Book Review: Fires in the Mind

Education, Reviews

Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us about Motivation and MasteryFires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us about Motivation and Mastery by Kathleen Cushman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked it for the insights into effective learning presented from the students’ point of view. I managed to find new ideas and rediscover nuggets of information that can probably help me frame my teaching (and students’ learning) better and more effectively. The relevant checklists and questionnaires are pretty helpful. Overall I found her book easy to read although a bit repetitive at times (e.g. when she has a quote of the student raising a point and then touch on it again without much to add in her own body of text later on). I found the case studies at the end of the book a little unsatisfying. I would have liked to know a little more about how/if the objectives of the projects have been met (maybe contrasted with how different the results may have been otherwise). This book is definitely worth a read!

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My Note 4 Sketches – A Beginning

Artworks

So I recently upgraded my mobile phone to a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and felt obliged to get comfortable wielding the S Pen (since it was one of the reasons why I bought it). I downloaded the free Artflow app and thought it would be cool to sketch characters from movies and TV shows that had left a lasting impression on me since way back when. First set is Watts from “Some Kind of Wonderful”, Marty from “Back to the Future”, Mulder and Scully from “The X-Files” and Luke from “Star Wars”:

Note4_artflow_Watts_36x64.jpgNote4_artflow_Marty_36x64.jpgNote4_artflow_MulderScully_36x64.jpgNote4_artflow_Luke_36x64.jpg

Each of them was done at an original resolution of 1440 x 2560, took between 30 minutes to an hour to complete and referenced from an image online. I’m pretty happy with how they’re turning out so far and hope I can keep doing them. Slightly bigger versions are in my Digital Art¬†page.

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Book Review: The Shallows

Education, Reviews

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our BrainsThe Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After quite a bit of starts and stops I finally completed reading this book and I must say that while it did not enlighten me as much as I had hoped, I did enjoy reading it a lot. The 1st third of the book discussing how technologies (e.g. the clock, print, books) have affected humanity, society and productivity etc. is quite dry. While I do understand the reason for laying the foundations for what’s to come, it did feel draggy. Maybe it was just me re-acclimatizing myself to reading a book deeply after not doing it for awhile?

Anyway it gets much more interesting afterwards! Some things I picked up along the way:
– With the impermanence and update-ability of the digital book what does that say about the writer’s attitude towards the work (i.e. in achieving perfection) and the pressures imposed on completing it? By extension how does that shape our attitude towards writing an email/online posting versus a letter in the past?
– The Internet is an environment that inherently “promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning”. It also encourages positive reinforcements (usually instantaneous) and commands our attention relentlessly. Click on those hyperlinks and do it more often!
– When engaged in deep reading our brains are in effect under-stimulated, as opposed to their over-stimulation when we go online. Is the latter an ideal state? He suggests not.
– The difference between good and bad distractions.
– The mistake of looking at the brain, memory and thinking as a computer, data storage and processing. Retrieving a thought from long term memory is not the same as retrieving a piece of data from storage.
– A clear overview of the workings of and relationships between short term, working and long term memories.
– By making things easier. more efficient and more user-friendly, it takes away the pressure on our brains’ working memory, supposedly for other more ‘useful’ business. It is actually making us more disengaged, less thoughtful, less reflective etc.
– Recognizing the value of attentiveness, note-taking and memorizing and how they are progressively being reduced/overlooked.

Towards the end of his observations and warnings the author offers a suggestion to begin reclaiming our ability to pay attention, strengthen our memory and improve cognition: quieten the mind (e.g. remove bombarding stimuli, take walks in peaceful surroundings, look at calming pictures). I particularly appreciate how he brings up examples and snippets of neuroscience research that highlight how the brain is affected by what we consistently subject it to (due to its plasticity) and how as we continue to use technology it is also reshaping us. Carr says that while technological progress and advances cannot be reversed (without adverse effects on civilization), he hopes that we “won’t go gently into the future our computer engineers and software programmers are scripting for us”. We have to be aware of what all this is doing to us and what we stand to lose, not just what we gain. This book has definitely given me useful things to mull over and bring up for discussion, especially in my role as an educator.

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