts on an incredibly difficult but oh so important issue. I and, I expect, Dallas would welcome your thoughts and feedback! Thanks as always for reading our posts.

Entrepreneurial Actuaries

Standard

I read an interesting blog post from Thought Leaders recently. This somewhat long passage from the post really captured my attention: “What do entrepreneurial actuaries do? They learn to be aware of those moments when an opportunity presents itself (the essence of entrepreneurship) and learn how to quickly sort out the risks and rewards of pursuing the opportunity (the function of an actuary). It’s not all about entrepreneurship—you can and should leverage these skills within an established organization. The problem is, we are not typically trained to do this. Our education system works best when students pay attention and avoid distractions. Focus on the work in front of you and accept the solution you’re offered. How many times were you encouraged to think of a problem in a different light or to develop your own solution in school? Probably not often.” The phrase, entrepreneurial actuary, in particular was both new and intriguing to me. In doing a search, I found that this actuarial activity is far from new, for most everyone but me that is.  ‘Quickly sorting out the risks and rewards’ makes all the sense in the world when an opportunity is identified. [Aside: It seems that the Society of Actuaries has recently recognized that intrapreneurial actuaries, working within organizations, are important contributors to success as well. As a result, the Entrepreneurial Actuary Section has been renamed the Innovation and Actuary Section. The inclusion of innovation to me perfectly captures the entrepreneurial / intrapreneurial activity.]

Here’s the part of this extended quote that I’ve been Considering extensively: The problem is, we are not typically trained to do this. Our education system works best when students pay attention and avoid distractions. Focus on the work in front of you and accept the solution you’re offered. First and foremost, I object to the use of ‘trained’ in it. Training anyone presumes that (1) you have the full understanding and skills to be able to transfer to others; and (2) that you can in fact transfer those skills and understanding to another one well enough for that person to be useful. I would submit that neither is true. The second sentence says ‘our education’ emphasizes paying attention, avoiding distractions, working on efforts presented, and accepting solutions given. Certainly, this will never lead graduates to value efforts entrepreneurial actuaries bring.

Note in the last part of the quote, consistent with the author’s description of education presently, it is suggested that today’s students are rarely ‘encouraged to think of a problem in a different light or to develop your own solution in school.’ For sure that’s a fairly safe assumption.

I have made clear in my writings and my conversations (for example, my recent blog post) that Effective Learning including developing the skills necessary to do the same must become the broadly used model in schools. That model involves the important creative problem solving. It must expand beyond the excellent but small pockets of useful / valuable education happening today. I would submit use of this model would include at least rudimentary entrepreneurial actuarial considerations. Most likely these students will begin their careers fully appreciative of such assistance.

In the the very near future, I will begin a series of blogs dealing with my beliefs regarding Effective Learning. Yes, that phrase is one others might not use regularly, certainly not capitalize. But the blogs will link to published relevant study outcomes, ones that I believe lend credibility to my notion of Effective Learning. I hope you’ll Consider them when available.

Success – in Athletics and in Learning

Standard

As I seek to do frequently, I have been revisiting my notes on articles / posts I’ve found, ones that for me somehow seem connected or aligned with my beliefs on Effective Learning. (I firmly believe good input for addressing any situation can come from any source – including ones that seem totally unconnected.) This blog post is the result of my further Considerations of one article’s content and my belief that there are strong alignments between good athletic coaching / winning programs and good learning facilitation / effective student learning.

From an article by Carl Adamec titled “WINNING FORMULA” in the Manchester Journal Inquirer of Thursday, November 12, 2015:

“So many times teams that put the focus on ‘Refuse to lose’ would be better off putting it on ‘Desire to win,’ ” UCONN coach Geno Auriemma said. “No one wants to lose. Who goes into a game saying it’s OK to lose? Nobody. But not everybody goes in with the will to win.

“Some have a greater will to win. To do that, you can’t be afraid to lose. Sometimes teams are their own worst enemies. Coaches are their own worst enemies. At Connecticut, we don’t talk about losing. We know that losing is part of the game. Any time they keep score, you might lose. If it happens, it happens. You focus on, ‘What do we have to do to be successful?’ It works for us.”

[Aside: For those of you who don’t follow NCAA Women’s Basketball, Geno Auriemma is the head coach of the University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball program. They have won eleven national championships since 1995. But, in the most recent NCAA tournament in April, 2017, UCONN did indeed lose to Mississippi State.]

Let’s take the above athletic-connected excerpt from the Journal Inquirer and change or add just a few words:

“So many times schools and teachers (coaches of learning) that put the focus on ‘work to make no mistakes’ would be better off putting it on ‘Desire to learn,’ ” UCONN coach Geno Auriemma said. “No one wants to make mistakes. Who goes into a situation saying it’s OK to make mistakes? Nobody. But not everybody goes in with the will to learn and get the best outcome.

“Some have a greater will to learn and get the best outcome. To do that, you can’t be afraid to make mistakes. Sometimes teams of learners are their own worst enemies. Teachers are their own worst enemies. At Connecticut, we don’t talk about making mistakes. We know that making mistakes is part of the learning / doing process. Any time they work on learning, you might make mistakes. If it happens, it happens. You focus on, ‘What do we have to do to learn from our mistakes and be successful?’ It works for us.”

Two thoughts: First, Coach Auriemma could talk about his team and his coaching style using the alternate version I concocted and his players might wonder about the lack of basketball terminology; but they would understand the message I think. Second, I believe this alternate version should be one of the goals of all schools and teachers working with their students: take risks, learn from your mistakes, don’t focus on not making mistakes, and you’ll have greater success.