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A Musical Fix for American Schools – Wall Street Journal Article

October 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Our sons were raised with music, violin lessons at age 5 for one and piano lessons at age 6.5 for the other. This topic occupies a Chapter in my book. Music is lyrical, mathematical, calming, mind elevating, and essential to human life. Look around you at the ones who have no music in their lives and then read this Wall Street Journal article, which proves my theory of preschool brain development that I championed so long ago in the lives of our sons.

“American education is in perpetual crisis. Our students are falling ever farther behind their peers in the rest of the world. Learning disabilities have reached epidemic proportions, affecting as many as one in five of our children. Illiteracy costs American businesses $80 billion a year.

Many solutions have been tried, but few have succeeded. So I propose a different approach: music training. A growing body of evidence suggests that music could trump many of the much more expensive “fixes” that we have thrown at the education system.

Plenty of outstanding achievers have attributed at least some of their success to music study. Stanford University’s Thomas Sudhof, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine last year, gave credit to his bassoon teacher. Albert Einstein, who began playing the violin at age 6, said his discovery of the theory of relativity was “the result of musical perception.”

Until recently, though, it has been a chicken-and-egg question: Are smart, ambitious people naturally attracted to music? Or does music make them smart and ambitious? And do musically trained students fare better academically because they tend to come from more affluent, better educated families?

New research provides some intriguing answers. Music is no cure-all, nor is it likely to turn your child into a Nobel Prize winner. But there is compelling evidence that it can boost children’s academic performance and help fix some of our schools’ most intractable problems.

Music raises your IQ.

E. Glenn Schellenberg, a University of Toronto psychology professor, was skeptical about claims that music makes you smarter when he devised a 2004 study to assess its impact on IQ scores. He randomly assigned 132 first-graders to keyboard, singing or drama lessons, or no lessons at all. He figured that at the end of the school year, both music and drama students would show bumps in IQ scores, just because of “that experience of getting them out of the house.” But something unexpected happened. The IQ scores of the music students increased more than those of the other groups.

Another Canadian study, this one of 48 preschoolers and published in 2011, found that verbal IQ increased after only 20 days of music training. In fact, the increase was five times that of a control group of preschoolers, who were given visual art lessons, says lead researcher Sylvain Moreno, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He found that music training enhanced the children’s “executive function”—that is, their brains’ ability to plan, organize, strategize and solve problems. And he found the effect in 90% of the children, an unusually high rate.

Instruction in music literally expanded students’ brains. Denver Post/Getty Images

Music training can reduce the academic gap between rich and poor districts.

The Harmony Project in Los Angeles gives free instrument lessons to children in impoverished neighborhoods. Margaret Martin, who founded the program in 2001, noticed that the program’s students not only did better in school but also were more likely to graduate and to attend college.

To understand why, Northwestern University neurobiologist Nina Kraus spent two years tracking 44 6-to-9-year-olds in the program and then measured their brain activity. She found a significant increase in the music students’ ability to process sounds, which is key to language, reading and focus in the classroom. Academic results bore that out: While the music students’ reading scores held steady, scores for a control group that didn’t receive lessons declined.

Prof. Kraus found similar results in a 2013 study published in Frontiers in Educational Psychology of 43 high-school students from impoverished neighborhoods in Chicago. Students randomly assigned to band or choir lessons showed significant increases in their ability to process sounds, while those in a control group, who were enrolled in a junior ROTC program, didn’t. “A musician has to make sense of a complicated soundscape,” Prof. Kraus says, which translates into an ability to understand language and to focus, for example, on what a teacher is saying in a noisy classroom.

Music training does more than sports, theater or dance to improve key academic skills.

Last year, the German Institute for Economic Research compared music training with sports, theater and dance in a study of 17-year-olds. The research, based on a survey of more than 3,000 teens, found that those who had taken music lessons outside school scored significantly higher in terms of cognitive skills, had better grades and were more conscientious and ambitious than their peers. The impact of music was more than twice that of the other activities—and held true regardless of the students’ socioeconomic background.

To be sure, the other activities also had benefits. Kids in sports also showed increased ambition, while those in theater and dance expressed more optimism. But when it came to core academic skills, the study’s authors found, the impact of music training was much stronger.

A clarinet group from the Harmony Project in L.A. The Harmony Project

Music can be an inexpensive early screening tool for reading disabilities.

Brazilian music teacher Paulo Estevao Andrade noticed that his second-grade students who struggled with rhythm and pitch often went on to have reading problems. So he invented a “game” in which he played a series of chords on a guitar and asked his students to write symbols representing high and low notes. Those who performed poorly on the exercise, he found, typically developed severe reading problems down the line.

