“Struggle.” It’s a term we usually reserve for extreme situations. The struggle for freedom. The struggle for power. The struggle for survival.

The struggle to learn? Is this a struggle we should welcome?

Yes. After researching hotbeds of various talents, Daniel Coyle concludes in his book “The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.” that “deep practice” is a key to mastery and top performance. Coyle’s deep practice is characterized by:

  • Mindfulness. A Brazilian boy learns a soccer move by trying, failing, stopping and thinking — a few attempts, then a pause. Coyle describes what precedes the boy’s breakthrough: “He stops and thinks again. He does it even more slowly, breaking the move down to its component parts — this, this, and that.” Deep practice involves self-talk as the individual moves from articulating to executing each step. And self-talk requires slowing down: “going slow helps the practicer to develop … a working perception of the skill’s internal blueprints — the shape and rhythm of the interlocking skill circuits.”
  • Struggle.
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A number of weeks ago, my friend Tom Whitby asked me to write an article for SmartBlogs about literacy. Tom Whitby also inspires me. Among his various activities is facilitating an online community of more than 15,000 educators devoted to the topic of personal learning networks. PLNs describe a range of skills and techniques, practiced by many educators, to fashion personal information networks of people and knowledge sources, from which they can learn.

These educators are publicly practicing contemporary literacy in order to achieve what has become the primary purpose of literacy –– to continually learn. Literacy is a foundation of democracy. This is why we teach it. But, as a reader, were you taught to read as well as you do? Certainly, you would not be reading now, unless someone taught you to. But, as you read this article, are you calling to mind your teachers’ discreet lessons? Do you consciously know when you are scanning or reading for detail? (read more…)

When Mary O’Connor was faced with the task of coming up with a project for her Geospatial Semester class, she got her inspiration right outside her classroom window at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va., she told an audience of about 14,000 people at the 2012 Esri International User Conference in July. She decided that she would use geographic information systems software to find out how the Washington, D.C., metro affects development.

O’Connor told conference attendees that she started by using a 3-D model to examine population in the area of a proposed metro line in 2010 and how it would change by 2020. She then used lidar to look at the relationship between impervious surfaces around metro stations and came to the conclusion that the proposed metro line would have negative environmental consequences.

“Through problem-based learning, I was able to see how GIS plays an important role in analyzing our environment and making decisions for future development,” O’Connor said during her presentation. (read more…)

“Knowledge is a big subject. Ignorance is bigger. And is more interesting.” — Stuart Firestei in “Ignorance: How It Drives Science”

As the school year begins, educators (and parents) will encounter students who pose the question: “Why do I need to learn this?” All too often we brush off the question with answers like, “If you want to become a X (insert profession), you need to understand X (insert content).” Alternatively, we instruct in such a manner that fosters the perception that everything exciting and important in a discipline has been accomplished. In 1609, Shakespeare expressed it this way.

If there be nothing new, but that which is
Hath been before, how are our brains beguil’d,
Which labouring for invention bear amiss
The second burthen of a former child.
— Shakespeare Sonnet 59

Taking an inquiry approach to teaching STEM topics avoids shallow answers and lectures on the accomplishments of past generations. (read more…)

“And that’s the grand dilemma of social networking: it’s intended to allow participation, to let companies and individuals all engage and interact, but all too many are one way channels, broadcast media where responses or engagement is ignored completely.”Dave Taylor

Many organizations or schools are starting to get on the Facebook and Twitter bandwagon and seeing the importance of having a presence on the largest social networks. Yet, there is much more to Twitter than having an account, and unless you are Justin Bieber, you have to change your mindset to make meaningful use of social media.

The old-school philosophy of communication lent itself to making a fancy website so that you had a nice Web presence. Not only could you look flashy on the Internet, but there also was great opportunity to share key messages, events and happenings from your school. This was a step up from what many had done previously, and it was great for a prospective student or parent to look up information on a school before committing to be part of that community. (read more…)