Saturday, February 6, 2021

Discussion forums for homework help

Welcome to our new discussion forums! I launched these forums in hopes of taking the Mr. Robertson's Corner blog project to the next level. Since launching my blog at the end of 2018, traffic to it has steadily risen, and it's becoming more known around the Internet in different education circles. For this, I'm extremely grateful and humbled. What started out as a fun hobby of sorts has really developed into a true passion, and even a calling. 

Yet, something has remained missing - a true sense of community built around the blog. Sure, I'm getting traffic. I'm picking up occasional new followers and post likes on my social media presence. And once in a while, I'll get a short comment in the comments section right below a blog post. For all of that, I thank you! But I'm hoping to build more robust conversations and connections with you, and I want you to be able to do the same with one another, and that's where these forums come in. 

So let's gather here for some fun and insightful discussions, and let's help one another out with our educational and career goals by sharing our love for learning. Again, welcome! Looking forward to connecting! 

Mr. Robertson

Visit our new homework help discussion forums here.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Trades vs. STEM in schools

Aaron S. Robertson 

NOTE: The following is my response a few days ago to an interesting question posed to me by a candidate for the local school board in my hometown. I thought it was worth sharing here, as this is a question that all K-12 school districts across the country must continuously grapple with. The candidate's question dealt with limited resources (physical classroom space, number of hours in a school day, budgets, etc.) and where more emphasis should be placed if trades and STEM courses found themselves in too strong a competition for those limited resources. Very thought-provoking, and not a very easy answer, in my opinion.

Trades vs. STEM: This is a really thought-provoking question you raise, and I'm admittedly finding it a little difficult to answer. I'm a strong proponent of having both tracks (trades and STEM) well-represented in K-12 schools, along with a rigorous liberal arts curriculum.

With technology rapidly changing, STEM fields are undoubtedly the future. There will be technologies and even whole sectors and industries created that we can't even imagine right now.

On the other hand, when it comes to the trades, there will always be steady demand. We'll need skilled workers to continue manufacturing goods, building and repairing our vehicles, installing and maintaining our plumbing and HVAC systems, building and remodeling our homes and commercial buildings, etc., etc., etc. Demand to fill openings across the trades, as you're probably aware, is especially hot right now, as we're trying to reverse debilitating training and employment trends caused by having shifted away from offering these programs in schools for a number of years.

Should the two tracks ever get into a tug of war over limited budget resources, I'm wondering if it would be best to survey students and parents (along with maybe even conducting some in-depth interviews and focus groups), as well as look back at prior course enrollment data, to aid in determining what should definitely be saved, and what might have to be scaled back or even cut altogether? That way, we can say we've done all we can to best represent local flavor and demand.

There can also be a case made that many of these courses and training opportunities can easily be found elsewhere, for those who are really interested in seeking them out. In the STEM arena, for example, there are many professionally-facilitated in-person academies, workshops, and boot camps out there for youngsters, as well as online courses through popular Web sites like Khan Academy and Udemy.com. At the end of the day, we must realize that there are only so many hours and resources available in a school day, and so it's really up to families and motivated students to extend their learning beyond the classroom and school day in ways that are meaningful and satisfying for them.

What do you think? If trades and STEM courses found themselves in too much competition for limited resources in K-12 schools, what should be saved? What should be cut? Are there other solutions we're not thinking about here? Feel free to share your thoughts and insights in the comments section below.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

2020 was the best year of my life

From chaos, order. From noise, silence. From downtime, the opportunity to learn, learn, and learn. Here's how I made 2020 work for me.

Aaron S. Robertson 

Around a couple of weeks ago, I was having a phone conversation with my financial advisor. Actually, we were meeting on Zoom, one of the new things I learned how to do in 2020 (I'll get to that a little later). During our conversation, we landed on the subject of 2020 for a little bit. I told her that I felt kind of strange for saying and feeling this, but 2020 was actually perhaps the best year I've ever had, for a variety of reasons. She told me that I actually wasn't alone in feeling this way. She's been hearing the same talk from others.