Intrigued, he joined with Nadine Gaab, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, to follow 43 students over three years, and they found that the test predicted general learning disabilities as well. Why? Mr. Andrade notes that the brain processes used in the music test—such as auditory sequencing abilities, necessary to hear syllables, words and sentences in order—are the same as those needed to learn to read. Prof. Gaab says the test, which is simple and inexpensive to administer, has great potential as a tool for early intervention.

Music literally expands your brain.

In a 2009 study in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers used an MRI to study the brains of 31 6-year-old children, before and after they took lessons on musical instrument for 15 months. They found that the music students’ brains grew larger in the areas that control fine motor skills and hearing—and that students’ abilities in both those areas also improved. The corpus callosum, which connects the left and right sides of the brain, grew as well.

Ellen Winner, a Boston College psychology professor and co-author of the study, notes that the study doesn’t show a rise in cognitive abilities. But she argues that music shouldn’t have to justify itself as an academic booster. “If we are going to look for effects outside of music, I would look at things like persistence and discipline, because this is what’s required to play an instrument,” she says.

Yet music programs continue to be viewed as expendable. A 2011 analysis in the Journal of Economic Finance calculated that a K-12 school music program in a large suburban district cost $187 per student a year, or just 1.6% of the total education budget. That seems a reasonable price to pay for fixing some of the thorniest and most expensive problems facing American education. Music programs shouldn’t have to sing for their supper.

Ms. Lipman is co-author, with Melanie Kupchynsky, of “Strings Attached,” published last month in paperback by Hachette Books. She is a former deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and former editor in chief of Condé Nast Portfolio.

What is Classical Education?

I was preparing to write a post on Classical Education when I went back and looked at “The Well Trained Mind”, published first edition in 1999. I then went to the Word Press blog called “The Well Trained Mind“, and read a piece by Susan Wise Bauer. I have copied it in its entirety for my readers as it is the most thought provoking discussion available on the subject of What is Classical Education?

This will alter the way you perceive education in our American public school systems. It will stop you in your tracks, make you turn and reflect upon your education and that of your children. It will bring an understanding of where we went wrong and why American schools are failing to produce literate, articulate, creative, lateral thinkers in this highly competitive global economy.

BEHOLD THIS ENLIGHTENING SUMMARY BY SUSAN WISE BAUER:
Classical education depends on a three-part process of training the mind. The early years of school are spent in absorbing facts, systematically laying the foundations for advanced study. In the middle grades, students learn to think through arguments. In the high school years, they learn to express themselves. This classical pattern is called the trivium.

The first years of schooling are called the “grammar stage” — not because you spend four years doing English, but because these are the years in which the building blocks for all other learning are laid, just as grammar is the foundation for language. In the elementary school years — what we commonly think of as grades one through four — the mind is ready to absorb information. Children at this age actually find memorization fun. So during this period, education involves not self-expression and self-discovery, but rather the learning of facts. Rules of phonics and spelling, rules of grammar, poems, the vocabulary of foreign languages, the stories of history and literature, descriptions of plants and animals and the human body, the facts of mathematics — the list goes on. This information makes up the “grammar,” or the basic building blocks, for the second stage of education.

By fifth grade, a child’s mind begins to think more analytically. Middle-school students are less interested in finding out facts than in asking “Why?” The second phase of the classical education, the “Logic Stage,” is a time when the child begins to pay attention to cause and effect, to the relationships between different fields of knowledge relate, to the way facts fit together into a logical framework.

A student is ready for the Logic Stage when the capacity for abstract thought begins to mature. During these years, the student begins algebra and the study of logic, and begins to apply logic to all academic subjects. The logic of writing, for example, includes paragraph construction and learning to support a thesis; the logic of reading involves the criticism and analysis of texts, not simple absorption of information; the logic of history demands that the student find out why the War of 1812 was fought, rather than simply reading its story; the logic of science requires that the child learn the scientific method.

The final phase of a classical education, the “Rhetoric Stage,” builds on the first two. At this point, the high school student learns to write and speak with force and originality. The student of rhetoric applies the rules of logic learned in middle school to the foundational information learned in the early grades and expresses his conclusions in clear, forceful, elegant language. Students also begin to specialize in whatever branch of knowledge attracts them; these are the years for art camps, college courses, foreign travel, apprenticeships, and other forms of specialized training.

A classical education is more than simply a pattern of learning, though. Classical education is language-focused; learning is accomplished through words, written and spoken, rather than through images (pictures, videos, and television).

Why is this important? Language-learning and image-learning require very different habits of thought. Language requires the mind to work harder; in reading, the brain is forced to translate a symbol (words on the page) into a concept. Images, such as those on videos and television, allow the mind to be passive. In front of a video screen, the brain can “sit back” and relax; faced with the written page, the mind is required to roll its sleeves up and get back to work.

