Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Balance (part two)

I always cringe when I hear people make statements without qualifiers at the end. Sometimes it is just poor phrasing, but often it is intentional and it strikes me as shallow thinking. For example, people might say things like "Give kids the freedom to make mistakes," when they really mean, "Look for situations where the consequences of mistakes are not serious and give them freedom within that context."

Nobody who works with kids would let them have a knife fight with real knives for example. Nobody is in favor of giving them the freedom to accidentally injure another child. Kids make mistakes with fire, guns, backyard wrestling, drugs, alcohol, and a host of other activities that responsible adults try very hard to prevent. We don't give kids unlimited freedom to make mistakes. Everyone believes in putting limits on freedom, we all just have a different idea of what an appropriate limit should be for the kids. If you have more rules than most people, you are called strict. If you are more permissive than most people, you are not.

I use Edmodo as a safe, private practice space for lessons about social media and I am faced with questions about freedom every lesson. The first question I usually get when I tell a group of 4th or 5th graders we are joining a social network is usually something like, "Can we use OMG and LOL?" I almost always say yes, but I try to help them see that if you write like you are a silly person, people will treat you like a silly person. If you write like you are intelligent, people will treat you with more respect.

Other situations arise where the class might be writing a collaborative story and I have to make a judgement call about if something they write is funny or if it crosses the line. Sometimes the kids might write something that seems excessively violent or vulgar to me but explicitly limiting their freedom to write it will also dampen their creativity. I try not to directly address potentially inappropriate statements like "Hanna Montana should be the leader of Uranus" [real example] but repeat general guidelines like "ask yourself if you'd be proud to have your parents read the line before you click publish."

On one end, we want to encourage creativity and ownership of an assignment, on the other end we want to keep them from doing something they will regret. It isn't always easy to find the right balance point. I do believe it helps to hear how other people handle specific situations like these though, so if you have any tough calls to share, please let me know.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Balance (part one)

One perennial debate in education circles is the debate about how freedom helps or hurts a student's ability to learn. Some people, usually considered "traditional" or "old school" believe that adults deserve respect and students should sit still, focus and absorb the wisdom of the teachers and coaches who instruct them. Other people, usually considered "progressive" believe children are inherently wiser than adults at deciding what and how they should learn.

I have my own thoughts on the debate and like most people, I fall somewhere between those extremes. There are a few examples I see of the good and the bad, so I decided instead of writing a meandering epic post, I'd break the examples into posts of their own. Each post will focus on an example of the tension between decisions mandated by design and decisions made freely.

It is always useless to say you favor balance because an overwhelming number of people will always say they favor "balance" so the word is sort of non-descriptive. It all hinges on where that balance point is on the spectrum. I've written about some of the things teachers can learn from game designers and one of them, at least in a good game, is that balance. I thought this line from a post I read captures the general concept pretty well:

"When the perception between the ordained and free-will is tweaked just right, it gives the game great 'play' -- moving the narrative forward while letting the play steer."

Do you have any specific examples from your learning experience that express that balance? Let me know.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sir Ken and the Kool-Aid Problem

Everyone loves Sir Ken Robinson. I do, you do, adoring crowds do. He seems like a genuinely nice, funny guy who cares about education, the arts, kids and a few other things we all care about.

My only problem with him is that he is wrong. In his now famous TED talk he discusses how schools "kill" creativity and he misses the mark by a wide margin. Yet, there is an almost cult-like following around these types of ideas. Why? I think one of the reasons most people drink the Ken Robinson Kool-Aid is because they want to believe that his theory is true.

I can remember what it was like to be a 4th grader, looking out the window wishing I could climb trees and break empty bottles against the bricks rather than learn long-division. When I was in 4th grade, I didn't see more than 5 minutes into the future. Most kids don't. That's why we rarely give them credit cards, drivers' licenses or real swords. Kids learn about consequences and predicting the future as they experience life and the wisdom of experienced people around them. That's a process most people describe as becoming more mature, becoming wiser, gaining a deeper understanding of the world. It's all good.

Even though we learn on an intellectual level why education is important as we get older, we are forever biased emotionally in favor of recess over chemistry class. Unfortunately we are also emotionally biased to believe people who say things like, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up" and "Creativity now, is as important in education as literacy," to which he received a loud round of applause. Why mention the applause? The reason is that it helps you see that the crowd came into the talk wanting to believe it. They came in emotionally biased in favor of the premise being true. They applauded the title of the talk before they heard the arguments presented for our scrutiny in the talk.