Yes, it's true. And sure, I've occasionally joined family, friends, co-workers, and the social media and meme universes in generically bashing 2020. After all, there can be no ambiguity about it - it was, generally speaking, one hell of an unusual and chaotic ride, and that's quite an understatement. But with chaos comes opportunity, and the more I reflected on the year as we arrived closer to its end, the more I really am convinced that 2020 was indeed perhaps the best year of my life. With all the mayhem the year introduced, I sought to forcefully and skillfully match it with just as much order and clarity.

Jake LaMotta
"You never knocked me down, 2020. You never got me down." --
World middleweight champion Jake LaMotta (1922-2017), the "Raging Bull,"
in reference to Sugar Ray Robinson never being able to knock him out.
  
Chaotic and uncertain times, and life in general, are what you make of it. Never forget that. It's all what you make of it. You can't always control every outcome and event, but you are always able to be in full command of your response. And I actively chose to take advantage of all the havoc and the down time it brought with it this year to learn new subjects, sharpen skills, gain new insights, take my strategic thinking abilities to the next level, become familiar with newer technologies, and make new connections.

Here are the main highlights of my 2020 -

At the end of February/beginning of March, I started the envelope budgeting system as one of several key strategies I would go on to implement throughout the course of the year to gain better control over my finances. While I was somewhat familiar with the concepts behind this old-school system for many years, it wasn't until I started assisting students in a high school personal finance class last semester that I finally committed to trying this out. And it has helped me immensely. Check out this post I wrote back on March 4 about the envelope budgeting system. This goes to show you that you're never too old to learn anything. I was learning this system right alongside high school students. And it's working for me. 

When schools closed and went online back in March for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, those of us who were working as hourly aides suddenly found ourselves wondering about our job security. Will our hours be cut? Will we be laid off and forced to hit the unemployment line? These were real and sincere questions we were facing. But to our pleasant surprise, the school district I have the privilege and honor of serving committed to keeping all of us working our regular schedules. The deal was that, when we weren't meeting with students online, we were expected to work on professional development activities and document our progress to HR. For me, this took on the form of reading a number of books and articles, writing reflections and essays (some of which became blog posts that I will share at the end of this post), watching a variety of training videos, and fulfilling continuing education requirements for my substitute teaching license. I'm very grateful to my school district for keeping us working. I'll never forget it. Not only was I blessed to be able to continue earning my regular income, but I was also given this incredible opportunity in all this chaos to deepen my understanding of various issues, challenges, trends, and debates in K-12 education today, along with learning new strategies to aid me in being more effective in the classroom. It was certainly time well spent. I learned things that I might never have been able to learn otherwise with my "normal" work schedule, simply due to a lack of time and opportunity in the typical day. Aides I know in other school districts weren't as fortunate. They either had their hours cut or were laid off outright.

At the end of April, while reminiscing on my childhood, I published this piece on figure skater Oksana Baiul. I caught her attention on Twitter for it, which was a fun surprise, and we ended up tweeting back and forth a little bit that day. Some day, I would love to interview her (you can check out my noteworthy interviews here). I'm sure she has a lot of valuable advice and insights to share with youngsters, particularly girls and young women, about chasing their dreams.

Oksana Baiul on Twitter

In mid-June, I had a phone conversation with one of my former professors. A political science professor from my days as an undergraduate student at Cardinal Stritch University, he has taught now for many years at the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island. I sought out his counsel on the subject of my doctoral dissertation. Originally, I wanted to do my dissertation on something in the realm of organizational culture, but I decided to take a new direction, and I was looking to return to my roots in political science. He planted a seed in my mind: China. With U.S. - China relations growing increasingly intense and China's power on the rise, many scholars predict we have entered, or will soon be entering, a new cold war. Some are speculating that we could eventually see actual combat. The seed he planted in my mind during this discussion would soon sprout into some viable ideas for my dissertation studies.

Summer: I traded in my usual summer itinerary of Milwaukee Brewers games, car shows, outdoor live music, the church festival scene, backyard barbecues, and the Wisconsin State Fair for the opportunity to learn all I could about China - its Communist Party leadership, Confucian philosophy, economy, artificial intelligence (AI) goals, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), general history, how it's managing the COVID pandemic, its relations with other countries, etc. I did a lot of reading, watching documentaries, and so on. Simultaneously, I did a lot of research in the field of International Relations, becoming familiar with its key theories, concepts, and debates. I joke that I discovered just how much of a bitter realist I am. Among many other works, I finally got around to reading in its entirety The Prince by Machiavelli, and I even fit in The Art of War by Sun Tzu and the History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides.