A classical education, then, has two important aspects. It is language-focused. And it follows a specific three-part pattern: the mind must be first supplied with facts and images, then given the logical tools for organization of facts, and finally equipped to express conclusions.

But that isn’t all. To the classical mind, all knowledge is interrelated. Astronomy (for example) isn’t studied in isolation; it’s learned along with the history of scientific discovery, which leads into the church’s relationship to science and from there to the intricacies of medieval church history. The reading of the Odyssey leads the student into the consideration of Greek history, the nature of heroism, the development of the epic, and man’s understanding of the divine.

This is easier said than done. The world is full of knowledge, and finding the links between fields of study can be a mind-twisting task. A classical education meets this challenge by taking history as its organizing outline — beginning with the ancients and progressing forward to the moderns in history, science, literature, art and music.

We suggest that the twelve years of education consist of three repetitions of the same four-year pattern: Ancients, Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, and Modern Times. The child studies these four time periods at varying levels — simple for grades 1-4, more difficult in grades 5-8 (when the student begins to read original sources), and taking an even more complex approach in grades 9-12, when the student works through these time periods using original sources (from Homer to Hitler) and also has the opportunity to pursue a particular interest (music, dance, technology, medicine, biology, creative writing) in depth.

The other subject areas of the curriculum are linked to history studies. The student who is working on ancient history will read Greek and Roman mythology, the tales of the Iliad and Odyssey, early medieval writings, Chinese and Japanese fairy tales, and (for the older student) the classical texts of Plato, Herodotus, Virgil, Aristotle. She’ll read Beowulf, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare the following year, when she’s studying medieval and early Renaissance history. When the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are studied, she starts with Swift (Gulliver’s Travels) and ends with Dickens; finally, she reads modern literature as she is studying modern history.

The sciences are studied in a four-year pattern that roughly corresponds to the periods of scientific discovery: biology, classification and the human body (subjects known to the ancients); earth science and basic astronomy (which flowered during the early Renaissance); chemistry (which came into its own during the early modern period); and then basic physics and computer science (very modern subjects).

This pattern lends coherence to the study of history, science, and literature — subjects that are too often fragmented and confusing. The pattern widens and deepens as the student progresses in maturity and learning. For example, a first grader listens to you read the story of the Iliad from one of the picture book versions available at any public library. Four years later, the fifth grader reads one of the popular middle-grade adaptations — Olivia Coolidge’s The Trojan War, or Roger Lancelyn Greene’s Tales of Troy. Four more years go by, and the ninth grader — faced with the Iliad itself — plunges right in, undaunted.

The classical education is, above all, systematic — in direct contrast to the scattered, unorganized nature of so much secondary education. This systematic, rigorous study has two purposes.

Rigorous study develops virtue in the student. Aristotle defined virtue as the ability to act in accordance to what one knows to be right. The virtuous man (or woman) can force himself to do what he knows to be right, even when it runs against his inclinations. The classical education continually asks a student to work against his baser inclinations (laziness, or the desire to watch another half hour of TV) in order to reach a goal — mastery of a subject.

Systematic study also allows the student to join what Mortimer Adler calls the “Great Conversation” — the ongoing conversation of great minds down through the ages. Much modern education is so eclectic that the student has little opportunity to make connections between past events and the flood of current information. “The beauty of the classical curriculum,” writes classical schoolmaster David Hicks, “is that it dwells on one problem, one author, or one epoch long enough to allow even the youngest student a chance to exercise his mind in a scholarly way: to make connections and to trace developments, lines of reasoning, patterns of action, recurring symbolism, plots, and motifs.”

Brilliant, thought provoking analysis! I could never had said it better!

And, if you have not seen “Akeelah and the Bee” please rent it for its amazing discourse on the power of language, its origins, and structure.

TED – Ideas Worth Spreading, Deb Roy

August 7, 2011 Leave a comment

“Imagine if you could record your life, everything you said, everything you did, available in a perfect memory store at your finger tips so you could go back and find memorable moments and relive them or sift through traces of time and discover patterns in your own life that previously had gone undiscovered.” 

This is what Deb Roy did at the birth of his son, whose every moment was recorded from birth to present day. He is the Founder and CEO of Bluefin Labs, an MIT spinoff. This is Deb Roy’s TED talk March, 2011.

TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. Along with two annual conferences — the TED Conference in Long Beach and Palm Springs each spring, and the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh UK each summer — TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Project and TED Conversations, the inspiring TED Fellows and TEDx programs, and the annual TED Prize.

This has to be shared with my audience. It is truly one of the most remarkable video moments I have had. It takes about 20 minutes to watch but it is riveting.

Enjoy this amazing father and his amazing family. Hang in there the end is POWERFUL!

Deb Roy studies how children learn language, and designs machines that learn to communicate in human-like ways. On sabbatical from MIT Media Lab, he’s working with the AI company Bluefin Labs.