"Every child is an artist" is attributed to Picasso, but when Robinson quotes him it seems like such a provocatively optimistic thing to say, right? All children being artists sounds great, doesn't it? If you are emotionally neutral on the issue though, it doesn't pass the sniff test. Our judgment of a 5-year-old's painting is emotionally overwhelmed by feelings of pride, fuzzy happiness and the desire to encourage that child. We are rooting for the child. This is what makes us human. However, if you judged the painting from an objective, emotionally neutral position you wouldn't have many nice things to say about it.

If you were objective and emotionally neutral, you might rephrase Picasso and Robinson and say, "Almost every child is a terrible artist, but we love them for trying. The problem is that some realize they are terrible and they stop trying, while others learn, practice and eventually become really good." That is certainly less likely to end up the title of a TED Talk, but it is an intellectually honest and defensible position to take.

Go into a Kindergarten class and look at the pictures on the wall. Look at them objectively. Then go into the art class at your high school. Look at the work the Sophomores and Juniors do. Look at it objectively and compare it to the kindergarten art. Not only do the older students have more skill, but their art is profoundly more creative. Much richer storytelling in the shadows and facial expressions. Much more art about abstract things, much more art about things that aren't in their living room. The more art classes a child takes, the more creative they become.

Compare that Sophomore in high school to an art major at your local college. By the time a child reaches college age, the 14+ years of school must have almost completely destroyed them according to Robinson's theory. But the very opposite is true. The art major has had their view expanded. They have had their skills expanded. They have learned to apply original ideas to various mediums to express deep emotion. Think of what an art major could have done with this "cat (pig?) with girl" picture:

Can teachers do a better job of delivering constructive criticism?
Sure. I know I could use an upgrade in that department.

Should we work to ensure that at the very least we don't discourage kids from trying?
Yes, absolutely.

Do schools kill creativity?
I'd say obviously not.

There are a few other huge holes in his theory and his logic, but it is certainly entertaining. Sir Ken is a very funny guy and had the crowd eating out of his hand (before he took the stage unfortunately) and is a model of how to give a good lecture. I think there are kernels of truth in many of the things he says, but if you watch it as an objective judge and not an emotional fan stuck in a 4th grade mindset you won't drink the Kool-Aid.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Building the House

Teaching is like building a house. I am not the first person to think of this, as evidenced by the language around education-- "strong foundation," "building on," etc. There has always been an ideological battle about how to best build that house and today it seems especially virulent.

Nothing is ever black & white, but there are essentially two major camps struggling to push their philosophy into our curriculum. There are the traditional teachers who base their philosophy on the idea that without a solid foundation, no other learning is possible. They have a logical, time-tested rationale behind this belief. Critical thinking is not possible without a deep, broad factual knowledge base. Problem solving is virtually entirely dependent on domain knowledge of the problem in question. This is all true, but the criticisms from the other camp are true as well-- just learning facts in isolation is akin to building a foundation and then forgetting to build the walls, select the windows, add the roof, the plumbing, the electricity, the paint, the
furniture, i.e. all the things that make the actual house.

The response from the traditional educators' community is usually something like, "Once you have a solid foundation, you are empowered to begin self-directed learning." This is true, but it is the same as your architect saying, "Once we build the foundation, you are free to build the rest of the house yourself." The goal is to help them build a solid, sturdy house that they can inhabit for decades to come, not a foundation that will decay and crumble once it is exposed to the elements because we have not taught them how to build walls and install the plumbing.

This is a philosophy built around the idea of creating a broad schema, but it is incomplete and shallow.

The other end of the spectrum is where the progressive educators live. They promote a way of learning that includes a focus on the rest of the house. They understand that memories are created with the family sitting around the fireplace, that a home is where you are safe from the elements, snug in your bed with your childrens' artwork hanging on your refrigerator. They realize that a house is more than just a foundation.

The problem with their philosophy is in the execution. They advocate spending less time doing the unexciting work involved in building the foundation. They think doing the painstaking work of making sure the foundation is level and built on solid ground is boring. I agree with them. However, it is foolhardy to start trying to install bathroom fixtures and skylights in a house before completing the foundation.

In other words, they ignore the harsh reality that all critical thinking and problem solving rest on the foundation. Higher-order skills are extensions of factual knowledge. Educators who bash factual knowledge live in a world where houses just sort of hover in mid-air.

Image Source:

It is a cartoonish view of learning that exposes more about what our inner-4th grader wishes was true than what thousands of years of learning has proven to be true: we can't do any higher-order thinking without a solid foundation.