August: I discovered the Web site Udemy.com. Udemy, in short, is an online learning platform allowing you to take video courses on a wide variety of subjects taught by experts from all over the world. You can read my full review of Udemy for more detailed information. I highly recommend looking into it. Anyway, among other courses I took, there were several in the field of International Relations taught by Dr. Kamil Zwolski. Kamil teaches at the University of Southampton, in the United Kingdom. His courses are informative and engaging, and they really complemented and enhanced what I was already learning up to that point. Kamil and I have started a correspondence, and we connected on LinkedIn and Twitter. Starting this month, in January, I'm taking a six-week seminar-style course he's teaching on International Relations theory. To show you how committed I am to the subject, I have to be up by 4am for six straight Saturdays so that I can catch him lecturing live at 11am his time in the UK! He recently launched his own Web site and blog devoted to the subject of International Relations, which you can check out by clicking here.

Learning new technologies: Working in education, I had to quickly become familiar with tools like Google Meet and Zoom on the fly. I also had to learn some other meeting apps and online communications tools for things like doctor appointments and professional development webinars. These are all tools and resources I never really had to use or think about before the pandemic hit. Now I know how to use them. Another learning opportunity in the chaos.

An education in viruses and the immune system: I probably learned more than I ever need or want to know about viruses, but, nonetheless, I'm now more educated on the subject. Actually, I found most of it to be quite fascinating, for someone who's usually not very much interested in the natural sciences. I also learned a few new things about the immune system, including the vital roles that Vitamin D and zinc play in it. Now, it always seems like the go-to vitamin for boosting one's immune system is Vitamin C. That's the one vitamin we frequently hear and talk about. No doubt, C is a key building block for the immune system. But, perhaps due to marketing gimmicks and packaging, C has managed to take too much of the spotlight, drowning out other vitamins and nutrients that are also important for immune system health, particularly Vitamin D. No wonder we're all deficient in it.

Dr. House: Near the end of the year, I rediscovered the TV series House on Amazon Prime. Prime has all eight seasons. Man, I love that show. I share House's dark humor, sarcasm, deep thinking, and eccentricities. Or does he share mine?

Bobby Fischer, chess, and checkers: At the very end of the year, literally within the last couple of weeks or so, I finally saw the 2014 movie Pawn Sacrifice, starring Tobey Maguire as the eccentric, reclusive, and demanding Bobby Fischer, who defeated Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union in 1972 to be crowned world champion of chess. Here's an interesting article from BBC.com, written in 2011, about Bobby Fischer. I was never interested in chess, and Bobby Fischer's name barely registered in my mind prior to seeing the movie. I now want to learn the game. It's on my radar to study one of these days soon. In the meantime, I rekindled an interest in checkers.
 
Here's a full-length HBO documentary on Bobby Fischer from 2011. It's entitled Bobby Fischer Against the World.
 
 

In closing, here are those blog posts I mentioned earlier that I wrote as part of my professional development regimen at the end of last school year. Happy reading, and Happy New Year! Here's to you and your loved ones for a safe, blessed, and prosperous 2021!

ADHD

Dyslexia

Emotional Disturbance

Fun activity with your favorite song

Fun activity with a favorite video game 

The real purpose of K-12 education

Building your own personal economy

The success and beauty in failure

Building intergenerational connections

Reading comprehension skills

Sunday, November 8, 2020

What is professional development?

Exploring the concept of professional development, and how we can harness its power to score pay raises, promotions, business and consulting opportunities, better starting pay at your next job, industry recognition, and a lot more. 

Aaron S. Robertson

For this post, I'd like to spend some time, using a variety of concrete examples as a guide, discussing how you can stand out from the rest of your co-workers and other job applicants with a simple concept: professional development. Take advantage of professional development to win pay raises, promotions, business and consulting opportunities, better starting pay at your next job, industry recognition, and more. Let's dive in and explore.