Education; The Kahn Academy – Educating the World

How about this for a concept – have the students do their class work at home and their homework in the classroom!

WOW, that’s an amazing idea and it is what Sal Khan dreamed up when he was tutoring his cousins. Up until Sal came along educational institutions invested heavily in computers. However, this huge technological investment was mostly relegated to computer labs run by teachers who weren’t provided the right tools to properly integrate computer technology into their day-to-day instruction. As a result we didn’t teach kids with the computer, we taught them how to use the computer. These lessons are foolishly taught to a generation of students who are teaching their parents computer skills. Computer labs were a side show, expensive investments largely squandered due to a lack of good content or purpose.

Sal Khan states, “What’s so different about our approach?  For one, we are leveraging the computer for what it does best and leveraging the teachers for what they do best.  We are ensuring students can truly work at their own pace on their own time. We are making sure students actually master concepts before they move on. We are empowering teachers with the real-time data they so badly need.  We are allowing teachers to make much better use of classroom time, with more peer tutoring, project-based learning, and one-on-one coaching.  Most importantly, we are making learning fun.”

Sal gave a presentation to TED 2011 on March 2011. It is entertaining to watch and Sal is a most amazing thinker and humble human. Like so many remarkable concepts and start-ups that have sprung forth from his generation, Khan Academy is free to anyone on the globe who wants to learn, to any teacher who wants to teach those who need it the most, to any parent who wants to help their child overcome intellectual obstacles, and to any administrator who wants their school, teachers, and students to succeed and prosper. It is FREE. All of his courses are FREE to ANYONE on planet earth!

Why is this of value?

We live in a world that teeters on the brink of chaos and destruction. Billions of people live in poverty and ignorance, without hope. They live this way primarily because they are illiterate or barely educated. Their lack of literacy enables those who are literate and shrewd to seduce them into ideologies that intelligent, confident humans would shun. They become slaves to the slave makers.

We all know an educated society is one that flourishes and grows. It is one that offers opportunity and rewards literacy, intellectual skills, and creative lateral thinkers. All things are possible through the educated mind. Khan knows this and dedicates his Khan Academy to the world. He wants to educate the world.

I’m for that. It is a noble enterprise and it is FREE.

I started out with nothing
and I still have most of it left.

Education, Lateral Thinking and the Google Ngram Viewer

June 23, 2011 1 comment

How many books are there in the world?

The answer: 129,864,880 books, more or less.

Google is, of course, in the process of digitizing many of the world’s books. Since 2004, Google has digitized more than 15 million books worldwide. The datasets they are making available today to further humanities research, for example, are based on a subset of that corpus, weighing in at 500 billion words from 5.2 million books in Chinese, English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish. The datasets contain phrases of up to five words with counts of how often they occurred in each year.

The Ngram Viewer lets you graph and compare phrases from these datasets over time, showing how their usage has waxed and waned over the years. One of the advantages of having data online is that it lowers the barrier to chance: you can stumble across something in these 500 billion words and be the first person ever to make that discovery.

I went to the Ngram to prove to myself that Lateral Thinking is a relatively new concept in our educational thinking. Here is what happened to Lateral Thinking between 1900 and 2000.

Lateral Thinking from 1900 to 2000

You will see that Lateral Thinking was flat lined from 1900 until about 1965. In 1965,  which was the height of the Vietnam war and the protests associated with it, Lateral Thinking spiked from 0% to 100%  until about 1973. These years thrust forward a massive burst of intellectual lateral energy. It then took a huge downward spike beginning in about 1973 when the Vietnam War officially ended. Lateral Thinking hit bottom in 1975 (war ended, protests over, back to what was customary). It then began a gradual ascent in about 1976 with a slow climb though the 80’s and 90’s and then between 2000 and 2010 it shot up vertically to 100%. These years were responsible for the serious advent of public use of the internet and the beginning of the social media revolution; Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Groupon, EBay, Craig’s List, Priceline, You Tube, Firefox, WordPress, and more than I have  time to write.

Most of this Lateral energy flourished and bloomed outside our public educational institutions. These institutions and educators did not change with the advent of this energy. As a matter of fact, educators and education functioned more as obstacles than facilitators, except in a very few isolated instances. Many continue to teach with chalk, blackboards, and outdated textbooks while their students are speaking a different language and operating in a virtual world outside their classrooms.

This generation of young entrepreneurs and start ups have invented Lateral concepts that are changing our world; the way we shop, the way we communicate, the way we bank, the way we pay our bills, the way we travel, the way we apply for jobs, the way we sell our possessions! These Lateral thinkers are on their way to horizons we have not yet imagined. They are creating a new world and leaving our industrial educational institutions in the dust of the chalk falling off their blackboards.

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