This is why I advocate a counter-revolution in education. One that embraces the fact that building the foundation is an unavoidable part of education, but it is also just the beginning. Broad factual knowledge is only a means to an end, but it is the only way to reach that end. We should reject "educational" philosophies that use phrases like "drill & kill" or "mere facts" because we know better. We should also fight with all of our might to make sure educators don't think they have done their job once the foundation is in place.

We need to take a step back and objectively look at what we are doing and stop rooting for people on either extreme of the education debate.

Let's not let traditional educators get away with this:

Image Source: Washington Post

And let's not let progressive educators get away with this:

Image Source:

Let's help students build a house that is both stable and beautiful.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Interview with Emily-Anne Rigal (Part Two)

In part one of this interview, Emily-Anne Rigal talked about her project, collaboration and communication. In part two she shares some of her thoughts on education.

Do you think school is valuable? Why or why not?

Understanding certain subjects, like learning how to write well, highly influential historical events, and some science, are valuable, but the amount of “do exactly what you are told” learning is harmful, not helpful. I strongly disagree with the way certain teachers reward students who, in my opinion, don’t think for themselves, while penalizing students that question the information presented and form their own opinions.

What are your thoughts on working in groups versus doing work individually? Do you like one or the other?

Both are equally important. As we spoke about earlier, collaboration leads to greater success. Therefore, developing the skills necessary for group work is important. At the same time, one can’t depend on others with everything, so being proactive and having the self-discipline to work individually is also important.

What makes a good teacher good?

The teachers I admire most are the ones who focus on a student’s individual strengths, as opposed to trying (often unsuccessfully) to mold a student into their idea of a “good student.” We all have our own talents; so, working for and not against a student’s natural abilities makes a good teacher good.

Do you feel that googling facts in real-time can replace having them committed to memory in advance?

YES. (Bold, caps, underlined, highlighted).

I know people like you always have a half dozen projects in your mind that haven't made it into the public sphere yet-- what projects are you looking to start planning in the near future?

For a while now, it has been a dream of mine to give a TED talk, so I am working on taking the necessary steps to accomplish that. My mind rarely goes a day without thinking up (or coming across) information that I would love to share in a TED talk - my iPhone notepad is overflowing with all my notes! I am also excited about a project I have begun working on with my friend Jessica Lawrence called “The Remarkable Effect.” We will be taking concepts from Seth Godin’s “Linchpin” and re-purposing them into fun, short webisodes. The project will launch on Kickstarter in a couple weeks.

What are your long-term goals?

To never become jaded.

Check out the previous interviews in the series:

Pearce Delphin (Part One) Pearce Delphin (Part Two)

17-year-old deontological libertarian from Australia

Todd Oh 17-year-old App developer from South Korea

Lane Sutton 14-year-old entrepreneur

Anna Hoffstrom (Part One) Anna Hoffstrom (Part Two)
18-year-old Autodidact and Unschooler from Finland/Maine

Priyanka 11 year old Texan living in Singapore

Yaqsan Aspiring Omani lawyer going to school at Exeter

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Interview with Emily-Anne Rigal (Part One)

I am really excited about the latest interview in the student interview series. Emily-Anne Rigal, aka "Schmiddlebopper" is the kind of High School student that makes me regret not attacking life with gusto as a 17-year-old. She is socially conscious, an adept galvanizer and a natural with social media. The term "Digital Native" has become cliche when discussing tech and education, but if the phrase has any meaning, Schmiddlebopper embodies it. I encourage you to check out her digital spaces and see what she has been doing. I'm so glad to have her voice represented in the conversation.

How old are you and where are you from?

I am seventeen years old and live in Williamsburg, Virginia.

You have already started so many interesting projects; which ones are you most proud of and why?

I am most proud of WeStopHate because it has been entirely my own doing, from the creation to execution, so I feel closest to it – WeStopHate is like my baby! I am also incredibly proud of “Schmiddlebopper,” my online persona. I have been creating YouTube videos and blogging on social media since my freshman year of high school under the username “Schmiddlebopper.” I interact online with my “Boppers” every day (through twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, etc) and they inspire me to continue posting.

Tell me about and what it is like getting media attention at your age?