For starters, this Wikipedia article defines professional development as,

...learning to earn or maintain professional credentials such as academic degrees to formal coursework, attending conferences, and informal learning opportunities situated in practice. It has been described as intensive and collaborative, ideally incorporating an evaluative stage. There is a variety of approaches to professional development, including consultation, coaching, communities of practice, lesson study, mentoring, reflective supervision and technical assistance.

Now, let's back up for a moment. In all employment situations, you and your co-workers are all equal in skill level and dispositions, but only in the very limited, very superficial sense that you've all met, and continue to meet, certain qualifications and standards that your employer wants, at a minimum, for all of you to meet. If you and your co-workers fail to meet this minimum threshold, you wouldn't have been hired, and/or you wouldn't be there now.

But that equality in skill level and dispositions ends right there, with you and your co-workers all meeting and retaining that employer-mandated minimum set of standards. You're all the same, on paper, in this limited regard. Other than that, you are totally unique. You are truly one-of-a-kind, with an irreplaceable combination of skills, dispositions, experiences, hobbies and interests, education, and more. And this is where you have the opportunity to stand out from the rest of the pack and rise to the top. This is where professional development can come in to make your resume truly shine and get employers to take a closer look at who you are and what you have to offer.

Here are some of those concrete examples I was talking about:

Bilingual abilities - The ability to communicate in another language, like Spanish or one of the Hmong languages, for example, is a highly-desirable, and hence marketable, skill to have. So let's say you're an attorney, doctor or nurse, teacher, call center or 911 operator, law enforcement professional, or really any kind of small business owner, to name just a handful of examples here. As I stated earlier, you and your co-workers are all equal in the very limited sense that you're performing at a minimum set of standards that your employer has laid out for all of you. But you also happen to be fluent in a second language. With this skill, some additional doors are open to you. How many of your co-workers also happen to be bilingual? I'm guessing not very many. In the case of being a bilingual small business owner, you can utilize this talent to tap into new markets for your product or service, markets that may otherwise be under-served by your industry or profession. In short, what an impressive skill to have on your resume.

Professional development in the hospitality industry - Let's say you're currently working as a server at a restaurant. Plenty of high school and college students have jobs waiting tables, so this should be a great example to easily relate to. So you're currently waiting tables, and you're starting to have thoughts that you may really like this broader industry of hospitality and food service. You're thinking that you may want to stick with this business long-term and learn different aspects of it. You're wondering then, "How can I stand apart from my co-workers and other job applicants? How can I make myself more marketable and valuable to my current or future employers?" There are plenty of ways to do this. Some examples: When you're old enough to do so, assuming you're currently in high school, you may want to consider training to become a bartender and getting licensed by your state or local authorities to be able to do so. As a server, there are classes and workshops you can take that help you identify what foods pair well with one another, or what drinks (wines, beers, cocktails) pair well with certain foods and meals. Having this knowledge can equip you with the ability and confidence to upsell or cross-sell  items to your customers, which benefits both you and your employer. Your employer is going to like your ability to generate more revenue by increasing sales, and you're going to like the higher tips! If you're interested in learning the kitchen and working hands-on with foods, you may want to consider a culinary arts degree from your local technical college, which will not only help you develop your skills in the kitchen, but also provide you with a basic, introductory-level business education tailored to the culinary/hospitality industry. And don't forget - we're not just talking restaurants here. There's a whole world out there where you can learn/apply these skills and move up the ladder. This world includes hotels, cruise ships, banquet halls and catering businesses, and resorts.

Are you working in, or just starting to learn, a skilled trade? Consider adding a business degree to your resume down the road. Here's why - As I explained in a previous post, "Manufacturing and the trades in schools,": 

Want the best of both worlds? I typically advise students these days to take a serious look at a technical college or vocational school education. Learn a provable hard skill or trade first, something that you're really going to enjoy. Enter the workforce with those skills and gain some practical on-the-job experience for a while. And then consider going for the bachelor's and perhaps even beyond, if that's something you'd like to do. Maybe get a bachelor's in a business/management/leadership program. Now, you have two good things going for you - first, you have that concrete, verifiable skill set. And you'll also have that bigger-picture education that can help you set the stage for a promotion into management or even off on your own as a business owner yourself some day.