WeStopHate is a nonprofit program I started in March 2010 to raise “teen-esteem” (self-esteem in teens) through online videos and social media. Ultimately, WeStopHate combats bullying because we believe that teens that are happy with themselves are not going to put others down. Currently, WeStopHate is the 28th Most Subscribed YouTube Nonprofit Channel, having received nearly 400,000 video views. MTV, Seventeen Magazine, and many other local and national media outlets have featured WeStopHate. The media attention has been a positive experience because it allows me the opportunity to share my work with other young people. My hope is that learning about WeStopHate will inspire more teens to take action about the causes they care about.

How important is it to be a good collaborator when taking on these challenges?

Collaboration is essential because it enables growth and expansion, while also bringing more value to the project and experience overall. WeStopHate would certainly not be what it is today without the help of my friends, mentors, and volunteers because each person who contributed to the project brought with them their own unique skill set and strengths. An obvious example is WeStopHate’s use of user-generated content because vast majority of our videos are created by teen YouTubers. Had we not collaborated with these teens, the fundamental aspect of WeStopHate (teens helping teens by giving them a platform to share their story with other teens) would not exist.

How do you communicate with friends (before and) after school . . . IM, text, social media? Does the connection to your friends ever stop?

We communicate constantly (morning, day, and night) because we use our phones throughout the school day, even though it’s technically not allowed. Since we have smart phones with social media applications, we stay connected not only through texting, but also through Facebook and Twitter, as most of us update regularly throughout the day. Connection rarely stops unless someone consciously puts away their phone and computer.

Your website is an incredible space. In education terms, you have an amazing "e-portfolio." Do you think these types of spaces are more important than resumes? Do you think they demonstrate learning better than multiple-choice tests or essays?

Being a self-proclaimed SMM (a term I coined meaning “social media maniac”), I definitely have a bias answer, but yes, demonstrating online competence is important and useful for getting ahead. Employers and/or potential clients often Google the people they are considering, so having an online presence (assuming it accurately portrays who you are and the message you would like convey) will likely leave them with a good impression regardless of one’s field. I believe people who are actively engaged online with their audience or experts in their field have a stronger sense of what is going on in their area of interest. This type of knowledge far outweighs that of irrelevant (and often memorization-required) multiple choice tests and essays. It's not easy for a girl that's filled with imagination and curiosity to sit and listen to dull history lessons.

Check out the previous interviews in the series:

Pearce Delphin (Part One) Pearce Delphin (Part Two)

17-year-old deontological libertarian from Australia

Todd Oh 17-year-old App developer from South Korea

Lane Sutton 14-year-old entrepreneur

Anna Hoffstrom (Part One) Anna Hoffstrom (Part Two)
18-year-old Autodidact and Unschooler from Finland/Maine

Priyanka 11 year old Texan living in Singapore

Yaqsan Aspiring Omani lawyer going to school at Exeter

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Being Unhelpful

The best thing I did this week as a teacher was be unhelpful. Most teachers by nature are people who like to help, who like to share. Sometimes those instincts can be a burden because we create dependencies. We want our students to be self-sufficient, but sometimes we help them do things they can and should be doing on their own.

This week I was faced with the challenge of helping a 5-year-old spell something I wasn't sure he could spell. Due to a torrential downpour, we didn't come out to the lab. We stayed in the classroom so I had them work with pencil and paper to design inventions. One student invented the "Fast Food A Matic" which is a machine that makes any kind of food really fast. He didn't know how to spell the name, so he asked me. My natural urge was to begin spelling it for him, but part of the art of teaching is knowing how to suppress that urge.

I told him he had to do it himself by sounding it out and doing his best. He kept trying to get me to help him spell it after every single letter, but each time I refused to help. Being unhelpful is usually a lot more work than being helpful, but it's worth it. Finally he was able to work it through on his own and here is what he came up with:

Great job for a 5-year-old. So glad I could be unhelpful this week.

Here is the picture of the invention too:

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Lone Voice in the Chanting Mob

I haven't had a lot of success explaining Twitter's value to people who don't understand it. Part of the problem in explaining it is that the tool is fundamentally about customizing your community, so the value is so different for everyone because our communities are so different. Some people use Twitter as a virtual water-cooler where they can make comments under their virtual breath to acquaintances, attempt #Hashtag humor or live-tweet an awards show or sporting event. Other people use it to connect with customers, or to share pictures, music, videos or other types of content they create. Some people use it to broadcast their wisdom or lack thereof; others use it to engage in discussion with people about politics, economics, technology or food. Some people use it as a platform for citizen-journalism. There are also vibrant communities of educators sharing, discussing and supporting each other.