Certainly, this example also pertains to what we just discussed with the hospitality industry, as well. That big-picture business/management/leadership education can really complement and enhance all of the great hands-on expertise you're acquiring on the job, and can open many additional doors in your profession or industry.

Building true specialization in one or more areas - If you're an auto mechanic or auto body repair technician, or interested in becoming one, specializing in a particular make or model of car, either modern/current or vintage/classic, can be very beneficial for you. If you know that certain make/model inside and out, you're a true expert, and you can perhaps dominate an entire market, either locally, regionally, or yes - even nationally. Ditto if you're a computer/software programmer, or wanting to get into this line of work. Some months back, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States and state unemployment systems instantly found themselves slapped with a massive surge of claims, a computer programming language called COBOL unexpectedly found itself in the spotlight making news headlines. COBOL is a 60+ year-old programming language that many state governments still use for systems like - you guessed it - unemployment. This Fast Company article from April 2020 explains the high demand and pay for those who can still work with this language, which the vast majority of universities and computer science programs stopped teaching in the 1980s! Certainly, many doctors, lawyers, educators, and investment professionals have specialties, as well. They've become the go-to experts for advice, news interviews and stories, and more.

Professional development can be formal or informal in nature, and it doesn't need to be time-consuming.

So far, we've discussed some instances where formal education via academic degrees can make for great professional development. But formal education is not always necessary, and it's not for everyone. In fact, some of the best ways to expand and build on your professional capabilities are very informal in nature and can either be free of monetary cost or very inexpensive. They also do not need to be very time-consuming or take up any additional time beyond your typical day, either. 

In fact, you can build professional development activities into your current work schedule. If there are additional skills you'd like to learn or continue to strengthen in your workplace, explain your interests to your manager(s). Perhaps they can work with you to build some time into your work schedule to focus on these goals. Perhaps it's a hard skill, like learning how to use a particular machine, tool, software program, or process that's applicable to your current work environment. Or maybe you'd like to focus more on building your soft skills, like the ability to communicate more effectively and collaboratively with co-workers and customers.

Sometimes, professional development may mean having to learn on-the-fly...

With the world of education (both K-12 and college-level) having gone virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many educators, myself included, all of a sudden found themselves having to learn all about Google Meet, Zoom, and a variety of other online learning tools and resources on a whim. But that's certainly okay. There's the old adage that goes, "With crisis comes opportunity." I'm now proficient in these virtual assets. Before the pandemic, I didn't really have to think about any of this stuff, simply because there was no need for me to do so. But the pandemic has forced me to add to my skills and hence broaden my horizons in this regard.

In closing, here are some more examples and ideas of informal ways to grow professionally:

Self-education through intense reading or project-based learning on a particular subject

Take courses through Udemy.com for as low as $11-12 each. I love Udemy and find it to be of great value. Read my recent review of Udemy.

Work on building your network of trusted experts and professionals

Seek out a mentor

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Udemy review

As promised in a previous post, "My summer 2020," here is my detailed post about an online learning Web site I discovered over the summer called Udemy.

As I explained in that prior post about my summer, I recently decided to change course for my Ph.D. dissertation. Rather than studying and writing about organizational culture, I decided to return to my political science roots (political science was my major for my bachelor's degree) by exploring China in the context of international relations (IR). More specifically, I'm interested in China's artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives, and how China's quest for dominance in this realm, among others, may lead to a significant shift in IR, including the possibility of a cold war that some experts predict. This change of course happened as the result of a couple in-depth, thought-provoking conversations I had in recent months with a former professor of mine from my political science studies as an undergrad.

Anyway, a couple months ago, back in August, as a part of my dive into international relations (IR), I discovered Udemy.com. Now, I had seen quite a few ads and mentions about this site across the Internet in the past, but I suppose I never gave it much thought. Finally, one day in August, I caved in and decided to take a closer look to find out what this site is all about and what it has to offer. I'm really glad I did that. What a really neat site. 

So, what is Udemy?

In a nutshell, Udemy is an online learning platform that brings teachers and learners together from all around the world through video lectures, discussions, and downloadable resources like selected readings, notes, slides, and even e-books. Now, when I say "teachers," I use that term broadly here. I'm not talking specifically about licensed K-12 educators or university professors, although some of them certainly are. Many of those who are teaching on Udemy are professionals working in a particular field or industry. They possess expertise in a subject, and they're simply passionate about teaching that subject to others. They may be engineers, filmmakers, lawyers, photographers, Web developers and computer programmers, investment bankers and financial professionals, intelligence analysts, artists, architects, business executives, negotiators, Microsoft Excel pros, etc., etc., etc.

Even you can teach on Udemy, and earn income doing it. Here's how. 

How much do these courses cost? 

The vast majority of courses on Udemy have a cost. Some are free. The paid courses will get you a certificate of completion at the end, among other perks that we'll get to shortly. The free courses do not offer a certificate.

Now, if you browse through the site, you're going to see that many of these courses carry a price tag of $90-$100 or more. Don't be alarmed. The site often runs days-long sales at deep discounts. All the courses I've purchased so far were at these sale prices, ranging from $11.99-$13.99. 

What are the perks that come with the paid courses?

  • Online video content
  • Certificate of completion
  • Instructor Q&A 
  • Instructor direct message
  • 30-day money-back guarantee
  • Free access to the course for life, including any updates made, and no matter if you paid full price or a sale price
The free courses only come with the online video content.

My experience with Udemy so far

Since August, I've taken several courses, most of them taught by Ph.D. professors, on various aspects of international relations. So far, I've brushed up on U.S.-Russia relations, various IR theories, and NATO, all while continuing to explore China's rise. I've even taken a couple courses on intelligence analysis, taught by a retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col.

I'm really impressed so far with Udemy's platform, and I highly recommend the site for anyone looking to build new skills or strengthen existing ones. The site's interface is clean and crisp, and everything is easy to find and navigate through. I can tell that the teachers I've had so far have really put forth a lot of time and effort into their courses. I've even connected with a couple of them on LinkedIn and Twitter. It's money well-spent, and all courses are backed by a guarantee.

There's so much to explore here. When I find some additional time one of these days, I have several other courses waiting for me to start. I purchased them all in another big sale recently. They include, among others, the art of negotiating, an intro to international security, the fundamentals of submarine engineering, and even a course designed by a business professor who promises the equivalent of a complete MBA degree's worth of education all in his one course. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Back to school 2020-2021

Well, it's that time of year again - back to school. For me, that means a return to work as a special education assistant at the middle / high school I've been at since last year. We returned yesterday. We have one of the later starts in the area. Many schools, including colleges, have already been back in session for anywhere between 1-3 weeks or so.

I look forward to getting back in the swing of things after enjoying a nice summer (you can read about my summer here). I hope you enjoyed the summer, as well, and I'd like to hear all about it!

Well, here's to a successful and enjoyable 2020-21 school year! I wish you all the best. Stay safe and healthy, learn a lot, and take advantage of all the wonderful academic and co-curricular opportunities your school has to offer! Talk again soon.

Mr. Robertson

My summer 2020

I hope you enjoyed your summer. I enjoyed mine. I spent a large portion of the summer learning about China and artificial intelligence (AI), and advancing my understanding of international relations (IR).

Originally, I wanted to research the subject of organizational culture for my Ph.D. dissertation. However, after a couple of thought-provoking, insightful conversations with a former professor of mine during my undergrad years, I've decided to change course. I want to get back to my roots in political science, which was my major for my bachelor's degree. And so I'm now researching China and its artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives, and how China's quest for dominance in this realm, among others, may lead to a significant shift in international relations (IR), including a possible cold war that some experts predict.

In August, as a part of my studies in IR, I discovered the online learning Web site Udemy.com. What a cool site! I had seen quite a few ads and mentions about this site across the Internet in the past, but never gave it much thought, I guess. Finally, I caved in and decided to take a look. I'm glad I did. I'll be writing a separate post all about Udemy soon, but in a nutshell here, I'm really impressed with its platform. I took several courses, most of them taught by Ph.D. professors, on various aspects of international politics.

So that was my summer, briefly. A lot of reading, writing, thinking, documentaries, and these Udemy.com courses. But all subjects I'm excited and passionate about. That's what makes it all fun and worthwhile.

How was your summer? Take any trips? Learn any new skills? I'd love to hear all about your summer. Share in the comments section below.