I frequently swim in these educational circles because education is one of the most interesting topics of conversation to me personally. I have met many educators who, regardless of their opinions are passionate and care deeply about kids and the future of our world. I have learned quite a bit about what tools other people are using with kids and it has made my classroom stronger. However, I have also noticed a sort of infection that spreads throughout communities like these. It is called groupthink.

If you are unfamiliar with the idea of groupthink, I highly recommend checking out some of the writings of Cass Sunstein, specifically his thoughts on "Cyberbalkanization." Basically groupthink is the reason spending too much time with like-minded people is corrosive to critical thinking. When we are surrounded by people who are all begging the same question, we make leaps of logic and we don't even realize they are leaps. Groupthink drives us deeper into our own beliefs and insulates us from challenge. Once our opinions are calcified thanks to the never-ending confirmation bias cycle of sharing posts, clips and tweets we begin to see the Devil's Advocates as a lunatic fringe, when in fact just the opposite is happening. A recent example would be the "Birthers" reactions to our President's birth certificate. Proof is assumed to be trumped-up, falsified and malicious.

Leaders of like-minded communities are especially dangerous because as with any mob, the only way to distinguish yourself is to be more extreme in your views than the others. If you look around at any balkanized mob of like-minded people in social media, you will see this phenomenon. Education circles are no different. There are many people who are outside of the classroom who get paid in both fame and money to lecture people about why lecturing is bad. Groupthink brainwashes people into abandoning critical thinking and blindly supporting feel-good philosophies like "Why hard work is bad for kids" or "The only real learning is forgetting" or "Why laziness is more productive" or some other carnival barkeresque pablum. These celeb EduBloggers follow a simple formula: When a group is already predisposed to want to believe something, keep feeding them a slightly more extreme version of that belief and you'll be asked to keynote the next "EduWebotron 3.0" conference.

"Have you read his post about why reading with your eyes open is actually stifling creativity?"

"Yes, so counter-intuitive, but if everyone retweets it it must be true! I hope he live-tweets the blackboard burning like he did in West Palm Beach last year!"

Sometimes following the conversation in an insulated community is like watching the hammers marching in lockstep during Pink Floyds' The Wall.

So what's the solution?

Well, one easy way to help is to make the choice to be the Devil's Advocate in the majority of your conversations. You're going to help the group become stronger by testing assumptions and defining terms than by validating someone's ideas about using wikis because you like that person and you like wikis. Everyone wants to be liked. I do, you do, we all do. It's hard to stand up and be the lone voice in the chanting mob, but if you are the lone voice, that is proof enough that the group needs to hear what you have to say.

Another way to fight groupthink is to make sure you don't just follow people who are in your industry. No matter what your career is, there are many voices and many perspectives that you need to understand to do your job properly. If you teach 9th grade Literature, you should not just follow other 9th grade literature teachers. You should not just follow other literature teachers, or just follow teachers for that matter.

You should follow authors. You should follow readers. You should engage them, debate them, learn from them. Follow publishing companies. Follow journalists who cover books. Follow book stores. Follow librarians. Follow Grammarians. Follow linguists. Follow people who design e-readers. Follow people who hate books.

Diversify your streams of information. Don't let like-minded groups drive you to become their median member or worse, their radical leader.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Lean Startup Just-in-Time Lesson Design

The Lean Startup Movement

Entrepreneur Eric Ries describes the idea of the "Lean Startup" as a process involving "ferocious customer-centric iteration." The essential concepts revolve around the idea that you want people to be using your product as soon as it is usable and then rapidly act on the feedback they give you to improve the product. This model promotes designing and developing your product just enough to be functional and testable, but inornate and "lean." I believe that the modern classroom can learn a great deal from Eric Ries and the lean startup movement.

Sometimes as teachers we want to make sure our students have an understanding of all the relevant context before letting them "do" anything with the material.

In my experience as a student, lessons follow this format:

Teacher talks all about it first, students armed with full context "do" second.

The lean startup lesson plan looks more like this:

Teacher says the bare minimum to enable students to get started "doing." Students run into problems because they don't have all that important context. Teacher explains just enough to let them continue to progress to the next obstacle. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Just-in-Time Manufacturing

A few decades ago Japanese businesses like Toyota used the "Just in Time" (JIT) manufacturing model. JIT manufacturing utilizes "a belief that we may not get the right solution... on the first try, but that if we design everything we do as a bona fide experiment, we can more rapidly converge, iteratively, and at lower cost, on the right answer, and, in the process, learn a heck of lot more about the system we are operating" according to Harvard Business School's Steven Spears.

I am an advocate of the "Just in Time" educational model. Students have never liked to sit through lengthy lectures, so why clump all the necessary teacher portions together? Why not adapt our lessons to fit the lean startup or JIT manufacturing models?

One of the primary considerations when designing a lesson is: How can I get them "doing" as soon as possible?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Games and Television as Professional Development

Earlier today I watched a student-created video that Michael Wesch tweeted and I think it is very instructive. The explicit message is about advertising and mobile technology but there are other lessons to be learned from the video. One hidden message for teachers who watch that video is this: teachers need to learn more from marketers and game designers.

Learning from Marketers

In the video, one fact jumps off the screen: 90% of students remembered advertising campaign slogans such as "Yo Quiero Taco Bell" and "Just Do It" but only 40% remembered that July 4th, 1776 was the date the United States declared independence. In the context of the video, this is meant to frighten us about the power of marketing and while I understand that sentiment, I think there is a much greater lesson to be learned. The lesson is that someone figured out how to get 90% of people to remember something. How did they do this?

Professional educators only succeed in the same task 40% of the time with much better material. Don't get me wrong, I love tacos as much as the next guy but the awe-inspiring, soul nourishing message of freedom and self-advocacy in America's colonial past should make a much deeper impression on our brains than a celebrity spokesdog. It should, but it doesn't. Why?

Here is my back of the napkin answer to this question.

1. Marketing campaigns stick in our long-term memory because of repetition. They are short, dynamic presentations that are played over and over on TV, radio and in print. We remember them partially because the message is repeated over and over again. If you read my earlier post, you'll know that I firmly believe repetition is the mother of learning.
The lesson for educators: Don't expect people to remember things you mention once in the middle of a 45 minute long class, or do once a week or apply once a year during their education. Say it multiple times. Have them do it multiple times. Have them apply it multiple times. Repetition is the mother of learning. Repetition is the mother of learning.

2. Marketing campaigns understand the power of narrative. From commercial to commercial in the series, we follow this cute little dog on his quest to get what he wants. What he wants happens to be Taco Bell, but if marketers can make us root for him, teachers should be able to make us root for the Founding Fathers in their quest. The stakes were a lot higher, there was more drama, their story is our story and it really happened.
The lesson for educators: Whatever you are teaching already has a narrative. It is already amazing, you just need to discover why and then be a conduit for the discovery.

3. The commercials were funny. Okay, maybe I didn't personally laugh out loud but a cute little talking dog just brightens your day. It is entertaining. If it wasn't entertaining on some level we wouldn't remember it. When is the last time someone laughed learning long division?
The lesson for educators: Standing in front of people and talking in and of itself isn't boring; look at stand-up comedy. Lecture works when it is entertaining and funny.

Learning from Game Designers

The decrease in our national attention span is a myth. Teachers will point to the fact that in 1970-something, kids could sit still for 45 minutes taking notes quietly while a teacher lectured. Today they can't. That may not even be true, but let's just accept that it is for now. This does not prove that our attention span is shrinking, it proves that we are more bored by lectures than we used to be. Kids have amazingly long attention spans for things that they like. In fact, kids can sit in the same place, staring at the same video game for so long that parents and lawmakers around the world are frantically trying to get them to stop. Gaming is the new addiction for kids.

So they can't sit still for 45 minutes of lecture and note taking, but they can sit still for entire weekends playing games. Why?

Here is my back of the napkin answer to
that question.

1. Games are more interactive. Gamers are doing, controlling, making decisions, having a big impact on their own stimuli. People's brains interact with the spoken word a lot more than we think they do, but it doesn't compare to the interaction of playing a game. The constant feedback loop from the problem solving, trial and error and incremental progress is mesmerizing.
The lesson for educators: Get the students "doing" as quickly as possible. Let them make mitsakes mistakes through trail trial and error, then give feedback as they make progress.

2. Games are a multi-sensory experience. Have you ever seen the panoramic screen shots or the terrifying characters from God of War? They are visually stunning. The music is as good as anything you will hear from Hollywood, and the sound of metal crashing into rock, of water lapping at the shore or of monsters growling all add to the sensory experience.
The lesson for educators: instead of beginning your class with a lecture-style intro of a topic, maybe try an introductory video. If you can get to the computer lab, maybe intro with a game that teaches the principles.

If I thought about it more, I might reword these or add to them or erase them completely. Can you see anything I missed or got totally wrong? I'd love to know your thoughts.